Tag Archives: wildlife

Isla de la Plata

The affordable alternative to the Galapogas Islands, Isla de la Plata is an exciting day trip off the south west coast of Ecuador. Supposedly named after guano from the bird population (and less likely, the hidden treasure of an English sea captain), Isla de la Plata has many of the charms of the Galapagos Islands, just not in a comparable abundance. We had a great time and recommend it, especially if you are at the tail-end of your holiday and running out of kish cash.

Mosh pit.

The above photos were all taken from the landing beach. Not bad eh?

A view of the island.

Frigate birds clustered on a tree.

The charismatic frigate bird. The males inflate the pouches to try and pull the ladies.

A baby frigate bird.

A popular reason to visit Isla de la Plata is an opportunity to see blue-footed boobies nesting. We were lucky to be there at the right time.

As a final treat we were visited by a bale of turtles (that's what a group of turtles is called, apparently). They were pretty big, jumping in the water did not seem like a good idea…

 


Montañita

After a long overnight bus trip from Mancora with very little sleep, we arrived in Ecuador. Montañita is a little oasis of touristy delights. Perched right on the white sandy beaches of the Pacific ocean, the town is full of western bars and restaurants to cater for the steady stream of backpackers and holiday makers.

By the time we arrived, we were pretty travel weary so we made good use of the hammocks and the sand. The water was unfortunately freezing, which was disappointing! Even though we were so close to the ecuator, it was far too cold to go swimming but we did brace ourselves and jump in for a quick dip.
While we were there, we had the opportunity to go whale watching and spend a day in Isla de la Plata, an island off the coast commonly referred to as the “poor man's Galapogos” because it has some of the same animals but without the exorbitant price tag. The day trip was fantastic and highly recommended! We saw so many whales! They were breaching and playing all around us, one even went right underneath our boat. It was huge! An incredible experience!!

In the next post we will share our experience hiking on the island.

 


No Molestar los Animales

The photo above shows a tourist holding a yellow squirrel monkey. It was taken during our pampas tour in Bolivia's Amazon. The poor monkey was snatched with child-like glee from a tree that our guide had plowed into. Apparently animals are cute toys to be touched and handled for our entertainment. We also saw people almost jump out of our boat to touch a crocodile!

Kids from our tour try to get up close with the monkeys. We were with Fluvial Tours.

The same operators will catch anacondas and let people hold them for photos (and shit on the tourists out of fear) and we heard reports of people getting so close to dolphins that they were bitten.

We were shocked at the approach of the tour operarors, who clearly knew that some tourists wanted an up close experience and competed with each other to get their boats closer to the action. All the operators in the pampas that we saw behaved the same way, despite signs in Rurrenabaque warning people not to 'molestar los animales'.

We would encourage you to do a bit of research before committing to a tour in the Amazon (note that most operarors run tours in both the pampas and the jungle). We think it is really important that this behaviour is not encouraged. Surprisingly, this operator was recommended by Lonely Planet but in their defense they did warn about this sort of behaviour. We will be sure to raise this with them all the same.

Thanks for reading,

Mark and Saskia.

 


Bolivian Amazon: Pampas

There are are two tours that people commonly take when they get to Rurrenabaque: a jungle tour, which we just covered, and a pampas tour. The environments are very different. Whereas in Madidi National Park you are surrounded by dense jungle, the pampas is a large, flat, wetlands system. The pampas tours seem to be popular because they provide three unique opportunities:

  1. A morning hike searching for anacondas.
  2. A swim with the Amazon's pink freshwater dolphins.
  3. A boat trip to catch piranhas.

There are a range of tour operators offering pampas tours, with those promoted by Lonely Planet being the most popular. They are typically very cheap and some also offer a budget jungle tour. Apparently they all do the same thing but we would recommend doing a bit of research to see which ones are currently in favour.

We ended up going with Fluvial Tours, a budget operator. The choice was mainly driven by price – Chalalán was a bit of an outlay (although cheaper than the Pantanal) so we wanted to squeeze in another trip on the cheap.

