Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Pantanal Trip Part 2: Crocodiles and a Terrifying Hike

OK, where did we leave off? Oh right, the horseback riding and the hyacinth macaws. :D

After a delicious lunch and a post-horseback break, Bianca and I joined an older couple on an afternoon boat ride activity on the River Aquidauana. An employee from the pousada took us out to the bank of the river, a mile away.  The boat ride was entitled "caiman ride," meaning we were going to look for caimans (alligators). Bianca has a bit of an alligator phobia, but she was so strong and still accepted going on the boat ride. (For what it's worth, I would've never gone on any kind of "mothwatching" activity! I was proud of her!)

On our way down to the water, I asked the guide if we'd be going in a big boat.
"Yes," he said.
I soon learned that our definitions of "big" were drastically different.



The other issue of the ride was the mosquitoes. Luckily, I'd been taking vitamin B for a week before the trip, and I'd been applying repellent as if my life depended on it (because... it did! I have the yellow fever vaccine, but there's still malaria and dengue to worry about!). So they were everywhere, but I finished the boat ride relatively unscathed.

The guide gave us our lifejackets and called his son out of a little riverside building to join us, and off we went for our alligator sightings! Eep!

What a good sport Bianca was
The sights of the vast river in general were gorgeous. I felt like I was inside a Paul Bowels novel / Conrad's Heart of Darkness / Disney's Pocahontas, all at the same time. Bianca and I kept a bilingual round of Just Around the Riverbend going during much of the ride, probably to the chagrin of our fellow boat travelers.

But all jokes aside, it really was breathtaking:



The guide was nice to turn off the little motorboat's motor once in a while so we could just enjoy the silence of the water and let the current guide us along.

Eventually, of course, we did see some caimans. Eep!

Can you see it there on the sand? Luckily we were relatively far away, so my picture is kind of blurry.

This one came into the water! I was convinced it was headed right for us.

At one point, the guide stopped the boat at a tiny little island ("island" is probably not the right word -- a sand bank, maybe? A tiny hill of sand in the middle of the river). I thought this to be an unnecessary risk, and I'm sure Bianca agreed. 

"hurry up and take the picture before the alligators smell us!"
So the river was beautiful, but I think I would've enjoyed it in a bigger (read: more alligator-proof) boat. But Darwin would've been proud of us, I think.

Oh, we got to see a relatively rare chestnut-eared aracari, aka araçari, in the toucan family. That was exciting:



Our Pantanal adventures continued the next day. In the morning, Bianca and I got up early to go on what the pousada referred to as an "ecological walk" on their itinerary. Sounds pleasant enough, right?

Our guide was an indigenous man and he needed to carry a machete. Still sound pleasant?
I told myself that his pack carried a first-aid kit and not his lunch and a can of beer

This "ecological walk" turned out to be a treacherous hike in the middle of the mato, or the thick, rainforest-like brush that makes up most of the country's untouched terrain. There was no trail, it was just wherever the guide felt like we should turn at the moment. We were completely dependent on him for our safety! He essentially followed the river, but I think I would consider the thick brush at the side of a riverbank to be one of the most dangerous places to walk unprotected! Hello! Alligators! Jaguar?! 

At one point, we noticed a strange smell. 

"Do you guys smell that?" the guide asked.
"A dead animal?" Bianca asked.
"A dead wild boar," the guide explained.
"Why is it dead?" I asked naively.
"Because a jaguar killed it," the guide explained simply.

"WHY ARE WE HIKING HERE?!?!" I whispered to Bianca urgently, in English. She assured me that CVC wouldn't send us on any life-threatening outings, but I had my doubts.

To make matters worse, my vitamin B and positive thinking were no match for the mosquitoes in this mato. It is possibly difficult for some of you to imagine how many mosquitoes were there, but you can try. Imagine a cloud of gnats, and then replace the gnats with mosquitoes, and multiply it by 10, and add in that incessant, ominous buzzing you hear late at night when a single annoying mosquito is circling your bed, and then multiply that by 100. I was walking around with my repellent bottle open and waving it around my head in a vain attempt to scare some of them off. (I also held on to the faint hope that I could perhaps squeeze it into a jaguar's eye should one charge at me during the excursion.)

"Was that an onça?!"

We luckily avoided any jaguar encounters, but that doesn't mean I didn't start running in shaking adrenaline fear a couple times at the sound of a leaf breaking under someone's foot or a great kiskadee suddenly flying out of a tree. 

The hike was pretty and all......




But I think I could've done without it.  

On a happier note, I got to see the rare crimson-crested woodpecker (aka pica-pau-de-topete vermelho):

the little white spot on its head shows it's the rare one


And on the way back, we saw some caracaras (cárcaras in Portuguese):

sauntering away with his lunch

whaddayou lookin' at?



Well, they were everywhere, but we got to see a baby one:
"Tee hee! I'm soon going to develop the strength to take down a newborn calf!"
After the slightly terrifying walk, we got to enjoy lunch, and I got a nice picture of a red and green macaw on a wall at the pousada:



But more on those beauties later! I'll leave you at this point in the adventure for now. :)

5 comments:

  1. "Because a jaguar killed it." Ahhhhhhhh! Scary!
    The baby caracara is so cute!

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  2. Although it's super touristy, I think you would like the Florida Everglades. Imagine if this trip is crack, the Everglades would be like pot. Nature but tons of people there. Even Leo (who was jaded and didn't want to look like a tourist since he grew up in Miami and fought me about going) had a great time. I also got to hold a baby alligator! When you come visit me in Florida, we can go =)

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  3. I'm surprised you didn't see more caiman! When I went to the Pantanal, we saw lots - at one point, there were probably 30-50 we could see at the same time. And we got pretty close too - roughly 1-2 meters away! Caiman don't scare me, but crocodiles do - caimans are much smaller, have thinner mouths and aren't as aggressive as crocodiles.
    Can't wait to here about the rest of your trip!

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  4. You snapped some great shots. I especially enjoyed the one f you looking alittle freaked out in the forest :-)

    Parts of our farm are like that. One day I told Carlos I wanted to walk through the forest with him a bit- he was setting out the markers or our property. He said no you don't. I went about 500 yards in and decided ot go back to the little clearing. We seriously needed bee-keeping hoods. It's CRAZY. SO I get where you're coming from.

    This sounds like a wonderful trip al in all. You are an inspiration!

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  5. Looks like a great trip! You definitely got your fill of bird sighting. Well, I am sure YOU could always have more, but looks like you got to see a lot :)

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