Brazil Trip Recap #1

Early last year I was trying to find somewhere to visit to see some new species of dragonflies and other insects, as well as a warm place to escape the northwest Ohio winter. There are hundreds of options for trips for birders and even butterfly enthusiasts, but just try finding an organized tour for dragonflies anywhere in the world. Not so easy! But I finally stumbled upon an interesting place in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica), not far from Rio de Janeiro. It’s called Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA), and they have documented more than 200 species of odonata on and around the preserve. Bingo!

Some of my preparations for the trip

A couple of emails later, I’d secured a reservation for the peak of dragonfly season in January, summer in the southern hemisphere. I was told that they had guides available if I wanted them, but that I could safely roam their trail system on my own if that was my preference.

I have to admit that I almost chickened out of the trip several times over the ensuing months. This would be my first time to fly since before the pandemic, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to be cooped up in a giant tube with so many people. I had health concerns when there was an outbreak of a bad respiratory virus late last year. And then, a week before my trip there was massive political unrest in Brazil; on January 8 they had their own version of our January 6 insurrection. I was nervous, and not being able to speak Portugese was an added complication. But I knew that if I allowed myself to back out of this trip I would be enabling myself to live life in a cage, being afraid of the world. And I’ve had enough of that in the past few years. I refused to do it any longer. But honestly, even two days before the trip I was trying to think of ways to get out of it without feeling like a baby.

White-headed marsh tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala) chasing dragonflies in the wetland at REGUA

But in the end…I WENT SOLO TO BRAZIL!! I’ve traveled around Europe, Asia, and Central America, but always with at least one other person. If you’re a seasoned solo international traveler you may not think it’s a big deal to take a trip like this. But for me, this was a huge leap of faith in my own abilities to cope with things outside my comfort zone. (One major issue was that I knew the temperature was going to be in the upper 90s, and I hate being sweaty. I mean really hate it. It’s a sensory thing; the feeling of my clothes being wet and sticking to my body is extremely uncomfortable for me to the point that I can’t think of anything else.) But since I got home a couple days ago I’ve realized how proud I am of myself for pushing through the doubts and fears. I feel more confident and mentally stronger now that I’ve shown myself that there’s nothing I can’t do if I really want to. And what’s more, I had a fabulous time. This was one of the best trips of my life, and I can’t wait to share some of my stories with you.

A portion of the trail around the wetland

I’ll start showing you some of my insect discoveries in the next post, but today I’m showing you some of the REGUA scenery and a couple birds. It’s a beautiful property that’s being restored from degraded farmland to native forest and wetlands. You can read the history of this conservation project on their website, but to sum up, REGUA now owns over 18,000 acres where they have planted over 624,000 trees. Their diligent work is benefitting the entire planet at a critical time in human history, and I’m grateful for them.

I was alone when I encountered this sign. Terrifying and exciting simultaneously, LOL. They’ve documented mountain lions on the property!

I stayed in their lovely 10-room lodge and enjoyed three delicious meals a day, and my every need was taken care of graciously by Thomas Locke, the lodge manager. Aside from me, only one other room was occupied in the lodge, so it was very peaceful. Some days I would return from my morning hike to find the lights dimmed and not a person in sight anywhere. It was lovely. I can’t believe I didn’t take a single photo of the lodge exterior, but you can see it on their website. And here’s a short video I took during one of the daily rains, in which you can see the bird viewing tower and a bit of the lodge common areas.

Cocoi heron (Ardea cocoi) atop a tall tree at the REGUA wetland

This was my first time in Brazil, and I was impressed with the friendliness and openness of the Brazilian people I met. If you’re skeptical you might say, “Well, they all work in the tourist industry, so of course they’re going to be nice to you.” Point taken, but even so, it was clear to me that they all really wanted me to enjoy my stay. They seem a lot like Americans, but even more friendly and open. I have no doubt that I would be greeted like an old friend on a return trip, complete with hugs and cheek kisses.

My first day started off with some drama. I’d flown overnight for 10 hours from Atlanta and finally arrived at REGUA early in the morning, maybe 9 am. I rested in my room and then had lunch at 1:00. I was exhausted but so anxious to get out on the trails anyway. I figured I’d wear myself out and go to bed early that first night. So after lunch I covered myself in sunscreen and mosquito repellent, got my camera, binoculars, hat, backpack with water, and headed out on the wetland trails near the lodge. I quickly discovered that “hot” in Toledo is different than “hot” in Brazil. It was in the mid-90s and felt like 105. After a little more than an hour I could tell I was starting to lose steam and should head back. My water was running low too. I saw a sign for a “shortcut” and started walking down the trail.

I should point out that their trails are all very well marked (in Portugese), but in my exhaustion I didn’t pay attention to the color of the trail I was supposed to be on. I got farther from the lodge instead of closer. I started to panic because I was having trouble breathing, I assumed from approaching heat exhaustion. As I finally realized my error, I turned around and headed back but was getting increasingly worried that I wouldn’t make it. I had no signal on my phone and there was nobody around. Until I eventually ran into a couple of English-speaking Brazilians who pointed me in the right direction. As soon as I talked to them I felt calmer. I realized that my panic at being alone had made things much worse. I’d been picturing my body being found in the jungle beside an empty bottle of water, and felt stupid for not being better prepared. I knew I was tired before I went on the hike, but I let my excitement overpower my judgment. Important lesson learned that day, and I was always better prepared after that. And the young couple I met turned out to be Juliana and Eduardo, my fellow lodge guests for the next few days. They’re both cardiologists who live in São Paulo, and they spoke wonderful English so we had many great conversations during our three meals a day together. Unfortunately, Eduardo got severely dehydrated on a hike and they had to leave after only three days. I hated saying goodbye to my new friends.

