Saturday, 4 August 2007

Call of the Jaguar - Day 3: “Gone with the wind”

The wind howled through the night and I was concerned that we might have to postpone the trip today. Peter mentioned yesterday that he hoped the weather stayed calm for today since we would be making a long boat trip and it would be difficult with the wavy water with wind. The wind was still strong after I rose and got ready. Peter was supposed to pick me up at 7.30am.

I went to sleep late at around 2am, having had dinner at Peter's house, meeting two of his friends who were young biologists. Carolina showed me her video clips of giant otters, playing, eating and fighting etc, and this was so unusual and fascinating! Of course it whetted my appetite even more besides the potential jaguar sightings.

I was much too early still after having had my breakfast and the hotel's internet was so slow so I could not get much work done. This made me more nervous as I waited for Peter. Peter was again an hour late, or so I thought. Last night he sms-ed me to say he would be half an hour late but he came more than an hour later. I was too embarrassed to call him thinking he must be caught up with something. When he arrived he apologized he suffered migraine last night so I had thought he was mistaken with the time while in pain. But this morning again he said he was sorry he was late for 15 minutes. I was hoping he was not suffering from migraine again but out of precautions asked the reception upon checking out-so what time is it now??? To my total embarrassment I found out Corumba is an hour earlier than Sao Paulo! So I had actually been foolishly using the wrong time and got up much too early while I could use the sleep! This also explained why it took an hour and half for the flight to arrive while the schedule appeared to be only 40 minutes.

Peter was indeed concerned with the weather since it looked gloomy and wind was still blowing hard. He had actually organized a much bigger boat already out of concern for my safety and well being. He is really considerate and was sharing also his concerns for me on the boat trip. Although this borrowed boat is much faster and safer than his boat, he was worried it might not change much under such windy conditions. On the other hand he was also worried that my time is limited and if we did wait and the weather tomorrow might be worse then it would have been better if we left today. In the end, I managed to show Peter the other side of me-a tough cookie having endured all kinds of worse traveling or living conditions! His colleague Gioberto who was dropping us off also assured him that this bigger boat was more than trustworthy to do its job of getting us to our destinations-the headquarters of the Pantanal Matogrosso National Park.
So we set off at 9am even though Peter himself was still uncomfortable with the boat and the weather.
The weather was unseasonably cold again today and riding on a fast boat only makes it worse. But it was not as bumpy as we thought. I was so pleasantly taken aback by the abundant bird life- grey and white egrets, tuiuius, anhingas, herons, vultures etc. It resembles the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Upon taking a wrong turn into a tributary, we were rewarded by 3 capybaras-the largest rodents in the world. They seemed unbothered by our presence.

However, just when Peter tried to avoid the big waves by crossing the river to the other side, the motor of the boat lost power...

We tried to peddle to the side of the river to a less windy corner but the wind was strong. I was getting worried that the boat might topple and not sure if there were piranhas in the Paraguian River. We managed to reach the side of the river with thick water plants and the motor just seemed to refuse to start, and if it did start it refused to hold. Eventually Peter started to think what would be our options-we could wait for one of the big but not so frequent transport boat come by and get the boat towed. But today is Saturday so any of these boats would be heading to the opposite direction that we wanted to go. I was toying in my head what kind of scenarios that would be-but prepared for the worst as I have two sleeping bags etc. After a short discussion, we thought to just try another trick on starting the boat.

To our pleasant surprise the motor suddenly went into action and seemed to hold again.... So we decided to capitalize on the momentum and just push on non-stop.. Three Caimans and five hours later, we actually arrived at our destination, in time for the beautiful sunset...

The headquarter is situated on a small island and one family acts as guards: father, daughter, son-in-law and the infant grand daughter. There was also a retired ex warden living here. The house that we are staying in is wooden and is used by the Park director and guests. The surrounding was peaceful and charming - the songs of birds were the only sound one could hear besides the wind...

And no doubt the jaguars are also watching.

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