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Any vegetarians who have visited Brazil's Pantanal...

Any vegetarians who have visited Brazil's Pantanal...

Old Jun 6th, 2008, 08:07 AM
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Any vegetarians who have visited Brazil's Pantanal...


I'm planning a trip to the Pantanal in Brazil and very excited to see some of the incredible wildlife.

I understand that cattle ranching is a big industry there which sustains this region. In fact, the lodge I'm planning to visit -- Caiman Eco Refuge -- is a cattle ranch.

As a somewhat sensitive vegetarian, I'm wondering what this experience will be like. I'm trying to reconcile my excitement for the wildlife with my reticence for the ranching and would love to hear from any other vegetarians who have visited the region.

Please note: I'm not judging the ranching lifestyle or advocating the abolishment of it. I'm just wondering what the experience will be like, and if I would enjoy my time there.


RubyBlue is offline  
Old Jun 6th, 2008, 04:47 PM
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I wouldn't worry about it. These are free range cattle and as far as I could see, are treated quite well. Its not like you will see them being slaughtered! And I recall that all meals had ample vegetables, salad, and vegetarian options (although I was not at that lodge, the various lodges I was at served pretty much the same food.)

My photos of my Pantanal trip can be seen here--some happy looking cattle too

you will have a fabulous time, the wildlife is incredible! Our best trip ever.
jczinn is offline  
Old Jun 6th, 2008, 05:37 PM
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Yes, me.

I've included the part of my trip report on food. This was not at the place you are staying, but I am sure the food is similar. Everywhere we ate were buffets with lots of choices.

Our first buffet lunch was typical of most of our main meals, except this place included live entertainment with traditional Brazilian music and the barbeque pits were open and flaming. There was plenty of beef here as there was at every meal. Throughout the trip it was prepared many different ways from beef roast to habachi-flamed steaks to slabs on a skewer, sliced at your table. At one meal Fabricio ordered a pan of Filé a Parmesian for us all to share. Chicken was also common from fried to Peixe á Milanesa, which was sautéed in cheese sauce. Beans that were a soup-like consistency were served at every meal with rice. I was never sure if the ever-present big pot of spaghetti noodles was eaten plain or not.

The root vegetable, manioc , often played a big role whether fried, like a thick French fry, or as an entrée consisting of sausage mixed with dry manioc flour, or even an herbed dry condiment. Fabricio told me that manioc was a locally grown staple eaten a lot by the poor, but if it were imported, then the rich would develop a taste for it.

A very good fish in white sauce was often available. It was catfish one time and I donít know what kind of fish the other times, but not piranha. That was saved for the soup, served hot in a cup as an appetizer. The Baiazinha Hotel on the Paraguay River had fresh, catch-of-the-day fish each night that was outstanding.

For the vegetarian there were always several of the following: salads with lettuce and tomato and fresh salsa dressing, pickled beets, a spinach-like cooked vegetable, cooked cauliflower and broccoli, sweet potatoes, and bread, fresh pineapple, sometimes cheese bread. I was encouraged to have the cheese bread at the Seminary because Minas Gerais is known to have the best.

For our first lunch we did not partake in dessert but usually doce de leite was served. It was a creamy dessert and depending on the region could be caramel, coconut, chocolate, etc. Along with coffee beans, I brought back jars of doce de leite for gifts. Goiabada, a guava gel was also common, often served with white cheese.

It should be noted that the Jaguar Lodge boasted the only yogurt served in the Pantanal. From what I could tell, they were right.

I bought some pumpkin-coconut fudge to go from the restaurant and nibbled on that as a snack over the next couple of weeks. So I ate well at lunch that first day and continued to do so throughout the trip.

