Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Our Pantanal Tour: Part Two

We left Pousada Canto do Arancuã just after lunch, planning to drive along the Transplantaneira for the afternoon, arriving at our new lodge, the Pouso Alegre, in time for the sunset and, not coincidentally, in time to see the US play Portugal.  Joe and I had seen a few capybarra on the way to Cuiabá for the Nigeria game, but on our way out to the Transpananeira I was able to photograph a few for the first time

We also saw this upended termite mound  

and a brown-breasted guan and yellow-headed vulture 

Out along the road, we had nice views of a savannah hawk

and, after seeing yellow-billed cardinals in the bushes along the Rio Claro, there were some by the side of the road that were easily photographed

along with a group of silver-beaked tanager

and the jacu chackalacka (known locally as arancuã)

This pygmy kingfisher was harder to capture

As we turned into the road to Pousa Alegre, we encoutered some of the rounded termite mounds we had seen in South Africa

The road itself was very slow going; as we approached the lodge itself, there were scads of ponds teeming with birds and especially with caimans; the numbers were truly amazing as they sat waiting for fish to come within range of their jaws, and some were close enough to photograph

the sun was setting; the light was good enough for some reasonable sunset  photos

but it was too dark to capture such lovely birds as the roseate spoonbill and the capped heron, with its blue bill and yellow neck.

Pousa Alegre was a simper place than Pousada Canto do Arancuã , and the staff did not go so much out of their way to be accommodating, but in some ways the accommodations were nicer: there were screens on the broad windows, and the rooms each had ceiling fans.  There was a problem with mosquitos getting into the rooms beneath the doors, which was solved by the simple expedient of placing a long block of wood at the bottom of each door, which we would kick into place from the inside when we were in the room, and from the outside when we were out to walk or dine.

We settled into watch the US - Portugal game in the dining room where the television was located.  It was a packed house, with most of those present rooting for the US (although none of them besides Joe and me seemed to know the standard American Outlaws cheers).  It was agonizing to go behind, so early in the game, and on a muffed clearance by a defender who has been so solid previously.  But confidence began to build as we held on for the rest of the half, and we cheered loudly when Jermaine Jones scored on an amazing long distance strike.  Then elation as Clint Dempsey knocked in the go-ahead goal with his stomach.  I worried when Klinsmann made the defensive to go ahead (and Omar Gonzalez at that!).  Where was that extra central defender when Portugal scored in the dying moments to cost us two points, and thus automatic qualification from the group?  Still, I had to admit that a point was better than nothing, even though our chances of beating Germany and thus advancing from the group without depending on the result of Portugal v. Ghana seemed small.

Dinner was served during the second half of the game – the standard collection of dishes although the main protein was a nice boneless pork chop.  After dinner, Santos took as out of a night walk.  We passed by some crabs walking along the road, and capybarra by the side of the road.  And the caimans – if they had been out in force at sunset, it was a veritable army in the middle of the night.  We could hear them chomping on fish after fish in the ponds by the side of the road; in the pitch black, the shining caiman eyes were so thick and so numerous that it looked like the lights of a big city seen from an airplane.

We awoke the following morning for the pre-breakfast walk, and lo and behold, we finally saw a pair of macaws, cuddling together at first (although Santos reported that actually they were picking lice off each other), then roosting side by side

We learned later that macaws mate for life, and that when one of the couple dies, the other commits suicide.

We could not see any color with the naked eyes, because of the darkness, but looking through Santos’s spotting scope, we could see that they had bright yellow bills, vibrant blue feathers on the tops of their heads.  On the ground, we saw a pair of bare-faced currasow, a rare bird species in which the female is prettier than male

We passed several mandovi trees (one of three trees favored by macaws) with their fruits in plain view

Flying overhead, we could spot a roseate spoonbill and a pair of brightly colored toucan, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to get photos

We returned to the lodge for breakfast, then set out on a walk through the bush for our last day in the Pantanal.  As we began, we encountered this tree with a pair of greater kiskadees at the top, and toco toucan within the tree, too dark to be photographed.  We saw him flying out of the tree later, a bright blue bird with bright yellow bill.

Deeper into the bush we encountered a fire ant tree.  When we first began our tour a few days before, Santos had warned us not to touch anything that we didn’t see him touch first, because there are hidden dangers; now he showed us such an example.  He rattled the fire ent tree with a branch, and suddenly fire ants came pouring out of holes in the stems

We heard, and then saw, more macaws at the top of a tree, and because it was so much brighter out, we hoped to be able to take a good photo that would show their brilliant color.  But as we were maneuvering through the bush to find a good vantage point for such shots, we ran across a large spider wen with an armadeiro spider.  Santos paused to take a photo of the spider, then coached me through the process of manipulating the manual adjustments so that I could take my own photo:

While we were shooting the spider, the macaws moved on......

Here we see a strangler fig going at a palm in the bush.

Next, we walked over to a section where Santos had heard that we might spot a great potou sleeping in a tree. Indeed, we found him and took quite a number of pictures of this large bird, which is well-disguised to look like a part of the tree itself.

We found this yellow rumped cassique bird, too 

One of the  amazing feature of the plant life in the Pantanal was that, even though the land is wet and indeed, swampy, cactus can be found thriving.  Here is a photo of the most common cactus plant, along with a saw-toothed bromeliad

As we ended our walk, we saw this rufous ornero nest 


and caught a black-collared hawk flying out of a tree

We had a standard lunch at the lodge, then posed with Santos for a photo before beginning the long drive back to Cuiaba

He had been an excellent  guide – I would recommend him without hesitation (and he can be hired directly, without going through Ecoverde Tours and paying their markup).  He can be reached at naturezainclose ATyahooDOTcomDOTbr.

As we drove out  back to the Transpantaneira, we spotted an eminently photographable roseate spoonbill and a jabiru stork in its nest

We got back to Cuiabá and Santos left us at the Pousada Ecoverde, where we were to spend the night before flying off to Manaus the following morning.  The place has a certain charm, but it funky at the same time.  It is in a century old house, with a few rooms around an open courtyard that included a fantastic library of travel books especially about Brazilian flora and fauna.  Souza’s large number of LP’s certainly appealed to me (however, he did not seem to have a working turntable).  But the rooms themselves were  quite small (ours had three single beds), and none had a private bath (and at that, one of the two toilets was non-functional).   Breakfast was to be had in a separate pousada around the corner – it was the standard roll and fruit with slices of ham and cheese, with eggs made to order

Certainly this was not a place we would have chosen to stay, but it would have to do for one night.

We had arrived in time to watch Brazil’s final group-stage game, against Cameroon, on the TV set at the Pousada.  Brazil cruised to victory, and fireworks went off in the surrounding neighborhood every time Brazil scored a goal, and then continuously after the game ended.

I had picked out a couple of restaurants on or near the Praça Popular in the center of town for dinner; they would have been an easy taxi ride away.  Joel Souza had already let the premises, btu one of this guides, whom we recognized from  Pousada Canto do Arancuã , warned me that it would be very hard to get into those places, because “half the city is at the Praça Popular.”  SO we walked over to the nearby Praça Mandioca and found a table at the Bar Azambuja.  The food was fine, if unremarkable, but the atmosphere was very nice.  There was live music and dancing at a place down the street; the Azambuja itself was packed with local couples and families. I found that I had enough Portuguese that I was about to understand, and be understood, with a welcoming woman at the table next to ours – that was encouraging!

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