Brazil - The Uniao Reserve

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April 16th 2012
Published: April 23rd 2012
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This is the story of my second adventure in travel. Alas, it came a good three years after the previous, it was however worth the wait.

This trip was with my University, we went to a small reserve in the much depleted Atlantic rainforest. Typically unavailable to non natives. We resided for two weeks in the middle of the Atlantic rainforest, I cannot stress how privelleged I feel to have had this chance.

To begin, I remember the meetings beforehand, getting told what was required of us, what vaccines and how we should behave. I remember sitting with a large grin on my face when they tell us of the dangerous wildlife, remembering my near brushes from my previous trip. Despite the age and apparent intelligence of the people going with me, I couldn't help but think how "green" they were to the whole thing compared to the previous trip, with people much younger. Maybe it was my additional experience, or being old enough to notice. But no, I cannot think anyone in my previous excursion would ask "so in the Atlantic rainforest, there aren't bugs are there? I don't like bugs"

Most of the people who went to be fair, had never left the country, so most listened carefully to stories about my previous roaming abroad. I will add now, this trip was just as eventful.

Our flights left Heathrow, taking us to Madrid, Spain. Where - as I hinted to in the African blog, we ended up staying longer than intended, this time thanks to the Spanish air traffic controller strike. Yet again, in a 5 star hotel with swimming pool, including Spanish food. A most excellent start to a trip, although for some, this little bit of luxury would not aid their cause when we arrive in the rainforest, as our amienties were not quite to the same standard... to say the least!

So we arive in Rio di Janiero in the late of the night, it was amazing how warm it was still. But more astonishing was the humidity, I knew at this point the trip was going to be interesting. We arrive at the reserve in darkness, so naturally we are unable to take in any scope of its beauty.

We are awoken quite early despite the jet lag, not by an avian morning chorus, but by the famous howler monkies, I am sure many people have heard of these infamous little chimps, as well as recordings of their voice on programmes such as those by Attenborough (amazing man), but to hear them close up, (relatively) was breathtaking.

So next, I think I should mention I was here for coursework for my university studies, so a lot of time was spent taking notes or measurements. We did get some free time.

I think it was our second night, when a small group of us went out towards a small lake in a clearing near our camp. We had heard there was a large family of Capybara living close by. Me and a girl called Carly led the way, as we came close to the lake, we were met by the most amazing chorus of frog croaks. The tadpoles were finally leaving the lake and the noise was literally deafening, I think the howlers made less noise. So if you imagine the lake as a rectangle, we came in at the bottom left corner, to the right was the short side, up to the left, was the longer side. A small clearing ran the length of the left side of the lake, with a 5 foot, extremely steep bank running parrellel to it. We went up this side of the lake. Despite the lack of clouds, because the moon was in an early phase, there was little natural night. We used our torches to light the way, but kept them low to reduce the chances of startling anything nearby.

About halfway up the clearing, we heard a shuffle uphead and what sounded like a little bark. It was obviously the capybara, but we couldn't be sure yet, and naturally in the back of mind we were thinking about the pumas we knew were in the area, thanks to the occassional footprint. The other three members of the group dropped back a bit, but Carly and myself pressed on, raising our lights slowly, in hindsight, not dropping back, was actually a god send. As our lights were raised, we found about 5 sets of eyes staring back at us, it was the capybara! 2 parents and 3 kids, at this point they were relatively at ease with us, but watched us closely. We got a bit closer, with Carly managing to capture some pictures which I will treasure for life. However, just as we were about 10 yards from the family, some of the others behind us slipped and crunched a stick. This caused the capybara to panick, the larger parent gave a panic call, causing the entire family to jump into the lake and swim away. This was fine however, the bark was answered by another one. Up on top of the bank, further back to where the rest of the group were by now, were 7 capybara. They charged down the hill right at the others. A lad called Alex, just managed to jump out of the way, if there was even one more of us were down there, I think a serious injury could of occured.

