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Amazon Day One - chasing swallows and otters mating

Such a privilege


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

The room finally cooled enough for me to put the covers on at 01:00. The alarm is set for 05:00, but I am awake from 03:00 anyway.

Boat Safari
Like Araras, the activities here at Cristalino revolve mostly around trekking, but because of my bad knee, Gui has arranged boat safaris instead.

It is still dark when we go out at 07:00, so not good for photography.

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Amazon Kingfisher

The sun soon comes up, though, giving me more light to work with.

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Green Kingfisher

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Great Black Hawk

The guests that are staying here at Cristalino Lodge are mostly a combination of families looking for adventure, and avid bird watchers. Not sure where we fit into that.

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Long Nosed Bats
With clever camouflage, these bats attach themselves to the bark of a tree, hiding from the Bat Falcon.

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This caiman is also very well camouflaged amongst the logs and rocks in the river.

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Sunbittern

White Winged Swallow
I spend ages trying to make this little chap fly, but he is not very cooperative, and when he finally does take off, I am not ready with my camera.

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I follow him to his next perch.

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After hanging around for ages, I yet again miss him taking off. I give up for now.

Until I see a couple of a rock, that is!

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Green Ibis

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White Banded Swallow

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Swallow Winged Puffbird

We are now at the beginning of the dry season here in the Southern Amazon, so the level of the river is slowly going down. You can see just how much lower the water is already.

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These rocks are completely submerged in the rainy season.

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It certainly makes for challenging navigation and heightens my admiration for our skilled captain.

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Spectacled Caiman

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Anhinga

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Scarlet Macaws

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Capped Heron

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Plumbeous Kite

We spend most of our time motoring gently along the shady side of the river. David and I agree how incredibly privileged we are to be here, doing this.

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle

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Green Ibis

A dragonfly lands on the boat, and I try – not altogether successfully – to capture it before it flies off.

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Neotropic River Otters
We see a couple of otters mating.

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It looks like this one is in the throes of passion.

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Rapids
Where the water level has gone down, and rocks have become exposed, a number of rapids have developed.

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Look at how that water glistens in the sun!

The moving water attracts birds and is fun to navigate – for us. Again I admire the captain and his experience and knowledge as he steers us safely up the river.


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Capped Heron

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Southern Rough Winged Swallow

Back to Cristalino Lodge
We return to the lodge mid-morning, where Gui has arranged for me to have a ride back to the room in the electric luggage buggy in order to save my knee. I sit on the flatbed at the back, while David joins the driver in the front.

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We chill in the room and later on the patio before lunch

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An unusual rocking chair


Lunch
This oppressive 38 °C heat is making me feel lethargic, and I struggle to muster up the energy to walk to the restaurant for lunch.

Cristalino Cream of Tartar: with tomatoes, red onions and green herbal oil, plantains, Dijon mustard, capers, and ginger. Served with banana chips.

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Very refreshing, quite sweet, tastes predominately of banana

Regional spaghetti dish with cured beef, tomatoes, and orange sauce

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Very nice

Banana Crumble
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Yum! Must try this at home!

We opt out of taking an excursion this afternoon due to the heat, my knee, and David's sore throat; instead, we snooze for the afternoon before I drag myself to dinner. It doesn't feel any cooler after the sun has gone down. This heat is really getting to me.

Dinner
We start with a drink, while we wait for the food to arrive.

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Passion Fruit Caipirinha

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David's beer even has its own small ice bucket

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Courgette hash with a poached egg - dry and tasteless

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Cristalino salad: seasonal leaves, pickled red onion with mustard seeds, cherry tomato confit, cucumbers, pickled palm heart, olives, red cabbage, served with savoury granola. The dish is overly salty (which is saying something as I love a bit of food with my salt), the crunchy topping is nice though

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Savoury Granola

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Tucupi risotto and smoked catfish: rice, tucupi (cassava broth), jambu (paracress), Grana Padano cheese, and catfish smoked in cashew and blackberry leaves.

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Brazil nut mousse - I am not at all keen on this dish

And so to bed. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife kite hammock dinner safari hawk brazil lunch birding luxury amazon bats turtle caiman heron anhinga ibis rapids guan kingfisher macaw dragonfly bird_watching otter boat_safari dry_season undiscovered_destinations swallow wildlife_photography river_safari puffbird cristalino sunbittern water_level Comments (5)

Araras - Alta Floresta - Cristalino

Transfer Day


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

We are leaving Araras at 07:30 this morning, but I am awake from 03:45. As soon as it is light, I do some last-minute bird watching.

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Plumbeous Ibis

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Chaco Chachalaca

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Packed and ready to go

Our new-found German friends, Tina, Kristian, and their four children are moving on to the same lodge as us today, too, and we joke at breakfast about who will get to the airport first to put the towels down to reserve the seats.

We win.

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Cuiabá Airport
We do have a couple of advantages, however, one being that we are on a private tour so that we can don't have to wait for other people, and not travel in a 12-seater minibus, which means we spend less time loading and unloading luggage as there is only us.

