Corrientes, La Plata and Buenos Aires
30.10.2010 - 10.11.2010
Greetings from Valparaìso, Chile... I hate it always takes so long to update the blog. We have been enjoying ourselves so much lately that we barely found time to sit in front of the computer. I was thinking in posting one last entry but I realized it is just too much for a single post. I decided to add more detail and photos rather than saturate ya'll or just narrate it superficially. So here we go...
Two bus rides were needed to go from Iguazu to Mercedes, a lovely laid-back little town in Corrientes province. It seemed as though we had been just a few minutes behind schedule because both connecting buses, in Corrientes City and Mercedes, had departed minutes before our arrival. In Mercedes there was supposed be another bus leaving 3 and a half hours later, so we waited in the bus station next to some "gauchos" (Argentinian cowboys) dressed with elegant bright shirts, horse-back riding pants, alpargatas (casual shoes made out of frabric), and boinas (funny looking hats) smoking a pipe or a cigarrete.
When the old bus had finally arrived the driver signed the papers as if he was getting ready to depart, but since there was no person checking in the ticketing office he decided he would not work that day... I couldn't believe my eyes! To make it even worse the next bus to Pellegrini would not depart for another two days!!! So we were stuck. There wasn't much to do in Mercedes other than sit in the park, people-watch and to have some of the best value meals we've had in Argentina. As we looked for a place to stay we met a couple from Buenos Aires who were traveling with grandma (la abuela) and two puppies in a landrover.
They kindly invited us to join them see "Gauchito Gil's Sancturary" the next day. Gauchito Gil is a sort of Argentinian Robin Hood. ASbout a hundred years ago, the so-called heroe got caught by the authorities and was shot to death in front of a tree that is now painted in red and adorns his sanctuary. Many locals who were grateful to him made him into a saint. Legend has it that the Gauchito Gil performs miracles! in that case the grantee returns to Gauchito's sanctuary and leaves something of sentimental value. When we arrived there was a gaucho cutting his little boy's hair at the feet of the tree as a sort of offering.
The place is visited all year long by large masses of devotees who not only pay their respects to the "Saint" but also wander around the informal improvised shacks on the dusty grounds outside of Mercedes, buying thousands of souvenirs and religious items. A Museum with tons of plaques and artifacts that had been offered as a ransom completes the tour. You would be amazed at the number of famous Argentinian characters that have left aticles such as bicycles, pictures, trophies, wedding dresses and uniforms from all sorts in return.
After that they took us to see San La Muerte, the most bizarre pagan "saint" you would ever imagine. Some Argentinians actually worship the image of death. How is that possible? The Cult place was predominantly black, with flags and images of the Grim Reaper. There were many many bottles of expensive and not so expensive whiskeys at the feet of the image. An article posted in the cult states that the "Santito" was actually a guarani priest that cured using plants and other sorts of beverages.
He was persecuted and burnt by Jesuit priests because of his bizarre practices. The "saint" is more popular among prisoners. The devotees of the Santito can ask for protection, and/or wishes with good and bad purposes. Apparently whatever is granted to the devotee is Satan's rather than God's work. I left the place with an akward feeling... Either way we were grateful to the Argentinian couple for having taken us there, otherwise we would have never know this kind of Pagan cults are practiced in Argentina.
After three long, dusty, and hot hours on a falling-apart green bus with red curtains we were in Colonia Pellegrini , the gateway to Provincial Park Esteros del Iberà. The little town (if you can call it a town) is composed of big `town` blocks but only with one or two houses on each. It looked more like a bunch of microfarms put together than a proper settlement. The charm of the place is the incredibly high diversity of birds and approachable animals that populated the area, not to mention its extremely sleepy atmosphere.
Esteros del Iberà is a paradise for nature lovers, competing with world-famous Brazilian Pantanal... and no wonder why. By taking a very short walk in the parks trails one can easily see Howler monkeys taking a nap or playing around, capibaras (the biggest rodents on earth), deer, foxes, and many many kinds of birds...On a short boat excursion we saw tons of capibaras, jacares (aligators), hundreds if not thousands of different birds and some of the most beautiful landscapes we have seen.
Imagine a deep blue cloudless sky mirrored on the dark waters of a gigantic lake with floating islands that host thousands of different animals that are not bothered by man's proximity. To see the sunset on the boat is quite a sight... seeing animals mating, hearing sounds of birds saluting the coming night as they get ready to sleep, feeling the cool breeze and breathing the purest air as one watches the warm colors of a setting sun fading on the horizon is awesome and can soften even the toughest hearts.
Traveling for work, town engineers working in a reforestation project in the area happened to be our neighbors in Pellegrini. The two Concordianos entertained us with conversations about Argentinian politics, development and social behavior. The tallest Argentinian guy we've ever seen complained about Kirchner's policy to alleviate poverty: "they are giving tax payers money to more than 2.5 million people to sit around and scratch their nuts, while we work our asses off" he said loudly. Some complaints don't change between continents.
A was very long bus ride took us to La Plata where a nice and happy couple (Guille and Camila) had opened their doors and arms to receive us. We had met Guille twice, first travelling in Bolivia in 2007 and then when he visited us in Austin. They were very hospitable and put up with us for four days. In addition to cozy and delicious restaurants our hosts took us to Republica de los Niños. A "sort of Argentinian Disneyland" they said joking. It had been Camila's dream since she was little to visit Peròn's gift to the Argentinian children. No wonder why there was a bust to Evita in the place.
The place is more than a mere amusement park, I must say. It has everything from a government palace, congress, court and banks, to jog tracks, Ferris wheel, horses and even a train that gives tours around the gigantic thematic park. But the greatest part of it all is that the Children's Republic is actually run by children! every six months they democratically elect president, congress members and other authorities to design and execute projects. Isn't it great!?
Guille and Cami also introduced us to a couple of fun friends with who we enjoyed a lovely dinner... we mainly talked about our trip, they couldn't believe that we were actually doing it, but the chat somehow evolved into a heated conversation about politics, family planning and gay marriage?
One of the best of being back in Buenos Aires was to see a dear friend of mine, Monchi. He hadn't cut his hair for 9 years giving him a totally different look. Walking the long streets of Argentina's capital is the best way to know the city. Along with our Swiss friend (Oli), we strolled around downtown B.A., for many hours. San Telmo seemed more picturesque and the souvenir shops, antique houses and steakhouses had multiplied by the thousands. It looked brighter, cleaner, and a lot more touristy than I remember... "When you came there was no body visiting Argentina, except for you, peruana" said Monchi. I came right after the big crisis that hit Argentina so everything was outrageously cheap.
And so we walked all over the place, a day was not enough so we decided to get back after going to Uruguay, but to stay in the Microcentro (downtown area). I will tell you about the amazing time we had in Uruguay and Argentinian Patagonia on the next entry... this time it won't take that long...I hope! Love ya'll.