The Pantanal is the worlds largest interior wetland. Its 14 times the size of the Florida Everglades and extravagantly vital. Ive never been to a place where the air had so many wings in it. If there wasnt a big wading stork or heron, there was a hawk or a tropical scene of hyacinths and macaws. Its an explosion of colors, cries, and wings. If I were a birding enthusiast, this would be the number one place to go on the planet. Ive been a lot of places, but I dont recall anyplace as spectacular as this.
Marshlands support a real lushness of life, but its often tricky to find wildlife or see it because the marshes are hard to get around in. But we were riding horseback with Pantanal cowboys, so we had an extra-high perch.
Looking for jaguars in the Pantanal was dramatic enough, but I felt such joy being in a place that supports so much life that seeing jaguars almost became secondary.
After poking around for jaguars during the day in the dry forest of the Yucatán, we went back to camp at night, soaped down in the makeshift shower, and spent the next half hour or 40 minutes picking off little ticks before they turned into big ticks. But even with such diligence, Im sure we missed a few. Scores of them attacked us every day. In the whole scheme of things it wasnt that bad; its one of those things that comes with doing this kind of assignment.
Steve Winter and I were on our way to a place called Chan Chich, the site of Maya ruins and a plantation that attracts bird-watchers. We were driving along the road when I saw the most incredible bird. It was about thigh high with a blue head covered with red wattles and tail feathers like a peacock. I was beside myself when Steve drove right by it. Oh my God! You didnt even slow down! I yelled. But Steve just took it in stride and told me we would see more. How many times had I heard that before? You never see more, a point I proved when we went back and the magnificent bird had disappeared. I was very annoyed; I hadnt even gotten a good look at it.
When we reached our destination in Chan Chich, I had to hang my head in shame. There were so many of these birdscalled ocellated turkeysthat we had to push them aside to get through the door.