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Capybaras and cattle, killer whales and cloud forest : Pantanal, Galapagos and Peru in 2010


Treepol
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During 2010 @@GnuGnu and I made a first trip to South America, the forerunner of the 2013 safari detailed in Macaws, monkeys and moai. There has been some interest in the Pantanal and Barranco Alto lately, so I thought I would post now – better late than never!

 

The itinerary was:

  • Buenos Aires (4 nights)
  • Iguazu Falls (2 nights)
  • Barranco Alto (4 nights)
  • Northern Pantanal (Rio Clara, Porto Jofre Hotel, Araras Eco-lodge, Piuval – 8 nights with Pantanal Trackers)
  • Rio (2 nights),
  • Quito (3 nights)
  • Tandayapa Valley (2 nights)
  • Galapagos (2 nights on San Cristobel Island and then a 7 night cruise on MV Eric, an Ecoventura boat)
  • Amazon (3 nights at Ceiba Tops, out of Iquitos)
  • Ollantaytambo and Macchu Pichu (3 nights)
  • Cusco (3 nights)
  • Manu Cloudforest (2 nights Cock of the Rock Lodge)
  • Buenos Aires (3 nights)

 

Photos from this trip are available at: Argentina and Iguazu, Barranco Alto, Northern Pantanal, Ecuador and Galapagos and Peru.

 

This was my first taste of Latin American culture and I was immediately captivated by the vibrant colours, warm people and unique wildlife that early on created a yen to return to see more of what South America was all about. There were so many memorable firsts in this trip -

 

  • flying over the Andes

 

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  • misty Iguazu

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  • the unexpected mix of cattle ranching and safari in the Pantanal

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  • unique animals such as tapir, capybara, anteaters and armadillo

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  • birds as colourful as an artist's palette

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  • cosmopolitan cities

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  • the colours and landscapes of the Galapagos

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  • orca in the Canal Bolivar

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  • the Amazon

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  • historic cities of Cusco and Machu Picchu

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  • the scenery and wildlife of the Manu cloudforest

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Next: Buenos Aires

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And here I thought you had gone to the Pantanal again. Which I could understand, it is a fantastic place. :)

 

What a nice surprise that you are doing this report. I am especially looking forward to the Galapagos part, I think we don´t have one single report on it yet here on ST.

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Good stuff @@Treepol. I particularly like the Sea Lion snoozing on the park bench.

 

The Orca photo has a couple of pelagic birds in the background - a Storm-Petrel (Wilson's?) and a Shearwater I cannot ID.

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@@michael-ibk I did say that I'd post a retrospective TR and as the year is well under way it was time to make a start. When do you head off to India?

 

@@offshorebirder I saw the birds when I posted the photo last night and wondered what they were, thanks for the ID. Everyone was so excited as none of the crew had seen orca before, my guidebook said that orca were seen in the Galapagos very rarely, like about once in 10 years so we hit the jackpot this trip. The captain had sailed the Galapagos waters for 17 years and this was his first sighting - I think the MV Eric was on autopilot through the Canal Bolivar during the sighting!

 

The snoozy sea lion sums up Galapagos wildlife sightings where do you don't so much walk around the wildlife, but step over it!

 

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@@Treepol - I have looked at the Orca photo on a better video display.

 

The Storm-Petrel is definitely a Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel (Hydrobates tethys). No other Storm-Petrel shows that extent of white on the rump+upper tail.

 

The species used to be known as Galapagos Storm-Petrel.

 

'Wedge-rumps' as pelagic birders call them - breed in the Galapagos and are sought-after birds on pelagic trips out of mainland S. America. They range offshore waters in the Pacific from Mexico to Chile, and birders revel in the occasional vagrant to California waters.

 

Your visit must have been during their breeding season, or else they would be feeding somewhere over the Humbolt Current hundreds or likely thousands of miles away.

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@@Treepol

What a great trip - and excellent photos. Pantanal and Galapagos (and Peru!)

I remember the "stepping over" animals in Galapagos - they have no fear of humans.

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@@Treepol

 

Also looking forward to the Galapagos section. We went in 2010 and were lucky enough to have time to go out in the zodiac boat to watch an orca. I can't remember which area, I will have to look it up.

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@@michael-ibk not long to wait now...

 

@@offshorebirder thank you for taking the time to check out the shearwaters and for the detailed information. This photo was taken during the first week in August, breeding season?

