“MY HORSE BRAVELY WADES THROUGH THE WATER. HE’S USED TO IT, HE WAS BORN HERE. ALL AROUND ME BEAUTIFUL BLUE WATER LILIES BLOOM. DOZENS OF CAIMANS SILENTLY GLIDE AROUND IN THE WATER AS MY HORSE APPROACHES. A FAMILY OF BLUE MACAWS FLY OVERHEAD. THEY CHIRP AN ENTIRE STORY I CAN’T UNDERSTAND. I ENJOY THIS MOMENT WITH EVERY FIBER IN MY BODY”
Exploring a region by horse has great advantages. There’s the opportunity to end up in places where most people don’t come, not even by foot. So these kind of trips are really ‘off the beaten track’. You can also fully enjoy your surroundings without having to look down at the ground the whole time (something you have to do when you’re on foot).
Am I an experienced horse rider? Not at all! I only started riding horses at the age of 38. At that time, I planned on doing a trek in the Andes. I took about 10 private lessons and soon I got the hang of it! After the trip I kept riding horses in Belgium. Unfortunately, these last few years it has become a rarer activity due to the lack of time.
I met Paul from Gaucho Do Brasil for the first time in 2006 before the trekking in the Andes from Chile to Argentina. Last year was followed up by Colombia and so this year the Pantanal. This destination has stood on my bucket list for years. Paul is a Belgian who lost his heart in South America and traveled here to realize his dream: organizing horseback trips in Latin-America. He still leads every trip he organizes. Along with his cheerful disposition, his experience and his sense of humor… he is the perfect guide.
The Pantanal is the largest wetland area in the world. The area is so wide that it in fact covers the same area as half of France, an area of 150,000 km². Far less known than the Amazon, but equally beautiful. During the rainy season, the entire region is flooded underwater whereby it is only possible to visit between June and November. During this period, the water leaves the region through the mighty river ‘Paraguay’.
It’s one of the most impressive natural sites in the world, with more than 650 bird species, 400 fish species, 100 species of mammals and so on. The Pantanal stimulates all the senses from every nature lover. You feel as though you are part of a National Geographic documentary.
My daughter Jasmien, 19 years old, left Belgium last September to spend 6 months in Panama to work as a volunteer with Spay Panama. In April she returned home and to celebrate, I planned this trip with her. It is wonderful to see that your children have the same wanderlust as yourself. These were such beautiful mother-daughter moments that I will never forget.
We enjoyed our trip from the first second till the very last. The adventure started immediately with a flight in a Cessna to our first accommodation Fazenda Baia Das Pedras. We made acquaintances with our horses and the cowboys called ‘Pantaneiros’. An additional sheepskin on Jasmien’s saddle and we were ready to hit the road. After our first fazenda we headed further to our next camping spot where we slept in hammocks for two nights. We ended the trip in another fazenda called Barra Mansa, located on the side of a beautiful river, the Rio Negro.
Cattle flowed along with the cowboys, it felt like a simple game till suddenly, the whole herd turned 180 degrees and galloped off in the wrong direction. Luckily the Pantanal horses are fast and agile and managed to get the cows to move in the right direction once again. We couldn’t do anything but laugh when we finally managed to do the job!
Catching up on anteaters, trying to catch pigs with a lasso, galloping through water at full speed, navigating between many caimans, searching for anacondas and jaguars with a canoe, fishing for piranhas … daily moments where our heartbeat definitely raised, no doubt about that.
During the entire trip we came across special animals like the capybara, the anteater, the giant otter and even a raccoon. Regular traces of a jaguar in the sand but unfortunately they didn’t show themselves.
The most fascinating birds flew over our heads: noisy macaws, stately jabiru, crazy toucans and adorable owls. I was very glad that I had brought my best camera along, so that before and after some riding we could shoot these lovely birds. When you’re on the horse, you’ll need to cope with just your smartphone..
And then the caiman .. Our traveling companion throughout the whole trip. They were literally everywhere! At each bank of every river they lay tanning in the sun with their beaks wide open. Lurking in every pond of water with their eyes right above the water level. Our horses kept them closely in sight, luckily there’s an abundance of food and so consequently the reptiles kept a low profile! Although there was one time a caiman couldn’t help itself taking a bite at one of my horses leg. The strange thing is we quickly became used to their presence and took them for granted. Even began to consider them as harmless creatures.
Beautiful landscapes alternated with each other. We rode through tropical forests, river banks, light dirt roads, high grass fields and sometimes even through deep waters.
The lovely long gallops, the colorful birds, the tranquility, the absence of tourists, the unforgettable landscapes, the helpfulness of the cowboys, the remoteness of it all, the special animals, the adventure, the incomparable sense of freedom …. The Pantanal won my heart, and I am already dreaming of going back.
If you like horseback riding and extraordinary travels, you should most definitely check what Gaucho do Brasil has to offer.
My next dream destination on a the back of a horse? The Atacama desert in Chile, … What about you?