The other advantage is that Roberto arranges special assistance for me once we arrive at the airport, which includes priority check-in as well as boarding, and special seats on the plane (the first three rows are dedicated 'disabled' seats, with extra legroom)

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The city of Cuiabá from the air

Alta Floresta
At the small airport (which only gets two flights a day, apparently) there are two vehicles waiting to take guests to Cristalino Lodge: a small truck for us and the luggage, and a minibus for all the others.

The first part of the road is on tarmac, but that soon turns into a gravel track, as we pass farms and logging stations. If we thought the Transpantaneira road was bad, that is nothing compared to this. We bounce all over the place each time the truck hits a pothole – which is often – and the driver seems to spend his time apologising. He doesn't speak much English but has a great sense of humour, and we laugh a lot on the one-hour journey.

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Cashews
At a gate across the road, he stops to poach some cashew fruits from a tree by the side of the road. He justifies it by explaining that the farm and land belong to Cristalino Lodge. Cashews always fascinate me the way the nut hangs at the bottom of the fruit.

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The fruit itself is also very pleasant to eat, so we take a couple of them with us.

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Boat Trip
When we arrive at the docking area (a fancy name for where the end of the road goes into the river), there is an army of helpers on hand to get the luggage from the truck into the waiting boats.

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Here we meet our guide, Gui, for the first time. He is to be with us for the next four days.

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The journey along the river to Cristalino Lodge takes around half an hour, and we do some bird watching along the way.

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Green Ibis

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Swallow Wing Puffbird

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle and Dyas Julia Butterflies

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White Winged Swallows

Gui explains that the dark colour of the water comes from minerals washed out of the forest, and contains decomposing leaves and other vegetable matter. The good news is that the mosquitoes do not like this water, so they stay away.

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Cristalino Lodge
This eco-lodge gets rave reviews on every site I have looked at on the internet, with National Geographic Traveller selecting it as one of the 25 best eco-lodges in the world; and another sire describing it as “the best lodge in the Brazilian Amazon for wildlife enthusiasts”. I have high hopes for this place!

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The landing stage also features a sunbathing and swimming platform, with loungers and umbrellas (and apparently a cozy firepit in the evening).

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To get to the lodge there are 30 wooden steps, but before that, I have to get out of the boat.

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I try to step up onto the raised part at the front, but my knee will not let me. I attempt to swing my leg over the side and straight onto the boardwalk. I fail again. Finally, I sit down on the front, but I am still not able to get my legs up.
The aforementioned army of helpers step in and literally lift me up and out of the boat. I am impressed they manage it, but by this stage, I am feeling pretty stressed and panicky.

I manage the steps, and the trail through the jungle to the restaurant, which is up a few more wooden steps. The public areas of the hotel are all on a raised platform: the inside and outside dining areas, the bar, the lounge, the shop, toilets, conference room, and patio. It oozes luxury.

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Gui

We are given a welcome drink, made from a fruit called cocoazu. I have not heard of it before, and I have to admit it is a little too bitter for me.

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As we missed lunch while travelling (it is now mid-afternoon), they serve us a small wrap, some fruit salad, and a delicious cake.

Gui is very laid back and nothing seems to be a rush here. We saunter back down the wooden steps along the path from the restaurant to the crossroads of paths where we came up from the jetty.

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As we turn into the jungle and the track that leads to our room, we come across Mr and Mrs Bare Faced Curassow, reinforcing my high expectations of seeing a lot of birds here.

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Our Room
Having upgraded to a Junior Suite, we find that our room is almost the furthest away from the restaurant and the jetty. But at least it is private, set in its own clearing in the forest.

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The inside is large, bright, and airy. There is an overhead fan, but no air conditioning.

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The welcome pack contains two complimentary metal water bottles that can be refilled at the bar for free, a box of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts, and some postcards.

There is a separate dressing room, toilet, and shower, with an additional shower outside.

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Once we have settled in, we try out the outdoor shower. To say it is refreshing would be a gross understatement – the water is absolutely freezing.

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Dinner
We joke that walking to the restaurant for dinner is about as far as it is to walk to our local Tesco supermarket. “Fancy Tesco for dinner this evening?”

As everything is cooked to order here at Cristalino, they brought us the menus when we arrived for us to choose what we would like to have for dinner this evening. After seven nights of buffet food, it is such a pleasant change to be served at the table.

We are greeted on arrival at the restaurant by the customer relations manager, Gabriel, who is very pleasant, very knowledgable, and has a great memory, but he does talk too much, lingering at the table while we are eating.

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Sun-dried meat croquettes with pepper aioli and a hot sauce. Crunchy outside, with a soft centre. Very nice.

The main course is extremely slow to arrive, but when it finally turns up after around 40 minutes or so, it is worth the wait.

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Grilled tenderloin medallion steak

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The caramel nut pie is only just OK. It has a slightly unpleasant gritty texture and definitely needs more caramel!

With no AC, the room feels very hot as we go to bed, so I lay on top of the sheets without anything on and put the ceiling fan on full.

Goodnight from the Amazon. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:44 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards flight airport river jungle dinner brazil birding brasil luxury amazon turtle butterflies ibis steak kingfisher cuiabá boat_trip cashew bird_watching swallows eco_lodge undiscovered_destinations outdoor_shower water_bottles special_assistance araras curassow chachalaca alta_floresta puffbird cristalino cocoazu caramel_pie Comments (2)

Araras Day Three - Bridge 3, swimming pool, anteaters

A great finish to our stay in Araras


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

Another early start this morning: up at 04:15 for a 05:00 safari.