Sunrise over the pampas.

The whole tour takes place in Pampas del Yacuma National Park, a protected area three hours drive northeast of Rurrenabaque. The tour was unique for us in that it was confined to the river. All travel is by boat, with accommodation provided by a series of lodges along the banks.

Travelling on the river is like cruising through an animal theme park. We saw many storks, herons, turtles, caimans and large capybara. The first afternoon was spent slowly cruising up the river to our lodgings. It was a beautiful day and very relaxing.

Chillin.

Fun with filters. A vulture soars above us.

The herons were quite striking. They are large, graceful birds and very photogenic.

We wrapped up two hours on the river with sunset beers. A nice opportunity to meet people and to watch as dopey tourists found their Dutch courage and got close to a caiman (no-one was harmed).

Searching for Anacondas

The next day we went in search of anacondas. This required a full morning trudging through marshlands in search of the python. Unfortunately we were unsuccesful but we knew in advance the chances were 50/50. It didn't help that our guides were not very informative and after some time our guide actually lost us. We wandered around for awhile, then decided to head back to where the boats were on the river. We eventually caught up with him back at the boat but no apology was given, which we thought was pretty slack given that he was supposed to help us find the anacondas!

Muy macho.

The land alternated between knee high water and dry grass islands.

The good news is we later found anacondas in a park in Trinidad. There are five of them in a cage near the military airstrip, much easier than trudging through the marshes!

Swimming with Dolphins

Everybody likes the idea of swimming with dolphins, and these dolphins are special. They are pink! The Amazon River Dolphin can be found throughout the Amazon Basin in South America in fresh water rivers. The dolphins have been there since South America was covered by a salt water sea, and got stuck in the basin when the sea receded.

They are a slightly stubby (uglier) version of the dolphins you might see in the ocean and are practically blind due to the murky river water. As a result, swimming with them is not as romantic as it sounds, and we heard several stories of people being bitten on their hands and feet while they were splashing around in the river. We jumped in the water when they were close by, but didn't get too close. They are quite shy and are after all wild animals. Still, it was a exciting experience to be swimming in a river in the Amazon surrounded by pink dolphins, caiman and piranhas!

Fishing for Piranhas

Another big draw is the opportunity to catch piranhas. Now, we'll be frank about this one. Piranhas are actually quite small and are not the flesh eating beasties you might believe them to be. Very anticlimactic. Still, they are infamous and people want to catch them. We gave it a go but the little buggers kept wriggling off the line (hooks were too big). We caught a few sardines and a catfish but otherwise were unlucky. Don't go out of your way for this experience.

Our guide with a little cat fish.

Monkeys Everywhere

We were surprised at the number of monkeys we saw. Our camp lodgings were visited by a pack of yellow squirrel monkeys several times a day. They would run along the hand rails and two even got inside a dorm room. We also saw kapuchin and howler monkeys several times.

A yellow squirrel monkey looking to snatch some food.

Howler monkeys staring at those funny homo sapiens.

All in all it was a good time. It was more social than Chalalán due to the mingling with other groups but we saw less animal species, although the ones we did see were in abundance. We would recommend a trip, it is good fun but bear in mind that they churn through tourists here and the wildlife is not always respected as it should be. Also, the guides may disappoint. We can't provide names of some the animals we saw because we never learnt them!

A Tiger Heron.

Two jabirus in their nest.

A capybara on the river bank. They seemed to be bigger here than in the Pantanal.

 


Bolivian Amazon: Jungle

Having had our fill of the altiplano it was time to get a taste of the epic Amazon Basin. Most often associated with Brazil, the Basin actually covers more than half of Bolivia. Surprisingly, this part of Bolivia is not very popular with tourists, who tend to limit themselves to a short visit, if they go at all.

There are two main entry points to the Basin: Rurrenabaque and Trinidad. We opted for Rurrenabaque as it was closest to La Paz. Our plan was to use Rurrenabaque as a launching point for a trip to the jungle and the pampas (grass wetlands). We then planned to fly to Trinidad, from where we would travel to San Ignacio de Moxos and see what Lonely Planet has claimed is the best cultural festival in the Amazon.

