Caimans and Big Cats


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, February 03, 2004 was originally posted on February 06, 2004.

DAY 108:  The one thing about wilderness safaris is that, unlike a visit to the zoo, animals aren’t presented in convenient, sectioned off areas.  The one guarantee about safaris is that there is no guarantee you’ll see anything good.  I had come to the Pantanal in hopes of seeing big cats — pumas or jaguars — but was disheartened when I heard that one Croatian girl who had been there a month working in the camp hadn’t seen a big cat yet.

A BELL WOKE THE CAMP UP AT SIX O’CLOCK in the morning for breakfast, one hour before a seven o’clock hike through the wilderness to attempt to find some wildlife.  Nearby we heard the sound of a chainsaw cutting into a tree (for another hut I later discovered).

“They’re cutting down the rainforest.  They must be making a McDonald’s,” I joked to Ludovic, an Englishman with really frazzled hair.  He had been traveling with the others since Foz do Iguaçu and at one point had a really swollen foot.  With his big feet and Hobbit hair, everyone just started calling him Frodo and it stuck.

Our big group divided into halves.  Frodo’s and my half was led by the energetic Akuna who brought us on a three-hour trek through the diverse ecological environments of the Pantanal:

BACK IN BASE CAMP we rejoined the other group to swap stories; we were jealous when they told us they had seen black howler monkeys — we hadn’t seen anything that impressive just yet.

After a five-hour siesta period — when the many journal writers tended to their blank pages and the guide played rodeo, lassoing a makeshift cow made out of wood — we went off again on a hike in attempts to find something more impressive.  The Pantanal, thirteen times as big as Florida’s Everglades with the largest concentration of fauna in South America according to Lonely Planet, should have something for us to see other than birds.  Birds were everywhere that morning, but birds just didn’t do it for us.

Our guide Akuna, who we were soon discovering was a bit crazy (but in a good way), decided to stir things up for our walking safari.  Using nothing more than a stick and some string, he managed to lure a caiman from out of a nearby bog.  Using his gaucho lassoing techniques, he lassoed the reptile around the neck and pulled it up.  Holding the head for our safety (picture above), he let us pet the creature and pose with it for photos, slapping us in the ass with its tail as we finished. 

Akuna laid down the caiman on its back and rubbed its belly until it magically just fell asleep.  As each of us got closer to pet the sleeping animal, it suddenly woke up just in time for a hilarious scared look on Frodo’s face as he tried to hide behind me.  Akuna kept the caiman out of harm’s way with the leash until we let it go on its way.

A BIG STORM WAS APPROACHING in the distance.  The quiet Israeli Assaf gave it twenty minutes to reach us, but it was more like five and soon we were caught in a torrential downpour — but we didn’t let it stop our trek.  We waded through the muddy waters around a bog where Akuna went out to chase some more caimans — they were more afraid of him than the other way around.

In the bog we found an orphaned family of ducklings, which we were going to take back to camp in Craig’s hat — that is, until we realized that holding their feisty bodies signaled us that they just wanted to be let go.  Craig the Aussie was hoping we could feed one straight to a caiman for some live National Geographic action, but I think Akuna had chased all the caimans out of the area already.

TWO NEW AUSTRALIANS, Michael and Kaz, were in camp when we returned back in camp.  Michael wanted to try and get a game of pick-up soccer going.  We eventually got a six-on-six game going on the sloppy wet mud field nearby with small wooden goal posts and the occasional pile of horse shit.  We played in teams of Europe and Israel Vs. The Rest of the World.  Rather than try and remember everyone’s name, we called to each other just by country:  “Sweden!”  “U.S.!” “Aussie!” “Poland!” etc.  In the messy but fun game, Europe & Israel beat the Rest of The World before dinner.

Dinner was followed by tea which was followed by beers and caipirinhas.  I wasn’t in the mood to get stupid drunk, which was the complete opposite of the others.  The two Swedish guys had inside jokes amongst each other and giggled high-pitched like schoolgirls.  Craig used his Abercrombie & Fitch looks to get close to some of the girls.  Matt, a tall guy from the U.K., continued his Lord of the Rings references with Frodo—Frodo would always blame his actions with “It’s not me, its the power of The Ring!”  Deb the English goth girl from Birmingham was a loud powerhouse of drunken energy, stuttering like Ozzy Ozzbourne when he’s sober, threatening to piss on people’s faces in their hammocks.  I was sort of stuck in the crossfire of everything as my hammock was in the middle of all the action, and was swung over and over by the others.  As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them — or in my case, just sit quietly and observe the embarrassing entertainment of others.  Most of the night I soberly thought “Wow, do I act like that when I drink that much?” 

Everyone in the rest of camp was probably pissed off at our hut — we were so loud the animals in the area were probably pissed off as well.  The party went all night, which most people soon regretted since our wake up time was four o’clock in the morning for a pre-dawn safari, the prime time for spotting predators.  In the madness of my hut, I only slept for twenty minutes before having to get up.

GROGGILY, AND SOME STILL DRUNK, we piled in the truck and head out into the savannah.  Akuna shined a bright search light out onto the grasslands to see what we could find.  We found some emus, foxes and owls, but we really hit pay dirt with the sighting of a small puma.

Our truck raced around the plains, chasing the big cat in a big circle.  Akuna jumped off the truck, the mad Brazilian he was, and ran towards it.  He ducked low behind some tall grass in a pouncing position and in a flash, he jumped on top of the puma, holding its legs and claws down to keep from getting his face ripped off or eyes clawed out.  Another guide ran to his aid and together they held the puma triumphantly in the air.

“HERE IS THE PANTANAL!!!!” declared Akuna.

The crowd cheered with drunken “WOOOOOOO!“s.  I was glad I was sober enough to have remembered the thrilling event.  After all, on a safari in the Pantanal, there is no money back guarantee for pumas.

Next entry: The Last American Cowboy

Previous entry: Eight Hours to Nowhere

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Comments for “Caimans and Big Cats”

  • Wow, first!!!

    And yes, you do get like that when you’re drunk and then just pass out..

    Elaine - why don’t you make a collage of all your sleeping drunk Erik pics!?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/06  at  04:03 PM

  • JENN:  I need to grow my hair out again, so I can just blame everything on The Power of The Ring…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/06  at  04:10 PM

  • JENN:  I need to grow my hair out again, so I can just blame everything on The Power of The Ring…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/06  at  04:11 PM

  • I’ll second that, yes, you do get like that when you are drunk, don’t we all? (minus pre-dawn puma catching safaris)...oh yeah! I’ve witnessed E passed out a few times myself. Heehee.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/06  at  04:25 PM

  • I have to visit NYC when you get back E. I want in on these crazy stories!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/06  at  11:23 PM

  • TD0T:  Don’t worry… when I get back, there will be a big To Do in NYC.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/07  at  01:16 PM

  • EXCELLENT action photo (of the Puma!!)!! Great story, man!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/08  at  01:15 AM

  • aww, the caiman looked so cute, lying on its back. and i am glad you guys didn’t feed the poor little ducks to the caimans.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/08  at  02:38 PM

  • I had trouble viewing the photos in Netscape (the error message said the photos “contained errors”). I had better luck with IE, but my IE at home is ancient. Oh well. I’m playing catch-up anywho…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/14  at  07:38 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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