A 12 day trip to Pantanal in october 2010:
Here our standard of sleeping-waking up with sunlight is disturbed, curtains that close out light and air-con disorient me, guests talking in front of our door....disturb me!!
It is a nice well run place in a beautiful environment...but still it' feels too 'civilized' after the days on the rivers.
After breakfast Julinho offers to take me on a horse-ride. He is already wearing the leather trouser protection of local peoes (guarda), the guaiaca(leathern revolver belt...empty) and has his knife stucked in the back of his trousers.
On the rear of the pousada we find other guests of Piuval and their guides, some of them we have already met before, waiting for the horses to be saddled by the peoes of the pousada. Like Julinho they all wear the leather protection on top of their jeans. I can't fail to notice that Julinho is the only guide that saddles his own horse (and mine) and helps in preparing the others.
We are a group of five guests, two guides, one of the peoes, Julinho and me. I'm the lucky one, speaking portuguese I'm invited to join the 'locals' at the front and participate in their chitchat. At least I try, I haven't ridden a horse since I was 14...and it doesn't always obey me. The men keep calling me but...I try to smile relaxed on my white horse and pretend I'm guiding it and not that he is guiding me.
The surroundings of Piuval are indeed very beautiful, we ride through lush green fields and enter a forest until we arrive to a wooden look-out tower where we have a rest. It is quite high and has a nice overview of the surroundings.
Soon we have to 'leave' the tower to another group of tourists. We climb down the steep stairs and continue our ride. We see some small mammals, two toucans and lots of other birds but take out the camera on horse-back would be too much for my miserable riding abilities...
After the ride we enter the grounds of Piuval again, and Julinho instructs me on how to unsaddle my horse, fresh him up with water and put him into the corral. I end up helping the peao and Julinho with the other horses too, grateful for the opportunity to be learning something new.
Shower, lunch and there we go again, direction Poconè.
Back on the road, this time Julinho is at the wheel. Lost in thoughts and overwhelmed by all the beauty that surrounds us we drive on in silence. After a while he asks me if I mind him putting on some music, not at all! He takes out an I-pod with a transmitter that is connected to the jeep's radio and to a sound-box that shares the back-seat with Sandy (the guitar). And there we go, with a nice soundtrack....we had already discussed some likes and dislikes regarding music before... A guy full of resources....I can't get tired of saying this.. We make a stop at Jaguar Ecological Reserve, where we have slept the first night, for coffee and Milton gives us some cake for the trip. At the abandoned Ibama post under the big mango-trees we stop and this time the great horned owls are there! Two of them. Julinho imitates it's sound and they answer... I confess my irrational love for mango's and soon a bunch of ripe fruits appear in my hands. The sweetest mango's I've ever eaten...we drive on while I relish on my fruits out of the window, trying hard not to stain myself and the jeep with mango juice, not an easy task. Poor Julinho has to stop after a while and 'wash' me like a small child. We see an extraordinary amount of birds and some small mammals cross the road, but they are too far away to attempt taking photos. Suddenly a sad scene on the road: a bird that must have been hit by a car lies in the middle of the road and his companion sits beside the lifeless body, he doesn't move even when our jeep drives around them. After death life: a jabuti is corageously slowly crossing the road. We have a stop and put him on the other side, not all drivers are careful as Julinho when driving on the Transpantaneira. There are lots of animals crossing the road and sadly a lot of them get hit by cars and trucks driving at high speed. The sun is slowly going down at our back, a lobinho, crab-eating fox, rushes through the grass on our left side. We are still far away from Pousada Piuval where we will spend the night, as soon as we get to an area where telephones start working Julinho calls them telling our estimated time of arrival. The problem is the kitchen, the same people that prepare dinner get up at dawn to prepare breakfast for early guests and we don't want to steal them precious sleeping hours. Being at km 10 of the Transpantaneira they stand to summer time, not sun time, that makes us lose one more hour. In the twilight we see too more gorgeous marsh-deers. A quick stop at Bararas where Julinho leaves part of the camping gear he will use on his next tour, and while he calls again Piuval to give them our exact coordinates I take a quick walk to the dark forest on the other side of the road....and there it is again, the noise, the 'jungle symphony'... Julinho calls me back from delirium, we have to hurry up and this is the worst part of the Transpantaneira. We arrive at Pousada Piuval around 9 pm and head straight to dining room, dirty and sticky as we are. After a quick dinner we finally relax, get the keys to our rooms and manage to get ourselves civilized again. Pousada Piuval is at the beginning of Transpantaneira, it is very comfortable, with air-con and pool and caters a lot to brazilian tourists who are not to keen to stay in basic places. It was quite strange to sleep in a place like that...and I almost missed my tent under the stars. After a short chat with other guides we had met along our trip we go to bed, quite late for our standard!
