Travelling Hopefully

30 October

For the past year, I’d expected to board a flight to Bolivia on Sunday, 28 October. But on the Friday, the travel company contacted me. Civil unrest had spread through the country, following the recent elections, and protesters had set up road blocks. There was no physical danger, but there was the risk that we’d be stuck in an airport hotel rather than being able to travel as planned. On the Saturday, I decided to take the company’s offer of a refund or a transfer of the monies to a new holiday.

Fortunately (?) my bucket list is long. Less fortunately, I needed to travel within the two week period I’d already arranged, as I had various unmovable commitments upon my return. The travel company had a trip going out to Brazil to visit the Pantanal. This was only a twelve day trip, and I don’t like travelling long-haul for anything less than a fortnight. So I asked if I could visit Iguazu Falls before joining the group trip to the Pantanal.

Nothing could be arranged until Monday afternoon, as Brazil is three hours behind the UK and offices wouldn’t be open over the weekend. But by Monday afternoon the travel company was able to confirm success. I’d be flying out to Sao Paulo on the Wednesday, then on to Iguazu Falls. I had to pay a bit above what I’d already sent for the Bolivia trip, but I had money in my savings account and a great desire to have some sort of South American holiday.

The flight didn’t leave Heathrow until 8.30pm. I took a taxi to the train station, and as I started hauling my bag over to the entrance, a young man came running up to stop the taxi from leaving. He told me that an electrical failure meant that no trains were going through that line, so we’d have to go to another town, which was on a different line, to reach London. We hopped into the taxi together and were able to catch a 2pm train. 

I arrived four hours before my flight was due to depart, but the earlier experience once again proves it’s useful putting in extra time! I checked in, and was not given an option to select a seat. I went to the check in desk to plead for an aisle seat. I drink lots of water on flights, so I need easy access to the toilet. The chap readily agreed.

When we boarded the plane, I discovered that I’d been upgraded to premium economy. Nicer seats and extra leg-room! I watched the 2019 version of ‘The Lion King,’ ate a half-decent meal, and did my best to sleep, managing about four hours during the twelve hour flight.

31 October

The sun was just rising when we arrived at Sao Paulo. Immigration and bag collection were easy, and I reached my domestic flight with an hour to spare. The domestic flight to Iguazu was only ninety minutes long. There was some confusion at the check-in desk, when they seemed unable to find my flight reservation. But all was sorted. When I was on the plane, a man came up to check on me. To my amazement, this man, who spoke no English, pronounced my surname correctly!

After some deliberation, I had decided to book a private guide for the Falls trip. So he was there to collect me at the airport. When I expressed concern that I’d not yet obtained any Brazilian or Argentine currency, he took me to an exchange counter in a large store where I was able to do so.

Then on to my hotel in Brazil. I said goodbye to my guide, photographed an iguana outside my room, and tried to take a nap. I had hoped to go for a walk in the hotel grounds in the afternoon, but a major thunderstorm came up and rain bucketed down. I had a glass of Brazilian red wine (a bit sharp) and read a book. A lovely meal in the hotel’s restaurant (one of the best steaks I’ve ever had) and then an early night. 

‍ 1 November

The group trip will bring many early rises, so I’ve decided to try to go to bed by 9.30pm and to rise around 5am. This is pretty close to my home habits of bed by 11.30pm and rising at 7.30pm (bearing in mind that my current time zone in Brazil is three hours behind UK time). For at least my first night/morning in Brazil, this worked fine.

I had breakfast at 6.30am. The buffet offered by the hotel offered a huge variety, and I attacked the fresh fruit and coffee in particular. Cake was on display, including a chocolate number which I couldn’t imagine facing at that time in the morning.

By 7am I was wandering the grounds, camera and telephoto lens in hand. Bird life abounded and, as usually happens, seemed determined to hide in dark bushes. I heard and later saw a flock of small parrots, Yellow-chevroned conures, which at one point filled a tree with their presence. I spent about ninety minutes chasing birds, before popping back to my room for a pit stop. I went back out to the front of the hotel for a few final attempts.

