Well the thunderstorm from the night before turned into a deluge. It rained nonstop until after 11:00 p.m.. And it came down so hard that I had water dripping in my room. Seriously. And the solution was to put down towels where the water was dripping. Good grief. At one point I counted 8 leaks and a stream of water lining one long strip of tile ceiling. I was awake until well into the early hours of the morning afraid the roof was going to come crashing down on top of me. Fortunately, the rain finally stopped just after 11:30 and by midnight the dripping was subsiding. I must say, I love my guide and driver and have thoroughly enjoyed Richard’s company, but the accommodations at Pantanal Nature Camp (which came highly recommended on TripAdvisor) leave a LOT to be desired. And I get that the Pantanal accommodations in this area are very rustic (that is the price you pay for coming to this part of the Pantanal where there is the greatest chance of seeing a jaguar), but come on … rain on the guest in their room! Really??
Anyway, after a less than ideal nights sleep, I got up early and took some pictures of the capuchin monkeys that were squawking outside my window. After breakfast, we set off at 6:30 a.m. in the truck to meet our boat. Now normally we hike down to the river, but we had to take the truck because the path to the water was filled with puddles and lots of mud where you can sink up to your knees so truck it would be. Once at the dock, we left behind the rain issues and began the hunt for jaguars. We passed an anhinga drying his wings after an apparent early morning dive for breakfast. Next up was a black vulture which was munching on the remains of God know’s what.
Now we had seen a few caiman floating along the river and hanging out on the river bank, but for some reason this morning they were everywhere. It was as if the storm had forced them all to the surface or onto higher ground. And in case anyone was wondering, a caiman differs from crocodiles in that they have wider and shorter heads. And caiman are different from alligators in that a caiman’s teeth are longer and more narrow than an alligators, and caiman are more agile.
Anyway, we saw caiman floating by the boat and hanging out on the sand bars. We saw large caiman. We saw baby caiman. It was caimans for everyone. Unfortunately, there were no jaguars.
We continued on upriver passing numerous jabiru stork, cocoi heron, a black collared hawk, lots and lots of parakeets and kingfishers and then saw a bird that was new to us: a plumbeous ibis. The bird has a long hooked beak and was strutting around the marsh with another plumbeous ibis looking for food. The birds were not phased by our presence one wit and we were able to take a number of lovely pictures.
As we were taking pictures of the plumbeous ibis, a call came in that the two jaguar brothers (who we saw on the first day and were the first jaguars I saw) were spotted napping on a ledge. So since we had not found any other jaguars and the location was a only a couple minutes away, we took off for a look. And once there, you could tell the day had been slim pickings for jaguars because there were no less than 6 boats watching the sleeping brothers.
And as luck would have it, just as we arrived one of the brothers woke up and simply stared at the cameras and crowd assembled in front of him. I am sure he was thinking “what the heck? We really need to find a better place to nap. I took a couple pictures, but spent more time watching the young guys through my binoculars.
After about ten minutes of watching, we decided to go looking for others. We passed a large family of capybaras who had been relegated to a small strip of sand as the the rains had raised the water level in the river by at least 6 inches and maybe more.
We then saw a couple more birds which we had not seen to date. The cattle egrit, which had an enormous wing span and took off before I could snap a decent picture in flight. The other bird we saw at virtually the same time was the boat billed heron. A very unusual looking bird that seemed to lack a neck.
As we we motored past the boat billed heron, Herley spotted two howler monkeys on a stump, but the boat engine scared the monkeys and they scrambled up the tree. I tried to get a couple pictures, but as I was snapping a shot, a call came in that a male jaguar was on the hunt for caiman along a nearby river bank. So Cesar put the boat in gear and it was bye bye howler monkeys.
When we reached the location of the jaguar, there were at least 6 boats already there. (That is what happens when no one I spotting jaguars. When a call does come in, everyone goes to the location because there are no other jaguars to watch.)
Anyway, the jaguar had moved into the forest by the time we arrived, but we were able to follow the silhouette of the huge jaguar through the breaks in the thick growth. Herley directed Cesar to take the boat upstream a bit and sure enough the gamble paid off. The jaguar soon emerged close to where we were parked and proceeded to enter the water looking for caiman. He swam past us and then climbed back up on the river bank. We again moved the boat upstream and we ended up parking near the end of the tributary. The jaguar soon came into view again and apparently had his eyes on three caiman sunning themselves on the riverbank. Unfortunately for the jaguar, the two larger caiman sensed his presence and jumped in the river. The smallest caiman also saved itself by jumping in the water at the last minute. I managed to catch it on video and you can hear the splash on the video as the jaguar lunges. Sorry buddy no lunch for you.
As we started the drive back to the lodge, we passed some cara cara hanging out on the river bank. Now cara cara are like chickens, they are everywhere. In fact, they hang around the lodge and make incredibly loud noises in the morning. I have been awakened by the cara cara every morning around 5:00 a.m. so no need for an alarm.
We also ran into a family of giant river otters that seemed to be conducting their morning hygiene. Two otters were cleaning one another while another climbed up on a downed tree trunk, proceeded to straddle the tree trunk and scratch itself. It made for some amusing viewing.