You'll have a great time. I'm planning on going back!
atravelynn is offline  
Old Jun 12th, 2008, 11:23 PM
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Perhaps you have already left for your trip to Brazil. I just returned from Caiman Refuge three days ago. I stayed in Baizinha Lodge (there are three different lodges at Caiman). The chef at Baizinha was Xicrinha and she was amazing--I went to bed dreaming of what would be on the menu the next day and spent the whole day dreaming of what would be served for dinner. There were always salads and vegetable dishes for dinner; there were always loads of fresh tropical fruit for all the meals; there was always cheese and home baked bread. I am sure that if you advised them of your vegetarianism, they would make you something special (the breakfast cheese omelets were terrific).
The desserts were unbelievable. The passion fruit mousse/flan was to die for (I hope you have the luck to be served this incredible concoction).
The fresh fruit juices were luscious.
I don't eat red meat, and I still feel like I must have gained weight there.
I loved Caiman Lodge--our stay there was the highlight of our month long trip to Brazil and Buenos Aires. I wished we could have stayed at Caiman longer.
Don't forget your insect repellent--you'll need it for the mosquitoes and the ticks (you will encounter these on your walks and possibly your horseback ride).
Diamantina is offline  
Old Jun 13th, 2008, 07:49 PM
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Diamantina, When you are unpacked and settled, please also expound on the birds and animals.
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Old Jun 15th, 2008, 11:32 AM
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Hello RubyBlue,

Planning a trip to Pantanal is a good idea. Concerning your vegeterian's disquiets, I think that all the previous intervenors answered your questions with precision and pertinence. I just have some concerns regarding the choice of the lodge. Are you looking for a well organized crowded place without any flexibility in the choice of your activities ? If yes, your choice is perfect.
If not, there are several other places to go.
I agree with atravelyn, who seems to be, amongst all the numerous talkers on this forum, one of the few people who are more concerned by the wildlife and the atmosphere of the environment than by the luxury of the lodging or the quality of the food. Let's talk about the "incredible wildlife" which seems to be, RubyBlue, the first motive for your trip.
If you are a birder, Pantanal is the place to go, it is even, in my opinion better than Africa. The macaws only, are worth the trip.
I was there 2 weeks ago where I spent 12 days at fazenda Barranco Alto, where yogurt is also available. I had the opportunity to see my first anaconda.
Well, RubyBlue if you need more information, please let me know, but I can assure you, you will have a great time.

