Wandering the Ibera Wetlands of Argentina
We are slow travelers, but all of a sudden it seems like time is not cooperating. Our last month in South America is flying by. Ol and I are in Argentina and traveling south to the beaches of Uruguay and a short stay in Buenos Aires. From there we will catch our return flight home. Living in and exploring South America for the past seven months has been an incredible experience. We have found that we don’t want it to come to an end.
It seems that everything now is conspiring to remind me of home. It is autumn in South America and we have experienced humidity, the intoxicating scent of ginger, and mosquitos the size of small birds. The weather, flora, and fauna in Paraguay and northern Argentina remind me so much of Mississippi.
It is in this familiar setting that we have planned one last outdoor adventure. We wanted to experience the wildlife and natural beauty of the vast flood plains, so we hired a guide to take us to explore the wetlands of Ibera.
These Argentinian wetlands are reminiscent of the Everglades in Florida or the bayous of south Louisiana and Mississippi. They are the second-largest wetlands in the world after the Pantanal in Brazil which are 620 miles to the north. The area is vast and covers over 7,700 square miles. The wetlands are located in north-eastern Argentina and the government has plans to eventually turn some of the reserve into a national park.
The wetlands are a mixture of swamps, marshes, bogs, lakes, and lagoons. It is teeming with wildlife including caiman (alligators), monkeys, rheas (South American ostriches), and capybaras (sheep sized aquatic rodents). Recently jaguars have been reintroduced to the region.
We arrived in Posadas, the regional capital, and took a two hour bus ride to the town of Virasoro to meet our driver who would take us into this wilderness. There are several world class estancias (ranches) and eco-lodges in the region where tourists can stay. Ours would be a quick one day trip. We really needed more time to visit than we had planned. We decided that a visit to an estancia with it’s horseback rides through the marshes, would go on our bucket list for our next trip to the region.
Our driver Ezequiel picked us up from our hotel for the two hour drive through the Galarza reserve. Ezequiel was a local and enjoyed stopping to point out colorful birds and animals along the way. He loved music and was proud of the sound system in his vehicle so we used the opportunity to share our music. We educated him on Mississippi’s musical history, and then introduced him to Bruce Springsteen.
Between the red clay road, the tall spindly pine tree farms, and the tall grasses, we could have been down the road from our home in Mississippi. We passed lots of cattle and horses and if weren’t for the occasional palm tree I would think that we were already home.
We turned down a series of small roads, with “camps” and occasionally passed some fancy gates indicating an estancia. We finally pulled up to a small house with a floor plan that opened up to the outdoors and were given a warm welcome. Ezekiel introduced us to our two guides, Lukas and Marcelo and our cook An. Was all this just for us?
The view was stunning. The house overlooked the wetlands and was surrounded by large trees filled with colorful birds. There were enticing hammocks swaying in the breeze. Our hostess welcomed us with tea and coffee and some delicious wood fired bread. We were given a tour and made to feel comfortably at home.
The lodge and furnishings were all hand made by our host. We sat and visited and perused the table top books about the area. Ezekiel showed us pictures of the birds, reptiles, and animals that we could expect to see on our tour.
After tea our young guide took us on a hike. We stopped at his house along the way and admired it’s craftsmanship. It was truly a work of art with it’s reed walls and ceiling, and beautiful wooden beams. He explained that it took him six months to build this incredible space.
We then walked on a small path towards a grove of fruit and eucalyptus trees. Within the small grove was a stand of bamboo where we watched two different species of monkeys playing in the treetops. We also saw parakeets, hawks, and numerous colorful birds.
After a walk along the shore of the lake we went back to the lodge where we saw our first capybaras. They were huge, and enjoyed wallowing in the mud during the afternoon heat. Our hostess prepared a wonderful lunch of empanadas, salad, and steak sandwiches which we quickly devoured.
After finishing a few cold beers we were escorted to the boat launch area for a tour of Ibera by water. It took less than two minutes to see our first caiman. The area was filled with more alligators than we had ever seen. While the caiman are smaller than Louisiana alligators, they are much more plentiful.
We soon stopped and pulled up on shore. I panicked as our guide motioned for us to get out of the boat. After hearing and seeing all of the caiman I was not getting out! Our guides laughed. They exited the boat and began jumping on the marshy ground. They wanted to show us that the land is actually made up of aquatic plants and is not land at all, but instead is a mass of floating plants that look like islands.
The area is a birdwatchers paradise. Our list of bird sightings for the day was getting longer. Unfortunately, we weren’t fast enough to get photos of them all.
For me, the highlight of the day was being able to see acres and acres of beautiful water hyacinths. We also spotted the occasional red flower peering through the reeds. We learned that this is Argentina’s national flower.
It was a relaxing day filled with lots of beauty and a little adventure. I wanted to know when was the best time of the year to return. Our guide told us that it was beautiful year round, but October is when the wetlands are blooming and it is in it’s glory. I couldn’t imagine it being more beautiful than today. Oh well, another place to come back to! Rather than checking things off of a bucket list, it seems that we keep adding to it.
If you want an amazing eco-adventure, contact Jose Esteros del Ibera, we were lucky to read about him on a blog. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.