By Cullen Ryan Keller
After leaving the Pantanal, I was ready for some cleaner adventures, so I headed to the eponymous city of Bonito.
Bonito is a small town, actually not very bonito (beautiful, that is) at all. However, it is the hub to some of the best ecotourism activities in all of Brazil. We had quite a few choices from which to choose, including rapelling over 200 feet down a crevasse into a lagoon, where you could snorkel and check out some tropical fish. Sounded great, but so was the price tag. Seeing as though we are doing our best to remain budget travelers, we opted for just a half-day snorkeling adventure.
My only other snorkeling adventure was on a booze cruise in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in high school. Needless to say, I didn’t see much besides two or three versions of my own hands struggling to stay afloat. So, I was not expecting much.
It turned out to be one of the most tranquil and meditative experiences in my life. The day was beautiful, sunny and clear. I arrived with a friend and we quickly suited up in our stunning wetsuits. The only thing missing was my red cap with the Team Zisou trademark on it.
While walking out to the water, our guide pointed out the different types of fish, taught us how to extact fresh drinking water from the center of trees and showed us the cold springs bubbling up from the streams surface. Apparently, just 20 years ago, no one really knew about the ecological gems this area held. Since then, different people have been snatching up the land and parts of the long stream to create the huge ecotourism boom we were now immersed in. None other than Nestle has been buying up thousands and thousands of acres, presumably for bottling water.
The water is crystal clear, a far cry from the Corona-induced murky waters of the Mexican Atlantic. We hopped into the water and began to float quickly downstream. I couldn’t help but think of Benjamin in The Graduate, fully submersed in his new scuba gear in the pool, as the only sound I could now hear was the sound of my own breathing.
The stream pushed us along at a nice pace, and without any other sounds, my head became completely clear. Below me swam schools of fish. They were so close you could almost touch them. We waded past multiple bubbling cold springs and all different types of plant life. I closed my eyes and think I could have fallen asleep right there, just floating along. It was so peaceful and tranquil. Now, I know why people get so hooked on scuba diving. The calmness underwater is unbelievable. Although a few people in my group said that they even thought this was better because you didn’t need to concentrate on your breathing or oxygen tanks.
The sun disappeared above us and it began to drizzle, and then fully pour down, which was even more amazing, I thought. I kept coming up out of the tranquil waters and being amazed at the difference outside with the lightning, thunder and hard rain coming down. Out of the water was a tropical jungle with many species of birds, which I always somehow managed to miss. Wow, did you see that toucan? I would have liked to say,”Yes, I just caught a glimpse of it,” but every time I was too late.
The best part may not have been the snorkeling. It might have been topped by the overzealous photographer who captured every one of our individual movements with a new photo. Eventually, we just started messing around with the guy, only to see how goofy we looked when we got sucked into purchasing the CD at the end.
After the snorkeling, I headed out out to an Estancia, or a huge ranch, with some waterfalls and a zipline into the water. I felt like I was at camp again. It was great fun.
The next day we headed out to a cave, called the Blue Lagoon. There was a huge opening in the ground and we walked down over 300 feet to the bottom of this cave. There were some of the most impressive stalactites and stalagmites coming out of the earth. It looked like a piece or work from Gaudi. The whole ceiling looked like it was melting into hundreds of organ pipes. At the bottom was this beautiful lagoon that was about 40 different shades of blue. It was clear water and the bottom looked about 10 feet deep, but I was mistaken. The visible part was actually 60 feet deep, and under that shelf, professional scientists dived down 300 feet and still had not found the bottom. There wasn’t enough air so no one has been able to find the bottom, which is quite amazing.
Unfortunately, we could only afford two of the many adventures in Bonito. Sadly, many tourists tend to skip over this wonderfully adventure-rich town on the Brazilian circuit. My advice: Don’t pass the opportunity up and don’t forget to bring your checkbook because the adventures are worth it.