I left Salvador at the lovely hour of 4:30 a.m. heading to the Pantanal. I was originally scheduled to leave Salvador on a flight to Brasília at 5:45 a.m. with a connection to Cuiaba (the entre to the Pantanal) allowing me to arrive at 9:45 a.m., but GOL cancelled my flight 3 weeks ago. As a result, I had to book a flight with LATAM and fly at 6:30 a.m. on a 2 ½ hours flight to São Paulo, sit in an airport for 3 hours and then connect on a 2 ½ hour flight to Cuiaba. As a result, I did not arrive into Cuiaba until after 1:00 effectively killing the entire afternoon in the Pantanal. Thanks GOL! And to make matters worse, the landing into Cuiaba may have been the worst landing of my life. During the approach, I looked out the window and said out loud “we are coming is way, way too fast”. I no sooner had the words out of my mouth than we came down HARD on the runway. And when I say hard, think the worst landing you have had and magnify it by 10X. There was a collective scream on the plane, and I was certain we were going to start cart wheeling. Scared the living you know what out of me. And zero apology from the LATAM captain. Gesh.
Thank goodness the drive on the Transpantaneira (the road into the Pantanal) helped make up for the lousy flights and proved to be an absolute joy filled with lots of sightings of animals and birds. My driver Walmar met me at the Cuiaba airport and we immediately stopped at a “chchurrascaria” for lunch. And this place was a site to behold. There was a salad bar where you could select some obligatory greens to make you feel good, but after that it was all meat, meat, meat. The waiters brought around skewers of grilled meats and you name a meat and it was being served. Beef, lamb, chicken sausage, chicken hearts, goat, pork and on and on. It was a carnivore’s paradise. And the food was absolutely delicious. Certainty a nice introduction to the Pantanal.
So after lunch, we left Cuiaba and about 45 minutes later we reached the Transpantaneira, the dirt road that would lead to my lodging for the next four nights. The drive was going to take about 4 hours to reach the lodge located in Porto Jofre, and unfortunately, Wilmer my driver did speak English. So the next four hours was a lot of hand gestures and pointing. Fortunately, I know enough Spanish words, which are similar to Portuguese that I could make out what Wilmer frequently asked me or pointed out as we past some highlight on the drive.
And as I mentioned, the drive on the Transpantaneira was absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t long before we saw a caiman on the side of the road who we witnessed dive into a nearby stream. Then we saw some capaybaras sitting in a nearby marshy area accompanied by a jabiru stork and then we saw a nest full of jabiru storks, a myriad of birds flitting back and forth across the road and a capybara sitting in the middle of the road.
Now the road was not the best of conditions. Lots of potholes and endless wooden board bridges that looked barely able to hold a car. Nevertheless, we plugged along and shortly after sunset (around 6:00 p.m.) we arrived at the Jaguar lodge. The lodge is VERY, VERY rustic with basic food, but I was not here for fancy, I was here for the jaguars.
Once I settled in, I met my guide Herley and my boat mate for two days, Richard, from London. And I could not have asked for a nicer guy. He just left his company (he is in finance) and was going to travel for the next 3 months before starting up a consulting business in Luxembourg so he and I had a lot of travel interests to discuss.
After dinner, we chatted with Herley and decided that we would leave in the boat at 6:00 a.m. to travel the waterways in search of the jaguar. That meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. Yikes! Time for some sleep before the jaguar hunting begins.