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Off Again

Blame Nat Geo TV


Perhaps reminiscent of The Garden of Eden, a land exists along the midwestern border of Brazil far south from the Amazon; a seemingly limitless wetland packed with creatures large and small, its reputation reminds me of the plains of Africa by population if not by geography. It is The Pantanal of Brazil.
Where it isn’t swampland, it is cattle country. Here are three parks reserved from hunters and far from cattle ranches. The Parque Estadual do Guirá (Guira State Park), Parque Nacional do Pantanal Matogrossense (National Park in the State of Mato Grosso) and my destination, Pagque Estadual Encontro das Águas (State Park of Meeting Waters). Those waters would be the Cuiabá River (pronounced Coo Yah BA) and the São Lourenço River.

These are protected reserves, mostly untouched, set aside to preserve life; but, in fairness, this is a vast swampland and, were it not set aside, it would, I suspect, remain mostly undeveloped.

There, the jaguar sits atop the food chain. Jaguars are the largest cats in the Americas—the largest recorded males can reach 350 pounds—and are both secretive and solitary. During the dry season their normal hideaways contain very little to eat so they must follow their meals to still running rivers.

Due to the absence of roads, the only way for humans to see these jaguars is by boat upon these rivers. It is simple: To the rivers prey are drawn so too are the jaguars who hunt that prey and so too are those who seek a photo encounter with these majestic cats. The river is their cafeteria line and it is my portrait gallery; the only place on the planet where jaguars and humans encounter each other in such a convivial fashion.

Because the terrain is mostly flat, waterways here meander, zig and zag, wander and turn back upon themselves. Inside the protected reserves along these rivers, jaguars do not perceive we humans as being threatening--much the same as with lions in Kenya’s Maasai Mara or Amboseli parks where tourists carry long lenses rather than long guns. Thankfully, as in African wildlife reserves, these carnivores also do not perceive us as food as they would in The Lion Park outside Johannesburg, South Africa, where humans in trucks bring food. This is the definition of “the wild” and we humans are about as intriguing to predators as a tree would be. We don’t bother them, don’t interest them and don’t threaten them. I think of myself to them as being like a telephone pole along a highway; there but of no consequence unless you bump into it. Hopefully, that continues to be the case while I am here.

I've done a bit of research. Jaguars mate and separate. They are extremely solitary except for when females come into a week-long estrus during which they may mate up to 100 times a day. Females give birth to cubs which wean at the age of six months but rely on their mothers to hunt and kill their meals and keep them safe and teach them to survive as adults. At around two years of age, cubs are abandoned to begin a solitary life. Males grow to be larger than females—who weigh only up to 180 pounds—but they go off to leave solitary lives. Only the biggest and baddest males will dominate a territory up to forty square miles in size. They will be the only males to mate within that territory.

Also upon the rivers of the Panatal live 10 million caiman. Caiman are “alligatorid crocodilians,” similar to American alligators or African crocodiles. For 200 years unchanged by evolution, they thrive in spite of the odds against them. Caiman, from six feet to eight feet long (though unverified reports say 13-footers have been spotted), have wide flat bodies with immensely powerful tails and even more powerful jaws containing 74 teeth. Their eyes and nostrils are atop their head so they can hide in the water much as a submarine might with only its snorkel peeking above the surface. Their strong jaws drive cone shaped teeth into their prey. Since caiman cannot chew, smaller prey are swallowed whole while larger prey are torn into pieces with leftovers stored underwater for consumption later. They feed on fish (especially piranha), birds, reptiles, small mammals and larger mammals, particularly capybara, the largest rodent on earth.

Adult caiman have but one common and successful predator: the jaguar. A mistake by the jaguar, however, can result in a caiman grabbing the jaguar and dragging it to the river bottom where the caiman can remain submerged for up to fifteen minutes before it needs to take a breath. When it comes to mammals for food, caiman are much more likely to feed on capybara.

