The ranger told me not to worry about the jaguars. They almost never attack humans. True, there was one incident recently where a guy was walking with dogs, the dogs went after a jaguar and the guy was hurt rather badly in the ensuing melee. But that was an isolated incident. No humans have been attacked an eaten by jaguars in these parts for a very long time. “Have no fear of the jaguars,” says the ranger. “But they will probably run away before you can snap a photo.”
Nevertheless, when the jaguar crosses my path in the midst of my morning walking meditation, I do have fear… lots of it. I don’t think about trying to snap a photo. I only hope that she doesn’t attack and eat me…
The third day of my cargo boat journey is actually rather terrific. Shortly after my fruit and yogurt breakfast, I find myself squeezed on to an upper interior bench watching an older indigenous Guarani man quietly strum a guitar. The boat pulls into a small village and to my great delight I watch a different passenger vacate a hammock and get off the boat. I go immediately to see the kitchen man who is in charge of the hammocks and he rents it to me for 10,000 guarani ($2.50 US). After two days of psychological homelessness, my soul is very happy to have a tiny spot that will serve as home.
It’s amazing how much difference a hammock can make. I station my backpack, water bottle and boots next to a nearby wall to complete my personal nest and climb inside. I have a view out the window of the passing shoreline and a slight breeze blows in from the front. How good is this life? Comfort is relative my friends. A hammock on a crowded cargo boat has the potential to be the best little homestead in the whole wide world.
I’m not really sure why, but having a base of operations also makes it easier for me to socialize. During the final day and a half of the boat journey, I have so many fascinating conversations, I can’t possibly record them all. It’s amazing really, all I have to do is apply the one simple principle of niceness and different people from far away cultures open up and tell me about their lives. So that’s what I do for the rest of the boat journey. I alternate between relaxing in my comfortable hammock and strolling about the ship trying to “be nice” to strangers.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, we arrive in Bahia Negra; the end of the line for the cargo boat ride. Much to my surprise, I am greeted upon disembarkation by the military police and an immigration officer. This frightens me slightly because I’m still carrying all my unsmoked weed. But it’s really just a routine document check because we are close to the Brazilian border. They don’t search me at all. Thankfully, I am also greeted by one of the rangers from Tres Gigantes; the place I reserved a cabin at way back in Asuncion.
It takes about an hour for the rangers to buy a weeks worth of supplies and load up the small motor boat. They get almost everything we need from the ship I just came in on. With our full little boat we motor on upstream at a very fast pace. The river gets narrower and narrower until we branch left onto the Rio Negra which is a lot smaller and also cleaner than the muddy brown Rio Paraguay. The new river twists, the new river turns and the scenery seems to transform. I am immersed in a whole new world that is known as the Pantanal.
In case you are unfamiliar with South American geography, the Pantanal is a vast swampland with an interior maze of interconnected streams, small rivers and channels on the southern side of the Amazon jungle. Most of it is in Brazil, some is in Bolivia and a small part extends down into Paraguay. The entire region is teeming with wildlife and hyper-intense biodiversity. The “Tres Gigantes” environmental station is only an hour and a half by motor boat from the small town of Bahia Negra. But located right there on the edge of the mighty Pantanal, it seems like a whole other planet. Wow! Holy smokes! This place really is paradise.
I honestly don’t know if I have ever stayed at a nicer place. It’s a modern Eco-friendly set up with solar electricity, rain water for drinking and river water for everything else. I’m the only guest but there are four rangers or workers who run the place and live there full time. I’m shown a room upon arrival and its an amazing room. It has a screened in porch that overlooks the river, a fully functional interior bathroom, and a truly glorious ceiling fan above a very big bed. How happy am I? I go immediately to the shower to wash off the four day cargo boat journey. Afterwards, I click on the ceiling fan and collapse on the bed. I don’t wake up until it starts getting dark. I head downstairs to the common room and find that dinner is served. My god… It’s a regular feast. A Paraguayan asado with big hunks of meat, potatoes, vegetables and a side dish of rice and cheese. How hungry am I? How much do I eat? Afterwards, I go straight to bed and to sleep.
I awake for an early big breakfast the following morning. Over coffee and mate’, one of the rangers, Neri, tells me about the wildlife in the area that I might possibly see while walking on the nearby trails. The number and variety of species in the vicinity is truly incredible. The name of the place (tres Gigantes) refers to the more unusual creatures in these parts; the giant anteater, the giant armadillo and the giant nutria (like a beaver). I’d really like to see any or all of those fascinating manifestations of mother nature’s sense of humor. But there are also monkeys and caiman and birds galore. There are lizards and butterflies and spiders. There are deer and foxes and snakes. The scariest possibility is, of course, the jaguar because they occasionally hunt humans. And the jaguar is only one of several types of large cats I might see. But Neri tells me not to worry. A jaguar won’t attack me, it will probably run away before I can snap a photo.
It’s still early morning when Neri shows me the trails. He walks with me on one loop and points out the rest. There are only three or four miles of trails that loop through the jungle and along the river but that should be sufficient to meet my needs. After all, I’m not looking to get lost here. I’m not in search of a crazy life-threatening adventure. I only want a place to hang out, smoke some weed, write some stories and walk in the jungle. This tiny piece of the Pantanal seems perfect for that purpose.
After my morning’s orientation, the rangers leave me on my own. I didn’t sign up for a tour or program or anything like that. I only paid for lodging and food. The four friendly guys have things to do and they go about their day. I will see them only at mealtimes. For the next week or so, I will be living in solitude. Which is just what I want.
I begin my first walking meditation almost immediately. In other words, I smoke a joint and wander around on the jungle trails. Some of the trails are under canopy and some of the trails are exposed. The sunlight is intense and so are the mosquitoes but that is just normal in Pantanal world. I’m not sure how it happens, perhaps it’s just the weed, but I feel that special click inside and disappear into the experience. Only one question remains now as I become one with the jungle. I wonder what other nice animals I will see…