Friday, November 10, 2006

anacondas, caimans, and giant aquatic rodents, oh my!

3 sentences in the guide book mentioning giant aquatic rodents conceived the decision to leave where we had just arrived, and embark on what became a 16-hour adventure. We left rosario, with light hearts and the joy that lies in diving into the unknown, and boarded the overnite bus. Arriving in the small, hot town of mercedes, we navigated past the over-aggressive woman at the hostel, deftly milking her for info without committing to any packaged tours. We boarded a dented mini bus for the nature reserve about which we still knew nearly nothing beyond those strangely seductive aquatic rodents. as we bounced down the rutted road, inhaling 3 hours of dust, gazing out at open fields of cattle, horses, sheep, and the occasionaly emu, we had too much time to ask ourselves, ¨what the hell are we doing here?¨ Then, like an oasis, appeared the shimmering waters of the esteros de ibera. (ibera means, in the indigenous guarani language, ¨brilliant waters.¨) We resisted the urge to dive in, respecting the threat of digit-nibbling piranas, and 8 ft. long caimans, not to mention the infamous anaconda. We slid a kayak into the late afternoon waters, just as it snorted by the bank: the carpincho (capybara.) Now, anything described as a giant aquatic rodent would impress me, but this beast was mesmerizing: like a hamster crossed with a rat, a beaver, and a huge, grumpy dog, measuring nearly 5 feet long and low to the ground. We didn´t know whether to be afraid of its claws or roll around and cuddle with it. We spent 3 days there, exploring the lagoon on foot, in the kayak, and by motor boat. We fought mosquitos to see howler monkeys sprawled in trees, an incredible array of birdlife, caimans close enough to grab, and spent the hot afternoon hours chillin in the shade with the carpincho who had claimed our campsite as his territory. In the middle of the lagoon, the nerve center of life in ibera, most of the aquatic rodents lived on floating beds of plants - aggressively defending their territory. one nite, after a bottle of wine and a feast of garden-fresh produce, we returned to the previously empty campsite. Approaching the tent, we saw a man lurking in its shadows. We attacked! Hurling our quite limited array of spanish threats at what turned out to be a sweet man setting up his own tent! Dario had ridden his heavy argentine bike for 2 days to get here, and we quickly moved past apologies to recognize the mutual connection. Later that nite, we accepted cheek kisses and the invitation to stay with his ex wife and son in the town of posadas. 3 more hours on a red-mud, rutted road, and we rang the doorbell of Ana. Our reservations quickly melted away with kisses of welcome and her manic, joyful energy. To us, she opened her heart and house - a sub-tropical palace of breezes, giant palms, and... a yoga studio where she taught! We shared hours of laughs and full-faced smiles with Ana and her son Ignacio. And Dario actually made it back on our last nite, when we all shared a feast of beef (of course), salad, cakes, and lots of wine...


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