Similar to giant guinea pigs, capybara are semiaquatic with webbed feet, grow to weigh up to 150 pounds and, I read, make great pets. Caiman would seemingly say they make great meals. Capybara are quite often seen with cattle tyrant birds perched upon their backs. The cattle tyrant birds feed on insects that the capybara stirs up along with ticks that have found the capybara to be a tasty host. They graze in groups, barking like dogs when threatened whereupon they all dive for deep water. They are remarkably fast swimmers. But, they have no offensive weapons when it comes to predators. They live only by being able to flee.

Also here are giant river otters. These six-foot-long creatures need about 8 pounds of fish to eat daily. They eat catfish, perch and piranha. On the ground, alone, they are easier jaguar prey. For safety, they cluster in packs; they can and will attack a jaguar as would a pack of wild dogs. Jaguar beware.

Jaguar, then, must become stealthy and expert at ambush or they have for food only fish, turtles and frogs which amount to mere snacks. Males hunt for themselves, females for themselves and their cubs. Hunting is no easy task, most often ending in failure. One source indicates that a jaguar is successful at hunting giant river otter, capybara or caiman only 15 per cent of the time.

Nat Geo Wild has a wonderful segment on this topic which I would urge you to seek out if this drama appeals to you. The footage of jaguars swimming, looking for caiman, attacking and, sometime succeeding was the prime reason I came here. A quick peek can be seen at this link: www.barcroft.tv/jaguar-ambushes-caiman-croc

I am going there to see this in the flesh.

As is often the case when I have a very early flight, I slept fitfully. Fully awake five minutes before my 3:45 iPhone alarm could mandate it, I brewed a quick cup of coffee, brushed, showered, dressed and was out the door in twenty minutes. Uber did its job so the disturbance I caused B4 was, thankfully, minimal. She seemed not to mind the goodbye kiss. Had there been a problem with Uber or Lyft or a taxi she had volunteered to drive me to the airport. I am delighted that Nathan was only seven minutes away when I logged on.

I had been confused yesterday by my inability to check in online for my 5:29 American Airlines non-stop flight to Miami but the reason was soon made clear when the customer service agent said they had no record of my eVisa for Brazil. “I have an actual paper visa which you will find pasted inside my passport,” I informed her. I did and she did. A boarding pass was issued and I made my way through pre-check only to be randomly chosen for advanced screening. A first: I was told that to complete my screening I would have to remove my shirt. I did and I did. Thankfully I opted for a t-shirt beneath my regular shirt—I get cold on airplanes.

American flight 4695, on time, departed from terminal C, date 78, which is proudly identified with an Allegiant Airlines logo. The flight is, amazingly, oversold. I am traveling on frequent flyer miles in first class aboard a 76-passenger Embraer 175 Regional Jet operated by Republic Airlines as American Eagle. It is a long haul from Kansas City to Miami—three hours and ten minutes—but it is smooth and the upgraded man in the window seat to my left only had to use the lavatory once.

As usual there is breakfast in the front cabin but neither choice is hot. Rather than the smoked salmon I opt for yogurt, granola and fruit. The front cabin is full but only two of us are booked there with the remaining ten passengers being upgraded. Delighted and unfamiliar with hot towels and the offer of a beverage before taxi and takeoff, they basked in the minor splendor that passes for domestic first class in a regional jet.

As we cruise, I find that the The New York Times is full of stories about Trump on immigration and tariffs, the Supreme Court’s opinion about tracking our whereabouts using cell phone data, Saudi women for the first time being allowed to drive cars—and motorcycles—and Brazil’s five time world championship soccer team narrowly avoiding a World Cup defeat in St. Petersburg at the hands of Costa Rica. When you have three hours to pass and sleep won’t come, you read.

After being challenged about my Brazilian visa, reading news of Brazil’s soccer team while riding on a Brazilian made airplane on the first leg of my trip to Brazil bodes well I suppose.

We taxi to gate D60L and I roll my 23-pound rollaboard full of clothing and my 20-pound backpack full of cameras and lenses and my laptop down the jetway and then to the Flagship Lounge to pass the two hours before heading for my 12:05 long-haul flight to Sao Paolo.

American flight 233 is a 273-passenger 777-200 V2 with 37 business class flat-bed seats with those ten rows divided into two cabins; I occupy 2A. We board at 11:20 in the morning, enjoy a mimosa and then sit and sit and sit. Several times my phone rings with updates from American pushing back our departure time. First it is because of a “ground stop” due to lightning from a thunderstorm making it necessary to keep all ground personnel indoors. Next it is due to a mechanical issue of mysterious origin.