The Jungle of Madidi National Park

The flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque is beautiful, passing over snow capped mountains, winding rivers and endless jungle. Getting out of the tiny plane in the palm tree-lined airport and being instantly confronted with the humidity and heat was a shock to the system after the freezing cold altiplano, but it also felt like paradise.

We wanted to do a jungle tour and after looking into our options, decided to go with Chalalán Ecolodge. A key selling point was that Chalalán is five hours up river and consequently goes deeper into the jungle of Madidi National Park than other tours. Also, Chalalán is rated by National Geographic as one of the top fifty ecolodges in the world (and its the most affordable of the pick), so we thought that sounded like a great opportunity to do something special.

We spent the night in Rurrenabaque enjoying local fresh fish and caipirinhas (its good to be so close to Brazil!). Our guide Rico picked us up early the next morning, along with our trekking companions Madeleine, Ruth and Simon, and we set off in our little banana boat.

The jungle exhales after a night of rain.

The lodge is accessed from the Rio Tuichi, which branches off the larger Rio Beni. The boat trip is stunning. We were able to see capybaras, monkeys, caiman, turtles, as well as many different types of water birds and birds of prey (there is a list at the end for those that love lists!). We had seen many of these animals and birds before while we were in the Pantanal, but it was wonderful to see them again in a different environment. Check out our posts on the Pantanal to see the photos.

Arriving at Chalalan.

We arrived at Chalalán around lunch time and were met by a group of happy guys from the local community who thankfully helped us carry our bags the 2km walk to the lodge.

Within minutes of getting out of the boat we were surrounded by colourful butterflies, a snake (which turned out to be a Ferdiland snake, the second most venemous snake in the area!), beetles, tree-cutter ants, birds and the distant sound of howler monkeys. There was a definate sense of sharing space with nature, and the constant noise of the jungle reminds you that there is so much life around you. It was quite amazing!

Cow Bird; Butterfly; Tree Cutter Ants.

Chalalán is set on a lagoon amongst beautiful rainforest. The Ecolodge was established by the local indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas. The community decided to set up the lodge in the early 1990s as a way to earn money, provide jobs and development for their community whilst also protecting and preserving their land and culture. They worked with many people to secure funding, including an Israeli man who helped write a proposal and get funding from Conservation International and the Interamerican Development Bank. With this money, they were able to build lodges in their traditional style, train members of the community in business and hospitality, and market the ecolodge to tourists. The community is now fully responsible for running the business of Chalalán Ecolodge and through this has ensured that their culture and environment will live on for future generations.

Sleeping huts and canoes by the lagoon at Chalalán Ecolodge.


Chalalán Lagoon. We went out on the lagoon every afternoon.

We spent four days/three nights at Chalalán occupying our day looking for animals by walking through the jungle or rowing around the lagoon. The day was broken up into a morning walk, an afternoon siesta, a twilight walk and paddle and a night walk. Basically we were given plenty of opportunities to see the flora and fauna.

A Meeting with Monkeys

It was on the afternoon of our first day that we had our first close encounter with monkeys. We were paddling out on the lagoon when Rico guided us to a spot that the monkeys like to visit at twilight. We watched with joy as yellow squirrel monkeys popped out of the thick vegetation. They were followed by kapuchin monkeys, affectionally known as cappuccino monkeys because of their brown colouring.

They came right down to the water, precariously hanging off drooping branches before spinning around and scampering back up the tree. It was great fun and provided us with good photo opportunities.

Things almost came to a bad end though – Mark spotted a caiman gliding in under a low hanging branch. Two yellow squirrel monkeys were less than a metre from the water's surface, oblivious to the arrival of a predator. We waited with baited breath but, possibly because of our presence, the caiman did not make a move. A National Geographic moment was averted!

Brown Kapuchin Monkeys and Yellow Squirrel Monkeys.

