Day Three: A Cold Front Rolls Through
When I rose bright and early at 5:30 this morning it seemed a good deal cooler than the past two days and there were some clouds on the horizon. I was also completely covered in mosquito bites that itched like the Dickens. So, I was not really in a good mood, probably due to a combination of the early hour and all of the bug bites. I had put bug spray on last night during our island dinner, but I guess I had missed my feet because they were absolutely riddled with bites. Regardless, I tried to put on a smile and climbed into the motorboat with my rain jacket in hand.
It was a good thing I had the rain jacket because the temperature kept dropping and the cloud cover became more intense as the boat rolled on. I needed the extra layer to keep myself warm as the breeze from the boat hit my arms. Due to the lower temperatures and the grey skies, there weren´t too many creatures out and about. We saw a few caimans and Jon glimpsed some howler monkeys high up in the treetops a good distance away. We listened to their call which sounded more like a deep, throaty groan than a howl to me, but I guess I´m not the one who names the monkeys, so what do I know?
We continued on down the river and passed a small abandoned looking group of homes on the riverbank. Douglas and Vagno decided that we needed to stop there for a potty break so we pulled over. Douglas told me that the “village” used to be a slaughterhouse that provided beef jerky for the Allies during WWII. The factory, however, was completely run down and broken. He also told me, as we walked over the perimeter of electrical wire that thankfully was not working, that the complex belonged to the brother in law of one of Brazil´s most notorious criminals. One of the buildings there masquerades as a tourist lodge, but apparently no one stays there. However, the owner still claims millions of dollars each year in tourism revenue. Can anyone say money laundering?
Anyhoo, I was glad when our visit did not yield a run-in with the owner. However, moving around in the tall grass set the mosquito bites on my feet on fire and it was all I could do to stop from scratching myself raw. At that point, we called the morning a wash and decided to head back to the big boat and find some anti histamine cream for my bites. Douglas told us that sometimes, if a cold front lasts for more than a few days, he has to completely throw out his research because it´s no longer valid. Since the animals don´t come out during colder temperatures, a weather front will inadvertently skew the numbers of species.
Around noon we were served lunch; the spaghetti and meatballs were delicious and completely made up for the sandy food from the night before. During our really long lunch break, Jon and Douglas geeked out over their camera equipment and I pulled out my fleece that I was glad I brought and busied myself with some writing. It was actually very endearing to watch Jon busily downloading his pictures and trying to classify all the different species of animals that we had seen. It was a throwback to the relaxed, outdoorsy Jon that I fell in love with when we lived in Asia. He and his new mentor (Douglas) spent hours pouring over the photos and searching for different species in the Birds of Brazil book. Eventually I even got in on the action and managed to identify a few species of birds in the pictures as well.
Luckily the clouds began to disperse a bit for our afternoon wildlife viewing. However, the temperature hadn´t risen that much and there was still quite a bit of wind that made the river choppier than before. Through patches of sunshine we ventured into the National Park that covers sections four and five of Douglas´s research area. The river in the region was called the Cai Cai and it turned out to be incredibly beautiful. Here, there were few trees and lots of water hyacinth and marshes. The waterways were twisty and narrow and eventually opened up into these vast lagoons, which allowed us to see for miles and miles around. Douglas pointed out two hills that marked the border with Bolivia and told us that they were completely unexplored by scientists. He imagined there was a great deal of biodiversity there, and I´m sure he was correct. As we twisted our way down the different waterways I got the feeling that we were some of the only people on earth who had ever seen this land before. I felt like a true explorer with the breeze in my hair and the sun glinting over the water. We were definitely in the wilderness. My favorite moment was when we approached a beautiful lagoon with a juvenile caiman lounging on a small island of sand in the middle surrounded by a flock of black skimmers. The ducks took off into the setting sun as soon as we approached with our cameras. It was truly spectacular, like something straight out of a National Geographic documentary.
Considering we were also far from any fishermen, I was also really happy that Douglas´s girlfriend had made him purchase a satellite phone just in case we found ourselves a bit lost. A few times the motor stalled and Vagno had to climb into the back to pull some weeds and things out of the propellers.
We saw many more creatures down the various paths of the Cai Cai river, and it was then that I learned Vagno likes to get the boat as close to the caimans as possible, and then scare them so they either jump into the water or back into the grasses. He seemed to get a big kick out of it. This made for some great pictures but also some tense moments for me. While Jon and the other men crowded around the teeth of the caiman, I decided to cower in the corner of the boat instead of appreciating how close we were to the animals. The men, of course, laughed at me, but I didn´t care: better to be safe than sorry, I always say.
Apparently caiman are not aggressive like crocodiles and they don´t lunge at humans like the ones I had been imagining in my mind so I probably shouldn´t have been as nervous as I was but I was glad when we decided to leave the creatures alone and head on our merry way.
In addition to the many caiman we also saw a lot of smaller beautifully colored birds hanging out in the water hyacinth. Those made for some great pictures as well. When we finally found our way back to the bigger boat we were treated to a clear sky and an absolutely gorgeous sunset. The big red ball of the sun fell below the horizon and our day was complete.
In preparation for dusk I sprayed myself down with Deet and covered myself completely from head to toe so as not to exacerbate the mosquito bite situation. Luckily the temperature was cool enough for me to stay bundled up. The three of us celebrated that night with some rather large caiparinhas, the national drink of Brazil, and some fried piranha ribs. The piranha was delicious and very meaty, almost like a chicken wing. The batter was nice and light, and after squeezing a little lime on the fish we were completely addicted. That evening we had more drinks and Douglas told us some of the most recent Brazilian history and we shared what we knew about Chilean politics. Indeed, a good time was had by all. My spirits were also buoyed when Douglas informed us that we would be leaving tomorrow at 8 instead of 6:30 so that we could try to catch the animals in the heat of the day. YAY! I hate waking up early. And since we went to bed a little after 8 that night, we probably got close to nine hours of sleep. ExcellentJ