A big thank you to all..

Thank you to all the wonderful persons that made my trip memorable:
  • my great travel buddies Gianluigi, Enrica and Aldo
  • Carmindo, Maria and Elizete for their friendship and hospitality
  • my Brazilian family: sister Alessandra, her husband Nobu and little Raquel
  • Junior, Walter and the other boys and girls from Rio Claro 
  • Gustavo from Porto Jofre Hotel 
  • Luiz and Maria from Pouso Alegre 
  • Rosario, Walter, Messias and the others from Pousada Piuval
  • and of course Julinho from Pantanal Trackers who is the culprit for my falling in love not only with the Pantanal...
I'll be back soon!

Thank you too to all readers of this blog, I sincerely hope I've been able to give you an insight glimpse to this wonderful place, feel free to contact me, I'll be glad to help out!

Farewell to the Pantanal

During the night I had taken the decision to stay too, one more day in the Pantanal was tempting and I felt it wasn't nice to abandon my travel companions on their own. Julinho had organized a pick-up at 6 a.m. the next morning, his sister would take the Bafico's to Cuiabà and leave me in Poconé on the way.

photo: Gianluigi Bafico
After breakfast we say goodbye to him, he has another tourist arriving tomorrow morning in Cuiabà. He gives me some tips on what to do with my folks during the day and says: Now you're in charge, do a good job, and leaves.

We set off for our morning hike, on a trail he had described to me yesterday at night that leads to the Piuval lagoon. It's a beautiful sunny day but it feels quite strange to be suddenly without him. 
We stop at an Owl's nest (J. had described the tree and the location to me) were a female Owl is caring for her chicks.
In the beginning we coast a  mud road that crosses the fields, a few trucks pass by, greeting us.
After a while we enter an acurizal. It's quite dark between the palms and we meet again thousands of leaf-cutter ants busy in building their green roads. Enrica is slightly worried about loosing our way, but its not so difficult, you only have to follow the light. Well, in fact where we get out it doesn't look like where we got in...but I'm confident that we will find our way.

We see a Toucan and two Hyacinth Macaws flying far away. A monkey with his little one on his back and some coatis.

Leaving the acurizal we enter an open field with very uneven muddy ground and cross a cattle herd. A big tree gives us some refreshment from the burning sun. Aldo suddenly accuses belly-ache and decides to run back to the pousada. His parents explain to me that probably it's not food related, he is nervous because after the Brazil trip he is starting university in a (for Italian customs) far away town, well it's his first time away from home alone...

We continue for a while, Gian walks in silence while Enrica is in a chattery mood. She tells me that Gian always gets kind of silent and depressed when he thinks of going home...it's the same for me, but I try to pay attention to her conversation while secretly looking around and trying to get the most of our beautiful surroundings.

Back at the pousada Enrica and Gian go looking after Aldo. In the meanwhile I talk to Rosario, the manager at Piuval, about what we can do in the afternoon. We would have liked to take a last boat trip on the lagoon, but unfortunately there are no boats available. Instead she offers me one of their guides to make another hike on a trail  we haven't done and we accept.

Aldo is better and joins me at the pool. To our disappointment it's restricted, Rosario explains that they have put a chemical substance in the water to clean it but the pump has broken. Someone has taken it to the next city to get it fixed, but she didn't know how long it could take.
I stay until lunch, writing down some notes and enjoying the sun. Luckily the cold shower is working and helps me not to melt down. 

After lunch with Enrica and Aldo we try to write down a list of the birds we have seen during our trip, partly in English, in Italian and Portuguese, looking at the guide books they've brought. Aldo has a phenomenal memory, the privilege of youth...
After a while Enrica leaves us for their cool room and misses a funny scene. A big group of horses suddenly enters the pousada's yard and starts grazing undisturbed on the lawn, for the amusement of a group of German newcomers. As they've arrived they leave again, free to do as they like. Lucky guys...

At 4.30 p.m. we are picked up by Messias, a 24 years old guide. I introduce him to my travel buddies and explain to him why we are here on our own, but Julinho has already instructed him, leaving nothing to chance. Present even when absent...that's what I call a great guide.
He walks at a faster pace than we are used to and I try to keep up with him while keeping an eye on Gian who has a talent for staying behind enchanted by some small creature or flower. Messias is very talkative, of course one of his first questions is if I'm married...funny, on my travels I always meet people who are astonished at the fact I'm not! He is not married and says he has given up long ago the search for his second half..hoho...at 24.. when I tell him my age he just doesn't want to believe it. 
He doesn't speak English so I have to translate everything he says even to Aldo, but he's trying to study it a little bit. 
At my question about what he does in the wet season he answers that it's his favourite and that the surroundings of Piuval are at their utmost beauty then. 

