Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 4

21  August 2017 – Posadas, Misiones to Mercedes, Corrientes – foot to floor, and no photos

Argentina long distance coaches are extremely comfortable, though the catering can be a bit unpredictable

I slept well on the overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Posadas, helped by a surprisingly good evening meal (quite unexpected) and some not bad wine. Arrived in Posadas about 08.00 am to a crisp, sunny morning and took a taxi to the airport, some fifteen minutes from the bus terminal, where I picked up my rental car – the lowest of the Chevy range but good enough for my purposes.

Chevrolet Corsa, my wheels for the next ten days

The distance to Mercedes, in the Province of Corrientes, at least the way I drove it, was about 500 kms so I made a promise to myself not to stop and take photos along the way. And that was really hard, with so much wetland, so much avian activity. But it was the only day of my trip with heavy mileage (kilometrage?) and inevitably something of a grin and bear it journey. So, no bird photos for today’s blog.

The red earth of Misiones

The journey started with the deep red earth so characteristic of Misiones, which was gradually replaced by greener vegetation and more and more wetlands. Trees more or less disappeared along the highway, making the ones that were there stand out like planted specimens on a country estate.

“Santo Tomé was founded in 1632 by the Jesuit missionaries Luis Ernot and Manuel Bertot, with help from two native Guaraní chiefs that converted to Christianity. Its name is variedly found as Santo Tomás, Santo Tomás Apóstol, Santo Thomé and Santo Tomé” .. hoc dixit wikipedia..

A spot of lunch in Santo Tomé (a very filling milanesa sandwich), and back in the saddle. Missing Silver the Jeep, but the hire car was fine and I got to Mercedes at about 16.30. Quite a classy hotel for what I paid, and doubles as the local casino so pretty busy as the evening wore on. I managed to repack my luggage rather more intelligently on arrival, so I don’t have to get everything out when I come to an evening stop –  but obviously nothing is ever in the right place.

Tomorrow’s much shorter journey to C. Pelligrini

Tomorrow an early start for the 130 kilometres to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini, where I shall stay three days. Mercedes is known as the gateway to Iberá, so many birders will have been this way before. I have been told by several people that the last 40 kms of the Approach road to C. Pelligrini are good for birding so shall have a leisurely drive, stopping often. It’s taken long enough to get here, but tomorrow it all starts.

 

 

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 3

20 August 2017 – Buenos Aires – a hot, sunny winter’s day as the journey proper starts

I have been staying at the Castelar Hotel in Buenos Aires several times a year since 1998 and have always felt really comfortable here. But perhaps it’s time for me to evaluate my options.

 Castelar  Hotel, Buenos Aires, my transit hotel in BA for nearly 20 years

First of all, I couldn’t get to the front door of the hotel this weekend because of a huge open air ‘event’ (an asasdo (barbecue) contest in which grillmen from across the nation cook their stuff in the main drag – go figure). This is fine, enjoyable even and maybe a cheap munch that could turn into lunch?) but not when you are baggage laden and have to struggle a block and a half after a long and exhausting journey.

I mean, how clear can you get?

Then my reservation didn’t seem to have reached the hotel, which was full like Bethlehem on the birth of JC only without a manger option, and I was being politely turned out into the street on a long holiday weekend at about 21.30; it wasn’t until I produced a dated, letter-headed  email of confirmation from the hotel that they managed to find a room. Just like that. There were no rooms, remember, I was being turned away, and suddenly there’s a  room. I mean, if they had a room all the time you’d think they’d want to keep a customer of 20 years’ standing reasonably happy. Then in the morning no hot water in the shower, and the weather was not conducive to a cold one. Down to breakfast and that was delayed for whatever reason. Etc.,etc.,  and end of rant.

Silver, my expedition companion, too far away for this trip but will be sadly missed.

But hey, I’m starting another trip and these are minor issues. Met Marya today to pick up the gear I’d brought up from Patagonia – it’s very different doing these trips in hired cars, but the cost in time and money of getting Silver the Jeep up from Patagonia just wasn’t viable so I’d brought up essential camping gear, etc. when I left last year. Good to see Marya again – seems a long time since we first met in Barcelona in 1976, lots of water under that bridge.

The Immigrant Communities section of a huge gastronomic event in central Buenos Aires. Not for vegans and vegetarians.

There was a big ‘event’ in Avda. 9 de julio today, stretching from the Obelisk to Avda. de mayo, with countless stands – this was the ‘event’ that made me walk with all my bags – lots of food, lots of people, above all, lots of meat, but all a bit commercial for my tastes. I ended up eating pizza in one of my favourite places in the area – the famous, traditional  33 Billares.

All you need to know about the 33 Billares

Pizza and cold draught beer of the pilsner kind, but good.

