Bom Dia from Brazil - Sandra and friends

Sandra Kossacoff

22 Sep 2016

Experiencing Iguazu Falls

We have had an incredible first week in Brazil. We started our travels in the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, the magnificent waterfalls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. We arrived several hours before our friends and travel companions Nancy and Russ. Shortly after retrieving our luggage and meeting our guide, we jumped onto a helicopter for a tour over the entire waterfall and river system; very dramatic! We then checked into the beautiful Hotel das Cataratas, the only hotel located within the Brazilian national park, just steps from the Brazilian nature trails overlooking the falls. We checked in and quickly departed for a two hour hike, ending at sunset over the falls. Our friends arrived in time for a casual dinner and a caipirinha toast to the beginning of the trip. Off to bed to recover from our flights.

We had an early departure on Sunday morning to cross over to Argentina to experience the Argentinian side of the falls. We were one of the first in the park and caught the first train to the famous Devil's Throat waterfall. Experiencing the power of the water and the amazing natural beauty, we then continued on an extensive hike to view all of the major vistas of the over 200 falls in the park. We boarded a boat that rode up to and into the falls, getting totally soaked! It was exhilarating! We finished with an open air truck ride through the rainforest and lunch at a typical Argentinian buffet. We then crossed the border again and spent the late afternoon at an interesting bird park, viewing about 1200 bird species, mostly South American natives. 

We enjoyed a lovely Brazilian dinner at the hotel and turned in, happy and well fed.

Our final morning in Iguazu, we took an early hike on the Brazilian side to see the incredible view of the Argentinian side of the falls. We then took two flights to Rio de Janeiro to start our Olympic experience! We had a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant and turned in to get some rest.

The Rio Olympics

We started our Rio 2016 Olympic Games experience at the finals of equestrian eventing at the Deodoro Stadium. We learned about the event as none of us knew much about this competition. The family of a Zimbabwean equestrian athlete explained the events and standings to us and made it very enjoyable. We watched the team and individual medals being presented, so it was very exciting! We then returned to the hotel for dinner and back to the Maracanazinho Stadium for two men's volleyball games, watching Egypt v Cuba and Brazil v Canada. Brazilian fans are so exciting and passionate! We had a blast!

We got up early on Wednesday for a full day tour of Rio. We rode the cable cars to Sugarloaf Mountain, toured the Selaron Steps, Santa Theresa, Downtown, Colombo Cafe, several beautiful churches, lunch at a typical Brazilian restaurant, Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado, the Tijuca Forest and the San Martin favela where Michael Jackson filmed his famous video for the song "They Don't Really Care About Us." The guide dropped us at public transportation for a 1-1/2 hour ride to the Olympic Village, where we watched Team USA play Australia in men's basketball. We then rode all the way back to our hotel via public transportation, some of which had only been completed just a day or two before the Games started.

We gave ourselves a little rest on Thursday morning, starting out for Ipanema and Copacabana in the late morning. We walked around and explored the neighborhoods and had an early dinner at an Italian cafe along Copacabana beach. We then went to our last event, watching Italy v Mexico and Team USA v Brazil in men's volleyball. One of the most exciting competitions we have ever experienced due to the raucous Brazilian fans!! We loved every minute!! Go Team USA!!

Jaguars of the pantanal

We had a very early flight on Friday morning to begin the nature portion of our trip. We took 2 flights to Cuiaba, met our guide, had lunch and then drove 6 hours down the Transpanatiera Highway to take a speed boat to our floating hotel, the Southwild Flotel. The hotel does not actually move; it is moored to the riverbank and is well positioned on the river to be able to take speed boats to view wildlife along the rivers in the area. After dinner, we all fell asleep early, totally exhausted from our travels and exciting week before.

We had an early breakfast and set out at 7 am on Saturday with our guide in search of the famous jaguars. We saw the tall Jabiru stork, egrets, herons, hawks, vultures, swallows, kingfishers and other birds. The Pantanal is home to over 15 million caiman, easily exceeding the human population of 3 million people, so caiman were plentiful. We saw families of capybara, a large rodent like mammal. We saw the giant river otter eating fish, a sleeping anaconda snake, a caiman with a fish in its mouth and a tapir swimming across the river. Most fantastic of all, we were able to watch a female jaguar on the riverbank for 1-1/2 hours while she strolled along thinking about her next meal. We saw one other jaguar as well for a much shorter period. 

It was a phenomenal first day!

