A Travellerspoint blog

Porto Jofre Afternoon Safari Day Two

A delightful surprise


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After lunch, I take a quick walk around the hotel grounds to see what birds are around, then retire to the air-conditioned room for a much-welcome snooze.

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Southern Caracara

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Cattle Tyrant

I am so tempted not to go this afternoon, as I feel completely knocked out, but I don't want to miss anything, so I join David for anotehr safari.

The Boat
While there is plenty of space to spread out my gear (I carry two cameras, one with the 100-400mm plus a 1.4 extender, and the other with either the 24-105mm or a fish eye), legroom is at a premium as a result of the raised shelf at the bow of the boat. I can, of course, stretch out by placing my leg on this higher 'platform', but by doing so, my back ends up hurting. Every day I have been eating painkillers as if they are sweets in order to enjoy the boat trips.

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Dinio, our trusty captain

Jaguar
I am so glad I did come out this afternoon as we are just motoring along at some speed when the captain stops the boat and quietly shouts: “Jaguar!” Roberto doesn't believe him at first but then spots the cat in amongst the tall grass.

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Walking along the riverbank, he meanders in and out of the tall grass, emerging out into the open at regular intervals.

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Initially, there is only us here, but after Dinio radioes the other boat captains, other photographers turn up.

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Depending on where they were when they received the message, quite a few miss the sighting; or they just see his head sticking up from above the long grass.

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Just like he appeared out of nowhere, 14 minutes later he is gone into the undergrowth.

We go off to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Jabiru

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Peach Fronted Parakeets

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Great Egret

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Cocoi Heron

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Black Vulture feasting on a capybara carcass

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Lesser Kiskadee

Neotropic Cormorant
Watching a cormorant attempting to take off from the river, I am fascinated by the number of flaps and how long a runway he needs.

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Finally airborne!

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Large Billed Tern

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Caracara with an interesting growth on its chest

Giant River Otters
We come across a couple of otters, fishing.

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While we are watching the otters, drifting slowly along the river, a couple of little fish jump in the boat. To get away from the otters, maybe?

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Ruddy Pigeon

As we make our way back to the lodge, I amuse myself by trying to be creative using a slow shutter speed on a moving boat.

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David, meanwhile, is not feeling at all well.

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It gets surprisingly cold in the boat when it is moving at speed. In the heat of the day it gives a welcome relief, but first thing in the morning and last thing at night it is good to have some extra layers.

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Tonight is our last night here at Porto Jofre. We celebrate by having an early night (as we have done every day so far on this trip). David's throat feels raw, and he spends most of the night coughing.

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Goodnight from Porto Jofre, and thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:55 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds boat wildlife safari brazil birding brasil pigeon speedboat heron egret vulture parakeet caracara jaguar cormorant pantanal bird_watching otter cough boat_safari porto_jofre undiscovered_destinations coughing tern wildlife_photography bird_photography wild_birds slow_shutter_speed kiskadee sore_throat giant_river_otter tyreant speeding_boat throat_infection Comments (4)

Porto Jofre Morning Safari Day Two

Exploring further afield


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We have a later start this morning: breakfast at 05:30, leave at 06:30. David is still feeling pretty rough, so again decides to stay behind when Roberto and I go off.

Having already seen eight jaguars (including the one at dinner the first night), we head to a different location this morning.

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The scene may look idyllic, but the water is dirty and certainly not good for swimming as there are a number of dangers lurking under the surface: caiman, piranha, and sweet-water stingray to mention a few.

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Capybara
These giant guinea pigs are the world's largest rodents, at twice the size of the beaver.

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The most interesting thing about capybara is that they are known to eat their poo in the mornings.

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I am disappointed that we don't see them do this (I think). We do see one of the youngsters drinking, however.

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Pied Lapwing

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Wood Stork

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Great Egret

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Black Crowned Night Heron

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Greater Ani trying to hide

Black Howler Monkeys
Today we see the male – which is actually black – as well as the golden-coloured female we saw yesterday.

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One of the females has a baby on her back!

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Golden Tegu Lizard

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Green Iguana

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More Capybara

Caiman
There are caimans everywhere!

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This guy is a real giant of a grandaddy!

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I didn't realise until today, that caiman (and crocodiles) have no tongue as such. Well, technically they do, but the tongue is held in place at the roof of the mouth by a membrane. Because caimans spend so much time underwater, the tongue helps keep the throat closed, protecting the animal's airway. Unlike other species, the tongue plays no part in feeding.

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This poor guy is missing the tip of his tail – he could have had an encounter with a jaguar, or possibly even one of his own. Caimans have been known to turn to cannibalism.

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More Capybara

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Jabiru

Nesting Site
We arrive in an area where almost every tree has a birds' nest. It is a beautiful, peaceful place with lots of tall trees offering shade, and we are the only people here, so I ask if we can just hang around for a while.

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Jabiru on her nest

I try to photograph some of the numerous birds flying above the canopies, without a great deal of success.

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Large Billed Tern

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Lesser Yellow Hooded Vulture

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Southern Caracara

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Neotropic Cormorant

I have a bit more luck with the perched birds.

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Anhinga

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Cocoi Heron

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Lesser Kiskadee

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Southern Caracara

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Cormorant and Anhinga

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The Anhinga is not happy

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She has more than her hands full with feeding her young. I am amazed at how far down her throat the youngster sticks his head!

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His brother tries to muscle in on the action.

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Enough is enough!

We move on to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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More Capybara

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Southern Screamer

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Jabiru

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Black Collared Hawk

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Bare Faced Ibis

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Black Crowned Night Heron

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Green Iguana

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Cocoi Heron

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Another Jabiru - this large bird is the symbol of Pantanal

We return to the lodge for another buffet lunch.

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Goodbye from Porto Jofre for now. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:01 Archived in Brazil Tagged animals boat wildlife safari iguana hawk brazil brasil south_america caiman heron egret stork vulture anhinga ibis spoonbill caracara kingfisher ani cormorant pantanal capybara howler_monkeys bird_watching boat_safari jabiru porto_jofre green_iguana undiscovered_destinations tern lapwing wildlife_photography kiskadee monekeys black_howler_monkeys birds_nests screamer Comments (2)

Porto Jofre Afternoon Safari Day One

More jaguars


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a buffet lunch and a quick nap, we leave again at 14:00. David feels well enough to join us now, which is great. I am so sad he missed the excitement this morning, and hope we get to see another jaguar this afternoon.

Before we even reach the dock, we see a couple of large birds.

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Southern Caracara

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Jabiru

We head straight back to where we saw the cats this morning, and thankfully they are still there. This time there are four big cats, however, with both the sub-adult cubs in the tree, along with dad.

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The cubs

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With dad on the left

Meanwhile, mum is on the ground below, calling for her babies.

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They reply, shifting restlessly on the tree, moving around, trying to get past dad.

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Dad is having none of it! He thinks the cubs are old enough to become independent now and is trying to separate them from their mother as he will not be able to mate with her again until they do. Typical male, putting sex before the family!

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Prompted by seeing mum swim across the river, and realising that they are fighting a losing battle as far as dad moving to let them pass, the cubs make their way in the opposite direction, to the edge of the tree.

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Mum on the opposite bank

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With one last look at us, as if to say “wish me luck”, the cubs jump off the tree and into the water, one after the other, landing with a huge splash!

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Geronimo!

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The fist cub starts to swim immediately, occasionally checking that his brother is following behind, before making his way to the opposite bank of the river.

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The other one follows.

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A hungry caiman looks on with interest.

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While the cubs go off together looking for mum, we return to see what dad is up to.

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Mum

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The cubs

He continues to look grumpy.

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Still in his favourite tree (we are looking at him from the other side now), the jaguar fidgets a bit, moving up and down the branch.

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He is obviously still feeling frustrated!

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We leave him be and go off to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Caiman

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Green Iguana

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Female howler monkey – the males are black while the females are brown.

