Editor’s note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote “Perils of Polly.” She also has written a series of “Peril” columns about Australia, Asia, and Central America. Her perils continue in Argentina and Chile.
My sister and I only had three days left before our plane left Buenos Aires. We’d been all the way down to the Southernmost city, Ushuaia, up through Chile to the Atacama Desert, and made it to Iguazu Falls. There was only one more place I really wanted to go: Ibera wetlands. Lonely Planet said it was the place to see wildlife.
We looked at the map. Green roads were gravel. Yellow roads were dirt. We’d stayed off of yellow roads most of the trip. The green were bad enough. There was a 160 km yellow road leading into Carlos Pellegrini, the village from which excursions into Ibera were made. A green road entered from the other side. Lonely Planet advised asking for the condition of the yellow road before going on it.
Heeding this advice, we stopped at the tourist information office at Virasoro and were told the road was fine, but be sure to stop and get gas at the station by the intersection. There would be no gas after that for almost 300 km.
Sounded good. We passed a perfectly good gas station right across the street from the tourist office and headed to the intersection about 40 km down the road. We pulled into a gas station and noticed the pumps looked very dusty. One area had been blocked off and instead of cars pulling through there were some picnic tables. We sat in line for awhile until we finally realized this station had no gas.
The attendant told us to go 25 km down the road to Santo Tome for gas. He assured us they would have some. So instead of getting it where we should have, we had to go 50 km out of our way to fill up. It wasn’t the first time we had to drive to find gas. Oh well. I wondered if the rest of the information we got would be accurate.
I finally turned onto the road to Carlos Pellegrini. The first few miles were gravel. I smiled to my sister. “This will be fine.” Shortly after that declaration the road degenerated into a one-lane track of sand. I spent the next 150 km fishtailing. Luckily, the road was flat and while we saw a few thunderheads in the distance, they weren’t coming our way. When I got back home, I looked on the internet and saw what the road is like in a storm — totally impassable.
About three hours of fishtailing later, we finally pulled into the village of Carlos Pellegrini, and found the most delightful campground of our entire trip. I could have stayed at Ibera for a week.
We ate lunch and scheduled a boat trip for the evening. It was a great trip. Everywhere we looked we saw animals and birds: cayman, capybaras, marsh deer, and a huge variety of waterfowl. We even saw a man who had caught a piranha.
Looking back, we could have stayed there one more night, but if we had any road trouble, we would be pushing it to make it to the airport on time. And I had in my mind that maybe we could stay the last night on an estancia and ride horses.
So after a gorgeous sunset, an evening with only a few mosquitoes, and a good, clean shower, we got up the next morning refreshed and content, ready for the last leg of our journey.
But Ibera wasn’t done with us. We headed across the very creepy wooden bridge with holes in it, and then saw a marsh deer along the road. We stopped to get pictures, and a dog-like creature bounded out of the swamp toward us. It began dancing around my sister.
“It’s a gray fox!” I exclaimed as I reached down to pet it. A very friendly gray fox. I roughhoused with it like I would a puppy. It acted like a puppy, even taking my hand in his mouth without biting down. Sue opened the door of the car and it jumped in. “Wow! It wants to go with us!”
It was hard to leave. I was utterly amazed that I was in Argentina playing with a gray fox. Finally we said our goodbyes and headed down the long gravel — not sand — road to Mercedes.
From this point on, it would just be driving. Driving and passing trucks. And more trucks. We had two more nights, and then to the airport. We camped at San Antonio de Areca where we discovered the town would be celebrating Carnaval that night. Finally, I was going to actually get some Argentine culture.