Rio de Janeiro to Pantanal

Today we woke at 4:15am for our 6:08am Azul flight to Campo Grande via Campinas. We quickly packed our things, gathered our drying items from the clothes line on the roof, and JT went down to get the guy on duty at night to call for a taxi. The guy ended up having to call multiple companies before one agreed to send a taxi – the hostel sits on a street with construction, so the taxi drivers are wary of picking people up from there. But, this company never called back to confirm and when the front desk guy called again, they said no one was coming. He called a few more companies before one finally agreed, confirmed, and sent a taxi. The taxi ride ended up being R$13, which is about what we expected (the hostel info sheet said R$12).

We enjoyed our short stay at Mambembe Hostel (R$120/$53 for private double with shared bath for one night on – it had an chill yet active atmosphere, enough bathrooms (at least 3 showers and 4 toilets), lots of common space, a well-used kitchen, included sheets, a clothes line and laundry sink, good WiFi connection, included breakfast (which we can’t comment on since we left before it started), and a good location in an interesting neighborhood with reasonable access to restaurants, buses, and Lapa nightlife. The dorm beds are particularly well priced for Rio, starting at R$42 a night. We paid R$120 for a private double.

Once we reached the airport with about 50 minutes until our departure time, we were concerned to find a very long line at the Azul counter with only one agent working the desk. We eventually realized there was a shorter line for just dropping bags, and – although we didn’t have printed boarding passes – we switched to this line. Many more agents appeared at the other Azul desks while we waited in line, and the line moved much quicker. Our agent decided to wrap our hiking backpacks in decently-tough large plastic bags, and we finished checking our bags about 25 minutes before departure. We got through security quickly and easily, boarded the plane, and took off about 10 minutes later.

Azul Flight 4008 – Rio to Campinas

Rio Santos Dumont (SDU): Gate 4; Runway ??; Scheduled: 6:08a
Campinas Viracopos (VCP): Gate n/a; Runway ??; Scheduled: 7:18a
Direct miles: 253

PR-AXG; “Trovão Azul”; Embraer ERJ-195AR; Initial delivery: May 21, 2012; 118 seats (118 C)
Seat: 12C and 12D, Coach

The Azul plane we were on was a very comfortable Embraer ERJ-190 with 2-2 seating, and seemed rather new (built and delivered to Azul in 2012). There was in-seat entertainment and we got soda and a choice of snack (bags of mixed nuts, crackers, cookies, etc). Azul was founded by the same person who co-founded JetBlue, and this was apparent in our experience. Overall a great experience on Azul – and it was also cheaper than the TAM and Gol options!

Azul Flight 4008 – Campinas to Campo Grande

Campinas Viracopos (VCP): Gate C; Runway 15; Scheduled: 8:23a
Campo Grande (CGR): Gate n/a; Runway ??; Scheduled: 9:10a
Direct miles: 515
PR-AXG; “Trovão Azul”; Embraer ERJ-195AR; Initial delivery: May 21, 2012; 118 seats (118 C)
Seat: 12C and 12D, Coach

We had an hour layover in Campinas before we took the same plane (sitting in the same seats) to Campo Grande. However we had to deplane, take the bus to the terminal (there seem to be no jet-ways at this airport), and wait inside. We used the free airport WiFi and got a small breakfast. It was sad to see that buying of wildlife is so common/popular in Brazil that they needed to keep showing a cute-looking animated video reminder that doing so is illegal. Once it was time to board our plane, we took the bus back to the same plane (but with different cabin crew) and began our flight to Campo Grande. We had to wait for quite a while to takeoff, despite being third in line when we finished taxiing. There were quite a few planes that were cleared to land before we could take off, and it seemed that air traffic control was keeping quite some distance between planes (2-3 minutes?). This flight was similar to the first, except that the terrain below changed to mainly forests, some large rivers, and farmland. Like Campinas, Campo Grande did not have jet-ways, so we got to walk down steps onto the tarmac and walk next to the planes.

Ronaldo from Pantanal Viagens e Turismo was waiting for us at the airport as promised. We withdrew R$1000 from an ATM so that we could pay for the tour, and then took a R$23 taxi to their office (apparently his car had issues recently, so he deducted the cost of the taxi from our agreed amount for the 3 day / 2 night trip to the Pantanal (R$650 per person for 6 person dorms at Lontra Pantanal Hotel).

The Pantanal Viagens e Turismo office was located in the old bus station in Campo Grande. After going over the tour and the contract of what it will include, we paid and then visited the pharmacy across the street to get some drugs for JT’s sore throat and sinus congestion. We also bought three 1.5 liter bottles of water for use on our trip after visiting multiple places. No nearby stores had 5 liter bottles and 1.5 liter bottles were hard to find. Ronaldo arrived back at the office to take us to the van shortly after we returned. Our luggage was stored in a towed trailer, and we hopped in a 16 seat passenger van. There was a driver, two Brazilian women, and us – and then we stopped at a nearby hotel to pick up a family of four from Belgium. And then we were on our way around 10:30am.

About 1.25 hours into our ride, before even reaching Miranda, there started being official road signs saying (in Portuguese) ‘Protect the animals of the Pantanal’, ‘Respect the wildlife’, and ‘Attention: wild animals crossing’. The drive was more scenic than Katie expected with cattle lands, wild areas, and mountains in the distance. JT slept most of the way, very sleepy from just 4 hours sleep the night before. Our van stopped at a random roundabout about 1.5 hours in and picked up 3 more Brazilians with a baby. The A/C seemed to be broken and it was quite hot in the van – especially to JT, who had worn long pants and thick hiking socks for our arrival in the Pantanal (a mistake!).

