Posted 22 July 2009 - 04:03 PM
THE CAMPO GRANDE TO CAIMAN TRANSFER VAN, AKA THE WILDLIE EXPRESS
It’s probably not always The Wildlife Express, but it was for me.
There is a midday and an early evening air-conditioned 4-hour van transfer to Caiman Lodge from the Campo Grande airport each Thursday and Sunday, allowing 3- or 4-night stays. Or you can stay a week like I did. The same shuttle takes you back to the airport at the end of your stay. It is included in the cost of your stay. It is also possible to fly there on a small plane.
If you arrive on a morning flight into Campo Grande, as I did, you’ll be greeted by a rep with a Caiman sign but then be prepared to wait at the airport until the next flight with guests comes in. This wait was the only occasion during my trip where the Brazilian currency, the Real, was needed to buy a bottle of water or a snack. There was no place to change money here and you could not pay in dollars and get reals back in change.
If you do a group departure, such as International Expeditions offers, your group is immediately transferred to Caiman upon arrival in Campo Grande and you don’t have to wait around for more people.
The roads are excellent but speeds are fast and harrowing passing is the norm, therefore I would want the midday and not the evening/night transfer if possible. Plus it is harder to see animals at night because the comfortable air conditioned van is not equipped with spotlighting equipment.
Transfer Sighting #1: Around 4:00 pm cruising along at about 110 km/h, I spied a giant anteater along the fence of a property well to the side of the highway. I shouted, “Giant anteater! Giant anteater! I just saw a giant anteater!” The four Brits who were transferring with me were fatigued from a day of travel and not that excited and the driver spoke no English. At the time I did not know tamanduá was the Portuguese word for anteater. So I had to do my celebratory anteater spotting dance alone in the back seat. I kept it subdued.
One of the Brits asked me, “Did you get a picture?” She must have thought I had the photo genius of Art Wolfe to capture an image through tinted windows of a vehicle traveling 65 mph. Since my camera was packed away, I'd have to be part Harry Houdini as well.
Transfer Sighting #2: We stopped for gas shortly after the anteater and flitting around the trees of the gas station was the Blue and Yellow Macaw. It is seen in Campo Grande but not the Pantanal.
Transfer Sighting #3: The last leg of the transfer was on a firm dirt road that passed many ranches as well as undeveloped land. Suddenly, about 50 meters in front of us, a jaguar was walking down the road toward us. It stopped and watched our approaching vehicle before moving into heavy brush on the side of the road. A guide later confirmed that is a classic jaguar move; they always stop a moment and look. I was able to use one of my few Portuguese phrases: “Onça aqui!” (Jaguar here!) Had anyone in the vehicle sneezed with excitement over the jaguar sighting, I could have added, “Saúde.” (Sao oo djee)
I noted the location by observing the next ranch we encountered (don’t recall the full name of the ranch but it had the word Horizonte in it) so I could report where we saw the cat. The Caiman staff said that jaguars near that location are extremely rare. Typical, unpredictable jaguar behavior and similar to the only jaguar I saw on the Transpantaneira Highway two years ago. It was near the entrance to the Mato Grosso Best Western, where my guide had never encountered a jaguar and did not expect to see one. And at those prices, I doubt the jaguar will ever return! (Just kidding, I’m sure the Mato Grosso Best Western is reasonably priced and it was a great place to stay.)
Transfer Sighting #4: Not long after the jaguar, another spotted cat--this one much smaller--darted across the dirt road. It did not stop and look. We determined it was an ocelot. One of my guides said that in his 14 months at Caiman only once did he see a jaguar and an ocelot in one day.
Transfer Sighting #5: A giant anteater crossed the road.
Transfer Sighting #6: We were pulling into the Caiman Main Lodge area when a giant anteater came ambling along in the dusk. I frantically tried to open my dark tinted window, as the other guests had done at their seats, for a better view. One of the men even applied his brute force to the sliding window, but it wouldn’t budge.
Not knowing if this was my only chance for a good anteater sighting, I shouted, “My window won’t open! I want to see the anteater but it’s too dark through this glass! Let me out of here so I can see the anteater! This is terrible! The windows don’t open!” The driver did not understand my rantings and my vehicle-mates were without reaction, so we just drove on as I shouted one of my other few Portuguese words, “Pare! Pare!” It means Stop! Stop! but we didn’t.
Had I known I’d be privileged to see a total of 31 giant anteaters, I would have curtailed my distress. I would like to be able to write, “I saw 31 giant anteaters and have the photos to prove it,” but I actually have few photos of this species. About half the sightings were at night which hinders the photography; many were at dusk with the animal moving around a lot, also hindering photography. Some were at a distance of a couple hundred meters and most of the animals were shy during the daylight hours. The first anteater was spotted while we were going 65 mph; one darted across the road during the transfer; one had the stuck tinted window problem; one was partially submerged taking a bath; a couple were at night when the vehicle could not be turned off if the spotlight was to maintain power, so taking photos was out; one was part of a cattle stampede; one visited us at night after we watched hundreds of parrots bed down for the night in the trees; one was annoyed by a Rhea (a big bird); and 3 were babies holding onto their mothers’ backs.
I know these excuses sound similar forgetting to remove the lens cap and then being too frightened to focus when the alien spaceship lands in the backyard, resulting in scant photographic evidence.
So the difference between Art Wolfe and me is that he sees one giant anteater and makes a flippin’ documentary out of it marching around in the sunset. I see 31 and can barely manage a keeper photo. Another difference is that for most of the 31 giant anteaters I was able to observe and appreciate the behavior of these fascinating creatures with my naked eye or binocs for prolonged periods under circumstances that may not produce a picture, but do produce a lasting memory.
I thought I made a final gray-form jagarundi sighting in the headlights of the vehicle upon arrival at Caiman’s Cordliheira Lodge, but I was informed it was only a gray domestic house cat.
The combination of the turmoil of the missed anteater, 38 hours of non-stop travel, a dark back seat of the van, and my flashlight packed away, resulted in me hopping out of the vehicle, sans binoculars. Obrigda to the driver, who did a vehicle search before heading out and finding my binoculars.
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)