While I wait, I’ll write.

My itinerary has me checking into the airport Marriott hotel upon arrival in Sao Paulo so a delay in this just under eight hour flight really doesn’t impact me much. It would be nice if they made an announcement or two on board but they aren’t doing that. The only updates that come with regularity are on my phone from American Airlines Flight Services and via text from B4. I’m glad I signed up for flight updates but I don’t really need them with her keeping me posted.

Sao Paulo is 4210 miles away on a heading South Southeast of Miami. It is one hour earlier than Miami and two hours earlier than Kansas City. Our route takes us over the eastern part of Cuba, overhead Kingston Jamaica, the middle of Venezuela and then 2,500 miles of Brazil (including past the city of Manaus and nearly over my ultimate destination of Cuiabá) and then into Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport, most often referred to, simply, as Gru. It is just a few miles further to the Atlantic coast. https://vimeo.com/276714341?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=28749&email_id=#share

The most populous city in the Western Hemisphere, Sao Paulo is the 9th largest in the world—30 million people reside in this megalopolis. The U.S. State Department says, “Exercise increased caution in Brazil due to crime. Do not travel to any areas within 150 km of Brazil’s land borders with Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Paraguay due to crime. (Boldface theirs) Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, and carjacking, is common in urban areas, day and night. Gang activity and organized crime is widespread.” I won’t be out and about in Sao Paulo, that’s for certain.

It goes on to say, “Travel to the Foz do Iguacu National Park and Pantanal National Park is permitted” for U.S. government personnel. That’s where I am ultimately headed.

Update: The first officer just sat down in the seat ahead of me. I asked him, “What’s broken?” He replied, “Everything.” But then he added, “Really, it’s just the intercom. We need to be able to communicate and we can’t without that. I’m sitting out here to get out of their way in the cockpit.” So, there you have it. “That explains the lack of announcements then,” I said. “No. The PA works.” There you have it.

But back to Sao Paulo for a moment. Brazilian Federal News Radio reports today: “Furious at corrupt politicians and fearful of deteriorating security, many Brazilians are calling for a military intervention to clean house of crooked leaders and crack down on heavily armed drug gangs.” Note the source of that report. The sugar crop in Brazil is at risk due to irregular rains. Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier sees a 50 percent market share with their new CRJ 900 jet. Deforestation in the Brazil savannah ticked up in 2017. “Burning high-rise occupied by squatters collapses in Sao Paulo.” Forty nine people are listed as missing after the 24-story building was engulfed in fire and collapsed. The building was “a disused former police headquarters.” And, last on my list of updates for you: “Brazilian prison riot leaves dozens dead.”

When you next think that you or your country has problems, consider your Brazilian friends. Their plight is even worse. Brazil, since 1889’s military coup d’etat against Emperor Pedro II, Brazil has had six constitutions, three dictatorships and three democratic periods. Voting is compulsory. Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former soccer pundit, began serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption in April. He is charged with accepting $1.2 million in bribes. He remains the Workers’ Party candidate for president in October’s elections and leads president preference polls. He calls his conviction, “politically fabricated.”

At 1:50, one hour and forty-five minutes late due to a busted PA system, they close the doors on this $300 million airplane. Ten minutes later we push back. Fifteen minutes after that, at 2:15, we are wheels up.

Seven hours and forty-nine minutes later after consuming two meals, two movies (Thoroughbreds and Nostalgia), two episodes of Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” and a nap, we land at Gru.

Immigration is empty, the agent is smiling, there is no paperwork (other than my visa for which I applied months ago), and since I have no checked luggage I am through customs in a flash. At the curb, the Marriott bus, at a high rate of speed, passes me by despite demonstrative waving and a shout. Oh, well. A taxi gets me to the Airport Marriott for 39 Reais (about $10) plus a tip of 20 Reais more because I cost him a longer fare. My room is ready and I await sleep just after midnight.