We stopped in the city of Miranda at a place called “Zero Hora” from 1pm to 1:25pm for lunch. When we stopped, the driver announced in Portuguese how long we had at the stop, but we were not able to tell what he said, and he did not repeat in English. We each had a pao de queijo (cheese bread) for R$4 each, Katie had a ham and cheese sandwich for R$6, and JT had an “X-Egg” (hamburger with egg) for R$9. The bathrooms had health awareness signs in Portuguese. The men’s had prostate cancer and sexually transmitted diseases signs, while the women’s had breast cancer and what seemed to be urinary cancer signs. The quite-large complex had the cafe/bakery we ate at, a Brazilian buffet (~R$40 per person), a bar, a gift shop, and a convenience store-type area.

The van stopped in front of the supermarket shortly after our lunch stop. We stayed for 22 minutes, but the driver never mentioned that we could go in or how long we would be there. The Brazilian lady who had traveled in the front with the driver the entire trip bought an entire crate of milk as well as some smaller items and the driver seemed to buy a substantial amount.  All of these items (including some heavy and wet items) were loaded into the towed trailer on top of our backpacks. The van was especially sweltering hot during this stop. JT opened the window for a bit to try to get cooler air in the van, but the driver slid the window shut as soon as he saw it open.

We left Miranda at 1:50pm. The scenery almost immediately became less inhabited by humans and much more swampy. The driver constantly drove well over the speed limit (over 100 kph vs. 80 kph limit), and would then strongly apply the breaks every time we reached one of the video-monitored speed stations. If any animals had crossed the road like all the signs warn, we would likely have hit them at a dangerously high speed. We arrived to the transfer point – Buraco das Piranhas – at 3pm. JT felt drained from this miserable ride and was glad that it was finally over.

Multiple tours were leaving from the transfer point – Lontra Pantanal Hotel (ours, strongly not recommended for reasons you can read in this post and our subsequent posts), Pousada Santa Clara, and another one. Lontra Pantanal Hotel picked us up in a jungle-themed painted school bus, while the others picked up in open air trucks that looked much cooler (in all senses of the word). Since Katie had chosen Lontra Pantanal Hotel over Pousada Santa Clara, she had instant envy/regret on seeing the Santa Clara open air truck.

Our bus took off with the Belgian family, us, and some Brazilians that apparently live in the area. As we were nearing the ‘dangerous curve’ bridge by the Lontra Pantanal Hotel, our bus broke down. It then continued to stall out on each of seven restarts until it finally went into gear and moved forward, although the drive was rough and engine sounded terrible.

We went to reception and attempted to check in. The Belgian family was pointing out that they booked a three night package with 9 meals and an additional activity, but since they were leaving early on the fourth day they would miss a meal and wanted to know where their additional activity would fit. They seemed to want a refund, but the owner (who spoke no English) seemed like he would not even consider it. Instead he offered a sunrise walk to the top of the nearby bridge, which the Belgians did not seem pleased with.  The owner and guide ignored us and focused on appeasing the Belgian family for 15-20 minutes. Eventually we got the key to our 6-bed dorm and went over to settle in before our 4:30pm activity.

The dorm was very messy due to messy roommates, but at least the area around our bunk was clear. The bathroom had obviously not been cleaned in a while – as it had mud and dirt on the ground. Katie emptied the toilet paper basket in the trash can outside since it was almost overflowing at our arrival (and remember that throughout Brazil you are not able to flush any toilet paper). There were no lockers in the dorm (and thus no safe place to store passports, money, etc). In fact, there was nothing besides 3 bunk beds, two nightstands, and a Portuguese-language New Testament Bible. There was also only 1 key for the six roommates – which is supposed to be left in reception when no one is in the room.

There were 10 of us plus a guide and driver on our 4:30pm to 6:45pm boat trip (technically listed as two activities: a boat ride and night search). We were in the third row of guests in the boat (out of 5) and we could not hear the guide who was sitting at the front of the boat pointing out animals. So, clearly the two rows behind us had no chance of hearing him. He also failed to announce many animals, meaning often only the people at the front figured out what he had spotted. Although, we did see many birds, a female monkey carrying its child, and many alligators.

Speaking of alligators, the guide took the boat way too close to some very large alligators that seemed quite uncomfortable/unhappy with our presence – although they were clearly frightened of us and did not make any aggressive moves towards us. Although this tour was advertised by Pantanal Viagens e Turismo as “100% Eco”, we felt that the guide poking near an alligator with a shovel to get it to move – as well as clapping and whistling at a hawk to get it to fly – were not very “eco” friendly. The gas motor on the boat could also have been electric (as this would be quieter and cleaner) or at least a more efficient-burning motor. [Likewise, the bus seemed like it was putting off large plumes of exhaust and making much more noise than necessary] On the positive side, the monkey was neat to see, the sunset was pretty from the water, and the stars were pretty awesome.

Dinner at 7:30pm was decent. Katie, half jokingly, claimed the rice was the best. JT thought the fried egg and rice and beans were good. Katie thought the coconut flan was great for dessert.

After dinner, we headed to the dorm, where Katie showered and JT took cold medicine and quickly fell asleep on his bed (despite the lights being on and the other five roommates still moving about).  JT is a bit sickly now with congestion, sore throat, and sharp stomach pains. At least our roommates were quiet and went to sleep early. Everyone seemed to be asleep by 9:30pm, when Katie was finishing blogging. The beds are also pretty comfortable, and it is nice to hear the sounds of nature through the windows (with windowpanes missing) while falling asleep.

Boats along the riverbank at Lontra Pantanal Hotel

View from our seats at the middle of the boat

A monkey carrying its young

Awesome sunset as seen from the river

Just one of the alligators that our boat drove way too close to

 Dusk on the river

 Our activity schedule (with an incorrect date on the left)

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