The Pantanal, Brazil

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The Pantanal

“I look at it this way … For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers … so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever.” George Carlin

In the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland territory covering around 210,000 square kilometers. Less than half of this is in Bolivia and Paraguay; the rest is in Brazil, split between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

Part National Park, part UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pantanal boasts the highest concentration of wildlife on the continent. It is home to around 1,000 bird species.

Some of the very rare and endangered animal species that call the Pantanal home include the Marsh Deer, Giant River Otter, Hyacinth Macaw, Crowned Solitary Eagle, Maned Wolf, Bush Dog, Capybara, South American Tapir, Giant Anteater, Yacare Caiman, ocelots and jaguars. (capybaras)

 Most of the Pantanal is privately owned and less than three per cent is under government protection. Cooperation between ecotourism and the landowners in the region (mostly cattle ranchers) has contributed to the sustainable conservation of the environment. 

The  ecolodges and tourist industry pay the ranchers not to kill the jaguars.  The money  ecotourism brings in far exceeds the cash value of the loss of cattle. Jaguars have created a thousand new jobs in Brazil.

 Ecotourism couldn’t have been better for the jaguars. The guides describe them as opportunistic— they don’t just kill when they are hungry. Now they are the protected top of the food chain.

Two days before we arrive, we are told that the fires in the Pantanal affected our lodge and we would have to stay in a different one. There have been many more fires in the Pantanal this year than previous ones – due to both dryness and criminal activity. Firefighters say the cause is likely local people setting fires to clear land of vegetation, a practice also blamed for many of the Amazon fires. Such burning is particularly common among cattle ranchers, who use fire rather than costly equipment to prepare pastures. 

 The fires in the Pantanal this year have been overshadowed by the months-long period of blazes seen in the Amazon region. The governor of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency on Sept. 11.

I didn’t know about the Pantanal fires because the News only talked about the Amazon. It clearly affected the  number of birds and animals we would see. But by the time I realized that, I was there.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Least Friendly Countries In the World

Least Friendly Countries In The World

“I’m a stranger in a strange land.” Carson McCullers 

As any world traveler knows, not every country offers tourists a warm welcome. Everyone does not “like to practice their English” for you English-speaking tourists. Everyone does not like foreigners. Friendliness is rated by attitudes toward foreigners. Here are the least friendly countries in order.

10. Mongolia is not a nation of smiling quaint little Asian people. They come from warrior lineage and showing emotion to strangers is a sign of weakness. It is a cultural difference and that is the way it is. They often seem rude and unfriendly, especially in cities. Once you go out of the city, this is not the case. The challenging nature of nomadic life has shaped the need for the unique hospitality and genuine warmth extended to all travelers and pilgrims. Mongolians believe that the welcome offered a stranger today will be repaid in the future. This concept is at the very root of Mongolia’s centuries-old culture.

9. Bulgaria is about as East as Eastern Europe gets and Eastern Europeans are not friendly. They don’t smile and I don’t speak Bulgarian. I don’t know much about this country. It is not famous for gymnasts or shooting dictators.There is a lot of stuff on the internet about people being rude and ripping off tourists when possible. Least friendly does not mean unsafe. I guess I will go and see for myself and bring a book.

8. Slovaks are not friendly to people they do not know. I am not sure if this reserve is a Slavic trait or a product of the Socialist regime that they lived under for so long. Smiling customer service will not be part of your shopping or dining experience in Slovakia. They want tourism but they can’t figure out how to market themselves. If you need help in English “ask young,” The older people working in train stations and bus terminals do not speak English. There have been several racist incidents in this homogeneous white society that make people not want to return.

7. Latvia is a good place to not ask directions because no one is going to help you. I have been there. The locals are not friendly and if anyone is friendly to you they want something – so be careful. It is my least favorite of all the Eastern European countries that I have been to so far.

6. Pakistan is a country rife with crime and terrorists. Home to the Taliban and other extremist organizations, Pakistan is unsafe and unfriendly.

5. Iran is a tough one. I think it is on this list because it is ruled by savage mullahs who sponsor terrorism. But from everything I have heard, Iranians are welcoming to visitors and happy to see travelers in their country. The President leads chants that say Death To America. There are posters that say Death to Israel and We Have No Homosexuals. This definitely makes it unwelcoming, yet by all accounts, the people are kind and friendly.

