Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Brazil Day 4 and 5 - Getting to the Pantanal

After another nice breakfast, at around 8AM we said our goodbyes to the folks at Fazenda Bacury and Carlos Henrique drove us back to Sao Paulo for our flight to Campo Grande.

As I mentioned before, Carlos is a great guide and we highly recommend him to anyone coming to the Sao Paulo area for birds, herps or even mammals.

The notorious traffic in Sao Paulo wasn't bad at all until we got to within viewing distance of the domestic airport.  It took a little over 3 hours to get there from Bacury but another 45 minutes to go a matter of a few blocks.  It was ridiculous but we had plenty of time before our flight so there was no stressing.

After an uneventful GOL flight and 30 minute taxi ride, we arrived at the Hotel Prime Deville in Campo Grande.  It was now 2 PM (since we gained an hour from Sao Paulo) and we were pretty hungry.  So, we ordered some sandwiches from room service which were very good.

At around 4PM, we met Peggy and Bill and walked a few blocks to a nearby park.  Our future Pantanal guide, Stefan, who lives in Campo Grande recommended a visit to this park which is officially called Parque das Nações Indígenas.  It's huge with lots of walking paths and we saw a surprising amount of wildlife including Capybara, Coati, Azare Agouti, Burrowing Owls, and quite a few other birds.

Where's a Capybara crossing sign when you need one:
Capybara in the Park

Capybara Sunset:
Capybara Sunset

We had drinks and dinner at the hotel.  Both were good when they finally arrived but the service was excruciatingly slow.  It took over half an hour to get our drinks and the bar wasn't even crowded.  But, since we had no where else to go, we just chatted and waited.  Once dinner was over we retired early for the evening to catch up on sleep and prepare for our long journey to the Pantanal tomorrow.

The next morning we were up early since we had arranged to meet Stefan at the hotel at 7AM.  One of the reasons for going back to the Pantanal was to see Stefan who was our guide at Barranco Alto on our previous trip to Brazil.   We really hit it off last time and wouldn't think of anyone else guiding us on this trip.  This time, we booked him to guide us at Baia das Pedras AND Barranco Alto.  He would have to use all his patience to put up with us for 9 days!

Of course, Stefan was right on time as was the transfer vehicle Baia das Pedras had booked for us. After introductions, warm greetings, and hugs we watched as our driver Jefferson tried to load all our luggage into and onto the truck.  He eventually did it, but it was a really tight fit and poor Bill volunteered to take one for the team and sit in the far back chair.  Luckily, it was only supposed to be a 6 to 7 hour drive!

In actuality, the drive was less than 6 hours because we arrived at Baia das Pedras (which I will call BdP from now on) at 1:30PM and didn't leave Campo Grande until about 7:30AM.  That included a few GREAT stops along the way and I don't mean just the pee breaks which were GREAT in their own relief inducing way...

There are really 3 sections of road you drive on.  About 2.5 hours on paved roads, 2 more on graded dirt roads and 1.5 on dirt tracks that would be a stretch to call a "road".  The scenery driving into the Pantanal is very nice but the reason we decided to drive in was to maximize our chance to see wildlife. So, even on the paved sections of road our senses were on alert for wildlife. 

After around two hours, and still on the paved part of the road, we spotted a Giant Anteater.  So, there was lots of yelling to stop.  But, Jefferson explained through Stefan that he couldn't stop on the paved road at all.  It was too dangerous.  But, that he could stop once we got beyond the paved road and onto the dirt roads.  Once we heard this, a collective groan went up (OK, maybe only I groaned).  But, we understood and hoped that wouldn't be the only Giant Anteater we would see.

Well, we didn't have to worry about that because not long after starting on the dirt road we spotted another one.  This time Jefferson stopped and we all got out to get closer looks.

Giant Anteater in the Grass

It was on the other side of a fence, mostly back lit, and in some tall grass so getting good pictures was challenging.  Interestingly, if you didn't see it from the side, you might not even know what it was if you were driving by quickly.

Giant Anteater Head On

This encounter made us quickly forgot about the one we didn't stop for but I was still secretly hoping for an even better encounter.  After all, that's why I came back.

Not long afterwards I got my wish and my whole trip was made.  We spotted another Giant Anteater and this one was on the good side of the light.

Distant Giant Anteater

So, we hopped out of the car where Stefan gauged the wind.  After deciding we were downwind he asked if we wanted to get closer.  A more hearty collective "YES!" you will never hear.  So, we climbed through a fence and got to within maybe 50 yards of it.  It paid no attention to us and just started wandering closer.

Giant Anteater Moving Closer

And closer...

Getting Really Close...

It got so close that I could no longer get the entire animal in the frame at 200mm.  So, I went for some closeup shots like this one which really show its claws.