More Monkey Madness

On the second day we went on a five hour loop walk to try and find spider monkeys. The jungle was quiet though and apart from the startled bolt of a tapir, the morning was fairly uneventful. Eventually we reached a small cliff and began following it to the right. Soon we heard the unmistakable sound of a holwer monkey giving voice to his throaty growl.

 

We flipped into stealth mode and began creeping in the direction of the howl. We crossed into a thicket and all of a sudden sound exploded all around us! The trees above us were shaking with the movement of several packs of monkeys, moving together in a raucous wave.

We recognised the distinct high pitched squeek of the yellow squirrel monkey, accompanied by kapuchin monkeys. Then Rico yelled out to us – he had spotted a spider monkey! Now we were running through the jungle trying to keep up with spider monkeys, who with their long arms and tails were quickly swinging through the canopy. Surprisingly no-one ran into a tree.

It was an exhilerating experience. Four different species of monkey all in one spot! Magic. The howler monkeys had gone quiet but our guide managed to spot them in a tall tree. A couple of them came down to the lower branches to get a good look at us and we found ourselves at the receiving end of a sightseeing experience.

Wandering through the rainforest looking for animals.

Stalking White Lipped Peccarys

On the third day we were making our way around the northern side of the lagoon when we heard the grunts of wild pigs, or peccarys. Rico signalled for us to crouch down behind trees and we went into our best stealth mode. These pigs have been known to surround people and kill them, and had done so to one of the local members of the community not that long ago. Even jaguars are wary – they have learnt to pick off strays at the back of the pack to avoid getting mauled. We looked around for trees to climb, but were not that convinced we would get up any quickly enough if we were surrounded by angry pigs!

Rico had cleverly predicted that they would come up the slope and cross our path. We waited and waited as the sound of twigs snapping and pigs grunting became louder. There seemed to be a lot of them…

It was really exciting when they finally appeared. At first they didn't notice us, but a male eventually did and we found ourselves being stared down! Time literally stopped. He was so close we could almost count the white hairs on his snout. Fortunately he decided we weren't a threat and we watched in amazement as around 100 peccarys passed in front of us. There were so many, from huge males to tiny babies running after their mothers. It was impossible to get a good photo in poor lighting while crouching under a tree hiding from a herd of pigs, but we tried!

Walking through the jungle; herds of peccary rushing past; Mark in the rainforest; mushrooms.

We spent plenty of time searching for animals, which we could sometimes hear but not see. We found a hole in a tree where an ocelot sleeps and saw lots of holes in the ground that had been abandoned by armadillos. We heard tapirs from a distance, saw jaguar and puma tracks a short walk from the lodge, but we were unable to actually catch a glimpse. It rained quite a lot while we were there, which made it difficult to see the animals because they too wanted to get out of the cold weather.

Jaguar footprints.

Creepy Crawlies

Many of the animals in the jungle only come out at night so we ventured out after dark to see what we could find. Mark was struck by a bout of Australasian stupidity and went out only wearing thongs (aka jandals or flip flops). This quickly proved a bad idea when we came across a coral snake within five minutes. In fact it was an eventful night: we saw an amazon tree boa in Madeleine's roof and along the track Rico introduced us to a giant black tarantula (as big as a man's hand). We also saw a golden orb spider, false scorpion spider, spitting spider (20cm range), tiger spider, plus lots of other creepy crawlies. Ironically, Madeleine and Saskia were bitten by hundreds of tiny ants despite the fact that they were wearing shoes and socks and Mark didn't get bitten at all!

Golden Orb Spider.


Snakes and spiders everywhere! Clockwise from top left: Tiger Spider, Amazon Tree Boa, Black Tarantula, Tiger Spider, False Scorpion Spider and Coral Snake.

Green Things

The plant life was abundant and dominated the landscape. Some of the trees are really unusual. The walking tree, for example, can shift its location to better catch sunlight. It does this by growing new roots, similar to a mangrove tree, which it slowly shifts its weight onto (see the photo below). The strangler fig is a parasitic plant that slowly grows around a host, then seals it off from light. The host then rots away inside. Brutal.