Posted by paulej4 04:37 Archived in Brazil Tagged caiman pantanal cuiabá jaguars Comments (0)

Getting There is Half The Fun

large_TransPantameraHighwayPaul5.JPGlarge_CaimanSunning4.JPGlarge_CaimanGaggle2.JPGThe Marriott at Sao Paulo International Airport is like most every other; it has sleeping rooms and a lobby and a shuttle bus to get travelers back and forth and a concierge lounge for Platinum Members. In that lounge they serve breakfast and cocktails in the evening in an environment conducive to reading or relaxing or conducting a small business meeting. I gained lifetime Platinum status with Marriott a long time ago; according to my Marriott frequent guest profile, I have slept 2,136 nights (not a typo) in their hotels. If that’s not Platinum, I don’t know what is. But don’t over react to this wonderful amenity. Like most amenities, after a while it becomes routine and that is the case here. Perhaps the most valuable benefit here was at the hand of two people at the front desk who translated the Portuguese—the language spoken in Brazil—for me so that I could print a boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport proper. That saves a couple of long lines and will go down as the high point of my stay at the airport Marriott. Thanks, you two. But I get ahead of myself.

I’m awake before my alarm, shower and breakfast in the aforementioned concierge lounge and bussed (I am the sole passenger on the 8:00 departure) to GRU Terminal 2, through security, and settled into the Priority Pass Lounge (free with one of my credit cards) awaiting the time when I need to walk to gate 213. There is more breakfast, more espresso, more waiting here but all is well; anticipation has me firmly in its grasp.

Using the Priority Pass Lounge free WiFi, I text with B4, post yesterday’s blog entry and then make my way to the gate. My carrier, GOL Airlines, flies mostly Boeing 737-800 aircraft—just the same as does Southwest in the U.S. GOL does offer a premium economy type section with a tiny bit of extra leg room and priority boarding and pre-reserved seats—not much else—and I have opted for that. I am in 3C, an aisle seat. That is probably a logistical error because I suspect the view from the window would be enlightening—presuming there is minimal cloud cover.

All the signs are in Portuguese as are all the announcements, so I am in the dark about boarding procedures, but I know enough to look for what appears to be priority passengers and I join them. When one does not speak or read the language one can usually fake it by simply being observant and following the crowd. It turns out that I didn’t need to pay extra for the priority boarding—it is offered to all senior citizens which is defined by GOL as everybody over 60. That, of course, is and has been for quite some time, me.

It is an interesting time to travel internationally because most of the world is unhappy with the political stances taken by the administration of the current United States government. It is clear from newspaper front pages, magazine covers, billboards and the like that Brazilians are interested in three things: their own politics, U.S. politics and the world cup soccer tournament currently under way.

Yesterday, I wrote of the fact that I flew over Venezuela to get here and that there was a travel warning about Brazil, particularly around Brazil’s borders with many of its neighbors. To the north, Venezuela, of course, is in dire straits. There is no parallel in recent memory about the problems there. Inflation is running at 25,000% per year. That is not a typo. Nine out of ten people there are living in abject poverty. Venezuela was, until recently, an upper-middle income country boasting vast reserves of oil. During the early 2000s, the government borrowed against the value of that oil to create vast social programs. Then, the value of oil plummeted, the dictator died, and corruption exploded. The resulting change there was dramatic. To pay the debt, the government started printing money. Under Chavez, the government had already taken over quite a bit of private industry. No matter how bad it got in the U.S. in 2008, that is but a tenth of the size of what happened in Venezuela.

Inflation of their currency, the Bolivar, at 25,000% (compared to 2% for our dollar) is not easy to understand. The minimum wage in Venezuela is also the median wage. People got a 155% wage hike a couple of months ago. But, with prices going up many multiples of times faster, people were devastated. Wages are not enough to feed the wage earner let alone any dependents he or she may have; forget about clothing or housing.

Before, workers could earn enough to buy several dozen eggs per day; now they can afford only two eggs per day. A Big Mac would cost wages it takes a month and a half to earn. Result? The average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds last year. Crime is much worse there. It now reportedly has the highest murder rate in the world. Ten percent of the country’s population—3 million people—emigrated last year. Guess where some of them have attempted to come?

But, again, I digress.