 

@@Zim Girl this orca sighting was during the first week of August, how about yours?

 

 

 

Buenos Aires

 

This journey began with a Hobart-Sydney flight with a Sydney stopover at the Airport Stamford Westin that I thought was over-priced and offered poor service at checkout and an over-booked airport shuttle. We have since found the Ibis just along the road to be a much better option. The 12.5 hour flight to Buenos Aires passed quickly with a few movies, a snooze and a chat to my ‘neighbours’ who were students returning home to Brazil and Argentina respectively. A rosy dawn over the Andes was a magical sight as the snow-topped mountains turned pink in the rising sun. Sadly, Qantas have now discontinued this flight.

 

The Argentina-Germany World Cup match was on when we landed and consequently we passed through immigration and customs very quickly! 9 July Avenue has 20 (!) lanes all of which were empty, unlike in this week day photo.

 

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We checked into the Hotel Castelar on Ave. de Mayo (great location but the rooms can be noisy) where I immediately fell asleep to the sounds of the World Cup in the rooms all around me.

 

Next day our guide Gabriel Blacher took us on a half-day city tour. It was a quiet Sunday morning and he showed us how to use the subway, after which we transferred to a hired car with driver whilst city traffic was light. We did the Buenos Aires must sees – caught the subway to Plaza de Mayo, travelling in this historic railway carriage. While we were in Buenos Aires, negotiations for the sale of the carriages to a Belgian company for shipment to Europe was being negotiated.

 

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The Plaza del Mayo is ringed by significant buildings such as Parliament House aka the Pink Palace

 

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and Cathedral San Martin, on the right.

 

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La Boca is a colourful riverfront suburb which is the scene of a busy Sunday market. The previous day’s defeat of Argentina by Germany at the World Cup weighed heavily on the hearts of locals - Gabriel said it would take a while to get over. We saw 2 boys playing soccer in La Boca and nearby a shop selling World Cup flags and mugs, poignant reminders of the defeat.

 

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We drove across the Bridge of the Woman to the gentrified wharf area that houses rows of expensive apartment blocks and restaurants. Last stop was Recoleta Cemetery where elaborate mausoleums line the narrow streets. The mausoleums vary in age and upkeep - some are lovingly decorated with flowers, vases, ornate needlework cloths and photos. The cats were an unexpected attraction.

 

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Gabriel dropped us in San Telmo so that we could walk back to the Castelar via the Sunday market using the map he had marked for us. I arranged for him to return in 7 weeks to guide me for another day – destination to be decided.

 

Next day we used Gabriel’s map to explore the city as BA is a pleasant city with easy walking and an efficient subway. The day began with breakfast at the historic Cafe Tortini, a Buenos Aires institution which opened in 1858 and has a magnificent painted glass ceiling, marble tables and leather chairs Evita herself may have used.

 

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We caught the subway to San Martin to walk to a bookstore located in an old theatre with books in the ´stalls´ and ´balconies´ and clients reading in the ‘boxes’. We continued along Avenida Florida, the main shopping mall that has some smart shops rubbing shoulders with the more familiar shopfronts of Timberland and Burger King.

 

We travelled on the hop-on hop-off bus during our last full day in the city, completing the 3 hour circuit in record time to escape the bitterly cold day which was our first taste of the cold weather which was to dog us off and on for the next month. I was intrigued by the professional dog-walkers that we saw around BA. These guys collect dogs in the morning, walk them for half a day and then return them exercised, tired and happy to wait for their owners returning from work.

 

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Edited by Treepol
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@@Treepol

 

@Zim Girl this orca sighting was during the first week of August, how about yours?

 

 

We were there in the middle of November 2010. We saw our whale near Fernandina island

I hope you don't mind me posting a picture.

 

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@@Zim Girl maybe the same orca family stayed around during 2010, that would have been a great bonus for visitors. I like your photo!

 

 

Iguazu Falls

 

 

We left a cold, wet Buenos Aires and thankfully landed in hot and sunny Iguazu. Our guide Dimitri met us at the airport and we immediately set off for the light rail trip to the top of the falls in order to beat the crowd out to the Devil’s Throat.

 

This curious campo flicker was watching the early arrivals.

 

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We completed border formalities in time to tour the Brazilian side of the falls where plush crested jays perched above the walkways.

 

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This red throated piping guan perched above the waterfall mist.

