Argentina 6: Meteorite Chaco, Tafi de Valle to Cafayate

Before leaving Brasil we decided to fill up as the diesel is cheaper than in Argentina. The border crossing took only about 40 minutes both sides and then we headed south-west along the RN12 with little traffic. Our route took us via Eldorado, Jardin America to San Ignacio where we decided to again stay at Club del Rio campsite with its super large pool and good conveniences. A thunderstorm woke us at 4am – we decided to start early and avoid breaking camp in the rain – and drove in heavy rains via Posadas along the Rio Paraná to Corrientes with a 2km long bridge crossing this river. Not being a beautiful city, we decided to push on down the Ruta 16 into the Chaco, a very dry area of Argentina – beautiful sunflower fields lined the road. In Resistencia we tried to see whether Toyota had a replacement handbrake cable only to find their siesta time is from 12-15:30 – we were not going to wait and realised, that clocks tick differently in Argentina (most of the time everything shuts down from about 13:00-17:00 – a bit frustrating when on the road). We aimed to reach the termas at Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña – these had been converted into an upmarket spa in the centre of town so we looked at the municipal camping –probably the worst we had seen until now, not fit to stay and the terrain completely muddy. At Avia Teray we turned off southerly on the Ruta RN89, en-route checked out a couple of truckstops for overnighting, but the recent rains had turned them into bogs. By now we realized that it would be a long day driving until we spotted a turnoff to some scientific park just after Gancedo – a 12km gravel road, we surely would find a wild camping spot. To our surprise we reached an incredibly well-designed and clean meteorite scientific park run by the local Mogoit indigenes. We had a beautiful quiet night among trees and took time to explore the Parque Cientifico Y Educativo with a number of meteorites displayed, a centre with underground museum and video show where scholars were visiting, learning all about space, planets, meteor showers etc. In this area 18 meteorites have to date been unearthed, among them the Chaco, the second largest in the world ( the largest meteorite known is the Hoba meteor near Grootfontein in Namibia – we were proud to relate where we came from and for the curators it was the first time meeting people from Namibia!). This area, known as Campo de Cielo, is the largest meteor impact field know to-date. This remote stopover has been a total surprise to us and can be recommended to fellow travelers when in the Chaco area. We continued on the RN89 via Quimilí up to Taboada, then northerly via Santiago del Estero to Terma de Rio Hondo, a stretch where poverty prevails, a harsh and dry land. Finally we ended at camp Inti Punku with 6 thermal pools. The camping site was close to Embalse Rio Hondo, a large dam. In this town every house seems to have hot water fed from the vast termas – even the toilets were flushed with hot water! It is a buzzling spa town with 200 hotels, but not pretty or well kept - it seems to have had its best times in the past. We left via the RP11 and near Lamadrid continued on the RN157 –the area seems poor, lots of small houses, plenty of rubbish and plastic. At Monteros we got on to the RP307 and proceeded along the lush Camino de Valle, a mountain road with its 1294 bends through the tropic forest of Reserva Natural Rio Los Sosa with Ferns,Laurels and Cedars and its prolific parrots. The road took us from 230m to 1800m and at Parque Provincial de los Menhires we looked at the 129 geoglyphs in mist and 7deg C. They are more than 2000 years old. By the time we reached the mountain retreat of Tafi de Valle it was miserable and we took refuge at the well appointed Las Castañas Cabañas. This little village offers many restaurants and artesanial shops. Next morning we woke up to a misty morning and continued the mountain route to 2900m towards Amaicha de Valle, the landscape changed to semi-desert with large cacti. Our visit to the Pachamama museum was snookered as they were closed on Sundays. Already the exterior looked very interesting and we hoped that we should have a later opportunity. We proceeded to the Ruinas Indigenas de Quilmes – a large terrain where the Quilmes peoples resided in times past. It is also a popular spot visited by Argentinians themselves to witness their forefathers cultural remains. From here we followed the Ruta del Vino Tucuman to the Ruta del Vino Salta and the wine estancias grew in size and beauty until we reached Cafayate, where our first stop was at an ice cream parlour (Heladeria) selling wine ice cream in the flavours Malbec and Torrontes wine – delicious! The night we stayed at Camping Luz y Fuerza at the southern entry to Cafayate, windy, dusty but ok as there was not much choice.   This post covers the period 18th – 23rd October 2017

