Monday, August 20, 2018

Brazil Day 13 and 14 - BA to Campo Grande to Rio

We were leaving Barranco Alto (and the Pantanal) at 10AM today.  So, after the usual early breakfast, we had some time to take a little walk once all the packing was done.

Red-shouldered Macaw:
Red-shouldered Macaw

Burrowing Owl:
Burrowing Owl

Red and Green Macaws:
Red and Green Macaw Flyby

Laughing Falcon:
Laughing Falcon

We also encountered two different Six-banded Armadillos both of which were digging holes.  So, instead of taking pictures, I took video of them both.  I will be editing all the video and sharing it at the end of this trip report.  So, consider that a teaser...

Before I talk about our transfer out of the Pantanal, I will share some thoughts on Barranco Alto.  I have already mentioned that this was our second trip to BA and after a fantastic first trip, our expectations were justifiable high.

The wildlife at BA was once again tremendous.  We saw no Tapirs this time but many Giant Anteaters and the experience with Clawdia was one of our best wildlife encounters ever.  The many Six-banded Armadillos were also a highlight as were all the spectacular birds.  It really is an amazing place.

The staff (Stefan, Claudia, and Lydia) were tremendous as always.  There is nothing they won't try to do for you if you asked and they are all fascinating to talk with.

The new managers Ben and Corrine were nice but we only met Corrine briefly.  Ben was around a little but they do have two young kids so they can't be with the guests at all times.  The best thing is that they really haven't changed anything in the two years since our last visit.  It is mostly all top notch and I would recommend a visit to any nature lover in a heartbeat.

We do have a few criticism worth mentioning; one is minor but the other is more significant.  The first is that beef 4 meals in a row and for 5 of 8 lunches/dinners is a bit much even if the beef was really good which it wasn't.  All the non beef meals were excellent. We never had anything but fantastic and varied meals two years ago so maybe we just got unlucky this trip.

The second is that last time BA handled all the transfers for us. They booked them and we paid BA for them.  It doesn't seem like they do that anymore.  They did put us in touch with the transfer companies but we had to communicate to them and pay them directly (incidentally, Baia das Pedras took care of our transfer to the Pantanal and to BA).   Originally, we wanted to fly out instead of drive.  But, the airline company that BA put us in touch with would only communicate in Portuguese.  So, I used Google translate which worked out OK.  Except, the airline could not confirm if all our bags would fit for the 4 of us.  They just never really answered that question (in Portuguese) to our satisfaction.  So, rather than risk having baggage issues on the day of the flight out, we had to book a ground transfer.  In hindsight, we saved a lot of money doing this but that transfer out was NOT very good as you will see in a bit.

Now seems a good time to mention that, during our stay, Stefan had placed a motion sensor camera on a trail that he thought would be a good place to capture some wildlife.  Since returning home, Stefan informed us that Claudia saw something that she thought was an Oncilla.  So, he moved the camera to that spot hoping to get a picture of it.  After a month, he sent us some of the pictures and they are too good to keep to ourselves.  There was no Oncilla unfortunately, but with Stefan's permission, here are some of the other shots:





You know I had to sneak another Giant Anteater into this report...right!

It was tough saying goodbye to Stefan who had been an exceptional guide and companion the last 9 days in the Pantanal.  Not only does he know the flora and fauna of the Pantanal but he is also a joy to travel and talk with.  He's like the brother I never had and he will be missed.  So, after a round of hugs and goodbyes we were ready (sort of ) to leave.

That brings us to 10AM when this pickup truck pulls in front of the lodge.  "That can't be our transfer vehicle can it" I said.  "Yes, that's it", I was told.  They proceeded to load all our luggage in the back which did fit fine.  But, despite the fact that all of us are thin, there was very little room in the backseat and poor Peggy was sitting in the middle which wasn't really a seat at all.  If any of us had been overweight there is no way we would have fit.  I was given the passenger seat since I was the tallest but my knees were up against the dashboard.

This was going to be an uncomfortable 6 to 7 hour drive!

