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Rio da Prata fish, Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata, Recanto Ecologico Rio da Prata, Brazil

Snorkeling Rio da Prata

by Elizabeth Willoughby

Dressed in knee-length wet suits and neoprene boots provided at the main lodge, we toss our dry clothes into our car and drive the dusty road that winds its way through pastures and over wooden bridges until it meets the river. Leaving the car under shady trees, we walk the few steps down to the stone platform that descends into the waterway.

Here is our first glimpse of the transparent Rio da Prata. Fish sway gently against the current and butterflies hover over puddles on the stones. When all eight members of our group have gathered, we’re led along a trail that follows the river upstream through dense rainforest. The muggy, tropical temperature is overwhelming, forcing many to pull their wet suits down to hang from the waist.

A chance encounter with some wild pigs at a small clearing catches the group by surprise. Not the guide, though. He is ready with kernels of corn to scatter in the grass, distracting the beasts while we hasten past. After a two-kilometre walk in the heavy heat, we suit back up and finally enter the cold, refreshing waters.

Snorkels and masks are adjusted, and enable surprising face-to-face encounters with colourful fish under a brilliant sky-blue backdrop. Swimmers stare at fish. Fish stare at swimmers. Then, like surfacing whales, gusts of wet air blasts through the snorkels as we begin to investigate the underwater terrain.

For the rest of the morning, we quietly drift downstream in single file observing the aquatic plant and animal life that appears in pristine condition. A subterranean spring bursts into Rio da Prata from below. In an effort to examine the curious hole, the heartiest divers rage against the out-thrusting current to plunge an arm into the abyss.

Arriving at the platform from where our hike began, we’re exhilarated from the experience and weary from the exertion of keeping warm. We change into our dry clothes and slog back to the main lodge. There, a hearty buffet of south Mato Grosso food is steaming ready, and hammocks under shady trees await.

Traditionally, these 1,431 hectares of Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata (River's Head Ranch) were used mainly for cattle grazing with a small portion set aside for crops, much like the other ranches of the area. Unlike the others though, this one had a nature reserve and the Olho d'Água River springs running through it.

With the desire to share the beauty of the place and to supplement their income, the owners created Recanto Ecolôgico Rio da Prata (Rio da Prata's Ecological Nook) and welcomed ecotourism through its gates about seven years ago. Since then, several projects have evolved into a mostly self-sustaining farmstead where tourism contributes about 80% of the total income. Few pass through Bonito without seizing the opportunity to swim through Rio da Prata's natural aquarium, chow down on local cuisine, laze on a hammock and wander around the functioning fazenda by horseback.

Images and article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2001

This article was published in the Sunday News, São Paulo 2001 and at Examiner.com 2016

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