Brasil 6: Jaguars, the Transpantaneira and Porto Jofre in the northern Pantanal

The following day was a long day driving through the agricultural fields of Mato Grosso via Rondonopolis, Juscimeira then towards Cuiabá, where we found a camping opportunity at a restaurant and playpark called Sinuela. Very friendly owners, we were allowed to park approx. 300m off the highway next to their house, clean ablutions and showers – all for free as we ate dinner at the restaurant! A busy highway, trucks from Bolivia as well as from Manaus seem to pass Cuibá at a rate of at least 600 per hour in this region, so driving was strenuous. We were now reaching the edge of the northern Pantanal – 5200km since we started from Montevideo about a month ago. From Cuiabá going south via Poconé (not a pretty town but an interesting entrance arch) there was only one dead-end road ending at Porto Jofre – the Transpantaneira – an elevated dirt road crossing as many as 125 little bridges on as many kilometres. The road originally was destined to go all the way into Bolivia. However, each year the road was flooded so the plan did not work out. Today a number of pousadas along this road offer opportunities to observe birds and to see jaguars. We drove about 35km in and decided to call it a day at Pousada Rio Claro – the heat was intense, we could park and camp here, use their cool pool and clean ablutions. The afternoon’s boatride with other birders proved to be a good choice seeing Osprey and falcons; so was the next mornings rowing with a guide watching caimans, various birds of prey and a beautiful juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron. We were hardly back at the lodge, when the predicted rain set in and did it pour down - we had no choice other that to remain put and catch up with pictures and blog writing. For 3 months the region had no rain, the smell of the first downpour reminded us of Africa. The landscape soon was flooded and made it impossible to camp – so we took one of their rooms and were lucky that the lodge was not yet fully booked for the night (as it was for the next). It was quite different to be in a room the first time since we started a month ago. During the evening’s game drive we saw a number of raccoons, foxes, and frogs that sounded like sheep. Next morning, we took another boat trip and then proceeded along the Pantaneira towards Hotel Mato Grosso situated on the Rio Pixaím, where we had heard that the birdlife was prolific. On the way we saw a nesting Jabirú stork with two chicks in a large tree. The friendly staff at the hotel permitted us to camp close to the gate, use the bathrooms and the pool. The following morning, we were woken by the cacophony of many different bird species – probably the best we have ever had camping anywhere. Dieter and Beate Reiser, whom we had met at the previous lodge had slept in a room and envied us for the bird concert in the morning. Our morning boat tour was good but we did not see any new species of birds except a Ferruginous pygmy owl in a tree at the hotel. We were not lucky to see the elusive Agami Heron which tends to hide in the undergrowth along river banks in this area.   So we proceeded towards Porto Jofre in the hope of seeing jaguars and camped at the Pantanal Jaguar Camp.   Porto Jofre is very small, essentially consisting of the hotel by this name, the Municipal camp, the Jaguar Camp and possible one or two more. Jaguars can best be seen up the river by boat, so we booked our first boat tour for the next morning. Not knowing any better, we also booked a boat at the Pantanal Norte Porto Jofre Hotel. Behind the hotel we visited a pond with giant water lilies. While leaving the Jaguar camp by vehicle we spotted our first Sunbittern – a bird that looks like a butterfly in flight. Unfortunately we did not catch it on a photo while flying - it is magnificent to see. Towards sunset we took a drive back along the Pantaneira, saw more nesting Jabirú, black-headed Capucchin monkeys and plenty other birds. Next morning our first boat drive went for 40 minutes high speed upstream to get to the area where jaguars could be spotted. We spotted the male jaguar named Geoff, a seasoned caiman hunter, up on an embankment. What a sight – he bore all the marks of a fighter and hunter.   We briefly glimpsed two more male jaguars while searching the tributaries. Our guide Marcos, a biologist, explained in good English about the behavior and territories of the jaguars. An index has been started to identify them by their markings. Jaguars in this area are much larger and stronger than in the Amazon due to their prolific diet of caimans –they are in fact after Tiger and Lion the third largest cats. Back at the jaguar camp we got to know Ailton, the owner, who currently was helping filming crews with land based camera traps. Their boats are well equipped for filming the Jaguars ashore. The owner explained to us the history of jaguar sighting here in the Panatanal – it is due to the fishermen, that the tourist industry was started after they realized that regular sightings occurred. The adjacent farmers still loose some livestock, but have started using water buffalo as a buffer zone to protect cattle and sheep. The water buffalo are not indigenous but ended in the area when a ship wrecked further north transporting them. A great concern however is the possibility of poaching Jaguars for the Chinese market, similar to the reasons that African cats are being decimated for their bones and teeth to be used as aphrodisiacs. For the next night we moved to Camping Municipal –a mistake! The view was good on the river, the rest was lousy – immensely dirty bathrooms (not being cleaned despite our request), many mozzies, and the whole night the generator was running. Karin got the worst share of bites.The only compensation was seeing more Hyazinth macaws. Next morning 6am we left per boat from the Porto Jofre hotel, a mere 200m away from the campsite. The trip with Luciano, the guide and boat captain and only us as pax, rewarded us with exceptional sightings: giant river otters in the water and on land, close sighting of two Jaguars growling at each other (later identified as Patricia, the mother, having cubs close by and Hunter, her adult daughter) and a snake-like striped worm lizard. On further trips with the Jaguar camp boat we were very lucky to observe a caiman hunt by Geoff, the old experience caiman hunter. We could follow the Jaguar on land and in the water until he finally cornered and caught a mid-sized caiman in some dense growth. A bonus was to see the migrant Swallowtail kite above. On our return journey along the Pantaneira we counted 90 wooden bridges up to the Mato Grosso Hotel, where we stayed again and this time could observe the shy Agami heron on a morning boat trip as well as other birds. Our route then took us via Cuiabá (where we shopped at the best supermarket on our entire trip – Biglar Supermercado – we spoiled ourselves) and continued towards Chapada where our night was spent at Camping Refugio das Seriemas, a very small private camp of average standard. The tourist office was not very helpful, so we explored the area and visited the bridal fall (Veú de Noiva), a 85m scenic waterfall. Next we ended up camping at a site we saw advertised by a sign along the road and were surprised to find ourselves the only guests at Camping Acamporto, with a clear river to bathe in ( rio Coxipó). Brand new banõs and a cold water drinking fountain made the stay pleasant in the 40 deg C heat. We visited the town Bom Jardim, swam in the clear waters of balneario Estivado with shoals of fish, observed hooded capuchin monkeys frolicking in the trees above our vehicle. Then drove to Lagoa das Arraras where many parrots were observed. On our southbound return we again took the MS 427, our “Anteater“ road –this time we were more lucky and saw another giant anteater. After arriving at camping Soy Assis, Dieter got spontaneously roped into a cooking class by a group of students and prepared with them a trucker’s dinner, drank a lot and had immense fun. Leaving the area we had a farewell moment with our favourite bird showing off in its nesting palm: On our way many stalls sold handcrafted pots and pans. From here we speedily made our way to Foz de Iguaću, where we got the vehicle serviced by Toyota Zeni (first did not want to service the VX100 at all as it is not sold in Brasil, we were not satisfied with their service, skipped lubrication of essential parts) and paid a visit to the second largest hydro station, the dam Itaipú – meaning singing stone in Guaraní – a joint venture between Brasil and Paraguay (170km long, 12-15km wide, 170m deep at the wall, 14000MW, each penstock 10m diameter).   Distance travelled since leaving Montevideo to here had been 8170km.   This post covers 1st -17th October 2018  

