Sunday, May 27, 2012

Iguazu and Esteros Del Ibera- end of April 2008

When I finally got to Iguazu, after the 24-hour bus, I went to the hostel I had booked. Yeah, I know I've said I never book hostels, but this was a special case. Everybody talks about the amazing Iguazu HI, and I was told it was the only hostel in town and that you have to book in advance. All three claims turned out to be either wrong or semi-true. It's a huge and pretty impressive hostel, probably the biggest I've been in, with a capacity for 220 people, a big pool, ping pong and pool tables, and buffet and BBQ nights. Quite good, but not really my cup of tea. I prefer the smaller places, where you actually get to meet people, instead of kinda swirling around in the general confusion. And it was a bit outside the town, so it was a little difficult to get food, which makes most people take their famous all-you-can-eat meals. Which were not bad, but relatively expensive. 
Anyway, I went to Iguazu for the falls and not the hostel, so... the falls were spectacular. I was expecting spectacular, so it kind of took the edge out of it, but it was still great- the force of it is just... it's hard to describe.
It's a big elongated bowl of waterfalls, probably several KMs wide. There are several hundred single falls, but I was told that when it's really rainy it can get to the point where the whole thing is one enormous connected wall of water. There's just water everywhere, probably more water goes through that small area in a day than the entire yearly rainfall in Israel. And it's all set in a (somewhat tame) jungle, with some jungle animals, to boot. We saw a small alligator (with a butterfly sitting on its head!), a fairly big turtle, some very special-looking butterflies, and some random big rodents. It's hard not to get swept away by the magnitude and strength of the falling waters... the only problem was, like always, that there were hundreds of people everywhere. It almost depressed me, the idea that there's probably no place like that in the world that you can really experience the natural way, since everything has been made into a park and a tourist attraction. Of course, Iguazu are considered the most beautiful and impressive waterfalls in the world, so it makes perfect sense that they would be very popular. And besides, what I am complaining about? If it wasn't a tourist attraction, with infrastructure and the whole support network around, I would have probably never gotten the chance to go there. And a good "trick", that worked out really well for me, was just staying in the park until closing time (6PM... early!). On the last hour I was almost alone. In fact, I was chased out by a park ranger, that told me I had to leave and then followed me on a bike to see that I was in fact leaving. He was very nice about it, though.
From Iguazu I went back to the unknown and more small townish experience. I went to a place called Esteros Del Ibera, which required three buses- a big, main route one; a provincial one; and a local van into the town I had to reach, called Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. But first I passed through the grave of the Gauchito Gil. Antonio Gil was a gaucho, obviously, and sort of an Argentinian Robin Hood, that deserted the army and was chased by the police for it. When he was caught, he was hung from a tree and killed, but not before he told one of the policemen that his son was ill and that if he prayed to him after his death, the boy would be healed. Sure enough, the policeman's son got ill, he prayed to the Gauchito, his son got better, and the story became famous. From then on, people have been praying to the Gauchito, asking for miracles, and there are small shrines for him all over Argentina, with red handkechiefs and pieces of cloth on them (apparently, it has something to do with a political despute, in which the sides were the 'reds' and the 'blues'). The whole thing sounds very similar to the myth about the Difunta Correa (if you don't remember it, I wrote about her in my San Juan post), I'd say. As far as I know, they are the two main unofficial saints in Argentina, and somehow, without any plans on my part, I passed through both of their graves. Oh, I should point out that the Gauchito's grave has also become a pilgrimage spot and small town, close to Mercedes, in the province of Corrientes.
Getting back to where I actually meant to go. I came to the small town of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, which is small enough to not be connected to the energy grid (they have a huge diesel powered generator instead), not have any street lights, and have only dirt roads that become mud-roads when it rains. The town is on a peninsula in the Ibera lake, inside the natural reserve which also houses the swamps and islands I came to see. The town is somewhat geared toward tourism, since a lot of people come to see the Esteros. Those, I should probably mention, are the biggest swamp area in Argentina, and it's supposedly similar in animal species abundance to the much more famous pantanal in Brazil.
I did a 2 hour walk, a boat tour and a horseriding trip in the town. The walk and the boat tour were really nice- I saw some monkeys, some sheep-sized squirrels called capivaras, a huge boar, a couple of alligators, and a lot of interesting birds. The islands themselves are just big chunks of mud and plants floating on the lake, and if you jump on the ground it bounces because it's so thin. The horseriding trip, which came later, was less a view and animal-sighting trip, and more of a stroll in a field, but it was also nice. It was my first time on a horse, and we went through a field filled (field filled...) with palm trees. I felt a little useless, since the horse knew where to go without me doing anything. It was all very automatic, and the 'guide' wasn't very talkative, but hey... what can you do?
When I came back from the horse trip the problems started. The van that was supposed to take me back to Mercedes at 5 PM broke down, so I had to take the 3:30 AM bus. Then the bus run out of gas, so we got to Mercedes two hours late. So I managed to miss the 9PM, 11PM and 7:30AM buses to Buenos Aires, and I had to wait four hours for the 13:00 bus. I spent most of the time in the city's plaza, and somehow just got into conversation after conversation, first with an old couple from Buenos Aires, then with some construction workers that are building the power line to Carlos Pellegrini [I wonder if it's done by now. It has been more than 4 years...], and then with an old Jewish woman that lives in Corrientes and has a daughter in Beer Sheva. After all that, I finally got to Buenos Aires at 00:30. So it ended up taking me close to 30 hours from the moment I was ready to leave Carlos Pellegrini until I finally arrived to my destination. 

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