Friday, April 7, 2017

Scissors, Drums, Water, Wheels and Rope: Lessons in Trust

It's kind of amazing the way that travel can affect you...  It pulls you out of your comfort zone and brings you face to face with who you are.  These 8 months have been no exception.  Within this time, I have been extraordinarily uncomfortable, dumbfounded with awe, blissful, profoundly homesick, terribly grateful, and very aware of my own shortcomings and strengths.  This post has a slightly different tone than those of my past.  I aim here to share more of my learnings from travel, rather than the travel itself.

Over the last week, I have been in positions were I needed to give up my control.  I am a naturally careful and notoriously bossy person, used to being in control of my own experience, taking every precaution, etc.  Here in Brazil, I have needed to let go, and just trust, whether it was another person, an object protecting me, or myself.

Here goes:


São Paulo, Brazil

Most recently, I had to let go and trust in a way that most people do all the time:  getting a haircut.  

That probably sounds laughable, since this is a regular practice for most, but I haven't had my hair cut since 1995, when I first started cutting it myself with a swiss army knife while traveling in Zimbabwe.  Doing the math, that's 20 years of not having anyone else doing my hair.  With the expensive price tag of a salon cut, it was easy to begin doing it myself, and the habit stuck.  During this trip, the harsh deserts, glaciers, wind and sun, have dried out my hair, leaving it a frizzy mess, so I decided to get a haircut with my friend.  In addition to the 20 year gap in care, I was really nervous to have someone doing my hair for 2 other reasons: 1) I couldn't communicate well enough in Portuguese,  2) I didn't want to cut it short.  Nonetheless, despite my misgivings, I let go, and trusted.  The guy does this for a living, after all, it's not some rando with a Flowbee.  After a luxurious shampoo, the haircut itself was quick and simple, and it was finished with a blow dry.  I spent most of the time trying to concentrate on breathing and unclenching my nervous fists.  In the end, it was a bit shorter than I hoped, but, here's the result!  What do you think?

Snapshot the day after the haircut
Courtesy of my friend Vivianne


São Paulo, Brazil

An old friend of mine got me into latin dancing years ago, and I still love to go whenever I can.  Here in Brazil, there is no salsa, but a variety of local styles, including the well-known samba and capoeira (although the later is considered a martial art).   When my new friends learned that I love to dance, they decided to teach me a new one:  forro.  It is a great fusion style, bearing resemblance to both salsa and bachata.

Why is this included in a post about trust, you might ask?  Well, if you have ever danced with a partner, you know at least some of where this is going.  Firstly, the woman's job is to follow.  We read the body signals of our partner in order to know where we are moving to and what step is coming next.  This is very literally letting go of control and following.  Complicating it, of course, was that I don't speak Portuguese well-enough yet to be able to ask my partner to explain something, or to teach me a move I don't know.

My big challenge came last week, on my 4th or 5th evening of forro.  Up until this point, I had taken to the dance somewhat easily, following different partners, trying music at different tempos, and adapting to different styles.  On this night, however, my partner and I just could not match up.  As I put it, "we heard different beats."  I was trying so hard to hear what he was hearing, how the beats fell in a way that made sense to his body.  I can tell you, this was incredibly frustrating!  I would look down at his feet, concentrating on the beat, glancing around to the feet around us to see whether maybe, in fact, it was just him!  No such luck.  Everyone else was on the same beat as he.  As I continued to struggle, I got more and more embarrassed with myself, feeling bad for this guy who patiently tried to carry me along.  By the end of the song, I think I was pretty much there, closing my eyes and using my partners encouragement to listen to the drum beats.  I still couldn't really  hear what he was hearing, but I was able to follow.