 

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We stayed at the Hotel das Cataratus, a frothy pink confection of a building a bit like a wedding cake, overlooking the falls. The hotel is a former Portuguese colonial residence and guests have exclusive access to the falls in the evening and at dawn when the park is closed to other visitors.

 

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Next morning there was a low mist and the falls weren´t visible from the front of the hotel, however there was a toucan right outside – a first sighting of this iconic bird. An agouti grazed on the lawn.

 

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After breakfast we signed up for a short trail walk and river cruise through the national park. The 3 km walk was through secondary rainforest with a surprising lack of birds.

 

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The boat cruised down the Argentine shore where we saw yellow-throated crocodiles.

 

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Some people opted to kayak the last kilometer after which the group walked for another 2 kms before returning to the hotel. After cool drinks on the terrace we walked down to the falls, bought plastic rain capes and went out on the walkways that cross the lower cataracts.

 

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Too soon our stay is over and we are on the 6 am flight next day to Sao Paulo en route to Barranco Alto in the Southern Pantanal.

 

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We were met at Campo Grande airport by Vava and left immediately for the 6 hour trip to Barranco Alto with a half hour lunch stop at a Brazilian truck stop type of place. We drove along the highway for a couple of hours then turned onto a gravel road until we came to a gate at which Vava announced ´no road´. He didn´t speak English or Spanish and I don´t speak Portuguese so it was a fairly quiet trip which was just as well as we started to see wildlife as soon as we got through the first of 42 gates. The road from here was sandy and dusty and traversed a dozen or more fazendas as we drove north.

 

Along this road we saw a large flock of 20 jabirus by the roadside, hyacinth macaws, rheas, peccaries, agoutis, caiman and a toucan. We arrived at Barranco Alto at 5.30 pm and were met by Lucas.

 

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Barranco Alto is owned by Lucas and Marina, and is Marina’s family property. Its a relaxing, informal place with a daily routine similar to that of an African safari. Breakfast is at 6 am followed by an activity such as a boat ride, game drive, horse riding, fishing. Lunch is at 12 and then it is siesta time until 3 pm which is time for the afternoon activity, usually a game drive. Dinner is at 7 pm.

 

Lucas eats breakfast and lunch with the guests before guiding one of the morning activities, and sometimes Marina and the children joined us for lunch which was delightful. Other staff and visitors we ate with regularly included the Swiss teacher, 2 anteater researchers, Carol (our guide) and Louisa who was doing research into the spread of seeds by animal dung. Fernando assisted with the activities, driving the afternoon game drive and sometimes the morning boat rides. Most of the staff speak Portuguese only, whilst Marina and Lucas are multi-lingual and Carol spoke excellent English. It was an interesting and friendly community and meal times were always lively. The other guests were a Belgian family of four.

 

The food is very good and served buffet style. Breakfast is fruit, cereal, toast, tea and a selection of interesting juices that included cashew nut and a red drink that is made from the flower of a local tree. Lunch was salad, a meat dish, rice, beans and a vegetable dish whilst dinner was a meat dish usually chicken or beef, potatoes sometimes, a hot vegetable dish like a ratatouille or salad and tabbouleh. Desserts included upside down apple cake, home-made icecream and a selection of milk based dishes.

 

Our first activity was a boat ride with Lucas which lasted for 3.5 hours during which we saw both neo-tropical and giant otters, a female anhinga, white-lipped peccaries, Amazon and Ringed kingfishers, Gray-necked wood rail, a blue crowned trogon, scaly-headed parrots and some very small bats. The river is very calm and great for reflections and it seemed there was a bird in every dead tree.

 

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Before the afternoon game drive with Carol and Fernando we detoured past the tack room where the cowboys were working - one of them was making something from a large piece of leather.

 

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Barranco Alto is a working cattle property together with the eco-tourism business. The afternoon drive revealed an armadillo digging just outside the gate, standing up on his hind legs to check us and giving us a good look at his whiskery face. Driving on, we saw feral pigs

 

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and a ‘condominium tree’. This tree housed a jabiru nest which had monk parrots nesting in the base and hyacinth macaws nesting in the trunk and last year a pair of plumbeous ibis nested in the top branches.

 

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The wetland areas of Barranco Alto are very scenic.

 

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Later, we saw our first giant ant-eater that we followed on foot, staying downwind.

