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Pantanal and Patagonia/Wildlife of Sud America: October 2016


gatoratlarge
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Ever since venturing to South America and the Brazilian Pantanal a few years ago (there's a 2010 trip report on here somewhere) I've had a hankering to go back. The goal then was jaguars and tapirs, but really any of the amazing wildlife of South America was on my list. I had visited the Peruvian Amazon years before, and then the Galapagos Islands in 1991, but my trip to Brazil left the lingering impression that if I wanted that "big game" feel that I get in Africa and India, then I needed to get back to the Pantanal!

 

I had used Carlos Grandes and Pantanal Ecoexplorers in 2010 to organize the trip, and me and some buddies took the less traveled path to the Paraguay River and the Taiama Jaguar Reserve. It was adventurous for sure and we had a great time camping along the shore of the river across from a huge wood stork and roseate spoonbill rookery (noisy!) and our goal of seeing jaguars was realized with a fleeting glimpse of a female poking her head out of the reeds and disappearing moments later (but not before we snapped a quick picture!)...needless to say, I wanted more! (As a pretty important side note, I reached out to Carlos again to organize my trip to the Pantanal but the entire trip for me was dependent upon receiving a work bonus---when I finally got confirmation about a month prior to when I wanted to depart (I was in a race against time for jaguar "season" was wrapping up in late October) he had disappeared off Facebook and his website was down...I was forced to frantically begin contacting other potential organizers and learned when I was in the Pantanal that he had skipped the country and left a number of folks high and dry! Lodge owners, guides and tourist deposits! I was pretty shocked because my trip in 2010 went perfectly well, but I dodged a bullet apparently!!

 

So, as I said, I was waiting for the green light on my bonus which gave me about 30 days to book flights and my trip. I googled cheap flights and bought them one at a time---a TAM flight from Orlando to Sao Paulo direct---a round trip Sao Paulo to Cuiaba on Gol---a Qatar flight direct to Buenos Aires---then a round trip to Trelew on Aerolineas Argentinas. The thought occurred to me that I might buy all of these single leg flights and get stuck in South America on the last one to the US! But I found a reasonable flight on Avianca back to Florida. I was able to join a small group staying at the Pantanal Jaguar Camp, two independent couple from the UK for a three night stay. So upon arrival in Cuiaba I had to stay one night at the Amazon Plaza (curious name for a hotel in the gateway city to the Pantanal but I digress) and then Pantanal Nature took it from there! They picked me up from my hotel, then two more stops at the hotels where the other travelers were staying and we were off...

 

The Transpantaneira Highway was a safari unto itself....we had barely pulled out of Pocone under the famous sign and onto the dirt road before we were stopped by a yellow anaconda stretching across our "lane"...rather that twist and slither like I assumed all snakes did, this one was content to ripple his belly muscles and move in a long straight line across the road in no particular hurry...we piled out of the car and watched it make its way into the brush on the other side of the road. We were at times way-layed by groups of capybara and the occasional agouti. Even some caracaras picking apart a brilliant green snake. The sloughs along the side of the road were teeming with birds of all kinds and caimans by the score. Kingfishers were perched on the telephone wires and nosiy parakeets occupied these great shaggy nests in the palms. We crossed dozens of rickety bridges (there seems to be some effort to replacing the wooden ones with concrete ones) some so bad off we drove around them! We stopped off somewhere along the way for a pit stop but the overall trip to Pantanal Jaguar Camp took about five hours I'd guess...

 

 

 

Pantanal Jaguar Camp and Pantanal Nature is owned by Ailton Lara. He has made a real comfortable place on the edge of the wilderness. Accommodations were basic, but clean and with AC. The food was excellent. I would definitely stay there again and highly recommend it. Ailton was doing an exploratory guided trip to a very wild area further to the south with a visitor that had been multiple times to visit the Pantanal. I wish I could remember the name of the national park but it had mountains and was beautiful. He arrived our second day and was a great host, serenading us with pantaneiro (cowboy) songs after dinner one night. Porto Jofre is not cheap because simply put, it's the best place in the world to see and observe jaguars...that's what you're paying for...a pair of hyacinth macaws visited us twice during our stay---such a charismatic bird! As an aside, the Pantanal is on par with Africa when it comes to bird watching...in fact, it may surpass it with it's toucans and macaws, rheas and jabiru storks and roseate spoonbills!