Candid shot by my sneaky friend Edson


Bonito, Brazil

Sometimes lessons in trust are accomplished alone, no encouraging arms carrying you through.  Instead, you engage a little bit of adrenaline and jump.  I took that 'leap' on a beautiful river one day, where I went tubing with some friends.  Most of the river was calm, the steady current meandering through trees and water lilies.  When it wasn't calm, however, it was class 2 rapids (at worst a 1.5 meter drop).  We were kitted out in cushy tubes, lifejackets and helmets, so the risks were really minimal, but that didn't stop my heart from beating out of my chest at the top of each rapid!  It didn't help that I completely tipped over on the first rapid, either!

A still from my go-pro video as my tube is vertical, tossing me into the churning water below.

Once I flipped on the first rapid, I had nothing to lose; I was already soaked.  From then on, I took the rapids in the less secure (but more exciting) face first position, trusting my gear and my own sense of balance to carry me through.  Success!  I never tipped again, and I had a blast!

Isn't she pretty, folks?!

We navigated the most dangerous rapid connected together like a snake!


Bonito and São Paulo, Brazil

One of my biggest lessons in trust was riding on motorbikes.    To save time and money, many Brazilians drive motorbikes instead of cars, weaving in and out of traffic and cutting hours off of commutes.  Before this, I had ridden on the back of such two-wheeled rockets only a couple times. I'm pretty sure that the entire time I was white-knuckled, clenching the driver and inhibiting their ability to breathe.  In Bonito, though, I had to use a mototaxi, about half the price of a full taxi on my own.  I very nervously stepped out of my hostel, strapping on the helmet and straddling the back seat.

It was a tough first ride, totaling almost an hour each way, including busy town streets, bumpy back roads, and lots and lots of potholes and speed bumps.  I spent the entire ride gripping the sides of my seat like my life depended on it, terrified to take even one hand off for even a second.  My whole body was so rigid, that when we arrived to my destination, I was already exhausted, and this was at 8am before my tour.  I couldn't tell you anything about the scenery we passed, but I remember how hard I concentrated on telling my body to relax, to breathe deeply and slowly, and to just trust that this very experienced driver knew what he was doing.   Fortunately, we arrived safe and sound, but as I stepped off the bike, my legs were made of jello.  I doubled over for a minute or so, just getting my wits about me again.   The way back was much easier, as I now had a general sense of what to expect and how to balance, and I almost even enjoyed it.

My driver slowed down for me so I could do a quick video on the way back.  Despite it being easier than the way there, I was still not comfortable enough to have even one hand off the railing at full speed.

Since that induction in Bonito, I have ridden on the back of a couple friends' bikes many times now.  Each time, it gets a bit easier to trust, let go and enjoy the ride.  Of course, I still have a helmet on each time, and my hands are usually on or near the railings, but I am no longer a ball of nervous energy, exhausted by the use of adrenaline by the time we arrive to our destination.  I am more relaxed, and even, dare I say, even looking forward to the ride?!

My fearless (but careful) driver, Edson

I got so comfortable, that I even began driving one myself!

Just kidding


Bonito, Brazil

Repelling down into Abismo Anhumas is by far the most emotionally challenging activity of my trip here in South America, requiring every ounce of trust and self-calm I possess.  The Abismo itself, is a 75m deep abyss that opens into a large cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites which one must literally repel down into through a 1 meter wide opening.

Don't be fooled!  This doesn't look like much, but wait until you see what's below!

Since this is a seriously dangerous activity, I had to participate in a training the day before to know how to use the equipment.

Here was my training the day before.  We practiced going up and down about 10 meters of rope, a small taste of the next day's challenges.
The next morning, I arrived to the activity after my hair-raising mototaxi ride, so my adrenaline was already firing and my body worn out.  Upon arrival, I was outfitted with a harness and helmet, waiting my turn to clip in and descend into the cavern.

The platform to begin the descent into the abyss.

Once I was clipped in, and was hanging above this 75 meter drop, my heart was pounding, I was sweating, and terrified.  Lots of trust was involved in this.  I had to trust that the equipment was sound, that the staff had attached everything correctly and securely, that the back-up systems were  solid, and that I would be physically able to complete the task.