Something small and intriguing flew over to a bush near the hotel entrance. I didn’t manage to photograph whatever it was. As I stood there, two Maroon-bellied conures landed there instead. I had hoped to go to Bolivia to see Green-cheeked conures in the wild: Of all the types of pet parrots I’ve known, this breed has become my favourite, and my current bird is of that species. Green-cheeks are not to be found in this area, but the Maroon-bellied is a near cousin, and I had to fight back tears of joy as I photographed the couple. 

Then it was time to pack and up and be ready for my guide, who was collecting me at 10am. He drove me to the park entrance, and we went in together—he bought my entrance ticket as it was included in the price I’d paid for his services. We boarded the bus which would take us to the Falls.

There is only one walk along the Falls on the Brazilian side. I’d heard warnings that it can be too crowded to put up a tripod. I was able to use it at various places along the route to gain that ‘silky’ look which a longer exposure gives to falling water. 

My guide was, well, adequate. He didn’t say much as we went around, probably because he kept hurrying off ahead of me. Nor did he offer to carry my tripod or do anything else to help me. I thought there might be some explanations about what we were looking at, but he merely named a couple of falls and that was it. 

I saw a toucan, iguanas, monkeys, and vultures flying around, as well as many butterflies. Although the sun was bright and the air hot, a lot of the path was shaded by the trees. 

When we reached the Devil’s Throat, a semi-circular area which leads to a large waterfalls, I left him with the tripod and my backpack. I placed a rain sleeve over my camera, tucked a towel into a pocket, and went out on the walkway.

How much spray blew across depended on the wind direction. When the wind shifted, you were soaked! I would quickly take a photo, wipe the lens filter dry, take another photo… No time to carefully compose a shot. The spray was a welcome coolant, and people were pretty good about taking it in turns at the various viewpoints. Selfies abounded, of course. Urgh. The sound of the water was nearly deafening. Water streamed down my face, sweeping sweat and sun lotion into my eyes and making them sting. 

I returned to where I’d left the guide, but he was gone. He reappeared five minutes later, and we walked to the end of the walkway. We had a set of stairs or the option of a lift to the upper section. A sign stated that the lift was for the disable, elderly, pregnant, those with small children… but from what I could see, just about everyone (including me!) took the lift. 

I had lunch in the restaurant nearby. It was a buffet, which means the company did better out of it than I did as I went just for a main course. And a very nice cappuccino. 

We caught the bus back and headed in the car for Argentina, as I was due to spend the next two nights on the other side of the Falls. The guide filled out the necessary paperwork for my Argentine visa whilst I visited a large shop. 

Something which, to me, was rather odd happened whilst I was in the shop. I was walking to the cash desk to pay for a purchase. A tall, male shop assistant was on a direct course towards me. I tried to duck to one side, but we still collided and I staggered at the impact. The man didn’t stop, just carried on walking without seeming to even notice that he’d nearly knocked someone off their feet. A female shop assistant rushed up to check out that I was okay!

We drove through the border crossing quite quickly. I was able to stay in the car, and the window was rolled down to check that I was the person on the passport. 

The hotel is in the forest. We drove on a dirt track, past indigenous housing. A the check-in building, I was told that the type of room I’d been booked into wasn’t available, so I had free upgrade to the top level room. I wheeled my case down the path, past the pool and bar area, and discovered that I was booked into a room with two massive beds with its own screened patio and a private Jacuzzi. 

I sat outside on the patio to listen to the forest noises and to download photos. And to sample an Argentine beer, of course. 

2 November

Trying to keep to my self-imposed sleep schedule, I went to bed at 10pm and rose at 5.30am. Although it took awhile to fall asleep, I did sleep well. At 6.30am I presented myself for breakfast, at which very strong coffee was offered along with plenty of fruit and cakes. The bread, even wholemeal, seemed to have been sweetened.

My guide collected me at 9am. Another man, who acted as the driver, took us to the entrance to the Argentine side of the Falls. The driver joined us for the trip inside, although I couldn’t quite work out why. I can only surmise that he had a free entrance, as I believe all guides gain by flashing their badge. 

Although a small electric train connects most parts of the park, there was quite a queue at the central station. My guide pronounced (without checking with me!) that we’d walk. It was about ten minutes through the forest, level and not yet too hot. 

