Ibera Wetlands aka A Guide to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini

Esteros del Ibera is a stretch of wetlands and marshes in the Corrientes province which is not yet visited by many tourists as the transportation options are not very straight forward. The best access place to the wetlands is from a small town called Colonia Carlos Pellegrini (only about 400 inhabitants) which can be accessed from two different bigger cities, Posadas on the north coming from Puerto Iguazu and Mercedes coming probably from Buenos Aires. Before I get into that though, I wanna tell you why you should visit.

If you are a nature lover or just like the peacefulness of countryside without the hussle and bussle of big cities and many people, this is the place for you. The animal life in the wetlands ranges from plentiful cayman crocodiles, capybaras, swamp deer to many, many, many species of birds. It is just a paradise at your fingertips out there. The many posadas or hospodajes (your accommodation options - about 20 of them) arrange for day or night boat trips to the lake and its marshes, horseback riding and trekking trips and probably other ones as well. So, once you book your accommodation and transport you can sort everything else once you get there.

There are luxurious posadas and also the most rudimentary hospodajes in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, so you have plenty to choose from. We stayed in a mid level price range posada called Ypa Sapukai where the owner Claudia, speakes fluent English, so booking and arranging transport is not a problem. You can choose from half board (breakfest + dinner) or full board options to begin with. Beware though, there is not much cell phone coverage, so you either might get lucky and your phone works or it doesn´t (like ours). Well, if you don´t have a tri band phone, it will not work anyway :). We did manage to find an internet place as Ypa Sapukai´s was broken at that time, at Hugo Boccalantro´s house (just go to the tourist office and ask for a map, his house is on it).

Now about how to get to this place. To and from Posadas there is supposedly one sort of transport that goes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but you definitely have to have the hotel in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini book it for you (I was told it was 90 pesos per person). The other option is to take a private transport in 4x4 vehicle which is around 550 pesos per car. We unfortunately had to opt in for that one which put a hole in our pockets, however, was very fast (2.75hrs) and the driver waited for us at the bus station when our bus arrived. I asked him what was the longest time he drove from Posadas to Pellegrini and he implied that in a heavy rain it took him once 7 hours (ouch).

From Mercedes there is a bus in the afternoon around 2pm, I think . To Mercedes there is a bus in the morning between 3:30-4am and in the afternoon between 4-5pm (about 25 pesos per person). The trip takes between 3-4 hours, but can be longer or might not be happening at all if the rain is heavy. In that case, you might want to arrange for a private 4wd vehicle for 300 pesos with your accommodation manager.

Bus from Buenos Aires gets into Mercedes at about 6am and on the way back it leaves back for Buenos Aires at 9pm and 11pm I think. The companies to check for times are Fletcha bus, San Cristobal and San Jose. Trip costs between 85-100 pesos depending on the luxury.

Well now, what are you waiting for. You don´t have an excuse not to go now:).

Iguazu falls

We were in danger of getting too used to the city life, so we decided to hit the road towards north. For us it meant subtropical climate, Iguazu waterfalls and Iberá wetlands.

It was time for a nightbus again, but in Argentina it´s pure luxury again. A warm meal and an English movie made the 17 hour experience quite pleasant and we found ourselves in the town of Puerto Iguazu in no time. The air was warm and humid again, so hello shorts, mosquitos and deodorant!

After a nice meal and a good night´s sleep, we started off to the main attraction in the area, Iguazu falls. Statistics: Bigger than Niagara Falls and featuring in the new Indiana Jones movie. Consists of 275 falls along 2,7 km of the Iguazu River. Some of the individual falls are up to 82 metres in height, though the majority are about 64 metres. The most breathtaking of the falls is 150m-wide Garganta del diablo (devil's throat), with an impressive drop of over 80 meters. It's quite a feeling to stand by a thing like that, the thundering sound of water and the sheer mass of it makes it quite overwhelming.

The falls are situatued by the border of Brazil and Argentina, so you can visit the falls from both sides. The Brazilian side shows you a panoramic view of the falls, and on the Argentinian side you get closer to the falls. So it´s all a matter of choosing really. Since getting to the Brazilian side required some level of hassle, with taxis and extra fees, we decided to stick to Argentina. Though it's hard to say if we missed something vital, we were very happy with the Argentinian side and managed to spend the whole day in the area. The sun was shining as well, so it was really a great experience.

Besides the views, the area around the falls is full of colourful animals, like birds, butterflies and reptiles. Rarely you can also see some seriously big snakes and pumas. We walked many of the trails and found the place simply stunning.

Ode to a steak

Vegetarians might feel some discomfort while reading this post.

Our final destination was Argentina, the promised land of beef and red wine. We had heard so many legendary stories about the local steaks that our expectations were certainly set very high. After settling in our hostel in San Telmo district, we headed for a local restaurant to empirically test the steak theory. And for the love of god, every mouth-watering story is true! So tender, so moist and no unidentifiable stuff left between your teeth. The steak was so good that it needs a 2 minute silence to honor it, and maybe a national holiday just to celebrate its existence. Or at least a love poem, or a song! This place is truly a culinary heaven; in addition to steaks, the red wine is simply brilliant and a small jug in a restaurant costs about one euro.

