In Estrella's playground | Brazil Diaries
The world calls her "Estrella" which translates into Star, but I call her "Pagli"
Every time I head into the woods with my camera, I am caught between playing the role of a voyeur and a documenter - a window into the world where black, white and grey come together in a dance which has me unraveling the magic through the viewfinder.
It's not easy for me, or for that matter any wildlife photographer, because you get wrapped up in a parallel universe that unfolds itself and takes you away from the now. You need to pull yourself from the moment and become the documenter. And it's that fraction of a second - where an image is framed and captured - one that mirrors you.
The story begins
Day 1 in Pantanal with 2 jaguar sighting and day 2 gave way into a dawn where we spotted and documented our 3rd jaguar. With the gentle rays bringing the canvas of jewel tone flora and fauna alive, we continued our cruise down the Cuiaba river. The meandering river both worked as a lullaby to my city-weary- nerves and also pumped in the adrenaline - the search for the legendary animals in a land which is their playground.
A story waiting to be unraveled...
Over my years into the wild, my learning has been that whilst nature has this immense power to lull you, the jungle and the law of the land also hone your senses.
I could sense a story waiting to be unleashed.
The crisp air crackled in anticipation. Pin drop silence. The senses honed to the slightest noise and movement. The only sound was of the forest. The palpable silence was occasionally broken by our guide's whisper directing us to a bird or a flora (a lifer). The landscape was virgin. The players were my first. And every act that unfolded held the power to etch itself into my being.
As part of any wildlife tour, the guides are in constant touch with each other. Their camaraderie is infectious as they effortlessly bring us into their world of sightings and banter. And whilst the vista slowly engulfed me into its realm, the crackle of the radio broke the spell. There was a jaguar in the area. And we were 20- 25 minutes away from it.
Whilst the boat steered towards the direction, I remember, for a moment or two forgetting to breath. The often asked question, "Would I get a chance to enter the world of the lord of the wetlands?" played the trump card. "Would we be on time to see the feline work its charm? What is the story that awaited? Could we do justice to the story?" The questions unleashed itself with a fury. The onslaught continued till I found my boat come to a standstill.
For today, the card played in my favour.
Because, before I knew it, I was in the presence of the greatest show of my lifetime in the jungle. The saying goes - when an animal looks into your eyes, it goes beyond all the layers. It looks into your soul. You are stripped bare. At that moment, it's just you and the mystical being.
The Drama Unfolds
When my eyes found Estrella, she was sitting at the end of the sand banks staring into the open blue skies. The world called her Estrella - a star. But for me, she was my own Pagli... She waited like a long lost friend. She saw our boat. She didn’t balk. But walked around the entire sand bank - welcoming me into her world. Her playground.
What played in her mind... I wondered !!!
The pathway into her world came alive through my viewfinder. Slowly reeling me in, she flaunted her moves - her calculated stalk and chase. Nothing distracted her from her orchestra. Singularly, she played to a music that was privy to her.
Rolling on the sand banks, there was nothing shy about her. This was her home and she was in an indulgent mood.
Bold yet coy, she was a feline who possessed every trait of a woman who was confident in her skin. Coming up to the river to drink water, she teased. She oscillated between a yawn for now, a low growl whilst her eyes seared through my soul and playful in the next. For today, the wooden log was her toy.
The greatest show played for a good 30 odd minutes - with every scene played straight out- of -the- box. The whirr of the camera never stopped. It was a moment, where, it was just us - in her playground and playing by her rules.
And in a blink of an eye, she bounded into the bushes.
If I didn’t have the images to go back to, I would have thought this was a mirage - a thirst of a documenter in search for a good story. But this tale stands true. Estrella - my Pagli exists.
Dazed and inching back into reality, I asked our guide, Fabiano, "You said it's a 20-25min boat ride to the Jaguar sighting when you got the radio call. But we reached in less than 10mins." To which, he laughed and said, "My friend... this sighting was not in the menu. The stars aligned themselves for the greatest show of the wetlands. Now, let's head to the actual place from where we got the radio call and that's a 15min boat ride again."
20 jaguar sightings in 4 days. A record, sayid our guide. I smiled. My story begins with Estrella. In her playground of no boundaries.
About the Pantanal
The Pantanal is an unparalleled universe. The biodiversity makes this land a birder's paradise and undoubtedly the best place on the planet to spot a jaguar in the wild. The nail biting adventures, the chilly early mornings, hot & humid afternoons, pleasant evenings and the stunning landscapes create narratives which must be experienced. The entire experience is simply "Electrifying".
If ever I was a writer, I wouldn't write this experience as a chapter in the book, but it would be the book itself. The land finds itself wrapped around my being. And, like the saying goes - You pick up a book so that you never stop reading. Pantanal to me, is a book that I can't put down.
Full screen view recommended