Black Shouldered Hawk
I am not sure quite what this hawk is doing, it looks like she is fighting with a stick! She puts on quite a display, jumping up and down, spreading her wings, jumping on the stick, and eventually picking it up.

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I do wonder if she thinks it is a snake? Perhaps she is short-sighted?

Yellow Billed Cardinals
As we make our way back to the lodge, we see a small flock of cardinals frolicking on the beach.

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We return to the hotel for a shower, buffet dinner, and then bed.

Goodnight from Porto Jofre. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 23:12 Archived in Brazil Tagged wildlife monkey iguana hawk brazil brasil heron cardinal spoonbill caracara jaguar birdwatching pantanal wild_animals jabiru porto_jofre green_iguana undiscovered_destinations wildlife_photography wild_birds black_howler_monkey howler_monkey Comments (2)

Porto Jofre Morning Safari Day One

A good start!


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I had a dreadful night: my shoulder, back, wrist, knee, pelvis, and ankle were all hurting at some stage, and my stomach felt very unsettled (I still have the runs); while David spent the night coughing and blowing his nose. I finally give in and get up just after 04:00.

David decides to stay in bed for the morning, so I go out with Roberto in a boat to see if we can find any jaguars. The Pantanal is said to have the world's highest density of these beautiful cats, and Porto Jofre is known as Jaguar Central, so I am hoping we'll get lucky.

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We agreed quite early on at the planning stage that we didn't want to be in a group (too many bad experiences as a photographer on group tours), so we paid extra and upgraded to a private tour. Seeing some of the bigger boats with up to 12 people in them, I am grateful for the small four-seater boat with me, Roberto and Captain Dinio.

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We leave the hotel before dawn, and the sunrise is beautiful with the early morning mist hanging over the water! It is surprisingly cold this morning with the wind from the moving boat. I am glad I listened to Roberto and put a wind-proof jacket on!

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We are heading in a leisurely fashion towards an area where jaguars were spotted yesterday, stopping to photograph the birds and animals we see along the way.

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Bat Falcon

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Pied Lapwings making baby lapwings

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Black Skimmer

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Large Billed Tern

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Green Iguana

All the boat captains are in touch via radio, and we get word that some guests from the hotel have seen a family of five otters, so we decide to go there to check it out.

It seems to take forever to get there, as the captain is very courteous and slows right down every time we pass fishermen in their boats. I worry that the otters will be gone by the time we get there.

Giant River Otters
The otters are still around, eating fish. They are quite large (I guess there's a hint in the name), and they have viciously sharp teeth. You can easily hear the crunching of the fish bones as they eat.

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Other Wildlife

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Cocoi Heron

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White Winged Swallow

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Wood Stork

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Great Egret

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Neotropic Cormorants

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Black Crowned Night Heron

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Wattled Jacana

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Anhinga drying its wings

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Caiman

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Southern Screamer

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Brown Capuchin

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Crane Hawk

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Lesser Yellow Hooded Vulture

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Toco Toucan

A passing boat indicates to us that they have heard of a sighting, so "hold on to your hats, it is full speed ahead!" Sod the fishermen, this is business!

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Jaguar
The first hint that there is something of interest, is a boat jam!

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At first, I can't spot the cat, as she is doing her best to be camouflaged (very successfully) while she stalks an unsuspecting caiman through the long grass at the riverbank.

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Her camouflage skills are better than her hunting skills this morning, however, as she pounces with a menacing growl, the caiman gets away with a large splash at the last minute!

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The look of dejection on her face as the caiman gets away!

The jaguar walks along the bank. We follow.

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She stops. We stop.

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She turns around. We turn around. We lose sight of her for a while and thinking she might have wandered over to the other side of the peninsula, we check it out. Nope. We return to the original side just as she appears out of the undergrowth.

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Soon she gets fed up with sitting on a log and disappears into the undergrowth again.

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Our next spotting is one of her two sub-adult cubs in a tree further down the bank.

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The other one is hidden in the thicket behind the tree.

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Meanwhile, mum is keeping an eye on them from the riverbank.

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We're all getting roasted by the fierce sun while waiting for further action.

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Mum is fidgety and heads along the edge of the river towards where her babies are.

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She looks straight at us and heads for the water.

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There is a strict code of conduct for boat safaris in the Pantanal, and keeping at least 25 metres away from any big cats is one of them. When it looks like she is going to swim across the river, all the boat captains move to a respectable distance.

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As it turns out, she swims away from us along the bank and disappears into the jungle further along.

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It's time to head back for lunch. Last night Roberto suggested we start at 06:00 this morning, and be back at the hotel between 10:00 and 10:30. It is now 12:30, and lunch is served in half an hour. David must be wondering what on earth has happened to us!

When I get back to the hotel, I find David sitting outside the room. While he is up and about, he does not look well, with his right eye swollen and watering. He tells me he is feeling slightly better and we both go off for some lunch.

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Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 19:19 Archived in Brazil Tagged wildlife monkey iguana hawk brazil birding brasil toucan heron egret stork vulture anhinga jaguar kingfisher falcon capuchin cormorant pantanal bird_watching otter porto_jofre jacana swallow tern lapwing wildlife_photography undiscovered_destination skimmer river_otter giant_river_otter swollen_eye Comments (2)

Cuiabá - Porto Jofre

Entering the Pantanal


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

David is really suffering this morning with his sore throat, poor thing. After a decent breakfast and a leisurely start, we meet Roberto, our guide, and Ouzito. the driver, outside the hotel at 10 o'clock. They will be taking us by road to Pantanal today. I am excited. I am very excited. Pantanal has been on my wish list for the longest time, and having had this trip cancelled twice, I can't quite believe that I am here now, so very close.

The first part of the journey is on a sealed road with a relatively smooth surface. Alongside the road, we see fields where they grow soya beans or graze Brahma cows imported from India. The odd gold mine dots the landscape, and we see birds such as vultures and rhea, plus the odd capybara.

By the time we reach Poconé, the only town of any size in this region, I have diarrhea. Thankfully we are stopping here for lunch, in a BBQ restaurant known as a Churruascaria, and they have decent toilets.

After filling our plates with salads from a buffet, a waiter comes around with various BBQ meats that he carves off as much or as little as we want. Every few minutes he brings something different: various cuts of beef, chicken, pork, sausages etc.

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Transpantaneira
From Poconé it is a dirt road all the way, known as the Transpantaneira, a 150km journey through a range of landscapes - with drier grasslands in the north, while further south, closer to Porto Jofre, the landscape is wetter with more forest and swamp.

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The road is unpaved, rough, and pot-holed, connected by 122 bridges in varying states of disrepair. A few have been replaced with newer concrete constructions, while some still remain old, rickety, and nerve-wracking. I am sure glad it is not me who is driving.

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We drive slowly as we look out for birds and animals, stopping often when we see something worth photographing - safari Pantanal style.

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Savanna Hawk

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Candle Tree

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Red Legged Serima

Termite Mounds
During the dry season, the termites live under ground, but as soon as the rains start, they commence building their nests on top of the existing mound, thus increasing the height year by year. Some of the mounds we see are taller than a human.

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Red Brocket Deer

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Yellow Billed Cardinal

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American Wood Stork

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Lesser Yellow Hooded Vulture

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Plumbeous Ibis

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Cocoi Heron

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Rufous Hornero

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White Woodpecker

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Caiman

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Black Collared Hawk

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Great Kiskadee

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Sunbittern

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Green Iguana

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Yellow Anaconda

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Marsh Deer

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Finally half way - Bridge 61!

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Juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Jabiru, the symbol of Pantanal

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Black Crowned Night Heron

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Capped Heron

Roberto said the journey to Porto Jofre would take between three and four hours, depending on how many times we stop. We finally arrive at the end of the road and pull up at our hotel after 7½ hours.

