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Trip Report Brazil Safari Report: macaws, marmosets, monkeys, a myriad of mammals, & many jaguars

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If you made it all the way through the title, I can understand any skepticism of my claim of many jaguars. I would expect suspicions that the jaguar sightings were the result of too many Brazilian Caipirinhas, a tasty concoction of limes, sugar, and Cachaca liquor. Of you might figure I must be geographically challenged and only thought I was in Brazil when I was actually at the Belize Zoo.

But I did honestly see 8 wild jaguars in a 3-week trip, 7 of which were along the Paraguay River in or near the Taiama Ecological Station, with 6 spotted in one unbelievable afternoon, and 31 photos of 5 of them are in an album below. Jaguar sightings are not that rare on the Paraguay River because the jaguars have become habituated to the noise from boats, as this river is a major shipping route between Brazil and Argentina. So you could go there and see them too.

I'll do a detailed trip report containing my itinerary, accommodations, agent info, and specifics on the sightings. Until then, I have some photos in the Kodak Easy Share Gallery, which represent a only small subset of the wildlife actually seen because some of it was at night and some of it eluded my photography abilities. There are five albums of five different locations with the nature photos first, then accommodations and such at the end of each album. The pictures are titled.

Paraguay River portion of Northern Pantanal trip. This album has the 31 jaguar pictures.
98 photos total, the first 89 are scenery and wildlife sightings, the last 9 are of the hotel.

Land portion of Northern Pantanal trip, flying into Cuiaba. Even though it was land based, there were 2 morning trips on the Pixiam River.
118 photos total, the first 95 are scenery and wildlife sightings, the next 18 are of 4 different accommodations, the last 5 are of our vehicle and some others we encountered.

Seminary where maned wolves are fed by the resident priests, located in Caraca in the Atlantic Forest of the state of Minas Gerais.
48 photos total, the first 21 are of scenery and wildlife sightings, the next 9 are of the Seminary and grounds, and the last 8 are the facililites/accommodations.

Caratinga Research Station, which focuses on primates, located in the Atlantic Forest of the state of Minas Gerais.
18 photos total, all of the scenery and wildlife around Caratinga. No hotel photos.

Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park.
18 photos total, the first half are of scenery and wildlife and the last half are of the inn

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    Lynn, great start. My connection is slow for some reason today, so I will have to wait on the photos.

    Out of curiosity, when and how did wildlife become the #1 focus of your many travels?

    I'm looking forward to more.

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    I made the shift to mostly nature travel about 1992 when I went to Australia and saw kangaroos and koalas. I remember I booked a side trip in Cairns where we went to a swamp and saw a duck billed platypus and stayed out until 2 am peering up tall trees for odd looking marsupials. That's when I got hooked.

    I've always liked nature and the outdoors, though. It also helps that this type of nature travel started to take off just around the time my own interest developed. These remote places are now accessible to a wider segment of the population than just the very rich. A couple generations earlier and I'd have to hang out with the likes of Hemingway to be able to travel to Africa and South America. Today even coupon clippers and Goodwill shoppers can save up and see the world.

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    Wow, atravelynn,

    That looks like a truly incredible trip! Loved the photos!! You had some incredible wildlife sightings. I will look forward to your more detailed trip report. I'm Costa Rica bound this year, but Brazil is on the to-do list!

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    Amazing photos Lynn. Thanks for posting the link on the African forum. I never would have seen this otherwise. In fact, I only looked at the link because of the title reference to loving cats on safari.

    The jaguars are so beautiful and your photos of them fantastic. I can't believe you got shots of them swimming. Is that common? Were you in a boat when you took these shots? The close ups of the face(s) and the spots on the one after being in the water. Just magnificent. I also loved the marmoset photos and those of the brown howler.

    The bird photos are also fantastic. The macaws are just beautiful, as are the storks, spoonbills, hyacinths and aracari. And how did you get that hummingbird shot? Is it as small as the hummingbird we see here in the U.S.,and how did you get it to stop moving its wings so you could get a clear photo?

    I am envious of all of your travels. You take some great trips. The Pantanal and Paraguay River are now on that Travel To Do list of mine that just keeps getting longer. I am going to have to stop reading your trip reports and looking at your photos. Every time I do I want to immediately take another trip to a place I'd never even considered before.

    Thanks for another opportunity to live vicariously through your photos.

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    Awesome pictures! I'm so jealous because I saw very very few exotic animals on my trip :-(

    May I ask what kind of camera you have?

    How far away were you from the jaguars?

    I'm looking forward to more details - itinerary route, touring company, etc.

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    I think they see jaguars swim every couple of weeks. There were quite a few humming birds, some bigger and some smaller than those in the US. I just saw one at home yesterday that was a lot smaller and less colorful. They would often hover around flowering bushes and you could get fairly close. Ha ha, that would be a good one to request a humming bird stop beating its wings for the photo op. I am relieved that the jaguar photos turned out well because most of the time the boat motor was going. If it stopped, we would have floated away in seconds. Thank you for all the nice comments!

    This trip was designed solely for wildlife viewing. I used a Sony DSC H2 and a DSC H9. These are 12x and 15x optical zoom, image stabilization point and shoots. The closest we got was about 12 feet from the jaguar, but usually more like 20.

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    Lynn, thanks for answering. I see you are posting questions on the Africa board when you should be nose to the grindstone working on this report.

    I showed your photos to my Africa travel buddy (the only person who agrees to my itineraries--and likes them!), and she said, "Oh wow, do you think we could do something like that?" As both she and her mother referred to every leopard we saw on our last trip as a jaguar, I said, "I don't see why not."

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    Amazing, amazing photos! It looks like we were at some of the same spots, but I think you saw even more wildlife than we did. We are actually planning to go back to Brazil next summer, probably the Amazon and Atlantic Rainforest.

    I am wondering about the location where you saw the jaguars. Did you have to fly there? I checked out the website for the Baiazinha Hotel but its only in Portugese...can't quite figure out if its drivable or you need to fly. I look forward to your full report!

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    Does calling a leopard a jaguar have something to do with the cat not changing its spots or smelling like a rose by any other name? That's ok, I referred to the jaguar one time as a cheetah.

    I am up to date with my shots so I did not get new ones for Brazil. Therefore I am not sure what ones are needed. I did not take any malaria prevention.

    An itinerary is next so you can see if we were in the same area. But a capybara looks the same anywhere I suppose.

    We took a 2 hour boat trip from the city of Carceres to get to Baiazinha. This was all arranged by the agent. I was just informed by the owner of Focus Tours, the company I went with, that Focus will be the exclusive agent for jaguar viewing by boat from the hotel.

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    For the report, I'll do the itinerary, a narration of the trip with wildlife sightings, then agent info at the end.


    Day 1 Aug 3
    Fly O’Hare to Sao Paulo, Guarulhos Aiport on United

    Day 2 Aug 4
    Arrive Sao Paulo and take shuttle to Melia Comfort Hotel, arriving around noon.

    Day 3 Aug 5
    Morning flight from Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte and drive about 2½ hours to the Seminary, lunch en route, arriving late afternoon. Dinner. Night with wolves. Sleep in room at Seminary—small, basic, comfortable, a little cold, good bathroom.. Lovely and interesting facility in beautiful setting.

    Day 4 Aug 6
    Bird watch from 6:30 to 7:30 am, breakfast, bird watch and walk on trails or road 3 hours until lunch, bird watch and walk on trails or road another 2-3 hours in afternoon. Dinner. Night with wolves. Sleep in room at Seminary.

    Day 5 Aug 7 repeat of Day 4

    Day 6 Aug 8
    Bird watch from 6:30 to 7:30 am, breakfast, bird watch and walk on trails or road until about 9:00 am. Drive 5 hours to Caratinga, lunch enroute. Stop about 45 minutes at a friend of the travel agent who has bird feeders and puts out fruit for marmosets. Bird and marmoset watch at their home. Dinner and overnight at Vind’s Hotel--very nice city hotel.

    Day 7 Aug 9
    Depart 6:00 am for 40 minute drive to Caratinga Research Station. Spend the day bird watching and looking for monkeys. Lunch fixings brought and stored in visitor fridge. Dinner and overnight at Vind’s Hotel.

    Day 8 Aug 10
    Depart 6:00 am for 40 minute drive to Caratinga Research Station. Spend the morning bird watching, looking for monkeys. Lunch fixings brought and stored in visitor fridge. At midday head to Mercure Hotel near the Belo Horizonte Airport—modern, nice city hotel.

    Note: I changed some flights to avoid Congonhas aiport and therefore overnighted near the Belo Horizonte airport. The normal routing is to spend the whole Day 8 at Caratinga and overnight about 2 hours away from the airport in the city of Rio Casca.

    Day 9 Aug 11
    Early morning flight from Belo to Cuiaba via Brasilia.
    Note: The normal routing is to drive a couple of hours to the Belo Horizonte airport from Rio Casca and take a later flight to Cuiaba via Sao Paulo.