And of course, since the theme of the morning was caiman, we simply had to pass one more caiman hanging out with its mouth wide open trying to cool off.
We reached the dock around 11:30 and walked back along the very muddy path since the morning sun had helped dry things out a bit. As we walked, we saw a number of capuchin monkeys in the tree. And while the little devils love to hop from branch to branch and hide behind the leaves, I managed to capture a few pictures.
Once we reached the lodge, Richard and I went to clean off our boots that were caked with mud from the walk back from the boat. Now Herley suggested instead of using the outdoor sink we should simply use the hose near the kitchen. BIG MISTAKE. As I was hosing off one boot, I stepped on what appeared to be a manhole cover, but instead was the grease pit where the kitchen staff dumps the grease. I fell backwards on my butt and fortunately pulled my boot out as I fell backwards. The down side was my boot, sock and lower pant leg were covered in old kitchen grease that reeked. YUCK! Richard started yelling for help and immediately started to hose off my boot while one of the kitchen guys helped me up. I slightly scraped the backside of my arm, but my pants and boot were in desperate need of a hosing down.
I spent the better part of a half hour trying to clean my boot, but made no attempt at my socks or pants. Herley immediately had one of the cleaning staff come and take the pants and socks to have them washed. After about a half hour and massive soap, I finally got most of the grease and smell off my boot. Nice way to start my lunch.
Anyway, after a very late lunch, I said goodbye to Richard who was leaving for Cuiaba. I would have my last trip along the river by myself. So about 2:30, we headed back out on the boat. We passed the usual landmarks I was now familiar with: the farm where the capybaras like to hang out on the beach, the first steamship hotel, the second steamship hotel, the bend in the river and then which tributary to choose.
We ended up going down a different tributary and we immediately came across a capybara nursing her two babies. Well this was unusual to say the least. Normally, I was used to seeing the capybaras simply sitting like stone statutes on the side of the riverbank, but this one was actually doing something. Well, let me clarify that. The momma was standing like she was made of stone while her babies were actually doing something.
Anyway, after watching for a bit we continued upriver going up and down tributary after tributary. At one point we stopped to watch a jacana. Now we had seen a few of these over the past three days, but every time we tried to take pictures they flew off. This one, however, could have cared less that we pulled up nearby and I was snapping pictures. In fact, even when we pulled away the bird was still doing its thing looking for food. Strange.
Now at this point, we had not had any communication about a jaguar. Today was proving rather challenging. Herley said there were 15 boats on the water and no on had spotted a jaguar (other than the brothers who apparently love the attention).
We continued driving around, while I simply leaned back in my chair and enjoyed the scenery. And just as I was relaxing, I heard the radio chatter. Apparently a jaguar had been spotted, but it was at least ten minutes away. With no other game in town, we charged off, but by the time we arrived the jaguar was nowhere to be found. The jaguar had apparently been near a marshy area, but then disappeared inland and was not seen again. So Cesar drove the boat up a small tributary near where the jaguar entered and we followed the riverbank for a while and then sat and waited. Nothing.
So, shutout again we left the crowd behind and went searching on our own. We took a tributary that was not familiar to me and minutes later another call came in that a small female had been spotted not too far away. Cesar once again put the boat in high gear and less than five minutes later we were pulling up to three other boats. The small female had entered the forest and everyone was following her silhouette. We went past the boats and parked on the other side of the last boat just in time to see the sillouhette of the jaguar pass through the trees. She was clearly staying away from everyone.
We all sat and waited hoping she would reappear, but nothing. One by one the other boats left and eventually it was just our boat. We sat chatting and figuring we should probably start back when all of a sudden Herley yelled she’s in. I looked where he was pointing and sure enough the head of the jaguar was visible in the distance. Cesar slowly moved the boat towards her and then we sat and watched. At one point, she turned at she neared the riverbank and stared at us. Clearly she was skittish and once out of the water, it was entirely clear why. She was very, very young. Herley said she was about 12 months old and had separated from her mother when the mother began mating again. Apparently male jaguars kill the young cubs if given the opportunity so the mother essentially leaves them. However, normally this occurs at 15 to 24 months old. For some reason this cub’s mother left her recently at 12 months.
We watched as the young female scampered up the bank and disappeared into the forest. Fortunately, I got a perfect picture of the jaguar’s face so that Herley could match the markings between the eyes (which are different for every jaguar) and confirm the identify of the female jaguar. (And later he confirmed it was the young female who had been separated at 12 months.)
So with one jaguar spotted, and the ability to say I was not shut out of a jaguar sighting on any of the 6 boat trips, we called it a day. The drive back to the lodge was spectacular with beautiful cloud formations and a setting sun.
Once back at the dock, I thanked Cesar profusely for being an exceptional boat driver and then headed back to pack. Herley would be driving me to Cuiaba for my 4:50 p.m. flight to Rio de Janeiro where I would be meeting my friend, Tom LInde, who was going to be my travelling companion for the next two weeks. We will be touring Rio for 2 ½ days, Iguazu Falls for 2 days and then heading to Salta, Argentina where we will be touring the Andes highlands for a week. Should be fun!