I found a cheap flight to Brasilia, Brazil's capital and figured I would just catch a bus the remaining km west. Not before getting a look at this crazy new city. Built in about 4 years starting in the early sixties, the place is just sprawling, like a suburb. Everyone drives as there are huge distances between everything and it's dead expensive here. I took in the JK Memorial which houses the remains and memorabilia of President Juscelina Kubitschek who was part of the design team for the city; the center of which is shaped like an airplane with a huge amount of green space running down the center aisle. It's bloody hot there, no wonder everyone drives. I walked about 3km down the from the memorial though the parks before giving in to the heat and heading back to the bus station. 22 hours to Cuiaba. Woo hoo!
I arrived in Cuiaba, one of the gateways to the Pantanal about 7am and headed straight to my chosen hostel for a much needed shower. Luckily or unluckily the hostel was just a cover operation for a very expensive Pantanal tour agency with a tour leaving in one hour! The owner showed me lots of recommendations from past tourists and even one from the Brazil Lonely Planet writer who had just passed though a few weeks before. It was more money than I wanted to spend but then what's Birthday money for. Thanks Aunt Rosie! I showered and changed quickly and jumped into the awaiting bus to head off to the Pantanal. We stopped in the small town in Pocone so I could buy some crappy closed-toe shoes for our hikes and we were off. The van was swelteringly hot so I changed places with Tillman, a tall German guy in the back so he could stretch his long legs and get some of the breeze coming into the van. The rest of the group was an older Australian couple and two young Israeli guys. Our base hostel wasn't the greatest but the it would suffice. The food was terrific though. After the heat of the afternoon wore of we headed out on a boat trip to see some wildlife. Our guide Alex was great. Really personable and fun and a real expert of the flora and fauna in the Pantanal. While he was great at listening for and spotting hard to find monkeys and such, he was equally adept at knowing where the shy unassuming things liked to hide like tree camouflaged bats, owls or snakes. In the evening we took a short walk near the hostel to look for caimans (small alligators) which you can spot in the dark by looking for red eyes shining back from a flashlight in then dark. He caught one and showed it to us while we provided a nighttime nibble to the hundreds of mosquitoes waiting for us.
We were supposed to get up early to row out to the see the sunset but the Israeli guys didn't hear the wake up call for some reason and in all our doddling around we ended up missing it. We weren't so much angry at them for making us miss the sunrise as we were absolutely annoyed with the fact that we waited for 40 minutes for them in a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. I must say in their defense though that they were never late again for anything. We had a quick breakfast and headed out on a forced march, I mean hike, though the grasslands to look for wildlife. As I said, Alex really is a top guide we saw loads of animals and he pointed out weird plants and explained their uses to the Indians of old. We were walking in the Pantanal in the rainy season so in some places the water was up to our upper thighs. I almost slipped in the water at one point so I grabbed a tree branch which all of a sudden was covered with fire ants which stung my poor little hand into smithereens! Vicious little buggers. I couldn't get them off and spent a long 60 seconds slapping myself silly with my right hand trying to get them off. Even after I got them all off, the pain didn't subside for about ten long minutes. This is on top of being constantly attacked by mosquitoes. By the end of the hike I practically had a hump on my back from all the bites even though my mosquito repellent never left my side. Constant vigilance!
