We arrived to the ominous sound of rumbling thunder issued from the depths of evil looking clouds that every so often would spit jagged forks of lightning. The accompanying humidity made for an uncomfortable welcome to our stay in the southern Pantanal. But the rain didn't materialise, at least no more than a few drops helping to refresh our tired and unwashed selves. We had been travelling for 30 hours with the last three of them over rough roads that meandered through small townships and at last gave way to a sandy track cut through the open savannah where termite mounds dotted the fields like so many gravestones.
We were given little time to rest by our guide who was keen to maximise the time she has with us; four weary Europeans that for the next little while find themselves guests of people who dwell in a remote Brazilian land that for 7 months of the year in under water. This first stop is at Pousada Rio Mutum, a lodge placed on the banks of the river from which it borrows it's name. The open grounds play host to an array of exotic looking birds, chief among them being the cantankerous, loud, ever watchful rusty-margined guan that vie with the high strutting bare-faced curassow, buff-necked ibis and thrushes for the pleasure of feasting on ripe mangoes that drop without warning from heavily laden trees.
The fruits that still hang in tempting clusters are ravished by an array of other birds, parrots, McCaws, Orioles, tanagers and jays. Greater kiskadees eye their territory from convenient perches ready to pounce on any passing insect or small lizard. We watched a pair hunt frogs at the water's edge whacking the poor amphibian mercilessly against a branch in the manner of a kingfisher. In a tree by the water's edge a pair of black collared hawks were busy courting as oblivious to the osprey perched nearby as it was to them. There is so much here that it is hard not to be overwhelmed; I am already like a child in a particularly sumptuous sweet shop.
So, our guide invited us to step into a canoe and gently paddled us around clear, calm waters for an hour or so. Here were kingfishers: ringed - bold and showy; green and rufous - smaller and more evenly proportioned; and the Amazon - dagger billed and impervious to our close scrutiny. Other birds dotted the riverside vegetation; neotropic cormorants, anhingas, jacanas and herons. A pair of southern screamers lived up to their names screeching their almightilly loud, raucous cries across the still air of the gathering dusk. And then somehow from great distance our guide thought she had caught a glimpse of a capybara. We strained our eyes but could see nothing but acres of water plants and dense vegetation until as we edged closer and closer, the bulky shape of a small group of these weird animals could be seen sitting stock still on the shoreline. How big are they! I've seen these things many times on TV but was not prepared for the reality of seeing close to these pig sized aquatic animals. Most impressive.
We retired early, completely worn out but looking forward to whatever delights the following 3 days here will bring. We are promised an action packed agenda. Watch this space.