INTENSE. THAT WORD SUMMARS THE PERFECTION MY STAY IN THE ESTEROS DEL IBERÁ, LOCATED IN THE HEART OF CORRIENTES, WHERE THE DAYS BEGIN AT THE COUPLE OF THE FIRST SUNBEAMS AND EXTEND UNTIL THE TIME IN WHICH THE HEAVEN BECOMES A MANTLE OF STARS.
A few minutes had passed since 7:30 when I met the guide of Iberá Lodge, Jorge, and another guest at the terminal in Mercedes, Corrientes province. I had traveled by bus from Retiro, City of Buenos Aires, to visit the second largest wetland in the world. A 70-kilometer trip by van separated us from our destination.
A few minutes after passing the Gauchito Gil sanctuary, we left National Route 123 to take Route 29 and cross 60 kilometers of gravel. On both sides of the road there were farms of small local producers, where in general sheep and cattle predominated. In some properties I could see family chapels and cemeteries, clear vestiges of the Guarani culture.
After the replacement of the Jesuits by priests of other congregations to attend to spiritual issues, the aborigines had abandoned the missions and migrated to other lands. In the case of Iberá, which in the Guaraní language means “water that shines”, more than 1,700 people from Santa Ana and Corpus settled north of the Esteros, under the protection of the images of the saints who had accompanied them in the journey, which continue in the hands of the same families, sheltered in private chapels.
Two kilometers before reaching the Lodge’s gate, the truck entered the mountain. The landscape had changed abruptly when arriving to the south of the Ibera Natural Reserve.
Leaslie and Verónica welcomed me with open arms and welcomed me to the south of the Esteros. During breakfast, they introduced me to the recent history of Iberá. The rest of the morning I explored the Lodge. After tasting a hundred percent homemade lunch, the pool was presented as the ideal place to enjoy the afternoon. In Iberá the days begin at the same time as the first rays of sun and extend until the hour when the sky becomes a blanket of stars. And the “siesta” is a sacred ritual that serves to escape the most oppressive heat hours.
When the intensity of the sun began to diminish, I met Jorge, Leaslie and the other guest in the game room to watch a documentary that reinforced the morning talk and prepare for our first foray into the Esteros. Jorge took the post and guided us on a hike along a path that crossed the mountain, while he taught us the different species of plants. At the end of the road, we went to an open area, where the horses of the lodge grazed. Among the bushes we observed a small corsuela, which soon escaped with grace and agility.
We approach the dock and border a part of the channel that goes to the Esteros to appreciate the last hours of the afternoon. We started the return by another way, much narrower than the first, and arrived with the last lights of the day.
The next morning, we meet in the dining room at 6:15 to have a tea with pastafrola. Fifteen minutes later, we got into the truck and left for Esteros. We traveled on the same route that we had done on foot the previous day and, halfway along the path, we found two small mountain foxes, who walked in front of us and then scuttled through the vegetation.
After crossing the 5 kilometers of the channel, the boat made its way between the natural streams, where we found capybaras, yacarés, birds and deer. As we proceeded, the water flowed harder and the underwater world made its way in front of us in all its splendor.
Time flowed like water and after four hours it was time to return. In the afternoon, we explore the surroundings of the helmet on horseback. I rode a red male called “Tic”, while the other guest did it on a white mare named “Luna”. With Jorge at the head, the cavalcade extended through the mountain, passing through the airstrip, until it reached the canal. “Do you want to swim?”, asked Jorge and my eyes lit up with enthusiasm. I accepted immediately.
We teach the horses how to approach the dock to climb more easily and then we remove the mounts. We ride bareback, under the Iberá sun. While “Tic” descended carefully and I could feel each of his movements under my body, the tension of each muscle, the warmth of his skin … At first, the water reached my waist but, as I went , it hit my chest. Suddenly, our bodies separated and I began to float, holding only the reins and their dark mane.
The second round was much better. I experienced again the sensation of our bodies as they separated, and when he got up to get out of the bath, the force of the water pushed me back, making me slide down the spine. I bent my chest, went to his neck and held his mane tightly. We made a third pass.
The return to the room was between laughter, with a wonderful feeling in the body. The three of us were completely soaked. The experience of riding bareback to swim with horses under the Iberá sun was engraved on my skin, as one of the most beautiful in my life.
The morning of the third day began with a hike through the mountain, followed by a second lake excursion to the Esteros for snorkeling, a gate to enjoy the underwater wealth of Iberá. At midday, the sun’s rays crossed the surface of the water and allowed us to appreciate the flora and fauna. Under the surface, the camalotes formed dense walls that divided the channels.
After a brief lunch in a refuge in the middle of the Esteros, Leaslie, Verónica and I went back to submerge in the streams, while Jorge and the other guest watched us from the boat. The night found us next to the Lodge fire, where Jorge prepared a lamb to the cross as a farewell.
On the morning of the fourth and last day, Leaslie took us to experience the rural tourism of Iberá, hand in hand with local producers. Graciela opened the doors of her farm and allowed us to see how the shearing with scissors and the process of mixing the wool. At afternoon, I said goodbye to the beautiful family of Iberá Lodge. I had with me experiences, flavors and aromas of a unique destination, which invites us to make contact with nature all year round.
Text and photos of Gabriela Naso.