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FLINTUS

Self-driving the Transpantaneira

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We recently just returned from an independent five night trip to the Pantanal and thought we'd share some tips (a photo report should hopefully follow in due course!). All the hotel rates are per night for two people as of August 2017, on a full board basis-sodas and juices were an extra 5 BRL a time.

We arrived late into Cuiaba and picked up a car from Unidas, who had to be called to pick us up from the airport (though it is within walking distance). Long, very thorough inspection of the car, including underneath, as well as taking fingerprints. Stayed nearby that night in Varzea Grande.

Our first stop was Piuval (620 BRL), a very comfortable place with good rooms and facilities. Definitely the best birding we had anywhere, as well as two crab-eating foxes returning to the jeep after the complimentary boat trip and two the next morning. The night safari was disappointing (150 BRL) with a couple more foxes and a crab-eating raccoon, but we very narrowly missed a giant armadillo in the car park. Food was the best we had in the Pantanal, but the place is clearly set up for tour groups so that is a consideration. English is well spoken by the staff.

Our next stop for two nights was Pouso Alegre (650 BRL), which has simple but nice enough rooms. Luiz was tremendously helpful, personally taking us out for free on two drives and a walk with a fellow independent-travelling guest. He is clearly very supportive of self drivers, and was happy to give us information both before and during our stay. Great mammals here with more foxes, coatis, three species of monkey, agouti, capybara, six brocket deer, wild pigs etc. (though only a distant sighting of a tapir at night) as well as some nice birds with good macaw viewing and an excellent feeding station for toucans and aracaris. Food had more flavour than Piuval but less variety-good for veggies however like myself.

Leaving Pouso Alegre, we drove down to Porto Jofre (nearly three hours) planning to go on a jaguar trip with Eduardo from the Jaguar Ecological Reserve (BRL 880). However, after two hours of trying to find him we found out that he had already taken his boat out full with other people despite us confirming the previous evening. He then lied to us in the follow-up conversations, even though we saw his boat out on the river full of people. Understandably, not recommended.

However, eventually we reached a deal with the Hotel Pantanal Norte to go out for six hours for BRL 575 (reduced from 792). We had four separate jaguar sightings, all of which were excellent for photography, within an hour or so late morning. Then it slowed as all the boats went off for lunch, and we only saw one in the afternoon, as well as six otters, an iguana and a buffalo. We were very happy with the results, but our guide was pretty poor, only really following the crowds of boats and not spotting much himself. He also just parked up and chatted with his 'mates' on the other boats in the afternoon for an hour, and as we don't speak Portuguese, it was difficult to communicate our frustration. To his credit however he was a good driver and manoeuvred us well for photo opportunities, and our tally of five jaguars was an excellent result. 

We were going to go out the next day, but as we were staying at the Hotel Mato Grosso (BRL 730 for what the triple booked, but actually 573 at its double rate), two hours drive away, and didn't want to mess around with Eduardo again we decided to leave it, happy with our tally. The hotel is in need of a bit of repair, with too many wasps around and flies allowed into the dining area. However, the rooms were spacious and because we had booked for three people (the others we had managed to change), we ended up with an extra boat tour for the two of us. Of the three organised, two were private and gave us nice viewings of otters and various birds fishing, as well as an iguana.  Macaws, capybara and a deer were also found within the grounds, as well as close up views of a monkey and an orange-backed troupial. We also went to the Ocelot Hide at South Wild at 7:20 pm that gave us nice photos but was expensive for twenty minutes of viewing (400 BRL, negotiated from 500). However the crown jewel here was on the last morning when we got a knock on the door that there was a jaguar on the river and we could take the speed boat up. So up we went and after waiting a bit, us and two other boats saw not one but two jaguars, with a male aggressively pursuing a female. This was a fantastic way to end our Pantanal trip before heading back up to Cuiaba.

Self-drive is entirely possible here and with a non 4X4 car too. In retrospect, we should have stayed down at Porto Jofre rather than Pixaim, as if we had returned for a second boat trip for the jaguars fuel would have been tight-Brazilian cars usually run on ethanol which is a lot less fuel efficient than petrol. I'm not convinced we would have seen much more with a guide, but it would have allowed us to do proper night drives with a spotlight ourselves rather than using our rather pathetic torch. However, we were certainly lucky with the weather and that no doubt helped our haul of photos from the trip.