Brasil 5: On the road towards the northern Pantanal

Our route now took us north to Miranda – this town used to be the capital of Matto Grosso do Sul in its heyday – now a relatively rundown town with little to show for. So we carried on and decided to camp at the Hotel Passo do Lonta on the Miranda river for two nights. Since they do not normally cater for campers we could use the ablutions at the entrance. Again, in South American style, the toilets were suddenly locked at night and we really had to negotiate to be allowed to shower the next day.  A morning boat tour took us up to the tributary Red River, where the Pantanal reserve starts – however, we did not see too many exciting birds we did not know already. Howler monkeys provided the early morning wake up call. As we continued north, the next camping spot was at Camping and Pousada Santa Clara – a pleasant pousada with a camping site about 500m away.   Here we stayed for another two nights and during the day we followed the main track leading north towards Corumba –this road was the main game drive opportunity in this area and was passing over many wooden bridges with lagoons.   We observed many different birds, as well as giant otters and a special highlight were our first sightings of Hyacinth Macaws and Jabirú storks. On a side road we saw many Roseate Spoonbills gathered at a pan lined with Caymans.

no images were found

  We also briefly observed a juvenile Boat-billed Heron, spotted a Tapir and even caught a glimpse of a Cougar (Puma).   It was time to proceed further north, via Miranda we drove in the direction of Campo Grande but then turned of at Aquidauana onto a dirt road dubbed “anteater road” as other overlanders had reportedly seen five anteaters on this stretch. We were not so lucky –however it is a scenic back road passing many fazendas at the foot of a mountain range, we could observe gaucho catching young bulls and ended wild camping near a wooden bridge, hidden from view but then had rain throughout the night.   The following day was a long day driving through the agricultural fields of Matto Grosso via Rondonopolis, Juscimeira towards Cuiaba, where we found a camping opportunity at a restaurant and playpark called Sinuela. Very friendly owners, we were allowed to park approx. 300m off the highway next to their house, clean ablutions and showers – all for free as we ate dinner at the restaurant! A busy highway, trucks from Bolivia as well as Manaus seem to pass Cuiba at a rate of at least 600 per hour in this region, so driving was strenuous. We were now reaching the edge of the northern Pantanal – 5200km since we started from Montevideo about a month ago. This post covers 25th Sept to 1st October 2017