After checking into the Lodge and our cabins (unfortunately, the three single blokes had to share a dorm cabin), we had a couple of hours to kill before lunch and our first excursion so I had a wander round and found a boardwalk which did a circuit around the grounds of the Lodge. As well as having a much greater concentration of wildlife than the Amazon, particularly birds, you could also get really close to a lot of it. I was getting some superb close-up bird shots, and whilst walking around on the boardwalk, there were many caiman sunning themselves only metres away below on the river bank. I also saw my first capybara, the world's biggest rodent. There were also bird feeders set up in the grounds of the Lodge, and many species of birds were also unafraid of wandering the grounds - there were many Caracaras (a type of falcon), Plumbeous Ibis nesting and I saw a Jabiru Stork up close.
In the afternoon after lunch, we took to the waters on a boat trip, where we saw many more birds and many more caiman, with a couple of capybara too. Interestingly, our guide told us that about 40 years ago, caiman were virtually extinct in the Pantanal but breeding had increased their numbers to about 45 million now, so not the place to go for a swim! In the evening, with nothing much else to do (they didn't seem to do night boat trips or walks), it was beers and cards after dinner.
On Thursday, keen to make the most of my time here, I got up at 6am (or rather was woken up before then by the piercing Howler Monkey and bird calls) to see the sunrise and take an early morning walk round the boardwalk for which I was rewarded with some really good new bird sightings, although I just missed the sunrise. After breakfast, we took a 4WD trip to Sao Joao Farm, where we would go on a walk and horseride. We again stopped for a few birds on the way, although we passed quite a few which I wanted to snap but that is the disadvantage of doing a group trip where you have to cater for everyone's diverse interests.
The walk was a bit of a nightmare due to "miscommunication" from Mike telling us the previous day that we needed to wear closed shoes because there might be some water, to finding out on the day that we would be walking through knee-deep water. If we'd known that, we would have worn sandals! We were split into two groups, most doing the horse-riding first, with me, Simon and Peter (and a few others not from our tour group) doing the walk. Those of us who didn't have sandals opted to wear socks because as well as wading through knee-deep, muddy water, we also spent half the time traversing woodland and open ground, where the amount of rocks and branches on the ground made walking over it in socks an only slightly less excruciating experience than walking over it barefoot. And we hardly saw anything in terms of wildlife. The only thing we did see new was before the walk really started - there were about 20 endangered Hyacinth Macaws (the largest macaw and the largest flying parrot species in the world) flying about from tree to tree and I got some great photos. A real treat to see such a rare bird.
After lunch, dismayed by our experience of the walk, most of the others chose to give that a miss, with only a handful going along. We went on a horseback ride in the afternoon. My horse obviously hadn't eaten for days because she insisted on spending most of her time stopping to eat vegetation rather than following the rest of the group. Even repeated kicks in the stomach (as instructed by our lead rider) didn't have any effect. I eventually swapped horses with someone who knew Portuguese horse commands and the next horse was better behaved. Since we didn't get wet enough on our morning walk, the tour leader proceeded to take us through water which was so deep that even by lifting my legs and tucking my feet virtually onto the saddle, I still managed to get my shoes soaking wet with the rank muddy, water. Also, halfway along the walk, the guide with the walking group thought it would be a good idea to hide in the undergrowth until we were approaching, then jump out hands in the air and screaming in an attempt to spook our horses. Of course, this worked a treat - one of the horses at the front with a very large Brazilian on it promptly went over into the muddy water, depositing said Brazilian into it too, and a few of the others including mine bolted. It was just mere luck that I managed to hold on before I stopped the horse. If I'd gone off, with my camera round my neck, let's say I wouldn't have been happy. Apart from this, the horseride was another non-event and we didn't really see anything in terms of wildlife. The walkers were luckier though, and managed to see an armadillo and toucans.
On Friday, me and Nashy were up early to catch a beautiful sunrise, then took a walk round the boardwalk. After breakfast, it was piranha fishing but because I had done it twice before during my trips to the Amazon (it's pretty dull when the novelty factor wears off), I decided to give it a miss and go for another walk round the boardwalk. This proved to be very rewarding since as well as more bird sightings, I got to see a group of Howler Monkeys and took good photos of a mother and youngster together. At 11am, we left the Lodge and took a minibus to Bonito. On the way, we were very lucky to see both a Lesser Anteater and Giant Anteater by the side of the road which rounded off an excellent trip.
I loved the Pantanal, especially as a birdwatcher. The density and variety of birdlife was amazing, and you could get some amazing close-up photos. There were also other mammals, although we only got to see a fraction of these. If I had the time at the end of my trip, I would have gone back for a longer trip, and would have chosen a trip which gave me the best chance of seeing a jaguar in the wild, along with giant anacondas, tapirs, giant otters, and of course, more birds. Maybe next time!
On Wednesday morning, we left Hotel Santa Monica in Corumba and took a 3 hour drive to the Passo do Lontra lodge in the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a tropical wetland and the world's largest wetland of any kind, sprawling over an area estimated at between 140,000 to 195,000 km2 (bigger than the area of England). 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy season, resulting in an amazingly biodiverse array of fauna and flora, in much greater concentrations than the Amazon jungle. Along the way to the Lodge, there were lots of birds and we caught our first sighting of caiman, the odd one to start off with but then in ever increasing numbers. I was going to like this!