We board a bit late, close the door ten minutes late, taxi ten minutes after that and are wheels up 17 minutes after that. Quite late but I am being met by a guide at my destination and am not stressed. As an aside, however, I quote this from a document provided me long ago by my tour company, Arcana Mundi: “Please land in Cuiabá no later than 12:30 pm; the group will leave no later than 2:00 pm. If your flight is delayed, you will have to pay for a separate, private transfer without a guide and most likely your driver will speak only Portuguese.” Our scheduled arrival was 11:05. With this delay, we should arrive by 11:30. I count here upon my old standby: The Russell Luck.

I have found no English language newspapers nor magazines—including the in-flight publication—so I have resorted to listening to podcasts to pass the delay minutes. The problem with podcasts is that those to which I subscribe talk about politics and the news of the day so they are downers. I need to switch to music but, somehow, my addiction to current events has an unbreakable hold on me.

Aboard GOL flight 1420 from Sao Paulo to Cuiabá there are a number of babies and toddlers who have formed an unofficial chorale (mostly sopranos and tenors) wailing call and respond refrains from ahead of me to behind. GOL offers me an expresso and some cookies in a bag—again, think Southwest Airlines style—and I decide to tune out my surroundings by writing these words. The lady ahead of me has fully reclined her seat and is restlessly trying to find a comfortable seating position while the gentlemen in the row behind me is watching a video without the benefit of headphones. We all get to hear the soundtrack. I am imagining an action film, perhaps with car chases or aircraft dogfights.

I suspect somewhere between the babies and recliners and video watchers are others who have signed up for the same adventure as have I; off to see jaguars. I look but cannot tell who they may be. I am more certain of those who are not in my group of adventurers. I will know if I am already among fellow adventurers soon enough.

It turns out that my choice of an aisle seat is fine. There is heavy cloud cover beneath us and almost every occupant of every window seat has placed their window shade in the closed position. Alone among readers of this blog, B4 will think, “Oh, he won’t like that.” She is correct. I see but a very few empty seats on this flight which is scheduled to last two hours. I had thought it to be an hour less. We have a time zone change which I had not realized nor anticipated.

The middle seat next to me is occupied so I am “elbows in” as I type, both ahead (the recliner in row 2) and on my left (him) and my right (the flight attendants and their service cart). I relish the extra couple of inches for my knees. But, when given lemons, make lemonaide.

I ask the guy in the middle seat if he’ll take a picture out the window for me—mostly hand signals because I don’t know if he speaks English. In pretty fine English, he asks me where I a from. I tell him and he says he went to school in San Diego. Small world. It turns out that he lives in Sao Paulo but farms soybeans and corn here in Cuiabá. Naturally we start talking about tariffs and the global nature of soybeans and corn. He exports a tiny bit but since there are no railroads from Cuiabá to a port it is expensive to move his crop overseas. We talk global trade which leads to politics—both his and mine—and more. Friends for life, we two. Or, at least until we land whereupon we shake hands and bid farewell.

Discovered long ago by browsing the web, my travel advisor for this journey is Arcana Mundi. They have in advance provided me with a document about this morning’s travel which reads as follows: “24 June 2018: São Paulo – Cuiabá – SouthWild Pantanal Lodge. Meet your guide at the Cuiabá airport, lunch and depart from Cuiabá by 2 pm for a 3-hour-long drive in a closed, air-conditioned van to the SouthWild Pantanal Lodge (SWP) . Trip Advisor lists the SWP as the #1 wildlife lodge on the entire Transpantaneira Road. Stops to observe wildlife along the Transpantaneira. Arrive at the SWP between 5 and 7 pm. Dinner. Overnight in the SWP or similar. L, D.”

As you can imagine, this is the sort of journey where you must—absolutely must—work through a tour provider. Arcana Mundi has good reviews on line and I am about to find out whether or not those reviews are accurate. I will know a bit more when I see my guide at the Cuiabá airport. From experience I can relate one true fact: when one arrives at an airport in a foreign land where English is not primary or, perhaps, even evident, the sight of another member of the human race holding a sign with either your name or the name of your group on it is most reassuring. The absence of that creates instantaneous anxiety even among experienced travelers such as yours truly.

