Mosquitoes and Jaguars

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January 19th 2016
Published: January 19th 2016
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From Iguazu it is only a short flight to another unique part of Brazilian nature, the pantanal. Maybe not as well known as the amazon, but certainly as beautiful and probably even more diverse in wildlife. The pantanal is the biggest wetland in the world, mainly located in Brazil, but also extending into Bolivia and Paraguay. In total it is four times the size of Holland, but there is only one road, the Transpantaneira, which leads 150km straight into the heart of the pantanal. Originally the road was supposed to extend to the other side, but (luckily) it was never completed. As the road is about two meters higher than the surrounding wetlands it is a perfect place for all the animals to keep their feet dry during the rainy season. And thus perfect for us to see them up close. From Cuiaba we had booked a four day trip into the pantanal with a small local outfitter. The first night we spent at a working farm (with only 2000 cattle, so considered a small farm), where we went for a walk before dinner. Unfortunately the most common animal in the rainy season is the mosquito, so both of us got bitten a thousand times. The next morning we went horseback riding (again!) and even I have to admit that it is actually a lot of fun and a much more convenient way of transportation in the wetlands than walking.

After that we continued our way to the end of the Transpantaneira in the back of a pick-up truck. Not very comfortable, but we saw a lot of animals alongside the road. The road ends at Porte Jofre at the bank of the river Cuiaba. The camp there was very primitive, but provided a great starting point for several boat trips on the river. One of the major attractions of the pantanal is the fact that it has a large number of jaguars living in the wild. However, the chance of seeing them is much bigger in the dry season, so we were prepared to not see them at all this time of year. During our second boat trip our guide suddenly got very excited because he spotted something in a tree hanging over the river. As we looked up we saw a jaguar lying on a branch and another one coming up to join him. As we watched them for a while we saw that yet another jaguar (presumably their mother) was lying under the tree as well. Seeing three jaguars up close is a pretty cool experience. They did seem to notice us as well, but didn't seem to care at all. On the way back to camp we spotted another jaguar swimming across the river, just before we got totally soaked by a tropical downpour that confirmed that it was indeed the rainy season. On our way back the road had become so bad that we became stuck in the mud a couple of times and even had to get out and push the 4x4.

Overall, exploring the pantanal was a great experience. Aside from the jaguars and mosquitoes we saw a lot of other animals: capybaras (largest rodent in South America, looks like a giant barking hamster), hundreds of caiman (apparently not as dangerous as crocodiles, as they don't get bigger than two meters), Jarubu's (second biggest flying bird in the world after the condor), blue macaw (endangered species), giant otters, emu's, deer, toucans, and many different birds of prey.

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