 

 

 

 

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Our very first trip out on the river (actually there are several rivers that come together near Porto Jofre) was golden! We had just gotten into the boat and the radio reported a jaguar not too far away! One of the main advantages of jaguar spotting in this area is the boats from the various lodges fan out in all directions and if a jaguar is spotted, they radio the information to the other guides...the first boat that spots the jag gets preferential treatment but eventually, especially in jaguar season, you're going to have company! There is a protocol that is observed and overall it's not too bad---the local lodges have even added guidelines about distance, etc...more stringent than the government rules to preserve the experience. Most observe these rules but you're lucky if your guide spots it first and you have some moments alone with these beautiful big cats before an army of ten or twelve boats begin to join you...the first jaguar we saw was high on an embankment. He was ready to find dinner and worked his way down to the water and began to swim across the river. For nearly three hours we followed the jaguar as he effortlessly worked the river banks moving in and out of the water, swimming then patrolling the embankments...this was magic! He was one they called Scarface as he had a damaged face and a shortened tail likely from a fight with another male...when we came up on a group of capybaras, we positioned ourselves for some possible drama---the jaguar disappeared into the reeds and after a few minutes exploded out of the grasses sending the capybaras hurtling into the water! It was a miss, but as fate would have it, we hit another boat simultaneously with the attack and so everything goes out of frame in my video for a second! But that was what I had traveled all the way back to the Pantanal for, to see the jaguar in its element doing it's thing...worth every penny! After the failed attempt the jaguar (acting like he really didn't want the capybaras anyway!) continued on. As he patrolled a high dirt bank a group of giant river otters swam by---he scared the daylights out of them and you've never heard such a clatter! Knowing they could out maneuver him in the water, the otters proceeded to shout and splash and create mayhem, following the jaguar along the shoreline until their nerves were settled...another magic moment!

 

It is certainly hot in the Pantanal---temps were at or near 100 degrees F but the next day we regretted complaining about the heat---it was raining and surprisingly cool on this day! The heavens zig zagged with lightning and it was morning. But under these conditions we were the first to spot the jaguar (I should say it's a wonder anyone spots a jaguar when you see the tangled banks of the Cuiaba River much less in a driving rain and moving at a good clip) but our boat driver saw the vegetation moving just so, rippling along and out of view was a lone female hunting the shoreline weeds. Another great experience as she worked the shore, the sand bars and the high bank until she somehow snatched a caiman! She was finishing it off in the water when the embankment collapsed burying her kill---of course with her cat-like quickness (well, she is a cat so her cat quickness) she avoided being buried herself ---we watched as she kept trying to reclaim her hard earned meal...she'd come off the bank and search then return to the top for a rest and then back down to continue her search...

 

On another outing FOUR! jaguars had been spotted together! By the time we got there, they were largely hidden from view, but two of them fought briefly with roars and growls filling the air in the dense brush...we observed other jaguars, napping in a tree and on the bank of the river, seven sightings in all. Others have seen many more but it's not really the number you see but the quality of the sighting in my view...we also had great interactions with Giant River Otters, spotted another yellow anaconda near nesting terns and too many bird species to name or count. If you are interested in jaguars, giant river otters, caiman and capybaras---this is the place to experience them up close and in great numbers!

 

After my three fulfilling nights and four days at Porto Jofre, we head back toward Cuiaba, but they drop me off at Pouso Alegre for a two night stay. Before I left the US, I contacted Luiz who runs the Pouso Alegre via facebook and reserved a room there. Luiz was great. He said pay him when I arrive and it turned out to be another fantastic experience! (I wired a deposit and then full payment to Pantanal Nature)

 

PS I used the app dreamscope on some of my pics---I no it's not really for the purists but I liked the effect....of course I have the originals too.

 

Jaguar hunting for capybara:

 

 

Jaguar hunting for caiman:

 

 

Giant River Otters Feeding:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just like a gator--cruising along undetected much of the time, then emerging ever so often with a splash!

