The Pantanal – Death to the mosquitos!

I was absolutely dreading the Pantanal. The thought of being in one of the largest wetlands in the world where you can go piranha fishing while surrounded by hundreds of caimans while being attacked by thousands of hundreds of millions of mosquito’s did not get my blood pumping, and to me sounded more like a case of ‘I would rather watch my nail polish dry’…

T, to the local guide in Bonito – ‘So how does the Pantanal compare to Bonito?’

Local guide – ‘The Pantanal is very different from Bonito, it’s a different kind of beauty, but I wouldn’t go there now. (chuckles) It’s mosquito breeding season.’

Just a couple of hours drive from Bonito, we arrived into the Pantanal (which mean’s swamp), where you could slap your arm and end up with 6 massacred mosquito’s splayed across your hand.

Defence? Spray 96% DEET Insect repellent all over your body until you are shining. Wear long sleeved light clothing, and on top of that wear your waterproof rain jacket with hood and long pants, with thick socks and shoes, in this sunny 40 degree heat.

Imagine, 96% DEET is severe enough to melt your clothes away, melt through your nail varnish, and eat away at any plastic you touch (there were many sticky camera buttons), but was it strong enough to stop a Brazilian mosquito’s from penetrating your skin? Fuck no!

As we went on a river tour, scaring away all the wildlife with the echoing sounds of aggressive slapping and involuntary cheers whenever there was one less mosquito in the world, I wondered ‘What was the PURPOSE of these trillions of mosquito’s in the circle of life? Was it quantity control through the spread of disease?’

At that moment, as if in direct response to my silent question, an ant found the dead body of a bloodied mosquito that I had killed against the wooded frame of the boat. In seconds it had rallied all of it’s friends and family from deep within the cracks of the boat and barbarically carried the remains, piece by piece, back to their queen (I suspect).

And this was the most exciting thing that I saw at the Pantanal.

Imaginative Traveller – Farewell dinner and the speech that said it all

After an impromptu day of running around Connaught centre in Karol Bagh, Delhi on a mission to find a cheap good quality sitar, Sam and I arrive at the Imaginative Traveller final farewell dinner 30 minutes late.
Being Delhi traffic rookies, we completely underestimated peak time.

When we finally arrive at the restaurant, we apologised profusely to Apji, our tour leader, and the group for being late. Everyone seemed cool with it, telling us not to worry and that they too had just arrived. Apji, however had a definite angry vibe about him and was not speaking.

A bit of background as to why I was positive Apji thought I was a royal pain.

– When Sam and I went to the Bollywood movie it ran for 3 hours, an hour over what we had expected, and when we returned to the hotel late after dark, Apji was waiting for us, worried sick.

– There was the time when we had the henna done before dinner and couldn’t use our hands to eat.

– Our hotel room in Varanasi had bed bugs, so we asked to be moved to a new room, and again due to a dirty bathroom.

– When I fell in cow shit on the way to the Ganges, I told Apji that I would need a shower before dinner. He gave a reluctant yes. Then after the arati he asked the group what they wanted to do, go straight to dinner or go back to the hotel room first to freshen up. ‘Hello, I’m covered in cow dung, shower first please!’ He ignores me and asks the question to the group again. Everyone agrees hotel first. Lucky for me, and them.

– After freshening up in the room before dinner, as Sam and I were taking the lift to the lobby to meet everyone, I sprayed bug repellant on my arm and it bounced off into my right eye. I instantly went blind from the stinging and high concentration of DEET. Sam went straight into action and led me back to our room, into the bathroom and helped splash cold water in my eye. We end up being late for dinner, and I turn up with a terminator red-eye. Everyone asked what had happened, except for Apji.

– The following afternoon, Sam and I had made an appointment with the palm reader who was running late. I don’t know why, but everyone else, who were not seeing the palm reader, waited with us for over an hour.

– And finally, I had a stomach bug that put me out for half a day, and when people asked how I was, I would joke that I did have an upset tummy but I’ve taken so many ammonium’s (thanks Sam!) that I wouldn’t need a toilet for weeks!

So back to the farewell dinner – Apji’s speech.

Apji, standing – ‘I’d like to thank Scott and Jason, I’ve especially loved the conversations I’ve had with Scott’ pats him on the back ‘And Jason, you always kept the group together, I’ve been watching and there were times of separation and division but you always kept everyone together. Miriam, you never complained, even though you were sick, you never complained’

I started to feel a little apprehensive about Apji’s speech. I never felt the group separation, and I did let everyone know about my upset tummy – what’s he going to say about us?

Apji went on to have a private joke with Dave that I didn’t understand.

‘Sam and Tiara, you should thank everyone for having to wait for you, every morning and evening. It has been difficult’ Pauses, an at that moment Sam starts crying (the timing was immaculate) Apji continues ‘but I’m glad you were part of the group’

You know that moment when your insecurities of thinking you’re a pain in the ass come true? Here it was – the public nightmare. I sat there feeling a mixture of emotions, shock, anger, embarrassment, confusion,wondering if Sam was crying because it was a sad moment or because Apji had called us difficult? All the while keeping a polite smile on my face. The group had gone silent, as Sam dabbed the tears away. It was an awkward moment.

We were all getting ready to leave and I asked Sam if she was ok.

Sam – ‘Yeah, did we get back our change?’

T, turns the question to the table – ‘Did our change come back?’

I didn’t get a reply, but Apji gave Jason a knowing look, and I realised that we had been labeled stingy as well. (This could have been due to my now acute state of paranoia)

Note – I understand Apji felt bad for the group, and he was a terrific tour leader – We all had a great time! Though I would have prefered a private chat to the public humiliation.