Me, questioning my decision, and holding on for dear life

If I didn't make it back, he was to blame.  He suited me up, completed the safety checks, and controlled the back up rope.  Here is the view from the first person: my hands desperately grasping the rope holding me, trying not to think about just how dangerous this was.
Somehow, I was able to bury my fears enough to begin the descent.   The first 20 meters were tricky, slowly easing my way down through a narrow 1m wide crack, one hand at my side guiding the rope into the descender, and the other on the brake, controlling my speed of fall.  This part of the fall was actually emotionally easier, surprisingly.  At least, I thought, if something were to happen (you know those unrealistic 'what ifs' that run through our heads at moments like this), I could maybe wedge myself between the walls, rather than careening the 60 meters left down to the bottom...

First-hand view of the look down.  If you look closely, just to the right of my hand, you can see the bottom.  That dark square is the landing platform, floating on the water over 60 meters below me.

But then, after navigating through the narrow entrance, the abyss opened up underneath me.  It was then I could see the sun streaming in through the greenery outside, the ancient stalactites, the opalescent water, and of course, the huge drop.  That's when my brain kicked in, running away with 'what ifs.'  Making this worse, my braking hand was exhausted, having already been worn out by the grip of death on the back of a motorbike.  I couldn't switch hands, either, so instead I tried my best to muscle through.  It was slow going, the brake a lot more difficult to release than in the training, but I made it down eventually.

This is what I would have looked like coming down, so let's just pretend this is me.

There was a floating dock as a landing platform, so we were safe to wait on the platform as the rest of the group came down in turn.
Once I was down, I was finally able to let my body relax after all of the excitement.  I sat, exhausted,  and watched each pair come down.  Once my camera (along with the rest of our gear) was lowered down, I was able to experiment with capturing shots of the inside, despite the low light conditions.

This shot really captures the color of the water, and the ominous, enormous stalagmites piercing the surface of the water.

Once everyone from my group made it down safely, we got into our very thick wetsuits, hoods, and boots, some of the group snorkeling, and 2 of us scuba diving.  Even before the dive could start, 2 women actually had to be lifted out of the cavern, experiencing anxiety and nausea, presumably due to the depth and confined space.  Thankfully, despite my many fears, this place didn't trigger any of them, so I suited up and got ready to descend again, this time into the freezing cold water.

The dive was surprisingly nondescript.  Visibility was really low because there just wasn't enough light entering the cave at this time of year.  The flashlights helped, but not much.  We weaved in and around the rock formations, marveling that something like this could exist.  After the dive, I came up the the surface, cold and tired, but thankful for this incredibly unique experience.

Selfie under water in an ancient cave?  Yes, please

Just one of the peaks of the rocks, silhouetted against the light from the surface

Looking up on one of the snorkelers

So that's it!  5 solid lessons in letting go and trusting.  What did I learn from all of this?  Well, that I'm way more nervous of a person than I thought, but that I'm also braver than I thought, able to overcome tremendous nerves and do something new.  I've learned that a certain amount of nerves is healthy and productive, keeping us safe, but then there are times when we really let fear hold us back.  In the end, I think we are all capable of a lot more than we think, myself included.  I'm thankful for these lessons, as they remind me just how lucky I am to be here, doing these once-in-a-lifetime things.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Pantanal: One of the Coolest Places, You've Never Heard of

Most people have never heard of the Pantanal, even people here in South America haven’t.  It was news to me, too.  But as I read more, and began making my decisions about where to go in Brazil, Pantanal rose quickly in my list of priorities.  The Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland in the world, extending through one whole state of Brazil, and into Bolivia and Paraguay.  Depending on the season, you can arrive to find the Pantanal flooded, or with low rivers, but regardless, it is known for teeming with wildlife, everything from fishing birds, to alligators, anacondas and jaguars.

Pools like this are all over the Pantanal!  They look super peaceful and quiet, but they come alive with life!
Plus you never really know what is lurking under the surface!

