Thursday, December 09, 2010

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009


Never heard of the Pantanal? Don’t feel bad, I think most people haven’t, including me for all that matters. Everybody seems to be too occupied with the much flashier Amazon. The Pantanal is the world's largest fresh-water wetland system, a giant swamp the size of France basically. Well, at least half the year, when it floods because of rains in the surrounding mountain ranges. Then vast lagoons appear and fill with squillions of fish, shellfish and mollusks. During dry season, the water begins to recede very slowly but not all the fish make it to the permanent rivers. Some get stranded in the disappearing pools and present an open buffet for other animals. This time normally starts around June and last until October and is naturally the best time for a visit.

Visiting the Pantanal is like being in your very own documentary about wild life in Brazil. There are no tracking skills required. The wildlife is practically parading in front of you and doing its best to completely ignore you. Only exception being the mosquitoes that far from ignoring you seem to think you are actually the main dish!
Mostly you go to the Pantanal to do animal watching. Hard to miss are the birds. They are everywhere. I am not a birdwatcher, but it was hard not to be fascinated. The beautiful Macaws could always be heard long before you actually saw them. Kingfishers and hawks were a dime a dozen and even a greenhorn like me recognized the stunning Toucans with their big beaks. The Jabiru, the symbol of the Pantanal, is a stork easily recognized by the red band around his neck.

Apart from the birds, the animals you come across most often in the Pantanal are the Jacarés (Caimans or Pantanal alligators) and the Capybaras. The latter is the world’s biggest rodent, basically a gigantic guinea pig!
Other animals are a bit more elusive, but in my short visit to the Pantanal I also saw an anteater, a tapir, an ocelot, marsh deer, a fox, river otters, monkeys and last but not least a Jaguar!
I was very lucky to see a Jaguar. I saw it while on a night safari on Fazenda San Francisco in the Southern Pantanal. It was an amazing sight. This beautiful cat lay on the bank of a canal a stone throw away and did not mind us in the least. It was fantastic! There used to be a healthy population of Jaguars in the Pantanal but their numbers were dwindling because of farmers killing them to protect their cattle or by poachers who were after their skins. Now hunting is illegal. A sure way to see a Jaguar is the Jaguar Research Center in the Northern Pantanal. I would have loved to go there, but being a long term traveler my budget did not allow it.

Since the wildlife is so abundant and seemingly completely unafraid of humans, driving through the Pantanal is a good option for a visit. But to really explore the Pantanal, I would recommend a stay on a Fazendas or a boat trip.
There are two tracks through the Pantanal: In the South the Estrada Parque do Pantanal is 117 km of track with 87 wooden bridges to cross. It begins in Buraco das Piranhas and ends in Corumba on the border to Bolivia. It is possible to catch a ferry from Corumba up the Rio Cuiaba to Puerto Joffre in the Northern Pantanal. As I have heard, it is supposed to be a three day trip on the river, which you will share with a lot of mosquitoes. It should be arranged in advance, as there is no fixed schedule. Mirjam in Miranda can help with that. It will save the long, boring and very stressful drive around the Pantanal between Campo Grande and Cuiaba. There might be less mosquitoes on this road, but instead a lot of trucks! Puerto Joffre on Rio Cuiaba marks the end of the Transpantaneira. This is a 149 km track with 118 wooden bridges which has been cut into the very heart of the Pantanal. It was supposed to go all the way down to Corumba. Fortunately this project was stopped. There is nothing in Puerto Joffre, except a very expensive hotel, a very basic campground and a lot of fishermen. But along the Transpantaneira there are a lot of Fazendas and Pousadas which offer a bed, food and trips into the Pantanal. I stayed at the Araras Eco Lodge. It is a lovely place and the viewing towers are a great way to watch the sunset and sunrise and of course visit with the monkeys.

There are actually huge cattle ranches in and around the Pantanal. They are called Fazendas and some of them have recently discovered eco tourism as a source of additional income. They offer rooms, food and tours into the Pantanal. Some of these Fazendas are very big operations who mainly raise cattle and grow rice. They are typically on the edges of the Pantanal. Staying there has very little to do with ‘Eco’ tourism, but they can easily be reached and are a quick, easy and fun way to explore the Pantanal. Other, smaller Fazendas in the heart of the Pantanal are harder to reach but offer more intimate visits. Strangely enough, I kept running into Swiss people who helped me with my visits to the Pantanal. Miriam and her husband Marcello run the travel agency Explore Pantanal in Miranda. Marcello is of the Kadiwèu Indians and grew up in the Pantanal. He and Miriam can recommend Fazendas or organize tours into the Pantanal.
Near Aquidauana lives Anne Lys, another Swiss lady who runs a little farm. She also has a few lovely rooms where she welcomes guests and she will personally guide you on any excursions you would like to make.