    From the Cuiaba airport, drive on a paved road in an air-conditioned van about 2 ½ hours to Pocone, arriving early evening Then switch to the safari vehicle and head toward the Pantanal on road that changes to unpaved. Drive about 2 hours into the Pantanal with spotlight, looking for animals. Overnight Pousada Rio Clara—small room, basic, comfortable, good bathroom, A/C. Beautiful outdoor surroundings. Pousada Rio Clara is approx 45 km south of Pocone.

    Day 10 Aug 12
    Morning walk starting 6:30 am, then breakfast, then boat ride on Pixiam River. Lunch, rest, depart in the afternoon for the Jaguar Ecological Reserve and Jaguar Lodge. Game drive while the light lasts, spotlight at night, arriving about 3 hours later. Dinner. Overnight Jaguar Lodge—small room, basic, comfortable, good bathroom, A/C. On the grounds is a spotlighted area where food scraps are placed that attract crab eating foxes during the night. Tegu lizards dine in the area during the day. Jaguar Lodge is approx 110 km south of Pocone.

    Day 11 Aug 13
    Morning walk starting at 6:30 am, breakfast and another walk lasting to 11 am, lunch, rest, afternoon game drive that continued into a night drive. Dinner, another night drive. Overnight Jaguar Lodge.

    Day 12 Aug 14
    Morning departure for a game drive, south, then turned around and headed north past Jaguar Lodge to Mato Grosso Best Western Hotel. Lunch and rest, then afternoon game drive that continued into a night drive. Dinner, another night drive. Overnight Mato Grosso Hotel—small room, basic, comfortable, good bathroom, A/C. Beautiful outdoor surroundings and very nice facilities. Mato Grosso Hotel is approx 65 km south of Pocone.

    Day 13 Aug 15
    Morning walk starting 6:30 am, then breakfast, then boat ride on Pixiam River. Lunch, rest, depart in the afternoon for Pousada Alegro on game drive that continued into a night drive. Overnight Pousada Alegro-- small, extremely basic, rooms had previously been used for ranch hands, comfortable, good bathroom, A/C. Beautiful outdoor surroundings, an operating ranch. Pousada Alegro is approx. 35 km south of Pocone.

    Note: The original itinerary did not have the Mato Grosso Hotel or Pousda Alegro. Instead the last 2 nights on the land portion of the Pantanal were at Fazenda Curicaca, a Bare-faced Curassow Reserve. The accommodation was described as an Africa style lodge and was just a couple miles north of Pousada Alegro. Because Fazenda Curicaca was being renovated, the change in accommodations was made. As I consider a possible return trip, I cannot imagine eliminating Pousada Alegro because of good animal viewing and the working ranch atmosphere. The fig tree in front of the Mato Grosso had outstanding birding, plus offered a chance to see a different part of the Pixiam River than the boat ride from the Pousada Rio Clara. I’d want to include those two accommodations along WITH Fazenda Curicaca if I went back.

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    Day 14 Aug 16
    Morning walk starting 6:30 am, then breakfast, then another walk until about 9:30. Game drive in safari vehicle of about 2 hours out of Pantanal to Pocone. Air conditioned van to Carceres, about 2 ½ hours. Immediately board boat for 2 hour ride on the Paraguay River to Baiazinha Hotel (fishing lodge)—billed as the nicest hotel in the Pantanal and deserving of title. Medium sized, simple and nicely finished rooms with TV, good bathroom, A/Cs. Excellent facilities, right on the river.

    Day 15 Aug 17
    Morning walk at 7:00 am, then breakfast, then boat outing to a ranch with Hyacinth Macaws. Lunch, rest, afternoon boat ride.

    Day 16 Aug 18
    5:45 am departure for Taima Ecological Station which encompasses 35,000 acres. Day is spent in search of jaguars, returning before night (6 pm)

    Day 17 Aug 19 Repeat of Day 16

    Day 18 Aug 20
    The itinerary I received stated we would go further south beyond Taima in search of jaguars. Since we had had such great jaguar success already, we gambled on seeing a mother and cub in an area closer to home. Despite great effort on the part of the guide and captain, even pulling our boat over sandbars in piranha infested waters, we were not successful. We also spent more time just looking at the caiman, capybaras, birds, etc.

    Day 19 Aug 21
    Morning walk starting at 6:30 am, then breakfast and boat transfer, about 2 hours back down the Paraguay River. Board an air conditioned van in Carceres and proceed to Cuiaba and on to Chapada dos Guimaraes. Late afternoon views of the sun on the red cliffs and mountains. Visit to the geocenter of South America. Overnight at Solar dos Inglos—charming and exquisite inn with beautifully decorated rooms, and of course a good bathroom, don’t remember if there was A/C. Very attractive garden and outdoor sitting, dining areas. The British owner is a former jaguar and all-around big game hunter who told Focus Tours about the Paraguay River. He is most interested in the sightings on the Paraguay River.

    Day 20 Aug 22
    Morning birding along a dirt road for unique species. Visit to cliffs where red and green macaws nest. Visit to the national park for views of a waterfall, valley, cliffs and to hike on trails. Lunch and hour and a half drive to airport for flight back to Sao Paulo. Overnight Melia Comfort.

    Day 21 Aug 23
    Day at hotel waiting for evening flight that departed Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo

    Note: I used the day to catch up on work emails. I also went in the pool (too shallow for swimming), which was nice and warm. The flights did not work for an evening departure one day earlier, but this last day was not the best use of time.

    Day 22 Aug 23
    Arrive early in O’Hare

    I set this tour up as a group trip about a year and a half in advance so that the participation of others would defray my costs. The end result was I was alone for Caraca, Caratinga, and Chapada dos Guimaraes. Donna and Kimberly were with me for the land portion of the Pantanal. Donna continued on to the River portion of the Pantanal and Kimberly left but Rikki joined. Focus Tours arranges private trips or a modular plan like I did, where others can join. If I were to do it again, I would limit the group to four participants. We were never more than three and I was fortunate to have such an enjoyable group of travel companions.

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    Lynn -- Your pics are great, incredible sightings of so many gorgeous creatures. I was never sure if I wanted to go to Brazil -- now it is on my list for sure! Looking forward to the rest of your report. And would appreciate anything you feel like sharing re: cost (relative to, e.g. African safaris).

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    The cost was about the same as Africa. There were less expensive Pantanal options through International Expeditions that I investigated. Those flew into Campo Grande and did the Southern Pantanal.

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    Hi Lynn

    great great great pictures !!

    I showed them to my 12 yrs old son and now there are no excuses and we will go there as well !! Would be happy to have at least half the luck you had in jaguars viewing !! Macaws are also awesome !!

    Just one question: we started our anti-malaric profilaxis (Malarone)for Amazonas but once there we stopped as the lodge owner told us it was not strictly necessary in that specific part of the forest, as it depends on the different acidity of water in different places. Somewhere else we were told that Pantanal is more risky ! Then I wrote one of your post before your trip where your travel clinic told you you did not need it !!
    Do you think that also Pantanal has different areas with no and high risk ?

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    There is a daily Chicago O’Hare to Sao Paulo night flight on United that gets in midmorning. I spent that afternoon and night at an airport hotel as a buffer day, but you could launch into your trip or make a connecting flight upon arrival.

    The helpfulness and friendliness of numerous people in my first 8 hours in country was a wonderful welcome. (1)When I bought my Portuguese-English handbook at the airport, I was asked for exact change. Not understanding, I thought the clerk wanted more money and so I tried to hand over more, which the clerk could have taken, but did kindly did not. (2) A similar incident of a much greater magnitude occurred at the TAM airline ticket counter. Twice I was prepared to fork over a $100 change fee for a rerouting I had made in my multi-city TAM airpass. Turns out the fee had been waived because my change removed Congonhas Airport, where the tragic crash had occurred. (3) A leather jacket had been left at the counter next to where I was conducting my airline ticket business and when I walked away from the counter, I was chased down by another customer because he thought it was mine. Eventually the jacket was reunited with its owner.

    (4) I had some trouble locating the shuttle at the airport to the hotel and a competing hotel shuttle operator radioed for me. (5) Then an off duty airport employee waiting for a ride noticed I had been waiting in one spot a long time and used his cell phone to call the hotel for me. (6) At the hotel I had problems with my phone card and in no time there were people in my room dialing my phone for me. (7) When I asked to use the Internet, the desk clerk offered a solution to paying for the service—just come on in the back office and use hers for free.

    Everybody during my entire stay, not just Sao Paulo, was very friendly (with the exception of one non-Brazilian tourist, who will surface when the final jaguar sighting occurs) But those first few hours were exceptional!

    The next morning I arrived back at the airport several hours prior to my 2-hour Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte flight. There were some frantic moments resulting from two gate changes, with only the first appearing on the monitors, my inability to communicate with the gate staff to track down my flight, and announcements that were sometimes in both English and Portuguese and sometimes in just Portuguese. I boarded the bus that takes passengers to the plane with two other stragglers as the announcement was warning “last call.” The flight arrived two hours late but Guide Fabricio was waiting, so all was well. And as I would come to learn, with Fabricio as the guide, all was much more than well.

