22nd May – We leave for Campo Grande, capital of the Mato Grosso do Sul region and another popular gateway if you wish to visit more of the Southern Pantanal. Our plan however, is to turn north when we reach here for Cuiaba and the Northern Pantanal in the Mato Grosso.
It’s a route following the cattle ranches once more, with plenty of grazing, water and shady trees…….
…….although the Serra Maracaju changes the landscape to one of enormous, rocky and forested outcrops and hills.
The guy at the tourist information office in Campo Grande is very helpful, but unfortunately, we discover that the only camping place that we were hoping to stop at, has closed down. We check out a hostel that he suggests but parking is outside and by the road. We enquire about hotels and discover there is an Ibis which we are always happy with. Situated in quite a different part of the city opposite a large park, we have an unexpected shock to learn that they are full. The Novatel next door is also full, but perhaps this is just as well when we notice their prices marked up in reception. However the guy there is very concerned that we don’t just leave and drive around looking for a room, as he knows that most hotels are completely booked, due to a week of conferences and training courses. We really appreciated the effort that he went to, making many phone calls to various hotels and finally succeeding in finding us a room at Hotel International downtown. It is late afternoon by now, so we must check it out, secure parking being the priority. We needn’t have worried, such friendly and helpful staff who make sure that Moby is parked securely behind huge gates which are locked at night and with a guard. Gaupo Gaucho, within walking distance of the hotel, provides us with excellent local food from big black pots keeping warm over a long, wood-burning oven.
23rd May – Our price for the hotel includes an amazing breakfast of various fresh fruits and juices, hot and cold food, (the latter including whole hams and cheeses), plus a variety of cakes and other dishes. We start another long day of driving well!
Still heading for Cuiaba, capital of Mato Grosso, situated in the centre of the South American continent and a main gateway for visiting the northern part of the Pantanal.
Before Rio Negro, the tarmac turns to a dirt track, lorries churning up clouds of red dust as they pass in both directions.
We are now on the main Ruta 163 going north. At Coxim we stop at a gas station, but discover the roof has collapsed and therefore no longer being used. However, the very large parking area with a restaurant already has trucks parked for the night, so we join them and have a truckers meal.
24th May – A grey sky and cooler as we continue north to Cuiaba. We climb many hills and look down at views which feels strange after travelling for so long on flat, straight roads. This is a busy road however, full of heavily laden lorries travelling in both directions. Low cloud hangs over the hills and we have some misty rain…..it is like a grey English day, except for the flock of blue and yellow macaws that suddenly fly across the road and settle into nearby trees. Very flat once more around Sonora, with enormous fields full of maize and sugar cane, some of the latter being cut, with lines of containers stretching into the distance, waiting to be loaded.
We pass a lorry with its complete load overturned in the middle of the road. Orange earth, orange dust and lorry after lorry after lorry, all stained a deep red. The sun is now hot and it is not a pleasant journey, we would not recommend this lorry-filled route to anyone. Approx. 20km from Cuiaba, we pull in at another gas station to spend the night.
25th May – By 5.30am the traffic on the main road is a steady hum, throwing unpleasant fumes our way on a light breeze. Moby has two photos taken before we leave by guys interested in our conversion. It’s a welcome, cloudy start to the day again.
Finally arriving at Cuiaba, there is a real festive mood, with flags across the streets and music. We don’t stop however, but turn south toward Pocone and the beginning of the Transpantaneira – a dirt road through the Northern Pantanal.
This Transpantanal road was built in 1977 with the aim of linking the town of Pocone with Corumba. However, with the division of the State of Mato Grosso in that same year, the new State of Mato Grosso do Sul, showed no further interest in the project.
The Transpantanal road now goes from Pocone to Porto Jofre, a distance of approx. 150km and with 134 wooden bridges.
At Porto Jofre you will either have to turn around and drive back or continue by boat up the Rio Cuiaba or Rio Paraguai. Farmers on the big ranches along the Transpantaneira, have been able to open up their properties for tourism.