The lodge itself is made out of local mahogany, which remain in the park thanks to the vigilance of the locals, and we saw huge 200 year old cedar trees. Rico also pointed out the medicinal uses of various plants and fungi and warned us about which ones not to touch.

The roots of this tree spread up to ten metres along the ground.

The tree roots are actually very shallow because there are no nutrients deep in the soil. As a result we were constantly stepping over roots. One species of tree had red roots, creating the impression of being the veins of the jungle.

Vines and orchards live on other trees, some of which are incredibly old.

In addition to the many walking tracks around the lodge, we also had the opportunity to use the canoes on the lagoon. This provided a quiet way to approach monkeys in the trees and to see birds flying over the top of the canopy. We also went swimming from the pier to the amusement of most other guests who were too scared to go jumping in the water when there were caiman close by. We weren't scared…those caiman have got nothing on crocs in Australia!

Top: Mark paddling the canoe with Rico and Madeleine; Bottom: Simon and Ruth look for monkeys in the trees from their canoe.

All that would have been great but the staff arranged a cultural night for us. We had a traditional dinner, with fish cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves (also a common way of cooking fish in the Pacific). We learnt about community traditions and how to make an offering to mother earth, or pachamama. This involed taking a shot of 'puma milk', a combination of singani, milk, cinnamon bark, sugar and hot water. Suffice to say it is one drink the world could do without. We spent the rest of the night dancing with the staff to traditional music, which was lots of fun!

Traditional music; coca leaves and baby puma milk; fish in coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves.

Overall, our experience at Chalalán was wonderful and we highly recommended a visit if you ever have the opportunity!

 

The Lists

So as promised we have included a list of the wildlife we saw, many of which are not mentioned above. Might be helpful for peeps weighing up whether to make the trip.

Monkeys

Note that about 12 species of monkey are endemic to the Park.

  • Howler monkey
  • Kapuchin monkey
  • Night monkey
  • Spider monkey
  • Yellow squirrel monkey

Spiders

  • Black tarantula
  • Brown/banana spider
  • False scorpion spider
  • Golden orb spider
  • Golden silk spider
  • Spitting spider
  • Tiger spider

Snakes

  • Amazon tree boa
  • Common musarana snake
  • Coral snake
  • Ferdiland snake

Birds

According to Wikipedia the Park has over 1,000 bird species, representing 11% of the world’s 9,000 bird species.

  • Amazon kingfisher
  • Blue heron
  • Cap heron
  • White necked heron
  • Rufescent tiger heron
  • Grey egret
  • Snowy egret
  • Chestnut fronted macaw
  • Red and green macaw
  • Blue and yellow macaw
  • Blue headed parrot
  • Black winged vulture
  • King vulture
  • Whitewing swallow
  • Crimson crested woodpecker
  • Russelback arapendula
  • Chachalaca
  • Hoatzin (cow bird)
  • Blue throated pipe pidgeon/guan
  • Cormorants
  • Tucans (not sure which types)
  • One badass harpy eagle

The rest

  • Red deer
  • White lipped peccary
  • Caiman
  • Capybara
  • Turtles
  • Amazon tree frog
  • Many butterflies, moths, beetles and a centipede

 


Torres Del Paine

Panaroma courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

Note from Mark: This post was drafted back in February but I needed time to absorb the experience. There's a lot in this one, might pay to get a drink before you start. My thanks to Ben Anscombe for the assistance.

Currently rolling along Ruta 40, a day after I completed the W track at Parques Nacionales de Torres del Paine, Chile. No injuries, just a bit of sun burn and the normal aches associated with hauling a pack.

Torres del Paine was an awesome adventure. It has so much going on – huge glaciers, imposing peaks, raging rivers, rickety bridges, stunning valleys and turquoise lakes. It gave me my first sightings of avalanches, condors and even pink flamingoes (of all things).

