Swamp lovin’

Horse riding in the Ibera wetlands.

Horse riding in the Ibera wetlands.

I love swamps. Edel, who might be the worlds most understanding wife, even let me drag her off to one during our honeymoon (you couldn’t go to Cuba and not visit the Zapata peninsula wetlands now could you?). The Ibera wetlands in Argentina are the worlds second biggest, after the Pantanal in Brazil-Bolivia (which we visited and nearly died from the heat in on the last trip). From Iguazu we’re approaching the Ibera in an awkward way, honing in slowly in a big counter-clockwise spiral…heading straight south from Posadas looks smarter on the map but we’ve been advised against it…

Mercedes town square.

Mercedes town square.

After the ten hour bus from Iguazu we spent the first night on the way in Corrientes, which the Lonely Planet describes as “fuck Corrientes, it’s not that interesting anyway”, while pondering the lack of budget accommodation… I miss the Rough Guide – we usually travel by it always but couldn’t get hold of it for Argentina so now we’re stuck with the Lonely Planet and its descriptions of “super happening nightclubs”, and a “Drinking” section for every place even where they don’t bother with a map (incidentally their maps are awful, printed in six near-identical shades of grey and tiny font). We stayed in a hotel by the bus-station in Corrientes, to continue to Mercedes to the south a little closer to the Ibera next. While I wouldn’t quite be ready to hurl expletives on Corrientes, Mercedes definitely has more charm – a pleasant little town with lots of rusty old cars (there even seemed to be raggers – a large boat-shaped truck with lots of people on it played music while driving very slowly around the square…). We got our swamp excursion organized – two nights in Colonia Pellegrini which lies by the Ibera lake, bus there in the morning together with a nice German hippie girl who we teamed up with, and then 4×4 transport along the road we had been warned against back to Posadas.

Black Caiman in the Ibera wetlands.

Black Caiman in the Ibera wetlands.

The road to Pellegrini wasn’t in that great shape either, but the bus did get us there and we checked in to a hostel in the village that turned out to be just a few blocks big. We went horse riding for a few hours in the afternoon and saw lots of birds. I had a very lively horse that liked running fast and wasn’t a bit interested in what I had to say about that. Minor problems sitting on hard surfaces after.

The next morning before it got too hot we went out by boat on the wetlands, great way to see lots of animals. We spotted lots of capybaras (at up to 70 kilo the worlds biggest rodent), black caimans, and southern screamer, jacana and lots of other birds. The lakes in the wetland are full of big floating islands of vegetation – some even big enough to have trees! Walking back to the hostel after the boat dropped us it had gotten very hot, humid and burning sun, loud cicadas everywhere in the trees. Slept away the day’s hottest hours, then went for a walk in the evening where we saw lots of howler monkeys, and more capybaras grazing by the ranger station. We were completely eaten by mosquitoes on the walk, and saw a 20cm toad back at the hostel.

Capybara in the Ibera wetlands.

Capybara in the Ibera wetlands.

For the next morning we had a 4×4 transport organized to take us back to Posadas, to find out exactly why taking the direct road instead of the longer route via Corrientes-Mercedes is a terrible idea. It was raining very heavily this morning, with thunder and lots of wind. The road was indeed awful, the red dirt turning into clay and the pickup slipping and sliding in zigzag back and forth across the road. A non-4×4 car was stuck solid in the mud just a couple kilometers from the village, and power-lines had been torn down by the wind all along the road. The first hundred kilometers took us over five hours… We had left with two cars at the same time in case one would get stuck out in the middle of nowhere – the second car got a broken gearbox at some point so had to be towed..slowing us down from a speedy 30 kmph to 20. We did make it to Posadas in the end – eventually the dirt-road connected out to a better road and the rest was much faster. In Posadas we caught a short bus-ride north to San Ignacio, to stay a few days and visit the ruins of a number of old Jesuit missions.

Baby capybara with friend in the Ibera wetlands.

Baby capybara with friend in the Ibera wetlands.

Howler monkey in the Ibera wetlands.

Howler monkey in the Ibera wetlands.

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