    I met Marcles the driver, (who also drove Brazilian rock stars when they were on tour!) and off we went through the winding roads into the hills of Caraca. Those roads were really winding and the hills were really rolling and we moved at a good clip, like 130 km/hour for normal cruising speed, and as a result it was not long into our ride that I realized we needed to make a quick emergency stop on the side of the road. Immediately! As my lower torso remained wedged in the vehicle and my upper torso protruded over the ditch and heaved, I had a flashback of a similar predicament one year earlier on a previous vacation. Different country, different car and driver, but the ditch was remarkably similar. I thought to myself, “I really know how to spend thousands of dollars and have a good time. Not to mention the first impression I am making.”

    After a second less rushed and tidier visit to a gas station restroom and a Bonine pill (which I should have taken earlier) the rest of the motoring went well. From what I understood from Marcles, he had never experienced a similar performance with any of the Brazilian rock stars.

    I was privileged to listen to some of those rock musicians because Marcles had their CDs that he would play as we careened around curves at 96 mph. We also had Queen blasting and I was pleased I could contribute something to our cozy little group besides being ill on the side of the road. I was able to explain the meaning of “We will, we will rock you!”

    Our first buffet lunch was typical of most of our main meals, except this place included live entertainment with traditional Brazilian music and the barbeque pits were open and flaming. There was plenty of beef here as there was at every meal. Throughout the trip it was prepared many different ways from beef roast to habachi-flamed steaks to slabs on a skewer, sliced at your table. At one meal Fabricio ordered a pan of Filé a Parmesian for us all to share. Chicken was also common from fried to Peixe á Milanesa, which was sautéed in cheese sauce. Beans that were a soup-like consistency were served at every meal with rice. I was never sure if the ever-present big pot of spaghetti noodles was eaten plain or not.

    The root vegetable, manioc , often played a big role whether fried, like a thick French fry, or as an entrée consisting of sausage mixed with dry manioc flour, or even an herbed dry condiment. Fabricio told me that manioc was a locally grown staple eaten a lot by the poor, but if it were imported, then the rich would develop a taste for it.

    A very good fish in white sauce was often available. It was catfish one time and I don’t know what kind of fish the other times, but not piranha. That was saved for the soup, served hot in a cup as an appetizer. The Baiazinha Hotel on the Paraguay River had fresh, catch-of-the-day fish each night that was outstanding.

    For the vegetarian there were always several of the following: salads with lettuce and tomato and fresh salsa dressing, pickled beets, a spinach-like cooked vegetable, cooked cauliflower and broccoli, sweet potatoes, and bread, sometimes cheese bread. I was encouraged to have the cheese bread at the Seminary because Minas Gerais is known to have the best.

    For our first lunch we did not partake in dessert but usually doce de leite was served. It was a creamy dessert and depending on the region could be caramel, coconut, chocolate, etc. Along with coffee beans, I brought back jars of doce de leite for gifts. Goiabada, a guava gel was also common, often served with white cheese.

    It should be noted that the Jaguar Lodge boasted the only yogurt served in the Pantanal. From what I could tell, they were right.

    I bought some pumpkin-coconut fudge from the restaurant and nibbled on that as a snack over the next couple of weeks. So I ate well at lunch that first day and continued to do so throughout the trip.

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    Days were spent on foot bird watching, typically starting at 6:30 am and continuing for another 5 to 6 hours, halting for breakfast, lunch, and midday siesta. A list of all birds seen will appear at the end of the report. Fabricio did get to add a new personal tick—the red ruffed fruit crow. There were a couple of trails we used with one leading to a lake and another to a waterfall. We also did birding along the paved road. In fact we saw a White Tufted-Eared Marmoset along the road. We followed it about 15 minutes as it swung through the trees most likely in search of its troopmates. In three nights I had six maned wolf sightings.

    Specifics of maned wolf sightings:

    Night #1.
    Knowing the wolves were fed at 7:00 pm, Fabrcio had me out on the (wolf dining) patio atop the steps in front of the church at 6:30 pm to see if anything was going on in the dark. I peeked over the patio railing onto the grass below and there they were! Two maned wolves nervously pacing. The priests promptly put out a pan of chicken parts and the wolves ascended the steps to eat but did not seem to enjoy each other’s company. Unlike North American wolves that are pack animals, these wolves are mostly solitary and like it that way. I watched from one of the many wrought iron patio chairs for about twenty minutes. Then it was our turn to eat. Wolf viewing could not have been easier!

    Night #2.
    I waited with another two guests. It was cold. The cement steps right in front of the blue church door retain the day’s heat until about 11:00 pm so they are a nice place to sit until then. After that they are just cold cement. One of the guests gave up at 11:55 am and left. Five seconds later one wolf showed up and ate for about half an hour. I felt bad for the guy who left but once the wolf was there I did not want to move and go after the guy and calling out to him would also scare the wolf. The dark, the church, the chiming of the clock on the hour at midnight, the wolf (even though it looked more like a fox), had a real gothic feel to it.

    Night #3.
    A group of French birdwatchers waited along with me for the wolves and at 7:30 pm we were rewarded with sighting #1 of a single wolf on the patio for about 10 minutes. A little over an hour later, 80% of the French birdwatchers and I had sighting #2 on the patio of a single wolf for another 10 minutes or so. But wolf food still remained in their pan and that meant the wolf/ves would return. So I bundled up in a wrought iron chair because the other people had claimed the church steps. I waited and froze. The French birdwatchers dwindled down to two, then one, then just me. I would doze for a few minutes and then wake with a start. I fell asleep about 12:30 am and was awakened by one chime of the bell at 1:00 am and there was one wolf. With nobody else around, it looked like a really big wolf, but when I checked the photos, it looked like the other animals and not a giant wolf. Anyway, wolf watching was not as easy as my first experience had led me to believe.

    Upper-50s F in the early morning, rising to upper 70s, maybe 80 F midday. No rain.

    If you plan to wait up for the wolves, take some winter clothing like a heavy jacket, mittens and a wool hat, even if it is bought at a second hand store and left behind at the Seminary, since you don’t need that attire for the rest of the trip.

    I arrived on a Sunday and there were lots of people. By Sunday night they had left to get back home in time for Monday. Fridays and Saturdays are not when you want to schedule your wolf visit. The wolf viewing area had only a couple of people Sunday and Monday night. Even the dozen French birdwatchers were easily accommodated on the patio on Tuesday night. But the rooms can hold about 100 people and that is too many to watch wolves enjoyably. I was also told that June and July are bigger vacation months for Brazilians and it was more crowded then.

    If seeing a maned wolf was your sole interest, two nights would be enough. I’d even say one night but I think that is too risky, even though one or more wolves come every night. Three nights was perfect for me.

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    Weather: Around 60 F in the early morning and upper 70s or 80 F by midday.

    Caratinga was about a 5-hour drive from the Caraca Seminary. We stopped at the wooded home belonging to a couple who were friends of the owner of Focus Tours. The husband was at home when we arrived and he invited us in and up a flight of stairs to the second story deck with a wonderful view of the forest that was his backyard. There were numerous bird feeders and fruit was put out for the Black Tufted-Eared Marmosets. We saw several new birds and about 10 marmosets during our 45-minute stay. I wondered what they would charge me to spend the day on their deck and camp out on it overnight. It would certainly be warmer than sleeping with the wolves on the church grounds in Caraca.

    That evening we went grocery shopping for food for the next two days’ worth of lunches and checked into Vind’s Hotel. The next two mornings we left at 6:00 am and arrived about 40 minutes later at the Research Station. This whole swath of land was donated to conservation efforts by the owner, Feliciano Miguel Abdala, after he became aware of its environmental significance.

    There are several mammal species and loads of birds in the area surrounding the Research Station, but the big attraction is the largest primate in South America, the Muriqui, which used to be called the Woolly Spider Monkey. Only a few hundred remain and this reserve has a good percentage. The researchers are in constant observation of the Muriquis but guests can view them only when they are near a couple of dirt roads. Usually they are in view for a good period of time during a two-day period, but we had more of a challenge during our visit. We saw none the first day. The second day it took two scouts on motorcycles and several hours of scouring the accessible tree cover, but eventually a single Muriqui was found asleep in a distant treetop about 9:30 am. Through binoculars and a spotting scope, I observed this lone monkey sleep in a pretzel shape, wrapped around a tree. About 10:00 am it awoke (normal wakeup time for all the monkeys this time of year) and was joined by another 4 to 5 members of the troop, including one baby. For about 30 minutes I watched their large pot bellied bodies swing through the trees as they fed. Then they took a midmorning nap and became invisible in the foliage. I am glad I did not miss this unique creature.

    While we were watching the monkeys from an open field that used to be ranchland, tiny muquins or black tick-like bugs latched onto us. The results were not evident until a few days later when I had about 250 itching bites between my ankles and belly button. I treated them with tobacco leaves and juice, given to me by a local. Fabricio had developed an immunity to the bugs so his infestation was mild compared to mine. These muquins do not carry disease and within a 10 days if the initial outbreak, the bites were gone.