Sam is holding the sign: PAUL MARTIN. Close enough. (for those who don’t know, Martin is my middle name. We are waiting for Gene who is also on this flight and then we will be off. Gene shows up shortly and away we go with Iris driving so now it is four of us. Gene and I are the total number of people on this tour. Perfect.

We drive through Cuiabá and then down the paved highway for a long haul and then down the washboard Trans Pantaneira Highway for another long haul on the way to SouthWild Pantanal Lodge. Birds galore, caiman all around, critters and more critters but no people to speak of. It is remarkable how few humans we encounter. It is Sunday and nobody is out but then maybe nobody is around either. I soak it all in but this is not great photo opportunity time as we are still traveling.

Gene is a hoot. More about him later.

Posted by paulej4 20:11 Archived in Brazil Tagged caiman pantanal cuiabá jaguars Comments (0)

Up a Lazy River


Catfish.JPGToucans2.JPGStorkTower1.JPGSouthWildVehicle.JPGCapabaraDeHotel.JPGf3e6ca60-789c-11e8-bb79-bfc2e253b0fe.JPGFishermen2.JPGThe Arcana Mundi documents describe this day thusly: “25 June: SouthWild Pantanal Lodge – Jaguar Retreat. Breakfast. Observe abundant fauna around the lodge, breakfast and 7 am departure in an open-sided, roofed safari truck or a closed, air-conditioned van to the end of the road at Porto Jofre. Stops along the Transpantaneira to see wildlife, with arrival at the end of the road by 10 am. Then take a search boat for the 90-minute, 44.7-kilometer trip upstream on the Cuiaba River to Jaguar Retreat. Lunch. This afternoon, a 4-hour boat outing. Dinner and a scientific lecture. Overnight in Jaguar Retreat. B, L, D.”

What follows is how I describe it.

Up before six, packed, ready for coffee but it has yet to be made. A visit with a toucan pair, many other birds—you cannot imagine how many birds of how many species are here—a capybara and the sounds of wildlife awakening help me pass the time until my blessed coffee is ready. Breakfast is scrambled eggs, fruit and much more. “I’m gonna go out on a limb and say these aren’t today’s,” Gene said as he took his first bite of a pastry from the ample basket. After breakfast, Tom and a guide take me to a spot fifty feet from my room and point out a discolored spot on the grass. "Here a jaguar took a capybara early yesterday morning. He drug it off that way," they matter-of-factly told me.

Gene is a man just slightly older than I but much more traveled than I am or probably will be. At somewhere over 150 countries visited, Gene tells me that I must get to Borneo, Bali, Tibet, Sri Lanka and many, many more. He is, of course, correct.

We board our roofed safari truck and set off up the road (the Trans Pantameira Highway), stopping for photos of this and that and once for bridge repair before arriving an hour late at Porto Jafre which is both a bump in the road and the end of it.

A flat bottom outboard search boat lies in wait for us as we need now to head up the Cuiabá River, past the junction with two other rivers and then continuing on until we reach Jaguar Retreat, a rustic permanent encampment on the river bank consisting of—I think—four three-bedroom suites. Tom and Gene and I are assigned to one. We are, for tonight at least, the only guests here. A group of fourteen left this morning—we saw them on the Trans Pantameira heading for SouthWild.

The number of caiman here is staggering. They are everywhere where there is water. At first you see two or three and then more and then more still. Once we began counting and I said, “There are a dozen.” Tom said, “No there are twenty-two.” As we continued to scan, the decided there were three dozen at and around this one pool. To me, it appeared that the pool could not accommodate enough fish to keep this many caiman fed but a Brazilian zoologist I am not.

Also the Trans Pantameira we pass multiple very different ecosystems ranging from dry scrub to swamp to forest to cattle range and savannah. The change from one to another and the contrast from one to another is startling.

After Port Jofre along the Cuiabá River, the banks teem with birds and, yes, hundreds or thousands more caiman. We weave left and right, dodging vegetation clumps that are being swept downstream but only an occasional boat full of like-minded adventurers.

