I'd Like To Buy The World A Beer

Coca-Cola makes beer here. Brazil is the only country in which Coke makes an alchoholic product, but here they make a cheap lager called Kaiser. Interestingly enough, it is exceptionally unpopular and does not have a lot of advertising behind it.

A couple of other Brazilian Interesting Things:

B.I.T. #62) Race Relations. Brazil is a beautiful place for its mix of Blacks, Whites and Indians all throughout the country, and supposedly with an air of pure racial harmony. However, in Salvador de Bahía, where almost 80% of the population is Black, the most popular t-shirt in town reads "100% Negro", and then, if you watch television, virtually every single actor is white. I have not noticed any palpable tension between the races, but there obviously is a division of some sort.

B.I.T. #96, subsection j) Electric Showers. In all the pousadas I have stayed in so far that have hot showers (read: moderately tepid), they are all heated by electricity flowing through loose wires that connect to the shower head. In my mind, loose wires and electricity are a bit of a funny mix, but the Brazilians don't seem to mind. I am hoping to catch a national Finger-In-The-Light-Socket competition here; I hear they are wonderful.

I have just retured from three days in the Pantanal, an experience that can not be missed if you come to Brazil. The Amazon gets all the glory, but the Pantanal is everything that the Amazon is supposed to be, and reportedly isn't anymore. With smaller rivers and no deforestation, there are still thousands of animals to be seen, and all I have heard from other travelers' visits to the Amazon is constant disappointment at the lack of fauna around

The Pantanal is massive area of swampland, close to the borders of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay and to see it, it looks like African Savannah surrounding the small rivers of the Amazon. It is the best of both worlds, in a semi-literal sense.

I was picked up with my group and headed into the Pantanal on Wednesday morning. My group consisted of a very funny middle-aged Swedish couple, Peter and Erik, and a young Dutch girl, Anne. We left Cuiabá at 10am, and drove into the area with our guide Bonifácio (unforunately, Joel didn't make the trip, so his crooning was dearly missed). On the drive alone, we saw over thirty species of birds, some water buffalo, and dozens upon dozens of jacarés (crocodiles). And that was before lunchtime, at noon!

After lunch, we all headed for a walk, and saw dozens more jacaré, all within twenty-five feet of us; emus; parrots; toucans; hawks; giant storks; and too many other tropical birds to count. At night, we sat by a pond that was part of the pousada that we were staying at, and sat flashing our flashlight, catching the blood-red reflection in the eyes of the jacarés that were now no more than ten feet from us. Supposedly, the jacarés have no interest in humans, and, despite the fact that "supposedly" is a quite tenuous word when you are ten feet from a 12-foot crocodile, I just sat there in peace, and appreciated the view.

I headed back into my room that I shared with Peter and Erik was instantly invited to be guest and lead judge in the All-Sweden Snoring Competition (A.S.S.C.). It was amazing, managing to drown out the crickets and thousands of birds hollering throughout the forest. Realizing quite quickly that I would never get to sleep there, I headed outside to find another room. Instantly, my foreign, meaty legs were seized upon by biting ants. Two dozen or more had crawled under my pyjama pants and were biting, hard, up my legs. They painfully chomped on my ankles, shins and were gnawing on my knees, when I realized that I had no boxers on and that they were heading north. I ran into a different room, stripped down and fought frantically with them until, finally, I was spared and in enough time to still have children, no less.

I woke up after a little sleep - the snoring would subside in three-minute bursts of freedom - and the group of us all headed piranha fishing. To catch piranhas, we attached chunks of raw beef to fishing hooks and let the piranhas come, which they did. It was a slow day - there are more fish in wet season here, I was told - but we still caught ten fish between us, and everyone managed to catch at least one, except me. Even the vegetarian girl, who was appalled by her own actions, though not enough to stop, netted a few. It turns out that the piranhas don't like the scent of mosquito repellant, and whereas everyone else had used spray, I had used lotion, then grabbed the bait with my hands, which the piranhas subsequently avoided. This is just a tip for anyone hoping to go piranha fishing up in Canada any time soon.

In the afternoon, we wandered out through the low-lying marshlands and were able to see black holwer monkeys, snakes (a large one even in our pousada), a land turtle and even a tapir, which is quite rare to see. We then grabbed dinner, and it was Bonifácio's birthday, so he put back a couple of beers. Then we decided to go for a late night bike ride in the hopes of seeing more animals.

The bikes were brakeless, gearless contraptions that moved us along the dirt road by only the faintest moonlight. Once again, I thought about the situation: I am riding a bike with no brakes through virtual darkness, following a moderately drunken guide, looking for unknown wildlife, in an area where there are literally thousands of crocodiles, none of which I can see. I pedalled on, happily. And warily. Needless to say, we saw a few animals, and nothing disastrous happened.

We got up yesterday morning, Friday, and all headed out on a three-hour horse ride over the savannah, and into the marshland, hitting waters so deep that you had to arch backwards so as not to have your legs at ankle-depth inside it. Wet legs would be no problem, except that the jacarés live in the water, as well.

"Don't worry, the jacarés don't attack - they only might ever attack the front horse in the group," Bonifácio told us in a calm, soothing tone from the back of the group.

He moved up to the front and led us through the waters, before going on a short gallop through open fields at the end of the ride. Beautiful.

We relaxed after lunch and before heading back into town, but the place was immeasurably beautiful, and I wish I had photos that could do it justice. Some of the animals that can be seen, that we never saw, also include anacondas, capybaras, ocelots, jaguars and pumas, if you are lucky/unlucky. I had planned to go to the Amazon in Bolivia after this, but may skip it as I don't know what the Amazon could offer that I haven't already seen here. It was an expensive trip, and worth every penny.

Now I just have to hang out in Cáceres, a Brazilian border town, for three days until I head into Bolivia on Tuesday; es tiempo de practicar mi español.

(Note: Despite Erik's awe-striking variety of snorts and wheezes, Peter took home the A.S.S.C. Championship due to impressive and overwhelming victories in the Shrillness and Pure Volume categories. Congratulations.)