I started with dos amigos from the Navimag trip. Saskia decided to stay back in Puerto Natales (PN) due to a lingering illness, but hoped to meet us on the last night of the trip. We had all agreed to start at the Western end of the track and make our way across the Torres massif over five days. This plan was further fleshed out with help from the guides at Basecamp in PN (recommend the briefing, held every day in the afternoon).

For those familiar with the park or interested in the trek, we camped at Campamento's Grey, Italiano (free), Cuenos and Chileno respectively. We had the option of staying at Campamento Torres (free) instead of Chileno but for various reasons opted for Chileno.

20 Febrero, Glacier Grey

It took about half a day to get to our starting point, which included a bus trip from PN to the park and a short ferry ride to the Western end. This trip gave us a good view of the massif, which is easily viewed from the road. The rain that pursued us through the fjords had dumped plenty of snow on the peaks and the forecast was for clear skies. A good start.

We set off from the wharf at 1:00 pm. Here we could see the damage done by the fires of 2005 and 2011. The damage was extensive and, with jagged peaks and high cloud above us, made for a melodramatic setting. I was relieved when we reached the highest point in the track and gazed down onto Grey Lake. It's a great view from there, right up to the glacier.

Me, Ben and Floris. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We made our way down towards the lake, stopping frequently to take photos of the lake, mountains and ice bergs that had broken off from the glacier. It was easy going and we had a good time taking detours and marvelling at the views. The cloud slowly cleared and eventually it was sunny with no wind. Perfect!

Playing with ice. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We pulled into Campamento Grey at 6:00 pm. Its a good camp site with reasonable facilities and a great view of the mountains. Two condors circled the peaks above us as we debriefed on the day. Couldn't believe how good we had it.

21 Febrero, Grey to Italiano

It may be helpful to note that Campamento Grey is located near the glacier but it is not beside it. Further, you cannot access the glacier directly but it is possible to hire kayaks near C. Grey or you can walk up to a viewing platform about 1.5 hours north from the campsite. We decided we wanted to try the latter, so left at around 9:00 am to the viewing point.

There's no fire damage here and the forest is fantastic. After about 1.5 hours of uphill leg work we were rewarded with a stunning view of not just the glacier but the Southern Patagonia Ice Field and snow covered mountains. The view was crystal clear, just beautiful. I've never seen anything quite like it, it was an overwhelming experience.

We hung around waiting for the sun to throw a bit more light before taking photos. A bunch of people in kayaks paddled up to the glacier and gave us a real sense of scale e.g. huge. Eventually the sun cleared the Torres' western shoulder. We took photos and then to our surprise stumbled into a glade filled with Andean wood peckers. Some how we didn't scare them off with our excited yelps and snapped a few picks. Chuffed!

Returned back to Campamento Grey to decamp. Someone had The Rolling Stones blasting. We took our time as we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us. The hike back out of the valley was slow, hard work with the packs, hadn't realised how steep it was. Still, we had great weather.

It took the whole afternoon to get back out and down to the original landing point. By this time one of the amigos, Ben, had hurt his ankle and was limping. We got him to stick his leg into the nearby lake then strapped it. From there it was a 2.5 hour trek to Campamento Italiano. Doesn't sound like much but our legs were tired so it was slow going. Fortunately we were distracted by views of the southern lakes and the setting sunlight on the peaks.

Coming around the southwest point of the W track.

Eventually stumbled into Campamento Italiano around 9:00 pm. All buggered. We estimate we hiked for about 10 hours in total, my longest day hiking to date. Cooked up pasta with tuna and finished off with a hot chocolate. Big day. Went to sleep with the sound of distant avalanches providing a hint of what was to come in the morning.

22 Febrero, Valley de Frances

Despite the long trek the previous day, staying the night at Campamento Italiano provided a key advantage – it sits at the base of the Valley de Frances, the mid point of the W trek. This is probably my favourite part of the trip, but by a margin.

We got up early to get the most out of the day. Cloud had come in overnight but it was quite high and we could still see most of the peaks.