Pousada Porto Jofre
Ouzito drives right up to our room. Roberto has arranged for our room to be in such a position that we have easy access to everything: the restaurant, the pool, the docks, the reception, and the car park with the least amount of walking. Good man. There is no check-in procedure, although our room does have our name on it.

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The room is fairly basic, but more than adequate, and the AC is good, which is a definite bonus.

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The hotel started life as a fishing camp on a farm, and when the owner realised that not just fishermen wanted to visit this area, it grew into the mixed-use resort it is today, with the focus split between fishing and jaguar safaris by boat.

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Capybara in the grounds

While exploring the hotel and its grounds, I identify a spot that I would like to use later for astrophotography – an elevated boardwalk with a lily pond that I can hopefully get the Milky Way to reflect in.

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Dinner

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The restaurant

At dinner we are one of the few smaller tables: there are several large groups, including an American party at a long table next to us. Suddenly there is quite a commotion, with scraping of chairs, screeching of guests, and everybody abruptly and quickly getting up and running around.

The reason soon becomes clear: a river otter has managed to get inside the restaurant, and now all the staff and guides are trying to catch it (while the guests are trying to get away from it). After finally managing to grab it and throwing it out, Roberto goes outside to make sure the otter isn't able to get back in again.

Waving his arms, Roberto comes running back in to the restaurant, shouting in excitement: “jaguar!” “jaguar”. We think he is winding us up, but apparently not. It appears the otter was chased into the building by the big cat, and when Roberto went out, it was just outside the restaurant.

By the time we get out there, he has moved further down onto the boardwalk, and all we can see in the darkness of night is the outline of the body and the torchlight reflecting in his eyes. What excitement!

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We reluctantly return to dinner. Tonight is a buffet, and while I am generally not keen on buffets, there is a very nice beef in a tasty sauce, and the strawberry cake is delicious.

Milky Way
Even though the jaguar sauntered off into the jungle earlier, we decide that maybe the boardwalk isn't the best place for astrophotography this evening. Roberto suggests going out onto the Transpantaneira where it will be darker than the hotel grounds, and I reckon I can use the road as a decent foreground. The gates are locked shut, however, so we settle for the lawns.

The problem is the trees have spotlights pointing at them. Roberto tries his best to point them away from my camera, and cover one with his hat, one with my bag, and David stands in front of the third light.

It works (with a little help from Photoshop later).

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Goodnight from Porto Jofre. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:34 Archived in Brazil Tagged dinner safari iguana hawk brazil brasil bbq deer buffet caiman heron stork ibis parakeet cardinal jaguar kingfisher pantanal anaconda cuiabá termite_mounds milky_way pocone porto_jofre termites undiscovered_destinations astrophotography kiskadee tranpantaneira churrascaria wooden_bridges serima Comments (4)

Iguaçu - São Paulo - Cuiabá

A day of travel


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

My sandals are still wet from the boat trip yesterday, so I have to put my closed-in shoes on for today's travel day. I have a very sore little toe from a bad corn, so my feet are not at all happy about this. Mind you, it's on the same side as my poorly knee, so I shall be walking very gingerly with that leg, anyway.

David is not feeling at all well today, with a severe sore throat, feeling nauseous and coughing. I fear it might be Covid, David thinks it is from the shock of the cold water yesterday, but Carini says it is just the change in climate, as 'everyone' gets a cough this time of year.

At São Paulo airport, Carini collects a wheelchair for me and pushes me to check in at the Priority desk. She gets us upgraded to Premium Economy too.

There is a group of locals standing next to where Carini leaves us to wait for someone to collect me, and I am intrigued what language they are speaking – it sounds more like Arabic than Portuguese. Eventually, one of the chaps comes over to chat with me and tells me that he is here with his mum who is going back to her birth country of Lebanon. I was right! His mum, too, is in a wheelchair, and he is concerned about her travelling on her own.

A lovely young man comes to pick me up – not a porter as is usual, but the airline employee who checked us in. He whisks me past the queue at security and straight to the gate.

The flight is uneventful, and we both manage to get some sleep as we have the upgraded seats, which are reserved for people with disabilities, those over 80, pregnant women, anyone with walking difficulties, unaccompanied minors travelling on their own, and anyone else who needs special assistance for physical or mental reasons. What great service!

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De-planing at São Paulo is so well organised, with everyone remaining calm and seated until called by the crew.

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Rows 1-3 first (the special assistance), then each row is called in turn. Why can't all airlines do the same?

A wheelchair is waiting for me at the door and takes me straight to the holding area. The last time we were here on the way into the country, the four-hour layover went really quickly, but then we had lots of walking, collecting baggage, navigating immigration and security, and checking in again. Now we just sit and wait. And wait, and time drags. We eat a sandwich and later an ice cream to make the time go quicker, and I do some people watching. There is one lady in the special assistance area who has two masks on, medical goggles, and a shield, plus the hood of her top tied tightly at the neck. She obviously doesn't want to take any risks. Most people here inside the airport wear masks, I do believe it is compulsory.

While we are waiting, a message comes through from British Airways, letting us know that the homeward flight has occurred some changes – we now land back at Terminal Five. Doh! After all that hassle changing the car parking to T3 before we left home. More problems to solve.

A young man comes to collect me, asking for someone called Gretch. This time I am listening out for it, as I now understand that is how they'd pronounce my name in Portuguese from the way it is spelled.

Having looked at our itinerary, I work out that the flight from São Paulo to Cuiabá is around one hour and 20 minutes. What I have not counted on though, is that Cuiabá is in a different time zone to São Paulo, one hour earlier – which means the flight is 2 hours 20 minutes in duration. Doh.

On landing at Cuiabá, I am last to disembark, as there is no wheelchair ready for me. Once he arrives, however, he is a big strong lad, and pushes me so quickly down the corridors leading from the plane, that David has trouble keeping up.

Outside the airport, our guide Saris is waiting for us and shows us to our transfer car. The drive to the hotel is around 20 minutes, down a nondescript side road, and in that time she gives us a lot of information about Brazil in general and Cuiabá in particular.

Hotel Prime Deville
The hotel is fairly large, very busy, and comes across as rather impersonal. We are given a pleasant modern room on the 11th floor, with views over the somewhat ramshackle suburb of Cuiabá, and the city proper in the distance.

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David is not at all feeling well, with his throat getting more and more sore by the hour, and he is still feeling sick. With my knee hurting too, we decide to forego dinner this evening. David doesn't want anything to eat at all, so I raid the mini bar for some snacks and drinks before we turn in for an early night.

Goodnight from Cuiabá. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:58 Archived in Brazil Tagged flight airport brazil brasil sao_paulo airline iguacu iguassu cuiabá undiscovered_destinations sore_throat hotel_prime_deville Comments (2)

Iguaçu - helicopter, glass lift and boat trip

Another busy day


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We are joined by the usual crew this morning at breakfast.

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David and his favourite member of staff: Melissa

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Plush Crested Jay

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Toco Toucan

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Planalto Hermit

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Saffron Finch

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A hungry Coati

Helicopter Flight
As soon as we meet up with our guide Carini, we head straight to the heliport, just outside the park gates.

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We have booked a private sightseeing flight over the falls, which means that there is only us and the pilot on board, and I can move around much more freely in the back seat.

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We can see the mist rising from the falls long before we see the falls themselves.

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Here you can clearly see the amazing position of our hotel

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Devil's Throat

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In the pictures below, you can see just how near we were to the edge of the falls yesterday!

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The pilot takes a couple of loops around the falls to give us both some great views, but the ten minutes is soon up and we are back at base again.

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I have hardly had time to breathe on the flight, I have been so busy taking photos, with two cameras, out of the windows on both sides. I would love to go around again without the cameras and just enjoy the scenery. I get out of the helicopter absolutely buzzing with the excitement and adrenalin of it all. Wow! What an experience that was!

Itaipu
Carini suggests we go on an optional excursion this morning, to see something different while we are here: Itaipu Dam. I remember it being pointed out to us when we were here last in 1990, but these days they offer guided tours of the hydroelectric plant, something David thought might be interesting.