Re. other wildlife places in Brazil, we went to Caraca (think we paid about 320 BRL) which is excellent and not commercial at all, with two wolves seen for about 40 minutes, though photography isn't fantastic with the chairs and people in the way. Probably some good birding there too. Iguassu had some nice birds and coatis, and Brasilia's National Park some decent birding too (as well as some good birds nearby towards Anapolis and Pirenopolis in the Cerrado). There is also a park in Centro in Rio that has a large population of agouti; we found it by accident as it's next to a huge sixteen lane highway. They're fed and it's not exactly wild by any means as if they leave the park they'd have very slim chances of making it to the other side of the road, but for a species that is usually very difficult to photograph (I failed in the Pantanal and also with more than a dozen sightings in Corcovado, Costa Rica in December) it may be worth a look. EMAS and Canastra also looked interesting but were a long way to go from anywhere and sounded like they could potentially be very frustrating.  

Brazil as a whole was a good trip, though we both agreed that our previous trip to South America in Chile, a less wildlife-focused trip 1.25 years ago worked better as the country is much more developed. You will run into problems in Brazil, but most of them were eventually solved in our case, and the people were enormously helpful. Our lack of Portuguese made life difficult, and unfortunately Spanish wasn't that widely spoken either; often when people said they spoke Spanish they would quickly revert back to Portuguese after a few words! But it's certainly doable independently even without the language, and in the end we got pretty good results.

Edited by FLINTUS
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Very good @FLINTUS. Brazil in terms of conservation is walking slowly, there is little professionalism in the eco-tourism sectors, the guides are always people of the region, however it has very little professional preparation to deal with external clients. The glimpse of the five ounces sighted was phenomanal for any tourist visiting the region. 95% are private lands, with huge cattle ranches, many fences and unfortunately a lot of illegal hunting of jaguars. There is no effective prison sentence for crimes against the environment, in the end it comes down to insignificant fines that are not actually paid (criminal cases are dragging on for years and lawsuits are being filed). I was twice in the south of Mato Grosso (Corumbá) and seven times in the Amazon region. The Pantanal is a very beautiful place, but it's a shame we do not own a big national park in this region.

 

A little of history:

After the military coup of 1964, a developmentalist race of occupation towards the interior of Brazil was promoted - notably Mato Grosso and the entire Amazon region, a process of "institutionalized invasion" along the lines of the old American West, devastation, fences and official In Real Estate Registry Offices that were officially directed to legalize the possession of these lands (a false heritage chain is used - a historical / chronological record of land ownership is invented). Thus, this model is perpetuated to this day in this usurpation of public lands of the Brazilian State. They are farms of 15,000 / 20,000 / 25,000 hectares whose "property" does not matter anymore. The time has tried to "legalize" all this usurpation, and there is no movement of the Brazilian Judiciary to reverse this process.

 

We'll wait for the photos.

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10 hours ago, Matias Cox said:

 

After the military coup of 1964, a developmentalist race of occupation towards the interior of Brazil was promoted - notably Mato Grosso and the entire Amazon region, a process of "institutionalized invasion" along the lines of the old American West, devastation, fences and official In Real Estate Registry Offices that were officially directed to legalize the possession of these lands (a false heritage chain is used - a historical / chronological record of land ownership is invented). Thus, this model is perpetuated to this day in this usurpation of public lands of the Brazilian State. They are farms of 15,000 / 20,000 / 25,000 hectares whose "property" does not matter anymore. The time has tried to "legalize" all this usurpation, and there is no movement of the Brazilian Judiciary to reverse this process.

 

I have some idea of the trouble of Brazilian conservation, though I believe 40% of the land is now protected in some form. The main problem as you said is enforcement, and we saw lots of forest fires (some natural no doubt but some deliberate) both driving and flying. GIS/GPS technologies will help monitor and cover the vast swathes of territory, but it is still a problem for a country with multiple civic problems. I'm also aware that already deforested land is protected under law to remain as farming.

What we found surprising was the lack of agriculture. I had seen plenty before about Mato Grosso being a heavily farmed state after the deforestation; there were plenty of cattle ranches but it was not at all intensive, and very few crops-maybe there are more to the north of Cuiaba?