The night before we had talked about another change in our tour-plans. Originally we were supposed to sleep one more night at Carmindo's, leave at dawn, make the whole boat trip to Porto Jofre and drive through to Cuiabà all in the same day and in a hurry. It would have meant driving through the Transpantaneira on a run never stopping.
The weather is changing, menacing clouds are again building up at the horizon, so we decide together to take the slower way, leaving already this morning and spending the last night at one of the pousadas on the Transpantaneira.
Carmindo has gone to Poconè early in the morning and we have the task to take Maria to a neighbouring farm where she is supposed to stay with friends.
After breakfast with Maria and some chatting we dismantle our camp and pack our stuff. While Julinho cooks our meal I disassemble the tent, deflate the matresses and pack all the gear in one big bag.
Maria is already there on the wooden bench...waiting for us, with her things in a big plastic bag and a black bucket with the half watermelon...she wouldn't leave that behind!!
Heavy heartedly we leave the house with the white chapel behind, the dogs barking like crazy because we are 'kidnapping' their mama..
Maria sits in front, she doesn't speak much, her look lost on the horizon. What must these eyes have seen in all those years...I would have loved to have the privilege of staying longer just to listen to the endless stories of this land's people.
But there's no time for sad thoughts, Julinho joking tells Maria that she is the tourist today and has to decide what she wants to do! She only grins....
We leave her at a fishing lodge where relatives work as housekeepers. Two little girls come to greet her shyly and we have to say farewell to this infinitely sweet tiny woman.
Back on the boat we give it another try in search of getting a glimpse of a jaguar. We are in no hurry and enjoy the last drive on the small rivers. When we pass again in front of Carmindo's and Maria's place the big brown dog is still standing at the pier and looks puzzled at us, he doesn't know his owners will be back at night..
We don't see jaguars but on a small river arm covered with lilypads we meet a family of giant otters on swimming-lesson! There are at least 8 of them all paddling like crazy after an adult one. And what a noise they make!!! Trying to follow them at respectful distance we get in quite shallow waters and have to do some complicated manouvres to get our motor out of the intricated lily-pad carpet...the only moment I wish I was a man, it is impossible for me to pull the motor out of the water while Julinho gives gas to free our boat. It ends up with me at the steering wheel and giving gas while he pulls up the motor....
Gliding on the golden water I silently say farewell to this lush and peaceful nature, so powerful but so fragile when it comes to resist to aggression by man. I have mixed feelings as always when I'm confronted with these rare natural treasures, on one hand istinctively I feel I have to keep the secret to protect it, on the other I know that it's survival depends on spreading knowledge of the importance of mantaining every single part of it, in order to keep this wonderful environment alive.
Around mid-day we arrive at Porto Jofre Hotel, at the pier we meet Carmindo's son and Julinho shouts some colorful phrases at him. With a big bounce Julinho drives his boat onto the trailer and it is taken out of the water by a truck.
This is the last boat tour of 2009, I'm very honoured to have 'closed' this years season;the boat will be staying dry until march 2010.
This time, as I proved to be of some value as a helping hand, I'm allowed to help unpacking the boat, loading the 4x4 and getting the boat ready for storage. While we cover up the boat with a big tarpaulin a group of Hyacinth Macaws brawls in a tree over our heads.
I notice how every person we have met throughout the trip has a friendly word for Julinho, and the same I can say of him towards others, always ready to give a helping hand. It's a pleasure to hang around with him!
And there we are on the road again...
The door to the chapel is open...this means a heavy downpour is expected and we are kindly invited by our hosts to put our tent in and sleep there this night. No stars over our heads tonight. Quickly we put in our tent and then join Carmindo in the dark living room. He closes all windows and doors, the wind howls spookily around the house. From his rocking chair now and then he takes a glimpse outside while telling stories... Maria calls us for supper, but Carmindo is just too deep into his storytelling.
When we finally follow him to the kitchen Maria has already eaten and gone to bed. We eat in candlelight while the rain beats unrelentless on the roof. Carmindo talks and talks....maybe it's the storm, maybe the candles...we go to bed quite late for local habits that night.
Listening to Carmindo's stories my thoughts drift away in this darkest night in the middle of nowhere and I feel really at home.