We drive through the town of Iguaçu, very much a tourist place, with lots of hotels of every size and budget, and many restaurants. It looks like a laid-back and interesting place, but I would still rather stay inside the national park in the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.

We get to the power station, where we find the gates locked shut. A security guard explains that they have recently started closing it to tourists on a Tuesday, something Carini was not aware of. Oh well.

Lunch
Instead, we head for a large tourist restaurant at the head of the falls, driving past our hotel to the end of the road. This was definitely not here when we last visited!

In addition to the restaurant, there is a visitors centre and a large souvenir store, where David finds a pair of nice thin trousers, ideal for the jungle.

The restaurant is huge, with seating inside and out. We pay a fixed price on entry and find ourselves a table outside overlooking the river with the top of the falls in the distance.

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The food is an all-you-can-eat buffet and is quite pleasant, nothing more, nothing less.

Glass Lift
I remember walking down to this from the hotel when we last came and being amazed by the proximity to the falls and the little swallows nesting behind the falls, flying in and out of the spray.

From the road, there are stairs and a ramp leading down to the upper platform, from which you take a glass lift down to the lower viewing area. We walk straight into the lift, with no queue.

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There are further walkways to take, in order to get nearer the falls. Both David and I decline the offer.

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Selfies
Selfies are the bane of a photographer's life! While having the odd picture of myself or me and David while we travel is nice, I cannot see the desire to be in every single photo I take! It just seems so narcissistic to me. “Look at me! Look at me!” Can people no longer just purely enjoy the surroundings, or it is just for likes on Instagram?

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Mind you, it is infinitely better than before the selfie invention, when one person would stand near the edge and their companion on the other side of the path to take their photo so that no one could get past.

And here is our selfie!

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There is a long line of people waiting for the lift to go back up again, but Carini has a word with the operator, and not only do we jump the queue, we actually get a private lift to ourselves (the service lift).

Macuco Boat Trip
I am constantly impressed with the way Brazilians accommodate less able people. The transfer truck that takes us from the entrance to the funicular, is easily adapted to take a girl in a wheelchair and me on a ramp, while still being able to seat a number of able-bodied passengers. I have never felt that I am a nuisance, every single adaptation and modification has been carried out without hesitation and with a smile.

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The truck takes us to the top of a funicular, where there are lockers and changing rooms. There is a choice of “wet” or “dry” boats, and we decide to go for the dry boat so that I can take photos. At the last minute, however, we change our minds, leave everything except the waterproof cameras in the lockers, and go to get wet!

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Getting into the boat is down some very steep steps, from where you step across into the boat. I manage with a bit of help, and the staff effortlessly carry the paralysed girl and place her in a seat. There is no turning back now!

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The boat is extremely powerful and weaves from side to side, leaning right over to add to the adventure, negotiating the rapids with ease. It reminds me very much of the jetboat on the Shotover River in New Zealand.

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We stop to view the falls from a distance, and this is the point at which the “dry” boat would turn around. As a result of all the mist, the view is not great, so I am glad I didn't risk my cameras, as even the “dry” boat would have got us wet from the spray.

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From here it is full steam straight into the falls!


How can I describe it? It starts off as a gentle shower and you brace yourself for the downpour. It doesn't come. Just as you think that “this is actually quite bland, it hits you. Quite literally! Imagine a huge barrel full of icy-cold water dumped over your head without warning... that is what it feels like. To say it's a shock is an understatement!

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David looks shell-shocked!

Then they do it again. And a third time. By this time we are both shivering, and the wind as we speed back to the jetty does not help.

For sure it was an adventure, and I am glad I did it – would I do it again? Not on your Nelly!

At the jetty, I struggle to get out of the boat, as I haven't got the strength in my knees to step up onto the seat. It hurts like hell when I try. Panic and distress set in. Eventually, I manage to manoeuvre myself so that my bum is leaning on the back of the seat, and with David's help manage to lift one leg up, and then the other. By the time I have climbed the steep steps back up to the platform, my legs are shaking, and I haven't even got the strength in my knees to walk. I drag my feet on the floor, shuffling along like a zombie.

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Carini is worried about me, and as soon as we get back to the hotel, she asks for a wheelchair for me, as well as some ice to be delivered to the room. As he is pushing me up the incline in the hotel corridor, the porter comments “leg day yesterday, arm day today, no need for gym”.

Dinner
On Carini's suggestion, we order room service for our dinner this evening. This hotel can manage to make a salad and sandwich look like a five-star meal!

The waiter arrives with a large tray complete with condiments as well as a small bunch of flowers.

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My chicken Caesar salad

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David's tuna sandwiches

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Some fresh fruit to share for dessert

I see housekeeping has been having fun with my glasses again while we have been out, creating a little pouch for them from a face cloth. How sweet.

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Tonight we need to pack, as we are moving on to pastures new tomorrow. Why is there so much less room in my bag now than there was when I left home, even though I haven't bought anything?

Goodnight from Iguaçu for the last time. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls breakfast brazil lunch mist brasil jay jetty jetboat shock pain coati iguacu devils_throat pilot wheelchair iguassu hermit finch boat_trip hummingbird selfies itaipu hydroelectric helcipter helicopter_flight heliport glass_lift macuco macuco_boat_safari painful_knee room_service Comments (2)

Iguaçu - day trip to Argentina

A new day, a new country, a new viewpoint


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning at breakfast, we pick up an extra cookie, which we break up on our table hoping to attract some of the colourful birds. You could say “that's the way the cookie crumbles”. We don't have to wait long before the first visitor arrives.

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Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

We deliberately sit at the table nearest the one that staff use as a bird feeding station, despite the seats being outside the covered roof, thus damp from the spray of the falls overnight.

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Melissa comes along, puts some crumbs in her hand, and a jay almost immediately lands and stuffs its face while perched on her fingers. Apparently, only one bird will eat from the hands, and they have affectionately named it Philhelmina.

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David tries to do the same, holding his arm out at a right angle for so long it begins to hurt, but he only gets one very quick grab-and-go visit.

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While we wait for Carini to pick us up for today's excursion, we do some more bird watching out the front of the hotel.

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Black-fronted piping guan, colloquially known as Jungle Turkey. I can see why.

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Southern Lapwing

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Scaly headed parrot

We make a quick stop at another viewing platform on the Brazilian side of the falls before continuing.

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Unlike yesterday, which had a reasonably thick cloud cover all, day, today the sun is shining; creating beautiful rainbows over the falls.

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Since the start of the Covid Pandemic, the park is closed for cleaning every Monday, so the only people we see today are those who are staying in the Belmond Hotel.

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Argentina
From the viewing platform, we continue out of the park and the short distance to the Argentine border. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, and while Brazil has the best views for that very reason, there are some interesting boardwalks on the Argentine side, including one that goes right up to the edge of the most impressive of all the falls, The Devil's Throat.

But first, we have to get into the country.

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Getting out of Brazil is reasonably quick, but the official at the Argentine immigration claims that we should have filled in and printed out an online application before we arrived. Carini is confused about this, as she came through here last week with British tourists and was not asked for this paper then. “They can be so bureaucratic,” she says. We are sent to a 'special immigration office', but to get there we have to make a U-turn and join the original queue again. Carini is having none of that and opens up a new line by moving some bollards.

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Carini is gone for ages, and we can see the official typing away on his keyboard, completing the online forms for us, and we are each issued with a number, which we then take back to the original immigration booth for them to access our online form.

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The official studies us intently (David and I have been in the car all this time, letting Carini sort out all the paperwork – that is one of the many reasons we like to have a guide!), before declaring that David's date of birth has been typed in wrong. Sigh.

Being sent back to the 'special immigration office', Carini is at her wit's end, and states that she is prepared to use tears to get what she wants. David and I both burst into song: “Don't cry for me Argentina...”

After one hour and lots of frustration, we are finally in!