Summary Travel Information:
Best time to visit: June - October
Where to go: Miranda-Buraco das Piranahs-Corumba-Puerto Joffre-Pocone-Cuiaba
More info: Mirjam and Marcello in Miranda:
Explore Pantanal

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Brazil First Impression!

The only thing they seem to be doing small here in Brazil is the bikinis! Everything else is big! For starters the country in itself is huge and so are the portions in the restaurants! The cities are gigantic and so are the distances between them and the pot holes in the roads! The giant anteater, the giant river otter and the giant armadillo are all found here, as is the biggest snake in the world, the anaconda and biggest rodent, the Capybara. The Amazon boast the world’s biggest rainforest and on a completely different subject Blumenau boasts the biggest Oktoberfest outside of Munich! I suspect this list is far from complete.
Coming from Argentina, getting used to Brazil took some time. For one thing I was robbed of my ability to communicate properly. Portuguese is quite different from Spanish. The officer at the customs office in charge of filling out the temporary import permit for the motorcycle only spoke Portuguese. He apparently also didn’t have a clue as to how to enter the information into the computer. So he did the only sensible thing and rebooted the machine a couple of times! Obviously that didn’t help and so he was forced to call someone to come and help. To my surprise this officer spoke German! It took two hours, but eventually I was handed a big stack of papers! Welcome to Brazil! Actually, things here in general, seem to be very well organized and usually work. Traveling in Brazil is a breeze.
Brazil is not what I had pictured it to be. But it is very distinct, different from any country I have been to so far. There are certain things here that I will now forever associate with Brazil: For example being afraid of getting electrocuted every time I get into the shower where the hot water comes from a 220 Volt water heater often precariously installed! How green everything is, but also how hard it rains. And I am just amazed at the incredible variety of fruits and vegetables. Thank god the Brazilians love buffets! This is a great way of sampling all unknown dishes without having to bother trying to decipher a Portuguese menu!
I have been here two months now and I love it. I have been far too busy to write any blog updates, but right now I am spending some quite days in Lencois and maybe I will get around to it after all. By now there are quite a few stories to tell......

Sunday, May 31, 2009

For those following my tyre tracks....

April - May 2009

Argentian: Rosario-Iguazu-Brazil:Foz-Cacador-Lages-Florianapolis-Lagoa-Ingleses-Pomerode-San Francisco do Sul-Curitiba-Maringa-Campo Grande-Bonito-Miranda-Chacara Anis-Coxim-Cuiaba-Puerto Joffre-Chapada dos Guimaraes-Barra do Garcas-Brasilia-Gurupi-Palmas-Dianopolis-Ibotiranma-Lencois

For those more interested in pictures:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Un cortado doble y dos medialunas, por favor!

I left Argentina a couple of days ago! How sad! I have come to like Argentina very much. But I went out in style. My last days in Argentina were spent at Iguacu, a wonderful place. I am adding some pictures to give you an idea.
Actually about Argentina, I fell in love with that place on my very first day there. I had come over Paseo de Maule from Chile and after a spectacular ride ended up in Malargue. There, while looking for an ATM, I had my first of many encounters with ‘The Natives’. A family stopped me because they were impressed with the bike. We chatted for a while and on saying goodbye they all kissed me ‘Argentina’ style on the check and we parted like we had been friends for years. That same night I was taken in by a family of musicians. During winter they play up at ‘Las Lennas’, a ski resort. To my surprise they knew more about the Swiss National Ski Team, than I did. Turns out, my compatriots come here in ‘our’ summer to practice on the slopes of Argentina in what is 'their' winter. Within hours I had been integrated into the family and we were sitting around a campfire drinking wine!
There were days, when the curiosity and hospitality of the Argentineans could be over whelming. After all, how many times a day can you answer the ‘where are you from’ question? And I was asked that a lot! While stopped at traffic lights, while driving down the road, while having lunch, while fixing a flat, while looking for a place to stay to name just a few. But to tell you the truth, I never got sick of answering that question because I just have to love the people here!
Almost without exception right after asking you where you are from, they will go on to tell you how much they hate their government and that the current crisis is just awful. But then in the next sentence they will rave about their country and its natural beauty: ‘Ah que precioso, que lindo, que bárbaro!’ And they are right! There are wonderful places in this very, very big country: From the highest mountain in South America, Aconcagua, to the Southern Most Point on the American continent in Ushuaia there are more than enough natural wonders to gaze at. Some are overhyped, like Routa 40, but others like the Perito Moreno glacier live more than up to their expectations.
But still: natural beauty can be found in a lot of places on this planet. What makes Argentina special are the people and their way of life. They seem to always have time for family, friends and strangers.
In today’s globalized and standardized world, Argentina is refreshingly different. Why drink coffee at Starbucks, when there are local coffee shops where you can meet over cortados and medialunas? Or maybe skip coffee all together and share a mate instead. Why put peanut butter or marmalade on bread, when there is Dulce de Leche? Why eat at McDonalds, when you can have an asado with friends instead? That is not to say, that there is no McDonalds and no Starbucks here in Argentina. Unfortunately they are. But somehow it is still different here. Maybe this can be best explained with 'Malbec'. Malbec is Argentina’s typical wine. The name comes from 'Mala uva', which means 'bad grape'. In any other part of the world this bad grape is worthless. But in Argentina it is turned into wonderful wine!
There also seems to be a different rhythm to live in Argentina. Nothing goes between 13:30 and 17:00, dinner before ten o’clock is unheard of and the party does not start until two or three in the morning! How do they keep this up?
I have grown very fond of Argentina and even fonder of the people I met there. It wasn’t easy for me to leave and that is why I am writing this maybe over sentimental blog post.
But I am taking a lot of unforgettable memories with me: There is waking up in Cafayate to birds singing in the trees outside the window. There are wonderful evenings in Rosario with people who feel more like family, than just friends. There is working on the bike in Carlos’s shop in Mendoza and afterwards having a well deserved glass of Malbec (or two…) with friends. There is the overwhelming joy after many, many boring kilometers of finally reaching Ushuaia at the bottom of the continent and thinking: ‘I did it! I really did it!’ And then there is time and again having a cortado and dos medialunas for breakfast while watching Argentina!
Thank you!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Buenos Aires