As soon as I heard this, of course, I had to go.  It didn’t matter to me that this was the worst time of year for sightings, that this was the season of insatiable and numerous mosquitos.  All that mattered was that it was a wildlife photographer’s paradise.  I was going.  So I turned up in the “nearby” town of Campo Grande around 8am one morning (really 4-5 hours away depending upon where in the Pantanal you are headed).  There was a tour agency right inside the bus station, and upon my inquiry, I found that a tour was leaving in 30 minutes, with space for me!  So off I went!

I spent the following five hour van ride chatting with the other folks in the tour: an older gentleman from London traveling around Brazil on his own for a month, a young Dutch couple at the start of a trip around South America, a young British guy in the middle of a trip of unknown duration, and 3 Israelis traveling for a year.  We swapped travel stories, photos, and discussed the state of the world between jokes that set us all laughing.

When the van finally stopped, we mistakenly assumed we had arrived, but instead found that we were switching to other vehicles, each headed to the specific fazendas where we were staying.  The guests and luggage were transferred to the proper vehicle, and we headed off for another 2.5 hours in the back of a truck, winding our way down a rustic, bumpy dirt road to our fazenda.  We spent the first part of this ride getting to know our new group, since the previous guests had been sent other places.  Our Dutch couple was replaced by a nice Danish couple, the 3 Israeli guys headed to another fazenda, and the two Brits were still with me.  Now that our view was unobstructed by windows or walls, we started paying attention to the sights outside the truck: flooded sections of river, lily pad filled pools, and birds of prey perched on tree branches and telephone poles hither and yon.

Our bottoms were most thankful when we finally pulled up in front of our new (temporary) home.  We unloaded, checked in, and received a brief orientation of the plan for the next few days.  We would stay as a group, with the same guide for 4 days, each day participating in 2 different activities, with meals placed between.  We settled into our rooms, trying to adjust to the powerful heat and humidity now that we didn’t have wind from a moving vehicle to cool us down.  The electricity was also out, so there were no fans or air conditioning to help.  I settled for a shower, and an open window, thankful for the screen mesh keeping thirsty insects on the outside.

Over the next few days, we went on walks, boat rides and “car safaris,” ate lots of great food and relaxed in the beautiful property of the fazenda.  We had some incredible animal sightings, so despite the miserably thick clouds of mosquitos, I decided to extend my stay.  In the end, I stayed 8 nights.  I saw groups come and go, went with a few different guides, and even was allowed to take the canoe out alone on the river one morning for a few hours. 

It turns out the rumors were true: it was not the best season to see wildlife (apparently August and September are the best).  I'm content with what we saw, but I can see where there's the potential for so much more. Most especially, they were right about the mosquitos.  I went on one hike where the mosquitos gathered in thick clouds.  Being my usual insatiable-to-mosquitos self, I suffered terribly despite all of my precautions.  I didn't go on any more hikes after that.

Over time, I learned a few tricks:  

  1. always wear long sleeves and pants.  It’s only unnecessary if it is really windy, 
  2. give up on repellent because it doesn’t last for more than 30 minutes with how much you sweat.  Instead, 
  3. carry a scarf or cloth that you can swat around to keep the mosquitos away,
  4. avoid wearing black, it actually attracts mosquitos,
  5. the best time for photos is always the worst for mosquitos, so, just be forewarned
  6. different animals like different weather conditions, so cloudy days you tend to see different things from sunny days,
  7. most importantly, spend as much time as possible soaking in the pool up to your ears.  Mosquitos can’t bite what is submerged.

I left the Pantanal very content, though definitely itchy.  I had seen so much that I want to go back again in the high season!  Unfortunately, though, my telephoto lens had begun malfunctioning in El Chaltén, and I’ve noticed that the image quality is severely diminished, so for now, wildlife photography is on pause until that is resolved.

