What’s the best time to go on vacation? The answer is when nobody else goes on vacation. Gavião Piexoto (the town where SAAB has its facilities and where Peter works) celebrates the town’s birthday on the 14 of June so we jumped at the opportunity to take a few extra days and hit the road for some R&R.
This time our roadtrip took us to Mato Grosso do Sul in the western part of Brazil to a place called Bonito. Mato Grosso do Sul is a state in the central-western part of Brazil bordering Bolivia and Paraguay. It is host to the vast Pantanal wetlands with its diverse wildlife. In the southwest lies the little town of Bonito which, with 21,000 inhabitants, isn’t big but it is, well…..bonito. (Bonito is portuguese for beautiful). Bonito lies on Serra do Bodoquena plateau which is supported by limestone. Limestone moves, builds and calcifies solids creating the caves and crystalline rivers worth visiting in Bonito.
On Friday morning of june 14, with military precision at 0600h, we rolled our KIA Sorento out the gates and rendevouzed with the Isaksson/Lundberg family. Together, in two separate cars, we left Araraquara. The drive to Bonito is 1000km or 12h so we decided on a slight detour to Campo Grande so that we could stop for the night and continue the next day. This was the only sizeable city anywhere nere Bonito and it only added just under 2 hours to our trip. Campo Grande was ok for a night. It looked very much like all other bigger cities in Brazil. Stayed at Hotel Deville Prime in the centre of town which was a really nice hotel with a reasonable price (we paid 320BRL for one night) with superb breakfast, modern and stylish rooms and the biggest caipirinhas I’ve had so far (they were really good too).
Somewhere along the road to Campo Grande we passed into another timezone -1h so like synchronised swimmers Olivia and I opened our eyes the next morning at 0500 and went downstairs to find a cup of tea. They let us sit in the breakfast salon and have a cup while they prepared breakfast which didn’t open until 6 o’clock. We played memory games with stuff from the table and my purse, cards and watched the delicious breakfast being brought out on carts. This is our family routine; Livvie and I have breakfast while the boys sleep for another hour or two and then they join us for our second breakfast. At 8 o’clock Anders and Elma came down followed shortly by the others. The breakfast was amazing and we filled up so we wouldn’t have to stop for the last 4 hours of the trip to Bonito. We arrived at Zagaia Eco Resort in Bonito at lunchtime ready to set out and explore the marvels of Bonito for the next 4 days (which eventually became 5 days).
Highlights of Bonito
Flutuação no Rio Sucuri
Our first activity was floating/snorkelling in the river Sucuri. This was the one activity we didn’t do with the Isakssons. They did floating on the Rio Prato instead. It is a longer float and more expensive but otherwise more or less the same. James was 1 week shy of his sixth birthday which was the age limit for the other floats. The only reason being that the other floats don’t have boats tailing the floaters. Pishtosh, we said. James don’t need no sissy boat on the bayou. But they paid no heed to us. So Rio Sucuri it was.
A 30 min drive on dirt roads took us to the starting point where we were outfitted with wetsuit, snorkel gear and shoes. After a short walk through the brush we arrived at the dock on the river and the boat that took us 1,5km to a raft for our starting point. The activity was simple; Just get in the water, lay on your stomach and let the river float you for and hour back to the dock. It was a very cool and relaxing experience except for the fact that my snorkel leaked so every 3 breaths I had to exhale sharply sounding like a surfacing whale. This didn’t seem to scare the animals though. There were huge fish everywhere and we were lucky to float next to two otters playing around and looking for food under rocks. James and I floated hand in hand while Olivia floated with Peter.
Buraco das Araras (Macaws’ hole)
After floating and lunch we met up with the Isakssons again at Buraco das Araras. Also about a 30 min drive out of Bonito. Buraco means hole and is a giant sandstone crater called a doline. It is the largest in Latin America and the second largest in the world measuring 500m in diameter and 127m deep. A guide took us on the 1,5 km tour around the hole telling us about different plants and animals, letting us stop and enjoy the view from to look out points on the edge of the hole. From there we could watch all the macaws and toucans who have made the hole their home and given it its name.
Grutas sao Miguel (Saint Michael’s caves)
Day 2 we did Grutas são Miguel. Due to the lime foundation the area is littered with caves. Some have been prepared for tourists. This is one of them. Hardhats on, the eight of us set out exploring with our own guide who was very knowledgeable about geology and the cave. It was a nice walk during which we learned a lot.
