As we leave Miranda and drive down the desolate highway, we don’t completely lose contact with the wilderness, and even here there are animals to be seen. On the way we see toucans again flying overhead and crowds of caimans cavort in shallow pools under bridges. Vultures cavort among the reptiles. This type of alligator isn’t huge, but you wouldn’t play with the lizards. Every now and then a very big fellow stands out between the small specimens.
The caimans sunbathe on the shore or drift very slowly in the murky water. I have no idea what all these carnivores feed on. On the way we keep coming across similar waters that are full of caimans.
We reach a fork in the road. The country road continues to the left in the direction of Bolivia. The highway is full of heavy traffic. We turn right into the broken gravel road that leads back to the nature reserve.
We cross the Rio Miranda and see numerous excursion boats there. Mass tourism also has a bridgehead here.
We continue to find a quiet place for the night. The road offers the sighting of many animals at sunset. At a bridge a harpy flies right past us and on the other side an agouti scurries shyly into the bush.
Following iOverlander’s recommendation, we find a place on the map behind a bridge just off the road. For the first time we are not the only ones in one of these places and we see that a small yellow van has already stopped there. In the pond below us there are more small alligators. In between, I see the carcass of one of the reptiles. Bizarre. It’s getting late and we introduce ourselves to the neighbors for the night. Benjamin and Annie are from Belgium and have been on the road for a few months with their L300. They tell us that they did a tour with a guide themselves on the river.
The tour guide must have been a little weird, the two Belgians emphasize that while they talk about the self-proclaimed “Jaguar Man”. The man told them about this place.
There is said to be a jaguar here that regularly kills an alligator. We actually see two headless carcasses in the pool and it is likely that the jaguar will return and finish its meal there.
The two Belgians show us the scratch marks on the tree next to the pond and our vehicles, which indicate the territory of this cat. It might not be wise to be sitting out here in the evenings next to tall grass, talking about travel by candlelight and beer. These thoughts come to me at dusk as I set down my beer and an alligator leisurely crosses the road a few yards away.
The full moon rises and the sounds over the Pantanal increase. It’s getting a bit scary and we don’t dare pee outside again that night. I think I hear a big cat roaring outside.
The sun fills the Pantanal with red light and we are all still alive. Despite the location far from any town, there was a lot of traffic. A few trucks and pickups drove past us even during the night. I’m looking outside for jaguar tracks. I do not find any. Fortunately or unfortunately? Instead, an otter trotts across the street.
I’ll check the caimans. One of them got caught and the vultures are eating the leftovers. Better the lizard than us.. A japiru is fishing in the rays of the morning sun, the lizards are hiding in the water among the plants and the birds are making a loud concert in the trees. Sara comes out with Leon, but I don’t feel good about letting the two walk near the tall grass and home of a jaguar in hunting season.
We make breakfast and get ready. Then the Jaguar Man shows up with an elderly couple in a Ford Fiesta. I recognize the Jaguar Man immediately as he walks like a cowboy, wears a vest and boots and has a ponytail. As he approaches us, he very, very slowly ties a very, very large cutlass around his neck.
The man greets us in English and asks about the Belgian couple who are still snoring in their Mitsubishi. Are they okay, have they been out at night. Whether that was us escapes the Jaguar Dundee.
He tells us the same story again, that the jaguar with the child lives right down there in the bushes and that it is mating season and therefore the jaguars are particularly aggressive. He worked on a Jaguar research project. There are said to be 19 jaguars along the road here. He says goodbye and casually checks to see if the seniors might have been eaten by a jaguar or an alligator in his absence before driving off in their not-so-impressive Ford Fiesta.
Annelie is up a little later and also looks after the big cat. During the night she didn’t notice anything either.
We say goodbye and drive north on the road. We still find caimans at some ponds. “Crocodile infested” would describe the area in an adventure book.