Cuiaba - The Pantanal

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South America » Brazil » Pantanal
June 15th 2007
Published: June 15th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

After arriving in Cuiaba in the early hours, we promptly checked into the rather dreary Hotel Samara and bedded down for the night. Eduardo our guide for the next 4 days arrived on time at 8am in a pick up and whisked us off to the pantanal, a massive area of wetlands, considered to be the best wildlife viewing area in South America and also the best place in the world to see Jaguars in the wild. We´d booked a tour through a company on the internet, called open door tours, and had arranged a 3 night stay at the Jaguar Ecolodge, situated deep in the heart of the pantanal and within the grounds of a 1200 hectare registered Jaguar reserve.

The start of the pantanal (Pocone) was a couple of hours drive from Cuiaba and then it was a further 5 hours from there to the lodge, along a dusty and very bumpy track. In Pocone we transfered from the pick up, to a makeshift 6 seater open top safari truck which was great fun and offered up awesome views of the surrounding areas. After the shocking start to our time in Brazil we really didn´t know what to expect from this tour, but so far things were looking good. Not least, because despite Dan´s best efforts to catch Eduardo out, he knew all of the birds and was incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of the flora and fauna in the pantanal. We later found out that he was actually the owner of the lodge and had seen a Jaguar with his last group some 2 weeks ago...hopes were high, and for the first time, we were really enjoying ourselves in Brazil.

The drive to the lodge was a safari in itself and we saw loads of different birds, most of which, we´d never seen before, aswell as dozens of very odd looking Capybara´s (the largest rodent in the world) and literally thousands of Caimens. We finally arrived at the lodge around 4.30pm and after a quick shower went for a walk around the grounds. There were a herd of some 30 or so cows grazing opposite the lodge and all of a sudden they all sprinted away from a small thicket....Dani and I were on absolute tenderhooks....Eduardo´s reaction was ´I think the Jaguars around´ and we proceeded to walk over to the area where the cows had just run from! Unfortunately we didn´t catch sight of what ever spooked them, but nevertheless we were very encouraged by what we´d seen!

After a bite to eat (an excellent buffet meal) we were out again on a night safari with a spotlight. Animals were hard to come by and we drove for some two hours before we got to an open area which was allegedy supposed to be good for Giant anteaters and sure enough, no sooner had Eduardo told us this than one appeared! It was a good 100 yards away, but you could see it moseying around the termite mounds very clearly and it seemed completely oblivious to our presence (rubbish eyesight). Things then went pretty quiet for a while. It also got colder and Edaurdo (the Brazilian tart) had to retire into the cab, leaving us, with the spotlight. Eagle eyed Sweet then saw some bizarre looking tracks, which Edaurdo confirmed were Tapir and within a few minutes Dan had found it. It was munching on a small tree behind some bushes, but eventually came out and we got a really good view.

There were no big mammals for the remainder of the night, though we did see a couple snakes which were very cool, including a Fer de Lance (which we nearly ran over) and what we think was some kind of Tree Boa, a Brazillian rabbit, a mouse and a tarantula. We arrived back at the lodge, just after 10pm and were absolutely knackered and so we went straight to bed. Well not quite straight to bed, Dan insisted on checking round the back of the Lodge for the Armadilo, which sometimes comes to feed within the grounds of the lodge. Fortunately the little bugger was there, though he shot off pretty sharpish when he saw us and so we only really got a brief view.

The following morning we were up at 5.30am, ready for a 6am walk. Unfortunately it had clouded over in the night and was still dark when we set off on our walk. Eduardo had said, that most Jaguar sightings were on the main track running through the reserve and so we walked this for a few hours before returning for breakfast. The Jaguar remained elsuive, but we did see a Crab-eating fox, a South American Coati, and some Howler Monkeys, up a tree, in the distance. We also had our first sighting, of the Hyacinth Maccaws, which are wicked looking birds. They´re a deep blue / purple colour, with a yellow eye ring and make an absolute racquet whenever you approach them. They´re also massive, the biggest of the Maccaws.

After a spot of breakfast, we were off walking again. Though this time we took a route around an area of woodland, eitherside of the lodge. There wasn´t too much going on, though we did run into a pack of Capuchin monkeys which were pretty cool and not best pleased at our being there (they threw sticks at us).

Our remaining time at the Lodge, pretty much consisted of a mix of walks and drives. We had our own driver for the truck and so we could go out whenever we wanted to. On the third day we took a drive further into the Pantanal which was really stunning. Much of the area around the lodge is still used for farmimg (Jaguars don´t mind as Cow sits highly on their list of favourites) but it does detract from the feeling of being in a truly wild environment, however the area further in was more like what we had been expecting, with massive open areas of marshland, and Capybara and birds abound. While driving out to this area, Eduardo suddenly banged on the cab roof, signalling to the driver to stop, and quickly pointed out an Anaconda sleeping on a small tussock of grass amongst some marsh. He was clearly very excited at this, as he hadn´t seen one for some time and set about trying to convince Dan that it would be a good idea to wade out to it and get a photo of it. Needless to say Dan didn´t take much convincing and quickly jumped out the truck and proceeded to wade across the marsh. Eduardo had assured us that it wasn´t deep, however it quickly became apparent that he didn´t have a clue what he was talking about and before long Dan was up to his waist! He stopped a few metres short of it (didn´t fancy his chances) and took a few snaps. Dan then thought it would be a good idea to try a shot with the flash, not a good move. The supposed sleeping anaconda didn´t take too kindly to this, and quickly shot off (fortunately in the opposite direction) scaring the hell out of the stranded Dan!

Despite our best efforts (and i mean best...we were up at 5.30am every morn and spent our whole time looking) we didn´t see a Jaguar, but in our pursuit of the elusive big cat, we did run into one of its smaller cousins, an Ocelot, which was very cool (neither of us had ever seen one before). We were also fortunate enough to see Southern Smooth Otters, once crossing the road and on another occasion, playing in the river.

On our fourth and final day it was time to head back to Cuiaba to catch the 7pm bus for Campo Grande. We left the lodge at 8.30am and eventually made it back to Cuiaba around 5pm. We hadn´t planned on going to Campo Grande (the entrance point for the South Pantanal) but seeing as we´ve enjoyed the wildlife stuff the most we thought we´d give finding a Jaguar another bash! The Jaguar Lodge hadn´t come cheap and so we desperately needed a budget option for the South. Dan managed to find one on the net called Pantanal Discovery which at a third of the price of the Lodge and with an extra day, seemed like a good choice, and so we made the necessary arrangements to join them.

All in all, our time at Jaguar Lodge was awesome and we couldn´t fault it. Even though we didn´t get to see a Jaguar you really got the feeling that the guys were doing everything they could to try and find one. The food was consistently excellent and the accomodation clean and comfortable. When the funds have recovered a little we will definitely return for a longer stint....we don´t give up that easy Mr Jaguar!

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