We stop at the statue of São Francisco, the protector of ecology, to photograph the sunrise, before continuing to Ponte 3, our favourite bridge (I never thought I'd end up with a favourite bridge on the Transpantaneira).

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Bridge # 3
There are way more birds flying this morning than yesterday, and in greater quantities.

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Most birds roost near water at night, as the sun heats the water during the day, which helps keep the birds warm during the night. In the morning they fly off in search of food.

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It is mesmerising to watch.

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Flash Gun
After the problems I had with low light necessitating high ISO (= noisy/grainy images) yesterday, I brought my Speedlight with me this morning, plus my Better Beamer.

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Ringed Kingfisher

The Better Beamer is basically a fresnel lens on a frame. Its main purpose is to extend the range of the flash, although it will also reduce the possibility of the lens hood casting a shadow.

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Green Kingfisher

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Caiman

I am impressed that it seems to work all the way across the other side of the pond!

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As well as into the sky above.

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Large Billed Tern

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Black Vulture

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Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

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Orange Winged Parrots

After a while, I abandon the flash.

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Caiman

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Wood Stork

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Jabiru

Black Skimmers
I love watching the way these birds fish by skimming the water with their beaks open. The lower mandible is larger than the top one, allowing them to more easily hook up some breakfast.

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This one's got a fish!

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Large Billed Terns having a bit of a domestic

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Yellow Billed Cardinal with a colouration issue

This is what he is supposed to look like:

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Southern Caracara

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Black Capped Night Heron

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Maguari Stork

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Unicoloured Blackbird

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Striated Heron

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Great Egret

Reluctantly we move on from the pond at Bridge # 3, and slowly make our way back towards the lodge.

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Maguari Stork

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Savanna Hawk

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Southern Lapwing coming in to land

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Black Stilt

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Wood Stork

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Wattled Jacana

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Monk Parakeets

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufous Cachalote

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Bared Faced Ibis

We see a Southern Caracara have a wrestling match with a stick.

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Guira Cuckoo

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Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture

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Black Vulture

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Snail Kite

Breakfast
By the time we get back to the hotel, we are too late for the breakfast buffet, but the lodge has laid our usual table in the shade of a tree on the patio, and they bring us a number of different dishes.

It seems the chachalaca have got to the butter, however, before we can.

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Caught red-handed - or is that red-beaked - with a large knob of butter in his mouth.

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I bet the butter does melt in his mouth, though!

This is the most we've eaten for any breakfast so far. Disclaimer: we didn't eat everything served! We do feel obliged to eat more than we normally do, however, as they've brought us all this food.

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Chill time
Mid-afternoon we spend some time in the pool cooling down. We are the only ones around, so have the pool to ourselves. I guess everyone else has gone out for a strenuous walk or horse-riding.

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This is not a sign you really want to see right next to the pool

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Afternoon safari
At 16:00 we set off for our very last safari in the Pantanal, as tomorrow we are moving on to pastures new.

The first thing we spot is another armadillo.

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Agouti
He is a long way away, there is lots of dust in the air, and I am shooting into the sun, so unfortunately I don't get any good pictures of the agouti.

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A Crab-Eating Fox rushes past us.

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Blue Crowned Parakeets

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Yellow Collared Macaws

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Collared Anteaters
Leaving the best until last, Roberto slams on the brakes and reverses the car back a few yards before jumping out with his binoculars. Soon he beckons us over: he has seen an anteater in a tree.

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Wow!

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Not just one, but there is another one in a nearby tree, which is quite surprising, as they are normally solitary creatures.

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Once the sun's gone down, leaving the anteaters in very low light, we reluctantly return to the lodge for a shower, dinner and packing before bed.

Goodnight and goodbye from Araras. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 19:30 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife breakfast kite safari parrots pool hawk brazil birding brasil ducks fox swimming_pool south_america caiman swimmingpool heron egret stilt stork vulture ibis armadillo cardinal caracara blackbird kingfisher pantanal butter cuckoo bird_watching transpantaneira anteater jacana undiscovered_destinations tern lapwing parakeets bird_photography wild_birds flying_birds speedlight flash_gun skimmer araras sao_francisco bridge_three roosting_birds better_beamer cachalote chachalaca butter_wouldn't_melt_in_his_mou chill_time agouti Comments (0)

Araras Day One - walking tour and Jeep safari

A bird-watcher's paradise


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

Another slightly later start this morning: up at 05:30, breakfast at 06:30, leave at 07:00 for a wee walk around the hotel grounds to check out what's about.

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Red Breasted Cardinal

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Little Woodpecker, hiding

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Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork

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One in, one out!

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Wattled Jacana

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We see Mr & Mrs Hornero, and this is their somewhat unusual nest.

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Greater Kiskadee

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Chopi Blackbirds

The grounds are surrounded by ponds covered in vegetation, amongst which caimans hide, waiting for an unsuspecting breakfast.

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We hear several loud grunts and look around expecting to see wild boar or something similar. “It's the mating call of the caiman” explains Roberto.

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Monk Parakeets

Black Collared Hawk
The hawk has caught something, although at first, I cannot make out what it is.

