As I write this I’ll be turning 50 in a matter of weeks. While I try not to dwell on it, it’s exceedingly difficult to not think about my own mortality. As feisty actress Bette Davis once said: “Getting old isn’t for sissies.” In fact, I need to make an appointment with the optometrist to get fitted for bifocals. The only bifocal wearer who readily comes to mind is Ben Franklin, and he was 78 years old when he invented them. There are two ways to live: you can live the life of most moderns, as a virtual shut-in, traveling from box to box (apartment or home to car to office and back), or you can grab some of that pioneer gusto of our forefathers and foremothers and live to the utmost (seeing, experiencing, tasting, etc.). This piece as well as the slideshow to follow is about the Pantanal, but these introductory paragraphs are about helping the weak-kneed to dig deep, to find that bit of mettle they didn’t know they had and to dare to take a walk on the wild side.
You know the type (perhaps you are the type), workaday folks, hermetically sealed away from life’s difficulties and dangers, whether real and perceived. Societal nannyism already increasingly “protects” us from life’s little pitfalls as well as from ourselves. We’ve become our own “helicopter parents.” Often the only avenue for excitement to invade the fortresslike walls that shut us in is via TV monitors, computer screens and electronic hand-held devices. The stay-at-home uber-cautious might be crack shots, real officer John McClanes, when it comes to Grand Theft Auto, but in a real-life sitch, they’d probably fire the first of many errant rounds into one of their already damp Converse.
“But I want to make it at least to my life expectancy?” According to the United Nations, that’s 75.6 for guys and 80.8 for women in the U.S.; we’re tied for 36th with Denmark and Cuba. Always playing it safe may indeed help you make it to 75.6 or 80.8 but at what cost? You can infuse adventure in the form of ecotours and outdoor sports/activities into your life without sacrificing safety. Of course, the alternative isn’t as pretty as it might first seem: a moldering body found wrapped in a down comforter, the television still on, with the white noise of the Home Shopping Network in the background; the corpse lies semi-prone on a threadbare recliner set in the launch position, one desiccated fist clenches a TV remote while the other grasps a fuzz-covered crème-filled (long since fossilized) spongecake. I can see why someone might want to go out like that; perhaps, the Pantanal is more excitement than such folks can bear.
But if you are into ticking off adventures from your bucket list – you might want to add another line: “Visit the Pantanal.”
World Heritage Site
The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest wetlands. At more than 80,000 square miles it is a little larger than the state of Kansas, Kansas being a 400-mile-by-200-mile rectangle of wheat and sunflowers in mid-America. Now imagine the same 400-mile-by-200-mile rectangle filled with tropical hardwood forests, tanin-stained rivers brimming with piranhas and caimans, seasonally flooded marshland and open savannas, myriad exotic mammals, birds, reptiles and fish – you’re not in Kansas anymore. That’s the Pantanal.
It is a distinct bio-region from its more-well-known neighbor the Amazon. But the Pantanal, with its alternating wet and dry seasons, as well as its vernal ponds, year-round rivers, forest and open grasslands (many patches being dried-up ponds), may actually offer more (at least as much) in the way of wildlife for the ecotourist. Both the Amazon and the Pantanal were named to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage List in 2000.
The Pantanal is located in southwestern Brazil but spills over into Bolivia and Paraguay. It offers eco-adventurers, especially those with an aquatic bent, unlimited watery “scapes,” flowering aquatic plants (at least 3,500 plant species), at least 400 species of freshwater fish, some 80 reptiles, 700 bird species, 75 mammal species (marsh deer, jaguars, tapirs, anteaters, the world’s largest rodent – capybara, giant otters, etc.) and 500 species of butterflies, not to mention all of the other insects, spiders, and other organisms. And it’s not just all the species, but the sheer numbers of individuals. For example, the caiman population in the Pantanal is estimated to be in the millions.
You can choose to waste away in an easy chair, or you can don a pair of cross-trainers, swaddle yourself in khaki and bug spray and hit the road less traveled and check out fish-rich landscapes like the Pantanal; these still-magical places are reminders of why people keep fish and try to replicate nature in biotope aquariums in the first place. While you may not want to end up as a TV-remote-clutching corpse, you probably don’t want to be reduced to a wristwatch-clad forearm by hungry piranhas either. Many of the world’s ecotourism destinations are probably safer than buying milk and eggs in most large American cities after dark, provided you come prepared.
You’ve either stumbled onto this FishChannel Pantanal bonus article and slideshow or found it through intensive FishChannel trolling, but more than likely, you read Annie Mercier and Jean-François Hamel’s “Exploring Brazil’s Pantanal” in the April “Aquarists’ Ecotour” issue and were directed here by the “Want More Info?” box at the end of the article. Obviously, your thirst for the Pantanal is not easily satiated.
If the Pantanal is a bit out of your reach, there are plenty of short day and weekend piscine ecotours near you. I know that you can see salmon runs in the Lake Tahoe area during the autumn months (San Francisco, Reno residents take note). There are desert pupfish in the sun-heated streams at the bottom of Death Valley; some of which are found no place else (Las Vegas and Los Angeles are mere hours away). In western Wyoming, there’s a rocky protuberance called Fossil Butte, which was the bottom of an ancient lake millions of years ago. This butte is famous for some of the best-preserved fossilized fish found anywhere in the world (Denver, Salt Lake City). Go to FishChannel.com/FossilFishButte for more on this special area. If you look hard enough, you can find a piscine or coral ecotour in your own backyard.