We did the first series of walkways of the ‘middle circuit’. Metal pathways lead over the Falls which I’d seen yesterday from the other side. I stopped us for awhile to set up my tripod on a asphalt path. There was no point using the tripod on the metal walkways. These jounce under the feet of those walking past, so any timed exposure would lead to a blurry shot.

My guide continued his practice of heading off without me, and then waiting until I caught him up. The driver appeared from time to time, and the two of them conversed in Spanish, which is not one of my languages. 

We completed the ‘middle circuit’, and took the train to the Devil’s Throat walk, along the ‘upper circuit’. Whilst on the train, my guide struck up a conversation in Russian with several people from Ukraine. He continued to talk to one woman in particular as we started the walk to the Devil’s Throat. I began to wonder if his reticence to speak to me was due to a lack of facility with English rather than his personality. 

The walk was just over a kilometre, through the forest and long stretches in the hot sun as one walked over the river. I saw a turtle, various birds (cormorants and ducks), and a couple of lizards. A vulture posed quite nicely near one waterfall. The guide sent me on my own at one point, opting to stay behind and look at his phone whilst I took the path out and back. He had taken my tripod off me at my request when I was photographing birds, but he was very quick to return it once I’d finished. The tripod isn’t heavy, at around 1 kilogram, but it did get in the way when I was hauling out the camera with telephoto lens. 

We headed for the Devil’s Throat. A family had stopped for a picnic lunch at one shady area. A Cyanocorax jay was eating food out of a man’s hand, and I took a photo. The man’s son, in impeccable English, asked if I would email the photo over to them. I agreed, giving him one of my businesscards so he could contact me. ‘Do you want to taste the most delicious thing you’ve ever tried?’ he then asked. Before I could worry what he might mean, he offered me a sip of his mate. 

Mate is a caffeinated drink popular in a number of South American countries. Although I’ve seen many a local drink it, I’d never sampled it myself. Mate is usually shared between family and friends, and I realised that I was being honoured by the offer. So I sipped from the metal straw. The drink tasted like green tea. I thanked the young man, and he told me, ‘We are friends now.’ It was a nice moment. And, yes, I have subsequently sent over the photo. 

I walked on, distracted by more wild life. Near the Falls, noting the upcoming spray and the lack of my guide, I prepared by placing a waterproof cover over my camera backpack, placing wallet into a small plastic bag, and pulling out the raincover and towel for my camera.

As I approached the viewing area, I found my guide. So I left him with my backpack and tripod, and headed over. 

Having stood at the bottom of the Devil’s Throat the day before, it was fascinating to be looking down into it. Taking photographs was equally as challenging, particularly when the wind shifted. The spray was welcome on clothing, but less so on a camera! I kept my camera and lens protected, and regularly wiped the front clean with my towel. As in the previous day, you had to wait your turn near the actual viewpoint. 

Swifts fly across the Falls and, I understand, nest behind them. It was amazing, and nearly impossible, to photograph the birds. 

I headed back, and found guide and driver waiting for me. The driver offered to take my backpack, but the guide waved him off. I would have quite happy for one of them to take the tripod, but my guide handed it to me once I’d put my backpack on again.

By the way, if you’re thinking ‘Why not ask him?’, to me a guide should offer, not be asked, to carry something. And a good guide will offer. I saw another guide from the same company (they wear badged shirts) carrying a woman’s handbag and umbrella.

It was now around 1pm, and I was rather hungry. The guide said we’d now catch the train back to the entrance point. I asked about the ‘lower circuit’ walk for the Falls, but he said it was only for those who were taking the boat trip up the river. So we caught the train out and, after I’d made a quick visit to a souvenir shop, we drove back to the hotel. I was left there at 2.30pm. Fortunately, I had packed snacks so I was able to have something to eat in my room.

The Argentine side had been advertised as ‘full day’, and I didn’t really feel that 9am to 2.30pm counted as a ‘full day’. Feeling vaguely disappointed, I wandered around the room for awhile before deciding to work on photos. 