The whole encoutered probably lasted less than a minute, but it is something that will live with me forever. The next few days went along quite smoothly, we continued our nightly walks into the forest, although we didn't see anything again for a while. Not until one night, about two minutes from camp, we heard a loud and seemingly violent rustling in a nearby bush, we all jumped, we were all extremely scared of the thought of what was in this bush, a puma another large cat? Nope, it was a little armadillo... one of the smallest and least harmful creatures in the forest, causing us the biggest worry.

It was about two days later when something happened which caused us some real concern. I knew the days was going to be interesting when I awoke to girls screaming. I rushed up and out, to find two of the girls screaming as they saw a large spider creeping around. Which to be fair, by English standards it was, but apparently barely a baby for the species. So naturally I found a bowl and some cardboard to capture the spider, to show it to my proffesor in the hope of identification. It was here I was told that it was a wondering spider, with extremely good reflexes and an extremely deadly bite... I can honestly say at this point I was more worried for my safety than at any point so far, quite possibly past the whole trip as well, just because I had time to think on it. actually on a tangent, scary situations are only scary if your able to think on them. In my experiences, I have been in scary situations and never been scared, not because I am brave or an idiot, but because I didn't get to think on them.

So to the real scare of the trip, it was later the same day, well it was night time by now. We were about to go out on the usual night time stroll, as we were leaving, we heard something in the wind, someone I can't remember who, thought it could of been a gunshot. We were about halfway up the usual trail, when we heard a rustling and what sounded like someone talking. We stopped dead and kept as quite as possible. I can remember just being able to hear everything, the adrenaline was incredible. Finally, we heard it, a gunshot. followed by another, then another. Poachers. I don't think they knew we were there until this point, but now they did. Someone had given a bit of a smothered scream. The poachers now sounded worried aggressive even. We left as quickly as possible to the chorus of more gun shots. They may of been firing at us, all I know is, they didn't come after us back to camp. No one was hurt, the police were called, unfortunately, the next day a dead capybara was discovered with a gun shot wound.

So this was naturally a bit of shake up for most people, we were all concerned that the poachers may stumble upon the camp, either accidentally on purpose, to be honest I am not sure which would of been worse. Fortunately, they didn't.

Fortunate for sure, because quite possibly my two best memories of the trip came in the last few days. The entire purpose of the particular reserve we spent our time in, was to conserve the golden lion tamarind. A primate species which due to habitat isolation and destruction, is in quick decline. We were told you can spend months without seeing one. Well, I was fortunate to see about 6 after 10 days. We were walking back from an experiment site after a long days work. We were in specifically maintained ryde or walk way to and from sites, with high banks on each side. I must say, these banks in the dark are very intimidating, epescially when you consider, most large cats attack from above. Anyway, it is usually very quiet when we walk to and from sites, the place is so beautiful, you feel the need to constantly breath it in. Additionally, it is quite dangerous, so it makes sense to constantly be alert, in this instance, thank god we were. Our guide Marcelo, heard the faintest of whistles in the distance, motioning us to stop, we listened and in the wind, there it was. The call of a golden lion tamarind! In the trees to our right, we saw a quick flash of gold leading away from us. Me and one other quickly flew up into the banks, climbing and forest walking like I imagine the first European pioneers would once of done. There we saw them, sitting above us, looking down at us, shifting to get the best view. They sat there for at least 5 minutes, just apparently posing for us and the cameras. It was amazing and our luck continued as we spied a couple of capucin monkies in similar circumstances.

Our final day was amazing. We climbed to the highest hill in the land and got the most amazing view of the land. Unfortunately our view was due to the presence of a large phone broadcast tower - middle of the rainforest, perfect mobile signal - typical! however it gave us the most amazing view of the forest, all the other hills, as well as helping us to appreciate how fragmented it was. We finished this with a quick BBQ, which for the record, a Brazilian BBQ is only second to a German one! Then it was back to Rio De Janiero, which thank god, we finally got to see in the light, so we could see the amazing Christ statue and stand on the famous Copacabana, and get drenched by a freak bloody wave!

So, followed the flight home. It was an amazing trip, with some fairly amazing people, some of the same idea and breed of myself... I would never change anything as usual.

You can't know where your going, unless you remember where you have been - me - right now 😉


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