We stop for a short while in Pocone, originally named by the Beripoconeses Indians who lived in this region.
The town is over 200 years old and still has a few buildings with their original architecture. Local customs and colourful festivals, are also kept.
By the time we join the dirt road and the beginning of the Transpantaneira, the sun is out and once again, there is so much wildlife, particularly birds.
We spend our first night at Pousada Rio Claro situated by the Claro River. They have no problem with us parking there and provide us with a bathroom in one of the rooms. Excellent meals and also Wifi. The Pantanal has such beautiful sunsets.
26th May – Leaving Rio Claro, we take the road south toward Porto Jofre where this dirt road will end. Our highlights on this next section, are seeing beautiful Marsh Deer in the water as we are crossing a bridge…….
……..and Jabiru Storks on their nest, built high amongst the branches of a dead tree.
Still lots of beautiful birds to see in beautiful surroundings.
The Transpantaneira is a lot wider, dustier and busier than the dirt road in the Southern Pantanal and many of the bridges toward the southern end are in bad shape and in need of repair. We try not to think of all the caiman waiting underneath them!
We arrive at Jaguar Ecological Reserve for camping, approx. 30km from Porto Jofre. We park behind the buildings amongst the cows, pigs, dogs and cats and are given a bathroom to use in one of the rooms.
Very helpful people once again and excellent local food, I am really being spoilt not having to cook! Amongst the gardens and surrounding land, we see capybara, more hyacinth macaws, black vultures and Jabiru storks.
27th – 28th May – Early morning and we walk to a nearby bridge to see some Giant Otters, although they did not come as close as we would have liked for photos.
A highlight before we leave, is seeing the beautiful Chestnut-eared Aracari enjoying fruit in a papaya tree in the garden. A member of the Toucan family but smaller and even more attractive.
From Jaguar Eco Lodge we drive back north towards Pocone. To our amazement, the Marsh Deer are in the water once more by the very same bridge and we are able to take more photos. These handsome, male Marsh Deer, are the largest members of the deer family in South America. They have large, spreading hooves that enable them to walk more easily through the marsh in search of aquatic vegetation.
More wildlife to see on the road to our next camping place at Rio Clarinho, also with horses and cattle.
We are the only people here and park right next to the river.
A little more rustic than the other Pousadas we have stayed at, but good meals. Two little, grey foxes arrive in the grounds after dark and we have showers (cold) with the lizards and frogs that run round the walls. One frog is tucked in the corner during the day. He is like a chameleon and will change his colour according to his surroundings. Right now he is the colour of the tiles! Another large toad sits outside the shower room door after dark, having cleverly chosen the right place that will provide his evening meal. The insects swarm to the light outside the door, many dropping to the ground, so that all he has to do is shoot out his tongue!
We take a walk along tracks around the land and arrive at an enormous, wooden look-out tower which, when we get to the top, provides excellent views above the canopy of trees.
A tour guide arrives with Hussein who has travelled from San Francisco. The guide, who arrived here 33yrs. ago and never left, not only speaks excellent English, but is full of information to share about the wildlife here. Two more guys arrive later from Australia, north of Perth, they will be joining Hussein and the guide, so should have a great time. Like everyone, they have fingers crossed to see a jaguar. We have dinner together and learn about snakes, spiders, and piranhas which are in the waters here.
29th May – Two macaws arrive for their breakfast before we leave Rio Clarinho today.
We have to return to Cuiaba for a number of things that only a larger town will provide. More beautiful birds plus our first sighting of a spoonbill.
We also see racoons, but they move too quickly for photos. On our return journey to Pocone, we have to wait for gauchos who are moving a huge herd of cattle to new feeding grounds…..a great sight!
From Pocone we return to Cuiaba where we take a room for the night at the Delcas Hotel with guarded parking. It is good to be able to catch up with so many things before we begin our journey north to Porto Velho to find out about the condition of the road to Manaus and about the barges that also take passengers and their vehicles to the same town.