PANTANAL? NEVER HEARD of it… An internet search for the word for it brought up “wetlands.” Later, it dawned on me how important and beautiful this National Park is. Toucans, Macaws (Araras), Anteaters, Alligators; all as common as sparrows, magpies and squirrels back in the UK.
Corumba is an ideal service stop after exiting Bolivia, close enough to the border to address any immigration problems. The further inland you go, the more sparse these offices become and the more difficult it gets to resolve any difficulties. The issue with the camouflaged customs here on the border was a good example and I settled down to prepare for the rest of the journey.
The bank ATMs in the centre of Corumba reject my card. The banks here support neither Visa or Mastercard but I later discover a machine, tucked behind a kiosk in a nearby supermarket and another at the Shell fuel station way across town. It occurred to me that having only one Debit Card is a bottleneck for ongoing access for funds. I started off with two cards initially but the first one was lost in Sicily whilst minding Sailing Vessel Pantelisa before the Atlantic crossing to Colombia.
Some countries require an international yellow fever vaccine certificate if you’ve visited Brazil. As I’m passing the local hospital, I drop in and ask at reception for any info. They speak no English but understand enough what I’m asking and they mark on my tourists map the clinic a few blocks down the road and direct me there.
I leave the bike across the road and wander through a crowded waiting room to the small queue at the reception desk. After a short wait, I ask about “Amarillo Fever” pointing to the ‘febre amarila’ poster and they try to guess where I’m from ” Italiano?” “No, Ingles.” I’m invited to make myself comfortable on one of the plastic chairs in the waiting room. Two hours later after sitting in the company of breastfeeding mothers and wailing babies, they call me into a cupboard-sized room, big enough for a couple of chairs, a desk and shelves of basic medical paraphernalia. A couple of questions about nationality and age then Jab, rubber stamp and I’m done. I ask the receptionist if this card was the certificate I needed and she pulls up the address of the Anvisa office on Google and points to it. I snap a photo of the screen with my phone and swing the bike out onto the cobbles homeward to Road Riders.
Anvisa office, the next day, time 14:20. “Where are you from?” It says it in the passport he’s holding. “United Kingdom… Great Britain… Gran Bretagne… England… Inglaterra?” Blank look… his eyes return to the screen and all became quiet between the mouse clicks and the tapping of computer keys. I check the certificate he hands to me. Place of birth: “Georgia.” Close enough, and I tuck it into my satchel. Tip: if you ever get asked in a Spanish or Portuguese speaking country and need to express Britain as your place of origin, learn to say “Reino Unido.” Also, if you don’t know that, it’s a bugger to find in the list of countries on a computer since it’s nowhere near G or U in an alphabetical drop-down box.
After a week at Road Riders, having collected more contacts it was time to move on. The bike had already been prepared the day before and I had everything I needed. Diego gave me a gallon container so I could grab more fuel when I need it between the longer distances across Brazil and Argentina, which would take the stress out of watching the fuel gauge needle plummet toward empty while out in the sticks. I devised a clever loop system so I could release the container without untying the bags. Always thinking…
I visit Manoel and his wife one more time and he insisted on escorting me to the edge of town for the 350km trip to Bonito. Manoel pulls over on the edge of town at what looks to be an unattended checkpoint, I stop to thank him and give a wave as I pull away toward my first waypoint, the town of Miranda. The day is hazy and surprisingly cold and, on the horizon, rain threatens to dampen my ride. This is the Pantanal, the wetlands of Brazil, the famous national park I’d never heard of before.
The road to Miranda has a smooth grey surface, dead straight on a raised dyke through a marshy flat landscape bisected by the mighty Paraguay River. Speed cameras line the road at my maximum cruising speed of 80kmh to help protect the wildlife that stray across. I’m told the water level is unusually high for the time of year and I notice the Brahman cattle between the shrubs, ankle deep in water, grazing on whatever vegetation breaks the surface and wonder how many get taken by alligators.
A family of capybara in the middle of the road causes me to stop. They dawdle out of the way while I fumble to retrieve my camera before they slowly disappear into the hedgerow.
The weather had brightened up before I reached Miranda where I was due to turn right to Bonito. I was warmer now as I coasted into the gas station for a top up. The fuel container behind me was replaced by empty space and the rope it was attached to was a loose and wayward loop hanging off the back of the bike. I surmised the container bounced off the seat and worked its way along the rope, over the bag until it hung off the back near the rear light and eventually worked the loop off the peg and escape to join the animals in the Pantanal. My contribution to pollution of the habitat while decreasing my fuel range. Everyone’s a loser.
Way past lunchtime, I cruise around Miranda looking for a suitable lunch stop. Too many people on the street watching my loaded bike idle by makes me feel self-conscious at a time I’d rather go unnoticed. Uninspired and not hungry enough for what was on offer I instead continue to Bonito down the MS 339 via Bodequena
There’s dramatically less traffic along this route, more undulating, more bends. Some of the countryside reminds me of England in a good summer and I relax and daydream into the scenery.
A bright light catches the corner of my eye. A motorcycle gaining in my mirrors. Pure white LED lights, with a paranoid hint of blue, either side of the headlamp. Rider wearing black jacket and fluorescent yellow helmet, flashing his headlight waving me over.. Shit, a cop… this would be my first stop since setting foot on the continent way back in January.
Vinicio Rodriguez is not a cop. He’s a university lecturer from Ecuador on a road trip to visit his son in Campinas, not far from Sao Paulo. His Honda 500X is decked out well for long stretches of tarmac and today we are both bound for Bonito for the night. We chat at the roadside for a few minutes and then partner up for the next hour’s cruise into Bonito. I lead at first on the slower machine until we approach Bonito and then we switch and I follow Vin to his hotel intending to enjoy a drink together. We reach Pousada Ceu de Estrelles not long before dusk. Vinicio checked out the room and invited me to stay. I say thanks but it’s over my budget and I’d be camping at Pousada do Peralta. He tells me that the hotel charges per room and costs the same for one person as it would for two and would be pleased to share my company. I feel conflicted but accept, offering a contribution to alleviate my feeling. He wouldn’t have it.
Vinicio’s Spanish is understood by Brazilians far more readily than my English. Marco Velho is a buffet restaurant in the centre of Bonito that comes highly recommended and apparently the most attended throughout Bonito. We make ourselves comfortable and, before we know it, all the tables are swept up by an influx of local inhabitants. Always a good endorsement.
The food was delicious and plentiful and I happily picked up the tab for both of us to help repay his generosity for providing a good company, soft mattress and warm room for the night, which also doused my residual feeling of guilt carried from accepting Vin’s earlier invitation. Feelings eh, what can you do with them?