It's like Noah's Ark on the world's greatest flood plain, writes Lorraine Brown.
Standing on the toilet with a towel covering my body, I watch - fascinated and more than a little alarmed - as a snake settles comfortably by the shower.
I'm reminded of the words in the Lonely Planet guidebook: "The Pantanal is a far better place than the Amazon to see wildlife. In the Amazon, the animals hide in the dense foliage, but in the open spaces of the Pantanal, wildlife is visible to the most casual observer."
Too right! Still, I'd prefer it if the wildlife wasn't quite as easy to observe as this.
The Pantanal, an area half the size of France and home to the largest continuous flood plain on the planet, is one of the world's few remaining great wilderness regions.
Right now, I'm wishing this particular part of the wilderness was a little less wild.
The lodge manager arrives. "I think it's a poisonous one," he says, making my journey at least feel heroic. After he has cleared the viper from my bathroom, he says: "It was only a harmless garden snake."
Our journey to reach the Araras Lodge had its own dangers. We had flown into the Cuiaba/Varzea Grande airport and on the transfer by van, we headed along the Transpantaneira Rd towards the lodge, sited on a private reserve. Off the tarseal and onto a dirt, ochre-coloured road with metre-wide potholes, we learned how it feels to be tossed inside a washing machine. Our driver navigates carefully over 118 small bridges - the wobbly ones have been eaten by termites. The road and strip of land on either side of it comprise the Transpantaneira National Park. Our wildlife tour starts here and and we stop often to photograph many exotic birds and animals. Here you will see the capybara, the largest rodent in the world, colourful toucans, paintbrush blue macaw parrots, giant jabiru storks and large numbers of yacare caiman alligators basking peacefully in the sun.
Our guide, Jo, a lovable Portuguese woman with an interesting take on the English language, shares her worst wildlife joke. "If a jaguar is chasing you, run in a straight line, then he will slip on your s***."
The four-day stay at the Araras Lodge is a comfortable surprise, with air conditioning, hot showers and an outdoor pool. Thirty staff are on hand to feed and care for us, and to clear harmless snakes from worried visitors' bathrooms. There are 12 other eco lodges in this area.
One day trip takes us down private dirt roads to the Sentinela Camp for a canoe safari on the Rio Clarinho - here, we fish for the elusive piranha. Raw beef is used to bait these legendary voracious fish. It doesn't take long to hook a small one on our short rods. We all lean back as their famed razor-sharp teeth go on show, and throw them back.
Unlike the piranha, we have our beef cooked - a Brazilian churrasco-style picnic is for lunch, delicious chunky barbecued meat on a skewer. We take breaks from eating to get more photographs of the aquatic birdlife.
A nocturnal safari introduces us to more dusty potholes; we bounce around on the back of a cherry-picking truck. In the artificial light, we see a kind of Noah's Ark, pairs of animals grazing together. The bright spotlight reveals Brazilian rabbits, anteaters, foxes, racoons, deer, pygmy owls and a million caiman eyes shining in the dark. Our guide imitates a large number of bird calls, and is good enough at it to receive back a boomerang chorus of sounds.
Breakfast at the Araras Lodge is al fresco with early morning birds for company; we have evening dining at the inside restaurant, away from biting insects. In Brazil, a meal is always started with soup. A popular dessert is made from sweet potato, similar to kumara.
Sugar cane spirit alcohol (cachaca) is Brazil's national drink, and an alcohol made from sugar cane is used to fuel half the country's cars.
As a finale on the last day, we set off at 5.30am to see the sunrise from nearby Heron's Tower and listen to birds leaving their nests to find food. This is our lucky day: on top of the 12m observation tower we discover a number of inquisitive capuchin monkeys, which we enthusiastically photograph, many of them just an arms-length from the camera.
Perhaps it's no surprise they're so friendly - according to our naturalist guide Jo: "The promiscuous capuchin will mate with every other one of its kind."
Like so much of the Pantanal, these monkeys make a fabulous subject for a passionate photographer. I can't wait to return.
Getting there: Lan Airlines operates seven non-stop flights each week from Auckland to Santiago, Chile, with onward connections, to Cuiaba/Varzea Grande Airport.