It was undoubtedly the wine, too much wine (not for the first time), that had me dancing. A little number with Valquiria who had looked after us all so well at this farewell BBQ. A fitting, if somewhat stumbling end to this leg of our South American voyage.
Tomorrow morning will see us leave Caiman Lodge for the 4 hour drive back to Campo Grande. Goodbye to the burrowing owls that perch, as always, on fence posts close to the buildings. Farewell to the caracaras and their two young that sit beside the road waiting for some dainty morsel, a frog or lizard perhaps, to foolishly venture too close. Cheerio to the caiman that lounge motionless with open mouths by the numerous pools that line the way. Tchau to the Pantanal that has provided us with wonderful wildlife every minute of every day, at least when it wasn't pouring with rain. Although even then the antics of the toads and frogs gave cause for a smile.
Our last day was spent walking through the forest that covers higher ground between flooded meadows. Our native guide told us the medicinal, culinary and practical value of certain trees and plants, explaining how native tribesmen found uses for just about everything that grows hereabouts. Fruits and nuts that are nutritious or can be boiled to use as a poultice, husks of small coconuts that can be sliced and used for making buttons, the clear juice from one plant that when dry turns black and stains your skin for a week, ideal for tattooing the body. I've done something similar at Ranworth when leading groups of people along the boardwalk trail there; hazel for fencing, bruised meadowsweet for fragrance, willow bark for aspirin, guelder rose for treating pain and arthritis, sedge as matting. Different continents, contrasting cultures, human needs satisfied by nature.
The trails through the sandy soil are utilised by several species of ant as a highway to a food source. Thousands of tiny leaf cutters, each with a small sprig of greenery, marched purposefully to their nest where they will feed on the fungus which grows on the store of composting vegetation. Other ants some bigger and powerful looking, others black and tiny, scurried hither and thither. Best not to stay still too long here lest some of these small insects decide to crawl over your shoes and explore what lies up your trouser leg: their stings can be quite painful believe me.
The dense undergrowth masks most wildlife from view but we did see a coati foraging around a small clearing and a capuchin monkey adeptly moving around in a tall fig tree. We also stumbled upon the dried husk of a dead caiman that had been killed by a jaguar, one of the fifty that roam around this immense site. The fate of the reptile as cat food was in no doubt, we could see very clearly the puncture wounds on the skull caused by the jaguar's powerful bite.
But the best sighting we had was that of a young spectacled owl that had been found by the park ranger who radioed to our guide so he could bring us to see. There perched against a tree trunk some 40 metres or so into the wood was the most beautiful bird. Very difficult to see against the dappled striping of light and shade was an owlet with the most amazing panda like facial colouration. A white face contrasting with a mask of deepest black from which two yellow eyes gazed at us with a distinct measure of distrust. It flew off deeper into the wood after a while having had enough of this troop of primates trying to get close. Despite our attempts at relocation it wasn't prepared to show itself again. A wonderful sighting though and one we simply could never have managed on our own.
So, we move on to new ground where we will no doubt experience much of interest. I'll try to do it all justice in these blog posts. Thanks for tuning in so far, you are most welcome to stay with me and come along for the ride.