After lunch we headed out on a horse ride. Two more people turned up to join our tour at the last minute which meant there weren't enough 'good' horses for our trip. My horse was slow and lazy but two of the guys had horses that would inexplicably lie down in the middle of the field if we rested too long in one place. At least there were less mosquitoes up there. At dinner, one of the new travelers, a Dutch woman started complaining about immigrants in the Netherlands so I told her there was nothing like a little ethnic cleansing to sort that out. She took me seriously and kept going on about how they had to get the immigrants out. I, uh, pretty much lost it and told her exactly how offensive I thought her views were. We weren't really very friendly after that. Ethnic cleansing, are you fucking kidding me? Early The next morning, just after a gorgeous sunrise, the headed out on a short hike up to the main road but the Dutch woman and the older Australian couple decide to skip it because they didn't want to get their feet wet. Whatever. We all met up at the end of the road and had a quick picnic breakfast before heading out on a proper hike. The three of they abstained again and we were happy they did. The last thing you want to hear is someone whining about wet feet when you're under a glaring sun, slogging through mud surrounded by mosquitoes. This was probably my favorite hike of all because it really looked like what I imagined the Pantanal to look like. All tall wild grass hiding lots of wildlife. In the rainy season, the animals all breed and as they are very protective of their young they don't come out as much. You have to be very quiet and search them out stealthily. We had moved to another hostel, a much nicer one with air conditioning and pool and had to walk there along 'the road'. I got to 'the road' first and just shook my head, the water on the road was just over my knees. Have you ever tried to walk though a shallow swimming pool. That half and hour of walking took more out of me than the previous four hours of hiking on on mostly dry land.
After an unsuccessful afternoon of Pirhana fishing on the river (Why are we feeding cow to fish?) we settled into a relaxing dinner but I was constantly disturbed by all my mosquito bites on my ankles. I couldn't get comfortable for a second because anytime the breeze shifted or something touched my ankles I would have long drawn out itching spasms. I finally excused myself from dinner and hit the shower. I was soaping my right upper arm when I felt something foreign that seemed quite immovable. I recognized it immediately as a tick like the one I'd burned off Roy earlier in the day. I threw on some clothes and ran to the main common area where everyone was wondering why I was half covered in soap bubbles and waving my rioght arm like a lunatic. I light a cigarette, took a few halls to steady my nerves and handed it to Roy to get him to burn it off. Fair is fair. He was deathly afraid of burning me and finally Tillman came over and somehow massaged the thing out of my arm. He's a doctor, thank god! What a nightmare!
Our last day. One last boat ride to look for wildlife before heading back to Cuiaba. I'd asked if I could be dropped at the bus station instead of the hostel so I could try and make a bus to Campo Grande on my way to Iguazu Falls but I realized on the bus home that I had accidentally left my Lonely Planet Guide, my bible, in Cuiaba. I figured I'd just check the timetable and go on a later bus. Tillman, the Israelis and the Dutch woman all wanted to stop by the bus station as well to check on bus times to Bolivia so it all worked out. But when we finally got to the bus station and I'd figured out which bus to take, the older Australian guy walked up to me and started cursing me out because I was taking too much time and he wanted to get to the hostel. This guy with whom I'd never exchanged anything but pleasantries with for the past four days. I just figured he was annoyed and made my way quickly to the bus but when we got to the door he kept insulting me and I, well, I couldn't really stand for that. I was so angry, I got very calm and I told him very carefully that he must have really gone off the deep end to think he could speak to me that way. Lets just say it escalated on his part but I just kept my mouth shut and stared him down. He was looking like a real idiot by this point and I really didn't need to help him along. Tillman backed me up, why the hell was I the brunt of all his anger when it was all of us, not just me, running around the bus station. We all made it back to the hostel but I was so angry I was practicaly shaking but I sucked it up. All the guys came out with me afterwards to drink beer, eat food and even sing a little karaoke to lighten the mood (ok, I didn't sing). I shared a room with Tillman for about 3 hours til I had to catch a cab to the bus station. I've pretty much avoided taxis in Brazil because I hate getting ripped off. The guy quoted me a ridiculous flat rate which I shot down and demanded that he turn on the meter. After about 5 minutes I finally ask where the hell he is going. He's taking me to the airport. Great. By the time we got to the bus station the fare was astronomical. I waited til I had my bags and gave him the $4 it should have been . He fumed and stomped but I just walked away. I'd had enough. Good news is that I'm heading on a bus that goes straight to Foz de Iguazu. A feat beyond my wildest dreams at this point. I'm almost out of Brazil. Hooray!