The following day was a long day driving through the agricultural fields of Mato Grosso via Rondonopolis, Juscimeira then towards Cuiabá, where we found a camping opportunity at a restaurant and playpark called Sinuela.
Very friendly owners, we were allowed to park approx. 300m off the highway next to their house, clean ablutions and showers – all for free as we ate dinner at the restaurant! A busy highway, trucks from Bolivia as well as from Manaus seem to pass Cuibá at a rate of at least 600 per hour in this region, so driving was strenuous.
We were now reaching the edge of the northern Pantanal – 5200km since we started from Montevideo about a month ago.
From Cuiabá going south via Poconé (not a pretty town but an interesting entrance arch) there was only one dead-end road ending at Porto Jofre – the Transpantaneira – an elevated dirt road crossing as many as 125 little bridges on as many kilometres. The road originally was destined to go all the way into Bolivia. However, each year the road was flooded so the plan did not work out. Today a number of pousadas along this road offer opportunities to observe birds and to see jaguars.
We drove about 35km in and decided to call it a day at Pousada Rio Claro – the heat was intense, we could park and camp here, use their cool pool and clean ablutions. The afternoon’s boatride with other birders proved to be a good choice seeing Osprey and falcons; so was the next mornings rowing with a guide watching caimans, various birds of prey and a beautiful juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron.
We were hardly back at the lodge, when the predicted rain set in and did it pour down - we had no choice other that to remain put and catch up with pictures and blog writing. For 3 months the region had no rain, the smell of the first downpour reminded us of Africa. The landscape soon was flooded and made it impossible to camp – so we took one of their rooms and were lucky that the lodge was not yet fully booked for the night (as it was for the next). It was quite different to be in a room the first time since we started a month ago. During the evening’s game drive we saw a number of raccoons, foxes, and frogs that sounded like sheep.
Next morning, we took another boat trip and then proceeded along the Pantaneira towards Hotel Mato Grosso situated on the Rio Pixaím, where we had heard that the birdlife was prolific. On the way we saw a nesting Jabirú stork with two chicks in a large tree.
The friendly staff at the hotel permitted us to camp close to the gate, use the bathrooms and the pool. The following morning, we were woken by the cacophony of many different bird species – probably the best we have ever had camping anywhere.
Dieter and Beate Reiser, whom we had met at the previous lodge had slept in a room and envied us for the bird concert in the morning. Our morning boat tour was good but we did not see any new species of birds except a Ferruginous pygmy owl in a tree at the hotel.
We were not lucky to see the elusive Agami Heron which tends to hide in the undergrowth along river banks in this area.
So we proceeded towards Porto Jofre in the hope of seeing jaguars and camped at the Pantanal Jaguar Camp.
Porto Jofre is very small, essentially consisting of the hotel by this name, the Municipal camp, the Jaguar Camp and possible one or two more. Jaguars can best be seen up the river by boat, so we booked our first boat tour for the next morning. Not knowing any better, we also booked a boat at the Pantanal Norte Porto Jofre Hotel. Behind the hotel we visited a pond with giant water lilies.
While leaving the Jaguar camp by vehicle we spotted our first Sunbittern – a bird that looks like a butterfly in flight. Unfortunately we did not catch it on a photo while flying - it is magnificent to see.
Towards sunset we took a drive back along the Pantaneira, saw more nesting Jabirú, black-headed Capucchin monkeys and plenty other birds.
Next morning our first boat drive went for 40 minutes high speed upstream to get to the area where jaguars could be spotted. We spotted the male jaguar named Geoff, a seasoned caiman hunter, up on an embankment. What a sight – he bore all the marks of a fighter and hunter.
We briefly glimpsed two more male jaguars while searching the tributaries. Our guide Marcos, a biologist, explained in good English about the behavior and territories of the jaguars. An index has been started to identify them by their markings. Jaguars in this area are much larger and stronger than in the Amazon due to their prolific diet of caimans –they are in fact after Tiger and Lion the third largest cats.
Back at the jaguar camp we got to know Ailton, the owner, who currently was helping filming crews with land based camera traps. Their boats are well equipped for filming the Jaguars ashore.
The owner explained to us the history of jaguar sighting here in the Panatanal – it is due to the fishermen, that the tourist industry was started after they realized that regular sightings occurred. The adjacent farmers still loose some livestock, but have started using water buffalo as a buffer zone to protect cattle and sheep. The water buffalo are not indigenous but ended in the area when a ship wrecked further north transporting them. A great concern however is the possibility of poaching Jaguars for the Chinese market, similar to the reasons that African cats are being decimated for their bones and teeth to be used as aphrodisiacs.
For the next night we moved to Camping Municipal –a mistake! The view was good on the river, the rest was lousy – immensely dirty bathrooms (not being cleaned despite our request), many mozzies, and the whole night the generator was running. Karin got the worst share of bites.The only compensation was seeing more Hyazinth macaws.
Next morning 6am we left per boat from the Porto Jofre hotel, a mere 200m away from the campsite. The trip with Luciano, the guide and boat captain and only us as pax, rewarded us with exceptional sightings: giant river otters in the water and on land, close sighting of two Jaguars growling at each other (later identified as Patricia, the mother, having cubs close by and Hunter, her adult daughter) and a snake-like striped worm lizard.
On further trips with the Jaguar camp boat we were very lucky to observe a caiman hunt by Geoff, the old experience caiman hunter. We could follow the Jaguar on land and in the water until he finally cornered and caught a mid-sized caiman in some dense growth.
A bonus was to see the migrant Swallowtail kite above.
On our return journey along the Pantaneira we counted 90 wooden bridges up to the Mato Grosso Hotel, where we stayed again and this time could observe the shy Agami heron on a morning boat trip as well as other birds.
Our route then took us via Cuiabá (where we shopped at the best supermarket on our entire trip – Biglar Supermercado – we spoiled ourselves) and continued towards Chapada where our night was spent at Camping Refugio das Seriemas, a very small private camp of average standard.
The tourist office was not very helpful, so we explored the area and visited the bridal fall (Veú de Noiva), a 85m scenic waterfall. Next we ended up camping at a site we saw advertised by a sign along the road and were surprised to find ourselves the only guests at Camping Acamporto, with a clear river to bathe in ( rio Coxipó). Brand new banõs and a cold water drinking fountain made the stay pleasant in the 40 deg C heat.
We visited the town Bom Jardim, swam in the clear waters of balneario Estivado with shoals of fish, observed hooded capuchin monkeys frolicking in the trees above our vehicle.
Then drove to Lagoa das Arraras where many parrots were observed.
On our southbound return we again took the MS 427, our “Anteater“ road –this time we were more lucky and saw another giant anteater. After arriving at camping Soy Assis, Dieter got spontaneously roped into a cooking class by a group of students and prepared with them a trucker’s dinner, drank a lot and had immense fun.
Leaving the area we had a farewell moment with our favourite bird showing off in its nesting palm:
On our way many stalls sold handcrafted pots and pans.
From here we speedily made our way to Foz de Iguaću, where we got the vehicle serviced by Toyota Zeni (first did not want to service the VX100 at all as it is not sold in Brasil, we were not satisfied with their service, skipped lubrication of essential parts) and paid a visit to the second largest hydro station, the dam Itaipú – meaning singing stone in Guaraní – a joint venture between Brasil and Paraguay (170km long, 12-15km wide, 170m deep at the wall, 14000MW, each penstock 10m diameter).
Distance travelled since leaving Montevideo to here had been 8170km.
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