Day Six: Birds, Birds, and More Birds
The day started off rather slowly. We had an early morning wake-up as usual, but the river was really shallow so we stayed on the big boat a bit longer while we attempted to find the channels in the river. Vagno was needed on the bigger boat to help guide and, at one point, I saw he was in the motorboat alongside us, with a big wooden pole that was definitely touching the ground. Several times our boat had to turn off its engines and shudder through the sandy areas in order to make it through. It is amazing how much the water has receded in less than a week since our journey out to the reserve. Some of the different side waterways were completely impassable only a few days after we had spent time perusing them. Douglas said that the river water this year is actually unusually high for September as this winter they had what Douglas refers to as the “Fifty Year Flood”. In fact, the numbers of capybara and jaguar are way down compared to normal and he thinks its because the animals had to go farther away during the flooding this year, and that maybe they haven´t made their way back yet.
Regardless, we were out on the hunt to accomplish Jon´s goal of 100 different species. Douglas was very eager to help and took us to a large cattle ranch where we got out of the boat and actually walked around for a while. It certainly felt good to stretch my feet! The ranch was absolutely teeming with bird life and Douglas even brought his telescope so I could really appreciate the different species. Douglas told me this morning that he hoped we would become birders after this trip, and who knows: maybe we might. Well, at least I can vow to pay more attention to birds now, because they really are very beautiful up close. We saw several kinds of parakeet, some stunning red crested cardinals and several other bright and colorful birds that we hadn´t seen before.
It was neat to be able to do this with someone who really appreciates birds, like Douglas, because otherwise it would all have been a little lost on me. We spent many minutes in front of each tree, listening to the birds call and trying to figure out what species were in the tree. Douglas has pretty much all of the thousands of bird species and all of their calls memorized, which was quite impressive. I guess if I spent 8 months of the year, for the past 30 years, in nature I also might be able to identify all the birds by their flight patterns or by their call. Actually, no- I still probably wouldn´t be able to.
My favorite bird on the ranch was the hyacinth macaw. It was easily recognizable, even for me, because of the deep blue color of the feathers and the bright yellow markings on its face. The macaws were really noisy and kept following us from tree to tree around the ranch. I guess they were curious as to what we were up to, and it definitely seemed like they were a little ticked off when we decided to look at other birds besides them. I pretty much watched them the whole time, except for a brief while when a group of toucans also flew into the tree. What a wonder to see all of those famous, tropical birds in person, in the wilds of Brazil!
When we´d had enough walking around and gazing in treetops we headed back to the boat where we ran across three rheas in the field that Jon began busily photographing. A rhea is a grey, emu-looking bird with amazingly fluffy feathers. They were also very impressive.
After our morning looking for birds we headed back to the same hotel we had passed on our way in to the Pantanal. We were hoping that the monkeys and the wild pigs were there, feeding on corn. Well, there were no pigs, but we could definitely hear the monkeys in full effect. As we climbed the embankment into the forest, we could tell there were about forty capuccin monkeys in the treetops around the hotel. They were amazingly human-like and very agile as they jumped from tree to tree. I saw one monkey lying down across its partner´s lap, and the other was petting its head, just like a human couple might do. I was pretty obsessed with the monkeys because they were so cute and furry looking with their cappuccino colored faces. I must have watched this one monkey for about 20 minutes as he carefully made his way out of the tree and attempted to approach the corn laid out by the hotel workers. It kept advancing slowly but was staring at me to see if I was going to make a move. If I did, it retreated quickly. Eventually I walked around the corner of the nearest building to see if the monkey would make a break for it and head for the corn while I wasn´t looking. And sure enough, when I peaked my head around the corner there he was gathering the corn up by the armful and laughing with delight. I adored him.
However, by this time it was rather hot and definitely time for us to head back to the boat for lunch and a siesta, which I enjoyed on a hammock on the top deck of the boat. Yep- life ain´t so bad after all, I thought, as my hammock swayed in the breeze. That evening we headed out in the boat again. Jon was eager for another jaguar, but it didn´t materialize, so I just enjoyed the beauty of the Pantanal and the way the light changed colors on the water as the sun set behind the clouds. I could tell Jon was sad the trip was ending, but I know both of us will be quite happy to sleep in our beds again without the sheets smelling like sunscreen, sweat, and bug repellant. Cheers to our last full day in the Pantanal!
Day Seven: Our trip comes to an end
The bus that was going to take us back to Cuiaba from Caceres was coming to pick us up at 10 AM, so that meant we had to do our morning tour of the area very early if we wanted to get back to the town in time to make our bus. Instead of having breakfast at 5:30 we were supposed to head straight to the motorboat so we could appreciate the Pantanal at the break of dawn. I know I have mentioned how much I love mornings so I skipped my shower, threw on some clothes, and blearily made my way to the boat. I stumbled my way to my seat successfully and put on my sunglasses in displeasure, even though the sun wasn´t really out yet. I really didn´t think there was going to be much point to our venture, but Vagno took us to some pretty cool river ways around Caceres, and the morning was actually extremely beautiful.
After our day yesterday, Jon had documented 95 different species, so we only had 5 more to go. Douglas decided the best way to get to our goal of 100 was to find some more species of birds in the tree, so we stopped at the bottom of several while he made owl noises for a good 15 minutes in the hopes of luring out some new creatures. We found a few and were suddenly left with one more species to go.
I could tell we were getting closer to Caceres because there were a lot more fishermen out in the water and plenty more residences on the banks of the rivers. Still, we were mainly alone and there were more caiman and capybara around.
Suddenly, Douglas saw something moving in the tree tops up ahead. We pulled over and found a large family of marmoset monkeys, which officially completed our total of 100 species of wildlife documented. It was a great way to say goodbye to the Pantanal…
As we pulled up to the bigger boat docked in Caceres, Douglas announced that we had officially logged 39 hours of time on the motor boat, and had traveled over 620 km. No wonder I was tired of boats…
After our arrival in Caceres we packed our bags and waited for the transfer that we going to come pick us up and take us to a bus that would transport us back to Cuiaba. The bus ride was much like China: we were truly experiencing life like the local folk in Brazil. The journey was not long, but I don´t really enjoy bus rides on two lane roads because I don´t really enjoy passing cars in a large vehicle. I always envision us careening off the road and into the ditch below. But luckily we arrived in Cuiaba safe and sound. We had the most disgusting pizza with no tomato sauce, WAY too much cheese and peas and corn on top and then we took a brief nap back at our Diplomata Hotel before arising at 2:00 in the morning for our 3:30 flight. It was not a fun day of travel and extreme turbulence at 3:45 AM is never my favorite way to begin a six hour journey. But we made it! What a trip!