Looking for Jaguars, Pantanal, Brazil

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“Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.”  Suzy Kassem

Spotting a jaguar in its natural habitat is one of those surreal experiences. One of the best places to spot them is in the Pantanal, Brazil. It is easier to find them here because there are less places to hide than in the Amazon. (photo Emilio White)

Oncafari is a jaguar conservation project on the grounds of the Caiman Reserve in Brazil. We set off in our jaguar printed vehicle to spend the day with Oncafari. Victoria is our expert guide.

As in Africa, Oncafari has worked to habituate the jaguars to the sight and sound of the vehicles.Some of them have tracking collars and we can follow them deep into the bush. Victoria points out animal and bird sightings along the way.

This beautiful female jaguar with piercing green eyes is sitting in the bushes. It was not bothered by our presence and eventually strolls back in the brush.

The pattern of a jaguar’s spots is unique to every individual, allowing Victoria to identify this  particular jaguar.

 Later we learn more about the Oncafari project and how they use radio collars to monitor the jaguars. Camera traps are set up throughout the reserve to allow Onçafari to keep track of their jaguars without the jaguars ever knowing they’re being monitored. Jaguar sightings have increased at Caiman over the past seven years due to the success of Onçafari’s habituation program and the stability of the refuge’s jaguar population. 

In the afternoon, we are less successful. But we finally find a jaguar hidden in the bush and track him for a while.(photo Emilio White)

The next day we spot a jaguar sitting under a tree near the water. Four capybaras (very large rodents) are at the water’s edge not moving.

A herd of cows look back and forth from the capybaras to the jaguar as if they are watching a tennis game. The jaguar sprints to the water’s edge.The capybaras dive under the water where they can only stay for two minutes.

The capybaras run out of the water into the brush. The jaguar follows. There is a rustling but no noise. Three capybaras run out of the brush into the water. The jaguar paces at the water edge and makes some noises. Another jaguar appears. It is her daughter..(photo Emilio White)

Eight caiman rase their heads out of the water. Eventually the jaguars leave. The three remaining capybaras run away and the caimans go back under the water. When it is all over, the cows drink the water. A guide from Oncafari goes into the bushes and takes a picture of the dead capybara.

The jaguar had bitten his neck and he died instantly without noise. The jaguars may or may not come  back later and eat. 

The only sound is the jeep and the birds. It the kind of quiet that reminds me that I am a long way from home and it is not a good day  to be a capybara.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things To Do With A Four Year Old At Christmas In NYC

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Things To Do With A Four Year Old At Christmas In NYC

“These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our livesJohnny Mathis, Sleigh Ride

I’m babysitting for my four year old god daughter in NYC for a week during Christmas. Her mom is performing in a Tap Nutcracker at the Joyce Theatre to the music arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn Dec 17-January 5. It looks great if you happen to be in New York.

She lives in Tel Aviv so she is a tourist as well. I grew up in New York so  I want to do the things I’ve done as a kid and taken my kids to do. There are so many new things as well. Here is my plan. 

See Frozen the Musical. Frozen is a phenomena. My favorite Frozen story is the one about Idina Menzel’s son (she is the voice of Elsa in the movie). He says, “My mom sings “Let It Go”. “So does mine,” his friend replies.  Elsa, the slightly flawed, princess is everyone’s favorite including my goddaughter who is into robots  and vintage Ninja  Turtles. 

 I loved  going to the Central Park Children’s Zoo. There weren’t a lot of places that were just for kids back then but this one was. It had a castle to climb and a blue whale to go inside.  The zoo was redone by the time I took my kids there and I’m sure it is even better now.

FAO Schwartz opened its doors in 1862. It was the oldest and largest toy store in NY specializing in unique well made toys.There was only the Fifth Avenue store. My mother called it Schwartz’s Toy Store and told us that it was like a museum. Everything was very expensive for us but we could go and play on the five floors of toys for hours. It has reopened in Rockefeller Plaza and though now owned by Toys R Us still hopefully has some innovative and iconic toys.  

