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.

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