The staff spoke no English when I arrived, and all the literature was in Portuguese. But I somehow gleaned that the fabled tray of food would be put out at 18.30 sharp. Would a maned wolf really emerge from the wild and trot up the steps for his dinner? It seemed improbable.
‘The wolves came last night at both 6.30 and 9, apparently,’ said David, a British émigré to Ontario. ‘But it rained a lot, so we missed them.’ We grabbed beers together from the monastery’s wonderful old stone refectory and headed out to the baronial balcony, where white colonial chairs afforded a view of the Parque Natural do Caraça.
Minas Gerais Region
Insects buzzed and rubbed their legs in a cacophony; white butterflies flitted hither and thither; and tourists sat chatting, deleting digital photos of the day’s hikes. On cue, the priest arrived with his tray.
Over a few years, he has lured the maned wolves to the church using food, and I was expecting a dignified, ceremonious air to accompany setting down the tray. However, with a slapdash toss – a mannerism perhaps more suited to an Italian barista – he let the tray clatter to the flagstones from a height of four feet.
The resounding echo held our attention; a few moments passed silently before conversation resumed. Twitchers among the group soon began enthusing once more about the host of unusual bird species found in this area.
What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?
‘I’m going for dinner … Yes, I’m giving up, too,’ the pessimistic wolf watchers soon murmured. It was as though they wanted a wolf to appear over a pre-prandial gin and tonic, but not too late to interfere with one’s half dozen Maldon rock oysters in Chardonnay vinegar.
Yet, to me, darkness seemed perfect. Fireflies winked luminous neon, flashing ethereally in the warm darkness as the Southern Cross appeared above the palms. Alert, slouching against the church door a few yards from the tray, I listened hard for the giveaway patter of a slinking nocturnal mammal.
I heard nothing. Like a furtive highwayman, he was simply there – a few feet away. A crack. The chicken bone snapped in the wolf’s powerful jaws as though it were kindling. I looked down at my bare feet, back at this magnificent specimen, and gulped.
I’ll Blow Your House Down..
His huge ears pricked and his gait remained nervous, unsure. Leading his body with his head, he crept stealthily to the steps before returning to the tray. Crunch! Another chicken bone disappeared. Unfazed by flash photography, he repeated the process perhaps ten or twelve times, his muscular haunches taut.
As silently as he’d arrived, the maned wolf – as big as a timber wolf – left his captive audience. Across the grass, past the parked cars, he skulked, disappearing beneath the southern sky whence he’d come. I was glad I’d come too, and pleased to leave again with toes uneaten..