As someone who is not so good in math (huge understatement), I am a little nervous about seeing the National Museum Of Mathematics. Will I be able to answer the questions of a four year  old? I look at the website.There are robots, square wheeled tricycles, motion detector activities, digital painting etc.  It looks really cool. 

 Going to see the Nutcracker Ballet is always a great way to kick off the holiday season. I know it is ambitious to take a four year old. You forget how long the Waltz of the Flowers can be. But I think she  is up to the challenge.

  I was visiting with my god daughter when she was a year and half. We were sitting outside looking at the lights around the pool in the desert in Eilat. “Mapita” she said . I assumed she was speaking Hebrew. She kept repeating it. We went back in the room and she put a piece of the now cold pizza in her mouth. More pizza are words I have heard often from her. I cant wait for her to taste NY Pizza. Im hoping someone still throws the pies up in the air. I will also introduce her to a hot dog from Grey’s Papaya and a pretzel from a street vendor. 

Childrens Museum Of The Arts has a drop in morning art class for three to five year olds. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is a 38,000 sq.ft facility full of fun and learning experiences. it will be perfect for cold weather.  Sugar Hill Children’s Museum Of Art And Storytelling focuses  on children three to eight with art and story telling workshops.We will do at least one of these.

When I was a kid in NY we went  ice skating every Saturday in the winter. It was either the rink in Prospect Park or Central Park. There is also Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park. Hopefully it will be like riding a bicycle and not super cold. 

The Big Apple Circus has been in New York for forty years. My kids have seen it on their many visits to New York to see their grandparents. The circus tent is set up at Lincoln Center. It’s good for the whole family and children of all ages.

The Sloomoo Institute is a pop up slime museum that with be in NYC for six months before moving on to another city. It is all things slime. That’s all I know and with a four year old- that’s all I need to know.

NYC during the holidays is filed with timeless traditions, festivities on every corner and lots of lights and memories. The magical feeling of the city reminds me to live in optimistic expectation. – especially if is snowing. 

Happy Holidays and Fly Safe,

JAZ

Twenty Five Things That I Wanted To Do In 2019 – Did I Do Them?

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Twenty Five Things That I Wanted To Do In 2019 – Did I Do Them?

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” Zig Ziglar

Go to Sweden. Yes

Go to Iceland. Yes

Spend a day at the Blue Lagoon.  Yes

Be a better friend.  Trying

Go to the Galápagos. Not yet  but I went to the Pantanal in Brazil.

Plan less.  Trying.

Read at least thirty books . Yes maybe more!

Go to the Amazon. No but I went  to Bahia, Brazil.

Take it bird by bird. Trying

Drink one cup of coffee a day.  Yes – that was hard by the way.

Switch to Matcha Tea. Yes

Go to Sedona. Not yet

Walk on the beach a few times a week.  Yes when it isn’t cold and windy.

Do a street art tour in Los Angeles instead of just taking photos. . Not yet. I have no excuse.

See more of Australia. Not yet.

Walk my dog every day. Trying.

Eat breakfast in Venice at least one a week. No.

Go to the Faroe Islands. Not yet  but I went to Uruguay.

Work on being fearless. Trying.

Give him a drawer.  Yes. He got more than a drawer since we moved in together. 

Stay politically active. Yes

See the Grand Canyon. Not yet.

Always be grateful. Yes

Do more yoga Nope – less.

Meditate every day – Maybe if I put it last I will do it.   Really trying –  In fact I’m going to go do it now.

Fly Safe,

JAZ

The Pantanal, Brazil

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The Pantanal

“I look at it this way … For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers … so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever.” George Carlin

In the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland territory covering around 210,000 square kilometers. Less than half of this is in Bolivia and Paraguay; the rest is in Brazil, split between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

Part National Park, part UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pantanal boasts the highest concentration of wildlife on the continent. It is home to around 1,000 bird species.

Some of the very rare and endangered animal species that call the Pantanal home include the Marsh Deer, Giant River Otter, Hyacinth Macaw, Crowned Solitary Eagle, Maned Wolf, Bush Dog, Capybara, South American Tapir, Giant Anteater, Yacare Caiman, ocelots and jaguars. (capybaras)

 Most of the Pantanal is privately owned and less than three per cent is under government protection. Cooperation between ecotourism and the landowners in the region (mostly cattle ranchers) has contributed to the sustainable conservation of the environment. 