The trek up the valley to the viewing point takes around 3 hours. The trip began with an up close and personal view of Cerro Paine Grande and Glaciar del Frances. Within minutes of our approach there was a thunder crack and a plume of snow billowed from under the cloud on our left. We thought that would be it but for around eight minutes snowed poured down the face of the mountain like a waterfall. Amazing.

The path up the valley follows a river towards a wide bowl at the top of the valley. The valley itself is fairly evenly divided by the river and features near pristine forest and stunning views of the Torres' craggy peaks and towers. Facing south, one is presented by an almost perfectly composed view of the valley and the southern lakes and rolling hills beyond. I will never forget it.

Getting up early was the best decision we made that day. As we walked back down the valley low cloud quickly rolled in, spoiling the view for those still making their way up.

A quick lunch back at camp and we were off east to Campamento Cuernos. This was a fairly easy leg which we completed under time. Great views of the local lakes. Rain began around 4:00pm which was good as were able to set up our tents in time. I had booked dinner at the hut, or refugio, which with the rain turned out to be a brilliant idea. Sat down with the boys and smashed the largest pork chop I've ever seen. Finished off the night with a couple of beers and fell asleep pretty quickly.

The lakes under cloud.

23 Febrero, Cuernos to Chileno

Woke up to rain. Got up for breakfast at 7:30 am. Found Floris, amigo número tres, who had expected his EU7 tent to buckle under the rain. The tree cover saved him but the tent was soaked. Decamped in the rain and began trudging up and over the next hill.

Ben was not in good condition. He had remained stoic despite the injury but it wasn't getting any better. The night before he had stumbled through the door into the hut, wobbled over to us, then wiped out half the table when is ankle gave way. Hilarious but not good!

Fairly early in the walk we came across our first river. The water was maybe knee high but moving fast over the rocks. People on the other side directed us to a tree that overhung the river. So next thing we are climbing into the tree and dropping down the other side! Good fun.

After three hours of walking in the rain we reached a junction that lead to Chileno (north east) or out of the park (due east). Ben's ankle was a real problem and the rain meant Floris was in for a bad night. The lads decided to end their trip that day and walk out. I was tempted to join them as I wasn't going to see much at Chileno with the rain and cloud, however there was the possibility that Sas would be making her way in to meet me there. So we all shook hands and agreed to meet for dinner in PN when I got out.

Turned out to be the right decision for all of us. Within minutes of arriving at Chileno Saskia walked through the door! We spent the rest of the day in the hut with the other soggy campers. Booked dinner again, big piece of slow cooked beef. Went to bed in the soggy tent, warm but not exactly dry. Saskia bore it well.

Sas making her way in.

25 Febrero, Back to Puerto Natales

We woke up to rain again so decided to head off early. Decamped fairly quickly and after 2.5 hours we were out of the park and waiting for transport.

Looking down the Valley to C. Chileno.

While we waited we saw several native birds (tíques, caranchos and condors) and some wild llamas.

A tíque with a fresh catch and a condor soars above us.

 

A carancho keeps watch and a llama heads into town for a beer.

Arrived back at PN at 5pm, went out for dinner with Sas, Ben, Floris and another couple from the Navimag trip, Rik and Elena. We found a restaurant that specialised in BBQ meat, Asador Patagónico, which delivered the goods in spades. We demolished a delicious meal of Patagonian lamb, beef and salmon with local beer and wine to wash it down. A perfect end to our adventure.

Happy ending. From left: Rik, Elena, Floris, Saskia, me and Ben.

 


To Swim in an Aquarium

Our trip to south western Brazil included three stops: the Pantanal via Cuiaba, Chapada and Bonito. The last stop was tagged on when we learned about the amazing snorkelling to be experienced in the many rivers nearby.

 

As you can see, the water here is crystal clear. The cause? To quote Lonely Planet, “the river waters spring from subterranean sources in a limestone base, almost entirely free of clay, which releases calcium carbonate into the water. The calcium carbonate calcifies all impurities in the water, which then sink to the riverbed.” We filmed one of those springs in action.

The following shots are taken from a two hour snorkelling trip along the Rio Prata, near Bonito.

