Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Macaws and Caimans and Pumas, Oh My!

We like birds.  No, seriously, we do.  We fully expect to end up as one of those wrinkly, old Audobon couples dressed in full safari gear, binoculars in hand, following reports of a buff-breasted sandpiper sighting in the brush behind the local Walmart.  Anyway, that's what made us decide to visit the wetlands in south western Brazil known as the Pantanal.  It is the world's largest contiguous wetland (20 times the size of the Everglades) and has better wildlife viewing than the Amazon since the animals have no dense foliage to hide in.  The Pantanal supports approximately 650 bird species, somewhere between 10 and 35 million caimans (a type of alligator), 300 fish species... You get the picture.

The trip would have been perfect if it hadn't been for the "tour" we booked. We settled on Modus Vivendi, a tour company run by an American that claimed to live in the Pantanal (last time we checked Cincinnati is not in the Pantanal).  We were lured in by persuasive arguments in perfect English as to why Modus Vivendi was better than other tour operators.  Unfortunately, his argument that other companies "sometimes function in less than professional ways and in some cases as outright scams" turned out only to apply to them.  Instead of being provided with an English-speaking guide for our 5-day tour, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, without a car, and left to negotiate with the "hotel" staff using our rudimentary Portuguese.

Despite this, however, we managed to see some amazing wildlife.  Capivaras (think groundhogs on steroids) trotted past alligators sunning themselves with mouths agape.  Monkeys frolicked in trees filled with great egrets and swatted insects with more skill than Juan in his underwear with a headlamp (no surprise).  And, obviously, we saw lots and lots of cool birds.  Surprisingly, all of the animals seemed to live happily together in a Disneyesque utopia. 

Best part: On our boat tour down one of the many rivers, our guide taunted a caiman onto land with a dead piranha (which he killed by biting) and then fed him directly before trying to pet him.

More pictures here:

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