opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Travel Highlights 8: Pantanal Day 3

September 18th, 2007

Very early morning, while the howler monkeys still echo their gutteral growls across the jungle around us, and flocks of birds honk and “caroo!” above us, we hike to watch the sunset. Claire and Olivier, an amiable, well educated couple (she’s a neurosurgeon, he’s an architect) come with us, and we all tag behind the chipper, barefoot Mario through the back of strangers’ land and gardens. A partner of dusty mutts paw their way beside us, tongues already hanging out of slack jaws. From out of the twilight, unexpectedly, a trio of beagles sprint and lunge in our direction. I gasp. But the beagles force their way around us to the pair of mutts. One mutt speeds away, but the other is not so lucky. The beagles gang up on him, and all three pairs of pointy teeth sink into the mutt’s filthy fur and clamp down. The mutt cries in terror, a sharp yelp that makes me take a breath inwards. The mutt writhes with such quickness that he appears a tangle of skinny front legs, hind paws, long tail and body. I want to drive a shovel or tree branch into the beagles, who are relentless, but Mario treads on, and Claire and Olivier are right behind him, and even James urges me to stay close. There is nothing I can do, as I am a Canadian girl unaccustomed to dangerous dogs in Brazil. If I take action, I could end up with three sets of glinty beagle chompers through my ankles. So, frustrated and hoping for the best, I walk on.

The sunset is a beautiful vivid pink from where we watch it on the trestle bridge above the Rio Miranda, but my thoughts fly back to the mutt and the image of the locked jaws upon him. I suppose this is life in Brazil. Animals live and die without any of our silly human interception, let alone “dog spas”. Perhaps it isn’t a great way to go, but isn’t much different from the wild boar who tries to ungrapple herself from the caiman’s scissor teeth, or the capybara who, unlike Choochooga, finds himself in the strong grip of a rank smelling anaconda. It is the cycle of nature, is it not? And yet, I feel angry towards the beagles, those unthinking iron-fist militants of the dog world. On our way back for breakfast, I expect to see the dying mutt, blood spilling from its body and congealing in the warm air. I watch out for the beagles. But neither the bloody mutt nor the bastardly beagles I see. Back at the camp, I am startled by the sight of the mutt. He sprints and snuffles at the ground, nudges his nose into a mound of some sort of food. I look but can’t note any deep gouges, either. Did the beagles get tired of his wriggling? (Was it survival by wiggles?) Or did some owner mercifully call them off? Or did the beagles smell something else, something more satisfying, upon the air and leave the mutt for a potential meal? Mystified, but happy, I turn for breakfast.

After breakfast, we fish for piranha at the river’s edge with a simple bamboo sheath for a pole. I feel a pull on my line, and rapidly jerk my pole in the air, as taught to do. There is nothing though; the little bait fish has been nibbled away, but I have failed to catch the sneaky piranha. This happens several other times while people around me cry out joyously as they lure in big, fat fish. I begin to wonder if I am simply unlucky. I move downstream and stretch my line far into the water. Another pull on my line, and I wonder if I have been a victim of “the nibbler” again, but upon jerking the pole, a nice flat hand- sized piranha flies into the air as well. I dance a little at my success. Soon after, I catch three more piranha. I even unhook the steel piece out of the piranha’s mouth, (after learning how to do so), squeezing my fingers into the bloody, gooey part of the fish’s gills beside it’s teeth. Woowee! James catches a piranha and a very large fish as well, but only keeps the piranha for food. Later, our fish is fried, and in spite of my constant heartburn, I enjoy the fresh, moist taste of food I caught.

After a satisfying lunch, Mario’s eyes shine as he announces that we are to go tubing down the river. That is, down the river we just caught our piranha in. That is, the river that also sports caiman on its banks. It is the last day, and it is steaming hot, so I think, “What the heck! Why not?” Into the tin boat we pile once again, and our guide takes us upstream with black tubes in hand. A few of us are nervous. James and Olivier are trepidatious. Ed and Alice, the attractive British couple, head into the water first. Their tubes are nice and thick, the size of La-Z-Boy chairs. I look down at my patched up tube, thin and tiny, more like the size of a lifering. Mario is mischeviously splashing me, so I plunge my dinky tube into the water and kick water at him. Down the river I go…

We have all been told that piranha do not attack unless they can smell blood. While none of us have open cuts, it is still a bit troubling to think of sharp teethed fish swimming beneath our tubes. We watch as the caiman on the river banks slip into the water as we lazily pass. Oh dear. With something like gumption or stupidity, Claire slides out of her tube and begins to swim. Her toes are not nibbled, her breasts not bitten. Olivier, her partner, follows. Ed forces himself into the water, and even Alice foregoes the tube for a minute or two. Soon, I too am treading the slow moving river. James joins me quickly after. The water is refreshing, and all the more invigorating when one thinks of the perils beneath and at the side. I swim just long enough to call myself brave, and no more. Back into the tube I slide, happy to have swum, and all the happier to be in one piece!

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