The last time we came to the Argentine side of the falls, some 32 years ago, we parked up at the then Sheraton Hotel (now the Grand Meliá) and walked down from there. These days it is very commercialised, very modern, very well organised.

The entrance is huge and the distances great, so Carini arranges a buggy to take me to the train station. Despite there being plenty of room in the buggy, Carini, as a local guide, is not allowed to travel with us, but has to walk.

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Train tickets are timed, and at the station, there is a large waiting area with a souvenir shop and cafeteria.

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The announcer is a perfect character for the job, and obviously very funny, as he creates a lot of laughter. It's a shame I can't understand what he is saying. He comes over to me and explains that despite having tickets for the following train, he will not only get me on the next one, but ushers me onto the platform to ensure I get to board first!

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At least Carini is allowed to travel with us on the train!

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The train makes one stop at the start of the falls, before continuing to the end station and the trail leading to The Devil's Throat.

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On the map below, you can see the route from the car park, through the Visitors Centre and Entrance, then the train track down to the station at the end.

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Last time we only walked the yellow trail along the top of the different cataracts nearest the hotel, so this is an all-new experience for us.

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David and I make a slow start on the boardwalk, while Carini goes off to get a wheelchair for me.

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The trail is around a mile in each direction, so theoretically I should be able to do it under my own steam. I don't want to completely ruin my already painful knee at this early stage of the trip, however, so the wheelchair is very welcome when it arrives.

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Along the way, we cross little islands while turtles and birds rest on rocks jutting out of the river.

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Arriving at the end of the boardwalk, there are many people and a kind of one-way roundabout system to relieve congestion. It works very well.

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From a distance, the cascade looks impressive, but that is nothing to how overwhelming the view is once you are literally on the precipice of the falls.

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Devil's Throat
The horse-shoe-shaped cataract gets its name from an old legend in which an indigenous chief's daughter, named Naipi, was considered so beautiful that she was able to stop the waters of the Iguaçu River. Learning that her father had offered her to the god M'Boy, she escapes across the river in a canoe with her young warrior lover called Tarobá. M'boy was furious, and in retaliation, opened up a huge chasm in the river, turned Naipi into a rock, and Tarobá into a palm tree at the edge of a nearby abyss. It is said that M'boy stands at this spot to guard over the two young lovers to this day.

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Devils Throat is made up of 14 separate powerful waterfalls and at 82 metres, has the highest drop of any of the cataracts in the entire waterfall system; and is also the most photographed.

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The sheer power of the water tumbling over the edge of the river is mind-blowing, and the spray gets everywhere, as you can see from the video below.


I am forever cleaning my lens!

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The image below, taken from a helicopter, shows just how close to the edge of the waterfall that viewing platform is!

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The whole experience is totally breathtaking, and I am so mesmerised by the fast-moving water that I don't want to leave!

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The time has come to return to Brazil, however, and we head back to the train station, where there are as many coati as there are passengers.

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I rename the station Coati Central.

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One of them manages to get into the pushchair storage area of the train, making a passenger in our compartment completely freak out.

The same lovely buggy driver takes us back to the entrance area where we grab a quick burger before returning to the border.

Getting out of Argentina is way easier than getting in! The officials on the Brazilian side want to see our Covid Vaccination certificates – we do have hard copies but didn't think to take them with us today. Doh! We can show digital versions on our phones though, which is good enough for the officers. While David goes with Carini to the office, I stay in the car. They come back for me to find my document on my phone, but by the time they get back to the office with my phone, the screen has blanked and the image 'disappeared'. Thankfully David is able to find it again after some searching.

Insect bites
Both David and I seem to have suffered quite a few insect bites since we've been here at Iguaçu.

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With David, it is his legs that have been attacked, for me, it is my arms.

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The Belmond Tower
I politely decline when David suggests he wants to climb the tower at the hotel, which offers great views over the grounds and the falls beyond. I give him my camera with a fish-eye lens attached and send him on his way.

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David gets creative while photographing the staircase, and I apply a creative edit

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Sunset
As we are getting ready for dinner, we notice that there is a beautiful sunset this evening.

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Dinner
Forgetting that Brazilians eat their evening meal much later than we do in the UK, we arrive at the restaurant at 19:00, only to be told that the à la carte dinner is not served until 19:30. We are offered some nachos while we wait.

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Tonight's waitress Ana, is delightful, and we have many laughs. She later comes back to apologise for a joke she told about 'musical condoms', which she feared may have been inappropriate. She obviously does not know our sense of humour.

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We order a small pepperoni pizza each, which, when it comes, really is small.

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At least it means that we have room for dessert.

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David's lemon pie

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My meringue with berries - I love the design of the plate!

Ana persuades us to try a glass of dessert wine – she suggests two different ones, so we try one each and swap.

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With coffee and liqueurs to follow (Baileys and Cointreau), we are not surprised when the bill for the evening comes to around £200.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds sunset tower waterfall dinner rainbow argentina brazil birding pizza iguazu jay south_america cascade helicopter turtle dessert bureaucracy anhinga boardwalk coati immigration iguacu devils_throat wheelchair guan finch spray baileys devil's_throat cataracts fish_eye undiscovered_destinations nachos belmond lapwing insect_bites belmond_hotel_das_cataratas feeding_the-birds lemon_pie meringue cointreau ecological_train torn_ligament lens_cleaning fish_eye_lens dessert_wine Comments (2)

Iguaçu - Parque das Aves, and the falls from the hotel

A taste of things to come


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night's sleep, we wander down to the pool area for breakfast in Restaurant Ipé. The pool looks quite inviting, as the pool boy removes the POOL CLOSED sign, turns all the mattresses down, opens up the parasols, and turns on a coule of fountains.

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At the restaurant, Melissa (the maître d' from yesterday lunchtime) greets us: “Good morning Mrs Howard, did you sleep well?”

The buffet is massive, with 20 different breads, cold meats, cheeses, cereals, and a counter where chefs to cook items to your liking.

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At Melissa's suggestion, we order a tapioca pancake – a first for us. It is quite pleasant, and nowhere near as dry as it looks.

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We are joined outside on the terrace by some gorgeous colourful birds.

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Green Headed Tanager

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Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

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Greater Kiskadee

Parque das Aves
This bird park came recommended, not just by Trip Advisor writers, but also the hotel staff. Set within the 40 acres of sub-tropical rain forest, the park provides shelter for around a thousand birds (150 species) from all over South America. The privately owned park focuses on reversing the conservation crisis that these birds and the Atlantic Rainforest are experiencing.

Our first impression is not the best: being Sunday, the entrance is heaving with groups and families on a day out. It seems they have lost our reservation, so we face a long wait just to get in.

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To be fair, as a result of the sprawling grounds, it does not feel all that crowded once we get inside.

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Some of the birds are within reasonably-sized cages, but there are also some enormous walk-through aviaries where the birds fly freely all around you.

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Scarlet Ibis

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King Vulture

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Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

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Black Fronted Piping Guan

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Buff Necked Ibis

This area used to hold flamingos until a couple of months ago when a jaguar managed to get into the enclosure. I remember reading about it in the news at the time.

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As well as birds, the park is home to reptiles, turtles, snakes, and butterflies.

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Black Bellied Sliders

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Broad Snouted Caiman

At the halfway mark is a nice little café where we sit down to rest my weary knee. David has been carrying a foldable stool for me, although there have been plenty of benches around too. While we are drinking our cool orange juices, David notices that his shoes are coming apart.

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The large enclosure housing parrots and macaws, is definitely my favourite part of the park. I desperately try – totally unsuccessfully – to capture these brightly coloured birds in flight as they whizz past me with their wings-tips almost touching my face.

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Red and Green Macaw

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Chestnut Fronted Macaw

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Jandaya Parakeet

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Blue and Yellow Macaw

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Blue Winged Macaw

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An unidentified bird in the park

By the time we reach the exit, David is completely sole-less on one foot, so we stop in the gift shop at the national park entrance. Carini arranges a Personal Shopper for him, and he comes out, not only with a new pair of walking shoes but also with a long-sleeved top for the jungle.

