Michela Corradini's Diary
Conserving the Pantanal

Friday, June 4, 2004 Sunday, May 16, 2004
Friday, May 14, 2004 Thursday, May 13, 2004
Wednesday, May 12, 2004 Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Monday, May 10, 2004 Sunday, May 9, 2004
Saturday, May 8, 2004 Friday, May 7, 2004
Monday, May 3, 2004 Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Monday, March 22, 2004 Monday, February 16, 2004
Friday, January 30, 2004 Thursday, November 20, 2003

Related Sites

Friday, June 4, 2004

I came back from Brazil exactly two weeks ago, and I have to admit it seems centuries ago I put my foot on the European earth!

Many things have changed since I left Italy to go to Brazil. First of all, I discovered what breathing with my full lungs means instead of breathing by fits and starts as I do here. The Brazilian fresh and clean air will always be in my memories.

But let's proceed in order. On Friday, May 21, I arrived in Venice at 7 p.m., and my daughter was anxiously waiting for me. When she saw me, she could not believe I could come back as "young" as I left; meaning she thought I could have been something like 50 years old on my return. Obviously, I was and still am happy I disappointed her so much for the first time (I'm "only" 33)! She even did not remember the 15 presents as I was the only gift she really wanted.

I had a non-relaxing weekend because of the jetlag and, most of all, because of all the memories, pictures, and new experiences that were continuously wandering through my mind. I still believe it was a unique experience that changed my views toward nature and my phobias, that taught me about conservation and preservation of nature, and that personally contributed to enrich me by dealing with other cultures and sharing some personal problems every night with the other "girls."

Unfortunately, the only negative side of all this experience is connected to all those wonderful ticks we were so lucky to "meet" during our stay in Pantanal. The tick bite I got grew a lot once I came back. I went to First Aid, had it checked, took some antibiotics, had blood tests, and now, finally, I feel a bit better.

When I went back to work on Monday, I repeated the same story about Brazil for at least 50 times. Let's admit that my "productivity" on this first working day was not very high, but I was happy everybody was worried and interested about my adventure. I noticed that many people had a lot of fun with my story about Pampa, the horse I used to ride in Pantanal. He was very quiet and very old—this was my first time riding—and when I accidentally had him trotting for 20 meters, he almost had a heart attack!

I prepared a presentation about those wonderful days. Soon, I will show it at the plant where I work. Then I guess my adventure will be finished.

I brought many gifts from Brazil made by the Indios, but my memories about the wonderful colors of the birds, the real green of the grass, the clear blue of the sky, and my ease in getting in deep contact with nature will always occupy a place in my mind and heart.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

I did not write anything about yesterday because I was not very happy or satisfied with the outcome of the day. Again feces collection, and again exposure to what I still do not know is safe or not!

In the evening, I had the chance to speak with one of the principle investigators and told him about my concerns on the difficulties of our activities in this project. The good side of this adventure is that I discovered what my real fears are. At the beginning, when I read the expedition briefing at home, I thought the danger was in the animals that were mentioned—caimans, jaguars, anacondas, and poisonous snakes—but I now understand they are not harmful at all. They are even more afraid of us than we are of them, and for this reason they can smell us from meters away and escape. The real danger is that for the kind of activity I did so far, I could have been exposed to some disease. This lowered my initial enthusiasm related to this experience.

I really grew out of my old phobias, like the snakes. Today, for example, we went back to the same trail I did the first day—a trail I considered extremely dangerous for its high grass that might have snakes hiding in it. I realized I was stronger and with no fear at all, and I could walk in grass higher than me and into brown water up to my thigh as if I were walking on the shop floor in Fusina...but without safety shoes!

Today's assignment was watching birds and mammals along trail number two. I saw a cute crab-eating fox, which got approximately three meters (nine feet) close to me. It was so curious about what we were doing that it followed us continuously for at least 20 minutes. I really enjoyed this contact with nature even more now without so many fears. But, unfortunately, tomorrow I again have that terrible session of small mammals trapping and releasing and scat sampling. Luckily, it is the last one, and then finally I could take some rest (I hope my boss is reading my diary and gets the point!) and buy some artisanal hand-made objects for my daughter. I promised her one present every day I am off....this means a total of 15 gifts!