Look at that Claw

Next, the Giant Anteater just kept lumbering towards me and once it got less than 10 yards away I backed off.  Shortly after that it turned and wandered in a different direction so we left it in peace. What a fantastic encounter!  That was the reason I came back!  And, unlike the F#$@$ Tarsier (Yes, that is a real species of Tarsier) in Borneo, the pressure to see this animal was gone before it even had a chance to build.

The rest of the drive was great since we saw many South American Coati, Collared Peccaries, White-lipped Peccaries, a few Pampas Deer, and lots of birds.  But, Jefferson was on a schedule since he wanted to get us to BdP for lunch so he didn't stop for anything after this despite all the "Oh...oh...oh" cries from us (especially from Peggy) upon seeing something new.  But, I think we ended up having good views of all of these animals later in the trip so we didn't need to feel any angst after all.

At one point, we saw our first Greater Rhea walking on a nearby hill, but as we zoomed past the Greater Rhea disappeared over the hill and Bill had the line of the drive "It's a Gone-a-Rhea"...

Baia das Pedras (BdP) is a 13,000 hectare working cattle ranch like almost all other Fazendas in the Pantanal.  It is owned by Rita and Carlos who have lived there most of there lives.  In fact, Rita's siblings own surrounding farms so her family must protect 30K+ hectares of the Pantanal, which is amazing.

Fazenda Baia das Pedras

Here is the main house where we stayed and ate all our meals.  Yes, those are Buff-throated Ibis on the roof:

Baia das Pedras Main House

Our room was very comfortable and we ended up sharing it with some frogs that spent the daytime behind the mirror or in the shower and then came out when the sun went down.  Rita said that there is no way to keep them out but we didn't mind them at all.

Our Room at Baia das Pedras

Our room was right next to the kitchen and dining room so there was some noise early in the AM but we were always wide awake by then due to the natural "avian" alarm clocks that went off at dawn each day.

After a very good lunch, I wandered around the grounds a little bit and was amazed at all the bird life found in the trees.  Parrots, Parakeets, Macaws, Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Woodcreepers, the list goes on and on.  The mid-day light was a bit harsh but I did manage to take some photos.

Hyacinth Macaws:
Hyacinth Macaws

Bee Hive:
Bee Hive

Yellow-chevroned Parakeet:
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet

Here is a pair of teenage Yellow-chevroned Parakeets that went up to "The Point" to make out.  I guess they didn't count on the paparazzi being there...

Parakeet Makeout Session

At 3:30, Stefan took us on a walk outside the Fazenda to see what was out and about.  There were certainly a lot of sheep around.  But, if you look carefully, you will see that there was something else out in the pasture as well...

Not Just Sheep Grazing

Yup, another Giant Anteater and just like the last one it didn't pay any attention to us allowing us to get close for some more pictures.

Giant Anteater Digging

I like this shot because it shows what a little mouth it has:
Giant Anteater

If you hadn't realized it already.  There are going to be LOTS of Giant Anteater pictures in this trip report.

Here's one where you can actually see the tongue:
Giant Anteater Tongue

What a magnificent tail:
Giant Anteater

Of course, there was more to see on the walk besides this Giant Anteater.

Like this Jabiru nest close to the Fazenda that had 3 chicks in it:

Jabiru Nest

And these Campo Flickers:
Campo Flickers

Here is a Yacare Caiman taking advantage of the dwindling sunlight:
Yacare Caiman

Blue and Yellow Macaws:
Blue and Yellow Macaw

Next we saw a lifer Six-banded Armadillo scampering along the ground.   It moved out of sight before we could get too many pictures however.  Good thing we saw a few more later on.

Six-banded Armadillo

Towards the end of the walk, there was a group of horses in the trees and out in front of them staring us down was a white mule.  It didn't look very happy and was really paying close attention to us.  It was time to turn around anyway but I was secretly glad we didn't venture closer to this ornery looking mule.

It also got pretty cold at the end of the walk so we decided to skip a night drive since Rita didn't think the animals would be out in the cold.

Back at the Fazenda, we were asked if we would like a drink before dinner.  Boy, they didn't know us very well did they?  Needless to say we responded to that question with a chorus of "Hell yeah".  So, Rita made up a batch of Caipirinhas for us.  The Caiprinha is Brazil's national cocktail and is made with a sugarcane spirit called Cachaca, sugar, crushed lime and ice.  They are GREAT and Rita makes some really good ones.

As our delicious Caipirinhas were beginning to take effect, Stefan asked if anyone was interested in going horseback riding during our stay.  So, thinking back to our mule encounter earlier, I turned to Karen and asked "Do you want to ride the ornery mule?".  Without missing a beat, Bill looks at me and says "So, that's what you call it?".  It took a second or two for that line to sink in.  But, when it did we completely lost it. 

I was eventually able to compose myself for dinner which consisted of catfish, a cheesy cauliflower dish, and rice and beans.  It was all excellent.  If lunch and dinner was any indication we wouldn't be going hungry at BdP.  I did secretly miss the dessert button though...

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