Here are some of my favorite images from the Pantanal.  (Awesome sightings that I did not manage to photograph: a tapir!  One early morning car ride, the guide stopped the truck, and shone his searchlight to the right.  There was a very large tapir, meandering amongst  the bushes about 100 feet from us!  Also, a giant otter!  As we rode in the boat one morning, I said to the person next to me, “You know, the only thing I really want to see, that we haven’t, is a giant otter.”  Not 5 minutes later, to my right, and enormous otter sprinted across the river bank and splashed into the water.  I was as giddy and excited as a school girl!

Crimson-Crested Woodpecker (male)
We came upon this guy resting in a large hole in this empty palm.  He hopped out when we approached, and proceeded to hop his way out of our view repeatedly as we moved for, much as a toddler hides behind the leg of a parent when they meet someone new.
Greater Ani
I loved these birds more as I saw them.  In the shade, they look like ordinary black birds, but when you catch one in the sun like this, you see that really they shimmer with many shades of blue.

Red-Crested Cardinal (male)
These little guys spent a lot of time snacking on small seeds in feeders by the fazenda.  The males have this dramatic red crest, and the females are identical, minus the crest.

Neotropical Cormorant
Though I have already seems lots of these divers on my trip, it was a treat to see them again up close.  I happened to catch this one just as it got it's lunch.  I'm not sure what fish it is, but it certainly is strange.

Guira Cuckoo
When I first saw these birds, I thought they were the young of another.  They were noisy and skittish, always chirping to one another as they flew between trees.  I love their spiked mohawks.

Great Egrets
We drove by a part of river with about 50 egrets perched on a tree.  It was beautiful.  I snuck down to the shore with my camera, but they startled and flew away before I could capture it.  I caught them in motion instead.

Gilded Sapphire
You have to look closely to find it, but I managed to catch one decent shot of a hummingbird.  I love the name in Portuguese:  Bejaflor- kissing flower

Grey-necked  Wood-rail
The name for this bird really does not do it justice.  They can be seen pecking along the shore of the river.

Rufescent Tiger Heron
Though we saw a lot of this heron, it was very hard to photograph, quick to flee when we approached.  It's very thick neck has vertical black, white and maroon stripes, and it's about the same size as a Great Blue Heron.

Cocoi Heron
When I first saw one of these herons perched at the water's edge, I immediately thought it was a Great Blue Heron, but on closer inspection, the markings on this bird are much more dramatic.

Capped Heron
By far my favorite heron that I saw.  We joked a lot about this one, because he is basically David Bowie as a bird:  a shimmering, translucent beak in shades of magenta and turquoise, a black pompadour, and long, streaming feathers trailing from it's head.  Lovely

Green Ibis
One of three types of Ibis I saw on the Pantanal.  They are all about the same size and body shape, with coloration as the only variation.

Jaibru, (male left, female right)
This is the official bird of the Pantanal.  These very large heron-like birds have a very thick, black neck.  The females have a bright red ring at the base and the males a faded red/pinkish ring.

Jaibru (male)
I was so lucky that this Jaibru happened to fly right over my as we were out in the boat.  I caught this one good shot before it was out of sight.

Amazon Kingfisher (male)
I had only heard of Kingfishers before, never having seen one with my own eyes.  I was excited to find that there were 5 types to be found in the Pantanal.  In the end, I only saw two types, but they were both spectacular.

Ringed Kingfisher, (male)
I was not able to get any good shots of Kingfishers my first few days in Pantanal, but once I learned more of their behavior, I got better about knowing when to catch them.  

Monk Parakeet
These little noisy guys were also regulars at the bird feeders.  They would swarm the area in groups of 20 or more, chatting to one another as they ate.

Nanday Parakeets
You could hear a flock of parakeets coming a few minutes before they reached you.  They are constantly calling to one another, and making their presence known.

Roseate Spoonbill
I heard of this type of bird only a few months ago.  I didn't know birds existed with a ladle-shaped bill!  I was so excited when I saw this one wading through a pond.  Though it was far away, I was thankful for the sighting, and was raving about it to the other folks in the group.