In midst of the conversation he stops and points to a fallen branch on the floor, a green Bothrops Jararaca, a venomous snake. Aldo who is near us get's a glimpse of it slithering away, Enrica and Gian don't, they are too far away. Messias seems less courageous than Julinho, he holds a secure distance...but is evidently happy and proud about the sighting.

We arrive at a clearing with a water pond where a beautiful Jabiru stork is flying rounds above our heads. Messias collects a white feather and gives it to me...I wonder how I'll manage to get it into my small luggage. He tells us that the storks always stop at that  pond, we wait for some time but he doesn't come back so we follow our footsteps back to the pousada, passing through one of the endless fields propped with termite mounds. On the ground Messias  shows us some quite big elevations: they are home to enormous earthworms, that are used as fishing-bait by the Pantaneiros. 
They cut them to pieces...must be quiet gruesome.
Back at the pousada we say goodbye and thank you to Messias and have a last stroll around, before going to pack our luggage.
Walter, the other guide, reaches us near the pool to say farewell too.
It doesn't seem possible to us that we will be in the city again tomorrow, the Bafico's in cold Italy and I in Poconé, at least I have a stopover for decompression.

After dinner I make agreements with  Rosario on our early check-out, she isn't sure if we will make it for breakfast, because it is served at 7 a.m. and we're leaving at 6.30.

Last night, I stay awake in the hammock on the small veranda in front of my room for a long time, gazing at the wonderful sky already sick with saudade of this unspoilt corner of paradise.

Wild horses and...tame crocodiles

In the morning Julinho is waiting for us like always. In some days I tried to get up extremely early, but no way, he was always  already walking around, doing things, ready to go...
After a rich breakfast, especially Aldo who has to eat enough to get through to lunch time, we walk out of the beautifully hand-carved wooden gate towards the open fields that surround the pousada. Beside the gate a worn  wooden sign with the inscription 'Fazenda Ypiranga' and a partially canceled date on it. 
Scattered cattle and groups of horses of all shades graze in the distance. The sun will be fierce today says Julinho, we will try to walk as much as possible in areas with denser vegetation, but there will be some places with nowhere to hide. 
Two racoons emerge from under a tree and run over the field. As often Gian is too slow with his camera and the animals too fast...J. giggles under the brim of his straw hat.
A Great Rhea with his chicks eases him the job of getting a good shot. We had seen some from the windows of the jeep on the roadside, but never so near.
At the end of the field we enter a trail that leads through the bushes. Julinho in front, Gian behind than me. Aldo and Enrica follow us at a little distance. Suddenly Aldo hisses a word 'tamanduà' and J. turns around rapidly and reaches the spot where Aldo and Enrica are staring at the woods. But it's too late, the Anteater  has already found refuge in the thick vegetation. Aldo has managed to get a picture where the furry back of the animal is recognizable...at least he has a proof of his sighting.
Slightly disappointed we continue, with a very excited Aldo in the rear. 

We cross some clearings between one 'capao de mato' and the other and the sun burns merciless on our heads. A Cutia with her young ones crosses our way. There seem to be less birds here compared to the surroundings of Rio Claro and Pouso Alegre, but nevertheless the nature is gorgeous. A lot of the capoes are populated by acuri palms , small trails allow us to walk through them. The ground is covered with dry leaves and crossed by an intricated net of brilliant green lines: small pieces of bright green leaves are spread out forming trails waiting for  thousands of tireless Leaf cutter ants to carry them on. Really impressive, I knew that they can destroy a tree in a very short time lapse, but I'd never seen them in action.
On a mud road surrounded by high trees we meet a group of 'wild' mares. It's not uncommon to meet grazing horses here, but these free animals in midst of the lush forest give us a really out-of-this-world feeling. They are the emblem of freedom (that's for me, I don't know if my folks had the same thoughts cross their minds). They follow us for a while, until the next clearing, then disappear as they had appeared.
Slowly I recognize the surroundings of the tower where we had been last year on horse-back. I didn't remember it was so crooked...luckily on the top the inclination is less accentuated. 
The view on the Piuval area is beautiful as always. After a while we descend the tower's stairs, it's too hot to hang around in a location without shadow and we return to the pousada.