I had also been left with a dilemma. Although Brazil, from what I’ve read, doesn’t really have a tipping culture, it seems that it’s considered courteous to give a tip to one’s private guide. To me, you only tip for service above and beyond. I really couldn’t see what I’d gained from having a guide, other than the convenient transport. I had decided not to tip, but during the walk around the Falls, he’d offered to collect me slightly early for tomorrow’s drive to the airport. He could take me to the ‘Three Countries Point,’ which marks where the borders of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet. It sounded intriguing, but he did make a point of it that this was in addition to what he’d been booked for. I decided that I would give him a small tip for the extra trip, but nothing more. 

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant (not much option, as we’re quite far from anything else) but the rib-eye steak was delicious if somewhat overcooked. A glass of Argentine Malbec accompanied it very well. 

3 November

Rose at 5.30am, and again had a nice breakfast at 6.30am. The hotel offers free guided walks in the nearby forest, and I joined one which left at 8am from reception. Two guides and three tourists! 

The guides reminded us to use bug spray and long clothing. Although there’s no malaria risk, Dengue fever is in the region, for which there is no medical prevention nor cure. 

We spent 90 minutes being shown various plants and insects. A few birds appeared, including a Squirrel cuckoo and a tanager. We admired leaf-cutter ants and various fungi. One guide mentioned that the local mosquitoes can carry Dengue fever, and I tried not to scratch the bites which I’d picked up on my legs.

Check out time was 11am. I packed up, and wheeled my bag to reception. Then I sat by the pool area, taking photos of a tanager which landed nearby. The restaurant opened for lunch at noon, and I went inside to have a coffee and a sandwich. 

I was sitting at my table, finished with my meal but enjoying the air conditioning, when a waitress told me that the guide was waiting for me at reception. It was only 1.30pm, half an hour earlier than he’d said. I decided I wasn’t going to rush, so I made a trip to the toilet before going up to meet him.

His wife had come along, whose English was not much better than his, although she told me she spoke Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and a bit of Russian. We drove to the Three Countries landmark, and spent perhaps fifteen minutes there. I admired the views, bought a couple of items in a nearby shop, and then we headed out of Argentina and to the airport.

The couple insisted on going inside with me. To my embarrassment, the guide wanted me to fill out a written feedback form then and there. He didn’t want me to send in something later. ‘I have to give it to the office now.’ I checked the boxes of ‘Very good’ for hotels and restaurants, but ‘regular’ for him and the driver. I’ll ponder whether I give additional feedback when I’m back in the UK. I don’t want to cost the guy his job, but I can’t say that it was worth having him along. I did give him about £10.00 in a tip.

At any rate, I was checked in and through security by 3pm for a 6.55pm flight. Sigh. But on the plus side, a shop sold sew on badges of the Iguazu Falls, separate ones for the Brazilian and the Argentine side, plus one for the Three Countries. I’ve been looking for badges the past few days, as I’ve been collecting sew on badges since I was a teenager.

A thunderstorm chucked down rain as people exited the plane which we were to take. They had to walk across an open area to reach the terminal, but they were each handed an umbrella once they’d reached the bottom of the steps. By the time we boarded, the rain had passed.

Finally we were going down the runway—only for the plane to come to a jolting halt. A dog was running loose on the runway, and we had to wait until it was gone. A little while later, we successfully took off.

I was due to be collected by a driver at Sao Paulo airport. A teenager held up a sign with my name, and I did think he looked a bit young for the job. All was revealed when he took me outside and called his father over with the car.

When I’d checked in and reached my hotel room, my feet were itching terribly. I ripped off shoes and socks, and found multiple bites. I must have picked them up walking around barefoot in the hotel room. So I spent a good thirty minutes terrorizing myself by looking up the incubation period (four to seven days) and symptoms of Dengue fever. It seems it rarely kills you, just causes incredible pain for a couple of weeks. I went to bed and had a restless night.

4 November

An early breakfast in the hotel, and then I took the shuttle bus to Sao Paulo airport. Checked in for the flight to the Pantanal region, and began to spot people who were on the same group tour. Not only did their ‘Naturetrek’ baggage labels give them away, so did their sensible safari clothing. Craghoppers seems to be the brand of choice.