The  ecolodges and tourist industry pay the ranchers not to kill the jaguars.  The money  ecotourism brings in far exceeds the cash value of the loss of cattle. Jaguars have created a thousand new jobs in Brazil.

 Ecotourism couldn’t have been better for the jaguars. The guides describe them as opportunistic— they don’t just kill when they are hungry. Now they are the protected top of the food chain.

Two days before we arrive, we are told that the fires in the Pantanal affected our lodge and we would have to stay in a different one. There have been many more fires in the Pantanal this year than previous ones – due to both dryness and criminal activity. Firefighters say the cause is likely local people setting fires to clear land of vegetation, a practice also blamed for many of the Amazon fires. Such burning is particularly common among cattle ranchers, who use fire rather than costly equipment to prepare pastures. 

 The fires in the Pantanal this year have been overshadowed by the months-long period of blazes seen in the Amazon region. The governor of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency on Sept. 11.

I didn’t know about the Pantanal fires because the News only talked about the Amazon. It clearly affected the  number of birds and animals we would see. But by the time I realized that, I was there.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Beaches In Bahia, Brazil

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Beaches in Bahia, Brazil

“May you always have a shell in your pocket and sand in your shoes.” unknown

What does it mean to be happy? 

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For me, it means to be on some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, drinking coconut water from fresh coconuts, picking up shells and rocks.

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I always come home with sand in my suitcase.

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 On our last day we go out to Ilha Dos Frades We Anthony Bourdained it and instead of the crowded boats with live music and people dancing (also fun) , it is just us. I’m the king of the world.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

Churches In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Churches in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

“The places of quiet are going away, the churches, the woods, the libraries. And it is only in silence we can hear the voice inside of us which gives us true peace.” James Rozoff

There are nearly 100 churches in Salvador to explore and some are exquisite examples of colonial architecture. These churches help tell the story of the city, so wander around, visit some of them and hear their stories.

From the outside, Sao Francisco church seems relatively simple, but this eighteenth century church  shines on the inside—literally.

Ornate gilded wood carvings and paintings adorn much of the interior of the cathedral—from the pillars and archways to the vaulted ceilings—while golden foliage, angels, and birds decorate the altarpiece.

Nicknamed “The Golden Church,” São Francisco is also considered one of the best examples of the Brazilian-Portuguese Baroque style of artwork.

Of particular note here are the ceiling paintings in the entrance hall created in 1774 by José Joaquim da Rocha, and Bartolomeu Antunes de Jesus’ azulejo tiles that run along the lower walls of the main chapel depicting the life and times of St Francis of Assisi.

These tiles are particularly notable for their size (they’re much larger than traditional azulejo tiles), and stand out in contrast to gold you’ll find elsewhere. It is believed to be the wealthiest church in all of Brazil.

 Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People was the first church that African slaves were able to go to. They were not allowed to pray in any of the churches, and they really wanted to have a place  of worship. It took more than one hundred years for them to build it, and they worked mostly at night because they had to be on the plantations all day. I cannot imagine how difficult their lives must have been.

We are lucky enough to attend a party in the back of the church.

The party is in honor of Mestre Moa de Katendê—a capoeira master and advocate for Afro-Brazilians who was killed in a local bar  after saying he would not support then hard-right candidate for president, Jair Bolsonaro.

,His daughter spoke and though I did not understand all the words, I felt her pain. The strength of the human spirit through adversity is really uplifting.

This is a street art painting near the church of her family. 

The Church of Bonfim is possibly the most famous place of worship in all of Brazil. The simple white edifice built in 1754  has long been the juncture of Catholicism and the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé traditions. As in other countries ,enslaved Africans were forbidden to practice their own religion and had to adhere to that of their masters. As a result, Catholic saints and rituals became a cover for African ones.