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On closer inspection, I can see it's a fish, and he is having quite the feast!

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Cattle Tyrant - it is the first time we have seen that red crest on the top of its head

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Yellow Rumped Cacique

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Rufous Bellied Thrush

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Rufous Cachalote. That is one very ambitious nest builder!

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Boat Billed Heron

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She is feeding her young

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Black Vulture

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Thrush Like Wren

The property owns a lot of land surrounding the lodge, and several boardwalks lead out across the marshland into the jungle beyond. There is also an observation tower, but neither of us feels up to climbing it.

On one of the boardwalks, we see a couple of spoonbills. I suggest Roberto walks onto the bridge so that I can catch the moment they fly away.

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Unfortunately, they both fly in the opposite direction from what I wanted them to do.

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A caiman looks as if he is heading to the swimming pool.

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Another is making a beeline for David.

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This one makes me laugh - I don't think the camouflage is working!

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They are awfully close to the hotel in my opinion.

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Roberto assures me that no attacks on guests have been recorded. “They are more afraid of you than you are of them”

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Savanna Hawk

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Purple Gallinule, hiding

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Black Capped Donacobius

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Plumbeous Ibis

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South American Ground Lizard

This place really is a birdwatcher's paradise. On a three-hour walk, during which we strayed no more than a few hundred metres from the lodgings, we have seen 34 different bird species, 22 of which are new to us on this trip.

Very satisfied, we return to the room for a few hours in the air conditioning before lunch. David is feeling only slightly better from his throat infection, and I still have the runs, so it is nice to chill for a bit.

Lunch
We make sure we go down to the restaurant as soon as the food is ready when they ring the bell at 11:30. I dislike buffets, and I dislike buffets that have been left out for an hour or two even more.

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Chicken stew, rice, and beans

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Caramelised payaya - very nice!

We have it on good authority that the large tree in the courtyard of the lodge attracts macaws most afternoons, so after a post-lunch siesta, I wander out there to see if I can spot any.

Hyacinth Macaw

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This is the largest parrot in the world, and I hear them before I see them. They are loud, very active, and quite humorous to watch.

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They are not so easy to photograph, however, and for the best part of an hour, they play hide and seek with me.

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I swear they are laughing at me.

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Mind you, chasing them around the tree with a walking stick in one hand and a chair in the other must have looked quite amusing. My balance is pretty awful (David would say I am 'unstable'), hence the chair for when I want to look straight upwards holding a long lens up to my face.

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Jeep Safari
Here at Araras, a number of activities are included in the package, such as trekking, climbing the observation tower, horseriding and canoeing. Obviously, I am unable to partake in any of those, so Roberto is taking us out on a Jeep Safari this afternoon.

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The safari vehicles are converted pick-ups, where the tiered seating on the back can be removed if the Jeep is needed for something else, like transporting luggage.

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David sits on the back, while I sit inside the back seat – I choose the back rather than the front, as I then have unobstructed views out both sides.

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Whistling Heron

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Thrush-Like Wren

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Purpleish Jay

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Black Collared Hawk

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Southern Lapwing

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Orange Backed Troupial

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Great Black Hawk

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Green Ibis Eating a Frog

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Grey Necked Wood-Rail

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Marsh Deer

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Before dinner, a group of guests have gathered around the camp fire, singing songs and playing the guitar.

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After the meal, David and I wander down to the boardwalk for some light painting.

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I also try my hand at some more astrophotography. I do think that I need heaps more practice!

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Goodnight from Araras, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:46 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife safari hawk brazil lunch lizard birding brasil deer jay caiman woodpecker heron stork vulture ibis cardinal spoonbill blackbird kingfisher macaw pantanal astro bird_watching eco_lodge camp_fire milky_way jacana undiscovered_destinations lapwing astro_photography light_painting thrush after_dark wildlife_photography parakeets kiskadee araras jeep_safari hornero pousada_araras_eco_lodge tyrant cacique chachalote troupial wood_rail marsh_deer wild-birds wren galinule caramelised_papaya rice_and_beans Comments (2)

Porto Jofre - Araras

An exciting transfer


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

After the early starts over the last few days, we are delighted to be able to have a lie-in this morning, with the alarm set for 05:30! David's eyes were stuck shut when he woke up, and he feels so rotten, he wishes he was back home! Poor thing.

After breakfast we try and find reception to settle our bill – we are moving on to a new playground today.

On the way, we have a mini-safari in the hotel grounds.

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Jabiru

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Buff Necked Ibis

Southern River Otter
This is the same little otter than was chased into the restaurant by a jaguar on our first evening here. Although not a pet or tame as such, she has become habituated and is unafraid of humans.

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The staff has named her Belinha, which means “little beautiful”.

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Belinha checks out David's new shows.

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They get her seal of approval – or is that otterly approved?

She follows us into reception, running around our feet as we pay our dues. At one point she gets a little too excited and bites my toe - she has sharp teeth, but thankfully she doesn't break the skin. Thank goodness she is only playing, I am sure those gnashers could cause some intense damage if she was serious.

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Jabiru - I love the way they strut around as if they own the place!

Flight Transfer
Instead of travelling to Araras by car, we have opted for a flight transfer, and our plane is here already.