Gene and I have, multiple times, remarked on how fortunate we are to be a group of only two. Beyond that, our group is one of only a handful. Humankind has not much found the Pantanal. It is as unspoiled as can be. There is no evidence of human activity much of the time except for the dirt road upon which we travel. There are people but not many and certainly no residents to speak of.

Yesterday, we saw people fishing from time to time. Today, only a couple of guys with a dozen dogs and a handful of vehicles heading the other direction distracted us from unspoiled and untouched nature. For most of the Trans Pantameira, there were no power poles; I cannot imagine how dark it is here at night.

Upon arrival at Jaguar Retreat, we tie up our searchboat, watch as our luggage is offloaded and make our way past a lone sentry—a caiman—to our assigned suite of rooms. There is WiFi and electricity (from satellite and generator) so we log on and plug in before lunch. Chicken, vegetables, rice, more vegetables and a wonderfully cold beer are served. We are to meet at 2:30 for an extended boat outing in search of what we came to see: the jaguar. That leaves me time to write what you now read, upload a photo or two and see if I can publish this chapter of this adventure.

Posted by paulej4 10:42 Archived in Brazil Tagged caiman pantanal cuiabá jaguars Comments (1)

No Show Jaguars but all not lost


At 2:30 Gene and I meet up with guide Tom and our boat pilot to head out on a serious search for jaguars. We failed. At least, we failed with jaguars. Tom spotted--and I don't know how--two iguanas in bushes on the river bank. With the first one, we got within ten feet of it and I still couldn't see it. His spotting skills are amazing. Soon after, while racing to a spot where we heard on the radio and another boat had sighted jaguars--two of them fighting we heard--we came across four or five giant river otters. Reclusive and shy, they escaped my camera but a nearby snakefish with its dinner caught my eye and I got it.

We are very fortunate, Gene and I, in that we are but two in a group. There is nobody else here except staff. I didn't realize how lucky we are until we passed a tourist laden boat full to the brim with mostly sour looking folks aboard. Too crowded. Not all jaguar safaris are alike to be sure.

The river is beautiful, there are countless caiman, more birds than you can imagine, capybara here and there and now iguana and giant river otters (trust me, they were there) to occupy us on our three hour cruise on the smooth yet fast moving river water. Ensconced in comfortable seats with rigid backs to lean on and plenty of leg room, all you have to do is hunker down in your floppy sun hat and sun shirt and long pants, take care with the sunscreen on exposed faces, necks and ears and take it all in. The ride is smooth, the weather is perfect and, well, this is the kind of thing that I really enjoy doing. Even with no jaguars today.

In the United States it is summer solstice time; the days are longer now than any other time. Up at 5:54 and down at 8:48 giving almost 15 hours of daylight, that makes for a long day. Here, we are in the southern hemisphere so things are opposite. Up at 6:11 and down at 5:23, we have just over 11 hours of daylight. The sunset was lovely, by the way, with a few clouds turning bright orange and red accompanying a rapidly dropping temperature. The high was 92 and the low 65 with the high feeling hotter in the sun and the low feeling colder on the fast moving boat adding a bit of wind chill to the mix. Gene and I will, tomorrow, bring a jacket for the final hour of the day--and maybe also for the first hour as well.

This lodge is rustic and lacks a public space to "hang out" in. There is a dining room but it holds what Gene described as "the last supper table" and a buffet. If you want to lounge with a cold beer or vodka tonic, you have to sit at the dining room table. In our "suite" of three bedrooms there is a tiny common area with a love seat. I am writing from that spot while Gene and Tom are doing something else--one showering I think.

My hot shower was perfect; I jumped in the moment we got back to the room at about 5:30. Dinner is 7:30. As I finish this entry it is almost 7:00. After dinner there can't be much and I didn't bring either a book or my kindle to save weight. The WiFi will have to occupy me until sleep takes over.

We will hear at dinner about our river schedule tomorrow. I anticipate an early breakfast and a lengthy river cruise in search of what eluded us today.

Please think kind things about B4 as one of her childhood friends is living out the final days of her life. Sweetheart, I wish I could be there to hold and comfort you. Know that I hold you in my heart from 5,000 miles away.