I only hope I do not bring ticks home and infect my poor cat. Generally, it is the other way around—animals give ticks to humans!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Finally, a LOVELY day as my English companions of adventure would define it! I had a very long walk to look for and observe the Frugivore birds that disperse seeds around the Pantanal area. We walked inside the forest and then along the salina (a kind of salty lake). The water was up to our legs (my boots stayed wet for four hours!), but the view and the sounds were marvelous. It was the first relaxing day with real contact with nature as we were observing all the animals and trees around us. When we analyze the small mammals, we hardly have time to look around us as we do the job very quickly in order to free the animals before they suffer too much.

Today I got the chance to see a family of capivaras-mammals that can swim very well. The small ones were sucking their mother's milk. I could see the beautiful and colorful flowers that surround the salina, and I also saw many foxes, deer, and feral pigs.

In the afternoon, we drove a jeep around the area where the fazenda is to look for a particular tree called mandivu, where the hycint macaw makes its nest. This bird is really beautiful. I took advantage of this time to fill my eyes with so many colors and my ears with so many sweet and relaxing sounds, because tomorrow I'm going to have another difficult time collecting feces. Now, I'm ready for a delicious dinner of vegetables, meat, and rice.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Today was the most difficult day in terms of danger, tiredness, and diseases. Only five days have passed by, and it seems like centuries.

After a terrific night of heavy rain, thunderstorms, lighting, and rain inside our room (we had changed rooms earlier in the afternoon), we woke up at 5 a.m. ready to free the rats in the traps. First of all, in order to better see a beautiful and sweet raccoon, I put my foot on an ant's nest. All of a sudden, ants started biting my legs as they were able to enter everywhere. I finally succeeded in getting rid of them thanks to Louise's help, but immediately after I found a very big tick on my right arm. I was told ticks can transmit Lyme disease. Now I'm really looking forward to speaking with my personal doctor to understand the seriousness of the dangerous activities I have performed so far.

Maybe it is just a way to inform us without any real concern, but since I've been here I've heard about hemorrhagic fever, Lyme disease, dangue fever.... I have to admit I'm not so relaxed about it.

We found 23 animals (also an opossum), and this meant we had to collect all their scat even when it was raining outside. I was really exhausted when we finally came back.

The other psychological problem is that, in the event of an accident, there's the possibility no planes would be available that day to take us to the closest hospital, which is 130 kilometers (81 miles) from where we are and takes 12 to 14 hours to reach by car!

I truly believe my and Greg´s project is the most difficult and dangerous. Sometimes I just smile when I think about all the right safety precautions I take when working in Fusina as now I tested on my skin (literally speaking!) what fearing for my health means! I hope the next four days working in the field will be spent without other worries so I can again start enjoying the contact with nature.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Today we also woke up at 5:00 a.m. to go in the middle of the jungle and analyze the animals that got captured in the traps during the night. We have to do it early in the morning because it is colder. If the animals stay long in the traps, they could die. We found many rats, which we weighed and checked for their sex and physical conditions. Today I was the "scats/feces collector"—what an important role!

I would like to tell something about the fazenda where I stay. Basically, it is a ranch with horses and cows, rheas, birds of every kind (my favorite is the "Flower Kisser"), and lots of fruit and vegetables. Today I even saw an anteater!

I share my very basic room with other three women (one from Slovenia, Louise from England, and Wendy from California). Every day we hope to have some hot water (or at least warm water) for our shower. Today, for example, I got some disgusting ticks. I had to wait in a queue to wash with a particular medicine and get rid of those terrible insects. Nobody was curling her hair; we all simply have the same basic need to take a "warm" shower after walking so much and after so much contact with insects and animals.

We generally work from 5.00 a.m. to noon in the field. From 3:30 p.m. until dinner time, we work in the lab as it is too hot. My task yesterday afternoon, for example, was to make a delicious food to be put in the traps to catch animals. Here’s the recipe: peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Rats go mad for this stuff! I hope I didn’t tell a secret that some Brazilian grandmother would have liked to have kept for ages!

Anyway, today I’m alive (and kicking!) and ready to struggle for tomorrow. I only need a vacation....

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The morning was exciting but extremely dangerous. I rode on a horse called Pampa to reach some traps where we could find small mammals (mainly rats) to analyze their length, sex, age, etc. When the rats were freed, I knew it was extremely dangerous because of hemmorhagic fever. It seems these animals can transmit this fever if you breathe while analyzing their feces (something that I had to collect). Luckily, we were wearing masks, and I was assured this kind of disease does not exist in Pantanal.