I opted for pizza and draught beer – a glass this size is charmingly called a tanque (Eng. tank), presumably in some strange etymological way related to the word ‘tankard’. Anyway, both beer and pizza were good and welcome – it has been a hot day, surprisingly hot for the middle of winter.

Part of the lower billiards hall at 33 Billares

After lunch I watched the old men play billiards for a while – and noted there was one really old snooker table, covered up today but the wooden frame gave away its age.

The depressions at front left and half way along the right hand frame reveal that this is a [full-size] snooker table, something of a rarity in Buenos Aires

After lunch back to my hotel to pick up my bags, and a taxi to the Retiro coach  station where I boarded a bus for Posadas, in the Province of Misiones. I arrive there tomorrow morning, at sparrow fart, but I doubt I’ll blog from there as I am picking up a rental car and driving down to Mercedes, in the Province of Corrientes. But let’s see – life would be boring if everything always went to plan.

I’ll drive from Posadas to Mercedes, and the following day drive on to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini, on the west of the Parque Iberá.

Note: All photos today from the iPhone – I am a little scared to expose expensive glass in the streets of Buenos Aires – but hopefully I’ll soon be blogging some interesting wildlife in higher resolution.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 2

19 August 2017 – Frankfurt to Buenos Aires – A day that started badly but ended well

Due to delays leaving Manchester I arrived in Frankfurt yesterday an hour late for my Buenos Aires connection. I managed to find a flight the following morning, but had to spend the night at an airport hotel (fairly ghastly) with a free supper (definitely very ghastly), and got an early flight to Madrid where I just made the connection to an Iberia flight to Buenos Aires.

 Long wait to see if I can get a seat on an alternative Iberia flight 

I’d forgotten just how much walking you have to do at these big airports – 30 mins to get from Iberia Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, and don’t get me started on Frankfurt Airport. As the years go by it all gets a little more wearisome.

Finally arriving in Buenos Aires

Anyways, I got into BA on time and only 12 hours after my original ETA. Miraculously my baggage followed me on my peregrinations, and we are all reunited in my favourite Buenos Aires hotel. Tomorrow a bit of shopping and an afternoon bus ride to Posadas, Province of Misiones, await.

A light supper before crashing into bed …

Out for a quick bite to eat, and an early night (at least in Argentine time – my clock is all over the place) as I am well and truly pooped after all my exertions. Tomorrow, the real journey begins.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 1

18 August 2017 – Manchester, UK – Setting off

Up at 06.30 to say goodbye to F. Finished packing, checked lists and spent some quality time with Maga and Mati (and a quick hello to visiting Blackie) before taking a pre-booked taxi to Manchester airport, whence next stop, Buenos Aires.

Bags packed and ready to go

As I have time to kill at the airport, a few words about the planned trip. I’ll spend one night in Buenos Aires, and the following day take an overnight bus to Posadas, Province of Misiones. I pick up a rental car in Posadas and drive straight down to Mercedes, Province of Corrientes, where I spend the night.

Up very early the following morning and drive to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini, on the East  side of the Esteros de iberá, the second largest wetlands (after Brazil’s Pantanal) in South America. I spend a few nights here, and move on to the Mburucuyá  National Park for a couple of nights before returning to the Esteros de Iberá, this time at Cambyretá, close to Ituzaingó on the northern border of the wetlands.

Photo from http://www.tripin.travel/_blog/webfiles/imagenes/proyecto-ibera-2014-proteccion-ecologia-blog3.jpg

A few nights there, and back to Posadas for the Argentine Annual National English Teachers’ Conference (FAAPI), where I’ll be meeting old friends from the many years I lived and worked in Argentina.

Conference over, I rent a car and north-east to San Pedro where I pick up Guy Cox and we spend a week together birding the reserves (Karadya, San Sebastian de la Selva, Urugua-í) between San Pedro and Iguazú, and then and all around the Iguazú area.

Guy Cox, Misiones Bird Guide

My sister Caroline then arrives at Foz do Iguaçu (the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls) and we take an overnight bus to Asunción (Paraguay) where we meet our guide Oscar Rodriguez, who will take us north-west, up along the Route 9, to explore the wild life and learn something about the Mennonites who have settled there and the indigenous people who have always (relatively speaking) been there.

Giant Armadillo, endangered species – one of the species we hope to see in Paraguay

After a week of this we come back to Asunción and Caroline and I will spend another few days in a rented car exploring the area south-east of Asunción. Not quite sure what we will find there, but certainly some of the Jesuit Missions set up many years ago.

And then Caroline goes back up to Iguazú for some more conventional tourism while I fly back to Buenos Aires, and thence to San Martín de los Andes to take up residence until January.

So, tomorrow Buenos Aires.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay

Tomorrow I’ll be starting a blog of a trip I am making through the north-east of Argentina and parts of Paraguay. I’ll be on the road from 18 August to 24 September and hope to blog highlights here. A word of caution, however; much of the area I am visiting will have no electricity, let alone Internet connections, so I’ll post when I can.