 

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The twilight sighting of a tapir was very exciting and once again we followed on foot. Spotlighting on the way home revealed a large male tapir and many crab-eating foxes.

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The next day was Sunday, Fernando´s day off so Lucas drove us for the morning activity which was enlivened by the anteater researchers who came along to check camera traps. The Pantanal scenery was amazing - many small freshwater and salt lakes, a pair of Southern Screamers aka the Pantanal sentinel, 3 coatis, peccaries and rhea and many beef cattle. Here is an early morning photo looking towards the accommodation.

 

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Lucas says he loses about 15 calves a year to cats, mostly pumas. The World Cup final replay screened in the afternoon and as almost everyone was glued to the TV, Carol took us on a game drive and one of the gardener’s kindly volunteered to drive.

 

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The best sightings occurred just outside the gate as we left and later as we returned. The first sight was a hyacinth macaw tree.

 

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The drive ended with a spotlight sighting of a lesser anteater which stood up on his hind legs to check us out. Monday´s activities produced a Burrowing owl perched on a fence post close to a small flock of Black-headed parakeets.

 

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The boat trip with Fernando and Carol revealed the baby neo-tropical otters which had been seen for the first time only days before.

 

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We spent a long time drifting around a large tree where the boat-billed herons roosted.

 

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This game drive ended in a tropical storm during which we were soaked and was the first of the bad weather which was to follow us into the Northern Pantanal.

 

Lucas and Fernando took us on a river safari on the last morning. We had planned to leave at 5 am to be at the giant otter den when they woke up, however it was raining and cold so we did the usual 7 am departure instead. This was a peaceful and relaxing outing during which we saw many rufescent tiger herons of varying ages and a cocoi heron on almost every dead tree.

 

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Suddenly, there was a barking sound and there were the giant otters - they would slide down to the water, swim and disappear up the bank again only to emerge further along and swim more and then disappear.

 

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Further on, a curious coati kept a beady eye on the boat.

 

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The morning was a great Barranco Alto finale.

A newly arrived guest joined us for lunch - he flew in from the Northern Pantanal where he had been staying at the Jaguar Research Centre which was operating from a houseboat on the Cuiaba River. He said he got tired of spending so much time on the houseboat and game viewing from smaller boats that set out each day from the ´mother-ship´. However, he did see 3 jaguars and commented that the boats follow the same channels each day. After lunch, our charter farrived and we set off on the one hour flight to Campo Grande for a TAM flight to Cuiaba to meet Julinho Monteiro of Pantanal Trackers, our Northern Pantanal guide.

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Great to see both types of otters - the baby neotropic and the giants running along the bank.

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Julinho met us at the Cuiaba airport and after collecting the bags, we headed off towards the Transpantaneira. Cuiaba is a city of 650,000 people that we were pleased to escape. Julinho set the GPS so that we could track our progress to Rio Clara. After a short drive around Pocone, we saw the church in the centre of town and then continued towards the Transpantaneira, arriving at Rio Clara around 8.30 pm.

 

Rio Clara is a tidy, well kept family run property with pleasant grounds offering 21 visitor rooms. Meals here were similar to Barranco Alto. Breakfast was fruit, breads, scrambled eggs and a wide choice of cakes. Lunch included 2-3 salads, a hot vegetable usually potato, pumpkin or carrots, fried fish and a meat dish. Dinner was similar with 2 meat dishes and more hot vegetables. The rooms are simple and very clean and the mostly Portuguese speaking staff are friendly and helpful.The lodge has a number of boats that are used for birdwatching and otter spotting activities. I have in my notes that Rio Clara is peaceful, serene and easy.

 

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Bare-faced curassows and rufous horneros roam around the grounds and yellow-billed cardinals, saffron finches and black-headed parakeets frequent the bird-feeders. A pair of burrowing owls lives behind the car park, and whilst easy to see they are hard to photograph. A baby capybara born overnight had been abandoned by its mother and rescued from a vulture by staff on our second morning. They planned to release it near the family that grazed on the lodge lawns at night in the hope that it would join the group.

 

The first activity was a walk with Julinho along the river during which he talked about the medicinal properties of the plants and trees that we passed. New birds included a vermilion flycatcher, guira cuckoo, peach-fronted parakeets and giant cowbirds.

