Our last day in wonderful Brazil started with the arrival of a local pilot who drove the National Geographic Explorer into the Lagoa dos Patos (meaning “the ducks’ lagoon”), docking in the town of Pelotas. Pelotas is very close to the entrance of the 90 mile-long coastal lagoon, at which opposite end lies the city of Porto Alegre, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Rio Grande do Sul is Brazil’s southernmost state and borders Uruguay to the south and Argentina to the west. It is also an extremely nice place, with milder weather than the tropical portions of this very large country and a strong influence of its southern neighbors.

We divided into groups and while some went to the Charqueada São João, a cattle ranch with all the flavor of the traditional gaucho culture, other went to the TAIM wetlands reserve. The TAIM reserve is a wonderful place that protects a rich environment of grassy, savanna-like pampa, wetlands and coastal lagoons. Wildlife abounds there and from the very beginning of our hike we spotted all kinds and sizes of birds, some familiar like the Vermillion flycatcher and the snowy egret, but the most new to many of us. Everywhere we looked we discovered some beautiful bird, like the field flicker, the guira cuckoo, the cocoi heron, or the fork-tailed flycatcher. Rufous horneros sang near their balloon-like nests made of mud, Brazilian ducks swam quietly among the floating vegetation, long-winged harriers and snail kites patrolled the wetlands flying at low altitude looking for small prey. One of the most conspicuous members of the avifauna here, without a doubt, is the southern screamer; it’s a large turkey-sized bird and a very noisy one. Its calls add a lively note to the landscape of the TAIM. However, it was a mammal that captivates everyone’s hearts today, the capybara. Even though the capybara is the largest rodent in the world at almost 100 lb, its peaceful manners and interesting looks made it a favorite and we all enjoyed watching it. Big groups were scattered all over the place, most resting in their sandy beds and some swimming or grazing. A few territorial males chased potential competitors away. We also got the chance to watch a broad-nosed caiman, a 6-7 ft long crocodilian that coexists peacefully with the capybaras but that declares war to the abundant snails, frogs, and fish.

After a great day of excitement we returned to our floating home with camera-cards full and big smiles, thanking this beautiful country for all the good moments that we enjoyed here.