We packed up and left Ecolodge Itororó around 6 o’clock on Sunday morning, July 8, and it wasn’t until late Monday afternoon that we were holding cameras in our hands again and photographing wildlife. It was only 36 hours or so, but it felt like forever.
The Glenn Bartley workshop is somewhat distinctive among Brazil photo workshops, in that it offers four days of shooting in the Atlantic Forest followed by six days in the Pantanal. That was part of what appealed to me about the trip; many other trips focus entirely on the Pantanal. But Brazil is a big country, and getting from the Atlantic Forest to the Pantanal makes a travel day inevitable. You can see from the Google Map I created for myself for the trip that there’s a big gap between the two regions—they’re about 1,000 miles apart.
So a van picked us up at Itororó and drove us to the domestic airport in Rio de Janeiro, about two hours away. There, we took a GOL Airlines flight to Brasilia, and, after a layover, another GOL flight from Brasilia to Cuiabá—a city of nearly 600,000 people that is essentially the gateway to the Pantanal region.
Andy Foster, Glenn’s co-leader, was invaluable in many ways throughout the trip, and especially so as we navigated airport check-in counters, security lines, and the like. Andy is a Brit who has spent many years in Brazil and speaks fluent Portuguese. I know enough Portuguese to ask someone, Você fala inglês? (Do you speak English?)—and quite frequently in Brazil the answer was an apologetic shake of the head. So when there was a mixup with someone’s boarding pass, Andy could take them back to the check-in counter and get it straightened out. And when a gate agent looked at my ThinkTank carry-on bag full of camera gear and said something I didn’t understand—but that I clearly knew meant “That bag looks awfully big; I’m gonna make you check it”—Andy stepped in and spoke with her in Portuguese (I heard something about máquina fotográfica), and she backed off.
Incidentally, though I didn’t speak much of the language, I felt at home in other ways—for example, I saw plenty of U.S. brands throughout Brazil, as is the case just about everywhere in the world, it seems. The airport in Brasilia had a tempting freezer case full of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at 10.9 Brazilian reals—about $2.80 U.S.—per pint, and snack shops offered M&Ms, Pringles, and Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels, along with Brazilian brands. (I’ve also been amazed to see Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels in a grocery store in Lima, Peru, and a convenience store in Shanghai.) For lunch at the airport, several of us hit the McDonald’s, which might seem gauche to you, but we had been eating Brazilian food for a week and needed something a little more familiar. I also saw a Subway, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut at the airport. Not saying this is a good thing, necessarily! Just telling you what I observed.
Once we got to Cuiabá, we were met by Ricardo Casarin, who would serve as our local guide for the Pantanal portion of the trip. Visitors to the Pantanal are required to have a guide, as I understand it, and we were happy to have Ricardo—he was extremely knowledgable and personable, and was interested in photography to boot. And his presence meant that there were three leaders and seven participants, which is a pretty luxurious ratio.
Our plan was to spend the night at an eco-resort northeast of Cuiabá, then do some photography in the morning in the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park; Glenn said we’d be targeting swallow tanagers, saltators, red and green macaws, some sort of puffbird, and I forget what else. We’d head south to the Pantanal after that. Unfortunately, we woke in the morning to a monsoon—unrelenting, wind-driven, sideways rain that looked like it could go on for a month. So the trip to the national park was scrapped and instead, Glenn got his laptop and held an impromptu Photoshop tutorial for us. One of the trip participants, an Australian named Geoff, offered up a photo he had taken of a blond-crested woodpecker, and Glenn showed how he would process the photo in Photoshop. (Geoff had gotten the photo on a solo walk on the trails near Itororó; none of the rest of us had seen the woodpecker, much less gotten photos. At one point during the Photoshop session, Alan—one of the other participants—jokingly asked Geoff, “Can I have your outtakes?”)
Later in the morning we checked out of the eco-resort and drove back to Cuiabá, where we had lunch at an interesting Brazilian barbecue place called Nativas Grill—the wait staff are constantly swarming the table, offering you different kinds of meats that they slice off for you on the spot. Not an experience a vegetarian would enjoy! Then we drove south another two hours to our first lodge in the Pantanal—and there, we finally resumed photographing wildlife.
Which I’ll tell you about in the next post.