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David wearing his new shoes and carrying his heavy (?) shopping bags.

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New shoes

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Getting ready to keep the insects at bay in the jungle with a long-sleeved top

Lunch
We head back to the hotel for lunch by the pool. We don't want a proper meal as such, just a little snack, so we order from the pool menu: fried potatoes with a tasty dip and Brazilian pastels (savoury pastry squares) to share.

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Notice how my bag has yet again got its own chair?

The potatoes and dip are so good we order another portion.

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Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving on the hill behind the patio: coatis. Lots of them running down towards the pool.

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They seem to be attracted by a particular bush, or rather the yellow fruits dropped on the ground underneath the bush.

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Its flexible, pointed, pig-like snout, used for sniffing out food under leaf litter and in crevices, has earned it the nickname “hog-nosed raccoon.”

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Meanwhile, up by our table, hummingbirds flit in and out of the climbing flower, so fast, and severely backlit, that I really struggle to be able to capture them with my camera. With a fair amount of help from Photoshop and Topaz later, I manage a semi-decent picture of the Panalto Hermit.

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We take a bag of ice back to the room with us for my poorly knee.

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Unfortunately, it doesn't remain on my knee for very long, after a few minutes, an ice cube landslide occurs, and they all end up on the floor.

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Iguaçu Falls
After resting my knee for a while, we wander down to the falls. That's the beauty of staying in the Belmond Hotel, you can visit the falls any time of day or night. When we arrived back from the bird park earlier, there were dozens of people at the viewing platform, now there are only a handful. I find a lonely abandoned chair and sit myself down, put up my tripod, and spend the next couple of hours photographing and watching this magnificent spectacle.

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Iguaçu Falls (spelled Iguazu in Spanish) is a series of 275 cataracts on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and together they become the biggest waterfall in the world. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, but the best views are from Brazil.

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On both sides of the border, a number of different walkways lead out to vantage points where you can get incredibly close to the cascades (often getting very wet in the process)!

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Queueing up for selfies

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing these falls: "Poor Niagara! This makes Niagara look like a kitchen faucet."

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Photographs cannot do this natural wonder justice, in fact, not even a video can convey that feeling of power and magnitude!


By the time the light fades and I decide I have enough photos of the waterfalls to last me a lifetime – or at least until tomorrow – there is only me left at the falls. I go back to the room for a shower and get changed for dinner.

Dinner
I start with a Caipirinha, naturally, when in Brazil and all that! We order a bread basket while we wait. The selection of five different types of bread comes with a trio of dips: spiced butter, whipped cream cheese, and a red wine reduction. It is so good!

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The waiter then brings some thin flatbread with garlic and Parmesan cheese.

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For mains we both choose filet mignon on a bed of Gorgonzola ravioli. The waiter asks if we want side vegetables, but having gorged ourselves on bread, we decide not to. Just as well, as the portion is enormous: one fillet would have been plenty. I struggle to finish it, but it is so superb that I battle on until the end.

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David still has room for dessert, whereas I settle for another drink instead.

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Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

When we return to the room, housekeeping has yet again been in for turndown service, and in addition to a chocolate on the pillow, they have given each of the items I left on the little table each own face cloth to rest on. How sweet.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 20:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls birds wildlife shopping ice breakfast dinner parrots argentina lunch birding brasil iguazu jay south_america caiman tanager ibis coati iguacu iguassu finch bird_watching hummingbird macaws parque_das_aves bird_park undiscovered_destinations parakeets tapioca_pancake kiskadee sliders broken_shoes new_shoes elanor_roosevelt filet_mignon turnback_servce Comments (6)

São Paulo - Iguaçu

Stage two of the journey to Brazil


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I managed to get some sleep, despite the seat adjustment buttons having a mind of their own, and either not working when I pressed them or continuing to recline when I took my finger off them. When I mention it to the steward this morning, he is quite surprised, as apparently it is a new plane.

Breakfast
The scrambled eggs with pork sausage, mushrooms, and tomato were surprisingly good.

São Paulo Airport
I really should have pre-requested assistance here at Sãp Paulo, as the walk is incredibly long – David estimates almost two miles. We have to clear immigration, collect our luggage, go through customs and walk to the domestic terminal. An official lets me cut in the line for immigration, and I do so myself for customs.

There is a long queue for check-in at the domestic terminal, but a kindly lady sends me to the Special Assistance counter. The young guy there speaks no English and my Portuguese is no better, but we get by using Google Translate.

Opposite the check-in counter is the wheelchair hub, and someone took me straight to a dedicated Special Assistance holding area. As we wait for a porter to collect us when the flight is ready to board, I receive an email from British Airways about our missing bag. Missing bag? What missing bag? We have just collected both bags and checked them in again. I decide to ignore the email.

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São Paulo – Iguaçu flight
The GOL flight is full and I am right at the back of the plane. The steward who helps me cannot understand why they didn't give me a seat at the front of the plane, where there are dedicated seats for the disabled. There is a screaming child two rows in front of me, plus his spoilt brat brother who jumps up and down in the seat throughout the entire flight, including for landing.

As soon as we land in Iguaçu, I attempt to stand up as my knees are hurting, and cannot understand why everyone remains seated. It later transpires that Brazilian flights disembark by row, and only when invited to do so by the crew. How very civilised!

A wheelchair is waiting for me, whisking me straight through in front of everyone else, right to the place where Carini, our local guide, is waiting for us.

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Iguaçu
Our hotel is inside the national park, so we stop at the entrance gate to pay for the park fees. A few hundred yards later is another gate – the first check-in for the hotel. Carini's company is one of very few agencies that are allowed to drive right up to the hotel; everyone else must stop at this post, park their car here and take the hotel shuttle the rest of the way. I am very grateful we don't have to deal with that hassle.

We first visited Iguaçu back in 1990 as part of a big South America trip, and totally fell in love with this place; so much so, that it has remained my all-time favourite spot ever since.

At the time I wrote in my journal:

“Around each corner is a new spectacle, each better than the previous, it is all so magnificent.... It is so overwhelming standing here at the edge of such a mighty waterfall that I am in tears at so much natural beauty. It is all too much for me.”

I do wonder if reality will live up to my memory and expectations 32 years later, with some two hundred more trips abroad and almost one hundred more countries visited since then.

I needn't have worried. As soon as we get the first glimpse of the magnificent falls from the road, my eyes well up, and again I feel extremely emotional.

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Belmond Hotel das Cataratas
This is the only hotel inside the Iguaçu National Park, and classes itself as five star luxury. Way back in 1990 when we last visited Brazil, we did not find it all that luxurious, with a fairly scruffy room where the AC did not work, and disinterested staff.

This time it is very different.

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As soon as we pull up outside the beautiful pink façade, a small army of porters arrive. One of them leads us to the reception while the rest take our luggage out of the car. Gabriel, the receptionist, hands us a welcome drink and a small traditional coconut sweet, and asks if I would prefer a bath or a walk-in shower. Most definitely the latter, as I struggle to get in and out of a bathtub with this poorly knee. He apologises that the room is not quite ready yet (not surprising as it is not even midday at this stage), so he walks us onto the lawn next to the pool, carrying our hand luggage, where he introduces us to Melissa “who will look after you while you wait for your room to be ready”. Melissa leads us to a table, and insists on finding a chair for my camera bag. “We are a five-star hotel, we will not let you put your bag on the ground” she maintains.

Lunch
Today the hotel are hosting a BBQ on the lawns, where all food and drinks are included in the one price. I have no idea how much that 'one price' is, as the saying goes: “if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it”. This is a popular event for the local 'In Crowd', and it is easy to see who has just arrived for the BBQ to see and be seen (dressed to the nines), versus those who are staying in the hotel.

