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.

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