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With scruffy jeans and a camouflage shirt, long greasy hair and covered in tattoos, Julinho so does not look like a stereotypical pilot! He is delightful, though, speaks great English and has a super sense of humour.

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We had hoped to do a panoramic flight over the national park as part of the transfer, but the message does not seem to have come through to Julianho, who is most apologetic when he explains that he does not have enough fuel to do that, much as he would be more than happy to.

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Getting into the plane involves climbing up onto the wing, and somehow sliding myself in. I manage without too much difficulty.


Take-off
To call it a 'runway' would be a gross exaggeration, the airstrip is, in fact, a patch of land with gravel and grass. You can see it on the Google Earth map below.

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Space is at a premium inside, and I daren't move a muscle for fear of touching some of the controls as I am sitting next to the pilot in the front. There is no room for the luggage, so that travels separately in another truck that is going that way today anyway.

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You can see my knees jammed right up against the dashboard.

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The lodge we just left

Photography, as a result, is extremely challenging. Not just because of not being able to move around freely as I did in the back seat of the helicopter (where there was loads more legroom too), but also because none of the windows open, they are small and covered in scratches and splattered with kamikaze insects. Oh, and my side is into the sun.

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It does, however, make for some great shots of the low sun reflecting in the rivers. Well... they would be great if the dirty window wasn't there.

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You can see why they call it a wetland.

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Julinho points out Areras Lodge, our next overnight accommodation as we fly past. Unlike Porto Jofre, Araras does not have its own airstrip, so we are carrying on to Poconé and will drive back down the Transpantaneira (the long straight track that runs through the Pantanal wetlands that you can see in the photo) to reach the lodge.

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As we get nearer to Poconé, we see gold mines rather than wetlands.

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As we approach the landing strip in Poconé, Roberto points out to Julinho that there is another small aircraft that is due to land just before him. Oops. We do a swift, about-turn, and circle the town to come back when it is safe.


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At least it means that I get to see Poconé from the air; which I otherwise would have missed as there would have been no reason to fly over the city because of where the airstrip is located.


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While I am sure they would still have been able to avoid each other, I guess this is what in aviation terms would be classed as a near-miss. When there is no air traffic control, you have to rely on physically seeing any other aircraft.

Landing in Poconé is somewhat bumpy – the landing strip here is not a great deal better than the one in Porto Jofre.

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Getting out of the aircraft can only be described as 'interesting'. None of the other three can help me, as I have to get out before them. The lack of space is not helping one bit, and obviously, neither is the fact that I struggle to bend my knee.

Eventually, I manage to swing myself around so that my bum is resting on the wing. What now? The owner of the plane, and the driver who has come to pick us up for the road transfer look on with bemusement, not sure whether to laugh or cry. When I start to laugh, they nervously join in.

By the time I have endeavoured to somehow get my legs out of the cockpit, with some pushing and lifting by Julinho, and swing those same legs over the top of the plane while lying on my back on the wing, everyone is roaring with laughter. “No need to go to the gym today!” says Julinho.

I slowly slide down the wing, conscious of not losing my pants in the process, I land on the ground with whatever small amount of dignity I have left and smile broadly. “Welcome to Poconé” says the plane's owner.

Thankfully there is no video of this, as David is still inside the aircraft.

Poconé
We ask Roberto to stop at a pharmacy for David to get something for his sore throat. The pharmacist himself shines a torch down into his throat and exclaims: “that is very red and looks extremely sore. I think you have a bad infection there!” He prescribes antibiotics for the throat and drops for the eyes.

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The pharmacy

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David's poorly eye - not a pretty sight!

Transpantaneira Safari
Roberto says we will take a safari on our way to the lodge, and instructs Mr Marcos to drive slowly. I never see him smile once during the entire journey and rename him Misery Guts.

Charity Cycle Ride
The first thing we see is a plethora of MILCC – Middle Aged Lycra Clad Cyclists. Actually, they are not all middle-aged, but few of them have the usual cycling event type body. This is a charity event and one that whole families and groups of friends can take part in.

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Roberto claims he's never seen so much traffic on the Transpanntaneira before, not only the 500 or so participants on bikes but also sponsors, police, ambulances, pick-up trucks, supporters, bike carriers for those who have given up, food suppliers, water trucks and more.

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Ambulance

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There is no shame in admitting defeat

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Prat's, the sponsors (they make orange juice)

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More bikers abandon the ride

I must admit I would not want to cycle on the Transpantaneira – not just the heat, but the dust! Every time a car goes past, a cloud of dust gets thrown up and hangs in the air, just waiting to enter those poor cyclists' lungs.

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As for wildlife, it is conspicuous with its absence today, undoubtedly as a result of the charity event with its numerous cyclists and vehicles.

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Little Blue Heron

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Black Necked Stilt

Pousada Araras Eco Lodge

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As soon as we arrive, Roberto negotiates with the manager for us to have a room nearer the restaurant and parking area. Good man. The room is not ready yet, however, so we have a drink in the shade while we wait.

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The lodge consists of several accommodation blocks set in lovely grounds that include a swimming pool.

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Each room has a couple of comfy chairs and a hammock on the veranda, and the interior is cool and cosy.

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Flower decoration on our bed

The one thing that I find surprising here, is the number of children. We saw none in Porto Jofre, whereas here there are several – German, French, English, American and Brazilian.