 

"I was forced to frantically begin contacting other potential organizers and learned when I was in the Pantanal that he had skipped the country and left a number of folks high and dry!" Oh no! I hate to hear that.

 

A serenade by lodge owner Ailton Lara is quite the bonus.

 

That caiman hunting jaguar video was fabulous. Rain did not deter it.

 

"PS I used the app dreamscope on some of my pics---I no it's not really for the purists but I liked the effect.." I noticed the cool effect, but didn't know what it was.

 

After the cooling rain, you continued to see jaguars. What were the conditions then? Did it warm up again? I thought the general rule was that cold spells are bad news for jaguar viewing.

 

Congrats on your bonus and a fantastic trip--7 jaguar sightings in 3 days, plus all the other Pantanal Specials.

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@@Atravelynn I credit you with getting me interested in going to the Pantanal to begin with after seeing your trip report on this site a number of years ago. As it turned out the rain was only a temporary break in the temperatures. When we went back out in the afternoon it was back to hot as blazes.

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@@Atravelynn I credit you with getting me interested in going to the Pantanal to begin with after seeing your trip report on this site a number of years ago. What an honor! As it turned out the rain was only a temporary break in the temperatures. When we went back out in the afternoon it was back to hot as blazes. That's good, otherwise you might not have seen 7 jaguars.

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@@gatoratlarge

 

And I might have to put also your name under "credits" if (or better when) I go to Pantanal!

 

The dreamscope effect is interesting ... but was that dirty windshiled or dirty sensor on your first pics??

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@@xelas good eye! LOL some of those pics were definitely taken through the front (dirty) windshield! Ha! I don't know why but I was obsessed with the road, the trees along the way and the bridges (or maybe I was just passing the time! :) We had five hours to kill so I had to do something! :)

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Not new to me, @@gatoratlarge, as my wife does it all the time! Just that she inspects the windshield before departure . From inside and from outside!

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Maybe I should post my itinerary so folks can better follow along:

 

Day 1: Cuiaba: Amazon Plaza Hotel

 

Day 2-4 (3X) at Pantanal Jaguar Camp/Porto Jofre

 

Day 5-6 (2X) at Pouso Alegre

 

Day 7-10 (4X) in Buenos Aires

 

Day 11-14 (4X) in Puerto Piramedes/Patagonia (Del Nomade Hosteria)

 

Day 15-16 in Buenos Aires

 

Jaguar Camp was small with about seven or eight other guests, Pouso Alegre could accommodate larger tour groups so I was a bit concerned as a solo traveler how this was going to work out. My concerns were unfounded however as Luiz (lodge owner) took good care of me and made sure I saw as much as I could during my stay. I told him I wanted to see anteaters and tapirs and anything else I could to fill out the wildlife sightings I had down in Porto Jofre. He showed me walking trails I could venture out on by myself but rain was threatening so I opted for the hammock instead. Over the course of a couple days, I couldn't believe what I actually saw laying in that hammock!

 

Giant tegu lizards strolled past dragging their heavy tails, a curious agouti, a momma rhea with a couple dozen chicks following her (I wondered if she was baby sitting or if they were all hers)...a coatimundi out by the corral----to my surprise I saw a blob of moving hair: a giant anteater with a baby on board! Also a pair of hyacinth macaws checking out a hollowed tree, and almost at dinner time somehow two caimans snuck by me and decided to hang just outside my neighbors' door.

 

On the first night Luiz asked me if I'd like to take a night drive. Spotlighting along the main road was a great place to see wildlife. Shining a light over the ponds looked like the Manhattan skyline with all the caiman eyes glowing ---funny I didn't see nearly this many on the ride in! Capybaras mixed in with the caiman and seemed pretty comfortable resting right next to them. A couple crab eating raccoons wrestled in the dirt road oblivious to the headlights and crab eating foxes trotted off out of view. But the highlight for me was obviously my first tapir! Eating felled fruits under a large tree. This was one animal I really, really wanted to see --- Pouso Alegre has a good population of tapir I was told and I found that to be true. We saw several species of deer as well as night jars and even a large owl. Overall, a very satisfying day!