The area we shall be covering. The red Xs mark places we shall be visiting.

Much of my focus will be wildlife, both birds and whatever else I have the good luck to see. I have dreams of big cats (in particular the jaguar), but am realistic enough to accept my chances are slim. Still, I should see plenty of other wild life and many, many birds.

One can dream … . Photo from https://www.andbeyond.com/tours/wild-ibera-and-iguazu-falls/

There will of course be other things to interest us, such as the Jesuit ‘Reductions’ (where native inhabitants were forcibly settled into religious communities) and the modern day (fortunately voluntary) Mennonite communities in Paraguay. And all the other tourist stuff.

We shall of course also be visiting the world-famoius Iguazú Falls

For the second half of my trip my sister Caroline will be joining me as we visit Paraguay. For this part of the trip we will use the services of a guide, as the area is simply too remote and potentially dangerous) for us to do it ourselves. Apart from anything else, 4WD is essential here, and to hire a 4WD would cost about as much as the guide – so better for us to be safe (and informed).

Why we need a four wheel drive vehicle …

I’m looking forward to travelling with Caroline again. We did a trip together last year through Welsh Patagonia and got on well together, and although I tend to travel by myself the company will be welcome.

A memory of our trip to Patagonia last year, with my jeep Silver.

More preliminary information about the trip here, and if you want to follow our progress the link here should always take you to our latest blog post. Watch this space.

On the road again – to the land of Jesuits, Mennonites and (hopefully) jaguars

The Province of Misiones in north-east Argentina is named for the Jesuit Missions, or ‘Reductions’, a type of settlement for indigenous people in South America created by the Spanish Jesuit Order during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Shortly off on my next trip, and already getting excited about it. The trip consists of three parts (see below) and all things being as planned should take 35 days. Not taking Silver the Jeep this time as I am starting in the north of Argentina but will be using a number of car rentals, some 4WDs, and depending on the services of a number of guides.

Trip 1: mainly around the Iberá Wetlands

Trip One starts in Posadas, northern Argentina (see above), and takes me around three important birding areas. One is the township of Carlos Pelligrini, on the Eastern edge of the Iberá wetlands, decribed by Wikipedia as ‘a mix of swamps, bogs, stagnant lakes, lagoons, natural slough and courses of water in the center and center-north of the province of Corrientes, Argentina’. The wetlands are the second-largest wetlands in the world after the Pantanal in Brazil, and a paradise for lovers of wildlife. Then I spend a couple of days in the Mburucuya National Park, and finally three nights in Cambyreta, a northern gateway to the wetlands from Ituzaingó.

Trip 2 From San Pedro to Iguazú, stopping off a lot on the way

The second trip (see above) will be around the northern half of the Argentine Province of Misiones, starting in San Pedro where I pick up Guy Cox who will accompany me for the week. We shall start at the  Parque Provincial Cruce Caballero, an aracauria forest reserve near San Pedro, and then move north hugging the border with Brazil as far as San Sebastian de la Selva; then on to  the area around Iguazú. There’ll be other trails too along the way: Guy is sorting that out for me.

Forest clearing in the Paraguayan Chaco

The third, and perhaps most exciting trip because of how far off the beaten track it will be, will be in the Paraguayan Chaco, described by Wikipedia (I know) as ‘a sparsely populated, hot and semi-arid lowland natural region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay, northern Argentina and a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where it is connected with the Pantanal region’. I shall be visiting the ‘northern’ Chaco, where Mennonites have settled, and will experience both humid and arid areas.

Mennonites in Paraguay (Photo from https://lanterns.buzz/index.cfm)

We’ll be doing some general tourism (Historical sites, Jesuit Missions, Mennonite communities, etc.) and visiting reserves north-west from Asuncion, along the Route 9, up to and beyond Filadelfia. With 500 birds, 150 mammals and 220 reptiles and amphibians it promises to be interesting, not least because of its inaccessibility and inhospitability. The big hope is jaguars, but our chances are probably not that good – we’ll see.

The huge hope is to see jaguars – fingers crossed, but the odds are probably against it. (Photo from https://www.wcs.org/our-work/species/jaguars)

My sister Caroline is joining me for this part of the trip and we have had to contract the services of a guide (Oscar), driver and cook, the last of which I imagine as going off to pot bushmeat as evening approaches but I may be wrong – he may bring a tin opener instead.

Roads in Paraguay are not the world’s best, and when it rains are frequently impassable for a few days. (Photo from http://aufpad.com/2016/06/28/paraguay/)

We’ll be with Oscar for a week or so, and then Caroline and I will spend a further week exploring the area to the south-east of Asunción. No plans for that part yet, but we’ll be blogging the whole trip although not in real time since wifi and electricity are going to be in short supply.

Watch this space.