Tuesday, 22 September 2015


The Transpantaneira is as extraordinary a road as you will find in the world anywhere. Built to bring cattle off the Pantanal, it stripes south in a straight line from Cuiabá to Porto Jofre, crossing on its way the many habitats of the world’s greatest freshwater wetland.

Black howler monkeys and their pale gold females weave through the trees by the road in the cool of morning. Beyond them silvery marmosets skip mercurial along the finest fronds, fizzing loudly as they go. A toco toucan swoops across the road, its bill in the early light the orange of a too-boiled carrot.

In the dying drying marshes egrets crowd and storks, feasting on the corralled fish and crabs. Coatis wave their banded tails in the shade of a palm and laughing falcons scowl – unamused – from the tops of stranded marsh trees.

A pygmy kingfisher – habitually a skulker in the shade – blazes bright on a perch over a small pool and nearby, in the Cyperus stands, scarlet-headed blackbirds blaze yet brighter still; the colour of their heads too saturated to be believed. A marsh deer grazes, leggy and black-nosed, and all the while vultures - black, turkey, lesser yellow-headed – cross the marsh, the forest and the road, hungering for life and death and a meal.

We reach Porto Jofre in fine time, the dirt road having just been graded. Then, from the boat which takes us to our floating hotel in the heart of the jaguar’s crisscross of rivers and creeks, there are black skimmers, pied lapwings, yellow-billed and large-billed terns.

At the hotel there is news of jaguars; a pair which for two days has been courting, resting, mating even, in the forest edge upriver. Whether they will be there this afternoon we cannot know. But we shall be there.

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