Far removed from mainstream Brazil, hard by the Bolivian border and 400km west of Campo Grande, the city of CORUMBÁ provides a welcome stop after the long ride from either Santa Cruz (in Bolivia) or Campo Grande. As an entrance to the Pantanal, Corumbá has the edge over Cuiabá in that it is already there, stuck in the middle of a gigantic swamp, only 119m above sea level. Its name, in Tupi, means the “place of stones” and, not surprisingly, Corumbá and the Pantanal didn’t start out as a great source of attraction to travellers. As early as 1543, the swamp proved an inhospitable place to an expedition of 120 large canoes on a punitive campaign against the Guaicuru tribe. Sent by the Spanish governor of Paraguay, it encountered vampire bats, stingrays, biting ants and plagues of mosquitoes. And while it doesn’t seem quite so bad today, it’s easy to understand why air conditioning is such big business here. It was Corumbá’s unique location on the old rail link between the Andes and the Atlantic that originally brought most travellers to the town, but, ironically, the same swamp that deterred European invaders for so long has rapidly become an attraction, at the same time that the Brazilian part of the rail link has been closed down.
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