Picture the scene. 40 degrees in the shade (that's Celsius for my transatlantic readers). A campo flicker giggles in the heat and greater rheas pick through the fallen fronds of Attalea phalerata palms (the Bolivian in me wants to call these motacú, but here that would be quite wrong). Here, then, is Brazil, the Pantanal, and outside, despite the heat, despite their having started at four this morning, the Chaco chachalacas chunter demonically.
Brazil. Yes. And your correspondent is perched, barely clothed, in the doorway of his tiny bathroom. Barely clothed because the heat in the middle of the day is unrelenting. In the bathroom because here is my only plug. There is wifi though. Wifi in a place where, when I left South America eight years ago, it would have been unimaginable. And my clients, with better access to plugs, are happy. Happy, to use the vernacular, as peccaries in shit.
I too am happy. In a way beyond words. Because here in central South America I'm home. I lived the other side of the border in Bolivia, yes, but these birds, these mammals, trees, pampas and forest islands are a home I made for myself during ten years here. Yesterday, having flown all night, as we drove from Cuiabá, past Poconé, to the beautiful ranch called Pouso Alegre, the birds, the mammals and the flowers came to me as from my heart. My home.
I have come to Brazil, of course, to look for jaguars. I would understand, though, if you thought I had desisted from my quest. If you thought that cats had dropped from my horizon. I have not written here in so very long.
And for this a few words of apology. I meant to. I had a list of the topics I would cover. Of the cat species I would discuss. Of the conservationists I would contact. Of the breeding programmes I would visit. I had a plan. But when I got home from Asia in May I was contacted by Norfolk Wildlife Trust with requests to lead on two exciting projects - a book and a local TV series - and somehow my summer was consumed by them.
I put down my pen (or, rather, sent my last Word file) on my contribution to the book on Thursday. On Friday I boarded a plane to Brazil, having not picked up a single book on the subject. And on Saturday I was driven, with my group and my superbly talented colleague Fiorella, down the Transpantaneira, yelping with delight as each old friend trotted by the track, swooped through the trees or belched in the water hyacinth wallows by the roadside. Red-legged seriema (the socori of my Bolivian days), toco toucan, yacaré caimans (in their thousands), crab-eating foxes and equally crab-eating racoons, orange-backed troupials (for you Tim: a glorious eye-thump) and - as I type these words their calls blare across the ranch - hyacinth macaws, greatest of all the world's parrots.
I am home. I am happy. I am hot. I will be looking for jaguars and writing here. I gave my word that I would. I would be honoured, on this South American leg of my adventures, if you would follow me as I do.