I just got back to Buenos Aires after a three week vacation in Switzerland. I had gone home for my brothers wedding. The wedding was smashing and done in true Nudi&Heidi style!

I have now spent a year in South America. I explored the continent all the way down to the tip in Ushuaia and as far North as the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. There have been a lot of problems with the bike last year. Which is not surprising considering that Stybba now has more than 350'000 kilometers her back. Talking about back: I did end up replacing Stybba's frame in Mendoza a couple of months ago and she has been almost good ever since.

I know I have been a very lazy blogger of late. I will try to do better this year. I plan on driving through Brasil and Venezuela up to Colombia in the next couple of months. Should I not live up to my blogging promise, try following my journey on facebook. In the meantime, I am leaving you with some pictures of Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sola? Revisited!

I just can't resist writing another entry on the subject. If you have been following this Blog, you might remember me telling you about how big a deal it is over here in South America, to be traveling alone as a woman on a motorcycle.

It still is. Not a day goes by without the question: 'Sola? You are traveling alone? Really?!?' So I am getting a lot of attention. I am not complaining. I kind of like it, I think it is nice to get noticed.

And then I traveled with another motorcyclist for a while. A guy. And you know what? I disappeared! People stopped noticing me. They even stopped talking to me! For example we went shopping for tires. We walked into a shop and I asked the attendant for tires. He looked at my companion and asked: 'Street or Enduro?' I answered by telling him: 'Neither, I am looking for dual purpose tires.' Again he turned to my companion and said: 'Ok, I will go see what I have.' Do you get the picture! I was suddenly invisible woman!

Once I was back to traveling alone, guess what? Yes, I reappeared! Just the other day I pulled up to a hostel to ask about a room. The owner almost had a heart attack when he heard I was traveling alone. 'Really, alone? Aren't you scared? And with a motorcycle, dios mio!' His wife was standing behind him and couldn't believe all the fuss he was making. Finally she had enough and exclaimed: 'And why do you think a woman cannot drive a motorcycle alone? She has got two hands and feet as well! That is all it takes!'

But there is the other side to traveling alone. Like today: I went into a repair shop and wanted to by some gear oil for my bike. The guy behind the counter asks me what kind of car I have. So I tell him, that I ride a motorcycle. He informs me, that therefore I don't need gear oil, I need motor oil. 'Well yes', I tell him, 'I need motor oil for the motor, but I also need gear oil for my gear box.' He doesn't think so and he flat out refuses to sell me gear oil unless I show him the manual for the motorcycle. I give up and walk away. Outside the store I ask another guy if he could please go into the store and buy some gear oil for me. No problem, the guy walks in and gets the gear oil without the 20 questions!

I am not sure what I am to make of all this. I do agree with the wife of the Hostal owner. It should not be a big deal for a woman to be traveling on a motorcycle alone. There really is no reason why that shouldn't be possible. But on the other hand, it feels good and it is tempting to think that it is a big deal after all.......