 

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That afternoon we did a boat trip in search of giant otters, however, the extremely cold weather sent us home early, not before we had seen yellow-rumped cacique, black howler monkeys and orange troupials. Other birds included numerous kingfishers skimming the river, or perching on low branches looking for fish. We saw a number of ´kills´ - which involve killing the unfortunate fish by slapping it against the branch until it is still enough to swallow.

 

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It was so cold that the impressive cocoi heron which stands so tall and proud during sunny days had telescoped his neck into an S-bend against the chilly wind. Flocks of snowy egrets wheeled over the river on the way to the large, noisy rookery where hundreds of birds gather for the night.

 

 

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Next day we hoped for better weather in order to see the giant otters, however, a chill wind was blowing again and that required several layers of warm clothes. I had been worried that I hadn´t bought enough summer clothes, whereas I should have worried about having enough winter woollies. Highlights of this trip were a pygmy kingfisher and a blue crowned trogon.

 

We left Rio Clara at 2 pm for a drive down the Transpantaneira, crossing about 115 bridges before arriving at the Porto Jofre Hotel. Weather is still cold and overcast, Julinho comments that he is worried about the grey clouds as these should be white to indicate good weather at Porto Jofre. Along the road we saw 2 jabiru nests, one of which contained 4 chicks, a beautiful scarlet-headed blackbird, marsh deer and a donacobius. Stopped to look for great horned owl, but they were too high in the tree for a good sighting or photo. There were many, many caiman, snowy egrets and cormorants in the waterholes along the road. In one rapidly shrinking waterhole we saw fish jumping for oxygen and Julinho said that the nearby egrets and cormorants would eat them before the waterhole dried completely. There was a cormorant swimming round and round trying to swallow a freshly caught fish, he took so long that he attracted the attention of a caiman seeking an easy meal.

 

The Porto Jofre Hotel is situated right on the river and caters to fishermen, charter pilots and jaguar seekers. The large rooms are very clean and situated around a square where one day 4 horses grazed contentedly.

 

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There is a separate dining room with high quality food and a good choice of dishes. New food included yummy meat pastels for breakfast which are a spicy meat filling in a deep fried pastry, a bit like an Indian samosa. The beef dishes were of course excellent, the staff friendly and helpful. There was a games room for passing the cold days and a fast Internet connection. There were many birds around the lodge - hyacinth macaws, a toucan near reception, saffron finches, crested caracaras and rufous horneros.

 

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The first full day on the river was bitterly cold and the wind chill factor bought the already cold day down to below 10C. It was better in the smaller channels where there was more shelter from the wind. During the day we saw a sun bittern, 5 guira cuckoos huddled together against the cold, monk parakeets, capybara, black-collared hawk and a rufous tailed jacamar.

 

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I noted an ideal moment when we were next to a tree full of singing nun birds, greater kiskadees swaying on plants at the riverside, a black collared hawk high in a tree, a giant otter slowly making its way downstream and Julinho paddling us along silently so as not to scare the otter.

 

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The highlight of this day was a memorable giant otter interaction during which we anchored about 5m from a family group and watched them for 20 minutes playing, fishing and eating the catch.

 

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A grand finale to a very uncomfortable day.

 

 

 

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Glad I caught this, excellent stuff!
Fear you may have played your ace too early with the great pic of the sea lion napping on the bench though! :lol:
Otter photos are all excellent, I also found those tiny, camoflaged bats really cool as well, never seen anything like them before. Was suprised to hear of how cold it was too!
Someday I will upload my trip to the Pantanal...but only when everyone else's who would show me up has finished first!

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@@Big_Dog thanks for reading along, I would like to read about your own Pantanal adventure one day.

 

I have a few more soppy seal photos for the Galapagos section....

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The temperature in Pocone is 16C so if we move further up the Transpantaneira it may be possible to enjoy some walks and birding. Stopped again to search for the giant horned owls can be found for a reasonable sighting.

 

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It was teeth-chatteringly cold! This forlorn jabiru was wandering along the Transpantaneira.

 

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The first activity at Pousada Araras was a long morning walk along well marked trails. We saw some new birds such as a crested cardinal, turquoise-fronted parrot and a gray headed manakin.

 

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We also saw a large family of 15 coati, a red brocket deer, brown capuchin monkeys and 2 agoutis.