We landed at Cuiaba, when our guide was waiting for us all. All of our check-in bags had made it, so after collecting them we went to a local restaurant for lunch. The buffet consisted of varieties of sushi and salads. Waiters came to your table with grilled cuts of meat, the meat still on the metal rod, and they carved sections off for you. On offer was chicken legs, chicken hearts, various cuts of beef, lamb, and pork. Although not a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat at home, only when I’m out. This was some of the tastiest meat I’ve ever had, and I hoped the amount I consumed wouldn’t be a shock to my system.

We had the luxury of an air-conditioned mini-bus for the first part of our journey. This took us down tarmac road. About a couple of hours later, we reached the Pantantal region, which is dirt track only. Our transport for the rest of the drive was an open-sided ‘safari truck’. We opened suitcases to pull out hats, waterproofs, sun lotion, etc. before boarding and taking our seats.

The truck had an overhead cover, which kept off most of the sun. However, the rain, which came for about fifteen minutes mid-afternoon, decided to fly in at an angle. When the cloud passed over, our clothing quickly dried in the sun.

We saw a great variety of bird life, most of which had names I cannot possibly remember. I was pleased to see a nest of Monk parakeets. I know that they can be found all over the world now, mainly in cities, but it was nice to see them in their original habitat. Hyacinth macaws flew past in the distance. Raptors and kingfishers hunted along the path, and caiman occupied the ponds. Capybara and deer were the main mammals. We would have liked to have seen anteaters, but it seems they sleep eighteen hours a day! 

As the sun set, the truck pulled out and we were offered cold beers as a ‘sundowner’--a tradition which would continue for the rest of the trip. We continued in the dark, our guide using a very strong torch to highlight animals. We several Crab-eating foxes and a Brazilian tapir. A troop of monkeys crossed the road in front of us. As ever, I envied them for having a tail. When I expressed this out loud, one of my fellow travellers found the idea strange…

Another rainstorm headed towards us. This time, the rain came in from the front. We’d had enough warning to put on waterproofs, but it was still a bit miserable to sit in wet clothing after the rain had gone. No sun to dry us off now.

We reached out lodge at 7pm, and had thirty minutes to switch on the air conditioning in our rooms and change into dry clothing for dinner. The evening meal consisted of salad stuff and several dishes of meat and vegetables in various sauces. 

As is the norm in Naturetrek holidays, people then settled down to go through a checklist of what had been seen that day. This exercise simply bores me, so I wished everyone a good night and went to bed at 9pm.

5 November

I slept well, no doubt helped by a cool room, and rose at 4am. Forty-five minutes later, we boarded the truck and went out to catch the dawn. Our guide pointed out how various bird species turned their backs to the sun to warm themselves after the long night.

We saw a Greater rhea with about fourteen chicks. Rhea males mate with many females. The females lay an egg each, and then go off. He’s the one who incubates the eggs and raises the young. Even I might have agreed to have children on that basis—leave them behind for the man to look after!

Coffee and breakfast was very welcome at 7am. We had fresh papaya and watermelon on offer, with cheese, ham, and bread. The scrambled eggs were delicious. The bread, as seems common on Brazil, was sweetened. And, of course, there was also cake!

At 7.45am we went for a walk in the local area. We had an early sighting of the resident pair of Hyacinth macaws, although they decided to settle at a good distance. We had a good sighting of a Crested woodpecker, and a Potoo, which blended in very well with his tree. We also found the Marmosets, and had a better view of the Hyacinth macaws.

The walk was slow and level, but the heat sapped the energy from our bodies. I drank three litres of water during the two hours, yet felt no need to urinate. After our return, some of us sat in the dining area, drinking soft drinks, and the sweat just poured out of my face and body. I can’t remember ever sweating so much before, even in the Amazon jungle in Peru.

An hour later a thunderstorm flashed lightning across the sky and rain hammered the ground. A lizard dashed for cover, holding his body as far as possible off the ground. When we went out in the safari truck at 2.30pm, the rain had passed, but the skies remained overcast.

