Around Rio Claro

At 5 a.m. the Chaco Chacalacas wake me up, after a sleepless night in the company of my noisy ceiling fan. During the night I had had the brilliant idea to go to bed with my rear-window open, there was a fantastic black sky full of stars and of course the room had filled up with mosquitoes... I'm not very concerned with mosquitoes normally, but they really didn't let me sleep this time. The air-conditioner was out of order so I had to turn on the fan, it was like sleeping in the machine room of a big ship.
As we are meeting for breakfast only at 6.30, I have time to wander around the grounds of the pousada. 
The monk parakeets are already busy in their endless feast and there are some feeding places for small birds. Even if I am not very fond of this practice, it's still fascinating to observe a bunch of red-crested Cardinals eating in the early morning light.
After breakfast we leave the pousada for our first trek on the Trilha do Capao dos Acuris, long trousers and closed shoes are a must, because of mosquitoes and ticks. Gianluigi insists on carrying his heavy bag. We leave the pousadas terrain by the front gate and walk through open fields for a while. Julinho explains us that all of the lower lying areas flood during the 'cheia'.

We see Toucans, Toucanetes and a Coati, motionless on the branch of a tree. Just his eyes open slightly when he perceives our presence.
We pass by an abandoned brick house, former home of one of the peoes of the farm.
Some turkey vultures sit on the branches of a high tree.
Then we enter a 'capao de mato', so are called the 'islands' of bush that grow out of the fields. 
Just outside the capao a violet flowered tree, I think the name is Tambarà, the only flowering tree we will see during our stay. The flowering season is around august, when the Pantanal is tinted in pink by the flowers of the Pink Trumpet trees, or Piùvas/Ipé-roxo.
Entering the bush a world of sounds envelops us, while we walk in silence, only broken by Julinho's explanations about this or that tree, my translations and the shutter of Gianluigi's camera. Sometimes we have to stop and wait for him, while he gets lost fascinated by some small creature or flower.

I remember a conversation with Alessandra's Japanese husband Nobu at the kitchen table, about the difference between Japanese tourists and westerners. He works as a guide too, but mostly for Japanese people. He explained to me that in his point of view there is a deep difference between the two. He asserts that the Europeans have deeply rooted the culture of hunters, today they cannot or need not to hunt anymore, so they hunt with their cameras, but the instinct remains the same. He doesn't like it, he says that the Japanese that come to visit the Pantanal are truly interested in the whole ecosystem, not only in photographing some spectacular animals. 
I've always loved photography, but there are moments when I just feel the need to put it away and simply appreciate what I am seeing.  Maybe it's because of the overdose of images that are forced upon us night and day, probably it's due to my work too, but it happens more and more often lately. So...I'm sorry if I lost the best shots, but believe it, the best moments were the ones you don't see in my pictures.

Back to our walk in the shade of the 'acurizal' (acuri is a palm tree cheriched by the Guatò Indios and by Hyacinth macaws and other animals). Many acuris are embraced by strangler figs, in some cases the acuri has dried away leaving behind the entangled branches of the fig. I read somewhere that the bats infect other trees with the seeds of the strangler fig by defecating on them. Julinho explains to us that the figs operate a natural selection, thus preventing other species to expand too much. What seems a natural born killer here is just part of a whole wonderfully balanced natural system.
The red flowers of bromelias, gravatà stand out from the shades of green. Julinho explains us the use of various plants in traditional medicine.
A golden tree captures our attention, it is called chuva-de-ouro, golden rain, because with the wind the flowers fall off in a glittering golden rain. In midst of this yellow stain there is a howler monkey on a branch, a female.
Further on we see a small Capuchin monkey.
After a 3 and a half hours walk we leave the capao and through the fields return to the pousada, around 10.30 a.m. The sun is high now and it's very hot.
Rest time for our guests and Julinho. 
After a shower I take my restless soul down to the river, where there's a nice cool breeze.

Sitting in the sun is impossible even for a sun-lover like me, so I crawl under the shade of a tree. From there I have a fantastic view on the rio Claro, quite a broad river that brings up many memories of last years trip. The tree under which I am sitting must be a favourite spot for black vultures, it's full of them.

