Added 3 September 2006
Day 18: Friday, June 23, 2006
Since we had pretty good luck birding the previous morning at the Hotel Floresta Amazonica, we opted for an earlier start, and going birding before breakfast. It proved to be a fruitful decision, as we saw 27 species of bird and three species of mammals, a few of which we had not seen before. We went down to the ponds west of the hotel, and I got some great scarlet macaw (Ara macao) pictures, and what I hope are some good shots of some chestnut-eared araçari (Pteroglossus castanotis). While stalking the macaw, I was sneaking along the shore of the pond in fairly thick vegetation when a capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) spooked and rushed into the water, scaring the living bejeezus out of me. It was then that I noticed a whole herd of capybara further down the shore. If the light had been better, it would have made for a great picture. As I tried to get a shot of them, they spooked en masse, which also sent my coveted hopes of a better scarlet macaw picture flying into thin air. I found a phenomenal place to wait for their return, but they never came back, and after 20 minutes or so I gave up.
We then walked back to the hotel for breakfast before taking a short hike on Trahla dos Primates to see what we could find and try to revisit the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) nest to see if we could get lucky enough to see one of the adults. When we arrived at the nest, the baby was nowhere to be found, but the adult female was on the nest eating something pretty big, though we couldn't tell just what it was. We never got a really great look at the female since she was within the nest, but I got some pretty good shots. After a while, she flew away, and with my running really low on shots on my memory card, decided to leave, with me changing lenses as we walked so I could use my final shots on some beautiful flowers we'd seen on the way in. We were about 20 meters down the trail when Fabricio looked back and the female was sitting higher in the nest, so we raced back and I changed back to my big zoom lens. I took a couple of shots, then went back and deleted some shots that weren't as good to free up memory. Then, amazingly, the male showed up, right as my memory card was full. Fortunately, I then remembered that I had another memory card in my pack, and I quickly switched cards. I then got what I think are some amazing shots of the male in flight as he moved about the nest tree.
After a while, the male flew off again, leaving only the female. With some great shots under my belt, and figuring we'd spent enough time in their presence, we decided to head back to the hotel. The harpy eagles provided a fantastic finale to our visit. On the way back, we saw a brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella robustus) really close. Unfortunately, I was caught with the wrong lens again, and by the time I got my large zoom back on the camera, the monkey had moved much higher into the thick canopy and the best shots were missed.
Once back at the beginning of the trail, I stopped to take some pictures of some beautiful flowers there, and told Fabricio that I might be a while and that if he wanted, he could head back to his room. After I got my flower pictures, I thought it might be a good idea to make one last check of the tree where we saw the scarlet macaws to see if perhaps they had returned, so Shan and I hiked down to the ponds to check. The ponds were pretty quiet, and there were no macaws to be found, so we headed back to our room to finish our packing and shower for the beginning of our journey back to Arizona.
Though before leaving the lodge a day early, I had been disappointed about the decision, we got really lucky at the hotel, and in the end, I don't have any major regrets about leaving the jungle lodge a day early. And it certainly made Shan happier, which makes life for everyone easier.
I was a bit concerned about getting all of our normal gear plus the souvenirs we bought into our bags, but it proved to be far less difficult than I imagined. We got everything ready to go early, so instead of sitting in our room, we thought we'd wander around the hotel a bit. As we approached the lobby, we saw Wil and Amy walking the other way. I hailed them down and we chatted briefly. Then Zuleica, the blonde Brazilian that Chuck liked, saw us and we chatted for a bit. By the time we parted it was nearly time for us to meet Fabricio for lunch, so we just went into the dinning room and waited for him. The buffet lunch got delayed so we ended up not eating until around 12:30. We were supposed to leave the hotel to go to the airport between 1:00 and 1:30, but due to the late lunch and some billing difficulties, we ended up not leaving until about a quarter to two. Fortunately, it isn't far to the airport. Equally fortunate is that the airport is tiny, has no security check, and so far as I know only has one commercial flight serving it, so it isn't a huge deal to arrive close to the departure time.
Unfortunately, the airline serving Alta Floresta is Tryp, which I'm sure is a fine airline, but they were unable to ticket us all the way through to Sao Paolo. Instead they gave us a couple of hand-written tickets that looked dubious. On top of that, they lost our TAM travel passes. How they lost them in such a small ticketing area is beyond me. Had Fabricio not been with us, I would have been a little concerned, but I had the utmost confidence in his abilities to get us on our flight to Sao Paolo. Complicating matters, however, was the fact that under optimal conditions, we would only have 40 minutes to disembark, get the whole ticket thing sorted out, and get onto our next flight.
Another small snag was that the Tryp staff wouldn't let us take our carry-on suitcases as carry-on items, so we had to check them through all the way to Sao Paolo. One of them contained all of the souvenirs we'd purchased, the other contained all of my expensive camera gear. Fabricio fought hard for me to be able to keep the one with my camera gear in it, but we lost in the end. Still, even though I couldn't understand most of what he was saying, I think he gave them a pretty stern warning about the importance of its contents, and they ended up putting two "Fragile" tags on it. I hoped that Brazilian baggage handlers weren't like some of the American ones I've known, and that the Fragile tags wouldn't lead them to subject my bag to treatment that not even a mountain gorilla could inflict.
