LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 43
Page. 44 - 53
By: Julia Caprara
Pictures: Federico Quintana
Iberá is a continent apart, where the water reigns and shines. It is the largest fresh water ecological reserve in the Americas, unique and mysterious. The land becomes marshy as it extends between the lakes, a natural habitat for animals, bulrushes and legends.
In Posadas airport, Elsa Güiraldes, our hostess, was waiting to take us to Carlos Pellegrini, a minute colony at the foot of the Esteros, almost untouched by civilisation; no restaurants, no hotels and no
service stations. We crossed the province of Corrientes to the extreme north. We let Provincial Route 40 be our guide. During the journey we discovered a landscape rich in rivers and ravines, as juicy and delightful as one of the "Corrcntino" oranges.
The Esteros del Iberá, one of the most important protected biological areas in the country, covers nearly a third of the province of Corrientes. Its bio-diversity is studied in international scientific circles.
Its uniqueness in the world is due to a geological depression, covering more than a million hectares, which forms an enormous system of humid
soils and a great variety of flora and fauna. It was declared a Natural Reserve by the Corrientes Provincial Government in April 1983 and spans the province diagonally from northeast to the south-east.
Until now the various studies have failed to agree on the origin of these waters, caused mainly by rainfall in a sub-tropical climate - hot and wet. All we know is that they begin close to the River Paraná and end at the River Corriente, their natural outlet.
For many years the main activity in the region was the poaching of wild animals and the sale of their pelts. As a result of this, many of the indigenous animals have almost been driven to extinction, such as river otters, capybaras, alligators and boas. The Provincial Government changed the law. The hunters became park wardens and in this communion of good and
evil, they are now preserving the wildlife they once exploited.
Doña Isabel Verón is 89 years old. She was born and has always lived on the banks of the marshlands, a few kilometres from Colonia Pellegrini. She has weathered skin and very few teeth, a cultural sign of neglect. She recalled her few visits to the waterland, her surprise at seeing the size of the pumpkins growing in the dikes and the fertility of
the soil. "Any seed you plant there, grows", she exclaimed.
Like most of her neighbours, she fervently believes in strange noises, distant lights and inexplicable phenomena of the region. Apparitions and beliefs form part of the marshland folklore, which worships profane
spirits, like San la Muerte (the saint of death), a small skeleton carrying a scythe which measures no more than 3 or 4 centimetres; and Santa Liberada, who protects outlaws from justice.
People of few words, the peasants have their own language, unfathomable and specific. Their eyes speak of emotion, awe and ignorance. Elsa
Güiraldes is the owner of the Posada de La Laguna, situated within the reserve in Colonia Pellegrini, once a white settlement. This woman as "gaucha" as her name, says she arrived here by magic and fell in
love with the place. It took her nearly two years to build the inn, against the odds, but sure of her dream. The architecture of the house is austere with white painted walls. The main dining room has large
windows and wooden floors. The tables and chairs look out on the thick vegetation. The rooms are tidy, with soft beds with generous Portuguese bedcovers. There are paintings by Elsa hanging on the walls; flowers, parrots, men and women emerging from the pastels and water colours, dauntless witnesses of the natural world outside, filled with silences and animal voices in the night. Federico and I witnessed storms, gigantic moons and glorious sunrises during our stay. We set out to see the lakes. We sailed for hours in the Iberá Lake, one of sixty that make up the system. Most are dotted with floating mattresses of abundant
aquatic vegetation called embalsados, caused by the interweaving of stems, leaves and roots of various species into floating islands, whose movements are directed by the wind and the currents.
Like children fascinated with a new game, we got out of the boat and, the minute we set foot on land, we jumped onto the green surface to see how soft an island can be. We found capybaras - the largest living
rodent - among the bushes and came very close to a large alligator. These animals, which live in the lakes and water courses, can measure over two metres long and weigh more than sixty kilos. They co-exist
with river otters and water snakes, (or curiyú), the largest boa in Argentina with solid teeth and no venom. The adults can be more than three metres in length.
Within the Esteros we spotted the indigenous deer of the marshes, and the aguará guazú, -a kind of wolfe-dog-. To see one is almost a miracle. There are also a great number of birds, including flamingos,
crested screamers and swans. Unexpectedly, we ran into a colony of herons and were able to see the nests with their typically blue eggs.
As well as being a paradise for fishermen with dorados, catfish, Patí, bream, shad and a wide variety of other fish swimming freely, one can also dive in the waters of Iberá (LUGARES 31).
Just as in Elsa's water paintings, the giant water lilies, water hyacinths, duckweed, water sprouts and calla lilies, together with reeds and weeds of the floating islands, colour the landscape. There is no shortage
of trees either. On the islands there are vmbúes, jacarandas, lapachos, ceibos, and willows, which grow side by side with various species of palm trees. Water and land together form an abundant world, many years ago the Jesuits arrived to convert the Indians and christened the Esteros Santa Ana Lake. Years later, when it became known as Ibera, it became a shelter for outlaws. Today it is the hope for nature.