Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Pantanal, Brazil

Cuiabá church
Leaving the Iguaçu Falls town of Foz do Iguaçu, we flew northwards to Cuiabá, in the heartlands of Brazil.

Cuiabá (k-wee-a-bar) is a city on the banks of the Cuiabá River (Rio Cuiabá), and the gateway to the northern Pantanal.

The Pantanal is the biggest inland wetland in the world. It covers around 200,000 sq km of central Brazil, eastern Bolivia and north-eastern Paraguay. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Poconé  street
We had booked a guide to take us on safari there, as we were hoping to spot endangered and rare species of wildlife such as jaguar and giant river otter, and a range of birds unique to these wetlands.

We arrived in Cuiabá the night before the safari was to begin. The next morning, we were picked up very early as we had several hours of driving ahead of us to take us deep into the wetlands. 

Our first stop was in the small town of Poconé for some water and supplies. 

The beginning of the Transpantaneira Road
Poconé marks the beginning of the Transpantaneira Road, a 150 km stretch of isolated dirt road linking Poconé to Porto Jofre – jaguar territory.

As we drove along the Transpantaneira we started spotting lots of birds. We also saw lots of caiman sunning themselves on the banks of waterholes, and lurking among the lily pads.

We passed fazendas (farms) with lots of cattle, and many giant termite mounds. Then suddenly, we had arrived at Pousada Clarinho.

Pantanal entrance with guardians
Here we met up with Carlos, our guide, and a young Spanish couple who would join us.

We had arrived in time for lunch, which consisted of a range of meats, fruits, and salads prepared in the local style.

During lunch there was a bit of a commotion, as a rare marsh deer came to the local waterhole to drink.

After lunch, we set off in a 4 wheel drive ute, for Porto Jofre.

Transpantaneira bridge - one of many 
Our guide, Carlos, sat on a raised seat in the back of the ute looking for wildlife. Time and time again, we screeched to a halt at his signal, to look at animals and birds in the wetland grasses alongside the road.

Driving the Transpantaneira means crossing lots and lots of wooden bridges, built to ensure vehicle access during the wet season. The bridges were in varying degrees of repair but they all seemed to be standing up to the passing traffic. 

Porto Jofre boats on Rio Cuiabá
After several hours we reached the end of the road; Porto Jofre. This settlement consists of a small collection of posadas (guest houses) and boats. It is the gateway to the undeveloped and near pristine, Pantanal Mato-Grossense National Park.

We were staying at Porto Jofre Pousada and Camping. Our room was fairly basic, but it was clean with its own bathroom, and air-conditioning. The last was a necessity as it was extremely hot - high 30's and into the 40's!

L:Hyacinth macaw; Whistling heron; Anhinga.
R:Wattled Jacana; Jabiru storks; Black collared 
The next morning, the sun was just coming up as we had breakfast, and then it was onto a wee motor boat to head up river.

The bird life was amazing with so many different sounds all around us, some more tuneful than others. Every tree along the river seemed to have an inhabitant or two perched on its branches.

There were ibis, cormorants, storks, herons, curassows, rare macaws, and kingfishers, to name few; an endless range of water birds as well as land birds.

We were told that there is over 550 different species of birds in the Pantanal.

Capybara on a Rio Cuiabá sandbank
Along with the amazing birdlife, we saw lots of wildlife, including Capybaras. These are furry, blunt-nosed creatures about the size of a very large dog. 

They swim very well with the help of webbing at the joints of their feet, and seem to like sitting on sandbanks. They are the largest living rodent in the world. 

We saw individuals, pairs, and a lovely group of females with a whole lot of babies. Very cute!

Caiman on edge of Rio Cuiabá
We also saw lots of caiman which are large aquatic reptiles that live in the river and swamps of Central and South America. They are closely related to alligators and crocodiles (but with a slimmer waistline).

There were so many of them. They were either in stealth mode with just their eyes and snouts poking out of the water, or basking in the sun on the edge of the water. They are called the scavengers of the Pantanal because they eat anything and everything. We even saw one caiman eating another!

Jaguar 1: Cooling off under a tree, Rio Cuiabá 
Quite early in our morning boat trip, word came over the RT that a jaguar had been spotted not far from where we were. We raced to the spot and there it was, lounging in the shadow of a large tree.

So  exciting!

We were able to get great photos while still keeping our distance. Jaguars are great swimmers, so we were pleased not to get too close (about 4 metres away, but in a fast boat).

Jaguar 2: On the riverbank, Rio Cuiabá
During this morning trip we saw two more jaguars, a big one sitting on the river bank, and another moving back into the undergrowth.

Our guide and driver were most excited at seeing three jaguars in one trip - as were we!

We also saw some giant river otters. These are endangered animals and we felt very privileged to see them.

An adult can grow to about 1.7 m long. They are very fast in the water, and look so sleek.

Giant river otters, Rio Cuiabá
In fact they are endangered because fur traders hunted them for their sleek velvety pelt.

On our afternoon boat trip we were able to get really close to an extended family coming in and out of their den under the river bank. They were really vocal as they moved about looking at us and wondering if we were a threat.

There was a baby otter that was very curious, and kept swimming toward our boat. However, the adults quickly herded it back to the den.

Sunset over the Rio Cuiabá
In all, we had about seven to eight hours on the river and saw a huge range of creatures.

We were one of a small number of boats going up and down the river, some faster than others, all carrying eager wild life spotters.

Fortunately, it didn't feel crowded as mostly, it was just us enjoying the river and nature.

Our day on the river ended with a spectacular sunset, before we headed back to our posada and dinner.

Marg, on Cuiabá River & ready for spotting
Bags packed and loaded on the ute next morning, we headed back along the Transpantaneira toward our final nights’ accommodation.

Lots more birds, capybara, and caiman were spotted along the way. We also saw rheas (like a small emu), and an armadillo.

We arrived in time for lunch which, like the other meals on safari, consisted of lots meat, rice and salad or vegetables.

The meals were great. They were prepared by the locals in the local way, and in giant servings. We felt we would be waddling by the end of this trip!

Sunrise over the Rio Claro
That evening we went out spotlighting, seeing a very rare marsh deer, and some howler and capuchin monkeys.

The next day we viewed the sunrise from a giant tower above the treetops. The sun was a huge red ball, slowly rising, accompanied by a succession of birds awakening. A spectacular sight and sound.

After breakfast we had another bush walk and then we were on the Claro River (Rio Claro) in a very small boat.

Here we managed to finally spot a toucan flying past. What amazing looking birds.

Marg, looking cool on a hot day
We were pleased to be doing these activities early in the day as by 10 am it was already up to 46 degrees! Too hot for us, but we survived and returned to the pousada as little sweat balls.

On our last day we went out on horseback to see what wildlife we could find. It was extremely hot, but good fun.

We spotted some wild buffaloes and more monkeys but it was so hot, we think the animals were staying in the shade and out of sight.

The time came to head back to Cuiabá and our hotel for the night, before flying to Salvador for the next part of our trip.

We fare-welled our guide, and Spanish travel companions, and prepared ourselves for another early start with a 6 am flight.

We had really enjoyed an unforgettable safari, in the incredible Pantanal.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing area. That Hyacinth Macaw is so beautiful. Not an area you'd want to be walking around on your own at night... :-)