walrus is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2008, 02:54 AM
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Well, Lynn, since you asked I will respond to your question about wildlife. I will also comment more on the lodges that we stayed at, and on my experience at the lodges.
Until you asked, I had not planned to write about my trip, as I had some negative things to say--and I was thinking if I can't say just nice things, maybe I shouldn't say anything at all. But perhaps my critical comments can spare others of disappointments or unrealistic expectations.
Firstly, I must say I am still in awe of your fantastic trip to The Pantanal--your photos were incredible, especially those of the jaguars. Your comments were also very interesting and useful. I recommended your site to others, as to me it seemed to represent the best of what The Pantanal can offer in terms of wildlife viewing. Your trip served as inspiration for both myself and my husband, who up until seeing your photos, had been lukewarmm about visiting The Pantanal.
Like almost everyone who goes to the Pantanal, I dreamed of being able to see even one jaguar. Better yet, I dreamed of having an experience like yours--seeing eight jaguars in one day. Who doesn't? But I knew I would be lucky to see one.
Anyhow, on a whim, in early May we called the airlines to see if there were any frequent flier trips to Brazil available, and there were, but we'd have to leave in two weeks. So we only had two weeks to plan our trip. I've wanted to go The Pantanal for about seven years, so this was a priority. As we wanted a variety of experiences, we decided to travel to both the North and South Pantanal. We spent three nights/three days at Jaguar Ecological Refuge, 110 kilometers along the Transpantaneira Highway, and one night at a hotel in Cuiaba. We also spent three nights/three days at Refugio Ecologico Caiman and two nights in a hotel in Campo Grande.
During our three days/three days at Jaguar Ecological Refuge in Mato Grosso we saw many birds--the bird sightings were excellent--too bad I am not such an avid birdwatcher. I enjoy birds and have many birding guides that I have collected from Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa, North America and, most recently Brazil, but I was hoping to see more types of mammals and reptiles, in addition to birds. Among the birds we saw in the North and South Pantanal were Pygmy Owls, Burrowing Owls, Screech Owls, Horned Owls, Wood Storks, Jabiru Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Rufescent Tiger Herons, Gilded Hummingbirds, Swallowtailed Hummingbirds, Vermillion Flycatchers, Bare Faced Curassows, Great Black Hawks, Caracaras, Snail Kites, Roadside Hawks, Great Potoos, Southern Screamers, Anhingas, Lineated Woodpeckers, White Woodpeckers, Campo Flickers, Toco Toucans, Aracaris, Rheas, Laughing Falcons, Aplomado Falcons, the absolutely unforgettable Chaco Chachalaca (our "natural" alarm clock), many ibises, egrets, parrots, parokeets, and more. Too many birds to count--and the peak bird season doesn't even commence until next month!
Near Jaguar Lodge we saw lots of caiman, lots of capivara, many crab eating foxes (which are actually a type of wild dog), one rapidly moving tapir (very briefly), a couple of tarantulas, a cane toad, an iguana, deer, four scurrying marmosets, a few howler monkeys, and some brown capuchin monkeys. We didn't get a very good look at the monkeys as they were very high up in the trees and hidden among the branches and leaves. On the way to the lodge we passed a dead tamandua (a small anteater) and a dead otter (not a giant otter, just a small one), however, we did not stop to look at them--little did we know that we would not have a chance to see any live ones in the days to come.
We did not see any cats, other than the cute black kitten that lived at Jaguar Lodge. We did not see any armadillos, otters (giant or otherwise), anacondas, anteaters (giant or small), maned wolves, or coatis.
The food was unappetising at Jaguar Lodge, so I barely ate while I was there. I don't eat red meat, but I love food: I love to eat it and cook it. My husband, too, is a big fan of Brazilian cuisine. He has several Brazilian cookbooks and enjoys experimenting with the recipes. I believe a country's cuisine is a vibrant reflection of its culture, and traveling to a country affords one the opportunity to learn about this aspect of a nation's culture.
Jaguar Lodge served noodles with ground beef every night, along with white rice and red beans. We also had some overcooked chicken one night. We didn't have fish at all (as you did). We didn't have any barbecues (as you did). Dessert was nothing special. Fresh fruit, orange juice, white bread, scrambled eggs, and bacon were served for breakfast.
The room was spartan, with big bugs about (the big spiders were especially creepy as I have a fear of spiders--my face swelled horribly after I got bitten a few years ago). The electricity went off at 10 p.m. when the noisy generator was finally turned off, which meant we could not stay up to read or write. The towels were very thin, so they stayed damp. The toilet seat kept falling off. The bed was uncomfortable. I kept telling my husband I would forget all these shortcomings if I ended up spotting a jaguar, or maybe even a giant otter. Sadly, this did not happen. Thus, instead of departing from Jaguar Lodge exhilarated, I left with some regrets, and aches and pains from the teribble mattress.
