We've seen lots of lions, leopards, and cheetahs running free in the wilds of Africa and we wanted to add jaguars to our list. I guess we are a bit obsessed with big cats! (Tigers are on the list, but I honestly don't know if we can brave the 110-degree Indian heat to see them...)
When I googled "best place to see jaguars in the wild," (you have to put "in the wild" otherwise Google directs you to Jaguar car dealerships!) this is the spot that came up consistently...on the Cuiaba River in the Pantanal.
So, as Nicolas put it, "to the Pantanal we will go!"
While it is possible to see jaguars near Rio Claro (we didn't), they are much more commonly sighted a 2-hour drive on the Transpantaneira Highway deeper into the Pantanal on the Cuiaba River.
Nicolas, along with Kim and I, had hoped we'd make several stops along the highway to take photos. After begrudgingly stopping for a quick shot of these wild rheas, Mr. Grumpy Pants put the truck in the big gear and sped as fast as he could go on the pot-hole-ridden dirt road toward Porto Jofre. Nicolas was sitting in the front seat and clearly not happy that we were going so fast and not stopping. Now I speak/understand neither Portuguese nor Spanish, but I know an argument when I hear one and about halfway there Nicolas and Mr. Grumpy Pants were verbally dueling it out. From the back seat, Kim and I looked at each other wide-eyed, truly worried that Mr. Grumpy Pants might stop the truck and throw us out on the highway in the 100-degree heat many, many kilometers from any sort of civilization. (Nicolas told us later that Mr. Grumpy Pants did indeed threaten to do just that!) After the argument subsided, about 15 minutes of awkward complete silence ensued, still speeding down the road. Eventually I couldn't stand the tension any more, and struck up a random conversation with Nicolas and we made it to the hotel without further incident. No more stops...but I would have been afraid to get out of the truck if Mr. Grumpy Pants had stopped, for fear he would take off without us.
We were all relieved to see this sign and Mr. Grumpy Pants delivered us and left. We would not see him again, as Nicolas quickly contacted Mr. Grumpy Pants's boss and requested a different driver for our return trip in 3 days. I'm sure Mr. Grumpy Pants was happy to oblige the request...I think he'd had enough of us, for sure!
Anyway, after a somewhat tense trip, we were here! And what a fantastic greeting committee! A large flock of hyacinth macaws make this their home base, so I got plenty of macaw photo ops during our stay.
There it is! The Cuiaba River! This lodge is a popular destination for big-time sports fishermen as well as jaguar-spotters.
Our room (on the left) and Nicolas's. Behind our cottage is a pond with many, many water birds and capybaras hanging around. We literally just walked out our door to be surrounded by amazing wildlife!
Our room...functional and fairly clean, but most importantly AIR-CONDITIONED!
The dining room...a lot snazzier than Rio Claro's, but much busier and I can't say the food was any better. We actually preferred the charm and intimacy of Rio Claro...
But we didn't come here for the food or accommodations, we came to see jaguars!
So after a good night's sleep, we arose early to meet our boatman Marcelo who took us out in the speed boat each morning to do just that.
Early mornings are the best time of day to spot jaguars. Most animals are more active in the early morning or at dusk, when it's cooler out. Our hopes were high and the adrenaline was flowing. Let's find us some jags!
We had barely made it away from the dock when Marcelo's radio buzzed...a jaguar had been spotted nearby! Many boats are out on this big river and its tributaries, all looking for jaguars. When one is spotted, the boatmen all communicate with each other and converge on that spot.
We were late to the party...when we arrived a few minutes after the call, the jaguar had disappeared into the grass. Several boats full of people were there, still hoping for another glimpse of the creature. After scanning that direction, Marcelo's eagle eyes began looking around and there was another jaguar, on another island just across the river! Marcelo was the first to spot it, so after he had secured the best position for our boat he radioed the other boats who were already nearby.
Wow! We were so excited! We had dreamed of seeing a jaguar and here was one, right smack dab in front of us!
He nonchalantly watched us, his belly obviously full, as what turned out to be 15 boats jockeyed into position. We were in front, thanks to Marcelo!
Some very serious photographers there...Kim said probably over $1 million of photography equipment all focused on that one jaguar.
And he couldn't care less. What's the fuss all about?
After watching him about 15 minutes, he decided to take a nap and we left in search of another jaguar.
It wasn't long until the radio buzzed again, and we headed toward our second jaguar sighting of the morning.
This beautiful girl was on top of a bluff...
We watched her get up and walk down toward the river....
See the beautiful "necklace" markings on her throat? Those markings are used to identify individual jaguars, as each cat has unique patterns.
We thought she might pause for a drink, but she kept moving....
...climbing back up the bank and eventually disappearing into the brush.
Wow! Two jaguar sightings in less than an hour!!!
The Cuiaba River is so large and has so many tributaries, we could cruise all by ourselves through the quiet waters for a long time without seeing another boat.
Always on the lookout for something extraordinary!
But we were thrilled with the "ordinary"...nothing ordinary about caimans on the riverbank to this Indiana girl....
Jabiru nest high in the tree...with a chick that only a momma jabiru could love....
This photo makes me laugh...a lapwing strutting its stuff....
A pair of "lovely" screamers...they have some heavy-duty legs and feet!
A buff-necked ibis...
And a frolicking family of giant river otters...
...to cap off a fantastic first morning!
We did see a third jaguar briefly through grass blades, but it disappeared just as quickly as it appeared so no photo opportunity.
After lunch and a short break, we headed back to the dock about 2:30 in search of more jaguars...and other interesting critters.
At news of a jaguar spotting, we joined other boats in a river race to the location. In Africa they call this a Ferrari Safari. In Brazil it's just hang on, here we go! Exhilarating and, I have to admit, quite fun!
Alas, when we arrived at the designated spot, the jaguar had left. Nicolas tried to get a better vantage point, but we never did see that cat.
And while we didn't see any more jaguars that afternoon, we did have this cool encounter...a caiman eating an anaconda! You can just barely see the snake hanging from his mouth here...
...but then he swam to a better spot for us to watch.
That was very, very cool!!!
What a great day, a dream fulfilled as we had come to the Pantanal...
...in search of jaguars.