Our driver was introduced as Va Va but he didn't speak any English so there was no easy way to communicate with him.  Unfortunately, I quickly gave him the nickname "Va Va Vroom" because he obviously never met an accelerator pedal he didn't slam to the floor.  The first hour was on horrible roads/grass/sand and all of us were getting slammed against different parts of the car when big bumps occurred.  We finally got him to slow down for the big bumps after some gasps and cursing but it was a drive that all of us would rather forget.

The worst part is that not only did Va Va Vroom not slow down for any wildlife we saw (we only saw one distant Giant Anteater) but on the gravel road he was going so fast that he didn't have time to stop when some Guira Cuckoos flew down to the road in front of us.  One didn't make it back up in time and slammed into the windshield right in front of me.  That is NOT what I wanted my last wildlife experience in Pantanal to be but it was unfortunately.

Since I was in the front seat, I volunteered to open the 20+ gates we encountered along the way.  This was nice because it gave me a chance to stretch my legs but it was also very dusty so I was filthy when we got to Campo Grande.

The only good part of this whole fiasco is that he drove so fast that we got to Campo Grande in 6 hours and that included a stop for at least a half hour at Rancho do Pescador for lunch and souvenirs. This place is off the paved highway right after Aguiduana and is recommended for souvenirs.  BA packed a light lunch for us so we didn't eat there but Va Va Vroom did.

As I was writing this report and reliving the whole experience I got a bit pissed off again so I looked through my email to try to find the name of this company.  It turns out it is Vava Tours.  So, Va Va Vroom must be the owner.  Based on our experience, I would stay away from this company in the future.  I did tell Ben and Corrine about the bad transfer and they were not happy either.  They said they talked with Va Va and won't use him in the future if he drives like that again.

OK, enough negativity.  Back to good times!

Our hotel in Campo Grande was the Hotel Prime Deville again and we enjoyed it again.  I would recommend it.  They had good food even though service was a bit slow sometimes and they messed up Karen's margarita once (don't mess with Karen's booze!).  The rooms were nice and comfortable and room service was very good.

We know from past conversations with Stefan that not only is he an accomplished photographer but he is also an outstanding artist.  He told us that some of his work was on display at an art museum in Campo Grande.  As it just so happens, that museum (MARCO, the Contemporary Art Museum of Mato Grosso do Sul)  was in the park near our hotel.  So, the next morning before our flights to Rio, we walked to the park to check out his exhibit.  Just as we thought, Stefan's artwork is fantastic and if you are interested in knowing more about it, feel free to contact him here

Stefan gave me permission to include some photos of his exhibit but they don't do it justice.  It is all about reflections of the Pantanal:

I guess I need to stop talking about Stefan (darn it) before people start suspecting a "bromance" is in the making.

Later on, our flights to Rio were uneventful. I said "flights" because you can't fly direct to Rio from Campo Grande.  You have to transfer in Sao Paulo.  That, plus the loss of an hour, put us in Rio in the late afternoon.

We had never been to Rio before but I knew it was a very picturesque city. So, I had my trusty Sony point and shoot camera ready in case there were any decent shots before we landed.  There were:

Rio from the Air

Rio from the Air

Upon landing we grabbed a taxi that fit all 4 of us and 20 minutes (and R$60) later we pulled up to the Arena Copacabana Hotel.  That's right, we were staying across from the famous Copacabana beach.  Naturally, we splurged for ocean view rooms:

Copacabana Beach from Our Hotel

We headed down for drinks and dinner at around 5PM.  We were the only ones there until about 7PM when others started to show up.  Most people eat later in Brazil but it's hard for us to break our habits and we were tired from a long travel day and wanted to get to sleep early.

Well, that was easier said than done since our only gripe about this hotel was its elevators.  Not only were they small but you needed to use your key to activate them to go up.  This wouldn't be that bad by itself but the doors closed immediately after someone exited.  So, if you didn't push past them as they were coming out, the doors would close and you couldn't get in.  Needless to say not only did we miss getting on the elevators a few times, but a few times we rode them past our floor because if you didn't press your floor at exactly the right time after using your key the elevator didn't register your floor.

So, before going to bed tonight we got a scenic tour of the hotel from the inside of the elevator.  Once we finally got it to stop at our floor, we exited and hit the sack.

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