Argentina - Esteros del Iberá
Jun 1, 2006
|This trip with Tracy was turning into one of those journeys of accomplishment for me...where I was actually VISITING all those places that I'd TRIED VISITING before but never quite made it! First Iguazú Falls, and now Esteros del Iberá.
Esteros del Iberá is the second-largest wetlands area in South America, second only to the Pantanal in Brazil (a "wetland" is an area in which water is the main factor controlling its environment and biodiversity). Encompassing around 15,000 sq km, it's the largest protected area in Argentina (called the Iberá Natural Reserve) and is one of the most important fresh water reservoirs on earth.
Formed mainly by rainfall retention, Iberá is a mix of swamps, bogs, stagnant lakes, lagoons, natural sloughs and connecting waterways. The waters are mainly shallow (depths between 1-3 meters) and are covered by a great quantity of floating aquatic plants, reeds and even native trees. In some areas, the thick accumulation of aquatic plants form floating mats of dried vegetation, like islands, that are driven by wind and currents.
Iberá is also home to a rich variety of fauna, including two Argentine species of caiman (alligator), river otter, maned wolf, yellow anaconda, pampas and marsh deer, pampas cats, black howler monkey, and the capybara (the world's largest rodent). About 350 bird species are found here as well as a large number of reptiles, fish, insects and amphibians.
After Iguazú Falls, Tracy and I did a quick trip through eastern Paraguay before popping out in north-central Argentina (see my Paraguay journal entry for details on this portion of our trip).
Iberá is sort of like Argentina's biggest unsung attraction. Of the people wishing to see wetlands in South America, the vast majority bypass Iberá and head straight to the Pantanal in Brazil. As a result, the tourist services at Iberá are few and still quite basic, and transportation getting to/from is downright challenging. But the benefit is that you get to enjoy this unspoiled beauty with very few people around.
So, from the border of Paraguay and Uruguay, Tracy and I more or less circled around the Iberá wetlands, traveling for a number of days through places called Posadas, Paso de Los Libres and Mercedes, until we finally arrived in tiny Colonia Pellegrini, the only village inside the Iberá Natural Reserve. We actually had to hire private transport for the final leg into Iberá as public transport options were impossible for our schedule. Once in Colonia Pellegrini, we stayed at a budget posada offering nice accommodation and half-board for US$20 per night. They also organized a variety of guided tours.
We went on a nocturnal boat tour which unfortunately got somewhat rained out, but not before we saw a scary amount of caiman eyes reflecting back from our flashlights. We also did a daytime boat tour, this time having more success and spotting some otter, marsh deer (both a big male and a mother/baby), capybara, lots of beautiful birds....and TONS of caiman! Bloody hell, they were everywhere! God help anyone who fell overboard because I think they'd be caiman bait in no time.
We also stopped and, after checking that no caiman were nearby, walked on one of the floating islands for a short while. It's amazing how spongy the surface is, but then again it's not solid ground, just tightly compressed dried vegetation.
One afternoon Tracy and I went on a walking tour through the monkey forest. We didn't actually see any monkeys, but this area was choc-o-bloc with capybara of various sizes. We saw why they're called the world's biggest rodent; some of the older males were the size of a large pig!
Now, up until this point my friend Tracy had been a little on the dull side. Unlike our previous travels where every day was another fall, accident, injury, or potential damage to buildings, nothing dangerous or slightly amusing had happened to Tracy on this trip. You know, I only travel with her because SHE's the clumsy one that makes ME look good ... what had happened to the awkward "Jane of the Jungle"??
Thankfully once we arrived in Iberá she was up to her old tricks again and pumped up the entertainment factor. While sleeping one night, she managed to get bitten, on her face no less, by what looked like an army of mosquitoes. The whole right side of her face puffed up like a marshmallow, and her right eye was swelled shut completely. I promised not to post any photos on my website, but let's just say that it looked like she'd been in a boxing match and didn't come out the winner! Ahhhhh, the old Tracy was back!!
The rain came the morning we were scheduled to leave Colonia Pellegrini. It didn't just rain, it POURED! We could definitely see how this area maintained its wetland status! The road back to Mercedes (point of nearest civilization), which was dirt and had been rough and dusty on the way in, turned into a messy, slippery mud-puddle on the way out, adding another hour onto our travel time. Wouldn't have been so bad, but we had picked up an additional 3 people to share our private transport back to Mercedes - in a vehicle where an additional 3 people was probably 1+ people too many - and poor Tracy ended up on the floor pretzeled between the front and back seat for the whole ride back. Good thing she does yoga!
From Mercedes we caught another long bus back to Buenos Aires where we stayed at my favorite B&B, checked out baby Moira (cute as a button and growing like a weed), and did some last minute shopping (for Tracy this time). The next day Tracy and I said our sad farewells and went our separate ways. She was on her way back home. I was on my way back to Paraguay.