At 12 we have lunch and after that I return to the riverbank, while the others get some relief from the heat in their rooms.
The other guests of the pousada look quite estranged at this small blond woman in a bikini under the burning sun. A lot of small birds capture my interest and some bigger storks on the other riverbank too. Apart the interruptions of my idyllic loneliness by some boats that leave full of people for river trips, it's just paradise. It's a holiday weekend in Brazil, so there are more tourists than usual, but the area is so vast that you don't really get bothered too much.  
When the scalding sun gets too hot even for me I stroll around in the woods along the river. Hidden by vegetation there is a rudimental shack with two big pigs that make a lot of noise, hitting repeatedly the wood. I walk away and after a moment I hear strange sounds behind me, the big male has escaped the yard and is running in my direction. I admit I wasn't very at ease, being attacked by a domestic pig in the Pantanal was not exactly a heroic story to tell around... My first instinct was to run away, then I remembered all good advice of what to do when you get face to face with any angry animal and I stopped and looked at him. It wasn't a nice feeling but it worked, he stayed for some seconds grunting angrily at me, then went away.

At 15.45 we meet at the dock on rio Claro and get on one of the flat alluminium boats, same model as Julinho's Dudutinha. A boat-driver from the pousada comes with us, so Julinho is free to concentrate on spotting animals on the shores.
The river landscape reminds me of last years trip on the tributaries of rio Cuiabà. Lush vegetation surrounds us. Roots of trees form an intricated tangle resembling pre-historic monsters with thousands of arms.

On a sandbank we are greeted with an agglomeration of birds, Jabiru stork's wade pacifically side by side with a group of black vultures. On the background a Roseate Spoon-bill displays his gorgeous pink plumage. The color is due to his habit of feeding on small pink crabs.
Julinho instructs our 'piloteiro' on how to turn the boat to get the best angle for photography. Working with professional photographers for many years, he has acquired an enviable technical expertise and a little hint of impatience with those 
who should have learnt but after years still wait to turn the boat until the photographer has a torn neck..
The heads of the Jabiru storks are surrounded by 'mutucas' a strange little flie I had already met last years while camping on the rivers, a real pain in the ass, worse then mosquitoes. Their bite is painful and they were incessant in certain hours of the day.
Julinho explains that the Jabiru sometimes gets disturbed by them at the point that he stops eating and starves. Same thing for the Caiman, to escape the flies he often stops emerging from the water and dies of hypothermia.

It is a physical pleasure to drive down the river with a cool breeze on our faces, after the hot day. My guests are very pleased, Gianluigi loves water and feels finally in his element.
Further down the river on our right side a group of Capybaras grazes on the shore. We stop to observe them for a while.
They have similar habits as African Suricates. They live in groups and grow together their puppies, indifferently to direct familiar ties. When one of them perceives danger he emits a strange cry, thus warning the others. The puppies stay always slightly behind an adult, being an easy prey for Jaguars and Caimans.

We see one male that rubs his buttocks on a branch and Julinho explains they do this to stimulate a gland that emits a smell to attract females.
Maybe the easiest spotted mammal in the Pantanal, it's still fascinating to observe their group behaviour.
Suddenly a strange smell captures my attention, I take a glance at Julinho and he confirms smiling that Giant River Otters, 'ariranha' must be near. The rotten smell often characterizes the places were they clean themselves. And in fact there they are, two of them, their heads out of the water looking at us.
After another river-bend we find ourselves in front of a real bird colony. In a shrub a myriad of different birds nests guarded by Yellow rumped Caciques, shrieking like crazy. In midst a minuscule black-blue and red kingfisher, just a colored dot, a rare type of bird we are told by our excited guide.

Different bird species often share nest locations to protect themselves against predators.

At 18.30 we drive back to the pousada. Tonight a night safari is programmed, with our jeep. At dinner Julinho asks me if we want to join another group doing a night safari on the open truck of the pousada,  he explains that the advantage is to have less cars on the road and that on the truck everybody will have a better visibility than in the closed jeep. After consulting my guests we accept.
When we enter the dinner room we are greeted with big smiles by our pilot of the afternoons boat tour, now in the role of a waiter. Rio Claro has this outstanding human characteristic that it is very informal and that interaction between 'workers of the farm' and guests is welcome, this is not so common in other places.
At 20.15 we climb on the back of the truck, together with a German family and her guide, Sidneia. She and Julinho on top with the torches, Walter another guy from Rio Claro driving.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice and interesting text and beautiful photos - I would like to see all! Karla