In northeast Argentina lies Iberá Provincial Nature Reserve. It is a large wetlands, remote and difficult to access, with enormous biodiversity. Think caimans, capybaras, deer and a dazzling array of wild bird species, all living in harmony in their natural habitat. After getting caught up in the beaten tourist trail that is Iguazú, I was keen to have a deeper and more personal experience with nature. Iberá was, for this reason and many others, an attractive prospect.
The wetlands are accessed from the small community of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. To get there, I had to get a bus south from Corrientes to Mercedes, and then take a privately run minibus early the next morning to the reserve itself. The latter journey is slow, as the road is unpaved and in particular difficult to pass after rain without a 4×4.
I arrived, along with a few other tourists, at around midday; the heat and humidity was searing. I found a simple lodging at a place called Hospedaje los Amigos, which to put it politely was not a well-loved place. Behind the shower curtain in my bathroom were hundreds of mosquitos taking their siesta, the net on the window having had a large hole ripped in it. The place overall was fairly unsavoury and unsanitary. I am not too picky regarding accommodation but I do prefer a reasonably clean and cared for environment; basic on the other hand is no problem.
Fortunately the other guests staying there were nice. I met two German ladies in their twenties (who may or may not have been in a couple), an older man from Argentina and an American chap called Gregory. We got to know each other over lunch and decided we would go down together to the campsite, where the boats launch from in the evening, for a tour of the swamp.
The boat tour itself was fantastic and the punter got us up close to several caimans, as well as groups of capybaras that were swimming about. I am particularly keen on this large rodent, perhaps for its exotic nature or perhaps simply for its cuteness. Gregory had a DSLR camera similar to mine but kitted out with an enormous telephoto lens. This allowed him to get some excellent close-ups of the various avian fauna and I do slightly regret only having brought a wide angle lens (but I will make sure to borrow my Dad’s zoom lens next time!). Greg is a man who has travelled extensively in his twenties and thirties, with many fascinating stories to tell, and has learned exactly what he most enjoys as a traveler. As such, while Iberá was just one of many stopping off points for me, visiting it was the sole purpose of his trip.
The next morning, the two of us went for a walk outside of town to reach a few of the short trails that the wetlands offer in addition to the boat launches. The first was a raised wooden walkway that takes you some way into the swamp area. It was not the sights, but the sounds which most impressed me here. The harmonious combination of insect, amphibian and bird noises was out of this world: it was music to the ears and wonderfully enchanting.
The other two treks we made were in the jungle. Here, one is supposed to be able to encounter Howler monkeys, which are billed as being the world’s loudest land animal. After a little observation we did find one high up in a tree, but unfortunately for us it remained motionless and silent. So we did not see very much in the way of wildlife here, although the sounds were once again impressive. Gregory rightly mentioned that you have to spend a lot of time in nature to properly observe your animals of interest – the more time you dedicate, the better your chances – precisely why he had chosen to stay in the reserve for several days.
Although I myself only spent a day there, the wetlands offered exactly the brief respite I needed from the air-headed tourist haven I had just come from. It was an enriching experience and I hope to someday visit another swamp!