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.