We are assigned a waiter, called Claudiana. He explains that he was named partly after his mother, who was called Ariana, and he hates his name but loves his mother, so he puts up with it. He is very sweet, and ensures we have everything we can possibly want, and more. Each table has a small bottle of hand sanitiser as well as a natural insect repellent.

I start with a classic Caipirinha, Brazil's national drink made with cachaça, sugar, and lime. Cachaça is a bit of an institution here in Brazil, and is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice.

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I have another couple, just to make sure I like them.

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There is an impressive buffet with salads and side dishes, and two large tables with meats carved on demand.

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I am intrigued by the grilled banana to go with the meat, and as I am rather partial to fruit with savoury dishes, I find it most enjoyable. The cracking is probably the best I have ever had!

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David picks up a potato stuffed with cheese, which he claims is delicious.

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The dessert buffet looks extraordinarily temping, and I feel obliged to try one of each dish!

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Oh yes!!!!

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David is not quite so greedy.

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There is a live group entertaining us, playing some very nice music, but a little too loud for me, as we struggle to hold a normal conversation at the table.

We go back to Gabriel on reception, who confirms that our room is now indeed ready for us, and that he has not only upgraded us to a deluxe room, but in fact a deluxe room with a view of the falls! Sounds good!

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The view from the room

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David in our room waving at me when I am down at the falls

The room is unremarkable, while the bathroom has pretty tiles and a built-in seat in the shower, which is rather nice.

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We take a much-needed nap, followed by a refreshing shower. Neither of us feels particularly hungry after the massive BBQ lunch, so we just go down to the bar for drinks and snacks.

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Cold cuts and cheeses to share

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Panga cocktail: Cachaça M'Boy, Cointreau, Sicilian lemon juice, basil, and raspberry syrup.

When we return to the room, housekeeping have been, leaving a mat on the floor beside the bed and a chocolate on the pillow. I do like some old-fashioned turn-back service.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu.

Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged park hotel flight airport breakfast waterfall national bar brazil brasil bbq aircraft south_america sao_paulo dessert disabled iguacu wheelchair cocktail luxury_travel gol live_music caipirinha hotel_room housekeeping british_airways business_class cachaca insect_repellent check-in belmond dessert_buffet turnback_service luxury_hotel ba_club_world disabled_traveller club_world gol_airlines hotel_das_cataratas belmond_hotel_das_cataratas five_star_hotel lunch_on_the_lawn hand_sanitiser grilled_banana room_upgrade cold_cuts Comments (3)

Bristol - Heathrow - BA Club Class Flight

Brazil here we come! After two cancellations, our much-anticipated Brazil adventure is finally here.


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Pre-word

2020
To cut a long story short, back in early 2020, we booked a trip to Brazil in September that year, to replace a much more complicated multi-country tour of South East Asia, which was deemed too complicated to pull off during the Pandemic. Of course, Covid didn't disappear as hoped, so the Brazil trip was cancelled.

In 2021, Brazil was closed to foreign visitors as a result of the pandemic, so again the trip was cancelled – or rather postponed.

This year (2022), with vaccines and boosters in place, things seemed so much more positive, so we re-resuscitated the plans to visit Brazil. Follow along with us to see how this panned out.

April 2022
So far so good. The only snag is that we need to show negative Covid tests on entry to Brazil. That shouldn't be too much of a problem.

May 2022
The negative test requirement has now been lifted, so that is one less thing to worry about.

We do, however, have to show our proof of vaccination. British Airways suggest that we use an app called Verifly, where we can upload our certificates and it should link directly to the BA site. I love it! So easy! I do, however, pack a paper copy, just in case.

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June 11th 2022
Checking the British Airways website, it transpires that our flight leaves from Terminal Three, not Terminal Five as stated on our tickets.

No problem, we'll just amend our parking arrangements. Purple Parking claim that it is a busy period, and they need extra payment to move it to T3. £180. That is not so much of a problem, the original cost was £163. No, they want an EXTRA £180, in ADDITION TO the amount already paid. Sod that!

We look at our options. We could continue to park at T5 and take the 20-minute underground train from T5 to T3, although that doesn't seem like much fun when we have tried to minimise hassle by booking the 'meet and greet' service.

Looking around online, we find some alternative arrangements, using a company called Airside Meet and Greet. And they are cheaper than the original company, at £146

Shame on you Purple Parking! We have used them a number of times previously, and have mostly received good service. To their credit, they did refund the T5 parking.

Checking out the review for Airside Meet and Greet on Trust Pilot (AFTER booking, not the wisest move, but we were so excited to find something at a good price) we discover a host of bad reviews. Oh dear. Oh well, time will tell.

24th June 2022 Bristol - Heathrow

During our trip to Scotland last month, I injured myself while trekking through the forest at midnight on my way back from a pine marten hide, tearing a ligament in my left knee, and damaging the ligament in the other too. This has resulted in me struggling to walk – or rather hobble – using a stick for support.

Heathrow
We look for wheelchair assistance on the long walk from the car park to the correct area at the airport, but find nothing. The lady at the Special Assistance Check In Desk, tries to phone for wheelchair assistance, but no-one answers the phone. She keeps trying periodically as she checks us in.

After much typing and frowning, she tells me that my Norwegian passport has flagged up the need for a visa to visit Brazil. Groan. Having checked the Brazilian Embassy website earlier this morning, I know this to be untrue. Eventually, and reluctantly, she takes my word for it and checks us in.

After one last attempt at contacting the wheelchair special assistance counter, she suggests we walk to the desk upstairs. It's another long walk and my knee is really struggling now. The queue at the desk snakes around the corner and down the wall, so we decide to head for the Fast Track security line.

Another long queue. After 45 minutes (if that is FAST track, I dread to think what the regular security queue is like!), we finally reach the conveyor belts. The American girl in front of me has been so busy chatting, that she hasn't even put her liquids in a clear plastic bag at this stage, and holds up the queue as she scrambles through her hand luggage to find various bottles and potions to go in the one bag provided. Groan. Has the pandemic caused people to completely forget airport etiquette?

We head for the Special Assistance counter, where there is another long queue, of course. They suggest I walk up to the BA Lounge. Another long walk. I work out that I have probably walked the best part of a mile by now, and doesn't my knee know it!

The girl on the desk at the lounge sorts out a wheelchair to be delivered for me. Finally!

BA Club Class Lounge
Not having been abroad for the last two years (something that has not happened since we married in 1977), we decided to treat ourselves to Business Class on the transatlantic flights, which means we have the use of BA's Club Lounge at Heathrow.

My first impression is a little disappointing, with the dining area resembling more of a school canteen than a VIP lounge. We have some snacks and a couple of drinks while waiting for the wheelchair to turn up.

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Special Assistance
Finally, a very nice young man arrives with a wheelchair for me and pushes me to a waiting buggy which takes me to the gate, where I am left to find my own way down to the plane.

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In the buggy

Thankfully I am able to bypass the long queue at the gate for priority boarding.

British Airways Club World
The arrival on board the plane makes up for the lack of service at the airport: they couldn't be more welcoming and service-minded as I am shown to my seat and my luggage stowed for me.

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The seats are nice and wide, very comfortable and the way they are positioned, offer great privacy.

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From the BA website

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As soon as we are seated, we are offered a glass of champagne.

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Apart from when eating and drinking, masks are compulsory on board the plane; it is dependent on the rules at the destination, and Brazil still has a mask mandate on flights.

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As soon as we are airborne, the steward approaches me and asks: “Mrs Howard, would you like a drink from the bar this evening?” What a difference from the service in economy – I could get used to this!

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Bacardi and Coke served in proper cut glass, with complimentary nuts

It is so nice to be able to remove the mask to drink, that I have another Bacardi and Coke for that very reason! We have become quite used to being mask-free in the UK, and I feel rather claustrophobic wearing one.