We spent our first days in the capital Buenos Aires, which deviates a bit from our previous latin American destinations. Close connections to Europe means that people are more mixed and the fair hair and skin are not such strange things anymore. People often speak English or French, and some areas look and feel like Paris.

In the early days we sure walked a lot and eventually found our way to the Recoleta cemetary, which has many famous tombs, such as Evita´s. Quite a unique place, the tombs were huge, decorated with marble statues, and the area was built like a small town with little alleys. Evita´s tomb was easy to find, just followed the crowds and the flowers. It is interesting to note that as a character, Eva Peron is both admired and hated. Don't let the musicals and Madonna's history knowledge fool you, this lady also abused her power and you are sure to start a fierce conversation with the locals if you ask questions about her.

We also booked tickets to a tango show called "Señor Tango". I had previously thought that I knew how to dance tango, but I was wrong. This footwork was totally something else. Legs swinging everywhere...shiny hairgel...painful faces and the sound of the accordeon. And then something strange happened: An older gentleman, looking like something between Jack Nicholson and Nacho Libre, walks on stage and the ladies start crying and - oh yes - screaming. I felt like it was 1992 again and I was in a boyband concert. This man is called Fernando Soler and the picture on the right might or might not make you go hysterical. You decide. Neither Libor nor I shed a tear.

But that wasn´t the strangest thing yet. The show had been a pretty classy thing to watch, until about an hour into the program lights went out and some kind of a strange nearly-striptease thing started. So all of a sudden, this dressed-to-the-nines audience was glancing at a bunch of ladies in tiny lace underwear, sticking their butt cheeks into the audience while the saxophones played some raunchy tunes. This was the point where I ordered more red wine and reflected on the unfair questions in life. So to summarize: The male audience got a dozen half-naked ladies and us ladies got a Nacho Libre. Seriously.


Lima, city of millions of taxis, can show you many faces in a very small area. This town has everything from rich quarters with business centers to poor slums where tourists dare not to venture out. Most visitors stay in the part called Miraflores which is fairly safe and has a feeling of any other bigger city. We decided to stay in Miraflores House, which turned out to be a very comfortable and safe hostel with a funny talkative owner, Francis.

As we have found out many times on our trip, the world is really small. We ended up meeting a Swedish couple we met at our tour of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We celebrated our get together with a couple of games of bowling and some litres of Cristal beer. Well, we ain't bowlers, so the Swedes won, however, Jenni didn't mind as she was content with the Finnish hockey team beating Sweden in this years world champs.

There are plenty of museums in Lima which can satisfy a variety of tastes, however, we decided we had had enough of the Inca ceramics and history and not being big art lovers either, we skipped the museum scene. Instead, we got on a local green bus 73A which took us almost directly to the main square (Plaza Mayor). The same day we were there, the euro-latinamerican summit about global warming was in town, so the streets were buzzing with cops and barricades to prevent cars from entering the center. We managed to sneak a peak at a Lima Cathedral where the supposed remains of Francisco Pizzaro are found. After that we headed to the San Franciscan monastery and its catacombs to explore the local Spanish influence. We continued our tour to the San Martin square with a statue of Saint Martin on his horse and then took a crowded green bus back to Miraflores. It is interesting that already a few streets over from Plaza Mayor there are poorer areas of the town where it is not recommended for tourists to venture out. Very weird contrast.

The next day we wanted to get out of Lima, so booked a tour with Mira Bus agency to the ruins of Pachacamac. The Pachacamac culture was in this area way before Incas, however, the Incas then took over the Pachacamac keep once their reign began. Well, it really wasn't all that exciting. Except a few walls from mud bricks, there is really not much else to see than rubble and sand along with a nearby fallen-apart village. The tour ended at the Temple of the Sun which was one of the only ruins that had a few intact walls. I'd say that unless one is really interested in architecture, skipping this attraction is really not a sin.

On our final day we visited the Park of Love (Pargue del Amor) and took a look at the surfer dudes catching some waves under the smoggy cloudy sky. To be a bit positive about Lima, I'd have to give it props for the cuisine here. We managed to eat very well and if one goes off the beaten track, the prices are very very cheap, starting at one euro per full meal with soup and drink. One can eat anything imaginable from normal chicken to chicken hearts or stomachs.:) Next stop Argentina.

Peru Uncovered

In Peru we decided to make an exception from our do-it-yourself traveling, so we booked a 9-day tour with Gap Adventures. After seven months it was indeed nice to let someone else arrange transportations and make decisions on which restaurant to eat and which sights to see. Also, it had been a loooooong time since we have slept in such good beds.