Still, I'm a bit worried. In addition to my worries, the evening ended in a bad way as I called my daughter and she started crying, asking for her mother to come back. I succeeded in creating distractions by telling her about all these wonderful animals I've been seeing so far. For this reason, I've included some photos so Alice, my daughter, can have a look and feel a bit better! (Click on Photo gallery in the upper right corner.)

Monday, May 10, 2004

Interesting morning in the Pantanal jungle. The task was to again observe the fruit trees. I was so lucky because I met a beautiful male turtle, who was called Maichael since I found him! I brought him to the lab in order to put a label on his legs, and then I put him back in the exact position where we found him thanks to the global positioning system (GPS).

In the afternoon, we went back again to a different trail. This time I was less lucky: high grass (with huge possibilities to find a snake) and water to the upper part of the legs. Even though I had on rubber boots, my feet still got wet because of the high water flowing into my boots.

At night, I had the chance to forget all these adventures by drinking a refreshing caipirinha (a traditional Brazilian drink).

Sunday, May 9, 2004

I'm excited to start working in the field today. We helped a principle investigator in the morning with the herbal collection, and, after a wonderful lunch, we jumped into a jeep to go inside the jungle.

The objective of this afternoon was to clean Trail #1 to easily detect the types of fruit trees and verify if there was fruit on them after the wet season and if this fruit was mature or not. Wendy's task was to tell me where the tree was (left or right of the trail) and to note something about the fruit in the spreadsheet. My task was to find the labeled tree (these trees could be in the middle of leaves, branches, etc.). Camila, our principle investigator, observed the fruit with binoculars.

We were so lucky to see a monkey with a baby on her back. The monkey had several ticks, and luckily I didn't get any (so far). I have to admit it was kind of disgusting seeing the ticks.

Tomorrow we will do the same task, and the team will always be Wendy and me. Every second day we will change tasks and partners to fulfill and support the job of a principle investigator.

I finally went to sleep, extremely tired and in the company of a very small and cute frog who seems to like our room very much. I guess I will overcome several phobias I have had in my life....

Saturday, May 8, 2004

We woke up early for a rich and wonderful breakfast with fruit, fresh orange juice, and warm bread! Finally, the adventure begins.

Greg, Louise, Wendy, and I got into a jeep driven by Amadeo (a real Brazilian and our pilot!) to go to Aquidauana and take a small plane to the camp. During the one-and-a-half hour drive, I had the chance to speak with Amadeo and get to know something about the history of Brazil, the area where we are going (Pantanal), and, especially, the Indios—the natives of Brazil who live in the area where we are going to.

Until Saturday, I didn't realize the economic situation of Brazil. I saw a town, Campo Grande, crowded like many cities in Spain, South Italy, and Portugal. But during this drive to the plane, I could often see children walking barefoot on the street and living in shelter-like structures.

Finally, we arrived at the wonderful five-seater Chessna airplane. It reminds me of the movie Out Of Africa, when Meryl Streep flies with Robert Redford over the colorful African land. This part of Pantanal is very similar to Africa, at least to the eyes of an uninformed person like I can be. I felt happy and excited to fly on this small airplane. No fear, no worries, just a sense of freedom and happiness. I'm looking forward to going back to Pantanal just to feel the same!

The fazenda is very nice and similar to a ranch. But here we are greeted with the first surprise: Louise, Wendy, and I will share the same room (a bit musty and wet) like in a mountain refuge. Nobody dares to say anything. I think we just started to realize what we will face during this adventure.

We got to know our Earthwatch coordinator, Ellen Wang, and all the principle investigators who will guide us during the walks in the field.

After getting to the fazenda, meeting the coordinator, and eating a special lunch, we went by boat along the river. I was astonished at the quantity of caimans! More than 20 in a small place, and you could always notice their eyes rising from the water. We were told there are lots of piranhas as well, but fortunately I did not put my hand in the water.

Friday, May 7, 2004

After a never-ending trip by plane to Sao Paulo, I finally meet the other volunteers: Greg, my colleague from the United Kingdom; and Louise, a really nice and funny English lady. We have the chance to talk, exchange experiences, and get to know each other even though extremely tired and exhausted. When we arrived at the hotel in Campo Grande after another flight of one hour and 40 minutes, we meet Wendy, the fourth volunteer coming from USA. We all went for a tour around Campo Grande, looking for a huge park there and walking a lot. We have to get used to the 19 kilometers (12 miles) we will walk every day in the Pantanal.