    Other monkeys in Caratinga included the Black-capped Capuchin and I had a couple of sightings, concealed by brush. There was also the Brown Howler, which was more plentiful, visible, and vocal. I viewed them on low hanging branches and saw several descend from the trees to drink from a small stream. A red rumped agouti sprang across our path one day too. It looked like a giant rat with its butt on fire, tearing across the road. In addition to seeking out mammals, we spent much of our time walking the paths and bird watching. A list of all birds will appear at the end of the report.

    Each day at Caratinga, Marcles was kind enough to put out a variety of sandwich items that he had brought and stored in the visitor center fridge, and we made ourselves a tasty lunch. Fabricio liked to put everything from chicken to turkey to tuna on his sandwich, which lead to an explanation of the Dagwood sandwich. I think that term is understood only by members of a certain generation.

    After lunch on our second day at Caratinga, we departed for Belo Horizonte and a hotel near the airport. It is normally a 3-hour drive. A truck explosion on the road, which we did not see, resulted in a 5-hour drive. The standard itinerary would have had us depart a few hours later and overnight in Rio Casca, about two hours from the Belo Horzonte Airport. I made itinerary changes just days before departure to avoid landing or taking off from Congonhas, where the unfortunate airline crash had occurred.

    An overnight in Belo meant I was able to meet Douglas Trent, the owner of Focus Tours, who lives there. Douglas and a friend of his met Marcles, Fabricio and me for dinner at a nearby restaurant with specialty pizzas on the menu. It was a delight to visit with Douglas and learn more about his organization and its worthy conservation goals while sampling numerous (too numerous) delicious pizza slices. I also learned that some Brazilians enjoy mayonnaise on their pizza and I was introduced to the tasty and smooth Caipirinha, made of limes, sugar, and Cachaca liquor. A common phrase was explained to me during this meal that became the quote of the trip. When Brazilians do not like something, they say (in Portuguese of course) “It’s not my beach.” The phrase incorporates their love of the ocean and beaches. Even though “It’s not my beach” did not apply to anything on the trip, except for one crazed individual who will cross our paths near the end of the trip. I still found it culturally intriguing and worthy of quote of the trip.

    The dinner at Vind’s Hotel was excellent and one of the few non-buffet meals we enjoyed, but the service took one hour the first night and an hour and a half the next. Fabricio and Marcles explained that was not normal, or I might have thought it was. If you stay there and eat there, you could plan accordingly.

    The bug bites might have been a fluke. I did have my trousers tucked into my socks. Douglas told us how his first encounters with the muquins resulted in much worse bites than his more recent encounters. There were no bugs in the forest, just out in the open land. I guess my advice is not to freak out if you are covered with what looks like hundreds of mosquito bites. I had no adverse reaction beyond itching now and then, fortunately not every moment. The product After Bite seemed to help but I used it all up in about two days.

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    I was given advice from reliable sources who work in the Pantanal to avoid a trip during the full moon if seeing mammals is a goal. Bird watching is unaffected by the moon.

    Weather: 65 F in the early morning and 90s by midday. No rain.

    Fabricio and I flew out of Belo Horizonte with connections through Brasilia and on to Cuiaba. Our first flight was about an hour late, which could have messed up our connection, but the Brasilia-Cuiaba was also late. Two wrongs made a right that time and we arrived into Cuiaba with about four hours to spare before my travel partners’ flight came in. This long layover was due to my change in flights to avoid Congonhas Airport. Fabricio called up a friend of his to join us for lunch and we all went back to the friend’s lovely home. A couple of hammocks were strung for our siesta and the next thing I remembered it was time to head back to the airport to pick up my travel partners. Their flight was 10 minutes early.

    Donna, Kimberly, and I got acquainted on the 2 drive in an air-conditioned van from Cuiaba, south to Pocone. I could tell we would be a fine team by the time we switched to our open “safari vehicle” in Pocone, with Jueno as the driver. Not long after leaving Pocone, the paved road turned to unpaved and the sign appeared indicating that we were on the Transpantaneira Highway. This is the only road through the Northern Pantanal and it would take about 6 hours to drive to the end. There is another highway through the Southern Pantanal that is paved, but the northern and southern roads do not join up to form one continuous route.

    When Fabricio said that it would be on Transpantaneira Highway that the vast majority of our game drives would take place, I was suddenly distressed that I had somehow missed this crucial detail--wildlife viewing from a highway with fenced ranches on either side. But it turned out not to be a big deal. There were very few other vehicles on the road,with occasional big trucks transporting goods, very light local traffic, and just a couple other tourism vehicles. We never saw one other spotlighting vehicle at night. Fabricio had told us that most other companies do only one night drive during their entire trip, and with the lack of traffic that seemed to be the case. The fences were not intrusive, maybe because a lot of what we were looking at were birds in trees and the wire fences were only a couple of feet high. Or maybe because at night, when most of the mammals were seen, you could not the fence anyway. As the itinerary progressed south toward Jaguar Lodge either there were no more fences or they were covered by thick brush because I didn’t notice any. A couple of our accommodations (Pousada Alegro & Rio Clara) had a mile or so of private road for wildlife viewing, but no offroading was allowed on these. Finally, a lot of our time was spent on foot or in a boat.

    Pousada Rio Clara
    So as dusk progressed into a moonless night we had a mammal-abundant drive to Pousada Clara Rio, our first Pantanal accommodation. We started off with a bang—the elusive jagarundi (brown form), about 40 meters away and I am thrilled to have made that sighting, though I didn’t know what I was looking until Fabrico came to the rescue. Our sightings in list form:

    1 jagurundi
    8 crab eating fox (including 1 mother and 2 juveniles)
    5 crab eating raccoons (including 1 mother and 2 juveniles)
    1 lesser anteater
    1 red brock deer
    many caiman, visible across the swampy areas because their eyes lit up (I said it looked like Las Vegas)
    many capybara, again visible by their eyes—one excellent view was a common rat in the foreground and a capybara (the largest rodent) in the background. The vehicle was charged by a capybara at one of the caiman sightings. In reality I believe it was just a case of the critter wanting to cross the street without delay and we were there.
    flocks of sleeping herons
    3 collared peccaries
    1 ocelot

    Our first morning in the Pantanal we were up for a 6:30 am bird walk. A lovely white cat joined us for the entire walk through field and forest, so we’ll never know how that may have detracted from our bird sightings. But a highlight was three chestnut eared aracaris on one branch. The wildlife abundance can be illustrated with this specific sighting. A couple of white collared peccaries were trotting around and I was trying to take their picture together, then with the white cat, who seemed to be an accepted playmate. The other people were excitedly announcing the aracaries up in the tree and I can remember being almost annoyed at the amount of stimuli, thinking, “The aracaries are going to have to wait. I don’t care if there are three of them I have my hands full with this pair of peccaries at the moment.” That was not the only time I experienced nature overload.

    After breakfast we went for a 3-hour motorboat ride and saw numerous birds such as the black crowned night heron, cocoi heron, rufescent tiger heron, Amazon kingfisher, ringed king fisher, jabaru, black collared hawk, etc. A complete list of birds will appear at the end of the report. We also saw:

    many adult caiman in groups and alone
    our first view of a couple of capybara in the daylight
    several baby caiman
    two groups of at least a half dozen fruit bats sunning on a tree
    3 brown capuchin monkeys
    2 black and gold howler monkeys (males are black, females are gold)
    2 giant river otters

    Shortly after the otters were spotted, the boat captain handed each of us three ladies a fishing pole (no reel, just a pole and string) baited with beef chunks and instructed us to begin fishing for piranhas. We were slightly shocked and individually had zero to little angling experience, but when the captain says “fish” you fish. There would be no mutiny on our boat. The piranhas were biting like crazy. The only challenge was preventing them from just stealing the bait. When we had caught about 15, (we never handled the dangerous piranhas, the crew did) the captain began tossing the piranhas to the otters to attract them. Unfortunately these giant river otters were not too hungry and did not linger. After our half hour fishing expedition we understood how this experience has a bonding effect because for much of that 30 minutes at least one of us was laughing hysterically at our own ineptitude or that of the person across from us.

    The captain and crew also went fishing for caiman but the idea was to feed the caiman. The caiman seemed to know the routine well and put on a show, opening their jaws for the fish dangling from the pole. They were fed in the end.

    Another incident of nature overload occurred on the boat. As the sun rose in the sky and I shed some layers, I knew it was time to apply suntan lotion to my exposed skin. But I was having trouble finding a 2-minute interval of down time when binocs or camera were not needed. Eventually, I just made a mad dash of squirting and slathering the SPF 45. Unfortunately I was not quick enough and missed out on a photo op of a rufescent tiger heron with a fish in its mouth. “Can’t I just have a moment of peace to put on some lotion, for crying out loud?” was my thought.

