How are all of you doing? Today is a special day as it is Shelley's birthday. Yes, I remember the day you were born so many, many years ago! :) I wish that we could be there to help you celebrate but you probably have plans to be with your friends anyway. I hope that you have a very special birthday today, Shelley. I sure love you.
We have been very busy since our side trip out to the MTC! It is always good to be busy. In fact, I have been so busy that I was wondering how I was going to be able to go on our trip to the Pantanal. I tried to get everything caught up and what I didn't get finished will always be there waiting for me. :) Today and tomorrow the office is closed because of Carnaval (the accent is on the last syllable and the closing "L" sound is more like a closed "oo" sound in Portuguese. So try saying Car-na-va-oo with the accent on the va and the oo is quick. That is your Portuguese lesson.). Today I am doing loads and loads of laundry! We have to go to the store sometime today. Basically we are resting and getting caught up since our trip.
The Pantanal was really amazing! It is the largest wetland in the world and it is in the wet season so there was water everywhere! We saw lots of beautiful birds and quite a few alligators. Our guide said that it is estimated that there are 40 million alligators in the Pantanal! Wikipedia said there were 10 million. At any rate, no matter which number you choose, there are A LOT of alligators in the Pantanal. Because of all of the water everywhere, we didn't see as many as you see during the dry season, but still it is pretty awesome to see alligators in the wild!
We went on several jeep tours to different animal viewing areas and we went on two boat rides. They have birds there that are unbelievable. One was called a Tuiuiu or a Jabiru Stork. It is almost as tall as me and it can fly! They were really neat to see. It's wingspan ranges from 7'5"-9'2"! Awesome! They have HUGE nests also! Really, the wildlife down here and the fauna is so beautiful that it is hard to describe without seeing it for yourselves.
Once we left the paved road and entered the TransPantaneira Highway (a dirt road) there were many times that we had to drive through water. In fact, the driver had to stop at one point and make an adjustment on the air intake hose (or something like that) so that it wouldn't fill up with water. He also put a panel underneath the engine. When I saw what we were going to drive through all I could think of was the flooding in Eastern Idaho with the warnings, "Don't drown-turn around!" We went through a pretty deep spot on the way in and then on Sat. coming out it was way worse as there had been a huge rainstorm the night before. I'm sure that the water would have come up to my knees. We slid around a bit and we clapped when we got through the worst of it, but our driver (a different one from before) didn't even crack a smile. I was sure that the water was going to start coming in under the door!
There is a special kind of horse in the Pantanal that can be in water for months at a times and not have it affect its hooves and legs. We saw many horses standing in water up to and some up past their bellies. In fact, we went on a horse ride and most of it was through the water. I have a video of us but that was at the beginning of the water. It got up past Sister Burke's feet as her horse was a little smaller than the others. Looking out at the grass in the field, I had no idea that it was full of water until we were in it! My horse stepped in a hole one time and almost went down with me on it! Luckily we both stayed upright!
It was fun to see Toucans in the wild. One flew right over our jeep at a low height but I didn't have time to get a picture of it. I did get a picture of one in flight. We like to see Toucans but down here the people don't like them at all as they are nuisance birds and rob other bird's nests of their eggs, etc. We saw lots of Kingfishers and they are beautiful. There are different kinds with beautiful colors. They build their nests (holes) inside the banks of the rivers. They really don't have a neck and they reminded me of "Toad" Whitehead from Iona! :)
We passed through some cattle drives and are the cows down here ever funny looking! They are very skinny also and the meat is very tough. We passed through a couple of cattle drives, one was only about 40 cows and the other one was around 800. The next day someone said that there was a cattle drive with 1,000 cows but we didn't see that one.
One morning as we were on our jeep ride, we saw some water buffalo! I've never seen any of those before and even though they were far away, we could still see their curled up horns. We saw alligators, lots of birds (including Parrots, Macaws, Parakeets, Toucans, etc.), lizards (one only had three legs), Savannah foxes, deer, Capybara (the largest rodents in the world), Emus, water buffalo, and maybe more. We didn't see any monkeys, Jaguars, or snakes. The monkeys move away from the water during the wet season because of the mosquitos. Oh yes, we saw mosquitos!!!! Zillions of them I think!
On Sat. we left the Pantanal and the roads were even more covered with water. During April, many of the roads to the farms are completely covered in water, some of them already were. We went to a place called the Chapadas, which means Mesas. The canyon walls and the rock formations kind of reminded us of St. George. We saw some small waterfalls (nothing to compare with Iguacu!) but they were very muddy because of the rainstorm the night before. There was a ton of water coming over them though. We went out for Ice Cream that night for dinner :) as we had had a late lunch.
Sunday we went to church in Cuiaba. It was fun for the Harris' as they served their first mission there and they knew some people including the mission president. Some of the couples went out to the mission president's home for a light lunch and the Anderson's did a training at the church for ICS (technology) and Dad and I stayed at the hotel until we left for the airport. I had a very bad headache. The Burkes and Sister Cox went out to the mission president's home because they work with missionaries from their mission and they needed to visit with the president.
It was a good trip but now we are glad to be back and to get back into our routine. We only have 2 months left and we have a lot of things to get set in place before we leave. I forgot to tell you about Carnaval. We don't go to anything as it gets pretty risqué these days, but at in Cuiaba I woke up to the beating of drums with a samba rhythm. I couldn't see anything out the window except for a hamburger stand that was going strong! By morning it was gone. I've seen lots of young (and middle aged) women and girls dressed up like cats! I don't know what the significance is of cats and Carnaval! Last Tuesday while we were walking home there was a drum line set up by the gas station and there was a lady out dancing for the traffic! Luckily she was mostly covered! Tomorrow is the official day of Carnaval and then Wed. is the first day of Lent. I guess that the churches down here make a lot of money on Lent as people go in and pay to have their sins from Carnaval forgiven! Carnaval is always the day (or week) before Lent for that reason! Interestingly, many Brazilians have their birthdays in November. :O
Well I'd better go. I'll send some pictures in a few emails as there will be too many in one shot. I sure love you all.
#5-the three legged lizard!