Didn’t see any tapirs, unfortunately

I apologize if my thoughts aren’t organized in this post. I’ve only been home a couple days and my mind is still reeling with all the amazing things I saw and learned, but I want to start sharing it all with you while it’s fresh. So this first one is being rushed out, but I hope to be a bit more methodical in the other posts about my Brazil trip. Feel free to ask questions if you’re interested in visiting REGUA — I highly recommend it!

The photo below was taken on my first day on the wetlands trail. I was dripping sweat, barely able to hold onto my camera, and I’d just sat down on a moss-covered stone bench in the shade to catch my breath. I looked up and saw the beautiful mountain view and was stunned to realize that I’d only been looking down (for my bugs, of course), and somehow didn’t even notice the mountains! And even after this reminder, I still only have a couple dozen photos of landscapes mixed in with more than a thousand photos of insects and birds. I loved being among the mountains though. I was raised in the mountains of West Virginia and southeastern Ohio, and living here in the Flatlands of northwest Ohio makes me miss the mountains a great deal. Anytime I can be someplace like this, I’m grateful for the diverse topography. I can’t really explain it other than that it makes my whole body feel more relaxed and connected to the earth in an enormously satisfying way.

Another view of the wetlands and adjacent mountains

I tend to hate selfies of myself, but I’m going to share the only one I took on this trip. I’m sweaty and my glasses are fogged up from the humidity, but I was having the time of my life out in the jungle all alone. On this particular hike I was on the 2.8 km loop trail, trying to decide if I had time to do the entire loop before the thunderstorms arrived. I passed the mountain lion sign (above), and I found fresh mammal poo (capybara, not mountain lion, phew), I passed two guys carrying huge branches of bananas and a giant machete (yikes!). And yet I did it. So I guess, for me at least, the major story of this trip is that I faced my fears and found out that I can handle anything that comes my way, and I had a fantastic time.

Okay, look for some beautiful dragonfly photos coming up next — thanks for reading!

26 comments

  1. Love your blog. Sounds like you had a really good time. Must have been hard returning to cold Ohio but was a great place for a nice winter change. Yes I wish you had taken pictures of the exterior of where you stayed. Sounds like the people were really nice making you feel like family!

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  2. Hi Kim, still alive and well here, and enjoying your posts. Especially this one. It was inspiring to read about your solo adventure. I’m a bit out of touch with how rewarding solo travel can be, especially when your focus is on doing something you love, like you did in Brazil. Maybe this will kick start something in me, who knows. Hope you get to continue doing it, if nothing else than for us armchair adventurers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bob, glad you’re well. I think this trip helped me begin to overcome some of the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic, and I’m thankful for that. I’m already planning my next adventure!

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  3. Your excitement from the trip shines through in this post, Kim! You’re brave and intrepid, plus you managed to find the perfect destination vacation location! Looking forward to reading more about your trip!

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  4. Great read, Kim! I’ve traveled that part of the world and there are lots of great bird endemics, too! I’m solo traveling in southeast Asia all winter, getting some new dragonflies, escaping winter on Pelee Island. I’m sure you know about Tom Kompier’s southeast Brazil odonates field guide?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m using Tom’s field guide to help me identify the odes from this trip! Good luck with your Canada Big Year…I’ve subscribed to your new blog to follow along. 🙂

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  5. Kim-

    So glad you made this trip by yourself! I’ve been to all 7 continents and 95 countries but not by myself. Looking forward to seeing more about your trip.

    thanks,daryl

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful to hear of your adventures. Kudos for facing your fears and conquering them. Jim and I are looking forward to the coming posts and pictures. Are you going to be putting together a presentation for TNA?

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  7. Once you start traveling solo, and conquer your fears (some real, most imagined), you will not want to stop. Next time, try to learn at some of the language. That is a real game changer.
    I’m studying European Portuguese hours/day in preparation for our first trip to Portugal. Previously, the only foreign countries I’ve visited have been Spanish-speaking and I am bilingual, so this will be a bit more stressful since I will only have two months to prepare since we will be on our own, traveling. I look forward to more photos and your experiences. Be sure and talk about the food. Since I’m a birder, will love seeing any bird photos.

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    • I think you’re right about not wanting to stop, Gail. I feel very empowered right now!

      If you speak Spanish, that will be helpful with communicating in Portugal — there are a lot of similarities with Portugese (as I’m sure you know). I’ve been sort of dabbling in learning Spanish and now I’m more motivated to work at it and get better. I may go to Spain next year. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  8. I am so proud of you sis for taking this amazing trip solo! what a vacation. I can’t wait to hear more about the trip! Your selfie is perfect!

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  9. Outstanding Kim! So, so glad you made this trip that challenged you. We knew you’d have wonderful memories and tales to tell. This is a tremendous start to telling us all about. Welcome home.

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  10. I would be scared of warning signs in a language I can’t read. How amazing for you. Fun, dragonflies, no winter weather AND personal growth. Can’t wait for your next entry.

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    • Thanks, Ginny. Luckily I’d read about the “dos and don’ts” for mountain lion encounters before leaving home, so I was as prepared as I could be. Quite the adrenaline rush though!

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