Gliding up and down the Cuiaba river, eyes desperately searching along the banks and into the vegetation beyond, just to catch the glimpse of a tail or a whisker, or better still the sleek silhouette of a Jaguar. No such luck. The clouds came out of nowhere, the wind picked up and suddenly our boat was turning around and heading back towards the pier at Porto Jofre.
My heart sank as I realised that, despite a generous handful of sightings the day before, I was not going to see one of the elegant cats with my own eyes.
My experience of the Northern Pantanal last year was wonderful, and the icing on the cake would have been a Jaguar sighting, but of course it is never guaranteed and with only one day on the water searching for the famed feline, my chances were already reduced. Throw in some unusually bad weather and the likeliness of cat spotting was pretty minuscule.
A fortuitous trip to the Southern Pantanal has provided me with a second chance to explore the area and whilst the distances are large to get to the best lodges, the reward is vast expanses of farm land belonging to each fazenda where wildlife is plentiful and can be explored by horseback, boats and jeeps. By a happy coincidence, the lodge that I am staying at, Barra Mansa, is the same fazenda that Michael Palin chose for his BBC series on Brazil.
This morning we set off on horseback as the sun was rising, passing lakes full of capybara, South America‘s enormous rodent, and riding through clusters of bacuri palms with a scattering of colourful macaws and toucans. I didn’t even dare to hope that we would have a cat sighting but suddenly my guide Joao pointed underneath a tree about 10 metres ahead of us where a magnificent puma was resting. No time to take a photo, I could only enjoy the moment as I looked it in the eye, then, just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished, leaving only its tracks behind.