 

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During the afternoon we walked to the big tower and saw even more new birds that included a ferruginous pygmy owl, giant antshrike and an undulated tinamou. The tower was 8 flights of steps and was probably about 80-100 m high, although it seemed much higher at the time! After dinner, Julinho screened a 2008 documentary that featured George Schaller and his ground-breaking work in 4 areas around the world. Julinho was the Pantanal guide hired by the production crew when filming jaguars in the Pantanal. He spoke fondly of his time with George Schaller and had obviously enjoyed working on the documentary.

 

Next morning we did the boardwalk again and saw even more new birds, the highlight of which was a blue crowned motmot. Rufescent tiger herons showed well, including the juvenile perched with a recently caught fish. The Rufous-tailed Jacamar allowed us to approach quite close before flying away while the Hyacinth Macaws that nest around the lodge enjoyed the attention.

 

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We walked across a cleared area and were followed at a distance by 3 curious Pantaneiro ponies who stopped whenever we did - it was a bit like playing ´whats the time Mr Wolf.´

 

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Lunch was a barbecue on the Rio Claro River, where we met up with the other lodge guests most of whom paddled upriver.

 

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It was a carnivore´s delight that included spicy sausage, beef and chicken.

 

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There was also a tomato and onion salad, roast banana and jacket potatoes with juicy sweet watermelon to finish. The lunch spot was a peaceful, green location on the river with a small pontoon where the kayaks were tied. There were bare-eared marmosets in the trees behind the cooking area and the guys fishing from the pontoon attracted the attention of a hungry caiman who was stalking the fish they caught.

 

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Enjoyed good sightings of a Pygmy Kingfisher and Whistling Heron.

 

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We were leaving that afternoon for Piuval Lodge, and were absolutely delighted when the gray clouds broke and blue sky appeared - our first sun for 7 days.

Julinho drove us over to the Araras stock yards for a look. There were a lot of cattle penned there and it turned out they were separating the 6 month old calves from their mothers in the main herd. The calves wailed and the mothers bellowed and it was all quite sad. We saw a cowboy working with the cattle before returning to the vehicle where a palm tanager was perched on the open window, admiring itself in the side mirror.

 

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Returning to the Lodge we saw the same family of coatis from the previous day and a very dusty armadillo. After a final afternoon tea at Araras Lodge, served outside due to the sunny weather (!) we were off to Pousada Piuval.

As it turned out, the decision to leave Porto Jofre early was a good one. We enjoyed Araras Lodge for the clean rooms, boardwalks, 3 wildlife viewing towers, hyacinth macaws and capybaras around the lodge, the outdoor firepot which made a pleasant place to sit at night and the friendly staff. We disliked the formal atmosphere in the dining room, the food (less choice than elsewhere in the Pantanal and many dishes were served cold like cauliflower, carrots and beans), the macaw ´shower´ at the pool and the awful smell we noticed in the late afternoon at the waterhole which seemed to come from a graywater outlet.


Edited by Treepol
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@@Treepol

Shame about the weather - it sounds really cold.

Still you had great views of the otters - it is always enjoyable to see them.

I love the picture of the tanager admiring itself in the mirror!

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Sorry too that this cold streak spoilt all the jaguar fun - though you have been richly compensated on your next trip as we all now. Very much enjoying this report. :)

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@@TonyQ and @@michael-ibk the cold spell was so unseasonal and the worst for about 10 years - Julinho wasn't expecting it and he had a miserable couple of days as he had under-estimated the weather forecast when packing for the trip.

 

The snowfalls and deaths in Southern Brazil were news headlines on the few bulletins that we saw. However, we had a great time in spite of the weather, so good that we were determined to go back not only to see a jaguar but to enjoy the Pantanal all over again in the hot weathr usually delivered in July/August. Indeed, it wasn't until 2013 when we saw multiple jaguars and were treated to so many other rich sightings that we realised how unseasonal our 2010 trip had been.

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The sun has changed the world, the grass is greener, the blue sky is reflected in the many waterholes, more animals are out and about and the birds are no longer huddled in the shelter of the trees. Saw monk parakeets, muscovy duck and a wonderful sunset as we drove north.

 

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We pass beneath the famous Transpantaneira sign before arriving at Piuval.

 

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I was up early the first morning at Piuval, wandering around the stock yards where the staff were just getting ready for the day. Had great fun photographing a canary-winged parakeet and a chestnut-eared aracari in a blossom tree.

 

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The morning walk included our first hummingbirds, rhea and a cream-winged gnat-catcher.

