© All photos courtesy Rachel Kassner
I Prescribe a Trip to Brazil
An FP from PEI finds peace deep in the world's largest wetland area
My husband Joel, our 15-year-old son Kass and I just returned from a fabulous trip to Brazil. We and nine others travelled with Doctors-on-Tour (tel: 855-362-8687; doctorsontour.ca), a Toronto-based company that specializes in continuing medical education (CME) programs in wonderful locations. For the past several years, I have led tours for the company.
Though we visited Salvador, Bahia, the historic former centre of the slave trade, and took a boat ride under the incredible Iguazu Falls, in addition to stops in Rio de Janeiro and the historic colonial town of Paraty, the true highlight of our trip was the Pantanal.
The Pantanal is part of the Amazon Basin, and is designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It is the world’s largest wetland area at just under 200,000 square kilometres. It has an immense population of birds, butterflies, fish and other species.
We stayed at the Pousada Rio Mutum (Barão de Melgaço, Mato Grosso; pousadamutum.com.br), which is a beautiful eco-resort on the Mutum River nestled in one of the lushest regions of the Pantanal. The staff is wonderful, the accommodations are clean and more than comfortable; the food is buffet-style, varied and absolutely delicious. But you don’t come here for creature comforts. You come for the flora and fauna, and for the joy and peace of being immersed in nature.
The birds and the butterflies
We arrived at the end of the rainy season, which meant that we’d usually have a downpour every day. We didn’t see a lot of the larger wildlife like cats, since most of these animals retreat to find higher and drier ground and return in the dry season, but we were able to spot three different varieties of monkeys jumping from tree to tree. The variety and profusion of birds and butterflies left us in a constant state of amazement. We all became “spotters” and the photographers’ shutters were constantly clicking.
Our guide, Helder, certainly helped. He has a degree in botany and vast knowledge of the surrounding flora and fauna. He was able to recognize 62 different birds just by their call — and he’s learning more.
On another day, half of our group went fishing for piranhas while the remainder took a horseback ride through the rainforest to meet us. And then we switched. Our group mounted up. It was my husband’s first time on a horse. Quite the thrilling experience! It was to be a two-hour trip through the rainforest back to the lodge. No sooner had we started out than the skies opened up. We ended up navigating paths covered by a foot or two of water, but the horses were undeterred. We all got soaked despite our rain ponchos. Meanwhile, the rest of our group who hoped to fish got equally drenched and had to immediately head back to the lodge. At home, this experience could have felt upsetting, but at Mutum it was just part of the magic.
Amidst all of this travel, there was still time for an informative CME component. There were presentations on various topics from members of our group and a presentation on health care by a physician in Salvador who married local traditional healing concepts with modern medicine. In addition, there were visits to the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce in Salvador, which is a local public hospital — Sister Dulce is to Brazil as Mother Teresa is to India. We also visited a hospital in Iguazu, and the local family health centre in the Pantanal. It was a real educational experience. Cavorting with caimans
One afternoon, our guide took a few of us out to try fishing for piranhas again. There was no sophisticated gear: just a bamboo pole with a string and a hook. Helder baited the hook with raw meat and then very carefully removed it from the razor-toothed piranhas that we caught. Our son became the piranha catching champ — with 10! As we returned to the lodge our guide literally called to the resident caimans. They immediately appeared on shore eagerly anticipating what they knew was to come: lunch! As they crawled towards our dock (a couple metres safely above them), our guide held up his hands and shouted a command. Believe it or not, the caimans immediately stopped and dropped to their bellies to await the feeding. We took turns throwing the smaller fish to them, and the caimans scrambled and fought to gulp them down. The larger fish went to the kitchen for our evening piranha soup, one of our regular evening appetizers: unique but absolutely delicious.
Some of our group happily chose to remain at the lodge rather than do some of the excursions. There was a pool to laze about, horses roaming freely around and varied birds, stunning in their plumage. There were dozens of capybara grazing around the property. Capybaras are the world’s largest rodents, about the size of a small hog. They look like they are a Disney creation. It was a photographer’s paradise. You didn’t have to move; you could sit quietly and be amazed by the birds, butterflies and all that surrounded you.
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