Yellow-billed Tern
Much like with the Egrets, a large flock of these birds were resting on a fallen tree as we happened by.  They startled at the sight of our boat, but I caught this one image before they were out of sight.

Black Vultures
Vultures were a really common sighting on the Pantanal.  Black were the most common, but also lots of Turkey Vultures.  It wasn't until about halfway through my trip, though, that I actually saw them eating.  Here, they found a large Caiman to feast on.

This huge tower was completely covered with vultures.  It makes sense, since they were the tallest things around for miles.  Every pole had at least a few on it, but this one was impressively full.

Left:  Toco Toucans, Right: Parakeets (type unknown)
Though I have seen one or two toucans before in my travels, the Pantanal is the first place where they almost became commonplace.  I watched this pair for a long time one morning as they hopped from branch to branch.  They seemed to be monitoring the view from every angle.
Toco Toucan
After many failed attempts, I was glad to finally get a clear shot of a Toucan in flight.  This one crossed the river as we floated downstream.

Chestnut-eared Aracari
This was by far the coolest bird on the Pantanal.  It's small, and was not a frequent visitor, but it's bright colorations, unusual proportions, and scarcity made it a favorite sighting.
Buff-necked Ibis
This was the bird I have seen all over, but I loved this in Black and White, or as they say in Portuguese, preto e branco.

Red-and-green Macaw
The fazenda where I was staying had a pair of Macaws who have been coming there for years.  At this point they were partially tame.  They hang out in the bushes, drop discarded nut shells from the branches above, and squawk and wrestle all over the ground.  I loved getting an up-close view

Red-and-green MacawThe pair of them, wrestling and playing in the dirt. 
Red-and-green MacawThe same pair, snuggilng.

Cross-breed Macaw
This was easily my favorite macaw.  It is a cross breed between the Red-and-green and the Blue-and-yellow macaws.  He comes by the fazenda every so often.  He was the most beautiful shade of orange, unlike any bird I've ever seen.

Hyacinth Macaws
This was the rarest bird I saw on the Pantanal.  These spectacular macaws are the color of Indigo, the yellow details around their eyes and beaks bright against the blue.  I stopped in my tracks when I realized what I saw from the road.  From so far away, they almost couldn't be seen, but as I drew closer, this is what I saw.  They gathered here to eat large, thick nuts that covered the ground.

Hyacinth MacawsThese are more from the same group above.  You can see the large seeds in their beaks.  They would grip the seed firmly with one foot, persistently breaking off the thick shell to get to a soft, waxy nut inside.  

Photographicus Americus
I almost didn't see this feather, as it was turned over, revealing the grey underside and obscuring the spectacular blue.  I'm pretty sure I yelped audibly when I realized what I had found.

Another common sight on the banks of the rivers and ponds were caiman.  The smallest we saw was probably 1 meter/3 feet, up to as big as almost 3 meters!    I loved this one.  You can tell he is really watching me.

It was a rare day that the river was this calm.  I was excited to catch this perfect reflection.

One hot day, all the Caimans we passed had their mouths open to cool off.  It gave me the unique chance to see just what their teeth are like...    I think I'll keep my toes out of the water, thank you.

I can see you.....

This smaller Caiman lingered around this spot for a while.  It took me some time before I realized that the large, rock-like lump to the left is actually the bloated abdomen of another dead one.

White-lipped Peccaries
Another species in residence at my fazenda was 3 generations of peccary.  8 years ago, 2 baby peccaries were abandoned on the edge of the property due to a huge storm that flooded the area.  The owner took them in, bottle fed them, and kept them healthy.  From that point on, they divided their time between the fazenda and the forrest, coming and going as they pleased.  Now, the female has raised 2 following generations of peccary.  Though they still come and go between the fazenda and the wild, a group of 15 or so of varying sizes are a pretty common sight on campus.

White-lipped Peccary
One of the 2nd generation peccaries.

