My First Day on the Watson! Takeoff to Brazil

Come with me in a journey of pictures through the first day of the rest of my year.

After 13 months of planning, applying, interviewing, e-mailing conservationists, Skyping scientists from across the globe, an April Fool's engagement, equipment purchasing, budgeting, airline ticketing, goodbyes, and so much more... it begins.

Here I am at 6:40 am on my porch in Seattle. I'm steeling myself for 30 straight hours of transit. Oh boy.

I bought my first back-packing backpack (what a phrase) this summer from my personal Northface employee, Collin, and it's working perfectly so far. The airlines require bags to be less than 44 punds and mine weighed in at 35. Huzzah!

Here I am looking out over the airplane's wing at massive wetlands as we descend over Fort Lauderdale. I will admit, I was amazed and confused to see such vast wetlands, since I mistakenly thought Fort Lauderdale was in Texas. Turns out, it's in Florida and those are the Everglades. Mystery solved.

After a seven-hour flight to For Lauderdale (Florida!) and a eight-hour red-eye to Campinas (near Sao Paulo, Brazil), I walked into sunrise in the southern hemisphere. This photo taken in the Campinas airport.

Now for the third and final flight, a one-hour hop from Campinas to Campo Grande. Here is a view of the agricultural land outside Sao Paulo.

My cows! (Anyone?) These white zebu cattle are easy to spot from the air and along roads. They are a staple of the Brazilian countryside and one of my research subjects.

Here is the airplane-window view as I got closer to Pantanal. The straight lines of deforestation to create cattle pastures were a worrisome omen.

Here is Campo Grande right before I landed. It's the largest city near Pantanal. With nearly 800,000 people, it's the only big city in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Smoke in Campo Grande. In the rural areas, this might be from a brush-burning fire after cutting down a forest to make pasture, but in this case I'm guessing it might have been from burning garbage... or a really hoppin' barbeque.

I made it Campo Grande! I could barely believe it! Until this massive sign helped reality sink in.

My incredible, brilliant, welcoming host Duca picked me up from the airport with a friend. We headed to the mechanic to pick up Duca's well-loved truck. From there, we stopped in to hand off papers to my other contact here, a wonderful peccary biologist named Alexine.

Embarrassing story time. When I first e-mailed Alexine, totally out of the blue, I addressed the message, "Dear Rua Spipe Calarge," the full name listed on the Wildlife Conservation Society website. (I can never be sure which name is first or last in other languages.) Alexine replied, "Hi, my name is Alexine Keuroghlian! The name you used is my street name." I was baffled. Is a street name like a gang name, or a very personal nickname? Why would it be listed on the WCS site? Why didn't it have any resemblance to her real name? Well, the mystery was solved today when I drove up to Alexine's house and read the street sign: Rua Spipe Calarge. Rua means street in Portuguese. It was literally her street's name. Cool.

Finally, we hit the grocery store. Here is the best-stocked portion of any Brazilian supermarket: the beef counter. We ordered ground beef and watched the butcher grind it before our eyes.

Next to the butcher was a hefty selection of barbeque implements.

On the street, a sapling truck!

Here's Duca posing with prato feito, a predetermined lunch dish that changes each day. It's common fare at local restaurants. We ordered peixe, fish, and it came with white rice, brown beans, undressed cabbage (bottles of oil and vinegar are standard condiments on the table), and a tiny portion of spaghetti with meat sauce. Like everything, it also came with farofa, a dry cassava flour resembling bread crumbs (I like to call it pó de pão, literally "bread powder," for its poetic value, but nobody knows what I'm talking about).

We arrived at my home for the next two months, Quinta do Sol! The sign is a little outdated because the Wildlife Conservation Society has terminated their Pantanal involvement, but the Projecto Queixada (Peccary Program) will continue under local advocates like Duca and Alexine.

Here is my house, all to myself. The 40 buff-necked ibis who sleep in a single tree in the yard provide a rowdy alarm clock around 5:00 am.

Here's our outdoor kitchen, where an open fire often cooks meat and smells heavenly.

Here's our water system. Duca fills 1.5-liter bottles at the chlorinated well in Taboco and brings them back to the house.

Here's the indoor kitchen, modeled by Duca and the friendliest of her four dogs, Ven Ven. This dog is always in the way, seeking attention, so it's ironic that his name means "Come Come." Duca is often saying, "Sai Ven Ven!" meaning "Get out, Come Come!" That's Quinta do Sol humor.

Right before sunset (which comes as early as 5 pm) we explored a beautiful river running through Quinta do Sol property.
Here is my shower for the next two months! The other fantastic woman who lives and works at Quinta do Sol is Lygia, next to me in the waterfall. She showed me the best places to sit and wash away "all the bad energy."

Yes, this is perfect.

"Let's come to the waterfall every day!" (Not hard to do, since it's a four-minute walk down the sandy road.)

Or if you prefer a bath to a shower . . .

This treefrog hopped through the river and played absolutely dead when I picked her up. I couldn't get her to move even when I put her down on the rock. I'd been very gentle, but I worried that I'd somehow killed her. She was convincing! But Duca says this kind of frog plays dead for several minutes, and she would hop away soon.
This ant was as big as half a finger, and it threatened us with open mandibles. I think I heard a tiny squeaking admonition, "Don't you dare walk barefoot!"

I will conclude with a daily ritual, as requested by my parents:

Dad's Daily Bug

This may not look like much, but the green smudge is an aquatic moth's cocoon. Yes, an aquatic moth, at least in the larval stage. The cocoon, plastered to bedrock under a cold, fast-flowing stream, is colonized by bright green algae that both protects and feeds the growing larvae. HOW COOL IS THAT.

Mom's Daily Bird

This buff-necked ibis was the first to land in our tree tonight. Forty friends soon followed. I can see why Apple didn't include "ibis call" as one of the iPhone alarm choices . . . It is not Mother Nature's most soothing invention.