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Good for you to self-drive.  Nice combo of your own vehicle and then outings with the guides, even if some of the guides were less than wonderful.

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17 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Good for you to self-drive.  Nice combo of your own vehicle and then outings with the guides, even if some of the guides were less than wonderful.

Definitely. Luiz and our boat driver on the Pixaim definitely stand out as the most helpful.

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Are you interested in adding any photos to your report?  By your description it seems you have some beauts!

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@FLINTUS as you have been interested in the serious "Brazilian problems", and this is very important, I will bring some information that are usually unknown to the general external public.


In 1979 State of Mato Grosso was dismembered in two, where the State of Mato Grosso do Sul (Capital Campo Grande) was created. The Matogrossian economy is based on agriculture, mainly in the production of soybeans (main crop and product of exports) and livestock raising. The large latifundia and mechanized agriculture (agribusiness) conditions a production process of high environmental impact, the large-scale use of agricultural pesticides is bringing a series of fertility problems, along with erosion, provoking a process "which I believe will not be reversed "Of embezzling the earth. Our current minister of agriculture, Mr. Blairo Maggi, is considered the largest individual soy producer in the world. The same has a judicial court race, of corruption and undue favors as in programs of land legalization. Mato Grosso is included in the so-called "Deforestation Arc", the part of the legal Amazon that most loses forest area. When it governed Mato Grosso, the rate of deforestation doubled. Now as minister the ruralist group is receiving enormous privileges, see the last of our "corrupt" President Temer to cancel the protected area of RENCA (4 million hectares) and the previous release of JAMANXIN. Brazil is experiencing the investigative process known as "CAR WASH", in which it has demonstrated, until now, that our renowned politicians are, without exception criminal perpetrators.                                            

The worst experience I had in Mato Grosso was in 2010, when I landed in the city of Alta Floresta (extreme north of Mato Grosso, near the border with the State of Pará), in the 160 km traveled by car to my final destination at Taimaçu Lodge (a beautiful place by the way, an island of green excellence - a portrait of the forest's magnificence of that region) I saw, with my own eyes, some 50 locksmiths (wood processing factories) - ALL ILLEGAL; the intense flow of trucks with logs and more logs - all of the forest until the vicinity of the Lodge Taimaçu were eradicated, and this whole area now serves as cattle pasture. Impressive, as in 45 years of occupation the whole forest has disappeared. An unprecedented governmental disregard. The problems excuse frankness, it is cultural in nature. Corruption is the "modus operandi" of our governmental structure! It is unfortunate how our natural resources are relegated to anything. It is painful to see how my country continues to be vilified by public officials. As in Brazil, crimes in which a penalty of less than 8 years is imputed does not impose its compliance in a closed regime, practically every environmental crime regardless of the aggravating circumstance provoked does not condemn anyone to remain in the penitentiary.


In the case of Pantanal ecotourism, tourists, except for aerial sightings, are relatively spared from seeing the devastation that affects the two states of Mato Grosso. Geographically the production of soybeans is spread throughout the territory. The center and north of Mato Grosso, notably from the city of SINOP where it is sad to see its enormous devastation. The high concentration of "landless" in MST groups and the like dominates the swift trade of invasions of public lands. Usurpation / occupation of indigenous lands is commonplace. In our Federal Constitution we have a very efficient and even modern environmental legislation (for gringos). It attends the main international organizations and gives us the guarantee to participate and obtain access to the much sought-after financing and international programs that are directed to the underdeveloped countries (BID, WORLD BANK, ONU). A cynical stance on foreign policy reasons.

 

On November 5, 2015, the date of the biggest socio-environmental tragedy in Brazil, the dam broke in the Minas Gerais state, where was deposited mining tailings from the company Samarco (owned by multinationals Vale and BHP Billiton), launching a wave of toxic sludge Carmo river, reaching the Doce river in all its extension, until arriving at the sea and dispersing by the coast, towards the north and south. Its devastating consequences continue to plague thousands of families throughout the Rio Doce Basin, from Mariana (MG) to Regency (ES), and the environmental impacts of the mud that continue to descend reach Abrolhos (BA). The process will go on for years, possibly for decades on end, ultimately resulting in a strictly pecuniary penalty. The legal proceedings in Brazil are made to be postponed indefinitely, enriching our competent lawyer, and notably our judiciary.

