Ugh. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling crappy and by 5:00 a.m. when my alarm went off, I did not feel much better. I downed a full bottle of water filled with a little pouch of electrolytes, bypassed most of breakfast and by the time we got in the boat at 6:00 a.m. was filling somewhat better. (Turns out Richard woke up in the middle of the night feeling crappy too so we figured it may have been the salad we ate at dinner. I will not be having that again.)
So after a cup of tea and a banana (all I could stomach), we took the 10 minute walk along the sandy path to the waiting boat. Our boat driver, Cesar, had the ride ready to go when we showed up and minutes later we were racing up the waterway. The sun was just rising and the morning air was warm, but not overly hot. (That would change as the morning progressed).
As is usual in tropical areas, the first to wake up in the morning are birds, and they were everywhere. We saw cocoi herons and tiny colourful birds everywhere. But the most exciting site we came across in the early morning was howler monkeys. These monkeys are extremely rare to see. You often hear them with their low to high pitched ghost like howl, but they usually stay deep in the forest so they are hard to see. However, this morning, a pair of howler monkeys were hanging out at the top of a tree right beside the river. The male was black and the female was reddy brown and they were spectacular. I was absolutely thrilled to see these rare primates. And there were only a couple of boats in the area which pulled up to see the monkeys, so yay for us!
After spending some time with the howler monkeys, we came across some giant river otters, which we watched for bit. Then after that it was bird heaven with a few caiman thrown in. We saw more cocoi heron, anhinga, a ringed king fisher, a black collared hawk, a baby caiman, some larger caiman floating nearby, a yellow rumpled cacique, a jacamar, a tiger heron and a green kingfisher.
Then it was more giant river otters. This time, the giant river otters were feeding on some fish. And it was too bad there were no other boats around because these giant river otters were in fine form. The larger female had a good size fish that she was munching on and her pups nearby were simply looking for a handhout. The fighting that went on before the pups were banished was hysterical. Momma won out and proceeded to gorge herself on the fish. Made for some interesting photos.
We saw a family capybaras hanging by the side of the river and a nest of jabiru storks. Apparently once the mother lays the eggs, she does not leave the nest so the male has to feed her while she is protecting the eggs and for a period of time after the baby storks are born.
Now unfortunately, at this point, we still had not seen a jaguar. In fact, virtually no one had that morning. Like most game drives, the guides are in communication with one another and at this point, there had only been one sighting that morning and it had been brief. No time for anyone to reach the viewing area before the jaguar took off into the brush so we continued to drive up and down the canals. At one point, we passed the area where we had seen the howler monkeys, but by now they were long gone … but wait for it … we could hear them. It sounded like ghosts blowing in the wind with this eerie low pitched howl. Awesome. (And you can listen to the sound at this link.). https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UiyqULHoInk
So by now, we were about 80 km from the launch point and had been on the hunt for about 3 ½ hours. And then we got the call that another lodge boat had spotted a pair of young male jaguars (brothers) about 2 minutes from where we were. Cesar put the boat in high gear and we raced off. As we approached, Cesar slowed the boat. Herley spoke to the guide of the other boat and was told the jaguars had retreated back into the forest. Damn!
But no sooner had we said damn than the jaguars reappeared by the river bank. They apparently wanted to come into the water so the boats backed off, but the jaguars only took a look and then retreated again. All the boats that had converged now backed off and pretty soon the jaguars reappeared and finally entered the water to swim to the other side. It was absolutely glorious to watch the jaguars heads bob up and down in the water with a bit of tail bobbing along.
One the jaguars reached the other side they disappeared into the forest. We then proceeded to continue downriver passing a tree with a couple of cormorants only to receive a call that the jaguars were swimming back, and this is were the fun began. We watched the jaguars swim back to the other side, climb up the riverbank into the forest, and then saw them begin to make their way through the forest along the river bank. And so began a game of cat and mouse.
Cesar floated our boat down the river as we followed the jaguars through the trees. Every now and then, one of us would point and we would see a tail flick or we would see the the outline of the body of one of the jaguars moving ever so stealthy through the forest. It was amazing to watch these incredible cats move so effortlessly and silently through the vegetation as we watched for the silhouette of each cat pass through the forest.