Lunch
We hear a bell at 11:30, which we later learn is the dinner bell. By the time we arrive at 12:30, all the tables under cover appear to be taken. There is one free table out on the patio, in the shade, that is laid up. When we get nearer, we discover it has a name on it: “Matias Family x 4”. The waiter casually moves the sign to an empty table and beckons us to sit down.

As usual, the food is served as a buffet – I so don't like buffets! There is a large bucket filled with ice, where soft drinks and beer are found, and you just help yourself. I assume the waiter makes a note of it from your table, hence the names.

As I rummage through what is left of soft drinks in the cooler, I come across cans of Guaraná, and memories from our last visit to Brazil come flooding back. I was completely hooked on this drink back then.

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It still tastes just as good as I remember.

The main course may be a buffet, but the dessert is served! And very nice it is too!

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Afternoon Safari
Araras Lodge has a number of included activities, mostly centred around trekking, horse riding and canoeing. As my poorly knee will not allow me to do any of those, Roberto has arranged for the use of a car every day we are here, and we will do car safaris.

This afternoon Roberto drives the vehicle himself, with me in the front and David in the back seat. Bird sightings begin even before we get into the car, right here in the grounds of the hotel.

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Rufous Hornero

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Campo Flicker

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Striated Heron

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Yellow Billed Cardinal

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Greater Kiskadee

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Green Ibis

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Purpleish Jay

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Bare Faced Curassow

Sundowners
As we return to the lodge in time for sunset, a welcome drink of champagne and nibbles has been laid on for us, overlooking the lagoon as the sun goes down.

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Dinner
At dinner, we join an English family with two teenage boys, who are absolutely delightful. Much as I love chatting to people, I do tend to be rather antisocial when we travel, but here we don't have a great deal of choice. There are no tables for two, and the barman tries to get you to mix by placing you with different people each night - hence the names on the tables.

Still feeling rough, and no doubt knocked out from the antibiotics he is now taking, David goes straight to bed after eating. Roberto and I, however, go out into the wilderness in search of a good place for shooting the Milky Way.

He knows of a large open area with some old farming machinery left lying around that could be used as a foreground.

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The stars are absolutely amazing tonight, with no light pollution whatsoever on the horizon. These are truly dark skies!

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:07 Archived in Brazil Tagged sunset wildlife flight dinner safari brazil lunch brasil eye jay south_america stars heron stilt ibis cardinal spoonbill gold_mine guarana pharmacy bubbly pantanal eco-lodge astro cockpit drops mosquitos otter antibiotics jabiru milky_way pocone astro_photography wildlife_photography undiscovered_destination throat_infection araras port_jofre southern_river_otter small_aircraft pantanal_from_the_air near_miss transpananeira charity_cycle_ride cycle_ride cycylists pousada_araras safarai_by_car jeep_safari hornero flicker curassow sundowner chanpagne unlimted_champage Comments (6)

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)

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 - 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)

Arusha National Park

Raining morning in the bush


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Despite the long journey, I was way too wired to sleep last night: I only managed one hour and 20 minutes in total and am really hanging this morning. Malisa didn't get much sleep either apparently, as sharing out the presents we brought for his family created a Christmas Day atmosphere.

It is still raining when we leave the hotel this morning, and I am amused to see a number of motorcycles with large umbrella attachments. This is not something I have seen before, but my attempt at photographing them through a wet windscreen is rather unsuccessful.

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Arusha National Park

Another change of plan this morning – as a result of recent heavy rains, large parts of Lake Manyara National Park is under water. The lake itself has swelled so much that some lodges – including Maramboi, which we have stayed at three times previously – are closed due to flooding. Tillya therefore suggested we go to Arusha National Park instead. Another reason for doing so is that the flamingos are largely still there, rather than having migrated to Lake Natron, where we were hoping to see them tomorrow.

It is still raining as we enter the park, but that does not deter the animals, of course.

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Common Waterbuck

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Cape Buffalo at an area known as Little Serengeti

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A somewhat damp Olive Baboon

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One of the rarer species, which is not found in the other larger northern parks, is the Black and White Colobus Monkey

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Giraffe

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I can't believe how small the Dik Dik looks next to the giraffe.

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The tiniest little Olive Baboon baby - probably no more than two hours old, still struggling to walk

Warthogs

A sounder of warthogs are startled by our approach, and make a run for it.

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Others join in, not realising why they are running. Warthogs are known for their stupidity and the way they blindly follow their leaders. These two, however, appear to be unsure about which way to run initially.

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They soon realise the errors of their ways

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They reach the road and cross right behind us, much to our delight.

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They might be ugly creatures, but they have such elegant legs!

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A little one gets left behind and makes a mad dash for it.

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This surely has to be one of the highlights of today: a warthog mother in her den with a two-week old baby suckling.

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Hadada Ibis

I find it interesting how certain birds and animals are more prevalent at certain times of year - we've only had a couple of brief sightings of this bird on our previous six safaris in Tanzania, whereas here there are a number of them!

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Augur Buzzard

Trying to balance on a thorny bush, he has a bit of a flap on.

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They are seriously impressive birds when they spread their wings.

