Thursday, May 31, 2007

Esteros del Ibera

After spending 5 days in Iguazu, we decided to head out to the “Misiones” province to check out some famous Jesuit ruins. (San Ignacio being the most well-known) It was a bit of a surprise to come across the ruins, they were quite elaborate with beautifully carved entrance archways and huge “longhouses” built from rock and used to house the natives in the mission. We learned that Portuguese Jesuits entered this part of Argentina (along with bordering Paraguay and Brazil) in the early 1600’s. The ruins are like nothing you’d see in Canada as they were built from volcanic rock “bricks” and other mineral sources.

The native people are called Guarani, and while there are still some full blooded villages in existence to this day, their population has downsized considerably. Many of the people in this region are mixed blood (or Mestiso) which is a mix of European and Guarani. (Believe I’m getting this right).

The next day we made a beeline to a town called Mercedes where we hoped to have the opportunity to visit the Argentinian Wetlands Esteros Del Ibera. The weather was cold and we were glad to have packed the long johns for this part of the trip! Camping was out of the question (most campgrounds are closed for the season and only offer cold water, brrr!). We holed up instead in a great little hostel called Delices Del Ibera and arranged a trip into the swamps.

Another set-back, out little car would NEVER make it on the gravel roads to the base camp Carlos Pellegrini. We needed to travel about 150 km directly into the swamp to get to the national park border. So along with our new travel buddy Adam, we arranged for a “collectivo” (mini bus) to take us in. It took us 3 hours to cross that distance, but it was well worth it!

We arrived in Carlos Pelligrinni at about 4 pm and were immediately greeted by an older gentleman (Martine) and 3 horses. We rode into the sunset while taking in the countryside. The town only has about 1000 inhabitants, 1 grocery store and 1 restaurant (both of which were run out of people’s homes I believe). It had a true provincial feel to it. We took a walk down the main road and were greeted by people on horses (the main mode of transportation here). There were also random horses and cows grazing along the side of the road seemingly with no owners as well as chickens and (yipee!) guinea pigs!

In the morning we went for a hike through the forest bordering the swamp and were surprised to find out they have monkeys! (very very loud monkeys!) There were also millions of birds stopping to check us out. Later in the day, once the sun came out and it warmed up, we went out on a boat to check out the floating islands and were thrilled to get up close (we could almost touch them!) to the swamp deer, capybaras and caymen. These three animals have no natural predators in the swamplands (besides man) therefore were not afraid of us…A capybara waddled right past us for a juicy grass mound when we stepped out onto one of the islands!

And so after our two exciting days on the swamp, we’re back on the road heading back to Buenos Aires to drop off the rental car and catch our flight back to Santiago. No worries parents, we’re on the job and apartment hunt now!

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