Gianluigi and Enrica take refuge in their room, Aldo and I reach the pool.  Today the water is really muddy...we are the only guests and we'll find out later that there had been a problem with the pump. 
It's so hot that we jump in anyway, thinking that it must be organic  stuff, no chemicals....but taking a quick shower after each bath. Our discussion theme is always the same: have we lost 'time' through the time switch or not? It's not really a problem...but funny how such a simple thing brought such a big confusion to our perceptive system...
At 12 we have lunch, then time to relax until 4.30 p.m.: we have appointment with Julinho at the stables for horse-riding. Gian and Aldo have some experience with horses and seem to enjoy the idea, Enrica is a little bit worried and keeps asking me about the horses and insists that I explain to Julinho that she is not able to ride. I tell her that the horses they give to tourists here are not 'wild pantaneiro horses,' but very calm animals that are used to persons like her. Julinho must have understood but keeps quiet, probably trusting in my ability to reassure people... 
In fact I'm not that used to horse riding either, but I'm not afraid of it and I know we won't be galloping across the fields. 

While my friends go to rest in their room, I lie down at the pool with a book and enjoy observing the horses and the birds. I wonder how they can be able to sleep so much...

After a while Julinho joins me for a chat, he had been sitting at the shaded veranda in front of his room working on the laptop. After some minutes he takes a shower with all his clothes on. Probably he thinks I'm crazy to stay in this heat in the sun...only for a carioca like me it's bearable. People from Brazil's countryside hardly understand our  worshiping of the sun and I'm used to feel their wondering gazes saying: She must be crazy. He resists for a while then leaves alleging that he has to prepare the horses for the afternoon, not before having picked some mangoes from the big tree in the yard for me. He tells me the story of an Englishman who had spent some time at the pousada with a group. He had fallen in love with the tree and it's sweet mangoes and abdicated of all activities, spending all his time sitting under it's shade, waiting for a fruit to fall down. Well, I've always thought too that if something like paradise exists it must be located under a mango tree...

Around 4 p.m. I take my thousands shower of the day, put on long trousers and shoes and go to get my folks. This time Julinho had been able to convince even Gianluigi to leave the backpack behind, explaining that the horses don't feel at ease with persons loaded with heavy gear (politely he didn't mention 'persons who are not able to ride').
photo: Gianluigi Bafico
He's already there, in his cowboy outfit which impresses my friends a lot. I had already seen him wearing it before, but still I cannot help thinking that he looks very handsome in it.
Enrica has a fixed smile on her face, admirably she always manages to smile even in the worst situations. The horses are already saddled and Julinho indicates a brown one to me, whispering that it is a very sweet guy but very responsive to commands, to take care. I take the bull by the horns and get on the horse without thinking twice, very proud when I see that he puts a small ladder near the horses of the others to facilitate their mounting. Gian and Aldo get up, than it's Enrica's turn. Julinho helps her to get on the ladder and mount the horse. She smiles and after a minute asks to get off, this time she isn't able to overcome her fear. Still smiling she says she prefers to wait for us at the pousada because she doesn't feel at ease on the horse. Gian and Aldo try to convince her but no way, she stays behind.

julio andre monteiro
photo: Gianluigi Bafico
So we leave, Julinho in front, Gianluigi and me after him and Aldo closes the line. We ride at slow pace through the pastures that surround the pousada, passing by groups of white cattle with the typical white birds between them, horses of all sizes and colors that graze peacefully. The saddle's used here are not common leather saddles, they are quite bulky layers of heavy cloth and leather. I wonder if I'll ever be able to shut my legs again...

I try to make my horse walk faster and reach Julinho who is quite a leg ahead of us, but I think I have a long way to become a real cowgirl...it's not so easy to keep the balance on this strange saddle. But my poor horse is really very responsive and probably frustrated by my clumsy attempts.
Gian rides at a slow pace, happily looking around and taking photos, while Aldo tries to spur his horse that doesn't seem too enthusiastic about it. He manages to trot for short spans, than it falls again in it's lazy pace. He looks quite funny, so tall and thin and he rides jumping up and down on the horse in European style, different from the riding style of the pantaneiros.