White-lipped PeccaryThese two are the newest generation of Pecarry around the fazenda.  They were the smallest and most wary of people, but boy were they cute! 

White-lipped PeccaryOften the matriarch would nuzzle each member of her family as they lay down.  It looks almost like a massage.  She nuzzled her snout along the length of the other's body, wiggling it underneath the layers of thick, stiff quill-like bristles.  After finishing one row, she would move over, and start another, and another until every inch of her subject was nuzzled.  She herself, was a huge sucker for a scratch on her chin.  The first time I did this, she closed her eyes and leaned into my hand so hard that I thought she was going to fall over!

Howler Monkey (male)
Though I had heard Howlers a few different places, and caught slight glimpses before, this trip afforded me the best sightings yet!  I saw Howlers on a few different occasions, and the first photo is from a hike we took, where we heard this male in the branches above us.  He was very curious about us, and stopped calling once we were nearby to watch us.
Howler Monkey (family)
The next four photos are from my favorite sighting.  I left my room early for breakfast, but on the way to the dining room, I heard the growling call of the Howlers.  It is a really distinct sound.  I followed the sound down a path, through a small field and over some fences, to find a family of about 10 in one large tree.  One large male (the black blob to the right) lounged in the crook of the tree, two young females did acrobatics, and two mothers took care of their young.
Howler Monkey (female) This was one of the females caring for her young, though her young seemed much older than the other.  Although this looks like some sort of ferocious protective instinct, really she was just yawning.
Howler Monkey (female)
I stood in the early sun, being divebombed by hungry mosquitos, sweat dripping down my back from the hot, humid air.  I moved forward slowly so as not to startle them, and to give them time to adjust to my presence.  Once they were comfortable, this playful female made her way down the branch, eventually hanging by her tail, all for limbs reaching for the branch below her.
Howler Monkey (female)
This mother is still nursing this young male.  Most of the time that I was watching, she kept him thoroughly enwrapped in her embrace, clearly preparing to flee if it became clear that I was a threat.  Once she grew comfortable with me, I was able to get this full view.  It was very moving.

Deer (type unknown)
I was lucky enough to have numerous deer sightings while in the Pantanal.  According to my guides, I saw three of the five species that can be found there.  This was the best photo I captured, this one looking at me as intently as I was at her.
 I saw a few Capybara in the Amazon in Ecuador years ago, but this trip offered so many!  This is my best shot showing exactly what they look like.   To me, they look like a beaver's head and feet on a pig's body with lots of fur.  This one is the size of a Golden Retriever.
 This group was easily the most impressive.  This was a group of about 40 that we saw swimming in the river.  It was a very memorable sighting, because as soon as they saw us come down onto the riverbank, all of them froze!  We could see that it was a large group of adults, with a large group of young!  Then, suddenly, the lead Capybara starting barking out commands, much in the same tone and forcefulness of a drill sergeant.  With each guttural grunt, the rest of the family responded, slowly moving into formation.  I noticed that the adults formed a large circle, with the babies in the center.  The adults sat up high out of the water, while the young crouched down as low as they could, only their eyes, ears and nose visible.  The barking continued, urging everyone to stay into position.  Unfortunately the light was fading, so I didn't end up with a great photo, but this one serves to remind me of that moment.  

Capybara (mother and young)
You can't tell in this picture, but when we saw a mother alone with her pup the next day, she kept her eyes on us until we were out of sight.  She had a very no-nonsense look in her eyes.  I chose this photo, instead, because it shows you very clearly the young, and just how small and adorable they really are.
Capybara (family)
This photo is actually from my first Capybara sighting on this trip.  This family froze completely still as we approached.  They held fast, even as our guide drove the boat far too close, nearly hitting them!  It was amazing  You could tell that the babies were really nervous, but tried to hold fast like the adults.

So no jaguar sightings for me, despite the reputation.  Apparently it is more common in the north (I was in the south) and in the season I mentioned earlier.  So, I guess, the only questions is, how soon can I come back?