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Published: February 8th 2010
our home for Xmas on the lake shore in the Esteros del Ibera wetland
The long distance bus station in Buenos Aires on the evening of 23rd Dec is not a sensible place to be. Here they celebrate Xmas on the evening of 24th Dec so the entire population of BA seems to be in the long distance bus station trying to get home with mounds of suitcases and parcels. Your ticket doesn't actually tell you which of the 70 odd stops your bus leaves from, it just says between stop 35 and 52. This is because the stops are allocated as the bus drives into the terminal 5 minutes before its due to depart. In theory there's an electronic departures board but its only showing a dozen departures and there are at least 50 buses loading passengers. So one of us stands with the luggage while the other attempts to patrol 18 bus stops which is a non-starter really given the density of people. Half an hour after the appointed departure time there's no sign of our bus - is it late or have we just missed it in all the chaos? Eventually it turns up and by the time all the luggage is loaded on we set off 1hr 30 minutes late (turns
despite all the tress surrounding the lodge he insisted on hanging into the fly screen and pecking the window. He did this all day long, day after day.
out that this was quite good - we met some people whose 20:00 bus left at 01:00).
It's another overnight bus which constantly stops in the absolute middle of nowhere to drop people off - no sign of houses, no lights visible for miles, just one car at the road side waiting to meet the bus. Our destination, the Esteros del Ibera National Park, is also in the middle of nowhere - from our bus stop on the main road its two hours down a muddy gravel track to the small village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini right in the middle of the Esteros wetlands which are full of capybara, caiman and lots of brightly coloured birds. As it was Christmas we treated ourselves to 3 days in a small lodge on the lakeside where we spend the mornings paddling on the lake and the afternoons lounging by the swimming pool in between eating 3 course lunches and dinners - all very relaxing and civilised. You hardly need to move as dozens of different birds flit around the garden and there's a family of capybaras that like to graze on the lawn. But I'm not very good at sitting relaxing
so we go off hiking to see the howler monkeys and horse riding (much to Edwin's disgust) round the village and through the marshlands with Edwin trying to convince the gaucho that motorbikes are better than horses. Night time paddles are fun, its pitch blackout on the lake but the sky is lit up by thousands of fireflies and the red lights twinkling all around us are caimans' eyes. On Christmas Eve there's a traditional lamb asado and champagne at mid-night, then we wander down to the church hall to join in the local Xmas dance. It a big event for the locals with the gauchos all turning up in their finery on their horses to impress the local girls. Unfortunately they are on Argentine time so the party doesn't get going until 4am, we wimp out at 2am after we see the first gauchos arrive.
After 3 whole days in one place its time to move on. Its rained heavily overnight so the road is just one big mud slide, luckily we're in a 4x4 and are treated to some really neat rally driving from an experienced local. We are now entering the 3 borders area where Paraguay,
Brazil and Argentina meet and its all mate and tea plantations - I never knew they grew tea in Argentina, apparently its to do with the red soil round here. Unfortunately its a Sunday so we don't get to go on a tour of a mate factory - mate is a sort of herbal tea that everyone in Argentina seems to drink; on buses, in the main plaza, by the roadside there will always be somebody stopped for a 10 minute break with their mate making kit. This area is also Jesuit territory where they had their grand missions (as in the film The Mission). The missions are now ruins with the jungle encroaching but you get a sense of how vast they were and how they were more of a community centre rather than just a church.
Continuing north we stop at the tiny village of Wanda where they mine semi-precious gemstones. Its amazing - a big wall of basalt rock (basically an old lava flow) peppered with geodes (large air bubbles) which are lined with twinkling gems. I never really though about the mining process for semi-precious stones, I suppose I assumed all gemstones occurred and were
mined like diamonds and that geodes just occurred here and there and were pretty ornaments, I didn't realise that geodes were the actual source of lots of gemstones - how educational, especially as we had an english speaking guide to explain it all to us. When we arrived at the mine there were only spanish speaking guides but one of them was dispatched into town on a moped to go and find Sylvia, the only guide who spoke english, who turned up after 15 minutes or so to show us round. The other amazing thing was the diversity of gemstones with geodes right next to each other containing totally different gem stones - deep purple amethysts next to yellow topaz next to pale blue aquamarine or blue topaz, which are both apparently quite rare. Now as well as re-visiting the countries where we didn't have long enough I'm going to have to find the time to do a geology course - the list of things to do in life never seems to get any shorter, it just gets longer.
After all this excitement its only a short distance to Puerto Iguazu our home for the next 2 nights.
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