On Friday 25 January, when I mustered up the will to leave San Ignacio, I started wondering how I could get to Ibera Wetlands Park before heading to Rosario where I would wait for my credit card and learn me some Spanish. Mijke the Netherlander and I couldn’t get to Colonia Pelegrini directly from Posadas, apparently, but according to the books and Herminia that was the only way in – and only if you had a 4X4, especially after rain. We took the quick trip to Posadas anyway, deciding that we would decide from there.
On a whim I opted to go to Corrientes from Posadas, sticking to the Rio Parana and trying to get into Ibera that way, while Mijke would take a bus to Gualeguaychu, which is way down south on the Rio Uruguay. The loose plan was to meet up in Montevideo for Carnival a couple of weeks later.
I sat next to a really cool lady from the UK during the trip to Corrientes, who was basically doing what I am doing except 25 years later. I can’t find Nikki on Facebook and I regret that, because her sense of humour was so typically British but so rare around these parts. To a certain extent Nikki was sad that it had taken her this long to take the trip; her slight melancholy was poetically offset by sharp observations and youthful excitement. I just know Nikki is kicking ass in Cordoba as I type, learning the tango and looking for spicy food (futile).
The memory of driving into Corrientes at sunset stands out. I sat up, woke up, took note of what was happening around me. Breathtakingly beautiful green fields with crystal blue lakes dotted as far as the light reached, herds of horses everywhere, trees that framed more flat open space than I had seen in a while, gauchos and farms and cows and then some. The plan when I boarded the bus was to stay in Corrientes for one night while I figure out how to get to Colonia Pelegrini; I knew then that I’d stay at least two.
As with most places around the world, I guess, the first parts that you see of the city itself are not pretty. Vehicles and industry and just regular people going about their lives. This was my first introduction to the family-of-three-on-a-motorbike-with-one-helmet-between-them phenomenon. I was shocked to the core and even raised my hand to my heart when I saw the mother clutching the father with one arm and the toddler with another, but I’ve been completely desensitised since. The dad was wearing the helmet, by the way. (The country is by no means lawless as some Argentinians would have you believe, but they don’t really sweat the small stuff here. Their definition of “small stuff” does differ wildly from ours, though.)
Driving into the old town, things changed. The turn of the century architecture is largely intact, especially close to the river where I stayed. Bienvinida Golodrina, my lodging for the night (and the following one), is in a stunning space: think stained-glass windows, shiny wooden floors, large communal areas, two storeys, indoor courtyard with stars standing in for ceiling. I went out to investigate Corrientes’ well known costanera (a promenade), which hugs the river for many kilometres. The bridge to neighbouring Resistencia blinkered in the distance. It was so damned romantic.
On this perfectly still, hot night, people were jogging and walking (exercise is conspicuously prevalent in Argentina, all hours of the day, everywhere). Others were drinking beer or eating at the roadside restaurants, which operate out of shiny trailers. People were fishing – some for subsistence, I think, others for family bonding time – drinking mate, couples were kissing and holding hands, teenagers walked in large groups, lights flickered on the water. I decided to stay another night.
The next morning I headed for that same costanera with a litre of water, the MP3 player and my camera. My destination was the Resistencia bridge. On my four-hour walk I went to a free zoo which was awful, and I don’t really want to talk about it (three pumas, monkeys running to and fro on very short branches, foxes, otters scratching themselves into oblivion, owls, eagles, you catch my drift). It was a blistering hot day but the tree-lined constanera offered more than enough shelter. I’ll stop yapping now.
I took a chance and contacted a dude on CouchSurfing who mentioned that he lives on a farm “near the wetlands” and that he travels in and out of Corrientes all the time. I hadn’t actually found out yet how to get to Ibera, either. After another night in Corrientes, and a few beers with dudes and dudette from the hostel, I thought hell, I’d better get my ass to Rosario. Besides, I hadn’t heard from wetlands dude. Can’t remember if at that point I was more stressed about the credit card or about how difficult life without Spanish would be going forward. For all intents and purposes I was set to leave for Rosario on Sunday night.
Had a nervous moment with The Law on my way back from that morning’s walk. I was taking this really kick-ass photograph of Argentinian flags in the foreground on a beautiful old building and the boats and the river in the background, when a police officer appeared out of nowhere and started going off in Spanish. I believe I was taking pictures of some kind of diplomatic building; I believe this is not allowed. Anyway, this went on for a while, and he demanded to see my camera, went through all of the photographs (there were many) and I thought “fuck there goes my camera”. Then he somehow got it across to me that I had to delete the pics of the building. Which I did. As I walked away, heart racing, his colleague smiled and waved and winked and whistled at me. Argentina in a nutshell.
Items lost so far
- Credit card
- Travel towel (don’t panic)
- Black cardigan (The last three items were left behind in San Ignacio; she giveth and she taketh away.)