 
 

A freshwater crocodile, a caiman. Sorry for the blur, he is in the centre of the pic.

 

And to wrap it up, a bit of film…

 


The Pantanal

There are few places left in this world where it is possible to see a natural environment teeming with wildlife everywhere you look. The Pantanal in Brazil is one of those amazing places. We first got the idea to visit the Pantanal over a year ago when we were looking through an adventure travel book, which suggested that the Pantanal was a must-see destination for wildlife watching. When we planned our trip to South America, a visit to these wetlands was high on the list of priorities.

We arrived in Cuiabá without much of a plan. We had done some research on the internet and sent a few emails, to which we had no response, so we decided to just organise it when we got there. That was a little harder than expected, as the tour companies were not easily accessible, so we went with a tour organised through the hostel where we were staying. That turned out to be a good option! The four day trip was arranged just for the two of us, with a funny, friendly, English-speaking Brazilian biologist who had worked for over twenty years as a guide in the Pantanal. Our guide, Mr Santos, knew exactly where to look to see all the different birds and animals, and made the whole experience so much more rewarding!

We left Cuiabá early on the first day, stopping for breakfast, petrol and in the last town on the road before we hit the Transpantaneira Highway. This is not so much of a highway as it is a national park. It doesnt go anywhere, it is just a dirt road that stretches through the wetlands, with no where to go but back to Cuiaba. As such, it is an amazing place to see wildlife, because it goes directly through their natural habitats and many animals use it to cross from one side to another.

The whole place is a wildlife photographer's dream. It took us hours to drive a short distance because every few minutes we would stop to take photographs of the abundance of birds flying around us: parrots, macaws, toucans, storks, herrons, egrits, kingfishers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, water birds, birds of prey…the list goes on. In addition to the birds, there were caimans everywhere. As an Australian, I have an inbuilt fear of crocodiles, and it took me awhile to feel comfortable being a few steps away from so many predators. Apparently they are not interested in humans though, and they didn't take much notice of us at all.

We spent two nights at a lodge near a river, and a third on a huge farm. It was great having the two different locations from which to explore, as there are so many different habitats close to each other. We arrived at the end of the wet season, so there was still a lot of water around. Many mammals were hiding or stuck on dry “islands” until the water recedes, so we weren't expecting to see many. The jaguars and pumas are elusive, but we did see ocelot tracks, so there were some cats around. We did end up seeing howler monkeys and silvery marmoset monkeys, loads of capybaras (which are the world's biggest rodent), a few peccary (wild pigs), marsh deer, red brocket deer, agouti and acouchy (smaller rodents) as well as a huge family group of coati (which look a bit like a small bear, but are similar to raccoons). We also saw a few rare animals: a tayra (giant land otter), caiman lizard, tamandua (anteater), crab-eating foxes, and Mark saw the flash of a Brazilian tapir, trying to hide from us.

The early starts were hard, but as a result we saw so many things we would not have otherwise known to look for. We went on one early morning horseride, as well as an evening ride through the grasslands and forest. There was still a significant amount of water around, which meant we had to ride a horse or go by boat to see most things. Suits me fine! One afternoon, we went out on a boat through the marsh and on to a river, where we saw many more birds and some tiny bats. A huge viewing platform was built on top of a tree, where we watched the sunset over the Pantanal and made our way back through the water-laden hiking trails by boat, under the watchful glare of caimans and the twinkle of fire flies.

Overall, it was a great adventure! I took so many photos, it is impossible to put them all here so I have picked out a few and put them in separate blog posts below to make it easier to follow. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

Saskia


Pantanal: Birds

White woodpecker with a colony of cormorants

 

Jabiru Stork, Herron, Amazon Kingfisher

 

Rhea

 

Crested Caracara, Savanna Hawk, Snail Kite

 

Blue and Yellow Macaw

 

Toucans and Hyacinth Macaws

 


Pantanal: Boat Trip

Rowing through the water lillies

 

Rio Clarinho

 

Coolest tree house ever!

 

At the top of the tree house, looking out over the Pantanal