 

The next day Luiz asked if I'd like to join he and a cowhand on a horseback ride to their "Back 40"...a neighboring Pousado had been purchased and they were doing some clearing. He wanted to make sure they were respecting the fence line. It was not a normal trail ride and it took more than four hours (which I felt for days!) but what a cool adventure! We startled a lounging tapir in a hyacinth covered pond; and later a group of about 40 white lipped peccaries were none too pleased about the interruption of their mud wallow! We could hear their tusks and jaws popping a warning long after they disappeared from sight!

 

That night we had another visit from the anteater but this time sans baby---Luiz said they sometimes stash the baby but this one may even be big enough to fend for itself. He said this anteater comes around every so often and is quite relaxed. They had not seen her in a week but she passed through both nights I stayed at Pouso Alegre. Great place to see all the "other" Pantanal wildlife you may not see in Porto Jofre...one thing I wanted to mention is that Ailto had set a camera trap at Jaguar Camp and recorded a puma passing through as well as a giant armadillo! Would have loved to see either one of these!!

 

The Giant Anteater and baby:

 

 

Tapir feeding at night:

 

 

 

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Giant anteater and the baby ... but those two caimans in front of the doors, hilarious!

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@@xelas it was funny although I can imagine not nearly so funny if you were inside your room and decided to come out! :D I think caimans, especially yacare caimans are fairly harmless but they'd give just about anyone a fright if you weren't expecting one!

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Seeing the anteater up close was very cool but they warned us that in fact they are capable of killing a man with their powerful claws...if they can rip open a termite mound hard as concrete, they are capable of dishing out a serious gash. I tried to stay back but it was great to see it so close. It would dig into ant mounds and it was great to watch its tongue darting in and out and watch it clear the ants off its long snout.

 

The last part of the trip was spent in Patagonia in Argentina, Puerto Piramides specifically. It wasn't the right time of the year, but you may know it as the place where killer whales beach themselves and hunt sea lions off the shore. It's a learned behavior not witnessed any place else with regularity. It's also one of the best places to see Southern Right Whales as they calve here and spend months lolling about in the Golfo Nuevo until their calves grow big enough to make the journey to their southern feeding grounds.

 

It was great to spend a day in a rental car traversing the peninsula looking for the resident pod of killer whales (we were a day late unfort) and spotting Magellanic penguin colonies and sea lion and southern elephant seal colonies. Along the way, herds of guanacos interrupted your drive as well as rheas and wild horses and Patagonian cavys...the whale watching was superb (we went out twice) and we had some nice interactions with mother and calf. It is done with the height of sensitivity and allows for the whales to make the decision to come close or stay away. We booked a sea lion snorkeling excursion as well. Unfortunately we only swam with one sea lion, but again, I think the conservation authorities only allow this in an area where sea lions often congregate but not in the permanent areas or colonies. While it made for a dud on this particular morning, I can't argue with being sensitive to wildlife and being careful not to harass it...it's not all about "us" or "me" when it comes to the well being of wildlife. Another day, we took off looking for flamingos along a stretch of the gulf where they are known to congregate. We didn't spot any but enjoyed hiking down to a deserted beach and looking at fossils in the "cliffs"...the Patagonian Steppe is a barren, beautiful area and vast. I would have loved more time to explore other areas and probably could have shaved off a day in Puerto Piramides and stayed three nights instead. It's just that you're not exactly close to anything else as the distances are great so it was just a little more time for R&R.

 

Southern Right Whales: Some of the better action is around the five minute mark:

 

 

Dwarf or Hairy Patagonian Armadillos in the parking lot of Punta Norte:

 

 

Elephant seals at play, Punta Norte:

 

 

Wind was blowing pretty hard:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fantastic jaguars and I love the sound the otters made. Great capture. Was the Pantanal part cheaper because you went slightly out of season? Pen

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Brasil and Argentina ... two very different destinations, both huge, and you have done both in one trip! How was self-driving in Argentina?

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I agree, this sounds like a very interesting itinerary.

