The best wildlife spotting in South America acts like a magnet, drawing in the national and international visitor. Pulling them through a glue of roadworks and an extraction of cash. The draw is a promise of the world’s noisiest mammal, a fat bottomed rodent and a prehistoric monster. The howler monkey, the capybara and the caiman. The usual teases, like a book’s flyer, are pasted along the roadside to encourage you in your onward quest. A fly infested roadkill carcase, followed, belatedly by a series of cut-out shadows and a request to respect the local fauna.
Then comes the prologue, that first distant spotting and the attendant excitement, the indistinct, distant photos of brown blobs, shot as they might transpire to be the sole record of the only sighting.
Like so many of these instances, there’s a script that must be followed. It’s more e-book than paper book. It’s not easy to jump ahead, to miss a chapter, to cheat and see what’s to come. The first chapter introduces the first character, that irreverent dictionary entry, that moves from a single specimen to a family group to a clan, to a giant rat without a scaly tail. You’re never more than ten feet from a capybara.
A similar scenario is produced for the caiman. They too are lethargic, lazy players content to bask in the reeds and sink quietly into the murk, leaving a single yellow, unblinking eye above the surface. The third shadow, the Howler Monkey’s Tale never made it to the printer’s mill, possibly because there wasn’t the roadkill introduction.
Got tired of rodent and amphibian counting, or neck wrenched from staring into simianless palms? Then turn around and watch the watchers. I get a vague sense of their dissatisfaction that they have come all this way to find that they must now take a prepared, pre-paid, packaged boat trip, and that their accommodation comes with an inclusive horse ride and a night time excursion. Most independent travellers don’t take kindly to being herded, channelled along with the pack. The sleepless, storm bound night won’t have helped, nor the time it takes chairing the escape committee.
All wildlife watching? Is it the best location? I still contend that a bicycle is the best. I now know that capybaras are noisy eaters, especially in the night, that a ria can out run a loaded bike, and that a dead fan belt still resembles a striking snake.
Postscript: now there’s the two foot iguana, tongue scenting, that’s just walked past my foot.