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It is interesting how different cameras and lenses render colours differently. The previous images were taken with a Canon 1DXII with a Canon 100-400mm and a 1.4 extender; whereas the one below was a Canon 7DII with a Canon 600mm f/4. Both shot with a Cloudy White Balance, yet the green colour is very different.

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A six-week old baby giraffe - look at those ears!

We stop for ages in this one place, as it seems to be all happening around us: birds aplenty, mongooses, giraffes, buffalo, warthogs.

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I always find it amazing how giraffes can eat around the thorns on the acacia trees

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Ashy Starling on a giraffe

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Banded Mongoose

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The Cape Buffalo attracts the flies and the flies attract the Red Billed Oxpecker

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Common Fiscal Shrike

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Masked Weaver

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Hammerkop

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Red Billed Oxpeckers

Common Waterbuck

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While photographing the backside of this antelope to demonstrate the difference between a Common Waterbuck (with the toilet seat shaped white marking on its rear), and the Defassa Waterbuck with its more solid markings (see inset), we notice that he is struggling to walk.

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On closer inspection, it seems he has a nasty flesh wound on his upper thigh, probably caused by a hyena. It is causing him a great deal of distress, and he appears very weak and painfully thin. Not long for this world I fear.

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

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Hippo in Big Momella Lake

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Pale Flycatcher

African Scops Owl

Without warning, Malisa grinds the car to an abrupt halt and reverses back. What has he seen? There, skilfully camouflaged in a tree, is an owl. An African Scops Owl – one of the handful of birds / animals on my wish list this year. Good job Malisa!

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He is well hidden, but we leave the vehicle and explore on foot to try and get a good viewpoint. Thankfully there are no big cats here in Arusha National Park, so it is reasonably safe to do so.

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He changes position, we follow.

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Owls looks seriously weird when they blink!

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Eventually he flies off to another tree, and we move on.

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Common Sandpiper

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Juvenile Augur Buzzard

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He is such a noisy bugger, squawking loudly

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African Pied Wagtail

Big Momella Lake

As I said at the beginning of this blog entry, today's visit to Arusha National park is totally unscheduled, with a plan to see the flamingos. And see them we do!

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Lesser Flamingos are much smaller but brighter in colour than the Greater Flamingos.

And thus ends the first morning in the bush. Thank you once again to Calabash Adventures for arranging our latest safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain wildlife monkey africa safari tanzania birding african buffalo giraffe baboon flamingos ibis waterbuck starling owl warthog arusha bird_watching suckling buzzard calabash_adventures hammerkop dik_dik olive_baboon augur_buzzard black_and_white_colobus_monkey wildlife_photography arusha_national_park colobus_monkey wildlife_viewing baby_suckling warthog_suckling hadada_ibis ashy_starling fiscal_shrike oxpeckers african_scops_owl wagtail big_momella_lake Comments (2)

Sunset Cruise from Mandina Lodges

What an amazing amount of birds!


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This afternoon we are taking another boat trip, this one with two added bonuses: a bottle of wine and the sunset! Hopefully. The sunset, that is, the bottle is most definitely present!

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My plan of action this evening is to take photos of birds just as they take off. I always like a challenge and to step outside my comfort zone. I start with this Long Tailed Cormorant.

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Fishing centre

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I have a soft spot for baobab trees

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Whimbrel

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Wattled Plover

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Black Kite taking off

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Great White Egret

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Preening

I think she's going to fly...

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Here she goes!

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It looks like she is having a blast!

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We see a tree full of Pink Backed Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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African Spoonbill

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Goliath Heron

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Black Kite

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Blue Cheeked Bee Eater

The sun is getting low now, and depending which direction I point my camera, the sky glows a warm yellow, glistening in the ripples on the water surface.

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Great White Egret

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Common Sandpiper

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Sacred Ibis

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Sacred Ibis

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Whimbrels

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And they're gone

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African Darter

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Cattle Egret

The sun is only just above the horizon now, as we have entered an area enclosed on three sides by mangroves and an island in the middle.

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Max, the captain, explains we will wait here for the sun to go down and the birds to come back to roost.

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We see a few single birds flying around in the sunset, then coming in to the island to settle down for the night.

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The sun has painted the sky a deep orange now.

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Beautiful reflections on the water

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Where there were initially just one or two, they are now coming in thick and fast, it seems to be never ending, and they seem to appear from nowhere.

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More and more egrets are gathering in the trees, and when you think there is no room for any more birds, a whole lot of others arrive.

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It is hard to know where to look, the birds are coming from three out of four directions, and seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere from behind us with a whoosh. It is an air traffic control nightmare!

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When there is no more room at the inn and the light is fading rapidly, we start to make our way back to the lodge, stopping from time to time to take photos of the sunset. To say this evening's performance has been spectacular is an understatement!

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By the time we reach the hotel, darkness has all but enveloped Makasutu Forest and the twinkling lights of Mandina Lodge welcome us back.

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Dinner

As time is getting on, we go straight to dinner from the sunset cruise; the boat conveniently lands at the jetty right by the restaurant anyway.

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Pre-dinner drink of Pina Colada

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Prawn Cocktail

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Butter fish with Lyonnaise potatoes and a delicious home made tartare sauce

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David's Samosas

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Gambian Rice Pudding with ground peanuts - a very delicate flavour

We decline the offer of an early morning coffee in the room tomorrow, in favour of a lie in, and sneak off to bed after a magical day in Makasutu Forest.

