I know that I have lived a fortunate, exciting, and happy life. I have traveled to all fifty states, and have been on all continents except Antarctica. Every major trip I've taken has been memorable. But this trip was different. I felt it from the very beginning. It took me to a zone - intellectually and emotionally - where I'd not been before. There are specific reasons why this was the case, and I will, over a series of posts, relay some of those specifics, while detailing each day in turn.
Rock canyon outside of Cuiabá.
For starters, this trip was two years delayed. We were supposed to take this tour in 2020...until COVID happened. Again in 2021, Brazil was particularly hard hit by COVID. We remained determined, and so we were able to do it in 2022. Part of my preparation was starting to study Portuguese using the DuoLingo app. This turned out to be a great decision, not because I have become strong in the language, but because Brazilians were so friendly that they complimented my efforts and worked with me. It gave me an "in" that I would not otherwise have had. And I enjoyed road signs.
Our Pet - Subtle! "Subil" must have some other meaning. Storefront in Cuiabá.
The tour company we chose was WINGS, and specifically their Senior Field Trip Leader, Rich Hoyer, who is a friend of ours of many years. We knew we could depend on his naturalist skills implicitly and explicitly, and we were not disappointed. The six other people on our trip - Frank, Margaret, Jean, Jan, David and Anne - were easy-going companions and dedicated birders. Everyone got along with each other. They even put up with my requests for silence when recording, and teased me about my passion for lichens.
What happened to me in Brazil and Argentina was an extended - indeed, relentless - brain saturation. Between the new birds, the new habitats, my drive to document, the new language and culture, and the lack of sleep that one expects on such tours, my brain was absorbing new information in a constant flow unmatched by anything I've experienced since graduate school. Other international birding trips I've taken have exposed me to new birds and information far more gradually, and with more down time, during which I could try to integrate the new data. This time the rigors of working around the midday heat mitigated against extra sleep, and there weren't many opportunities for solo explorations.
I could express this statistically - 540 bird species total, 408 life birds, 2100 iNaturalist observations, etc. etc. This conveys the quantity of the information flow. But the quality was just as stunning. So much beauty! Rich, who has done this trip many times, adroitly mixed habitats, so that every day, at least once, I'd find myself in a place with a new flora, a different mix of insects, presence or absence of lichens, rock-strewn landscapes, riparian areas, ponds, floating along rivers in boats, climbing observation towers. The quality of the experience changed kaleidoscopically even as the quantity felt like a cresting wave.
Rock formations outside of Cuiabá. There are lichens up there...
Emotionally this trip toggled between exhilarating and exhausting, thrilling and overwhelming, spiritually fulfilling and mentally confounding. Yet my equilibrium and humor held steady through it all. Is this maturity? Maybe, maybe not. But it is an adventure that I will carefully document.
A supermarket in Cuiabá. The name, BigLar, apparently means something like "large hearth" ("hearth" reaching into being a symbol for the household, like the English phrase "hearth and home"). But the mixed language of BigLar ruins the effect of a large hearth, suggesting instead "bigly" (to quote a former US president) or BigLard.