Around Jaguar Ecological Reserve

‘You wanna
drive the jeep?’What?? I haven’t been driving any vehicle since I took my driving license…and that was quite a while ago..but let’s try! I try to do my best on the road and…. on the wooden bridges, just hoping Julinho wouldn’t be distracted by something happening on the side of the road.
We manage to get to Jaguar Ecological Reserve…where a desperate sweating manager, Milton, is trying to get the kitchen work fixed…Maria, the girl we had left earlier at the bar is his kitchen-help and of course she hasn’t arrived.
After a quick shower we jump on the jeep for another drive around. We start talking about
poor Milton when I stop Julinho and ask him why don’t we stay and help him? With a big grin on his face he says he had had the same thought but didn’t have the courage to propose it to me…so we stay and in the shortest time the dishes are all washed and we leave a happy Milton behind.
Our first stop is at an abandoned research post where we look for the Urutau (the Great Potoo) a very strange nocturnal predator bird that during the day camouflates high in the trees and is difficult to be spotted. There it was – Julinho sees it through his binoculars, it takes me actually some time to recognize it myself… I'm grateful about its immobility. It looks like part of the tree, even the eyes are only opened slightly to control what we are doing. At night the Urutau is sighted because his eyes reflect light.
We leave the jeep on a dust road that runs to a private fazenda for a walk. There is
dense vegetation on both sides of the road, with high trees. The only noise is the singing of innumerous birds. We see two small baby-snakes…..
As the sun goes down a kind of symphony grows out of the dark forest, the volume gets higher and higher. I glimpse at Julinho who keeps on talking imperturbably…maybe I’m going crazy and I don’t dare as
king him what this noise is about. Loose thoughts cross my mind, it sounds like thousands of sirens, airplanes… but I’m in the middle of nowhere…there is no electricity apart the generators. When I wake up to reality again I ask what it is and understand that it’s the howler monkey’s shouting….wow…I just imagined a forest with thousands of howling monkeys, quiet a vision. Later I’ll find out it’s the frogs singing…still impressive anyway...we will hear it again at night on our way back on the Transpantaneira near the Bararas Bar. I brought an I-pod to record these sounds…but of course it was in the jeep..
Back to the pousada we have a shower and then dinner. Maria has just arrived and the kitchen is late on it’s timetable. We chat awhile with a group of other guide’s staying at the lodge. After dinner we just relax in the hammock’s in front of the rooms and then go to bed early.

Transpantaneira km 0 to 110

We stop at every bird we encounter and
Julinho teaches me it’s name in Portuguese and English (we will have a good laugh at that part..the names are extremely complicated and long….I wonder how he is able to remember all of them, well I guess he has been doing this for a very long time and a lot of persons he guides are actually passionate birdwatchers anyway).
As we drive on slowly, he proposes another change in plans. He must have gotten that I’m easy about spontaneous changes in route. We will drive until almost the end of the Transpantaneira and then stop to sleep at the last pousada before Porto Jofre, the Jaguar Ecological Reserve. This will allow us not having to rush to get to Porto Jofre and to our final destination in the middle of nowhere before darkness.
Who am I to contradict him…I just allow myself to be ‘guided’and enjoy the moment. Someone had written in a report about Julinho that he was so trustworthy he wouldn’t have hesitated to give him his PIN code… that’s the feeling I had too, after only some hours with him.
The Transpantaneira is interrupted by small wooden bridges over pot-holes filled with agua-pès (lily-pads). Inside of them an infinite variety of birds co-habit, some visible others more camouflated, some lonely, others in flocks. I know I don't have the right lenses for taking pictures of birds, so I just relax and enjoy the view.
A Tuiuiù, or Jabiru stork…I had already seen this enormous bird in southern Pantanal some years ago but it still impresses me. It’s the symbol of the Pantanal and in fact we will see lots of them. It can get 1, 15 m tall …and his open wings measure up to 2 meters. It’s impressive when in flight.
Sometimes lonely
vehicles appear on the horizon in a cloud of red dust, but there’s almost no human presence.
A truck on the side of the road makes us stop. It’s broken…a man and a woman do the only thing you can do here in this cases – wait - under a fierce sun. I get a glimpse of two plateau’s of eggs inside the truck…well hard-boiled I guess.. We tie the truck to our brave burro xucro and try to push them until a bar not far away, al least there they can wait for a mechanic in the shadow. On the way the semi-axis literally breaks down to the floor. We stop again and the mechanic from Poconè also arrives. He takes a look at the truck, ties the broken piece and leaves to get a replacement for some part of the engine in Poconè. We bring the guys to the bar 'Barara', eat a ‘pastel completo’, have a beer and wait for the worst heat to pass. I don’t really mind the heat but Julinho says there are no animals around at this time of the day; well he knows his job and the place, by that time he could have told me there were green dragons flying around and I would have believed him…I relax and we stay there talking nonsense with Maria and the other boy.
When we leave we offer to take Maria with us, she works at the pousada we are heading to and probably w
e will arrive before their truck is ok for the road again. She refuses…a day off lazying in the shadow is probably too much of a temptation …
So we hit
the road again and there we are rewarded for our wait: a marsh-deer inmidst of the dry grass. After a while Julinho whispers to have a look at my left side: a beautiful male ‘cervo do Pantanal’, with his imponent antlers is grazing calmly not disturbed at all by our presence.

Transpantaneira km 0

Early in th
e morning after a big breakfast with Alessandra and Nobu we leave Poconè on the sturdy blue Toyota of Pantanal Trackers: the burro xucro, that means a mule that has not been worked out.
After a while
the paved road abruptly ends and a red earth road links us to the Transpantaneira, the only road that runs deeply into the Pantanal. It’s a dirt road sectioned by around 125 small wooden bridges and ends 145 km south of Poconè, at Porto Jofre. Built in 1973 it was supposed to link Poconè to Corumbà but was interrupted at Porto Jofre.
White egrets observe lazily the ‘burro xucro’ proceeding slowly on the hobbling street. The first part of the road is the worst, it’s full of stones and I feel as if the Toyota will tear into pieces.
A lonesome hawk
looks at us from a high tree…fiercily imperturbable. And there it is the actual starting point of the Transpantaneira. A wooden sign in 3 languages welcomes visitors to the Estrada Parque. Julinho explains to me that in the area we are heading to a Parque Estadual (Parque Estadual Encontro das 'Aguas) has been created in 2004, but only at the end of this year a management plan will be disclosed.