We were the only couple at the Lodge for the first of our three nights, another couple stayed at the Lodge for only one night during our second night, after they left another couple stayed at the lodge for only one night during our third night. Because there isn't a whole lot to do between game walks/drives, it was nice to have other tourists to converse with. For us, that is part of the joy of traveling. We learn a lot from speaking to others.
The best feature of Jaguar Lodge is owner/guide Eduardo Falcao. He does a great job of finding birds; he really knows his birds. An avid birdwatcher with little interest in tasty food or comfortable accommodation would be greatly rewarded. Plus, even though game drives stay on the Transpantaneira Highway (which is a dirt road with very little traffic), you manage to get fairly close to the animals, as most creatures are close to the road.
We noticed that Jaguar Lodge got dropped from the most recent Lonely Planet guide to Brazil, which now recommends the better maintained Puma Lodge, which is just down the road.
We had thought about staying at Araras Lodge, also on the Transpantaneira, but our Brazilian travel agent thought Jaguar Lodge would be better. We should have stayed at Araras. We also heard good things about Pousada Piuval. And the Best Western Mato Grosso Lodge also looked very nice, plus it had a great location on the river. In other words, there are many nice places to stay on the Transpantaneira.
At Refugio Caiman, we saw the same birds that we saw in the North Pantanal, only we saw many more hyacinth macaws, loads of hyacinth macaws, as there is a Hyacinth Macaw conservation project on property. The project builds nesting boxes for the macaws. Also, to prevent predators (like Toco Toucans) from preying upon macaw eggs, they remove the macaw eggs until they hatch, after which they return them to their nests.
I believe Refugio Caiman is home to six macaw species, and we also saw Yellow Collared Macaws and Red and Green Macaws while we were there.
Caiman also houses conservation projects for jaguars and the Blue Fronted Parrot.
Naturally, there were lots of caimans at Refugio Caiman. And capivara, of course. We also saw a six banded (or yellow) armadillo, a tarantula, many crab eating foxes, about 8 giant anteaters (including one with a baby on its back), a tapir (only briefly and at night), many peccaries, quite a few deer, some howler monkeys and some brown capuchin monkeys. We did not see any giant otters, marmosets, anacondas, coatis, cats, or maned wolves.
Caiman Lodge is a working fazenda, so there are cattle (like 35,000 of them) and many horses about.
Both Jaguar Lodge and Caiman Lodge offered daily morning and spotlight night drives and daily walks. Both lodges also included a boat or canoe trip during our stay. The one at Jaguar Lodge was better, we traveled on the Rio Cuiaba for about two and a half hours. We didn't see many mammals, though I think the chances of seeing wildlife improve greatly later in the dry season as the river offers more riverbank beaches where mammals might be seen.
The boat trip from Caiman was on a small river on the property and it lasted only about 20 minutes, or about 45 minutes for those who chose to row down river in a canoe. A two and a half hour horseback ride preceded the boat trip. It was a great way to tour the area. Traveling through the woods on horseback, I felt like a 17th-century Portuguese explorer.
The accommodations at Refugio Caiman were infinitely more comfortable and pleasing than those at Jaguar Lodge. The food was also incomparably better. The guides at Refugio Caiman were also good, though not as experienced at spotting birds as Jaguar Lodge's Eduardo Falcao. Caiman's guides all seemed to be English-speaking, recent college grads (at the master's degree level) with an extensive knowledge of biology and ecosystems. We also had a driver who spoke little English, a native Pantaneiro (a self-described "cowboy") with a vast knowledge of region's flora and fauna, a good tracker. Both our guide and driver/tracker were expert equestrians who proved to be extremely helpful during the horseback riding portion of our trip. All the employees were very nice, friendly and helpful. Brazilians, in general, are fantastic: warm and hospitable.
Refugio Caiman comprises a huge area (148,300 acres) consisting of diverse biomes. 12,500 acres have been set aside for a private wildlife refuge. As you drive through Caiman, you are often, but not always, surrounded by wide open pastures backed by thick woods, so if you spot an anteater or some other creature in a pasture, you might find yourself nearly a football field away from them. However, it's not always like this--often the wildlife is much closer.
We shared Baizinha Lodge with four other couples, three from Europe and one from Brazil. After the loneliness of Jaguar Lodge, I was happy to have the company. I spent a lot of time conversing in my rusty Portuguese with the couple from Rio. We talked about native foods and medicinal plants, animals, the medical system, politics and the economy, about Brazilian music, and about other places we had traveled to.
Our guide at Baizinha told us his next group would consist of just one couple over the four days and nights!
The prices for the packages at the two lodges were nearly the same. Not cheap. About $1400 (for the two of us) for three nights at Jaguar Lodge. About $1650 (for the two of us) for three nights at Caiman Lodge. This was probably the biggest splurge of our lifetime.
I would have preferred to travel to The Pantanal at the peak of the dry season, say late September or early October, when wildlife viewings are optimal, however, for many reasons, we could not wait until then.