Today we searched for more jaguars but they were more elusive, hiding away or just napping in thick bushes or under trees, making them difficult to spot. We did see two jaguars napping, but their colouring made them more difficult to see. We were on the river for over 9 hours today, covering a very large territory. We saw many of the other species of wildlife we had seen the day before as well, including a family of giant river otters calling to each other. Very exciting experiences, especially as our boat would speed down the river to try to find the jaguars for us!!

Final jaguar encounter

We had our final incredible jaguar encounter as we departed the Southwild Flotel. We were packed and loaded with all of our luggage in a speedboat and set off after breakfast for our final excursion before our transfer to the land portion of our experience in the Pantanal. Our guide quickly directed us to a jaguar which had been spotted about 10 minutes by boat from the flotel. When we arrived, several boats were anchored below a 12 foot cliff above their river, watching a large male jaguar sleeping next to a tree at the top of the cliff. We anchored as well and spent about 30-40 minutes watching the jaguar nap, patiently hoping that he would wake up before we had to leave. Some of the boats gave up, leaving just a core of devoted jaguar watchers waiting for the jaguar to awaken. Suddenly, the jaguar sat up and stretched. Then he stared with a fixed, intense gaze into the water hyacinth floating at the base of the cliff just below him. With a powerful leap, the jaguar jumped into the water to try to catch a caiman for his breakfast!! The jaguar was almost successful, but the caiman managed to elude him. The jaguar swam up to the small beach below the cliff and sat there for a few minutes to contemplate the loss of his meal. Then with a mighty leap and two massive jumps, the jaguar climbed back up the 12 foot cliff again! He walked back and forth for a bit, then settled himself back under his tree for another nap.

It was truly magical and extraordinary to see this enormous, magnificent feline in his natural habitat.

Bom dia from the southern Amazon

We then had to continue back down the river to Porto Jofre to drive down the Transpanatiera Highway. While we transferred to our air conditioned van, the guide pointed out the nest in a tree trunk for the hyacinth macaw, a beautiful blue and white bird. We stopped for lunch at a Southwild lodge and were able to climb an observation tower to view the nest of a Jabiru stork with 3 baby storks under their mother's care. We arrived at the Pouso Alegre lodge in the mid-afternoon and were shown to our rooms. In the late afternoon, our local guide took us on a walk around the property to begin our hunt for animals and birds. In no time, we saw capuchin monkeys, marmosets, hundreds of caiman, toucans, Jabiru storks, marsh deer, red brocket deer, brown brocket deer and foxes. We walked back to the lodge after dark and it was a little eerie to be walking along a path with caiman on both sides. Fortunately, we arrived safely at the lodge and had a nice dinner before heading off to bed.

Nancy and I agreed to get up before sunrise on Tuesday morning to see if we could spot some of the nocturnal animals, with the men electing to get some extra sleep. We set off with our guide at 5am, pitch black except for the moon and stars. We walked back along the main road of the lodge, seeing a caiman with a fish in its mouth, a raccoon fishing for breakfast and another Jabiru stork nest with 2 adults and 4 babies. After breakfast, Howard, Russ and I set off for a 2 hour horseback ride across the ranch (Nancy is allergic to horses). In addition to beautiful birds and vistas, we saw a large male rhea (related to the ostrich) sitting on a nest of 2 dozen eggs. The rhea ran a short distance away, allowing us to see the eggs and returned to sit on them when we rode off. After lunch and a siesta, we set off a late afternoon drive, in hopes of seeing more mammals. We went to a watering hole in a beautiful clearing where mammals typically congregate at dusk, but did not see any new animals. Our guide was determined to find more animals for us so we set off again in the vehicle after dinner. 

We found foxes, tapirs, deer, a lesser anteater and more birds! So off to sleep we went.

Seeing the final mammal on our list

Nancy and I got up early again on Wednesday morning to take a drive to see animals while the men once again slept in. We saw an ocelot in the distance, coati and several foxes; one fox even feeling confident enough to lie down next to the vehicle and curl up for a nap! After breakfast, we set off for another lodge located next to the Rio Claro for a boat ride on the river and the chance to do some fishing. We first hiked up to an observation platform overlooking the vast forest. The river was serene and peaceful, as we slowly floated and watched birds. Our guide pulled out some wooden fishing poles and baited them with meat for us. He quickly caught a piranha and showed us the fish's sharp teeth before releasing it back into the water. After he caught 2 more fish and we failed at our attempts, he coached Nancy and she soon caught the biggest fish of the day! Russ and Howard each caught a piranha and I gave up and instead took photos of the successful fishermen (and woman)! 