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    Jaguar Lodge
    We left Pousada Rio Clara about 3:30 pm and headed south for the 3 ½ hour game drive that would turn into a night drive, ending with our arrival at Jaguar Lodge. A lot of our daylight was spent observing:

    several different jabaru stork nests with chicks
    at least three marsh deer
    a little red brocket deer (different from just a red brocket deer).
    2 coatis, with the only face shot I got of this animal

    After dark we saw:

    1-2 crab eating foxes

    Our arrival at Jaguar Lodge in the Jaguar Ecological Reserve was a homecoming for Fabricio. It is owned and operated by his cousin, who also guides for Focus Tours. Focus Tours was instrumental in providing financial support for turning this ranch into a tourist destination and jaguar reserve.

    We did a pair of morning walks, punctuated by breakfast, until 11:00 am. A bandana that I soaked from my water bottle was helpful toward the middle of our last walk. We saw two groups each of brown capuchins and black and gold howlers. We watched one of the capuchins trying to open a nut by banging it on a tree branch overhead for a long time. There was a point where I was torn between watching the monkeys and searching the nearby foliage with my binoculars for the enchanting pale crested woodpecker in yet incident of nature overload.

    That afternoon we went to a ranch of a family friend where many hyacinth macaws live because of the abundance of palm trees. We enjoyed watching about half a dozen of these brilliant blue birds through a spotting scope, through binoculars, and with the naked eye for about half an hour. There are around 30 hyacinth macaws that hang out near the ranch and in June and July they spend more time in a large flock. By August they are in smaller groups. So our daylight viewing encompassed

    6 hyacinths
    1 coati

    The area surrounding Jaguar Lodge had much thicker forest with a better environment for monkeys and mammals seeking protective habitat than the region further north. The result: a higher density of animals, more difficult viewing terrain. For the land portion of the Pantanal, I think this region is the best bet for jaguar. The research I had done before the trip, included comments such as: 25% of guests on a typical 2-night stay see a jaguar here. When I talked with the owner of Focus Tours in the winter of 2006, he indicated that unfortunately some of the jaguars that had produced those good odds were no longer being seen.

    Our second evening at Jaguar Lodge, we went out on two separate night drives in search of jaguars or other animals and had a nice view and photo op of a screech owl, but no other big sightings.

    While our group saw no jaguars, here is what the other guests saw: An Englishman researching bats had seen a jaguar during the afternoon of the day we arrived. I believe he was on an escorted walk, but he had such good digital photos of it that I may have misunderstood just when he saw the jaguar. (I must admit a twinge of jealousy when he was showing off the pictures on his camera.) A guy from Belo Horizonte had spent a two-week vacation at Jaguar Lodge and left a few days before we arrived. His purpose was to see a jaguar and he did get to see one. The day we left there was excited banter about a Brazilian couple’s excellent jaguar sighting. These were the only other guests so we were the only group I knew of at Jaguar Lodge that did not see a jaguar. Fabricio’s cousin was considering devoting a whole wall to jaguar pictures taken on the reserve and sent back to the lodge by the guests who took them, so they are sighted. Currently there were about six pictures of a variety of wildlife.

    Earlier in the trip, at Caraca where the maned wolves are, dinner conversation had drifted to the Pantanal. Another guide made the comment that in the hot months he did not like the fact that Jaguar Lodge shuts down the generator in the middle of the night, which shut off the A/C. But he added that for mammals Jaguar Lodge is THE place to go. He did not know Fabricio’s cousin owned it.

    I asked Fabricio how often he saw a jaguar on his land Pantanal trips and his response was about every three trips. Jaguar Lodge is the most logical place to see the jaguar as they are rarely sighted in the more open areas surrounding the other lodges. Luckily, we would have one of those rare sightings!

    Our last morning at Jaguar Lodge was spent heading further south on a morning game drive, followed by a walk, then we turned around and headed back up north, past Jaguar Lodge and on to Best Western Hotel Mato Grosso-Pantanal. We saw:

    many caiman sunning themselves
    1 cayman lizard
    many capybara, including my first decent photo of one

    Hotel Mato Grosso-Pantanal (A Best Western)
    There was a lot of activity on the grounds. There was the bird-filled giant fig tree in front of the dining room, the many bird feeders that attracted yellow-billed cardinals, and the caiman that sunned themselves on the boat dock.

    The afternoon drive game drive produced:

    a couple of marsh deer
    1 caiman lizard
    3 coati

    After sundown we saw:

    1 jaguar
    1 marsh deer

    The jaguar sighting was completely unexpected in this location. In fact, Fabricio stated that he had never seen a jaguar in that section. He felt the area around Matto Grosso Hotel had enough of a tourism rather then ranching focus so that jaguars may feel comfortable coming into the area and remaining without a threat. It was nice Kimberly got a glimpse of a jaguar because she was doing only the land portion of the trip.

    The sighting was not a pristine one. We were clipping along at a decent pace and were within site of the hotel and the cement bridge in front of it. A large truck had just passed so I had my head turned away with my eyes squeezed shut to avoid the dust. On previous but infrequent occasions when this happened, I actually thought to myself, “If a jaguar comes by now, I won’t be able to see it.” How prophetic that thought was. Fortunately Fabricio and Jueno, the guide, were not cowering from the dust. Fabricio announced in a loud whisper, “Jaguar,” and turned the light on it then reminded us to be quiet with “Shhhh.” Jueno slammed on the breaks. In 5 seconds it was over as the huge jaguar slinked into thicket. Had I not hidden my head, it would have been a 7 second viewing.

    We had another very brief and obscured view of it with the spot light through the leaves. Then we noticed something else—a marsh deer that was frozen in its tracks. Fabricio attributed that behavior to the jaguar’s presence and not to us. We waited for several minutes to see what the jaguar might do, but there was no more sign of it.

    When we arrived back at the hotel, Fabricio was announcing the victorious sighting to the other guides and staff before the vehicle even stopped. The atmosphere turned to instant fiesta and Fabricio was The Man. I had caught a hint of such a celebratory air at Jaguar Lodge when the other jaguar sightings had occurred. But Fabricio had us out in the vehicle and on foot so much, that it was hard to tell what all was going on at the lodge.

    After dinner we went out a second time and found the tapirs we had been searching for. We observed a mother and a subadult son for about 10 minutes. So night drive #2 resulted in

    2 tapirs
    1 marsh deer
    5 red brocket deer
    5 crab eating fox

    The next morning after our 6:30 am bird walk and breakfast we had the opportunity to cruise another section of the Pixiam River. This time we saw, in addition to the birdlife,

    2 iguanas
    many caimen
    several capaybara
    1 giant river otter that was much more obliging with photos. We did not provide it with fish but another boat did.

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    Pousada Allegro
    About 4:00 pm we set off for our last and northern most stop in the Pantanal, Pousada Allegro. Along the way in the daylight we saw

    8 coati (including a mother and 5 young)
    huge groups of capybara
    1 white collared peccary
    1 large ocelot that crossed the road in front of us. We even got out of the vehicle for possible further views, but could not locate it.

    After dark we saw
    2 crab eating foxes
    1 giant anteater rear, the front end was in the forest
    more capybaras, visible by their shining eyes
    many caiman, also visible by their eyes.

    Our morning walks pre- and post-breakfast at Pousada Alegro included sightings of the Pantaneiro cowboys who worked on the ranch. We also saw:

    a dozen hyacinth macaws that live in the palms on the ranch
    1 agouti
    20 migrating capybara about 300 meters away, migrating to the water
    a dozen coati foraging, so the view was mostly of their raised tails
    a savanna hawk on the lower branches of a tree with an eel
    lots of caiman

    Throughout the land portion of the trip, whether in the vehicle or walking, we benefited from the sharp spotting skills of both Fabricio and driver Jueno, who was working on becoming a guide.

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    Weather: About 5-10 degrees cooler than the land portion of the Pantanal. The river is always slightly cooler, but a cold front came through on our second day, which made it even colder. On the river any breeze really cooled things off.

    We left Pousada Alegro around 10:00 am for the 2-hour drive in the open safari vehicle back to Pocone. A tegu lizard was our final sighting. We stopped for lunch in Pocone and said goodbye to Kimberly and hello to Riki, our new third companion. Donna, Riki, and I had a 2 ½ hour trip by air-conditioned van to the city of Carceres. Upon arrival we met Captain Gilson and hopped into his boat for the 2-hour trip on the Paraguay River to the Baiazinha Hotel. It was a long travel day and I was grateful for the opportunity to relax in my lovely room when we arrived at Baiazinha at last.

    I had not rested long when I heard loud shrieks, yips, and screams that indicated there must be several children at the lodge. I thought to myself, “As long as they are quiet at night and don’t disturb my jaguar viewing, I can tolerate their noisy, rambunctious behavior now.” It’s not like the only other sounds were those of nature. A stereo serenaded us with catchy Brazilian tunes most afternoons and about 500 meters down river was a giant dredging machine that dredged about 10 hours a day.

    Turns out there were no juvenile guests. The sounds were coming from my neighbor and travel mate, Donna. She had discovered a huge spider in her room and was not at all fond of those creatures. What I found so humorous was this contrast in behavior exhibited by the normally composed and confident Donna, who traveled internationally for both pleasure and business. She was really beside herself. Since there was not much else going on, we watched Fabricio do a live trap and humane transport and release of the spider. Later in the trip I could only wish for some noisy children as opposed to one particular adult guest at the hotel.