No luck in jaguar sighting today, but after the fantastic afternoon the day before...we can't really ask for more. We decide to try to catch some pacùs for supper on a smaller river arm.
In the morning Julinho had prepared a bag of acerolas (little red fruits) and two fishing rods made of bamboo. The technique is to throw repeatedly the acerola on hook in the water, simulating fruits falling from a tree. Joking I tell him that in Italy the fishermen believe women bring bad luck in fishing...I shouldn't have said that...time passes by and no fish is tempted by our acerolas...
Julio is getting quite upset and insists on telling me that normally the pacùs are an easy prey. I make things worse, joking again I say that maybe the pacùs know there are no acerola trees nearby. The way he looks at me makes me stop talking... and fishing...
After a while Julinho gives up too and decides to head to another spot. Through small river arms we finally arrive in a wide open water landscape, a kind of big lagoon full of lily-pads. The navigability of the rivers and lagoons changes constantly, often the rug of lily-pads becomes so intricate it closes completely water-ways and even expert local boat-men get irremediably stuck. Trying to get to another river through the lagoon we get in very shallow waters and Julinho has to row to get us out. Again in deep water he allow's me to pilot his boat! That's fun...much easier than driving the Toyota on the wooden bridges..
Clouds are building up at the horizon. A strong wind sweeps over the river, I have to put on Julinhos sunglasses because I'm blinded by the wind. We head back to Carmindo's hoping he will have thought of putting our stuff that is lying on the table in the house....no need to be worried...our man has obviously taken care of everything and anyway we manage to get back before the rain.
I wake up at 5 o’clock, Julinho is already busy around. After a quick shower and breakfast with Maria while we prepare our meal for the day, we leave for another day on the rivers.
It’s very hot already and luckily I’m 'incentivated' to leave behind all the bloody uncomfortable anti-mosquito clothes and wear my favourite ‘uniform’…havaianas and shorts, my carioca-soul is very grateful for that. There are no mosquitoes on the river, they just come out at night. In silence I thank again all the people who have written raving reviews about Julinho…
Today there is more traffic on the river, while we scan slowly the river-banks we see some boats passing by. We see lots of birds and families of capybaras. At another little beach we stop for lunch with rice and dried meat and – of course - a refreshing bath in the river before and after. A lot of boats full of people dressed up for safari pass by, they must be sweating the damn out of themselves. It’s a mistery to me why they don’t jump into the water. They see that we are not being eaten by piranhas or caimans! Well..when a caiman emerges 2 feet away from us and then goes down again..it IS a strange feeling..but Julinho explains to me that they only attack what they can eat in one bite, we are too big as a prey. It’s still quite exciting to know HE can be anywhere in the water hidden by the mud…
Small fish nibble at our skin, taking nourishment from our dead cells. The only real danger are the stingrays, their sting hurts terribly and the trick is to drag your feet in the water, trying not to step onto them.
We decide to have another look at the river bank on Tres Irmaos River where we have seen the jaguars yesterday, but today we are not that lucky.
A boat approaches us, the guides we had met at Jaguar Lodge tell us they have seen three jaguars! Another boat had first sighted them and had really gotten so near to the animals that they had become quite nervous and had disappeared soon. Julinho and the other guides were angry about the irresponsible behaviour of their colleague, by upsetting the jaguars not only he had taken the chance of other people to see them, he had also put himself and his tourists in a very dangerous position. Jaguars swim extremely well and jump even better, a move to get the best shot could have easily turned into a tragedy and who could have blamed the jaguar for it?
I'm in a privileged position, as the only portuguese speaking tourist around I can take part in the conversation.
One of the guides tells that a woman on his boat is quite angry because he refused to get as close to the jaguars as the other boat; that's the result of the lack of common sense in some so-called professionals. Hopefully by the end of the year the 'plano de manejo' (park rules) for the area will discipline the behaviour of the growing number of persons involved in tourism inside the Park.
When the local pioneers in Jaguar tracking (Julinho is the only one still active of the old guard)had the first sightings in that region there were only few of them and they had developed a functional method of jaguar tracking without being invasive. Now that wildlife-tourism has been recognized as good business the risk is that ruthless behaviour of few will break this fragile system, forcing the jaguars to migrate to other areas, spoiling nature and the comradeship between the people involved in that business, leaving them without their jobs in the end. And as sadly happens everywhere around the world, the foreign hawks just take off to the next shore and the locals pay the bill.