We drove slowly along the road, admiring the Capped herons with their long head feathers. A Jabiru stork had captured a young caiman, and we watched him swallow it. I did wonder if the reptile would try to bite back once inside the bird’s stomach?

Our final destination was a watering hole, where we sat in silence for a couple of hours to see what would come. Various hawks hunted there, along with kingfishers. A Cowbird tried to rob some nests and the much smaller owners drove the thief away. A large herd of over 50 peccaries (a pig-like animal) came through, grazing their way around the water’s edge. When startled, the fur on their backs goes straight up.

We had a beer as the sun set, and admired a small rainbow in the clouds. On the way back, our guide once again used the strong torch to spot wildlife. We saw a couple of bats and a Nightjar.

6 November

Up at 4am. I packed up my case and, after breakfast, we boarded the safari truck. At 6am we started our 120km drive to our next destination, namely the river upon which we were to base ourselves for jaguar spotting. The morning started overcast, which kept the heat down. The first toilet break gave us sightings of White-eyed conures. We photographers were pleased when a couple began to preen each other, but all of us put our cameras down as the two birds proceeded to mutually clean each other’s vents. It felt someone wrong to take photos of the birds preening bums!

We reached the river around 11am. Our cases were loaded into one boat, and we loaded ourselves into another. It was hot in our life-jackets, until the engine was fired up and we speed across the water. I was glad that my sunhat has a chin strap to keep it from flying off.

We reached the Flotel about twenty minutes later. The complex, as it sounds, floats on the river. The back faces the forest, and the front the river. Despite the middle-of-nowhere location, the rooms are large and attractive, with wooden walls and floors and a great view out to the river. And air-conditioning and excellent wifi!

We had lunch, and relaxed until 2.30pm. Trips are made morning and afternoon to try to avoid the hottest time of day. My main concern was toilet opportunities or, rather, the lack of them on the boat. We were told that we’d be on the river for four to five hours. I quickly researched what I needed to do to keep the bladder in check. I like to drink lots of water, and several cups of coffee in the morning. Sounded like I’d need to moderate this behaviour for the next few days!

At 2.30pm we took our seats and were off. We sped up river, the wind caused by our rapid progress nice and cool in the mid-day heat. Birds and caiman were ignored as our target was now firmly set on jaguars.

We found a pair of jaguars panting in the shade. Another boat joined us for a while. Then the other boat sped off as rain began to fall. Our boat was driven into the reeds, as a sort of make-shift anchor, and we put on our waterproofs and hunkered down. I’d brought my coat, but not my waterproof trousers, so half of me stayed dry. The camera equipment, of course, was safe and sound in drybags. 

The rain passed over, and the jaguars decided to show off. Jaguars can be identified by their facial markings, and these two were three year brothers named Tore and Kim. One licked the other, then the river was visited, and much striding was carried out along the bank. Kim went into the water and also climbed down later for a drink. There was little more we could have asked for from a sighting, except perhaps better light and maybe a hunt.

We had a beer on the boat whilst returning to the Flotel. After dinner, a resident biologist gave us a lecture on caiman. Then I went off to bed. I’m maintaining my schedule of going to bed at 9pm to cope with our early rises.

7 November

Up at 4.30am for 5.30am breakfast and 6am departure. We had an entertaining show within the first half hour. A family group of Giant river otters swam past, the youngsters calling out regularly to their elders. They climbed a bank to dig through the mud and leave scent markings, then fished for catfish. Several otters were successful, and we watched as they tore into their meals. A kingfisher dived down regularly to pick up scraps. 

The rest of the morning was uneventful. We travelled along the river, but saw no other mammals. My bladder held out.

Before and after lunch I worked on photos in my lovely air-conditioned room. At 2.30pm we went out again. Grey clouds warned of rain, and although we had some drops, nothing as much as yesterday.

We joined two other boats at a sighting of Tore and Kim. However, the two brothers remained in their thicket, giving us only brief glances of their hide or a flicking tail. I amused myself by taking photos of a nearby frog. Again we had a beer on the trip back, arriving after about an hour’s journey back to the Flotel. The lecture after dinner tonight was on river otters.