    Although not much was going on that evening, other evenings we watched two nonpaying guests—a pair of great horned owls. We also saw a tegu lizard and other lizards on the grounds, howler monkeys in the forest next to the property, and a flock of black hooded parrots (a Pantanal special) on the bird feeder.

    We spent 5 nights and 4 days at Baiazinha. Two of the days were 12-hour intensive jaguar hunts and we packed treats and lunch for the long day. We ate lunch on a sandy bank and then napped for 30-45 minutes. The other two days started with a morning bird walk, which produced a red and green macaw one morning, followed by an a.m. boat ride, then lunch at the hotel, and then a p.m. boat ride. We visited a ranch with palm trees and a resident flock of a dozen plus hyacinth macaws and enjoyed that area on foot. From the boat we spent time at a fascinating wood stork rookery along the river. Morning was a better time to view the wood storks due to the position of the sun. We would probably have done three 12-hour intensive jaguar hunts had we not been so successful early on and had we not tried to see a mother and cub jaguar on our last day that had been seen regularly not that far away.

    Large transport boats were common on the river, as were the traditional canoes of the Pantaneiro fisherman. The capybaras would allow the boat--motor turned off--to drift right next to them along the shore. You could almost touch them. They were much less shy here than on the Pixiam River. We also saw rafts of caiman on sandbars; flocks of a variety of birds flying along the water; black and gold howlers in the trees; and numerous otters, including one group of five. One slow afternoon in the boat Captain Gilson caught a fish with his bare hands, performing catch and release.

    The reason the jaguars are easier to see along the Paraguay River than in other places is that they enjoy sunning themselves on the river’s banks and have become habituated to the sights and sounds of watercraft and the crews aboard them.

    Specifics of the jaguar sightings along the Paraguay River in and out of the Taiama Jaguar Reserve:

    First day of jaguar viewing—

    A cold front had come through during the morning providing unwanted cloud cover and poor jaguar viewing conditions until mid-morning, What followed was perfect conditions for jaguar viewing in the afternoon.

    #1 1:45 pm Two male jaguars were spotted together along the river bank. One promptly left but the other remained and maintained a relaxed demeanor during our 10 minutes of viewing. The boat motor was on low to keep us in position or we would have quickly drifted away and the jaguar would have become obscured by the surrounding foliage. There could have been safety reasons too that the boat was not shut off. All of the photos were taken with the motor running.

    #2 1:55 pm The other half of the jaguar pair was walking along the river bank, in and out of concealed by brush. He was limping as he disappeared into the forest after about 30 seconds. Between his limp and Jaguar #1’s missing tooth (which is evident in the yawning photos), it was evident these were two old boys who no longer competed against each other for mates and instead just hung out together.

    #3 2:05 pm Nice unobstructed view of a male jaguar sitting on the sunny bank. He ran off after about 10 seconds.

    #4 3:15 pm A male jaguar was spotted swimming across the river. He came out of the water in thick marshy vegetation and slowly disappeared in the foliage. Both water and land viewing lasted under one minute.

    The above observations were in the Taiama Jaguar Reserve. The remaining observations were not.

    #5 5:00 pm The boat was speeding along when we all noticed the head of a male jaguar looking out from a thicket along the river. The Captain stopped the boat and turned around for a better view, but the jaguar left.

    #6 5:30 pm A female jaguar was swimming in the sunset’s glow on the river. We watched her swim, exit the river, climb the bank, and run into the forest in a matter of 30 seconds. We were just absorbing the magic of having witnessed a swimming jaguar and sunset scene when four hyacinth macaws escorted us toward the hotel. More magic.

    It is common to see more male jaguars than females because the females are more elusive and may be watching over cubs.

    Second day of jaguar viewing—

    #7 5:00 pm The conditions had been good all day, except for some wind, but not a single jaguar until literally the 11th hour when we were speeding back to the hotel, resigned to being skunked that day by the jaguars. By now the wind had died. Suddenly, Fabricio called out what we had been wanting to hear all day, “Jaguar!” We saw a youthful and inquisitive looking head pop out of the shadows on the bank. The expression was identical to that of a housecat sitting in a windowsill just looking out and surveying the landscape. Captain Gilson slowed abruptly and made a sharp turn back toward the jaguar, who was observing us like the housecat watches birds in its yard. We had started snapping photos despite being tossed about by the boat’s wake and we were slowing creeping back to a good vantage point to view our cat.

    That’s when we noticed another boat from Baiazinha, carrying a couple and their guide, racing toward us. We motioned silently and pointed, trying to get their attention so they would slow down and not scare the cat and so they could enjoy it as well. The female tourist on the boat began yelling. I remember making the most frantic index finger to lips with wide eyes pantomime I have ever made. I looked like a librarian on steroids. Apologies to my librarian friends, and I do have some, but doubt they are reading this. Couldn’t she see the jaguar? Certainly her guide and captain could. This was no time for shouting greetings across the water!

    We all figured we had better concentrate on the jaguar before it had enough of the noise on out on the river. Good thing we did because it soon slipped away as the shouting escalated to screaming. We were soon close enough to hear her. “You’ve ruined our day! You’ve ruined our day!” closely followed by, “ I’m not sorry I scared the jaguar! I am not sorry at all! ” Then the boat sped off. I had just witnessed the most appalling incident by a tourist in all my years of traveling. The other two widely traveled women concurred.

    We did not know what the ranting by this crazy lady was about. The first reaction from we three US citizens was, “We’re just glad she isn’t American.” Next we acknowledged how thankful we were for our good jaguar fortunes the previous day because if this had been our only sighting of the trip, we would have all been sick. Then I explained to Fabricio why I had said we had not been “skunked” when he made the jaguar sighting, broadening his understanding of English expressions. Once it set in what had happened, we were collectively p-ssed! Finally, Captain Gilson, who had limited his conversation to pointing out jaguars or other animals, started laughing and chatting up a storm with Fabricio. That’s when he took off at full throttle for a nearby fisherman’s shanty where the local traditional fisherman would be gathered about this time of the evening. He had a tale to recount.

    Captain Gilson animatedly recounted the incident in Portuguese to the fishermen. I could make out the words “gringa” (darn, they all assumed she was American, I’m sure), “own-say” for jaguar and “de-school-pay” for sorry. There were roars of laughter from the men. No one could believe her actions--not tourists, not guides or boat captains, not fisherman.

    Back at the hotel the guide for the crazy lady apologized and explained the nervous nature of her client and some vague psychological problems. She also thanked us for showing the jaguar to their boat.

    The crazy lady then apologized to us. Her explanation for the behavior was that she thought their boat would be alone in the 35,000-acre jaguar reserve. When she saw us lounging on a beach in the reserve during lunch as her boat sped by, she realized she was not alone and became upset. She also was unhappy with the lack of jaguar sightings, as they had not seen any either. Her next comment made us realize she was delusional. “When you sped in front of us while we were finally viewing a jaguar, that was the last straw.” The reality was that we had found the jaguar and were trying to point it out to them. The night ended with her very cordial, normal husband holding and rocking her as one would a baby (she had shared with us she was age 40) outside on the patio furniture while we ate dessert.

    As a result of that incident, Focus Tours will be the exclusive provider of jaguar viewing trips by boat from Baiazinha. I was informed of this by the owner of Focus a couple of weeks after returning. FYI, there are no other accommodations closer than the 2-hour boat ride from Baiazinha.

    For big cats and big rats (the jaguar and the capybara) I would suggest the Paraguay River. For a chance to see the many mammals of the Pantanal and more diverse bird life, I would suggest the land part of the Pantanal, staying along the Transpantaniera Highway. A combo, as I did, is ideal.

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    Leaving Baiazinhia by boat at 9:00 am, it was possible to drive to Chapada dos Guimaraes by about 4:30 pm, via Cuiaba. We dropped Riki off at a Cuiaba hotel and Donna at the airport. Our Paraguay River adventure together had ended. It was back to Fabricio and me, plus our new driver, Paulo.

    This resort town is about a 1 ½ to 2 hour drive from Cuiaba. It has many walking and bike paths, streets full of interesting shops, a dramatic waterfall, and cliffs and canyons that are most striking in the afternoon sun. There were also charming B&Bs like Solar dos Inglos, where I stayed. The owner was especially interested in our jaguar sightings along the Paraguay because he had alerted Focus Tours about this area. He had discovered it as a big game hunter, but had retired his gun for a lifestyle overseeing a beautifully appointed and elegantly catered B&B.

    The center of South America is in Chapada dos Guimares and you can stand right smack on that point. We found several new species of birds in the area, including the ubiquitous burrowing owl. A complete list of birds will appear at the end of the report. No mammal sightings, but we saw some puma tracks that had been made the previous night, which was exciting. We also towed a motorcyclist out of the wilderness on his broken down bike. A highlight of the area is the red and green macaw. We could observe pairs flying along the cliffs, soaring over the forests, and nesting in the canyon walls. In fact a nesting pair of red and green macaws was my last wildlife sighting, and an appropriate one I thought for a trip to Brazil.