Apart from the coastal line, the wonders of Peru are situated high up in the Andean mountains. Our group of 12 first landed in Juliaca, after which a bus took us to Puno, a town by the shores of Lake Titicaca at 3800 meters above sea level. There were no planned activities for the first day, as most people usually suffer from altitude sickness. We were just recommended to spend the first day resting and drinking coca tea. It was a strange feeling indeed, as if being drunk, exhausted and hungover at the same time. Generally speaking, it´s impossible to predict how the body responds to altitude and a good physical condition doesn´t mean anything over here. In our case, I only had mild symptoms and got over it pretty quickly, but Libor was completely out of it. After dinner he fainted on the restaurant floor and once we got back to the hotel he started being sick. However, after some rest and several cups of coca tea, the bearded man was smiling again.

From Puno we did a full-day tour to Lake Titicaca and its Islands. First we stopped at Taquile island, where we stopped at a handicraft market and had lunch. The weather was gorgeous and our group still dizzy, but it was very beautiful and interesting. Textiles are probably the number one souvenir people buy from Peru and the ladies over here sure know what they are doing.

After Taquile we sailed to Uros Islands, which actually float close to Puno harbour. The islands are made from straw-like Totora plant, which are tied together to form small floating reeds. What a fascinating place, one felt like a little bird in a nest! Originally the idea of the islands was that they were easy to defend and move in case of attacks. Nowadays the islands are still inhabited and are visited by every tourist group in the region.

From Puno we took a bus to Cusco, which was the main city in the Incan times. The bus journey through the mountains was amazing, let me tell you that there is no lack of breathtaking scenery in this country! In Cusco we visited many historical sites both in and outside of the city, such as the Sacred Valley and Qorikancha Temple. We also visited the village of Caca Ccullo, where the local women sell handicrafts while the men are working as Gap Adventures porters on the Inca Trail. Strange detail: As we were listening to the techniques the women use in their handicrafts, the village lamas decided to have some kind of a sex orgy in the middle of the town square. Soon everyone had turned around and were snapping pictures of lama porn.

Then became THE day, the promised highlight, Machu Picchu. The day earlier we had taken the train to a dirty little town called Aguas Calientes so we could reach Machu Picchu in the early hours. The entrance to Machu Picchu is a half-an-hour busride and one heart attack away from town, as the mountain is reached through a relatively narrow and steep road. But it sure was unbelievable. The Spanish conquistadores never found the place, which is why it is so well preserved. But even without the ruins it is a wonderful place and one could spend quite a few hours wondering in the area. Libor also climbed a steep mountain called Waynapicchu, which is reached through narrow stone steps. Since my knees were already shaking of fear even before I had taken the first step towards that direction, I took it as a sign of going for breakfast instead.

La Serena, Valparaiso and Casablanca

Our first destination after San Pedro de Atacama was a very relaxed small city of La Serena. Right after disembarking from the bus we were approached by a local who insisted we go and stay with at his mom's house (Maria's casa). He sounded legitimate and the hostel is also listed in the Lonely Planet, so we decided to give it a go, especially since it was close to the bus stop. The family that owns the house is very nice and right of the bat told us where we should go for some cheap, but good food. Well, we didn't hesitate a second and took their advice and went for the local Menu del dia deal in the restaurant Los Pinos. If I tell you the truth, it wasn't far from perfect, very very good. Unfortunately, we didn't have great weather in La Serena, so we just took a short stroll around the beach and visited Plaza de Armas which is a square in every city. I'd definitely recommend to stop in this city on the way to or from the North of Chile.

From La Serena, we headed to a much bigger city Valparaiso which with its hilly scenery and colorful buildings reminds a bit of San Francisco. The situation from La Serena's bus stop repeated itself and we scored a great accommodation deal with very nice local folks. This seems to be the standard for how the locals travel and it gives a great insight into the living ways of the people. We had only one full day in Valparaiso, so we spent it browsing around the city and also took an old funicular up one of the hills (Cerro Concepcion) from where there is a pretty good view on the harbour and also some nice restaurants. However, we learned from San Pedro and didn't succumb to the great smells of food here, but rather made our way down towards the plaza Victoria where the restaurants seemed to have good deals on Menu del dia.

Our last stop before Santiago was a smaller cozy town of Casablanca where one of my college buddies (Jaime) has family, so we had to give it a go and pay them a visit.It turned out to be one of the best days we had in Chile. First we met his uncle Enrique at his cafe called Willys where we enjoyed one of the Chile´s brews and then Enrique´s wife Ximena offered to take us to a local vineyard called Casas del Bosque. Here we tasted about 8 different kinds of Chilean wine which Jenni confirmed to be very very very good and we also found out that the vineyard exports to Finland. After that we visited Jaime´s grandma, had a great lunch and then checked out their house which was quite nice. We definitely saw how the locals live here and most importantly, how hospitable they are. The communication between us was difficult at times, however, our Latin American dictionary came in handy. After our visit we got on the Tur Bus again and headed back to Santiago were we prepared for our trip to Peru.