Julinho sometimes looks back and waits for us. As usual he says that if we arrive late for dinner it will be our fault...
We see the skin of a dead cayman on the grass and loose Gian for a while, concentrated on taking photos he doesn't see that we have left him behind.
I enjoy very much the ride through the endless pastures and promise myself to learn to ride before my next visit. When I was small and we were living in Brazil I remember I had a period of deep love with horses and my father used to take me sometimes to ride in the mountains behind Rio, on old and shaky horses. We weren't rich and this was what we could afford. It was enough for getting confidence with the animal, but not to learn riding seriously.

photo: Gianluigi Bafico
At a group of trees Julinho stops and jumps down from his horse, tying it to a wooden stilt and inviting us to do the same. I feel his gaze on my neck while I try to make an appropriate knot and know that I must be doing it wrong. Of course my horse doesn't help either and frees itself joyously from the reins. Julinho shakes his head and tells us that we'll have to walk back if our horses flee... luckily it doesn't run away and  I manage to get the reins and tie them with several knots to the stilt. 
Not far away from the trees there is a small river with lots of caymans on the shore. Walking towards them Julinho tells us their story. Tourists and guides used to feed them regularly and they had gotten so used to it that they started to identify humans with food and running after them. One tourist even got bitten in the leg. In fact as he is telling the story the caimans are slowly coming in our direction. 
Aldo looks uncomfortably at his father who is taking pictures near the river and tells him to come back.
Julinho giggles and asks him if he is afraid to loose his 'privileges' as a son. 
The big cayman close to Julinho is motionless and seems harmless, but when he throws a stick near it's jaws he snaps at it. He explains to us that they always attack sidewards, never from the front. J. takes my small camera and mounts over the cayman to film it for me...
The sun is already  setting at the horizon and we prepare to get back to the pousada. J. finds a beautiful bright green feather and gives it to me. I stick in into my trousers, hoping not to crumple it too much.

At the pousada Enrica is waiting for us, she tells us that she has befriended a little stray dog and asked the kitchen folk for some food, he was so thin she says...used to our fat pets.
Julinho explains to us how to unsaddle our horses, there is a  strap called 'chincha' that holds together the layers of fabric, you have to untie it and take it off all together , of course most of the riders (Gian too) manage to disassemble the whole thing... and teaches us how to refresh them with water from a hose, legs first,then slowly the rump. After wards we free them in a corral.

Happy and satisfied we go to take a shower and prepare for dinner. It's our last night with Julinho. Tomorrow my travel buddies are supposed to go back to Cuiabà and on the 23 in the morning get their flight to Italy. My plans are to stay for some days in Poconé. 
Julinho had suggested to ask them if they preferred to stay one day more at Piuval, instead of spending the last night in Cuiabà. After evaluating the pros and cons they decide to stay, happy to postpone the impact with civilization for one day, only a little bit skeptical about staying without their guide and translator.

During dinner Julinho hasn't a nice face, a bad head and backache is tormenting him and once again we try to convince him that it's not imperative to go for our last night safari. No way, he wants to fulfill his job. Gian, who is a doctor, gives him a pain-killer called 'Kolibri' and manages to get a smile on his face because of the funny name.

The 'burro xucro' is already waiting for us at the side fence of the pousada. Aldo and I climb on the top and we leave through the fields, with Aldo operating the flashlight as before. I have a sore neck too...must be contagious. Every hop of the jeep feels like a razorblade stuck in my neck. I try to counterbalance the hops in some way and put a dirty cloth that was lying there around my neck to keep it warm. 
We drive through some of the tracks we had walked along in the morning, coasting the dark bushes. It's not easy to individuate animals, we see a lot of eyes but most of them are nightjars. Suddenly Aldo points to our left side to a pair of eyes of a different colour, he has seen something that looks like a medium-sized cat but over the excitement gives the alarm on the wrong side of the jeeps roof, on his fathers not on Julinho's. Gian doesn't react quickly enough and we loose it. Julinho gets out of the jeep and tells us to be more careful...

After a while we return to the pousada and put to sleep our aching limbs. I think my pain is directly related to my sorrow for the end of our trip, but still it's hard  for me to get some sleep.