    Suggestions: If you wanted to buy unique gifts or souvenirs, Chapada dos Guimaraes is the place, but to fully enjoy both the wildlife and spend quality time in the shops, you need more than the one night. There were no other opportunities for shopping during my trip other than the lodging gift shops, which were far and few between, and usually very meager when they were present. I was able to find postcards at only one lodge (forget which one) and never could find any stamps. You could get both post cards and stamps in Chapada dos Guimaraes if you had enough time. I should mention that I had requested at the outset of the trip that I did not want to shop so I was pleased my time was spent on activities other than shopping.

    Just the bird list and comments on Focus Tours and the other operators I considered are left.

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    Awesome. I'm looking forward to your comments about Focus. As Predator Biologist has noted re: where the wildlife is: it's wherever Lynn is. Lucky Lynn should be your nickname. I'm going to look at your photos again!

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    -Focus Tours, the agent I used
    If you can accept lapses in communication and delays in transactions in exchange for a perfectly executed, extraordinary trip, with wonderful guiding, then I would recommend this company. The lag in my comments on the company was the result of (despite reminders) waiting until Oct 15 for some money that was owed to me since Aug. 1, before I ever left home.

    The guide is so important and Fabricio was excellent, in my opinion and that of the other three participants. Focus Tour owner, Douglas Trent, knew Fabricio from the time he was a child and arranged for him to undergo extensive guide training when he was about 18. This included English lessons in the US, over a month at a birding camp to hone his already ample skills, and a pair Swarovki binoculars, among other things. Both Fabricio and his cousin, who owns Jaguar Lodge, were provided similar training and the result is that they are the only two Pantaneiro Guides of their level in the Pantanal—according to Fabricio.

    Because Fabricio had not been to Minas Gerais in a year and that is where our trip began, just before I arrived he underwent training with a local guide to update his bird skills at the locations we would visit. That was very impressive to me.

    I counted nine different vehicle, van, safari truck, or boat drivers and every one of them was great and enhanced our trip. The main safari vehicle was the only open one I saw on the entire trip. The accommodations we stayed in were perfectly located (that’s the most important part) and all very comfortable.

    Pre-trip and pre-deposit planning was excellent, as Douglas Trent was in Santa Fe at the time. After that, there were times when I could not reach the company for up to two weeks by phone or email at any location. Materials that were promised never arrived, and most emails from the Santa Fe office staff started off with apologies for missed calls, lost emails, delays etc. The other women on the trip had the exact experience I did. As we recounted our concerns, we all feared at one point, perhaps this place was not for real, and we had lost our money. Douglas just informed me that he will be getting a Vonage phone with a New Mexico number so he can be reached easily in Brazil, so I think that may help.

    While the Santa Fe office was responsible for some lapses, there was a notable exception when I was in continual contact with them for about 2 weeks. After the tragic crash at Congonhas Airport in Sao Paulo and the subsequent news reports that blamed the runways, I insisted on changing my flights to avoid that airport. With the situation in constant flux, it was not just a simple procedure and I was in daily, sometimes hourly, phone or email contact with Santa Fe or Brazil, even a 3-way conference call. Focus changed the flights and the itinerary according to my to requests. That itinerary change and the additional money I wired them (which turned out to be more than was needed for the changes because TAM Airlines relaxed flight change fees in my situation) was the source of the refund that I received.

    -International Expeditions
    Looks like a great trip and a really great price. I’d even consider it someday. They had told me I could arrive in the Pantanal a few days early before the group for more days. I did not go with them because I wanted something more extensive and remote.

    -Natural Habitat
    Just got the catalog where the Pantanal is an exploratory trip. It was not available when I booked mine. It includes Bonito for snorkeling in the southern part. Same lodge (Caiman) as IE. Looks like a good trip, but more expensive than IE.

    -Tropical Nature Travel

    Both were responsive with emails and seemed good. Focus offered more of what I was looking for. I’d consider either of these companies in the future.

    Of course I'd strongly consider Focus Tours for any future Brazil or South American travel.

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    Hi atravelynn:
    I saw your post on the Africa forum but forgot to respond there to tell you how much I have enjoyed the report and photos. I am a photo addict and I think after looking at yours I am sated but simultanouely rarin' to go to Brazil and take some of my own--maybe in 2009.

    This is such a helpful report--thanks!

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    Leely, Love those bookings in the mind.

    Schlegal1, I remember back in the planning stages you came to my rescue when my attempts to recruit some travelmates made it look like I was a travel agent. 2009 is just around the corner.

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    From what our guide said, the number of birds seen was not something to crow about. Pardon the pun. He felt there were many birds that did not show up for us in the Pantanal and that we should have seen a good deal more. He also was surprised in Minas Gerais that certain birds were not spotted, when days before they were seen. There were entire afternoons with hardly one singing bird and no sightings in Caraca. I ran into some avid birders who were a bit desperate to find certain species that were not cooperating.

    There was no real reason for the below average bird count--weather was normal and very nice and we had an exceptional guide, often accompanied by a driver with good eyes, plus 2 of my 3 travel companions were skilled birders. Just our luck.

    But I consider that good news overall if it means 237 different birds was a poor showing. Many of the sightings we had were attractive or colorful birds, sometimes in abundance, in fabulous settings, doing fascinating things, so I was very happy with the avian aspect of the trip. A flock of Roseate Spoonbills taking off in the sunset with half of the flock framed by blue river and the other half rising above dark green forest is a sight I’ll never forget and worth dozens of ticks—that’s tick marks on the bird list , not the miniscule biting muquin ticks that infested my lower body in Caratinga.

    The best bird book is All the Birds of Brazil by Deodata Souza. It had been going for about $150 before I left (and it is what our guide used). I bought an ok book that was somehow missing all the humming birds, Aves Brasileiras by Johan Dalgas Frisch. It is in Portuguese, but has English bird names. Also good was Brazil Amazon & Pantanal by David L person and Les Beletsky for the most often seen birds and other animals.

    E = Endemic
    M = Migratory

    82 birds in Minas Gerais

    Small-billed Tinamou
    Red-winged Tinamou
    Cattle Egrets
    Black Vulture
    Crested Caracara (all over, including mating)
    Yellow-headed Caracara (all over)
    Laughing Falcon
    Dusky-legged Guan (all over Caraca)
    Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail
    Blackish Rail
    Pale-vented Pigeon
    Ruddy Ground-Dove
    Squirrel Cuckoo (a personal favorite)
    Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (2 in one tree)
    Planalto Hermit
    Glittering-bellied Emerald
    Fork-tailed Woodnymph
    Violet-capped Woodnymph (got a photo)
    White-throated Hummingbird
    E Brazilian Ruby
    Cinnamon throated Hermit
    Green Kingfisher
    Rufous-capped Motmot (personal favorite)
    E Crescent-chested Puffbird
    White-barred Piculet (saw mating pair—rare to see)
    Green-barred Woodpecker
    Robust Woodpecker
    White Browed Woodpecker
    Tail-banded Hornero
    Rufous Hornero (all over)
    Rufous-capped Spinetail
    Pale-breasted Spinetail
    Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper (very hard to find, seen creeping near a stream)
    Streaked Xenops
    Plain Xenops
    Variable Antshrike
    E Ochre-rumped Antbird
    E Scaled Antbird (a personal favorite)
    Red Ruffed Fruit Crow (a first for Guide Fabricio)
    Blue (Swallow-tailed) Manakin (a personal favorite)
    White-bearded Manakin (heard the wings beat first, which is part of the mating dance)
    Gray-hooded Flycatcher
    Sepia-capped Flycatcher
    E Yellow-lored Tody-flycatcher
    Greenish Tyrannulet
    Yellow-bellied Elaenia
    Sooty Tyrannulet
    Swallow Flycatcher
    Sooty TyrannuletC
    Cliff Swallow-tailed Flycatcher
    E Velvety Black-Tyrant
    Masked Water-Tyrant
    Long-tailed Tyrant
    Boat-billed Flycatcher
    Three-striped Flycatcher
    Great Kiskadee (everywhere)
    Chestnut-crowned Becard
    Rufous-bellied Thrush (national bird and all over)
    Pale-breasted Thrush
    Chalk-browed Mockingbird
    Blue-and-white Swallow
    Southern Rough-winged Swallow
    Golden-crowned Warbler
    Chestnut-vented Conebill
    Magpie Tanager
    E Rufous-headed Tanager
    Ruby-crowned Tanager
    Sayaca Tanager (a personal favorite)
    E Golden-chevroned Tanager
    E Brassy-breasted Tanager
    E Gilt-edged Tanager (a personal favorite)
    Burnished-buff Tanager
    Blue Dacnis (a personal favorite, both the male and slightly less blue female)
    Rufous-collared Sparrow
    Yellow belliedSeedeater
    Green-winged Saltator
    Troupial (a personal favorite)
    Red-rumped Cacique
    Crested Oropendola
    Uniform Finch

    Though I have made no distinction between the Paraguay River and the rest of the Pantanal, the biggest variety of birds was seen on the land portion of the trip that did not include the Paraguay River. Many great bird sightings were made along the Pixiam River that we visited as part of the land itinerary.