Diamantina is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2008, 05:46 AM
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I'm Brazilian and no matter where you go in Brazil, you can get vegetables in restaurants, includding barbecues houses.
Don't be worry about it, you will not have problems.

kellecarvalho is offline  
Old Jun 17th, 2008, 06:45 PM
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Thanks for all the great info, everyone. I wasn't worried so much about what I would/could eat (I can find something to eat no matter where I am) -- I was more worried about the experience of witnessing beef cattle ranching - seems like it would be a depressing, upsetting atmosphere, but your comments have set my mind at rest.

Lynn, Diamantina -- could you tell me how you booked your trips? Did you use a tour group or a travel agent?

Thanks again!

RubyBlue is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2008, 05:20 PM
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Hi Ruby,
Usually I have enough time to book with lodges/hotels directly, but I was really pressed for time on this trip (only had two weeeks before departure), so after many good recommendations, I chose to work with Open Door Tours based in Campo Grande, which is owned and operated by three Dutchmen who have lived in Brazil for many years (I think about 20 years). They specialize in the Pantanal. I had also read in a couple of places that Jaguar Lodge was not very good about answering their messages so that is another reason that I decided to book through Open Door Tours.
I was extremely happy with the service we got. They helped us book country lodges and city hotels in the North and South Pantanal and with accommodations in Rio; they also booked our flghts with GOL, which we found cheaper than flying with a TAM airpass.
Open Door Tours delivered with fast responses, good advice and recommendations. They were very upfront about costs. The only recommendation I would take exception with was Jaguar Lodge for the North Pantanal. I would have stayed at Araras, Pousada Piuval or Mato Grosso Hotel instead, if I could do the trip over. Still, I think they might have had reasons for recommending Jaguar Lodge, maybe the place has gone downhill a bit since they last checked it out, or maybe they never checked it out. Or maybe they truly believe it is a better place for seeing wildlife, or a quieter place because it is father along the Transpantaneira. Who knows?
They also arranged for excellent transfers for Campo Grande. The driver/guide who met us, a young Brazilian man named Mateo, was just a teriffic person who helped us tremendously. We spent about 8 hours with him, driving around and shopping. We spent the whole time talking, laughing, having a good time. He spoke great English (though I also speak okay Portuguese). I would say by the time we left Campo Grande, we had made a new friend.
You can check out Open Door Tours' reputation through your own Internet search, and they are also given a glowing recommendation in Frommer's (I believe). Beforehand I also checked out some other travel agencies specializing in the Pantanal and the prices of other agencies seemed about the same or sometimes more; the range of accommodations and tours was also about the same. So here's the link, if you want to check out Open Door:
Because we were in Brazil and Argentina for a month I also made many arrangements directly, such as those for Florianopolis, Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls. I also spent a lot of time on the phone and Internet checking out flights with TAM, GOL, LAN, and Aereolineas Argentinas. So I was very appreciative of the help I got from Open Door Tours.
Again, about the cattle ranching thing, you won't see anything disturbing at Caiman Ranch or at any of the fazendas or lodges you choose to stay at. Their livelihood depends on ecotourism and they know the that tourists are spending their hard earned dollars for a special trip, so they will want to give you a pleasant experience. The cows at Caiman Lodge are free range. They are also free range around the Transpantaneira, where they feed on native grasses and plants. Cows wander freely alongside capivara and other grazers. On the roads around Mato Grosso do Sul you will see big trucks loaded with cows destined for, well, you can guess where. But you can barely see the cow because of the way the trucks are built.
I thought I should mention something else: we were told that later in the dry season in Mato Grosso do Sul there are more fires (both wildfires and thosed caused by humans), so the air quality can suffer for it. Maybe someone else can comment on this, as we encountered no such problems, having traveled early in the dry season (actually considered the transition season).
Costs in Brazil have also risen for Americans due to the weakness of the dollar and the growing strength of the Brazilian economy. In the last year, the Brazilian real has risen 10 percent over the dollar. In the last five years, it has gone from trading at 3.87 to the dollar to its current rate of 1.63 Because of the booming Brazilian economy, the real is one of the strongest major currencies in the world right now.
ATMs were a bit temperamental, so you might want to advise your bank prior to travel that you will be in Brazil. My ATM bank debit card was blocked by my bank so I could not withdraw money in Brazil or Argentina. Luckily, ny husband's card worked and we both had American dollars, which were easy to change (try not to change in the airports where you get a terible rate). Visa debit cards were not as much of a problem at ATM machines.
Anyhow, I hope my advice helps!
You are going to have such a great trip!
Diamantina is offline  
Old Jun 18th, 2008, 07:09 PM
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Diamantina, thank you so much for all the info. Very helpful.
RubyBlue is offline  
Old Jul 7th, 2008, 04:41 AM
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I stayed at Caiman. My wife doesn't eat red meat either. It wasn't a problem, and neither being a vegetarion will be a problem! Just mention it at arrival time.

Say hi to thiago (guide manager), Barbara and Juarez (guides) from me.

If you need any info, send me an email. ;-)



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Old Jul 7th, 2008, 03:54 PM
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Sorry for the delayed response. I was gone.

Focus Tours in New Mexico and Belo Horizonte was who I booked with.

Keep in mind most places you go in the Pantanal are cattle ranches.

Thanks for the nice comments Walrus and Diamantina. Thank you also, Diamantina, for the detailed comments that represent what you experienced. I agree with the charm of the Chacalaca alarm clock bird.

My jaguar photos are all from the Paraguay River, staying at the Baiazinha Hotel.

This is a link to my report/pics on the Northern Pantanal. Other parts of Brazil are in the report before the Pantanal.

atravelynn is offline  
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