Last stop: Pousada Piuval

Last morning at Pouso Alegre. At dawn I get up to enjoy for a last time the genuine atmosphere of this place. I take a stroll around the big mango trees and find Julinho already at work in his jeep. This man never sleeps...
After breakfast we say farewell and thank you to Luiz and there we go: on the road again, this time inside the jeep as the roof is loaded with all our stuff.
I have mixed feelings in relation to Pousada Piuval. It's surroundings are very beautiful and different from the other locations we've been to, but the proximity to Poconé (about 10 km) makes it a favorite spot for weekend visitors. It's just more on the beaten track and gateway to the 'civilized' world. Probably my prejudice is due also to the knowledge that our trip is coming to an end...
Julio Andre Monteiro
photo: Gianluigi Bafico
We pass the gate of the Transpantaneira highway and stop for a picture, Aldo rapidly climbs on his favourite spot.. the roof of the 'burro xucro'.

Julinho turns on his cell phone and calls the pousada to tell them when we are arriving.  Bye-bye wilderness....
While we were away clocks were shifted to summertime in the rest of Brazil, but on the Transpantaneira most pousadas maintain sensibly solar time. Piuval on the contrary adopts city time for meals but for the activities (that are of course ruled by the sun's position here as anywhere else) follows solar time. Quite complicated as we will see...

On our way we stop as usual in some beautiful spots. Julinho is thoughtful. It's his last big tour of the year and probably he can't wait to get some rest from work.

Around 10.30 a.m. (sun time) we arrive at the pousada, a girl gives us the keys to our rooms and we have just the time to shower quickly because at 12 lunch is served (for us it's 11..).

Pousada Piuval is part of Fazenda Ypiranga, a 130 years old family business that started working also with tourism in 1989. It has all facilities of a resort, swimming-pool, internet connection, cable tv, bar, restaurant and the rooms are equipped with all the comforts. If it weren't for the staff and for the lush landscape that surrounds it, it could be a normal resort in any part of the world.
But like many things in Pantanal you don't have to stop at the first impression...

Across the wooden fence that surrounds the flat building where the guest-rooms are endless green fields stretch out to the horizon. Horses, cows and Rheas graze undisturbed. Part of the staff of the pousada, especially the resident guides are in reality cowboys of the farm. Their working day starts at dawn, when they care for horses and do the other daily jobs of the fazenda, after wards they transform themselves into boat pilots, guides for hikes and horse-riding. 

And I think this is a big plus, because they are the real people of this place. Maybe they aren't graduated biologists or so-called naturalists, but they know many more interesting stories than a scientific name of a bird, with all my respect for those who seriously study the flora and fauna of places. 
My fear is that with the growing business of eco-tourism here and in other areas the story of these people will be gradually forgotten. The tendency of many guides is already to sell themselves as "naturalists" because this is what they think the market imposes. And the real 'pantaneiros' are downgraded to mere helping hands, that means doing all the jobs that in reality are part of life here: riding and caring for horses, caring for cattle, piloting boats, driving jeeps... while secretly continuing to be the silent and gentle guardians of the secrets of the Pantanal.

At our arrival at the pousada we had seen a bus parked in front of the reception and in fact a big group of Brazilian tourists roams around. Lunch is quite crowded too, but the marvelous food makes up for it.

After lunch we have our usual time to rest, due to summertime it's really long. Aldo and I decide to get some refreshment in the pool, now empty, because the big group has left. We are the only guests now and with the new found silence we can appreciate the  chirping of the myriad of birds living in the trees and flower beds on the lawns in front of our rooms.

The swimming-pool is inhabited by a lot of insects and numerous small black swimming beetles. Aldo passes his time saving them to the pavement around the pool. 
In the small toilet by the pool we find an unexpected guest: a lizard (popular name: Teiu). Aldo asks worried if we have to get him out of there to avoid that someone harms him...
After a while it gets too hot for Aldo and he seeks refuge in the cool rooms. I resist a little bit more in the burning sun, then move to the shade under the big straw umbrellas on the border of the pool.
Julinho passes by and we chat for a while, he tells me that all the black stuff in the nets under the umbrella is bat excrement. He keeps trying to raise my disgust, but I'm not an easy bone to get...
At 4.30 p.m. I go to get the Baficos at their room. We are going on a boat trip in the Baìa do Piuval. I tell them to wear sandals as we are going by boat anyway.
At the reception there are four or five guides and some tourists waiting, Enrica asks me horrified if we are going all together... we are just going to share the ride on the open truck with one Brazilian tourist and his guide in order to move less cars; Julinho wants to make a night safari when we come back, because it will be already dark. First the Brazilian tourist doesn't seem too enthusiastic about the idea of a night safari, it's not clear why. Finally J. and Walter, the other guide, tell us it's ok and we climb on the truck. 

