Discounting an early hiccup with United Airlines that forfeited the first day of our Brazilian adventure, Jane and I wholeheartedly enjoyed exploring the outback of Brazil’s Pantanal. The Pantanal is the world’s largest seasonal floodplain. At just over 71,000 square miles, the Pantanal is about the same size as the state of Washington. The Pantanal is located in Bolivia and Paraguay with the bulk, nearly 82% in Brazil. During the wet season, 75% of the Pantanal is inundated with floodwater from tributary rivers. During the dry season, fish and aquatic organisms are trapped in remnant pools throughout the Pantanal bringing in a myriad of migratory birds. Mammals tend to stay near the main river channels where they become prey for jaguars and it was jaguars we had come to photograph.
We had selected Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, a well-recognized organization specializing in wildlife photography excursions, for our Pantanal trip. Jane and I had good memories from our previously photo safari with Van Os to Madagascar and were confident we would have another memorable experience. Before joining the Van Os group in Cuiabá, however, we arrived in Brazil a few days early in order to make a side trip to Iguazú Falls on the Brazil-Argentine border. This system of waterfalls, straddling both countries, is reportedly the largest in the world. The falls were indeed phenomenal and defy description.
We flew into Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, from Albuquerque via Chicago and San Paulo. We had arranged for a local guide to meet us at the airport and help facilitate with logistics including crossing the border in order to experience Iguazú Falls from the Argentine side. Weather was not on are side as we experienced heavy overcast and rain during our tour of the falls. The disappointing weather did not lessen the thunderous impact of 470,000 gallons of water per second falling hundreds of feet over successive layers of basalt in a horseshoe array of multiple waterfalls. Iguazú Falls is without doubt one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
We stayed at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas located within Iguazú National Park and within walking distance of the falls on the Brazil side. We were as impressed with the service and amenities of the hotel as we were with the roaring waterfalls. Of course, staying at the Belmond was not inexpensive. We reluctantly left the luxury of the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas to meet up with our fellow photographers of the Van Os group in Cuiabá.
Our group consisted of nine people, seven photographer clients and two guides, Mark Thomas from Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris and Paulo Boute, of Boute Expeditions, our local Brazilian guide. I would be remiss in not including our bus drive, Elton, in our travel group. Elton did an outstanding job maneuvering the bus to enhance photo opportunities. After our “meet and greet” dinner at the Gran Odara Hotel, we met Elton at the bus early the next morning for the long anticipated journey south into the Pantanal.
We reached our first accommodation, Pousada Rio Claro, after about five hours on the graded Transpantaneira highway. We stopped along the way as Mark or Paulo sighted something of photographic interest, mostly various species of birds. By the time we reached Rio Claro our group had jelled into a congenial band of likeminded naturalists. The highlight of our stay at this Pousada (Inn) was photographing a variety of birds from boats on the Rio Claro. Mark and Paulo had perfected a way to call in the birds, including Amazon Kingfishers, Cocoi Herons, and Black Collared Hawks, using fish as bait.
From Pousada Rio Claro, Elton drove us deeper south into the Pantanal to the end of the Transpantaneira highway, at Porto Jofre, where we stayed six nights at the comfortable Hotel Porto Jofre. The highlight here was photographing jaguars. We ventured out on the Rio Cuiabá twice a day for five days looking for and photographing jaguars. It was no walk in the park, however. Up and out before the sun in the morning and chasing sunset on the way back to the lodge in the evening. But what an invigorating experience it was, observing these wild creatures in their natural environment hunting and stalking prey. Although jaguars were the focus, there was opportunity to photograph many other subjects along the river’s edge.
After our exhausting stay at Hotel Porto Jofre, we headed back north on the Estrada Transpantaneira with a halfway stop at Pouso Alegre (Happy Land in Portuguese) for two nights. It was a welcome relief to have breakfast at 7:00 AM instead of 5:00 AM. At Pouse Alegre photography occurred at waterholes within about a mile of the lodge. Paulo used his phone app to call in various birds but the large, colorful Toco Toucan alluded being photographed.
According to an old proverb, “all good things must come to an end” and so did our adventure in Brazil’s Pantanal. From Pouso Alegre, Elton continued to drive us north, back to Cuiabá for a farewell lunch at the Churrascaria Aeroporto Grill. Lunch at the churrascaria (steak house) was a unique experience. Smartly dressed waiters would bring various cuts of meats, lamb, beef, pork and chicken, to the table on long skewers. We could select a rare or well done portion of the meat and the waiter would carve it from the skewer and serve it right on to our plate.
After lunch, goodbyes and hugs were shared as some of us departed for the airport and others back to the hotel for a later flight. Jane and I retraced our route from Cuiabá to Albuquerque via Chicago. It was a long day and night before we were comfortably back home.
You can see pictures from our Pantanal trip in the Brazil gallery on the home page of my website. Please be patient when opening the gallery. The files are a bit large and it may take a few minutes to load them for viewing.