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Published: August 26th 2013
Episode 4: The Magnificent Pantanal
How can I describe what an excellent week we have just had in the Brazilian Pantanal? We have been spotting toucans, macaws, jaguars and other critters. It has been fantastic.
We flew from the Amazon to Cuiaba, one of the entry points for the Pantanal. The Pantanal is the worlds largest inland wetland, choc full of animals. It is seasonally flooded, but now - the hot dry season - it is a mosaic of woodlands, grasslands , rivers and isolated ponds full of fishes. Plus, right now, there are these pink flowered trees in bloom. Imagine whole areas of jacarandas across the landscape, but pink instead of mauve. If you look at a map of South America and place a pin in the centre, this is roughly where the pantanal lies. It is the best place in South America for wildlife spotting, and generally agreed to be the best place in the WORLD for birds - both sheer numbers and the variety of species. Anyway, in Cuiba, we were met by a tour guide and driven down the Transpantenera, a long dirt track that goes deep into the Northern Pantanal. The road includes over 125 rickety wooden bridges, looking like they will collapse at any minute, and with loads of waterbirds and caiman (a type of alligator) in the water on either side. Our Pantanal trip had two parts, firstly staying in a lodge about 3 hours along the road - for the birds - and then going another 3 hours south and staying on the river in a floating hotel (flotel) where we would be jaguar spotting (the best place in the world for seeing jaguars). The whole exercise was expensive. Unlike the cheap Amazon trip, there were no backpackers here. Instead, we encountered cashed-up North American and Europeans birdwatchers or hard core wildlife enthusiasts, who all seemed wear the same clothes (land lord baigue) and packing telephoto lens long enough to tickle the eyelashes of their subjects.
So, at the first lodge, we saw heaps of birds - even Ross, no keen birder, was floored by the number and variety. I was in avian heaven, of course. Ross did express interest in seeing toucans and macaws. Well, we saw lots of beautiful toucans, electric blue hyacinth macaws, iridescent kingfishers, and other birds that even I didn´t know of. My fave was the chestnut-eared aracari. It was as if someone had given a child a packet of coloured pencils and said- draw me a colouful bird. (Google Image it: chestnut eared aracari). We did bush treks, boat trips ,etc at the lodge. Our small group bilingual Brazilian guide, Sarah, was just as happy talking about her personal life while she was 'guiding'thru the bush:
'.....So, I said to my ex, you have not heard the last of me...Oh, there is a howling monkey, darling.....So, anyway, my ex then said to me...'
There were some horses on the property and one arvo we had the option of horse riding thru the bush - a small group of four of us, being led by Sarah, and a lean Pantanero (Brazil cowboy) with copwboy swagger and teeth like a packet of crsuhed Saos. Ross was keen on the horse-riding, I less so. I have never ridden a horse - maybe once as a teenagers. Anyway, we all set off, the horses placidly following each other in a line. The scenary and later arvo light was lovely. We came upon a group of semiwild horses, one of which came up to my horse, they nudges noses, then started fighting - naying and rearing up ! I panicked a little, and Sarah said from her horse ahead:
'Its just a horse , darling, stay on until it stops.'
My horse then turned and trotted off, and ended up standing knee deep in a nearby pond. I managed to coax him back into the group, and the Pantanero shooed away the wild horses. Then a bit later, while in a thick stand of palms, both my and Ross´s horses went into some sort of panic, running around in circles and exiting the area. Turned out to be wasps, but they soon settled again and after some four hours we returned to the lodge. Alighting with sore bum and thighs, I said to Ross:
'Interesting experience,but not one I will do again anytime soon.'
After the lodge, we went to the flotel on the river, our base for jaguar spotting. At this time of year, the jaguars have a fondness for strolling along or sitting on riverbacks facing the river. So, all spotting was done from the river in motorised dingys. Ross and I had our own peronal boatman - John - who was excellent. Others in our group were in different boats. The routine was the same over the four days - up at 6am for breakfast, then four hours searching along the river, then lunch and sleep during heat of the day, then fours hours till dusk again in the arvo. The scenary was lovely, with birds flitting about, and frequent encounters with giant river otters crunching on catfish on the bank. Well, anyway, our first encounter with a jaguar took our breath away. A most magnificent male resting in full view on the riverbank beside some bushes. Over the course of the four days, we had 10 jag sightings, ranging from a few minutes (when one would saunter out of a bushy thicket, and stroll along, pause, then diasappear again) through to 3 or 4 hour epics, where we saw individuals strolling along, scent marking, resting, hunting for caiman, swimming, jumping into the water and crosssing the river, etc. It was absolutely fantastic. When a jag was spotted, word went out via radio and soon up to 10 boats were at the sight- from our and other lodges- , all jostling for good views, especially when the animal was constantly walking along the riverbank. Proudly, Ross one day spotted the first jag and our boat alone had him for a while before others arrived. At the end of each day , we would all re-assemble back at the flotel, to drink caipirinha cocktails and gush about the day´s events.
On the last day, we followed a large male for about 2 hours along the river, which was lined with thick reeds. At one point ,he went into the reeds and suddenly popped his head out just near our boat - Ross reckoned about 10 metres away - we were amazed and will never forget it. We have some excellent pics and Ross also has some great movies. The last night at the flotel involved a talk and powerpoint presentation by two Amwerican researchers based at the flotel, detailing jaguar biology, conservations efforts and general ecology of the magnificent Pantanal. Yesterday we made the long six hour treck back to civilisation, by boat then back up the long Transpantanera road into the city of Cuiaba, and have since flown south to the city of Campo Grande - for river snorkelling before going to Iguazu Falls and then homeward bound.
Love to all
Craig and Ross
(p.s. To Kelly and others, my e-mail keeps converting text into Portuguese on this computer and google translate will not work properly,. The message abot shoes for Snez ( I think) will have to wait till I find a better computer.)
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