Boca da Onça (Jaguar’s mouth)
Day 3. Boca da Onça is a rock formation in a waterfall that looks like a jaguar roaring hence the name. Nearly an hour away from Bonito lies the reception building. A very tranquil place in the middle of nature with dark pools to relax by and hammocks to sleep in. But we made a mental note to save those for after the hike. After signing in we had some complimentary coffee and cake while we waited for all the brazilians to arrive in their leisurely time. Once all accounted for we loaded the jeeps and set out for the beginning of the trail. The trail itself was only 4km long but we stopped at all the waterfalls along the way. And oh, LOTS of steep staircases. The trail starts on top of the plateau, descends to the river on the bottom and climbs back up to the top. Along the way we stopped at four waterfalls to go swimming, four we enjoyed through our lenses.
Swimming in these waterfalls is such a special experience. Treading water in a little pool of super cold water with the roaring noise of the water continuously crashing down around you. The water is in constant movement so the bottom and the walls are just clean rock. Three of the waterfalls are especially memorable;
Poça da Lontra (Otter well) which was a pool 5 meters in diameter. As you get in the water you face a beautiful waterfall with rock walls making up your left and right side. And it was deep, 4 meters. Felt like something from a rainforest movie.
The second most memorable was the Cachoeira da Fantasma (Ghost waterfall). We didn’t swim here. It consists of lots of small pools overflowing into the ones below. With trees growing on the rocks and vines slithering up and down and every which way and then the cherry on top where the little red flowers everywhere making this place picture perfect for a Disney princess movie. I didn’t want to leave this one. I felt like I could have lived there for the rest of my life just lying in a hammock.
Last but definitely not least was the Buraco da Macaco (Monkey’s hole). To get to the waterfall we had to swim through a cave. Once on the other side the roof of the cave opened up to the sky and surrounding trees. This was so cool we all went twice. I managed to get it on film but can’t post video on this blog so put it on my Instagram @carolinedolling.
After our trekk the jeep took us back to the main house where a decadent, farmhouse lunch was waiting for us. Im ashamed to say this also makes the top 4 things with this particular trip. The local brazilian food is so amazing I just can’t stop eating! Bellies near bursting, some (Linda) dozed while others relaxed in the hammocks we had saved until later. Satisfied we drove back to Zagaia Resort completely happy with our day.
UDU Cerâmica Artesenal
Linda and I had checked out this store a couple of times in the center of Bonito but not been able to make up our minds on what to get. On our last night we went back but this time we headed straight for the studio where they actually made the ceramics. We got a lovely tour of the place by one of the owners. From mixing the right clay to the moldings to the ovens and finally the finished products in the shop. In the end we both opted for the parrot cups so now we can sip our tea together and reminisce about or adventures in Bonito.
Porto da Ilha
We were supposed to go home on the 19th but were enjoying ourselves so much we decided to stay an extra day. So we extended our reservation at the resort and Linda and I went off to find some activity to do the next day. The only thing we could do with the kids was water activities at Porta da Ilha. It was a whole day package deal at a location in the river Fomoso. The package included river rafting, tubing and standup paddle boarding. This was the biggest disappointment of the week because the package deal was so expensive and the tours were mediocre at best. The river rafting was only 90 minutes during which we went down only three small waterfalls, the rest being still waters. Boring. The tubing was a 15 minute ride in which you lay in a tube and floated downriver passing 3 tiny waterfalls on the way. It was fun but way to short to be worth the money. The paddle boarding was a nice trip but then again was the least expensive activity. So, in short, not really worth it but it was our only reason to stay an extra day in Bonito.
Like sheep being herded…
When travelling here in Brazil enjoying the waterfalls, beaches, trails, etc I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like to discover these places before they were opened to the flood of tourists, before the previews on tvs and internet sites. Let’s face it; before we go anywhere we google the place asunder so that when we get there it is more a confirmation of the pictures we have already seen.
But….all in all a wonderful vacation with great friends, lots of laughs and beautiful places and definitely some much needed R&R. The Zagaya Eco Resort was everything we wanted it to be; pools, private gazebos with private jacuzzis, activities for kids, gym, great food and great caipirinhas. Can highly recommend staying at the Zagaya.
Since we decided to stay an extra day in Bonito instead of spending a night in Campo Grande again we drove non-stop back to Araraquara. It wasn’t so bad but the roads are LOOOOONG and there is NOTHING on the way. So whenever we had the chance we filled up on fuel no matter what our status. We drove 2 hours and stopped for bathroom brakes, sometimes on the side of the road. The landscape is nothing but fields of sugarcane, corn, oranges and coffee as far as the eye can see. Driving was quite boring but it usually is in this incredibly vast country. However, on the way to Bonito we ran into a roadblock guarded by some road construction workers. There were no signs or any information, just cones that were placed in front of us when we approached. And there was no “construction” to be seen as far as we could tell on that long and unwinding road ahead. I thought “O man, this is when we get robbed in the middle of nowhere”. I asked the guard how long we had to wait and he said “max 20min”. I said “ok, so no more than 20 min?” and he answered “well, could be 40min”. Brazil 🙂 We were able to get going again after about 20 min and actually did see construction several km down the road. Shame on me.