Our flight from Alta Floresta got off the ground a few minutes late, and landed in Cuiabá ten minutes late, shortening our available time to get everything sorted out with the tickets to a mere 30 minutes. Thankfully, there was hardly any line at the TAM ticket counter, and by the time Fabricio joined us there, we were half of the way to getting our tickets to Sao Paolo. I don't remember the name of the ticketing agent, but she seemed completely unfazed by tickets that only had "Sao Paolo" and our names hand-written on them and took care of everything quickly. Kudos to her, whoever she is. Our next slight snag was that the line to go through security was quite long, so before we even finished getting our tickets, I had Shan get in line.
With our tickets in hand, we parted ways with Fabricio with handhakes, hugs, and many "abrigodos." We left him with a couple hundred US dollars, and Shan's boots and gaiters as thank yous for him making our trip to Brazil such a fantastic one. After parting, Shan and I took turns holding our place in line while making quick restroom stops. Fabricio called a taxi to take him home to Poconé, though he would be back in several hours with his friends for a concert and a party to start off his five days off before his next tour.
We made it through security slowly and made our flight with a few minutes to spare. But the real fear started welling up once we got on the plane and I read the little placard on the back of the seat in front of me. It told me that there was a live vest under my seat! The unknown overcame me. I wasn't sure whether a live vest might be prone to attack or not, and if so, what form that attack might come in so that I could best prepare my defense. Apparently my fears were over-rated, as the rest of our trip to Sao Paolo was uneventful, but there was one lingering unknown ahead of us. Instead of flying into Guarulhos, where we started from, TAM returned us to Congonhas, another major airport in Sao Paolo. Congonhas was nowhere near our hotel, so we figured we would have one heck of an expensive taxi ride to get to our hotel, if we could even find a taxi driver in Congonhas familiar enough with Guarulhos to get us to the hotel at all.
Another possibility was to take a bus from Congonhas to the airport at Guarulhos, then take the hotel shuttle or a taxi from there to the hotel. We found a bus service from one airport to the other that was R$24 per person, making me think that a taxi ride would be really expensive. We found the information center in the airport, so Shan could ask about craft buying opportunities, and we tried determining the best way to get to Guarulhos as well. Unfortunately, the staff there didn't speak English, but just as we were about to give up, someone who did speak English showed up and in true Brazilian fashion, was a huge help. When she found out we were flying TAM, she said that TAM operates a free bus from one airport to the other that we could take. Not only that, she went with us on the 5-10 minute walk to the place where the bus was, helping us with other information along the way. Again, I didn't get her name, but we are extremely grateful to her.
I was a tiny bit concerned about them letting us on the bus, as we didn't have a connecting flight at Guarulhos with TAM Airlines, which I'm assuming is the main purpose of the bus, but our ticket stubs for our previous flight got us on the bus. Shan did notice that the ticket checker looked at them twice though. Perhaps he was either being nice, or simply didn't want to deal with arguing with a couple of people who didn't speak Portuguese. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the 11:00 p.m. departure of the bus, and the bus ride itself took about 35-40 minutes. At Guarulhos airport, Shan again went to the information booth, and we go some very rough directions for a craft market of sorts within walking distance of our hotel. It sounded at least somewhat promising, especially in light of all of the other places we had found on the internet before the trip were about 45 minutes driving time (meaning an expensive taxi ride) away from our hotel. After the information booth, we decided to check quickly if the hotel shuttle was there before paying for a taxi to take us to the airport.
Due to the lateness of the day, I was fully prepared to get a taxi immediately if the bus wasn't there. I wasn't about to make the same mistake of waiting a long time for the bus again! When we walked out of the hotel, I saw the hotel shuttle at the end of the terminal. Shan and I broke into a run, not wanting to miss it. It turns out we were chasing down a bus without even a driver in it. Fortunately there weren't too many people around to see the dumb Americans chasing a bus that wasn't going anywhere. Within a minute, the driver returned to the bus, loaded our luggage, and we were soon checking back in to the Meliá Confort Hotel. The hotel shuttle experience this time was the complete antithesis of our last experience. And not only was our entire journey from Congonhas to the hotel free, I suspect it may have even been nearly as fast as taking a taxi, as I firmly believe it would have been difficult for a taxi driver not familiar with the area to get us to the hotel without trouble. I estimate the taxi ride would have cost at least R$100 too.
Once at the hotel, we informed the hotel staff that we would be unable to go to Embu das Artes and asked them to cancel the driver they had arranged for the next day. It wasn't long before we were in bed, looking forward to being able to sleep in the next morning. It had been a long day.
Species list for the day (26 birds, 3 mammals):
Capped Heron (Pilherodius pileatus)
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus)
Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja)
Wattled Jacana (Jacana jacana)
Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis)
Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti)
Blue-and-yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna)
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severa)
Red-bellied Macaw (Ara manilata)
Blue-winged Macaw (Ara maracana)
Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus)
Mealy Parrot (Amazona farinosa)
Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)
Violaceous Trogon (Trogon violaceus)
Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona)
Black-fronted Nunbird (Monasa nigrifrons)
Chestnut-eared Araçari (Pteroglossus castanotis)
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus)
Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus)
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
Magpie Tanager (Cissopis leveriana)
Red-capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis)
Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela)
Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus)
Brown Capuchin (Cebus apella robustus )
Capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris)
Azara's Agouti (Dasyprocta azarae)