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Cristalino - Birds, Otters and Tapir

Another day, another boat trip


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

We go out in the boat with Gui again at first light to see what nature has to offer us today.

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Great Black Hawk

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Amazon Kingfisher

Tapir
With great excitement, Gui points out a tapir swimming along the bank.

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We follow him as he continues along the shoreline until he eventually exits the water and disappears into the jungle.

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My animal wish list for this trip is now complete: jaguar, giant river otter, capybara, agouti, armadillo, anteater, and tapir. I am a very happy bunny!

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Pale Vented Pigeon

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Long Nosed Bats

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A very shy otter

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Southern Rough Winged Swallow

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Black Fronted Nunbird

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White Bellied Parrot

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Blue and yellow Macaw

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Anhinga drying its wings

Beach
I never expected to see beautiful sandy beaches here in the Amazon - these have become exposed as a result of the dropping water level. The lodge arranges excursions to the beach for swimming and canoeing – having seen numerous caiman and the teeth of the otters, and knowing that there are piranhas in the river, I think I will give it a miss.

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Cocoi Heron

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Blue Grey Tanager

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Southern Lapwing

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Osprey

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Pied Lapwing

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Muscovy Ducks

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Neotropic Cormorants

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Another dragonfly lands briefly on the boat

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Yellow Billed Tern

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Black Caracara

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Greater Yellow Headed Vulture

White Throated Mango
The captain pulls up at a shrub on a small island, with a labyrinth of criss-crossing branches. I can see no sign of life. Gui uses his laser pointer to draw our eyes to a small green patch, well hidden inside the bush. A beautiful hummingbird on her nest.

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“How on earth did you manage to spot that?” I ask Gui. He explains that he went out with a scientist last week, who had a heat-spotting device that helped them locate nests such as this.

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Southern Rough Wing Swallow

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Swallow Wing Puffbird

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Striated Heron

Back to the lodge.

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Gui has arranged for me to get a taxi (the luggage truck) back to the room again, while David takes the long route via the shop which is near the restaurant. I ran out of deodorant this morning, so am looking to replace it. The shop does not keep any in stock but Gui arranges for someone in town to nip out and buy one for me, and they will send it with this afternoon's boat carrying new guests.

My diarrhoea has returned with a vengeance (it has never really gone, but has been manageable until now), so instead of going to lunch, I take some Ciprofloxacin and go to bed for the afternoon.

Dinner
Feeling considerably better, I decide to brave some food this evening. Dinner is served as a buffet tonight, much to my disappointment. At least it means no-one will notice if I don't eat much.

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The guava souffle for dessert is incredibly light and very nice indeed

While we are sitting at the table eating our dinner, the waiter comes over and plonks a deodorant in front of me. Great!

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I message Gui to let him know it has arrived.

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 23:06 Archived in Brazil Tagged wildlife beach river safari parrot swimming hawk brazil birding brasil luxury duck boating amazon pigeon mango south_america bats buffet tapir osprey tanager heron vulture anhinga caracara guan kingfisher macaw cormorant dragonfly diarrhea bird_watching hummingbird otter boat_safari undiscovered_destinations swallow tern lapwing diarrhoea wildlife_photography puffbird cristalino nunbird cristalino_lodge ciprofloacin Comments (2)

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)

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 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 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)

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