8 November

The same pattern of early rise and out on boats at 6am continued. Just before we left, a number of us photographed a kingfisher who was hunting in the area behind the Flotel.

The morning was cool, and smoke hung over the water. Farmers have been burning the land, even though this is illegal, and the fires have spread. Our lecturer told us how the pesticides and fertilizer used on the crops is finding its way into the river system and affecting the animals, in particular in the build up of mercury in their bodies.

Our brief glimpse of jaguar was of the two brothers, both lying well hidden behind trees and bushes. The guides on the river radio each other when there’s been a sighting, and so we found ourselves joining two boats already there, and a couple more joined us. Our guide told me that, in the main season, he’s seen up to thirty boats watching a jaguar. The benefit of more boats is more reported sightings, even if the downside is sheer numbers then trying to observe the animal. 

We followed two river otters for a short while, and saw them try to steal a fish from a cormorant. The bird put on a burst of speed to fly away from the would-be thieves. 

The trip back took an hour, and was not entirely pleasant due to the cooler temperatures and wind. A number of us had headaches by the time we disembarked at the Flotel.

Some sunshine greeted us at our 2.30pm return to the river. We were taken immediately to the territory of the two brothers. The jaguars started out hidden in the bushes, before moving to the other side of the sandbank to snooze. They were very visible, and did little more than change positions or yawn from time to time. We had our beers whilst watching the cats snooze, then undertook the hour’s journey back to base.

Our lecture this evening was on jaguars. Their only predators are humans. As the land is cleared for cattle, their native prey disappears, and the jaguars hunt cattle instead. So the farmers shoot the jaguars. The hope is that eco-tourism might convince the farmers to leave the jaguars alone. The company which owns the Flotel is paying one local farmer not to kill jaguars. 

9 November

A morning of exploring new areas along the river. The growth was quite thick, and our boat driver would charge us through the reeds. A large number of iguanas were spotted, sunning themselves on the riverbanks. We also joined other boats to view an Anaconda. The large snake was mostly hidden in the undergrowth, but we managed to spot the head. As we returned to the Flotel, we saw birds perching on several capybara, the latter sitting in the river. The boat pulled up so we could take photos—and the waves caused by our passing washed over the capybaras and sent the birds flying away! We laughed at ourselves. 

The afternoon proved to be the most successful for jaguar spotting. Our guide spotted one in the distance catching a capybara, but the cat had dragged the kill into the bushes by the time we arrived. We saw one female resting in the bushes. A bit further down, a male was waiting patiently near a female. She finally moved, gave him a ‘come hither’ look, and they disappeared into the bushes. Loud snarls and shaking branches indicated that mating took place. 

We returned to view the female resting in the bushes, and had our beers as the light disappeared. The boat was pushed into the reeds, which served as an anchor, but which also exposed us to biting insects. 

This was our last night in the Flotel, so I packed up my bag. Our evening lecture was on Hyacinth macaws. We learned that their main predator is the toucan, who uses his long bill to reach into the nests and drag out the chicks. I’ve totally gone off toucans now. 

10 November

The usual early rise. I finished my packing and put my bag out for collection. After breakfast, we made a short trip up river. A five month old jaguar cub was on a sandbank, having a drink. He dashed off as we approached, but I managed to take a few photos.

We went down river and disembarked. Our guide took us to a Hyacinth macaw nest, and we watched a parent reaching inside to feed a chick. Great photo opportunity. Another Hyacinth landed on a palm tree as we left in the safari truck.

The drive was around three hours. We saw a mother Neotropical otter with two cubs on the road, although they quickly disappeared. Around 11.15am we arrived at our hotel, which is set near the river and in the middle of wildlife. Yellow-chevroned conures fill the trees, all sorts of birds came to the feeders, and a small herd of capybara was grazing just outside one set of rooms. 

Shortly after lunchtime, a major thunderstorm pulled in. Rain sluiced down. An afternoon boat trip was on offer, but only three hardy souls took part. The rest of us sat outside, enjoying the cooler temperatures, and admiring the frogs and toads which emerged. One toad was larger than my fist, and visited the kitchen area before hopping along the path.

