Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Traveling in the Pantanal -- Part One

On Friday morning, we woke up promptly to take the Executive Bus back to the airport.  The Brasilia airport was confusing, and the line to check in for TAM flights looked very long; but because we had checked in online and printed our boarding passes, we were ushered to a priority line that was shorter and moved faster.  We flew on to Cuiabá, where we were met at the airport by Joel Souza, the proprietor of Ecoverde Tours, who organized our tour; he, in turn, introduced us to Djalma Santos, who would be our guide for our three days in the Pantanal. 

He drove us first to Pocone, the town at the northern entry to the Pantanal.  The roads were pretty good until we reached Pocone, but the speed bumps were truly amazing:  Brazil takes speed control seriously.  Also interesting were the occasional traffic cameras– they were exceptionally well advertised, with a digital sign right next to the camera and a digital indicator or speed.  Drivers would slow down just for those locations, then speed away.

We had a simple lunch there while having the pleasure of watching the final portion of Costa Rica’s win over Italy — this is has been a good World Cup for the CONCACAF teams:  if the United States beats Portugal three of the four teams from our region might advance!  Santos also encouraged us to buy water, which would be more expensive in the Pantanal, so we got two six-liter bottles for the three of us.

Not too far south of Pocone, the paved road became a dirt road, and the scenery opened up around us, with water and flat lands receding into the distance.  As we drove, and later as we walked, Santos talked about what we were seeing, and what we were not seeing, giving us cultural and scientific background fr the plants and birds and other wildlife before is and to come.  There was an amazing profusion of wildlife, and especially birds.   We could see birds resting on posts, on trees, and on telephone wires, as with this kingfisher, snail kite, egret and wood stork

Egret along the Transpantaneira

Kingfisher along the Transpantaneira

Snail kite along the Transpantaneira

Wood stork seen from the Transpantaneira

About every kilometer or so, we would cross a rough planked bridge as the road went over a
small stream – we might see a bird swimming in the water, suich as this cormorant, or a caiman sunning itself on the bank and hoping that nourishment might wander by

We saw several wood storks and  a single Jaribu stork, the biggest flying bird in the area,
Wood stork seen along the Transpantaneira

Jabiru stork seen from the Transpantaneira
as well as the tiny yellow kiskadee

This termite mound grew up around a living tree

We saw the African sort of rounded mound later, when we got to Pouso Alegre.  Santos thought that the different style of these mounds was attributable to the flooding  that comes from the nearby Rio Claro.

We stayed two nights at our first lodge, the Pousada Canto do Arancuã, a small working farm that doubles as a tourist facility.  It was very plain – the rooms had electricity and air-conditioning and bathrooms with only cold water for showers, although there was also a nice swimming pool with what looked to be an attached jacuzzi (I got into the pool briefly on our last day, but never tried the jacuzzi), a game room with pool and foosball tables, and a TV room where the TV had terrible reception but where a small group could always be found when a Cup game was on.  We took a short walk in the fading light before dinner, which was a collection of salad materials, plus rice and beans, plus pasta dish, and a meat cooked in sauce — filling but not particularly interesting.  The meals continued in this character throughout our stay

Each of the following two days, we would wake up for a dawn walk at 5:30 PM, then have a simple breakfast at 7 AM with fruit, cake and bread, and scrambled eggs with finely sliced hot dogs in a sauce (they were kind enough to accommodate me by making hard-boiled eggs), then take the tractor down to the river to row upstream one day, and downstream the next, looking for birds and other wildlife.  We could not always see birds with the naked eye, so he had a spotting scope with a tripod.   As we walked, or floated, he would talk to us about the features of thew variuos plants and animals we were seeing.

He was evidently proud of his self-education as a nature guide, both through living the life and through reading.  He is also a photographer, pausing frequently to take photographs  with a very impressive-looking telescopic lens.  During our walks, Santos would whistle bird calls or, more commonly, play bird calls on his phone, trying to attract specific birds that  he thought were around. One of his projects is the development of a collection of bird and animal calls, matched to photographs of the relevant creature, which might be useful to other guides as well as to amateur birders.  I thought that maybe I could help him connect with a pro bono lawyer to figure out to what extent he could protect the intellectual property in his compilation.

I myself have been getting used to a new DSLR camera, but had not yet learned to use the adjustments that make it any more than a PHD camera (push here, dummy).  I had meant to bring along the camera guide but mistakenly brought the guide for my old, broken camera (it was sitting in the old camera bag!).  Santos worked with me to help me improve my shots by teaching me to use some of individual adjustments.  By the time of the photos I’ll be posting for the final stage of our Pantanal trip, while staying at Pouso  Alegre, I was really getting it!

At one point during a boat ride, he pulled up a clump of water hyacinth to illustrate his point that, if you have to drink the water from a local river, the cleanest place to drink is among the water hyacinth because of the cleaning function that they play – they absorb the nutrients from the surrounding water, making is cleaner than the nearby stream.  He squeezed the roots to show the masses of brown water pouring out.  In addition, he said, the root system provides shelter for many insect and other small species.

Djalma Santos explaining role of water hyacinth root system

Water hyacinth flower

There were four other guides at Pousada Canto de Arancuã who were working with small groups of tourists who had made their arrangements through Ecoverde Tours.  At one point, there was an interesting discussion between two of the guides while we waited for the tractor to come back to the Rio Claro, about the value and the costs of the construction of the Arena Pantenal in Cuiaba where we were to see our second match on June 21.  Three of the most expensive stadiums – in-Cuiabá, in Manaus, and ion Brasilia, are in cities without a single first-division soccer team that could even dream of filling the stadium.  The arena can bring no good to Cuiaba, he said. The three "white elephant" arenas were, said one guide, simply the product of corruption; and he was hoping that Brazil would go out early in the cup because if the team does too well, the people will forget the corruption and forgive the government, which needs to be replaced – maybe with a civilian dictator (not a military dictator, which had been a failure).  The other guide  said that he is Brazilian and so he roots for his national team, the Selecão; and the arena has drawn outsiders to Cuiabá and can be used for things besides soccer.

What follows are just a few of the shots of birds and other things we saw during our touring while staying at the Pousada Canto do Arancuã

Tiger heron pair near Pousada Canto do Arancuã

Lapwings near Pousada Canto do Arancuã

Parrot near Pousada Canto do Arancuã

Crimson crested woodpecker near Pousada Canto do Arancuã
Hawk taking wing along Rio Claro near Pousada Canto do Arancuã
Pair of tiger heron seen from Rio Claro near Pousada Canto do Arancuã

A pair of sun bittern along Rio Claro near Pousada Canto do Arancuã
Cormorant in a tree along Rio Claro near Pousada Canto do Arancuã

Troupial seen along Rio Claro near Pousada Canto do Arancuã
Butterfly that alit on our row boat

Anhinga along Rio Claro near Pousada Canto do Arancuã

Caiman lurking in the water hyacinth

Caiman's head

Sunrise during one of our early morning walks

Trees in the mist during  pre-breakfast walk near Pousada Canto do Arancuã
At one point, we espied a chestnut toucan in a tree, but I could not get a photo, because it kept moving around, amidst cries from other birds.  Santos explained that it was being chased by birds calling out and biting its tail because toucans eat by raiding other birds’ nests to steal eggs.

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