Last day...before my 38 hrs bus-overland to Rio

Here our standard of sleeping-waking up with sunlight i
s 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 Transpantaneira

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!

A slow way home

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 Transpantan
eira 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 neig
hbouring 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 ten
t, 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 s
houts 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 t
he 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...


A stormy night at Carmindo's

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.

Of fishing...and women

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.

Second day on the rivers

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.


Camping on rio Pirigara

As we arrive at their small pier, Maria and Carmindo are already waiting for us, sitting on a wooden bench in front of their house. After greeting t
hem (I think it’s a welcome change for them that I speak Portuguese) we unload the boat - I’m allowed to help this time - and put everything on a table in front of the house. Along with dried meat, onions, tomatoes, rice and beans we brought a big water-melon for Maria…she’s crazy about it!
Their home is
simple but very tiny and clean. It’s in a beautiful location, in front of the river and surrounded by fruit trees. It consists of a one-storey brick building with floors made of dried coloured mud, where they have a living room and bedrooms. In the back they have built a big kitchen, with a smaller storeroom, made of wooden walls and with mosquito nets as windows. Outside there is a bathroom with shower and a white chapel ornated by a blue cross on top. It is quite impressive, the chapel seems to having been built for a larger community, it is quite big with a lot of benches. They have two big ton’s to collect rainwater that serve kitchen and bath. A big brown dog and a smaller black and white one and a lot of chicken complete the family. One of their daughters lives with them, but she is not there at the moment.
We put up our tents, inflate the mattresses and prepare everything quickly because this is the hour when mosquitoes and flies start getting aggressive. We put our bags and equipment on a big wooden table and cover it up with a waterproof sheet. Then we help Maria to prepare dinner. They have a generator that is turned on every night for some hours to do guess what? To see novela…the two of them sit in front of the tv and comment every action, hilarious. After novela we dine with dried meat, rice and beans and tomato salad. Than we all go to sleep after an exciting day, it must be very early but I have no idea, it’s dark, this is what matters.

First day on the river

Julinho appears to rescue me from the sun, we are ready to leave with his ‘lancha’. It’s a slender low alluminium motor boat, being only the two of us we have plenty of space. We travel along rio Cuiabà for a while, passing two big fazendas ( Fazenda Sao Bento and Fazenda Sant’Ana) the only human settlements in the area along with Porto Jofre Hotel.
Soon it’s only us and nature – gorgeous, lush vegetation surrounds the golden river waters. Thick forest whith high trees supported by intricated roots that emerge from the waters merges in savannah-like vast fields, dotted by small sand beaches where families of capybaras doze on the sand. I think my senses are appeased even if we are not lucky enough to see jaguars.
As we get deeper
into the region I notice that Julinho has changed expression. Alertly he scans the river banks and sometimes lowers his sun-glasses, I wonder how he can be able to spot animals in this intricate mixture of sun and shadow, branches and leaves.
Suddenly he turns off the mo
tor and the grim expression on his face turns into a big smile: there he is, he whispers releaved, hidden by the foliage, a jaguar walking slowly in direction of a clearing.
I feel dizzy with excitement, it’s the first time I see a big cat in the wilderness. I take some pics almos
t without looking in the viewfinder…Julinho passes me his binoculars; he is magnificent, a big imponent male. Not disturbed by us he lies down partially hidden in the shade of the trees. He is still to far for taking decent pictures with my lenses, so I just enjoy observing him through the binoculars Julinho kindly shares with me. We are blessed by luck, after a while we hear a noise in the vegetation….and another jaguar appears roaring loudly. A female! Unbelievable, Julinhos face glows with happiness, once more nature has gifted him with a great sighting.
The conditions are perfect, it’s only us and them…we haven’t seen a boat since our departure from Porto Jofre. We don't attempt to get closer, letting the jaguars at ease and are rewarded. We get it all, jaguar drinking water of the river, jaguars courting, jaguars coming out to the sand beach, jaguars roaring like crazy, jaguars scratching themselves, jaguar grooming himself…we take a lot of pictures and Julinho films them too. We stay there for about 2 hours and a half, under the burning sun, everytime they dig into the jungle Julinho suggests we can go to a beach and eat something…and the jaguars come out again…three or four times, then they finally disappear from our point of view.
Sunburnt, hungry but absolutely appeased we stop at a little sandbeach nearby. We have a refreshing bath in the Tres Irmaos river and then eat the sandwiches talking about our encounter.
I feel that although Julinho makes very clear that there is no guarantee of seeing jaguars in the wild he still get’s very stressed about it….by the way, there are some greedy operators that actually sell tour packages guaranteeing almost 100 % the spotting of Jaguars in the area. To fulfill this promise they use invasive method's like feeding jaguar's with dead animals as bait, hunting the river banks 24 hrs with radio-equipped speed-boats that pass the information about jaguars positions interfering with their natural behaviour. This has nothing to do with conservation or wildlife-spotting, it's just business, dirty business. I wonder how people 'fall' for this kind of tours, but maybe they just don't mind, important is to take home some nice close-up shots of a jaguar without loosing too much time in an uncomfortable environment.
Well, good news is that last week finally the camp of this so called Jaguar Research Center owned by a us-citizen, Charles A.Munn(he claims to be a renouned scientist, but is under investigation for biopiratery in Brazil, and is well known in the rest of South America for his illegal conduct in relation
to indigenuous communities, his organization Tropical Nature was thrown out of Ecuador,check at www.tropicalnature.info), situated illegally in the core of the Parque Estadual do Encontro das 'Aguas was confiscated by force by officers of CEMA, CENAP and local police deputies, after he had been intimated to leave the place repeatedly.He has bought the land after the institution of the Parque area in 2004, but has in no way an authorization from CEMA to operate there with tourism.(Link to Ministerio Publico do Estado de Mato Grosso http://www.mp.mt.gov.br/conteudo.php?cid=45811&sid=44)

