Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week I’m really excited to introduce Gilles, a French photographer who’s been travelling intensively for over 15 years. These journeys – some short, others longer like a round the world trip in 2007 and in 2015, have taken him to more than 40 countries on all continents except Antarctica.
Gilles has never been a budget backpacker travelling the toughest and cheapest possible way, but he is rather an experienced rucksack traveller who appreciates a minimum level of comfort. Yes, he is a ‘Flashpacker’. You can follow his trips on his blog Grand Escapades, on Twitter, or on Facebook.
Welcome to Postcard From, Gilles! Tell us about your Pantanal trip…
My visit to the Pantanal was part of a 6-week trip to Brazil, and I spent 5 days there on a local tour (you cannot go there independently). The Pantanal, in the south west of Brazil, is the world’s largest tropical wetland area, spreading over an area estimated between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometers.
Why go there? For its unique ecosystem, and hence the fabulous wildlife watching opportunities! I travelled there beginning of September, as it the best season to spot Jaguars, the third largest “Big Cat” in the world and an animal that played a central role in the old cultures of Central & South America! Unfortunately, due to loss of habitat and to massive poaching, the worldwide population has dropped from 400.000 to less than 17.000 individuals in less than 5 decades!
Tropical wetlands – I think we can guess what the weather was like!
HOT! Terribly hot… During the day, temperatures rose well above 40 degrees Celsius, and in Porto Jofre, we spent almost all day on a boat in a scorching sun, looking for Jaguars on the small channels of this wetland.
Ouch, that is hot! What was the accommodation like?
You have to be on a tour to visit the Pantanal, and all tours stay at lodges. Those lodges were nice, but really nothing to rave about… The best, both at Piuval and in Porto Jofre, was the opportunities to spot wildlife from the lodge, especially birds.
The food in the lodges was ok, but nothing to rave about… This is surprising, as Tours in the Northern Pantanal are extremely expensive, especially in this season…
So, you were there to spot wildlife. Was it amazing?
Yes, the Pantanal is one of the best places I have ever been to (and I went several times on Safaris in Africa) to spot wildlife:
Spotting 4 times such an elusive animal as a Jaguar, and being able to take good pictures of 2 of them, was a truly unique experience, both as a Traveler and as a Photographer!
Giant River Otters
Not only did we spot several Giant River Otters early morning, but they just had caught each a large fish and went to a quiet place to enjoy some serious breakfast, starting with the head and ending… when nothing was left!
50 species of Birds
No, I am not especially into bird watching, but spotting “en passant” so many unknown birds, and being able to take pictures & identify 50 species in less than 5 days is something really unique. I had not experienced such a thing elsewhere in the world…
Other kinds of Animals
There are many other sorts of animals you can spot in the Pantanal… Of course I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of Black Caimans, some of them very, very close, so close I once could grab one’s tail (you should never touch a wild animal, that I know… But I couldn’t resist! And with more than 20 millions Black Caimans in the Pantanal, I am not sure this will indeed endanger the specie!)
That sounds like such an incredible experience! What was your highlight?
The last Jaguar I spotted made a “Walk On The Beach” at sunset for us. It was simply magical! These will rank between my favorite photos of all times…
I wish I’d included the Pantanal on my Brazil trip. Do you have any advice for anyone headed to the area?
If you have the budget, go to Porto Jofre! And do this between mid August and end of September, the best time for Wildlife Watching and the only time when your chances of spotting Jaguars are very high!
Can you share any tips for people who want to visit the Pantanal in Brazil?
You are first confronted with a huge dilemma, and your budget will actually decide for you where you can and will go:
From Campo Grande
I did not visit the Pantanal through Campo Grande but discussed with several fellow travelers who did. You head to the Southern Pantanal because you want to do this tour on a budget. You will be amongst a younger crowd, mostly backpackers, join a larger group, and have a decent yet not full experience of this unique place. Jaguar spotting is a pure matter of luck and not to be seriously expected. Apparently, you have to calculate with approx. 100 USD per day for such a tour.
This is what I did, and I had the chance to negotiate a good deal with Munir of NaturEco. You head to the Northern Pantanal to make the most of this area. Beware though that there are huge differences: the closer you stay from Poconé the cheaper it will be but the less you will see. The closer you come to Porto Jofre the best your experience will be, and the higher your budget.
Between mid-August and mid October, Jaguar spotting is very likely if you go to Porto Jofre. You will be amongst small groups of old, rich Westerners who flash top-notch cameras and take the bird & wildlife watching very seriously. Leading agencies (like NaturEco, my agency) will ask for a lot of money if they take you to Porto Jofre in the top season!
And finally – what do you love most about travelling?
What I love most about traveling is Diversity… The diversity of people I meet, of ways of life I discover, of sceneries I see, of wildlife I photograph, of food I enjoy (or not)… and most important of experiences that get me so much richer! This is why my focuses on traveling, and hence on photographing, are so diverse. A good trip is not a trip focused on one aspect (wildlife or people or landscapes, or whatever) but on various kinds of experiences.
This is also why, for me, the true highlights of a trip aren’t generally the ones I expected, but those that just happen: a local festival, an invitation, a chat in a park, some food stall where I seat with locals…
NB – all images are owned by Gilles Barbier