Posted by paulej4 16:02 Archived in Brazil Tagged caiman pantanal cuiabá jaguars Comments (0)



This morning we found a large male on the bank of the river, nestled beneath a bush, barely visible and moving not a twitch. We waited. And, then we waited more. He must have realized that we had no intention of moving on until he was moving up so…

My photograph is marginal but my enjoyment and excitement were superlative.

The morning began in fog and it persisted for at least 90 minutes after our 6:30 departure on the river. A photo of Gene’s glasses tells the story. large_GeneGlasses.JPGBut no matter. Our time on the water was full of delights, foremost among them the hour or so we spent with our jaguar. If he was hunting I could not discern it; he simply was. Nobody was going to charge him with vagrancy or loitering because this is his house and his yard on his street. large_JaguarCU1.JPG

Later on, we took a turn onto the much smaller and narrower Cachiri River which feeds the Cuiabá. A short way in, we were treated to something new; we cut the engine and Tom straddled the bow with a single oar as we rode the slow current through the twists and turns of the Cachiri. At times the channel narrowed from 400-500 feet wide on the Cuiabá to 20-30 feet wide here on the Cachiri. With the engine cut and the resulting silence, the beauty of the place was enhanced with sounds that were shrouded by our 90 horsepower outboard motor…until now.

Caiman abound here as everywhere. There must be millions of them in the Pantanal. It is hard for me to fathom that there is enough food to sustain this population, but, of course, there is. What we can see above the water’s surface is dwarfed by what remains unseen beneath it. Fish jump and splash, birds dive to catch fish (as do giant river otters, caiman and more caiman) and it all goes unseen to those of us marooned on the surface.

In a car on a roadtrip, you find yourself on the sunny side or the shady side. Here, the river twists and turns in a serpentine bordering on partial coils, at times turning back on itself so tightly that a bulldozer operator in a half a day could shave a half mile off your journey by cutting a short channel from the left bank of one turn to the right bank of the other. My floppy hat is a mandatory accessory needed on all 360 degrees of coverage shifting from moment to moment as we follow the channel’s deepest portion avoiding the shallows where we might run aground. There are also water plants hitching a ride on the current which we must avoid lest they foul the prop on our twenty-two foot eight passenger shallow vee-hulled aluminum boat. The seats are great with slightly angled backs so the time aboard is pleasant for both the eye and the back.

At one spot, we came upon a dozen or more caiman sunning themselves and we decided to stop for a bit. They paid us no mind, giving me a chance for a group photo with me in the foreground. Soon after, they scrambled.large_PaulAndCaiman.JPGlarge_CaimanSayAhh.JPG

Back at the Jaguar Retreat our lunch is local catfish and pirhana. Both are quite tasty and the latter is picturesque as well. After a rest, we were back on the river.large_PirhanaHeadDinner3.JPG

We passed capybara coexisting with caiman, caiman coexisting with their late lunch, another iguana on the riverbank, all of us basking in the sun, enjoying life, away from politics and strife and all the rest that occupies too much of our time at home. There were, sadly, no more jaguars to be seen on this day. This was true for everyone in the Pantanal; we know this because we are all connected via radio and the guides all share sightings.large_CapabaraWithCaiman.JPGlarge_CapybaraAndPups.JPGlarge_IguanaC.JPGlarge_CaimanLoveFish.JPG

We are back at Jaguar Retreat just after sunset where dinner is at 7:00 giving me time for a shower and a few minutes at this keyboard.

There is nothing to do at Jaguar Retreat but eat and sleep and use the WiFi; more on that later.

I am happy and learning new things from fine people, enjoying Gene’s company including his stories which contain his own special brand of humor and tails of his experiences which are many and intriguing. I must get to Borneo and Mongolia. We are getting along fine which is a good thing because we remain the only two guests here. I am writing this in the only public space at Jaguar Retreat which is the Last Supper supper table in the dining room. Food is coming out so I shall use that as an excuse to stop typing and enjoy instead a very large Antarctica Pilsen Cerveja (local beer).

This is not a trip for everyone but is for certain a trip for me.

Posted by paulej4 17:41 Archived in Brazil Tagged caiman pantanal cuiabá jaguars Comments (0)

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