We drive through the lush grounds of the fazenda, there is no real road, just tracks made by tires in the grass. 
The Fazenda Ypiranga measures around 7.000 hectars.  The landscape is quite particular: vast fields of short grass are interrupted by dense blocks of forest. It looks like the gardens of Alice in Wonderland... as if  giant gardeners had created it during the night. But it's natural of course.
Some racoons and a crab-eating foxes cross our way.

We arrive at a small dock where three anchored boats are waiting for us. One is for us, we have a pilot also, so Julinho for once can relax. 
The lagoon is very extensive, surrounded by forest. It's waters are so shallow that in some points the pilot has to use a paddle to push us forward, obviously J. takes the other paddle and helps too.
The names Baìa do Piuval and Pousada Piuval derive from the piùva trees, called also ipé-roxo, Pink Trumpet trees present in the area. In August their flowers tinge in pink the whole landscape. 
The motor of our boat emits crackling sounds... as if it could break down from one moment to the other. Saudades of 'Dudutinha'...Julinhos tidy well-kept boat.
Our pilot is a funny, nice guy. I share with him one of the oranges Enrica has brought and my bottle of water.
There are many 'islands' of water hyacinths on the  lagoon, where we see some birds. After a while the boat points toward one side of the lagoon. Julinho says we are going to have a walk. I look uncomfortably at the sandals of my friends... but happily they prove to be loyal travel buddies in good and bad times...and just smile at the idea of walking through thorny fields barefoot...

At our arrival, on the wooden rail of the small dock, a surprise: Gian's beloved Kingfisher is sitting there calmly, waiting to be photographed. Gian has plenty of time to prepare his gear, get a good position on the boat and shoot... Aldo mockingly asks 'where is the fun in photographing such an easy subject...'. Later the guides tell us what is quite obvious, that the Kingfisher gets fed by people. That's why he is so patient.
I admit I haven't taken a single picture of the bird, quite stupid because he was nearer than any other bird we'd seen and perfectly motionless...

We walk through a clearing with some flat  observation huts then step on a wooden boardwalk that leads us to an observation tower. It's shorter than the boardwalk of Araras and the tower is less high too, but the view over the lagoon is very nice. On Pousada Piuval's website there is a panoramic view from the tower. 
Some Howler monkeys are eating leaves in the trees nearby and a group of Hyacinth macaws flies  over our heads, stunning as always.

Walter, the other guide from Piuval climbs on the tower with the Brazilian tourist.  We scan the open fields around the tower looking for the Giant Anteater, he has been seen around here lately. But we are not lucky. 
The sun is already low and  Julinho, feeling that my  friends are not so much in for staying for sunset on the tower, proposes to have a walk through the fields to reach a big nest of Jabiru storks near the woods. We have to be quick he says, because it's already getting dark. 
The Brazilian tourist joins us, while Walter returns to the boats. Rapidly we walk through the fields, careful not to step on thorny vegetation with our open rubber sandals. J. has his boots on, he scolds me gently later saying that here you have always to be prepared for every kind of terrain. Luckily nobody gets hurt and my a** is safe.
The nest is well worth the run: made of sticks on a tall tree, it is very big. The nests  can grow to several meters in diameter. In this one three small  Jabiru storks are there probably waiting for their parents to return with food.

We cannot stay long because it's really getting dark and the boat pilot is waiting for us.
Our journey back with the sun painting the lagoon in pink and violet shades is unforgettable.

Back on the truck Julinho and Walter prepare the lamps for the night safari.
We see some Crab-eating foxes and Racoons running through the open fields. One of the foxes looks hypnotized into the light and doesn't run away, I almost feel like telling them to leave him alone. Luckily we move forward soon.
Near the entrance of Piuval we pass through a big herd of free Brahma cattle, slowly, the cows don't seem too enthusiastic about having to move.
After a quick shower we have dinner and go to bed early. Julinho summons us up to breakfast at 7 a.m. tomorrow...our time, city time, we don't know but we pretend to understand, I'll wake up earlier than that and look out for him discreetly.

