PC 17 (Pre Card!) The Pantanal

My dictionary tells me that the word ‘postcard’ was originally used to describe a regulation size of card that could be sent by post. I had thought it was connected with the prefix ‘post’ meaning after or behind ie something you sent having been somewhere!! It’s a pity because I wanted to call PC 17 a ‘pre’ card; something you sent before going somewhere!

In 1996 I read the latest John Grisham novel called The Testament. I always enjoy his stories, for they are good stories, not heavy and ponderous ….. and a very satisfying  read. This particular book centres around the last ‘will and testament’ of an extremely rich American, who leaves all his money to an illegitimate daughter ….. whom no one in his large family of ex-wives and squabbling children has ever heard of. “Rachel Lane” works for the World Tribes Missionary and is somewhere on the Brazilian/Bolivian border in a region known as The Pantanal.

The what? I had never heard of it! As the story progresses, my knowledge of The Pantanal increased. There was no reason for Grisham to invent things about it to fit his story, as the place naturally exudes superlatives. The memory of that book and the pivotal part The Pantanal plays in the story have stayed with me. What I didn’t imagine was that fifteen years later I would have the opportunity to visit this vast and extraordinary place. I’m no latent naturalist but the idea of maybe seeing jaguar, caiman or an eagle in the wild is appealing.

The statistics are somewhat amazing! With a total area of almost 75,000 square miles (compared with the overall size of the United Kingdom at 94,000 square miles), The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world. The vast majority of it is in Brazil but it also extends into Paraguay and Bolivia. As such an enormous tropical wetland, The Pantanal is a very precious resource for Brazil, and home to an array of plant and animal species. It is estimated to contain some 1000 bird species, 300 mammals and 9000 invertebrates. Because about 80% of The Pantanal is submerged during the wet season, the species here include aquatic ones, making it an even more diverse and fascinating destination.

As Grisham describes it:

At 4000ft the majesty of the Pantanal suddenly appeared as they passed through a large ominous cloud. To the east and north, a dozen small rivers spun circles around and through themselves, going nowhere, linking each marsh to a hundred others. Because of the floods the rivers were full and in many places ran together. The water had differing shades. The stagnant marshes were dark blue, almost black in some places where the weeds were thick. The deeper ponds were green. The smaller tributaries carried a reddish dirt and the great Paraguay river was full and as brown as malted chocolate. On the horizon, as far as the eye could see, all the water was blue and the earth green.”

Being an electronic card, I thought I could add this wonderful photograph from space showing where The Pantanal is, and its size in relation to Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Earlier this year we were sitting in Rio, contemplating coming back in September and what we might do during a 5 week trip. We had thought Celina’s parents would have come to England to escape the football World Cup but the flights proved just ridiculously expensive, so that idea was canned. Then we thought we could all go on a trip to The Pantanal! There was a ‘coffee table’ book showing the most amazing photographs of The Pantanal and one evening we looked through it, rather spellbound! In the end we couldn’t persuade Celina’s parents to join us, put off possibly by the difficulties to actually getting there.

Grisham: “Hundreds of rivers and streams like veins through the swampland. No towns or cities in The Pantanal. No roads. A hundred thousand square miles of swamp.”

In addition to the enormous variety of wildlife, The Pantanal is home to large herds of domestic cattle. First developed 200 years ago, they are raised on farmsteads called fazendas by pantaneiros (not the same ones of course!). Some of the owners of the fazendas have realised there is money to be made from ecotourism and now there are many centres for excursions into the wetlands. Some are only accessible by boat, all by light aircraft.

One particular one was recommended by a chum, and we leave Rio on 18th September 2014 for a few days on the Barranco Alto fazenda……. and no doubt there will be a real postcard for those of you interested!

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

P.S. “Rachel Lane” was eventually found deep in The Pantanal, administering to a tribe. For those of you who haven’t read this particular John Grisham novel, it’s the only way you’ll find out what transpires in the end!!



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