The hotel has an ocelot hide nearby. Most of us walked over just as night fell. Plastic chairs were on offer, and a thin covering of palm branches overhead. Our guide put out bait and turned on several floodlights. 

As advised, we’d put on our waterproofs. The next hour was one of the most uncomfortable of my life. The rain had brought out flying termites, which did their best to crawl down shirts and up sleeves. My waterproofs keep water out but sweat in, so I was sweating in my own personal sauna. And my bladder was slowly filling. No creature turned up. I took a quick shower before dinner just to make sure none of those horrible termites were clinging to my body.

11 November

A lie in until 5am! We were on the boats at 7am, and spent a couple of hours bird spotting. Our guide threw fish into the water to make the Black collared hawk and the Amazon kingfisher fly down in front of us. A Green kingfisher posed on one of the boats. The hawk and kingfisher continued to follow us as we explored the riverbanks, finding various reptiles and bird life. 

We were back by 9.30am. Although it was hot outside, most of us still sat in the shade and either worked on photos or read books. Our rooms are airconditioned, but dull to sit inside. 

At 2.30pm we were out on the boats again. We took a short walk into the woods, our guide taking us to an adult Potoo with a chick nestling by her feet. An amazing sight. Our guide cut down undergrowth with a machete to give us a better viewing angle.

We were able to find several Pygmy kingfishers, which are now officially my favourite type of kingfisher. Very small and very beautiful. 

There was another opportunity to go to the hide before dinner. I declined, the only one in the group to do so. And, of course, the ocelot came. Such is life. I just couldn’t face another uncomfortable hour.

12 November

I was up at 3.30am for our 4.30am departure. We went on the safari truck to look for anteaters and tapirs. We found several foxes, a tapir, and a Lesser anteater. Our guide was very excited when he also spotted a Tayra, a mammal in the weasel family which climbs trees to find food. Like the anteater, the Tayra was in the far distance, but it was good to see them.

We returned for breakfast. I took some photos of the Yellow-chevroned conures before we boarded our boats at 8am. We spent about 90 minutes on the river, looking for more birds and, we’d hoped, otters. The latter did not appear. But a Green kingfisher spent quite some time riding on our boats, obviously hoping for a handout. 

Before and after lunch was spent sitting outside, again in the shade but panting in the heat. We all reminded ourselves that we would be soon returning to a cold and wet Britain, so we should drink in the heat as long as we could. Horses came onto the hotel grounds to graze, and birds fluttered around their hooves. 

We managed to spot a toucan, and I took photos even though I no longer like them. We saw a Great egret doing his best to swallow a large fish, and viewed an interesting butterfly. We had our best encounter with an Agami heron, birds which are difficult to spot because they usually stay in the undergrowth. I admired a Green kingfisher who had a massive scar by her left foot. She was actively hunting, and I wondered what had caused the original wound and was amazed that she’d survived.

Our ‘sundowner’ was on shore. The hotel manager treated us to snacks and caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil. Afterwards, I went on to the wildlife hide. The ocelot put in an appearance just before 7pm. She ate the chicken bait, then waited calmly nearby whilst our guide put out a bit more for her. On the walk back to the hotel, we saw several tarantulas and an owl perched high in a tree.

13 November

Slept in until 5.30am. The morning was grey, so I only took a photo of some storks before I packed and worked on photos. 

We left at 9am, in a minivan rather than a safari truck. The minivan provided airconditioning and also juddered on the dirt road. I cheered when we finally reached tarmac.

At noon we’d reached the airport and we said our goodbyes to our guide. We checked in, and found a bite to eat. Two hours later, five members of our group peeled off as they were staying overnight in San Paulo before flying off to Iguazu. The rest of us checked in. I had a meal and a beer before going to the gate. 

14 November

Not much to report about the flight back. All went smoothly, although I had to stand for the train trip from London. By 6pm I was home and shivering. England was very cold after Brazil!

If you’ve enjoyed reading my travel accounts, you might enjoy reading my books! The first novel in my ‘Penny White’ fantasy series is only 99p for Kindle, free on Kindle Unlimited, and also available in paperback. Click on the image below to be taken to Amazon to buy your copy. My author website can be accessed by clicking here.