    153 birds in the Pantanal

    Little Tinamou
    Neotropic Cormorant
    Southern Screamer (really did scream, fascinating pairs)
    M White-faced Whistling-Duck
    Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
    Muscovy Duck
    Whistling Heron
    M Little Blue Heron
    Snowy Egret
    Capped Heron
    Cocoi Heron (all over, similar to Great Blue Heron)
    Cattle Egret
    Striated Heron (all over)
    Black-crowned Night-Heron (all over)
    Boat-billed Heron
    Rufescent Tiger-Heron (all over)
    Bare-faced Ibis
    Plumbeous Ibis
    Buff-necked Ibis
    Green Ibis
    Roseate Spoonbill (personal favorite, especially in flocks)
    M Wood Stork (visited a rookery along Paraguay River)
    M Maguari Stork
    Black Vulture
    Turkey Vulture
    Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
    Snail Kite (all over)
    Crane Hawk
    Great Black Hawk
    Savanna Hawk
    Black-collared Hawk (all over)
    Roadside Hawk
    Southern Caracara (Crested) (all over)
    Laughing Falcon
    Bat Falcon
    Chaco Chachalaca (best bird name—no need for locals to wear watches because these birds call on the hour—and that was pretty close to true)
    E Chestnut Guan
    Blue-throated Piping Guan
    Bare-faced Curassow
    Gray-necked Wood Rail
    Sunbittern (a personal favorite in flight)
    Red-legged Seriema
    Wattled Jacana
    M Lesser Yellowlegs
    Common White-backed Stilt
    Pied Lapwing
    Southern Lapwing
    Large-billed Tern
    Yellow-billed Tern
    Black Skimmer (huge flocks on the Paraguay River)
    Picazuro Pigeon
    Scaled Dove
    Ruddy Ground Dove
    Picui Dove
    Long-tailed Ground Dove
    White-tipped Dove
    Hyacinth Macaw (trip highlight—present on land portion of trip and on Paraguay River)
    Red and green Macaw (personal favorite)
    M Blue crowned Parakeet
    White eyed Parakeet
    Peach fronted Parakeet
    Monk Parakeet
    Yellow chevroned Parakeet
    Scaly headed Parrot
    Black headed Parrot
    Blue fronted Parrot
    Squirrel Cuckoo (personal favorite)
    Smoothed billed Ani
    Guira Cuckoo
    Striped Cuckoo
    Tropical Screech Owl
    Great Horned Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ringed Kingfisher (all over)
    Barn Owl
    Great Potoo
    Common Potoo
    Rufous Nightjar
    Cinnamon-throated Hermit
    Black-throated Mango
    Glittering-throated Emerald
    Blue-crowned Trogon
    Ringed Kingfisher (all over)
    Amazon Kingfisher (all over)
    Green Kingfisher (not many)
    Rufous-tailed Jacamar
    Black-fronted Nunbird
    Chestnut-eared Aracari (personal favorite)
    Toco Toucan (personal favorite)
    White Woodpecker
    Little Woodpecker
    Pale Crested Woodpecker (personal favorite)
    Great Rufous Woodcreeper
    Straight-billed Woodcreeper
    Narrow-billed Woodcreeper
    Buff-throated Woodcreeper
    Pale-legged Hornero
    Rufous Hornero
    White-lored Spinetail Y
    Yellow-chinned Spinetail
    Greater Thornbird
    Gray-crested Cacholote
    Great Antshrike
    Barred Antshrike
    Stripe-necked Tody-Tyrant
    Common Tody-Flycatcher
    Euler’s Flycatcher
    Vermillion Flycatcher (personal favorite)
    White-rumped Monjita
    Black-backed Water Tyrant
    White-headed Marsh Tyrant
    Cattle Tyrant
    Tropical Kingbird
    Rusty-margined Flycatcher
    Lesser Kiskadee (all over)
    Great Kiskadee (all over)
    White-winged Swallow
    White-rumped Swallow
    Brown-chested Martin
    Blue-and-white Swallow
    Black-capped Donacobius
    Thrush-like Wren
    Rufous-bellied Thrush (national bird and all over)
    Creamy-bellied Thrush
    Purplish Jay
    House Sparrow
    Rufous-browed Peppershrike
    Magpie Tanager
    Silver-beaked Tanager
    Palm Tanager
    Sayaca Tanager (personal favorite)
    E Coal-crested Finch
    Red-crested Finch (personal favorite)
    Blue-black Grassquit
    Rusty-collared Seedeater
    Double-collared Seedeater
    Saffron Finch
    Red-crested Cardinal (personal favorite, hard to tell from yellow-billed, un common)
    Yellow-billed Cardinal (personal favorite, all over)
    Grayish Saltator
    M Black-backed Grosbeak
    Unicolored Blackbird
    Bay-winged Cowbird
    Shiny Cowbird
    Giant Cowbird
    Epaulet Oriole
    Troupial (personal favorite)
    Yellow-rumped Cacique
    Solitary Cacique
    Crested Oropendola
    Chopi Blackbird

    11 Birds in Chapados dos Guillarmos

    Pearl Kite
    Campo Flicker
    Burrowing Owl
    Red and green Macaw (personal favorite and last sighting of trip)
    Bisutate Swift
    White eared Puff Bird
    Collared Crescent Chest
    Black crested Tyrant
    Curl Crested Jay (personal favorite)
    Coal crested Finch
    Plumbeous Seedeater

    There were some birds seen in more than one location so the total birds listed is more than the 237 unique species.

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    Hi Atravelynn,

    Thank you for such a comprehensive trip report. I am currently researching information for a trip to the Pantanal, and after a lot of reading, am seeking further advice from a traveller who's had first hand experience in these regions.
    I have heard the following are great for spotting jaguars, however am struggling to find the orientation of these places on a map. Are you able to explain how they the below places are situated against each other and how they compare against each other in terms of seeing the most interesting and exotic wildlife?
    -Pixiam River
    -Baiazinte Lodge
    -Taiama Ecological Station
    -Uakari Floating Lodge
    -Piriqui River
    -Meeting of the Waters State Park

    I have heard that there is quite a good chance of spotting one at the Jaguar Lodge. Where abouts is this lodge located amongst those destinations above?

    Thank you and I am very keen to hear with your response!
    It seems to have been awhile since your posts about the Pantanal, I don't seem to have seen many after 2009 so it will be interesting to hear what you have been up to since!

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    You dug down deep for this one. I decided for the first time in weeks to check out this South America forum. What luck to find your question.

    Jaguar Lodge – You may mean the Jaguar Ecological Reserve along the Transpantaneira Hwy in Northern Pantanal. I don’t think the jag sightings are as plentiful here as they once were. But things change based on the jag territory, etc. It is a nice, safe place for them, so they may start hanging around. I did not see any jaguars when I was there, but my party was the ONLY one of about 3 that did not. What helps is if you not only spend time on the property, but take a boat down the river (under an hour) to the Porto Jofre area to look.

    Pixaim River is near the northern part of Transpantaneira Hwy. in N. Pantanal. Rio Clara, which is what the Pixaim River becomes, is a good place to stay to access this wildlife rich river. Pousada Rio Clara

    Also Best Western (at least it once was) Mato Grosso Hotel is on the Pixaim along the Transpantaneira Hwy in N. Pantanal. One of the most active places I have been in the Pantanal (at least in dry season) both on the river and the area near the river. Caiman, bats, herons, peccaries, ocelot, even a jaguarondi (only one I’ve seen), capybara.

    Pousada Piquiri is in the Meeting of the Waters Park. No personal experience.

    I did not find Baiazinte Lodge anywhere. I’m guessing maybe you mean Baiazinha Lodge, which is along the Paraguay River in N. Pantanal, 2 hours by boat from Carceres. Getting here is very expensive alone. Finding a group departure is better. It is what I did.

    You stay here to visit the Taiama Ecological Station for jaguars. Outstanding lodge and excellent place to spend your days hunting for jaguar by boat in, and also outside of, Taiama. Far fewer boats than Porto Jofre But the additional boats at PJ means more eyes scanning the shore. Speaking of shore, there is more of a shore at PJ for sunning than at Taiama. I still saw 7 jaguars there with great pics. The pic links have died with Kodak. Here is a link to the illustrated report.

    On a map, Cuiaba is the gateway to Northern. Pantanal in the state of Mato Grosso. Campo Grande is the gateway to the southern Pantanal in the State of Mato Grosso du Sul

    -Uakari Floating Lodge is not in the Pantanal and is way north in Manaus in the Amazon Jungle. No experience.

    If you’re looking for Pantanal reports and such, check out all these.

    Northern vs Southern Pantanal

    2009 I went to Caiman Lodge in Southern Pantanal

    2013 I went to Barranco Alto in Southern Pantanal after a monkey reserve

    This helps answer what I've been up to.

    Other illustrated Pantanal trips by nature enthusiasts

    I've assigned so much reading material you may never make it to Brazil. :(

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