Pellegrini; floating islands, crocs and big rats!
Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
133Trip End Jun 14, 2010
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Where I stayed
Don Justino Hostel
Whilst in Mercedes, we had been helped enormously by Graciella, who has something to do with the hostel we stayed in. Graciella is the antithesis of all thing Sudamerikano, as she actually gets things done. Having met us like a whirlwind at the bus terminal on our arrival, she gave us good information and flattered us about the quality of our Spanish. We had already planned to move on to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini and she showed us several alternative stopping places and made suggestions about how to see the National Park. We ended up using her services to book a couple of days of accommodation and activities; it was probably more expensive than doing it all ourselves but it was nice to be able to leave it all to someone else for a change!
Pellegrini is the gateway to Esteros de Ibera, a huge area of about 600 lakes connected by marshland, channels and waterways, which has been a national park for about 25 years. There are no rivers or springs feeding into the area, the water all comes from rainfall and feeds into the River Parana, the biggest river in Argentine (although we are far from sure how this is determined). Now that such a great area is being left unmolested, the wildlife is beginning to thrive after many years of being under threat from local hunting etc.
However, don't let that make you think that the town is some sort of Bakewell 'honeypot’. There are about 600 residents (about half of whom are children) spread out over a wide area. There are no surfaced roads leading to the town and certainly none in it! Although a map seems to show a similar grid system of roads to most Argentine towns, the blocks have nothing but fields and a few scattered dwellings within them.
Our first trip was by boat around the lagoon areas, stopping frequently to spot different creatures and we were quickly able to see capybaras. These look a bit like giant guinea pigs and are actually large rodents; ‘the world’s biggest rats’ proclaimed our guide Rodrigo. They live all their lives in water and have strangely but usefully developed webbed feet for swimming. We first saw them out of the water but they quickly assumed their normal position; almost completely submerged and voraciously chewing grass. (Their name comes from the native name which means ‘shiny head in the water‘ if our guide is to be believed).
The truth about the animals’ lack of fear was quickly confirmed as we drew alongside three caimans up to a couple of metres long basking in the sunshine. These relatives of the crocodile were quite happy to have us right alongside them and showed no signs of fear or upset. We were almost tempted to stretch out our arms and pet them, they looked so docile (although their teeth still look a bit sharp).
We saw many different birds in the area, which attracts lots of migrants. One sort is the Southern Screamer which is supposed to be very noisy. They live in families on the floating islands and the young hang around with the parents for almost a year before they go off to make their own family groups. The family group we encountered were obviously not living up to their name as they uttered not a sound.
The following day we undertook a bit of light trekking around the area with David, cousin to Rodri and son of the mythical Hugo who is supposed to arrive a some point and finalise our arrangements for leaving. We were supposed to begin with a viewing of a film in the visitors’ centre but this was not possible as, guess what, the electricity in the town had failed again. David resignedly explained that this happened a lot (we already sensed this). So we set straight off for our ‘nature walk’. We entered a very dense area of forest and fought our way through the even denser clouds of mosquitoes to find some of the local howler monkeys. We did see some of them, high up in the trees and one did a little bit of gymnastics for us as well. However, what they did not do was howl. Taking their cue from yesterday’s Southern Screamers, they were staying resolutely dumb. As we made our way over walkways and down trails we came across lots of capybaras and more caimans.
Our final afternoon we spent taking another excellent excursion by boat with Rodri. This time we passed under the very low bridge that carries the ‘main road’ into Pellegrini and explored the wider lagoon area. We have been a bit spoiled for inland waterways since we travelled up Tonle Sap in Cambodia, a waterway so wide that even from the top of the boat you can’t see the shores on either side. However, it was still an impressive bit of water and, as we saw yesterday, was full of interesting wildlife. We were pleased to see another Marsh Tyrant, a whiteheaded bird that travels around the marshes by sitting on the backs of animals such as deer and capybaras (but not, we imagine, caiman). We had a relatively early night - for tomorrow we are making a journey of many parts to get to San Ignacio to visit the ruins of the Jesuit Missions.