On our entire trip through Argentina, there have been many shrines along the road.  Many are the conventional variety, memorializing someone who wiped out on that curve or hit a cow or something.  Or Mary, or St. Sebastian.  They are often in the shape of a small house — many remind me of a doghouse.

But probably half the shrines are decorated in red flags and red paint, and are dedicated to Gauchito Gil, the Argentine hero of travelers.  Some are small, and many are quite large.  But none is as large as just outside of Mercedes, a small town northeast of Santa Fe.  Gil is buried there, along with his head, and the museum and concrete shrines covered with metal dedications are entirely surrounded by a large collection of souvenir stands.  Wanting to wish ourselves luck on our future travels, we made good use of them.

Mercedes is where a not-great-but-passable dirt road begins to go to Colonia Pelligrini, a small village in the Laguna del Iberá Reserve, located on the lake itself.  As we began to drive on the dirt road about 6:45 (sunset was at 8:45, and we just barely made it) we immediately realized we were on an evening game drive.  We passed an endless series of large trucks which must have been dropping some kind of seeds on the ground, because the entire 120 km of the road surface was super-popular with all kinds of birds.  Sure, there were lots of doves, but there were many flocks of monk parakeets, and many, many others.  We didn’t really have time to stop to identify each one, though we looked up as many as we could without stopping.  We spotted a large black and white iguana, and several giant rats called capybaras wallowing in puddles by the roadside.  There were also several spotted nothura, flightless birds the size of guinea fowl which our book said “crosses roads unhurriedly” — I had to try not to hit them.

We reached Colonia Pelligrini and investigated the various posadas which offered lodging, full board, and excursions.  The first one was full, but the second one had room.  Posada Aguapé was a little expensive but we determined that it was still less than our safari in Botswana in 2001, so we decided to stay.  The hostess showed us to our room, pointing out the nine-inch-diameter frogs called Cucurú hanging out on the lawn.  As we arrived it was dinnertime, which, among other things, included as much deliciously roasted lamb as we could eat.  We drank half a bottle of wine, and saved the rest for the next night — it turned out to be a budget brand from the same winery we’d drunk the great bottle from a few nights earlier.

At breakfast, we saw many birds hanging around the dining patio, including a few giant wood-rails which we’d seen on the road the night before, several hornero, and really cute red-crested cardinals — they all took care of any crumbs which might fall from the tables.  Afterwards, we had the most delightful three hour boat ride.  The guide poled away from the dock through the reeds, motored over to the ranger station so they could count us, and then headed up into a creek which empties the laguna.  As we approached the shore, he turned off the motor, and poled silently.  There were dozens of capybaras, many caiman, and lots and lots of different birds.  Jacanas, egrets, several kinds of herons, tiny brightly colored birds.  There was a variety of vulture called a Southern Screamer we decided was a particularly ugly bird — the black ring around their neck made them seem goth.  There were many of them standing around.  The most exotic bird we saw was a jabiru, a very large white stork with an enormous black head above a reddish neck.    At one point we got off the boat and walked on the shore, which turned out not to be solid land but rather a “floating mat of vegetation”.  The root systems of the plants had trapped soil, and become an island.  It was strange to jump up and down on it — it would bounce quite a bit.  As we returned to the posada, we saw a somewhat distant deer.

The afternoon was a pleasant siesta opportunity.  The evening excursion was a little dumb — it started out in the visitor center with a video in Spanish.  Finally we took a short walk on the “howler monkey path”, and we actually saw about three monkeys climbing around in the trees.  There were also tons of epiphytes in all shapes sprouting from and hanging from the trees.

It would have been nice to stay there several more days — it looked like they had several other excursions which would have been interesting.  Alas, we had other plans and moved on.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t move on directly — the road from Pelligrini to Posadas is sand, and had been giving even four-wheel-drive vehicles problems in the recent days.  Also, it rained the night before we left.  So we retraced our path to Mercedes, and ended up driving an extra 250 km on a nice paved road.