For many years people have left offerings, or ex-votos, to Nosso Senhor do Bonfim on behalf of the sick and the healed. In a room to one side of the church, wax body parts hang from the ceiling grouped according to which limb or organ they represent, while the walls are plastered with photos of people who are suffering or have been cured.

Outside the church and all over Salvador, people sell multicolored ribbons with ‘Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia’ written on them, which are often seen tied to railings in front of churches dancing in the breeze.Each color represents a different Candomblé god, and they are thought to bring luck.

Julia McNaught Da Silva was our wonderful guide in Bahia. She is smart, funny, super-organized and very knowledgeable about Salvador. It was a great introductory visit to the city and we enjoyed spending our time with her. T.hank you Julia, for a great time in Bahia.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Things I Have Learned In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Things I Have Learned In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” Anita Desai

Salvador de Bahia was the first capital of the Portuguese Empire and currently  is the third most populated city in Brazil. This city is full of life, culture and music. 

 It was one of the largest slave ports on the new continent and now has  the largest black population outside of Africa.

Daily life still has a very strong African influence –  from food, music, religion (the Yoruba derived system of Candomblé) and martial arts (Capoeira).

 Pelourinho is the old town of Salvador now a UNESCO World Heritage site and major tourist attraction in Bahia and Brazil.

The famous district of  Pelô, as they call it is one of the best preserved colonial settlements in all South America.

Its cobbled streets and colorful houses will impress you as you step into this place full of tradition and history. This is where we spent most of our time. Everywhere there is art, sound and music.

Casa De Amarelindo is a beautiful boutique hotel in a restored nineteenth century building in the old city. The staff are extremely helpful and always smiling.

The restaurant is beautiful and  the breakfasts are amazing. Their attention to detail for each guest is outstanding. The double paned glass blocks out the noise of the city and views of the Bay Of All Saints are beautiful. 

 Julia our guide recommended that we spend our first  night at the Ballé Folklorico which is a one hour show from eight to nine PM in the Miguel Santana Theater in Pelourinho, a block from the hotel. The theatre is simple and inexpensive and reminded me of a theatre outside Havana. The  first part of the show  is a good introduction to a Candomblé ceremony. In the second part they introduce the capoeira, ‘makulelé’ and ‘samba de roda’ dance. There is something very special about this performance and it should not be missed.

The Elevador Lacerda is the most representative Art Decó icon in the city . Built in 1873 to connect the low neighborhood with the high neighborhood, it was the first urban elevator in the world.

The ride costs only a few cents and leaves you in front of Mercado Modelo in the lower part of the city. This market had been Salvador’s former Customs House and “storage” area for slaves not yet auctioned off.  Today, it’s a place to buy souvenirs, check out the  architecture and feel the past.

Feiria De Sao Joaquim is an authentic local market near the port.

Vendors come from all around. Smells, colors, sounds and chaotic movement makes this crazy and authentic market  a great place  to shop.

You should probably go with a local.

The prices are very cheap- especially for tourists and every day I think of more things I should have bought .  We had lunch there as well. Julia said no one will bother me because I had so many shopping bags, I was clearly not there to look.and take photos.

The city’s biggest attraction, though, is Carnival. Beginning in January, Bahia launches into a season of feasts and festivals that, over the course of six weeks, escalates into a rocking, high-decibel street party. Those who know claim that it’s better than Rio’s—that it’s the best in the world.

Safety in Salvador is tricky.. You are in the robbery  capital of Brazil.  If something does happen – just hand it over- your safety is the most important thing. Anything outside of the main tourist neighborhoods of Barra, Rio Vermelho and the Pelourinho is broadly considered unsafe for tourists. Our taxi driver drove through the red lights at night to avoid robberies. We were usually with a guide during the day or friends at night. But, I did see them watching if we wandered off. Don’t pull out your wallet or your cell phone without a friend watching you and definitely not in a crowd situation such as listening to music or a market. Don’t wear large jewelry or carry all your money or credit cards with you. Showing a bit of respect to all those people who don’t have as much as you do is not such a big deal and it will make your life easier. Salvador is a place worth going to in your lifetime and we were fine.

Fly safe,

JAZ