It's All Fun and Games Till the Bridge Gives Way

I took a field trip the other weekend to Lagoa do Peixe National Park because there was a migratory bird festival going on and I am a bird geek. When you’re a bird geek, moving to a new continent with new avifauna is very, very exciting. And when you’re a bird geek in a new continent who finds out about a migratory bird festival happening nearby, you go.

I rented a car and left Porto Alegre on a Friday afternoon. I picked up a hitchhiker for a while to have someone to chat with. I was trying to get to Tavares, where I’d booked a room, before dark but fortunately I didn’t quite make it.

Approaching Tavares, RS

Approaching Tavares, RS

The next day was bird geek heaven. We checked out marshes and sand dunes and lagoons and the beach. After a few hours, I’d racked up almost two dozen lifers, but I didn’t take any pictures of birds because I was too embarrassed to pull out my camera around these sorts of people.

Not very many people in Porto Alegre had heard of or been to Lagoa do Peixe. I guess if you don’t like birds or peace and quiet, there’s not a lot to do there.

Getting to the beach meant our bus had to cross an old, tired-looking wooden bridge over a marshy tidal channel. If this bridge had been in the U.S., the state DOT would have shut it down decades ago. But here in Lagoa do Peixe, where far southern Brazil just kind of peters out into the ocean, the only precaution taken was when the bus driver made all of us bird geeks get off and walk across the bridge so he could attempt the crossing with no innocent souls aboard.

Depending on your perspective, what happened next was either the bus driver’s fault or the bridge’s fault. With us bird geeks safely across, the empty bus began to follow. Had the driver kept the wheels directly over the main structural beams of the bridge things might have been fine. Would have, could have, should have, whatever – the driver didn't do that and the bus almost immediately busted through the rotted decking boards.

A troubled bridge over water

A troubled bridge over water

This wasn’t the world’s most dramatic bridge fail, but it was an effective one. The bus was stuck and the only road back to civilization was blocked. Lucky for us bird geeks, a couple other vehicles were already on the beach side of the bridge, so we crammed into those and carried on. We found lots of shorebirds, flamingos and a footlocker-sized sea turtle carcass rotting in the surf.

By late afternoon, we turned to head home. When we got back to the bridge, the bus was still stuck, waiting for help to arrive from Mostardas, many kms away over bad roads. Then, minutes after we got there, help finally arrived: a backhoe in a dump truck. Right as I was wondering how the backhoe was going to get out of the truck, this happened:

Once on the ground, it took the backhoe about 10 seconds to pull the bus back off the broken bridge. Then the backhoe guy nonchalantly spidered his way back up into the dump truck:

Before we left Lagoa do Peixe behind, some of the folks in our group lent a hand by stacking some fragments of boards over the hole our bus had punched through the bridge. No blood, no foul; it was a great day for a bird geek.