Driving 'The Beast' through South-America


By Isabelle Demaeght, June 19, 2019

Following the directions of the biologist Luis (see previous episode), we ended up in the state natural park "Rio Petro" which was not mentioned in the travel guide nor on the map. At the accompanying campground, we were assigned a spot in the parking lot. Most Brazilian campgrounds are grassy areas intended for tents and not for a heavy Land Cruiser. We ended up staying for 3 days and did 2 hikes there with (mandatory) guide. For me, the uphill trail in temperatures of plus 30 degrees was boundary-pushing but the end point of both hikes (a waterfall with swimming pool) was well worth the effort and at several points we made eager use of it.

Black water


The Rio Petro, the black river, has a dark color due to the presence of minerals and organic material. Yet you can see the fish swimming up to a meter deep. The bottom of the river consists of deep pits in some places, due to erosion.


Via dirt roads of red earth, through coffee and sugar cane plantations, we drove to the national nature park "Canastra". We did not see the large anteaters, which were promised to us in the travel guide. And because the state of the road in the park was so bad, we decided to drive on the next day in the direction of Campo Grande.


Red coffee beans

Peeled and unpeeled beans

For two days we drove eastward in the rolling hilly landscape towards the Pantanal (which is the largest swamp in the world, an inland delta formed by some 175 rivers, with one outlet: the Paraguay River). Thinking back to the beginning of our trip, almost 300 days ago, we become more astute about camping. In the interior, we do find remote places to spend the night, and we camp with a (near) sense of security in a Eucalyptus forest or a sugarcane field, on the side of a small road, or on someone's property, with whom we then meet (and never encounter objections). We sleep more comfortably when it's totally dark and there are only natural sounds.

Sleeping peacefully

In a (sugar)reed field

Sometimes we become the attraction, in our big car with a European license plates. Because we wanted to "rest" for a few days, wash our clothes and clean the car, we found a small campground north of Campo Grande for a change. The owner of the campground, Kaka (short for Karakas), turned us into such an attraction. At intervals, invited guests came to watch us and ... take pictures. Kaka is a big Facebook fan and so we ended up there ( without being asked ) many times. The reception at this campsite that is part of their garden (and the bathrooms are part of their house) was very welcoming. Elô (his wife) and Kaka did everything to make our stay as pleasant as possible.

Kaka and Adriaan

After that we stayed a few days in Bonito (south of the Pantanal) where we snorkeled in the crystal clear "Rio Prata". We saw whole schools of fish swimming around in the bubbling water of the sources of this river.

Source of a river

Then we really went into the Pantanal... We started with 2 days of driving on an occasionally semi-paved road with big potholes and holes for 200 kilometers. We enjoyed the (relatively) untouched nature and many different species of birds, sunbathing caymans, snakes, capivari (a very large rodent) and the large anteaters I had been looking for for so long. Impressive. Especially the one meter tall "Tuiuiu", a species of stork unique to the Pantanal, caught our attention. At the end of the second day we decided to drive deeper into the area. We met almost no people on our lonely journey. At the moment we are at the beginning of the dry season and some roads are still so muddy and flooded that we sometimes hoped to get the next 50 meters further. I held my breath and got sweaty hands at the thought that we would get stuck and I would have to get out under the watchful eye of a cayman...





After three days and two nights we were back on asphalt on the east side, and we still hadn't had enough of the Pantanal. We decided to drive into the Pantanal from the north. We made a stop in Chapada dos Guillames during this long detour (about 1000 kilometers). This park is (very!) famous for its very beautiful rock formations. It is also the geographical center of South America, which for some is a spiritual experience (many New-Age centers).

Chapada dos Guillames

Back in the swamp, we ended up at the "Jaguar Ecological Reserve". We experienced a super day on the São Lorenço River: watching many wild animals, but especially observing 2 eating Jaguars will always stay with us. Our young guide, Eduarda, did her very best in a small motorboat and we were absolutely not jealous of the many tourists in bigger boats. It was Eduarda who found the Jaguars, and when we left after 45 minutes, "all" the other big boats came. We think, that those Jaguars went to eat their cayman somewhere undisturbed....



After the Pantanal, we stayed one night in an insect-free hotel in the town of Cuiaba. The swamp is very impressive but by now my body is completely punctured and calling for a little itch rest. Then we drove 2 days west to the capital: Brasilia.

Brasilia has only been the capital of Brazil since 1960. The then President Kubitchek had this city built in 5 years by landscape architect Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer who created a unique, almost futuristic city with impressive, sleek buildings.

The first sight of the city gives a "whaaw" effect. During a walk, we saw up close that the architect did not use sustainable materials everywhere so some of the buildings are rundown.

Cathedral in Brasilia

Chamber and Senate of Brazil

Beautiful buildings

I had a certain but inexplicable aversion to this country. Probably because the words "corruption," "criminality," and "danger" passed us by so often in recent months. After thousands of kilometers on Brazilian soil, we only experienced warmth and hospitality.

When we crossed the Uruguayian-Brazilian border, we were told that after 3 months in this country we could apply for an extension with the federal police... This turned out to be different: Adriaan was told he was in violation as of June 29. At a second attempt (when we went together) it turned out the Brazilian computers knew Adriaan's old passport number. For me, they only had knowledge of the number of the new passport brought from Belgium two months ago. To the Federal Police inspector it seemed that I had never been to Brazil before. And so she allowed Adriaan to stay as long as I could, with the advice to apply for another extension for both of us on the last day (July 29). We think, that she didn't want to disrupt our (in her mind) two-month young journey (and love?). There are many warm, compassionate people here.