Posted by Grete Howard 15:16 Archived in Gambia Tagged trees birds fishing reflections sunset pelicans kite africa dinner forest birding captain baobab stork vulture ibis egrets spoonbill birdwatching mangroves cocktail west_africa samosas cormorant gambia boat_trip fores sunset_cruise piña_colada darter roost plover bee_eater sandpiper the_gambia butter_fish mandina_lodges makasutu makasutu_forest whinbrel flying_birds birds_flying air_traffic_control prawn_cocktail rice_pudding Comments (5)

Baku Creek

Another lazy-ish day


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The plan this morning is to take the path from the Observation Deck, through the mangroves, onto the main road and down to the bridge.

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Village Weaver

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Hooded Vulture

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

The trail meanders along the edge of the creek and heads for the road, but ends in a builders yard, obviously private property. There is a gate, but it is locked, so there is no way for us to join the road here, so we end up having to walk all the way back to the observation deck and through the hotel again.

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In the hotel grounds we spot some Green Vervet Monkeys, including a very young baby clinging to his mum.

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Out on the road we are amused to see a sign for Tesco Mini Market – in reality a small shack selling bottled water, ice cream and a few essentials.

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Having spend the last four days almost exclusively in the company of birds, Kotu is proving a bit of a culture shock. Outdoor cafés are full of fat, middle aged cougars with tattoos, piercings, bleach blonde hair and the obligatory toyboy Gambian hanging on their arms. We hurry past to reach the bridge over Kotu Creek, a well known bird watching spot.

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Pink Backed Pelican

The place is teeming with the gorgeous little Long Tailed Cormorants:

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Pink Backed Pelicans, African Spoonbills, Long Tailed Cormorant and Great Egret

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Grey Heron, Sacred Ibis and Marsh Sandpiper

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African Spoonbills

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Common Redshank

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Sacred Ibis and Grey Headed Heron

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Senegal Thick Knee

We are approached by a couple of guides offering their services, but we are pleased to find they are much more likely to take “no” for an answer than the people we encountered during our visit to The Gambia 23 years ago.

Lunch

Back in the hotel, I request my food “extra spicy. Gambian spicy, not tourist spicy”. It still only arrives as a 2-3 on Grete's scale of 10.

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Cheese and chilli omelette

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Burger and chips

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Refreshing fruit juice - youki?

After having asked for our food “extra spicy” at lunch, we are amused when we return to the room to find this large pack of toilet rolls sitting on our patio table. Are they trying to tell us something?

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We are chilling in the room with a drink and some snacks when we overhear someone outside mentioning the name “Mandina Lodges”. Our ears prick up, as we are waiting to hear about what time our transfer to Mandina will be tomorrow. Yesterday we waited for 45 minutes for the rep to turn up (at the advertised time), but he didn't show. This afternoon, however, he is here, although he's knocking on our neighbour's door instead by mistake, so we go out and ask if he is looking for us. At least we now know that we are leaving here at 10:30 in the morning.

Dinner

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Chicken Saté

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Seafood mornay with crepe

We spend the rest of the evening chilling on our private patio with a few drinks.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys trail birding heron egret vulture ibis pelican spoonbill whimbrel mangroves west_africa starling weaver cormorant tesco spicy gambia bird_watching nature_trail thick_knee sandpiper vervet_monkey the_gambia gambia_experience bakotu bakotu_hotel kotu observation_deck kotu_creek tesco_mini_market toilet_rolls Comments (7)

Lazy Day at Bakotu

Chillin'


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

David wakes up feeling flu-like this morning, and as I am still suffering badly with Photographer's Elbow, we decide to take it easy today, starting with a stroll down to the observation deck after breakfast.

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Can't decide what to have for breakfast

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The elevated deck looks out over mangroves and the now dry river beyond, with a boardwalk weaving its way along the edge of it.

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I was hoping to spend some time here watching wading birds this morning, but my feathered friends seem to have other ideas.

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Grey Headed Gull

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Spur Winged Plover

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Senegal Thick Knee

Not sure what is going on here, with one of the birds lying down completely flat as the other one approaches – some sort of mating ritual maybe?

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Grey Headed Gull

After a somewhat disappointing bird watching session, we escape the heat and retire to the air conditioned room where we doze, chat and read for a while.

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It is somewhat warm today

I end up lunching on my own as David is still not feeling very good (the most dull and bland burger ever!), and afterwards I take a stroll through the gardens. The hotel grounds are beautiful, very well laid out with lots of flowers and trees with meandering walkways.

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Sacred Ibis

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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I make a new friend

More relaxation follows, then drinks on our own little terrace outside our room before dinner.

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Chicken Yassa - very, very tasty, more than makes up for the disappointing burger at lunchtime.

After dinner we return to our outside patio where we sit and chat to the lovely night guard for a while before tucking in for the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:26 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds flowers cat relaxation hot seagull chilling ibis west_africa gull gambia bird_watching thermometer thick_knee plover hibiscus bakotu bakotu_hotel kotu observation_deck pre_dinenr_drinks Comments (3)

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