Pouso Alegre, a nature paradise

At 5 a.m. I wake up, that's my natural rhythm since my arrival here. We are supposed to meet at 7 a.m. at breakfast, so I have plenty of time to take a nice shower, play with the pererecas (small frogs) in my bathroom and write down some notes.
At  7 I join the others, Julinho has a prostrated face...must be due to the night's headaches...
He explains us that in the morning we will drive until a certain point on the access road, from where we will take a track through the forest.  Aldo and I climb again on the roof, the others inside and we leave. 
The fazenda is huge, it measures about 11.000 ha. In the past they raised cattle, nowadays the family runs only the lodge business and the endless fields are rented out to other people.

On our left side we see a shallow water pond with the most incredible colors, all shades of green are present. 
We pass a small wooden bridge and on our right we see in daylight the owners of the thousands of glimmering eyes of the night before. A medium sized water pond literally overflowing with Caymans...we stop admired. Their 'roars' fill the air and we wonder how it is possible for so many specimen  to survive in a so densely populated spot.
Some stick their tails out of the water, some their heads. I wonder why.
Further on the road we stop at a giant Parakeet's nest on the top of a tree. The cackle of innumerable birds fills the air. It's like a condominium, with infinite windows where you can observe the Parakeets daily life.
Gian takes thousands of pictures, we have to literally grab him by his neck and put him on the jeep again...

We drive for a while, then Julinho stops and we continue afoot. We are in a very beautiful 'capao de mato', the sunlight penetrates only partially through the dense vegetation.
Innumerable strangler figs carry out their job of preserving the natural equilibrium.

A strange smell permeates the air, Peccaries, says Julinho showing us their footprints.
We get a glimpse of a very tiny Cotia and a Brocket deer. We don't see many other animals here, but the lush vegetation and the sounds of Cicades are enough to once again inebriate our senses.

On our way back Gian asks Julinho if he can stop again at the giant nest...there are better light conditions now and he wants to take some more photos. Aldo and I stay on the roof of the jeep, enjoying the view.

After wards we reach the only bar on the Transpantaneira, for a lunch-stop, the Barara. There we meet a guide I had met last year in the same place, Roberto, the blue-eyed pantaneiro. We eat 'pastel-de-carne', a kind of meat pie, and share a beer with him.

After lunch in the pousada with Tchaco and his guests who are leaving today, we have time to rest until 3.30 p.m. 
It's very hot and the Baficos go to get some refreshment in their room with the air conditioner . Julinho disappears too.
I'm not  used to sleep during the day, so I have the third shower of the day, get out of my long trousers and sneakers and sit down on the threshold of my room with my notebook, enjoying to be alone with myself for a while.
At night I will see that this wasn't a brilliant idea...I'll be covered with ticks from head to toe...

Amused I observe the American boys & girls preparing for their afternoon ride. They are a group of Conservation students from all over the US. One of the girls has glued her trousers to her socks with tape, her friend has her belly covered with swollen red tick bites. The one Aldo and Enrica have nicknamed 'the duck' because she always walks with her butt unnaturally stuck out and without  a bra, to the delight of the masculine population of the pousada, seems determined to get on with her job. No bra and very thin jersey pants...she'll need a lot of healing balm on her thighs after the riding...her determination makes me smile. 

When we leave for our afternoon trip I ask Julinho mockingly if he has gotten some rest and his serious answer is that he had to help poor Luiz who was saddling the horses all alone...aha..

This time Gianluigi climbs on the roof of the jeep with me, I try to cede my place to Enrica, but she prefers not to risk a broken leg climbing on the small ladder.
We are headed to the Araras lookout tower, at more or less 1 km distance from our pousada's access road on the Transpantaneira.

At the Bararas Bar we park the jeep and continue by foot, first on a mud road, then on a rustic boardwalk. It is quite long and passes through flooded fields, along Araras Ecolodge and then enters the forest. Apparently we are alone, the cool and humid air envelops us while we walk silently in a line, Julinho ahead. We see a small Capuchin monkey on a tree and the ever present sound of Cicades is only broken by sporadic calls of different birds.

The wooden tower is 12 m high, unluckily we hear  voices from above...we are not alone anymore. 
 It may sound selfish...and it certainly is, but when you get involved to a certain point with wild nature you just don't want 'strangers' around to break the harmony created within your own small group. 

On the third level of stairs Aldo points out excited to some Howler monkeys, a big black male and a female with a puppy on her back.

Aldo is our number one wildlife-spotter (after Julinho of course, who sometimes I guess leaves Aldo the honor and excitation of being the first to see an animal...), his parents took him on his first African Safari when he was only four. At the end of that trip there had been an unforgettable scene. They were sitting near a pond surrounded by elephants and he had started to cry heart-breakingly asking why on earth did they need to go home when it was so perfect where they were...