I stillll cannot believe I was so lucky…we think of Nobu, he would have enjoyed being there, but maybe his ‘pè-friagem’ would have prevented the jaguars to appear? Who knows… We leave our nice beach, the sun is already low on the sky and we don’t want to arrive late at Maria and Carmindo’s.

On the road to Porto Jofre

I wake up at 5 o’clock without alarm…you get used
quickly to living according to the sun here. I hadn’t a watch with me, it would have been useless anyway. I had lost my relationship to time somewhere inbetween Poconè and the Jaguar Ecological Reserve…in Cuiabà it’s one hour earlier than Rio, there’s the matter of summertime (watches are switched forward of one hour, but it depends on the states) and to make it worse (even if it makes sense of course) in Porto Jofre they maintain the time of the sun, but in some lodges not. Well…I had given up understanding and turned off anything similar to a watch.
After a nice breakfast
, Julinho keep’s encouraging me to eat, he says we won’t be getting food until tonight. It turns out he asked Milton to prepare a pile of delicious sandwiches, so far for the food..
We hit the road again for the last 35 km of the Transpantaneira. We stop shortly at another abandoned research station of IBAMA on the road. There are enormous mango-trees and they normally are home to some great owls. Julinho tries to call them, with no luck.
On the way he ‘instructs’ me of on how to behave at Porto Jofre; he needs some time and concentration to prepare the boat with everything we will need for the next days, in synthesis he needs to be left alone for awhile..
Porto Jofre is the last outpost of so-called civilization. In reality there is only a big hotel that cateres mostly to fishermen on the river and Fazenda Sao Bento nearby, but there is nothing you could name a village or anything similar. At this time of the year it is quite deserted because the fishing season is almost over. Soon the Piracema begins and fishing is prohibited. Piracema is the name given to the period of the year when fish reproduce. From October to March the fish swim upstream to lay their eggs and reproduce. Thus the season is critical for the maintenance of fish populations in the waters of the local rivers and lakes.
While Julinho prepares the boat I wander around the hotels grounds, taking some photos. It is situated on the river bank of Rio Cuiabà, that divides Mato Grosso from Mato Grosso do Sul,and confined in the back by a beautiful lake full of giant water-lilies. A group of Tuiuiu’s fight over a snake, two horses lazily graze and lots of birds fill up the air with their singing. A fierce sun comes out of the clouds and I find a little shade under a tree on the small wooden bridge on the lake. A small funny bird jumps from one water-lily to the other. Suddenly I see some agua-pès moving in a strange way..the head of a capybara emerges, looks at me and rapidly floates away with it’s veil of lily-pad.