4. Kuwait is incredibly hot which probably makes people irritable. Do not expect a warm welcome here. It is a conservative Muslim country and from being around conservative Muslims in my travels, I notice that they avoid eye contact with anyone in Western clothes. There is not a lot to do other than eating vast amounts of food, smoke shisha (hookah) and walk around luxurious shopping malls. Apparently, the locals don’t seem to want foreigners to do that.

3. I was in Russia a while ago. No one spoke English and at that time every sign was written in Cyrillic. It was hard to get around and I tried to learn temporary Cyrillic as fast I could. The no smiling, no small talk is standard Russian behavior. It was still early in the post-Communist era and people were adjusting. The life of a Russian person in Russia had always been hard and a constant struggle. When I was there, they had many issues between this new “free” life and the feeling that life under Communism was easier. It was what they knew. I found the people cold, rude and unfriendly but I never found that with the many Russian immigrants I have met in the States. I understand why it is listed as the third most unfriendly country in the world because that was my experience as well coming from a completely different culture. 

2. Venezuela is a country in crisis.  It is socially, economically, and politically in ruins. Venezuela is full of violent crime, inflation, and corruption. The local people spend half their lives waiting in line at empty supermarkets, bus, train and gas stations. Hospitals are empty because there is no medicine in this oil-rich country.  The black market is so much cheaper than inflated prices so everyone carries cash. Tourists are robbed by both criminals and police. Traffic accidents are common because cars don’t stop at street lights for fear of being robbed. Protests are daily and often turn violent. Venezuela is a dangerous country and not on most people’s list to travel to right now. Everyone is way too worried about their own safety and precarious future to be friendly to strangers. 

1. Bolivia took the dubious honor of being the most unfriendly country in the world. I know you probably thought it would be the French. I’m not sure I get this one. The only Bolivians I have met were in Northern Argentina selling hand-made souvenirs and coca leaves for altitude sickness in the Altiplano. It is the most extensive high altitude plateau outside of Tibet -4000 meters high. Chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea is very helpful for avoiding altitude sickness. The legality of coca leaves in Buenos Aires is questionable but it is medicinal in the Altiplano and they bring it in from Bolivia. Some Bolivians were friendlier than others but no one was rude. I’ve always found South Americans to be kind and helpful and I can’t find any information on why it is number one. It is an odd choice for a poor, beautiful country that needs tourism. I’m definitely going anyway.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Fake News

Fake News

“My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.” Mitch Hedberg

Today President Trump closed his twitter account. The UN  divided up all the Syrian refugees  and every nation in the world took some in. Peace was declared in Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria and Congo.  Other African countries are going to follow their example.  With a lot of effort on both parts, a peace agreement to the mutual satisfaction  of both sides, was finally reached between Israel and Palestine.  In a historic quick defeat resulting in no casualties, the Arab Nations banded together and defeated Isis. They are planning a joint effort against other terrorist groups as well. Boko Haram returned all the girls to Nigeria. They were unharmed and well taken care of. The Muslims Clerics issued a doctrine saying all girls must attend school. A mysterious virus is killing the opium and coca plants in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. The Mexican cartels are looking into other businesses – perhaps building supplies. Scientists say that the hole in the ozone layer is noticeably smaller and that climate change is reversing due to the joint efforts of every country in the world.

The Republicans  have repealed and replaced Obama Care with a low-cost high level health care plan pleasing the medical profession, the patients and the insurance companies. Donald Trump has created so many new jobs that we need to take in more immigrants to fill them. Suicide and murder rates are the lowest they have ever been. America has been declared a smoke free country. A new drug has been approved that cures Cancer, Diabetes, MS, Autoimmune Diseases, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction and Racism. Pharmaceutical companies are working over time to cure-all other diseases as well. American billionaires have all banded together to eradicate homelessness and they are expecting everyone to have homes by 2025. The government has poured money into education and mental illness research and treatment. The police have issued a new  policy stating that if you get to your car while they are writing a parking ticket, they will rip it up. Gas prices are the lowest they have been in one hundred years.  Kindness is up fifty percent  and continues to soar.

If we are going to have fake news and alternative facts, let’s use it for good. Why not fake what we want the world to be like? Why not pretend to be the people that we didn’t think we could be?

Fly safe,

JAZ