Monday, May 3, 2004

I spent a weekend trying to find the right organization of my luggage with no great success. The outcome is I need to buy a new rucksack because I do not have room available in the bag I expected to use. The funny side of all my efforts is that I do not have too many clothes but medicines, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, tapes, cameras, books, guides, and shoes! The positive aspect of not having many clothes is that mosquitoes like perfumes. By wearing the same pants and T-shirts every day, I suppose I won't be so charmingly "scented."

Another commitment I had for the weekend was the "relative tour." I had the chance to visit my 94-year-old grandfather, who is very proud about my trip to Brazil (I hope he did not get all my tales about snakes, jaguars, and caimans), my parents (I gave my father this website link to read my diary every day), and my brother. Thanks to this diary, they'll be able to read and follow my adventures in the Brazilian savannah and feel more comfortable about my health. There is a computer in the Fazenda, where we are going to stay for 12 days, so I will also be able to send news about myself every now and then.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Minus 10 days to leave!!! I have to admit that I feel a mixture of excitement and worry, as I will leave my seven-year-old daughter for 15 days for the first time. I had the brilliant idea to bring her to the zoo in Berlin recently. When she saw an anaconda in a cage (it was so long that it seemed there were 40 instead of only one), and as she could perfectly read "Anaconda-Brazil," she started crying because she was worried for me. Luckily, I was able to convince her that this was the only anaconda left in Brazil, but I really hoped to find out. It was just a silly joke to calm my daughter down.

I hope I will be able to see anacondas, jaguars, tapirs, and colorful birds in their own environment and to take many pictures to show my daughter how these animals live and the wonderful environment they are surrounded by. In this way, I will be able to provide my daughter with a different education on the environment and to have her understand the real habitat for these animals, which is not inside a cage in a zoo.

Monday, March 22, 2004

I went to get my vaccinations: yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis A. Soon I will take the malaria pills. I read several suggestions on how to avoid getting in contact with malaria. Spraying permitherin on my clothes while they are inside the luggage seems to be a very effective insect repellant method. The only unpleasant effect is that you smell like permetherin for the entire expedition, if you do not mind!

Monday, February 16, 2004

I received the first e-mail from Greg, my colleague from England who is going to Brazil with me. My first contact with him was kind of scary, because he sent a picture of himself taken during Halloween—he was dressed like a punk-vampire. I started to doubt if anacondas and jaguars were more dangerous than my English colleague!!!

Greg and I tried to find a way to fly together to Sao Paulo to get to know each other better, but unfortunately we did not have success. Instead, we will meet at Sao Paulo airport on May 7 at 5 a.m. for the first coffee together (how many will we drink to get up at 6 a.m. every morning in Pantanal?!). We also decided to visit Sao Paulo together after the expedition. Greg helped me in finding some stuff required for the expedition that was almost impossible to find in Italy. Because he bought me an English-style head net, Greg will be offered the first Brazilian fajolada (typical dish) I cook.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The big surprise: I received an e-mail saying I was selected to go to Pantanal, Brazil, from May 8 to 19. The title of my expedition is "Conserving the Pantanal," and I will be collecting data on a variety of vital links in the Pantanal food web to accelerate the conservation process. My happiness was doubled because I can speak Portuguese, so I have the opportunity to speak with the scientists in Brazil in their own language and, most important, I can have direct contact with the natives of the Pantanal area.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

My boss sent me an e-mail in which I got to know about Earthwatch and the possibility to go somewhere in the world to give a small contribution to protect our planet. Ten days later, I already had my application carefully filled out and sent in to Pat Atkins, hoping for a positive outcome. I believe it is a unique experience Alcoa is offering.

Related Sites

World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal
Find out what is being done to confront threats to the world's largest wetlands—home to exotic birds, monkeys, jaguars, anacondas, tapirs, and giant river otters.

Living Lakes Partnership
The biology and human history of the Pantanal by The Living Lakes Partnership, an environmental organization that protects lakes and wetlands around the world.

Pantanal Bird Club
Facts about the region's natural wonders.

Photo Gallery

View the images from Michela Corradini's diary.

Earthwatch Institute

Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.

Conserving the Pantanal

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.