Wilmer, Herley and I left the Pantanal camp just before 7:00 a.m. heading for Cuiaba and my flight to Rio. (Herley was going home for a three day break.) My flight did not leave until 4:50 p.m., but we had to leave early so we could stop along the way to see any animals and in case the rain from Friday night had washed out any areas necessitating a detour. Fortunately, the road was fine, but unfortunately, the animal viewing was pretty light. We saw a few caiman in the streams by the side of the road and we also saw the standard capybaras, but nothing out of the ordinary (i.e. no jaguar).
About a half hour into the trip, Wilmer pulled over to the side of the road so that Herley could show me the family of great owls that inhabit a couple trees beside the road. The great owls, though, were not cooperating and instead were high up in the trees. As I was standing there trying to get a good shot at the birds, I could hear buzzing and it became louder and louder. Herley apparently heard the sound too because he motioned for me to start moving. I quickly found out that I was standing right below a bees’ nest and they were not happy. Yikes. Fortunately, I made it to the car without incident.
We continued on the rugged dirt road under lovely blue skies. It wasn’t long before Herley had Wilmer slow the car down and point out a strange looking pinky, white bird in the marshes below. The bird, it turned out, was a rosette spoonbill, and all you had to do was take a look at the bird to understand the name. And right next to the marshy area where the rosette spoonbill was foraging was a flock of wood storks. Best part was that I had not seen either species of bird during my stay in the Pantanal.
About a half hour later we passed a number of different deer. And this was unusual because I had not seen a single deer while in the Pantanal. First came the swamp deer, followed by the marsh deer. And while both deer were rather nice to see, the best by far was the male marsh deer we saw later grazing in a field. Huge antlers and moving so effortlessly through the grass.
We continued on through the Transpantaneira and about two hours into the trip, we ran into a cattle drive. Seriously. Cowboys on horses with whips corralling cattle right in the middle of the road. And the herd went on and on and on with no way around the cows unlike the sheep who generally move out of the way. The cows simply continued on their path right down the middle of the road, so we waited and waited while I took pictures.
Once the cattle were past us, we made a quick stop at a local lodge for a coffee (or water in my case) before continuing on. We finally reached the end of the dirt road about 3 ½ hours into the trip. The last hour of the drive took us through little villages on a nice paved highway.
We made one more stop along the way so that I could take a picture of San Francisco, the patron of ecology before finally reaching Cuiaba just before noon and of course had to stop at the churrascaria, where Wilmer and I had eaten lunch after I had arrived last Wednesday. The food was superb and with Herley’s help, I was finally able to distinguish between the various kinds of beef that were being served up on the long skewers. (Rump, sirloin, pepper beef and on and on.)
After lunch, I said goodbye to Wilmer and Herley (two absolutely lovely people) and sat in the Cuiaba airport for 3 hours waiting for my flight to Brasilia. Fortunately, the flight to Brasilia (and the landing) were uneventful and my flight from Brasilia to Rio was on time.
Once I landed in Rio, I collected my luggage, met the driver sent by the Miramar Hotel and was checking into my hotel about 20 minutes later. (That is the benefit of flying into Santos Dumont airport (“SDU”) as opposed to the larger Galeão International Airport.). Once checked in and ensconced in my room, I called my friend Tom Linde, who had arrived earlier in the day, and we agreed to meet downstairs for a drink. Tom, as I mentioned, would be travelling with me for the next two weeks. I started to unpack a few things and was suddenly struck by sheer panic. I had picked up the wrong suitcase. The large suitcase I had been traveling with that I had picked up at the airport was not mine. It was identical to mine down to the GOL orange strip I had attached to the bag, but it was not mine. The difference? The bottom of the suitcase was slightly frayed.
I raced downstairs with the bag cursing that I had not checked the back pocket tag to confirm it was my suitcase as I usually did. I saw Tom and rather than sharing the drink, I told him the problem and said I had to get back to the airport, return the bag and find my bag. My biggest concern was what if the person was as stupid as me and picked up my bag and hadn’t noticed the problem yet?
The hotel staff called the driver and he was back at the hotel in less than 5 minutes. Tom and I jumped in the car and raced off with the driver back to SDU. Before we left, I had been warned that the airport usually closes by 11:30 p.m. and at this point it was just after 11:30. And of course, as luck would have it as we raced to SDU our poor driver got stuck in a random DUI patrol check, which apparently happens along the boulevard along Ipanima and Copacabana beaches. Our driver had to get out of the car, provide his papers and then blow into a breathalyser. All of this took about 5 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.
We finally got back on track, but when we arrived at SDU around 11:50, the security guard waived us off and said “closed”. We explained the problem to the guard (who fortunately he spoke English), but he still insisted the place was closed. I was not taking no for an answer so walked through the open air area near the bagged pickup/exit and saw that a GOL representative was still at a desk inside the baggage area. I started waiving my arms despite the fact that the security guard kept saying closed. By now Tom and the driver had brought the piece of luggage I had erroneously picked up to where I was standing and suddenly the GOL rep saw us as I was pointing to the luggage belonging to the other person. She turned and a minute later she was wheeling my luggage towards the door. I was so happy I turned and hugged the security guard, and Tom and the driver began celebrating. SUCCESS. I apologized profusely to the GOL rep for my error, and everyone agreed once they saw the two pieces together, they looked identical except for the fraying on the underside of the luggage belonging to the other person What are the odds?
Anyway, we went back to the hotel, where I thanked the driver profusely and tipped him well before Tom and I went to the bar and had a beer. It had been a long, long day, but I made it with luggage after my screw up. Tomorrow we begin our tour of Rio.