 

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There were brown capuchin monkeys feeding on the ground, agoutis, and howler monkeys high in the trees, one with a very young baby. The male howler launched a magnificent territorial display by howling - a long growl followed by a loud noise a bit like water draining out of the bath. The display lasted for about 5 minutes.

In the afternoon, we did a 30 minute scenic flight over the Northern Pantanal. Julinho is a qualified pilot and he arranged to charter a plane to give us an aerial view of this wonderful region.

 

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The last day at Piuval was jam packed. Up at 4.30 for a 5 am departure to Lake Piuval to watch the bird rookeries come to life at dawn.

 

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The pre-dawn boat ride across the lake watching the stars fade as the sun approached was peaceful and wondrous. A short boardwalk bought us to a viewing tower from where we watched thousands of birds start the day. There were jabirus, snowy egrets, a skimmer working a small waterhole, cocoi herons from the waterbirds whilst hyacinth macaws, tropical kingbirds, rufous cachalot, monk parakeets, crested caracara, wood storks and black collared hawks also joined the flypast.

 

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A caiman was growling, making a loud whump, whump sound amidst all of the bird squawking. Marsh deer grazed below on the wetlands. Howler monkeys were moving about in the trees near the boat station and our last birds were a striated heron and a ringed kingfisher with a kill.

 

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Returned to the lodge for a quick breakfast before going horse riding. Gone for about 3 hours and rode to a waterhole where there were many caiman and 5 giant otters. The ride was largely unadventurous, although my horse was a bit disturbed when the others found a stillborn foal and Miguel and his ´boss horse´ had to come and ´turn´ him back into the file.

Returned to Piuval for lunch before a 2.30 departure for Cuiaba and sadly, the Pantanal adventure is over. A final night at the Cerrado Park Hotel in Cuiaba and then we are off to Rio via Brasilia. The famous Brazilian Calypso Band were in the gate lounge and the lead singer was very patient and gracious about repeated requests for photos and autographs.

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Rio

 

Arrived in Rio at 5pm as the sun was slipping behind the hills and having seen Christ the Redeemer from the plane I remember thinking, OK we've seen the Christ, lets go back to the Pantanal. A very pleasant and efficient transit driver met us and delivered us to the Ipanema Plaza through peak hour traffic which was a particularly un-nerving experience. Cars have the right of way, and if you drive carefully you will have an accident!

The Ipanema Plaza is a comfortable hotel with helpful reception staff, 3 attentive doormen, good in house services and a fine restaurant. My room had a view of Ipanema Beach...

 

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There is easy and safe access to the beach from the hotel which provides a 'tent station' where guests visiting the beach can leave valuables with security staff.

We were up early next morning for a 7.30 start to see the sights and throughout the day exhausted ourselves with 10 hours of sightseeing with guide Diana Persi. Starting with the Corcovado, we caught the Parks bus up the steep hill before transferring to the elevator and then an escalator to reach the feet of Christ the Redeemer which is the best known landmark in Rio.
The statue is 38m high and was built in 1932.

 

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Alternatively, there are 280 steps that can be climbed to reach the top. There used to be medical staff on duty to assist with heart attack, collapse and respiratory failure before the escalators and lifts were installed. Luckily, the place was almost deserted at 8.30 so we had a good look around.

 

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There is a small chapel at the back of the statue where a recording of the Ave Maria was playing which was particularly moving in this place.

 

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Next up was a drive through the Tijuca Forest with stops at some of the older homes (now restaurants), a waterfall and a private chapel. The maintenance guys had homemade brooms of big palm fronds which they used to sweep the roads. It looked quite strange as the brooms were almost as big as the blokes. This tortoise was hoping for a snack.

 

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The next stop was the Islas of Tijuca where people live on small islands that can only be accessed by boat. Later we enjoyed a late lunch at an upmarket local eatery and then went to the Sugarloaf for the cable car ride, another famous Rio 'must do'.

 

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Returned to the hotel via Copacabana for a late afternoon walk on Ipanema Beach.

 

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Next morning we caught the Santa Teresa tram which winds its way up the hill to an area where many artists live. There was a short stop in a civic square which was home to grand buildings such as the National Library of Brazil and the Municipal Opera House.

 

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The trip to Santa Teresa in the open tram, was very enjoyable and a suitable finale to Rio.

 

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After Santa Teresa we flew to Sao Paulo and spent the night at the Airport Marriott before departing at 6 am to fly over the Andes to Quito.

 

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