 

You certainly did well in the Pantanal. I love the anteater; that "baby" seems almost too big to still be riding on its mother's back! Great tapir shots, and that yellow anaconda is simply beautiful.

 

Of course, your jaguar sightings were amazing. I'm glad to hear that jostling and overcrowding did not seem to be a big problem in your experience? I avoided the northern Pantanal -- and thereby any jaguar sightings -- because of concerns about that, but I'm looking for reassurance to give it a try next time!

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@@penolva I don't think I was far enough out of season for it to be cheaper...the end of prime jaguar 'season' would probably fall a few weeks prior to my visit but they stretch it to end of October so I don't think there was a break in price...give it another month and I expect the cost would be lower and I would imagine that spotting jags might be a little more difficult but still very likely. I look on Tripadvisor at some of the accommodation options and many of the reviews are well outside of the "season" and it seems they have success seeing jaguars as well...

 

@@Alexander33 Yes it seems the "baby' was right on the cusp of being able to go it alone...the first time we saw her, the baby was riding, but the next evening she came back through camp and the baby was gone...Luiz the lodge owner said that she could have stashed the baby in a safe place or that it was testing its independence or perhaps it was time to strike out on its own...

 

@@xelas driving was very easy --- we flew to Trelew and then drove the couple hours to Puerto Piramides. The cars are a little beat up as the roads on peninsula are dirt/gravel...they didn't tell us to lift up on the gear stick to get it into reverse so we spent a lot of our time pummeling the gear shift into submission LOL but all's well that ends well...it was just useless information to be told that upon turning the rental car in at departure! :)

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Way to go with the mother and baby anteater. As for the baby getting a little too big for a ride, I recall Lydia the Giant Anteater researcher at Barranco Alto telling us about a pair of Giant Anteaters in a zoo (I think Germany, but not sure.) They were mother and daughter, but both adult. When the nearby cages were being cleaned with a loud vacuum, the adult daughter still hopped on her mother's back, seeking comfort and protection.

 

Even without killer whales Puerto Piramides was spectacular.

 

Great combo of destinations you put together.

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Unusual combination but worked out very well. Lovely little creatures. I loved that little Armadillo. They always remind me of soemone in Texas who shot an Armadillo and the bullet ricocheted and hit him back :P :P

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@@gatoratlarge, really enjoyed the Southern Right Whale vid, how great to see them just taking it easy, and they seemed to spend a lot of time on the surface, I guess that's for the benefit of the calf? An exciting trip for you.

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Love the whale video. Its incredible to think I saw the same species of whale off the coast of South Africa just the week before!

 

That's me in the pink at the front of the boat. Pen

 

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@@elefromoz Yes that's one of the reasons it's a great place for whale watching---the adults are not feeding but they spend their time lolling about on the surface waiting for their calf to fatten up and grow strong enough to make the long migration south to their feeding grounds...

 

@@penolva Great pic! Are you on the cliffs at Hermanus? I've seen the Southern Right Whale there as well and also Kangaroo Island off the coast of Australia. I'm not sure of the population overall but those are the three areas I'm aware of that they calve...great clear picture!

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Hi no I am on the boat! It was taken by a drone owned by the boat company. Not my favourite things but in this instance it was worth it and it was also quiet. We stayed in an apartment on the cliffs and saw the whales in the bay everyday. They were doing the same as you saw, lazing around waiting for the calf to grow before migrating. Also saw a humpback and bryde's whale on that boat trip. Pen.

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@@penolva cool angle and shot---don't know how I feel about drones but they do come up with some amazing angles and photo/video... I know there is great viewing from the land/cliffs there in Hermanus sometimes as well. Same for Peninsula Valdes, but we didn't see any very close when were on shore but it happens.

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  • 3 weeks later...

@@gatoratlarge, awesome report and pictures! I am jealous that you had such quality Giant Anteater sightings. We stayed at Pouso Alegre this past september and also enjoyed it very much. I think one of those caiman was sitting out in front of the room we had (#1). What a surprise that would have been. :)

 

Thanks for sharing your report.

 

Alan

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@@Atdahl thanks for your kind comments -- did you do a trip report of your trip? How'd you enjoy the Pantanal?

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