Dinner
Once again the steward arrives asking what I would like to order for dinner. It's a difficult choice, with the options being Braised beef cheeks, sweetcorn gnocchi and vegetables, or chicken, leek, and mushroom pie. I opt for the pie.

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Starter of roasted cauliflower with red pepper dip and chimmichurri. The dish is very tasty, but I do not like my food icy cold straight out of the fridge, which this is.

The pie is absolutely delicious (David tells me the beef cheeks were wonderful too), and the trio of different breads baked together makes a great accompaniment (despite the rock-hard butter). Chocolate mousse and a cheese board containing Mature Cheddar, Red Leicester, and a fig relish complete the meal. I love the way the food is brought to you on individual trays complete with white cloth and proper metal cutlery.

The lights are dimmed and we settle down to sleep. While obviously not as good as a proper bed, the flat-bed seats sure beat the (non) comfort of economy class.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:41 Archived in Brazil Tagged flight heathrow wheelchair business_class special_assistance ba_club_world clubworld turn_left storn_ligament Comments (2)

Isle of May & Bass Rock

Well worth the hassle to finally get here!


View Scotland & Lake District 2021 on Grete Howard's travel map.

These is a long story behind my gannet workshop to Bass Rock off the Scottish east coast, starting with one of our very first  first motorhome trips; during which we got as far as Sheffield before the van broke down. Instead of going to Scotland, we travelled back home on a recovery trailer. 

On the second attempt we managed to get the motorhome as far as Seahouses, only to be told the workshop was cancelled because of bad weather. 

The following year (2020), a photographer friend from the USA, Freddy, was planning to come over to visit us with his wife, so I booked TWO places for the gannet diving workshop. Of course Freddy never did come over, and the workshop was called off because of the Covid 19 pandemic.

After rebooking the workshop (again) this year (2021) for myself and Freddy, it becomes clear that visitors from the US are still not allowed to enter the UK, so our friend Paul from Scotland agrees to take over Freddy's place on the boat trip. A couple of weeks before the trip, Paul had a stroke so sadly will not be coming with me out on the boat (post note: Paul is recovering well). I suggest David takes his place instead, even if he is not really interested in photography.

Unfortunately the fishing boat we are supposed to be going out on, does not manage to get its certificate allowing it to carry passengers in time, so the workshop is yet again cancelled. I am now beginning to think we are jinxed.

Spending some time on the internet looking for a replacement boat trip, I come across BlueWild and arrange for them to take me - and David - out on a privately chartered trip to Isle of May and Bass Rock. 

The day before we are due to go out, their boat breaks down, so our trip is yet again cancelled (are the gods trying to tell us something?). Thankfully, they are able to get the repairs done in a day, and re-schedule us for a couple of days later.

On the sixth attempt, we finally manage to get out on a boat! All I will say at this point, is that it is so worth the wait!

This is the boat that will take us out, with skipper Alan, and crew Philip. It really does make a huge difference to have the boat to ourselves - we have given up group tours some time ago, as we prefer the flexibility of being just the two of us, so this is perfect from that point of view. Alan does everything he can to make sure we see what we want to see, and that I get the shots I want.

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After a quick, but thorough safety briefing, we leave Dunbar Harbour and head straight across the Firth of Forth shipping channel to Isle of May.

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Dunbar Harbour

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BlueWild is one of the few companies that have a licence to land on Isle of May, and we are offered the opportunity to so so should we wish. As my main purpose of this trip is to see the gannets at Bass Rock, we decide to forego the landing on this occasion.

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Isle of May

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There seem to be plenty of people on the island on well defined paths

Until I spoke to Alan on the phone about this trip a few days ago, I had no idea that puffins make their home on the island. Alan explains that sometimes you see whole rafts of them on the surface of the water, but so far this year there have only be a few around.

The first birds we see, however, are kittiwakes - there is a colony of them roosting at the entrance to Dunbar harbour.

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I get very excited when I see a small flock of gannets flying low over the water. Alan assures me that I will see plenty more later on. That has to be the understatement of the year!

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I still get a bit carried away taking photos of them.

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Alan does warn us that we are likely to get 'blessed' at some stage during this trip - he is right!

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Being a great fan of puffins, I am delighted to just spot one single one.

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They are so comical the way they run across the water when they take off!

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We soon start seeing more and more of them floating in rafts too. Alan shuts the engine to an idle as we drift through them. Some take fright and fly off as soon as they spot us, others totally ignore us, and let us float right on by.

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The experience of just sliding past a whole raft of puffins, is truly magical!

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I get some really good close-up photos too!

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Photography is challenging to say the very least. The birds are bobbing up and down on the swell, and so is the boat, but seemingly to a different rhythm. I manage focus on the puffin, but the next minute all I can see in the viewfinder is sky, followed by the bird being being 'swallowed up' by the waves.

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My hit rate is appalling!

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The area also has a great number of guillemots, and they remind me so much of penguins when they take off, the way they skim across the surface on their bellies, much like the stones we threw as kids!

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Except, of course, penguins never do take off, unlike guillemots!

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Guillemots create rafts too!

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We continue to the craggy shores of Isle of May.

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Steep cliffs and basalt pillars greet us, with thousands of guillemots crowding into every available space.

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In many places, the rocks are white with guano.

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This would make an amazing jigsaw. For someone you don't like.

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As we make make our way around the island, the odd puffin appears on shore too.

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A couple of seals bask on the rocks, and a few heads pop out of the water to see what is going on.

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The Isle of May is home to an incredible array of wildlife, with up to 200,000 seabirds nesting here.

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Kittiwakes

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Razorbill

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Shag

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Cormorants and Herring Gulls

The steep cliffs hide beguiling grottos, with tales of smugglers and pirates.

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In a secluded bay stands the solitary rock pillar, known as 'The Bishop'.

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From Isle of May we make our way to Bass Rock, the home of 150,000 gannets. From a distance the flying gannets look like a swarm of mosquitoes around a light – they seem to be completely surrounding the rock.

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We can hear them long before we can make out each bird clearly: the racket is quite simply unbelievable! As we get nearer we can clearly see that the white dots on the top of the rock are in fact birds on nests. Wow!

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These large, striking-looking birds are everywhere: on the rocks, on the water and in the air.

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Launching themselves off the rock, they hang on the thermals before diving into the depths of the sea to gather seaweed for their nest building.

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The dots you see are not water droplets on my camera lens, they are in fact other flying birds!

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I spend the rest of my time at sea shooting anything that moves. Only with my camera, of course. Here are a few of my favourite shots:

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Can you believe that each one of those dots is in fact a gannet!

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One of my favourite moments of the trip is just sitting in the boat, gazing up at thousands of gannets effortlessly hovering overhead.

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One of my main photography aims of this excursion, is to capture a flying gannet with nesting materials in its beak. I take literally thousands of photographs to try and get a good one. As I said earlier, the extremely difficult conditions means my hit rate is dreadful! I do have some success, however.

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Another Surprise appearance – an Eider Duck

We finally have to say goodbye to Bass Rock and return to shore. I glance back and sigh with contentment, delighted that I finally managed to see and experience this wildlife extravaganza.

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The circling gannets appear to be following us for a while, although I am pretty sure they are more interested in what is under the water than they are in us.

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On our way back to Dunbar Harbour, Alan points out the ruins of the 14th century Tantallon Castle.

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By the time we get back to solid land, I am soaked to the skin, slightly sunburnt, very cold, and covered in white spots from bird dropping; but I feel like I am floating on air with blissful excitement at what I have just witnessed. In all our travels I have never seen or experienced anything like it!

Posted by Grete Howard 11:18 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds cliffs scotland boat wildlife wild pirates seal seaweed gannets puffins cormorant smugglers boat_trip birds_nest bird_watching guano shag wildlife_photography flying_birds isle_of_may firth_of_forth dunbar dunbar_harbour guillemots bass_rock bluewild blue_wild eider kittiwake razorbill herring_gull smuggler_cove tantallon tantallon_castle Comments (2)

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