Now fortunately, the vegetation along the water was not that thick in the area we were located so it made for somewhat easy tracking, but that soon changed. Pretty soon, the jaguars would disappear for a few minutes only to reappear. At one point, the vegetation was so thick, we thought we had lost them. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a jaguar came leaping across an embankment we had been watching expecting to see the two young males. But wait. This was not either young male, this was a much larger older male. We had lucked out and stumbled upon an entirely different jaguar. And no sooner had it made its appearance and it was gone.
I turned to Herley and said there is zero chance the young guns are coming this way. This was the older jaguar’s territory and the young male jaguars would know better than to mess with this territory. And sure enough, we waited for ten minutes and never saw the young male jaguars again.
So with a successful morning behind us, we began the drive back. And just as we Cesar started to put the engines in high gear we heard that the larger male jaguar was back. Reverse course. Fast! And we reached the site just in time to see the male posing on the riverbank as if to see “all right folks take your pictures and then I am out of here”. The jaguar literally sat there for five minutes while we all snapped away and then … see ya … the jaguar turned and wandered back into the bush. Gone for good this time.
Cesar once again put the engines in high gear in the blazing sun and the refreshing breeze actually felt wonderful against the late morning heat. We made it back to the dock in just under an hour allowing for about a half hour rest before lunch at noon. I was still not feeling perfect and could use the rest.
Unfortunately, lunch was marred by a screwup with the lodge. At lunch, Herley told Richard and me that four more people were going to be joining our boat for the afternoon, and that we would be leaving at 1:00 not 3:00. Uh …. NO. That is not going to be happening. I told Herley I wanted to speak to the owner. After some “discussion” in which I made it clear that I had not paid to have 4 more people in my boat, they backed down and made other accommodations for the group of 4 from the main camp lodge who wanted to go see jaguars – we were at the jaguar camp lodge as opposed to the main camp lodge. (And sorry, but I paid for a 4 day jag tour and if you wanted to see jaguars instead of a general tour of the Pantanal, find your own boat. I was darn well not going to have 4 additional people in our boat, which would make it overly crowded and a lot more difficult to see the wildlife over a myriad of heads and massive cameras.)
Anyway, problem solved and at 3:00 we headed out for the afternoon tour. Now we did not even leave the lodge grounds before we saw capuchin monkeys and hyacinth macaws. Unbelievable! Literally sitting on our doorstep.
And the afternoon proved to be as awe inspiring at the morning. In fact, we had barely been on the water a half an hour before a call came in that a jaguar was walking on the beach about a minute from our location. Cesar reved up the engines on the boat and pulled up to the beach area just as the jaguar was walking out of some grasses. And this big boy was huge with far different markings than what we had seen in the morning.
He made a slow methodical journey all the way along the sand spit and periodically stopped and stared at all of us in the boats. At the end of the sand spit, the jaguar continued into the water until he could not longer walk and then started to swim. He then turned toward land and climbed up on the river bank and proceeded to walk through the grasses. And while the jaguar had disappeared from sight, we could see the rustle of the tall grasses and followed his path. At one point we could see the jaguar up on a little hill before it disappeared once again. We saw one last rustle of grasses and then nothing. We figure after the hike and swim, the jaguar decided it was time for a nap.
We continued down a river tributary and came across more giant river otters as well as a myriad of birds including a pied plover, cattle egret and a cocoi, which had caught a massive fish and then proceeded to try and gulp it down. We were laughing watching the huge bulge in the bird’s long throat move lower and lower. Eventually the fish was completely swallowed and the glutton bird went looking for me. Seriously?? How much can one bird eat?
Near the end of a tributary we passed a great black hawk and a ringed kingfisher and then came across a herd of water buffalo who did not seem particularly happy to see us. We kept our distance as a couple of the big fellas eyed us up. I was a tad uncomfortable as these massive creatures refused to take their eyes off us. I just kept waiting for one of them to charge us. Fortunately, that did not happen and we made it out of there in one piece. While we watched the big guys, we also caught a glimpse of a white headed marsh tyrant. Gorgeous! And best name ever.
We started the drive back to the dock passing more ringed kingfishers, a orange backed troupial, a black collared hawk, a tiger heron and a family of capybaras that seemed to have been turned to stone. They simply did not move as we watched them on the river bank. And this seems to be the M.O. of these funny little fellas. They simple pose for great periods of time. As Richard noted, the capybaras look like an aristocratic family who lost their staff and are waiting for someone to serve them. BINGO!
Anyway, by now, the sun was setting over the river and it made for some spectacular scenery as we motored back to the dock. It had been a fabulous day on the river and the best part was we got to do it all over again tomorrow.