Finally, they reach the eagerly awaited Brazilian wilderness. At 7am, the bikers leave Campo Grande and hit the road towards Fazenda San Francisco, 30km from Miranda, in the south of the Pantanal, ready to immerse themselves in local life.
They’re soon welcomed by farm owner Beth Coelho. A mother of four girls (Cintia, Roberta, Carol and Andrea), Beth has hidden each of her daughter’s umbilical cords under a tree. ‘It’s a traditional ritual in this region, and makes children want to continue what their families do for a living,’ she says. In her case, it worked. ‘Imagine if they had turned into shopaholics that just hang out at the mall?’ she jokes. As it turns out, that couldn’t be further from reality. Cynthia, the eldest, works as a psychologist in the state’s capital (Campo Grande), and her three sisters – Andrea, Carol and Roberta – have continued the family legacy, managing the farm with Beth and her husband. This involves running the livestock and rice production, plus taking care of the hospitality, since the farm also doubles as a hotel. But the bikers don’t want to be treated as guests; they wanted to experience real life in the Pantanal, so they’re more than happy to join this family’s sisterhood and share their daily activities.
They arrive, leave their bags, have a quick lunch and go straight to the fields with Andrea and Carol for a typical day in Pantanal. In the afternoon, Beth’s daughters go cattle-herding – a typical farming duty in this region, as it is often necessary to move cows from a flood-risk pasture to one that is safer. Managing over 300 cows is now the girls’ job! So, along with the cowherds, they ride on horseback across the flooded fields (and alligator territory) to move the animals to safety. Cindy leads the group, as she is an experienced rider, and, despite Cecile’s lack of experience, she manages to keep up with her friends. ‘On the riverside, a cowboy plays his horn to lead the animals on the right path,’ says Cécile. ‘We lead the way through the water, and the herd follows behind us. We walk through mud and moss. There is water up to our thighs. The horses swim. We have to keep stimulating them, so as not to let them slip away. We reach the other bank, and the animals rush out of the water, strong and powerful. I’m not sure what role we had in this, but I felt really transcended. I had forgotten that I am a woman from Paris, that I am 32 years old, even what language I speak… I lost myself in this task, transported by the energy of the animals.’
Paradise In Pantanal
After the herding, some cattle have to be taken to a place called ‘mangueiro’ (corral). ‘This is where we keep the cows with special needs, the ones that require more assistance. For example, if they are pregnant or need vaccines. Bringing them here is part of our daily duties,’ Andrea explains. In order to take them there, they have to lead the animals along a dirt road (under a 34C sun) surrounded by gorgeous fauna and flora. The girls spot trees like the barriguda (where macaws often build their nests), and animals like emus, buffalos, anteaters and many beautiful birds including the Black Prince (named after its black beak). After the fields, the girls go canoeing across a river surrounded by a dense forest – a very typical landscape in the region – with Beth, Carol and Rachel. Later, they enjoy a typical Pantanal dinner around the fire, while listening to Almir Sater’s viola coming from the speakers. It all takes place under the stunning starry sky of the savannah, and provides the finishing touch to a perfect evening. It will be hard to leave the Pantanal.
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Wet ‘n’ Wild
The Pantanal is a great plain that shares a border with Bolivia. Filled with prairies and flooded savannah, and criss-crossed by a multitude of rivers, this is one of the largest wetlands in the world. During the four-month rainy season, 80 per cent of this region is covered in water. This means that it has the highest concentration of aquatic plants in the world, and the most beautiful natural reservation of animals in Brazil. The girls just had to make the detour, despite the floods.
Tune In Tomorrow When…
The bikers try a local delicacy: piranha (after catching it themselves!)