There is a whole colony of Howler monkeys in the trees around the platform in fact. We climb until the platform where it's quite crowded, three guides with their groups have already taken the best viewing spots at the rail. I try to push my too polite and shy friends in a better position, avoiding carefully the cannon like lens of a German photographer...a knock on my head with this thing would easily get me to the ground. Julinho sits in a corner with the other guides, there is not much to explain here: the beautiful view, the monkeys, you just have to open your eyes...
Suddenly an outburst of laughter from their corner, Julinho tells me one of the other guides is making an appreciation on my backside... the guy denies fervently saying that our guide is the scoundrel of the situation. In the end Julinho gets his way and presents me to other guides, luckily my group hasn't grabbed the situation, I 'm not sure that their sense of humour is developed as mine. J. likes to play the male chauvinist role for public ludibrium, the rude cowboy...but of course only when he knows his 'victim' understands that it's just a joke.

While I'm walking back to the side on which my friends are, suddenly a group of Hyacinth Macaws flys over the tower. I manage to elude for one second the lens of the German giant, who is not aware of being in midst of a discreet crowd of people in a tiny space anymore...it's just him and his goal: the photo. 
The Macaws aren't helping him, they fly back and forth, up and down and make him really sweat. By the way, his equipment must be quite heavy. When he's finally exhausted they gracefully land on a tree and sit there for a long time, waiting for the sunset...
I understand why Julinho insists on not working with more than one or two photographers per trip, even if it means earning less and working more. 

I just don't get the point of selling so-called tailor-made trips for seven or more participants in a row, or the participants are clones or it cannot be called tailor-made. You cannot be flexible when carrying around a big group in a place like the Pantanal and just try to imagine what it would mean to paddle down the rivers stuck on a small boat with seven photographers with their gear around you... ninguém merece (nobody deserves this).

One of the other guides brings a drink to his tourists, to toast to sunset, he explains in a broken German. 
My folks don't seem so keen on staying for sunset, so discretely we start to climb down the stairs of the tower. Two floors down five Howler monkeys are resting on the wooden rails.

Quite strange with all the trees around. We guess that probably they are fed by tourists and guides sometimes, it's a bad habit of many pousadas here. Still it is fascinating to observe them so close-up. They lie there almost motionless and apparently unbothered by us, but their expression seems to reflect an ancient sorrow. 
It's already getting dark and I don't like taking pictures of animals with flash so I increase the ISO speed of my camera to the maximum. Of course I'll forget to put it back to normal tomorrow.
After a short while all the others descend the tower and obviously it's a festival of flashlights... and a traffic jam on the steep staircase. We wait for Julinho at the bottom of the tower and then walk back in the darkness through the boardwalk.
Aldo asks if we can have another 'pastel and beer' stop at Bararas, I think they are a bit fed-up with the rice and beans diet...
While they are eating their 'pasteis' a couple of Dutchs on bycicles stops and Julinho helps them to fix some problem. It was quite funny, the woman just walked towards him asking if he was Julinho; she had written asking for tour advice and recognized him here in the darkness. He is quite a celebrity ...

Back at Pouso Alegre we have a light dinner, then the Baficos go to pack their stuff. We are leaving tomorrow morning for our last destination, the Pousada Piuval, at the beginning of the Transpantaneira.

I linger around a bit with Luiz and a young Brazilian biologist, then I reach my room too. I remember Julinhos advice on looking for ticks on my body and in fact my belly and bottom are covered with almost invisible ticks... It takes quite some time to get them off and now, after almost two months I still have a strange nibble on my head that probably is a head of one of them.
The Americans are leaving tonight after a long stay here, so there is a lot of traffic between the rooms with clothes, bags, books etc. flying around...
There I find out that the hammocks with the mosquito nets were theirs and not of the pousada, that's why Luiz hadn't understood my worries about the mosquitos on our first day. 
One of the girls stops by my room to talk a little, she is American but her father is Brazilian and her mother from the Filippines. This is the first time she comes to Brazil and she is terribly excited about it. After a while she hurries away and Julinho arrives. he is sleeping with the driver who is taking the Americans to the airport tonight...and the guy is snoring so loud that he just could not sleep. We chat for a while on the small veranda and he helps me to get rid of the remaining ticks. It's a gorgeous night and I'm really sorry to leave this place.