We had lunch at that lodge and returned to our lodge after a rest in hammocks and interactions with a macaw that was hanging out in the communal gathering area. In the late afternoon, we took another game drive and returned to the watering hole. We watched a tapir swimming in the watering hole. After patiently waiting for about 1/2 an hour, several coati came to the watering hole, followed by two foxes. Suddenly, a giant feather duster emerged from the vegetation. It was a female giant anteater carrying her baby on her back! It was so exciting as this was the last animal that our guide was desperate for us to see before leaving the Pantanal!! 

We decided to forego our evening drive as we had checked the last mammal off our list!

Cristalino Lodge

On Thursday morning, we had an early breakfast and drove back along the Transpanatiera Highway to the airport in Cuiaba. We boarded a flight to Alta Floresta and were transferred by van and boat to our final accommodations at the Cristalino Lodge, a lovely eco-lodge on the Cristalino River in the southern Amazon. The lodge is solar powered and everything is recycled. We met our guide and 2 other couples who were assigned to our group. We got settled, had dinner and took a short nocturnal walk around the property, seeing a tarantula, a poisonous spider and some other interesting insects. Remarkably, there are very few biting insects (and no Zika) in this region, so we are most grateful, although we continue to religiously apply insect repellent.  

We woke early Friday morning and departed after breakfast for a boat ride along the Cristalino River and a fairly strenuous 1-1/2 hour hike. We hiked through three types of forest: a typical rainforest, one that inundates during the rainy season and a deciduous forest at the top of a steep granite mountain. We had an incredible view of the whole region and enjoyed the vistas. We hiked back to our boat and spent another few hours looking for birds and mammals. We also disembarked along the river to visit a cashew tree plantation and sample some cashew juice. We saw a family of giant otters napping near our lodge and enjoyed watching them get comfortable and occasionally stare back at us as we watched them. Nancy, Russ and Howard decided to brave the piranhas and caiman in the river and take a quick swim from a floating deck attached to the dock. 

After lunch, everyone retired to their rooms for a nap. In the late afternoon, we met at the dock and got into kayaks for a 6.5km ride down the river. We saw birds and monkeys as we paddled down the river. Toward the end of the river, we had to face a set of small rapids before we got off the kayaks and back into the speed boat for the ride back upriver. Sandra and Howard successfully negotiated the first set of rapids, but unfortunately Nancy and Russ hit a protruding rock and were toppled into the water. No injuries, just totally soaked clothes and shoes, a pair of lost sunglasses, and many stories of their bravery under duress! We all successful navigated the second set of rapids, pulled over to the riverbed and boarded the speedboat to return to the lodge. 

We enjoyed a lovely dinner with our group and some refreshing caipirinhas!

We had an extra 1/2 hour of sleep this Saturday morning and departed for a hike to the largest Brazil nut tree in the region. It was a flat walk through the rainforest to the tree. It took 8 of us to put our arms completely around the 400-500 year old tree. We returned to the boat and spent more time watching birds, tapirs, lizards and more along the riverbanks. Late this afternoon, we hiked from the lodge to an observation platform in the rainforest canopy to look for more birds and watch the sunset.

We took an early hike on Sunday morning to another observation deck to watch the sun rise and to look for birds. We then had breakfast, time for a quick shower and close our suitcases as we began our 24 hour journey back to the real world. We took a boat and a van to Alta Floresta, enjoyed lunch at the sister hotel to this lodge and took 2 domestic flights to Sao Paolo. We then boarded our international flight back to Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m., landing at LAX on Monday, August 22 at 7 a.m. Howard and Russ were straight back to work and Sandra and Nancy were ready to wash the laundry, sort mail and get ready for the week ahead.

As we completed our Brazil adventure, we have joked along the way about the "100 Ways to Die in Brazil" (tongue in cheek, of course) with our theme song of "Staying Alive." Here are some examples of potential dangers from the different regions of the country:

  • Iguazu Falls -- Death by waterfall, boat capsizing, jaguar, snakes
  • Rio -- crime, Zika virus, crime, non-pacified favelas, crime, Ryan Lochte's version of "crime"
  • Pantanal river area -- jaguar, caiman, anaconda, caiman, boa constrictor, caiman
  • Pantanal ranch area -- ticks, caiman, viper snakes, caiman, vines, caiman, piranha, caiman, spiders
  • Southern Amazon area -- bushwacker snake, caiman, scorpion, camiain, tarantula, caiman, piranha, caiman

So, a very safe country to visit! Come see for yourself!

Thanks for taking the time to read about our Brazilian adventures! We had a great time and look forward to returning sometime to explore more of this amazing and interesting country!

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