I need to make it clear that I do not want to interrupt the tourist flow in Brazil. Brazil is a rich country with natural resources, passionate landscapes, a happy population that does not deserve to be the victim of a corrupt government system that has been with us since the colonial period. It is necessary that the world press, through the international organisms, aiming at serious practices of protection of our forests. "When the following headline appears in the media saying that deforestation in the Amazon has declined, you can be sure that in the area or region where this happened, the cause was not the result of any kind of prohibitive and efficient surveillance, but deforestation encountered some natural obstacle, and after a certain period of time this obstacle will be overcome. Whoever dictates the rate of devastation is nature and not any practical measure adopted by the Government of Brazil."

 

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@Matias Cox thank you; truly tragic and an example of poor management that is likely to have not only repercussions on a local or national level but on a global scale due to the carbon sink that it is. 

@Atravelynn I'm trying to get all our photos in order. Here are a few of the felines though:

 

IMG_2126 (2).JPG

IMG_2084.JPG

IMG_1862 (2).JPG

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Lovely cats!

 

Thanks @Matias Cox for your first hand, and horrific, account.

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Very useful tips, @FLINTUS, thanks a lot. In addition, what type of car did you rent, and how much was the cost? How do you compare driving to what you have experienced in Costa Rica? 

About Chile, similar question: type of the car needed, average cost and usual driving conditions. 

 

I thank you in advance, as I am always looking for the next self-driving destination :D.

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Car rentals were cheap in Brazil, surprisingly so considering the high cost of purchase. Every city we went to you could get a small car for around £20-30 per day, and a tin-shed for a bit less than that; insurance wasn't mandatory either unlike CR. I can't quite remember but I think our Ford Ka was about £150 for six days, and no damages though they did check. Lots of time-consuming Brazilian bureaucracy to pick-up cars, often like 30-45 minutes but when you returned it was no more than five minutes.

The Transpantaneira is just a relatively well-maintained dirt road, you'll average 40 on most of it though there are sections you can do 60. It's very wide so easy to overtake and the traffic here is all tourist-related so no worries, though the bridges aren't great. The Cuiaba-Pocone drive wasn't bad either once you get out of the city: straight, well-maintained roads and little traffic. 

Driving standards back on the tarmac in the rest of the country were poor, worse than CR. Roads were better, though not as good as Chile, often three or four lane highways, but roadworks were quite common as well as speedbumps and cameras. Rio's driving was particularly bad, Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte a bit mixed, Iguassu and Brasilia (which is planned for the car) both similar in driving standards to Spain. Out of the cities the driving was okay, if a little slow (most non-major roads are 60 or 80kph) though google maps is pretty accurate.

The Sat Nav really struggled for two reasons: firstly there's been a lot of new road building, particularly in Rio. Secondly, many Brazilian roads are subdivided into two or three roads, often with a local traffic road-Google did a much better than coping with this as if you get in the wrong lane you can often go miles before being able to either come off at a junction and go back or on the newer roads do a tight U-turn at an intersection. 

Chile is great. Straight roads with little traffic or cameras, generally 100 or 120 on the main roads and 80 on the secondary ones. Traffic is relatively well-behaved and there's little of it as there's few large cities. Tolls are considerably more than Brazil though and can add up but are nothing compared to Norway for example. Driving long-distances at night is fine (though we did do a bit in Brazil too) and it's very, very safe unless your GPS takes you across a dirt road in the desert and you have to be rescued after getting stuck (we're forever indebted to a Swiss couple for that...)-the remoteness and maybe Santiago are the only problems you'll have there.

Car rentals are expensive though and you'll want a pick-up truck for any of the better national parks (except Torres del Paine). Expect something in the region of £50 per day for that.

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@FLINTUS you were privileged. Beautiful photos of two Jaguars and a Jaguatirica. Seeing free felines is always a magical moment.

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@FLINTUS, thanks a ton for your very detailed info! I have read about rental prices in Bolivia which are closer to 100 USD for a pick-up/4x4 car (obviously needed for many areas of the country). 

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