Iguazu Falls, ARG: Guira Oga

T and I spent the weekend celebrating our second (!!) wedding anniversary at Iguazu Falls. I know most reviews tend to focus on the falls at first–but I decided to work in reverse chronological order and get to the falls next.

On our final day in Igauzu, we decided to go to Guira Oga.  Guira Oga is a wildlife refuge right on the outskirts of Puerto Iguazu proper. It’s easy to see the huge sign from the road. It’s 85 pesos to get in, and they only accept cash (efectivo)–something we totally forgot and had to make a quick Macro Bank run into town!

Guira Oga started as a veterinary sanctuary and park for birds, but has since expanded to include all sorts of animals. Although there are apparently guides available in English, there weren’t any there on our Sunday trip, so we took the normal Spanish tour. You can only take the guided tours–there are no self-guided options, mainly for the benefits of the animals. Thankfully, although my technical Spanish is lacking, my “animal” Spanish is pretty good. We took a tractor and wagon ride about 1.5km into the woods (which felt kind of like a jungle hayride) to the first stop, and hiked the rest of it with the group. We had a small group of Argentinians–a family and a couple from Buenos Aires, and then us.

We started our hike with a quick intro into the Guira Oga philosophy. They tend to get a lot of animals from the nearby Igauzu National Park who are injured, as well as a number of animals that were either kept as illegal pets or confiscated at the border as part of the black market animal business. They try to rehabilitate and re-release as many of the animals as possible, and those that would not survive in the wild are used for either educational purposes or are put into a breeding program.

DSC_7317 Since their original focus was the hundreds of bird species native to Misiones province, birds were well-represented at Guira Oga. Lots of beautifully colored parrots and toucans squawked and flew around airy enclosures.

DSC_7323 DSC_7336 DSC_7339 DSC_7347 DSC_7348Also, they had an enclosure full of capuchin monkeys. These are the monkeys in “Night at the Museum,” among other movies. They are native to this area and were absolutely adorable, hamming it up for our cameras.

DSC_7371 DSC_7386 DSC_7390 DSC_7398 DSC_7399Along the trail, much to T’s simultaneous fascination and dismay, there were lots of HUGE spiders. The guide was explaining to us about one species that was as big as a man’s palm that the US Army uses its web to spin textiles from.

DSC_7407We saw lots of coati (similar to raccoons) at Iguazu National Park, and one of the more common animals that Guira Oga treats is the coatis that run out into the road and get hit. This guy was just hanging out and watching us.

DSC_7415

We saw several wild cats at Guira Oga. Since they’re normally so shy in nature, this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them in the wild. There was a beautiful leopard, as well as a jagaurundi. The jaguarundi (which I can’t remember ever seeing before!) looks like a house cat on steroids. Low to the ground, gray in color, and not that much larger than a housecat, it ripples with obviously strong muscles.

DSC_7422 DSC_7423 _DSC0502b

After we passed through the nursery area where they were hatching some owlets, we went into the reptile section. There, we saw an armadillo, some turtles, a yacare (crocodile), an iguana, and tortoises.

DSC_7428 DSC_7448 DSC_7451 DSC_7465 DSC_7472Also, Guira Oga had some large birds of prey outside. It’s one thing to see them flying in the sky–and an entirely different thing to realize how absolutely huge their wingspan is when they’re ten feet away!

DSC_7484 DSC_7481After checking out a wild pig and a much larger yacare…

DSC_7489 DSC_7491We saw the sanctuary’s herd of howler monkeys. Able to make a call that can be herd up to 5km away, the males have black fur while the females have brown fur. The guide told us that this group was being kept as pets in Buenos Aires… until the owners realized what a bad situation they had gotten themselves into!

DSC_7498 DSC_7508 DSC_7520 DSC_7527 DSC_7532 DSC_7538

As usual, one of my favorite animals at the sanctuary was the carpincho, or capybara, as they are more commonly known in the States. Although this poor guy didn’t have a mate, he did have a ducky friend and was happily posing for us. I wish we had gotten a photo of him showing his teeth–they are not to be messed with!

DSC_7550 DSC_7547I highly recommend checking out Guira Oga if you’re in Iguazu Falls. It’s not a long trip–only about two hours from start to finish, but definitely worth your while to see lots of animals up close, and to contribute to a very worthy cause. These pictures don’t even include all of the animals on the tour–we just couldn’t get all the great shots we wanted.

Advertisements

What We Found on Our Floor This Morning

We woke up this morning, went downstairs, and found this on the floor._DSC0355

_DSC0358

My reaction was somewhere along these lines:

could someone who's not me deal with that tumblr_inline_nbcpde5ipF1ro2d43 nope

It was already dead, but I had T vigorously shake out my shoes, and then, since this is his way, he described in detail how to tourniquet and deal with a scorpion/spider bite.

Now, our only question left is what’s in our house that killed the scorpion.

*shudders*

Buenos Aires–Estancia Santa Susana

In case you’re new to the blog, T and I live in rural Argentina.  So rural that sometimes the water main breaks and the entire town is out of water while every man in town gathers all of the duct tape and WD-40 he can find and stands around a giant hole and tries to fix it. (Welcome to two weeks ago.)

So rural that we often see gauchos (Argentinian cowboys) riding their horses on the way to work. We have more cows than people in our area. (See this post for how rural we are–we had a livestock show, and that was one of the social highlights of the town’s year.) However, it’s one thing to see them, and another to have them explain their customs to you in person. Thus, as part of our Buenos Aires trip last month, we decided to do another Viator trip and take a day at Estancia Santa Susana, about an hour outside of Buenos Aires.

The ranch is gorgeous, in that very pampas way. Flat land as far as the eye can see, dotted with horses and cattle placidly grazing. The ranch’s buildings were gorgeous, including a giant mess hall/dining room where we ate our lunch, horseback rides, a gift shop, and a huge grilling area.

_DSC0749_DSC0726

After a ride punctuated by lots of information from our guide about Argentina, gauchos, mate, and general Buenos Aires tidbits, we made it outside the city and to the ranch. We were greeted by ours hosts, dressed in traditional garb, holding small cups of Malbec and trays of empanadas.

_DSC0733_DSC0735

We scarfed down our empanadas and made our way over to the horses, where we could take  a trail ride. I’ve taken several trail rides, and this was by far the most placid experience ever. Great for those who have had hip surgery or are not really “horse people” (the rest of our group had 20 years on us at least), the horses knew exactly how to line up, and just stood there, waiting for the rest of the party to saddle up.  We walked around the field, and then came back. Not going to lie, I was hoping for something a little more lively, but it was still fun.

_DSC0816 _DSC0775 _DSC0763

After some time grabbing some photos of the ranch, checking out the gift shop (overpriced–but that’s to be expected), and generally soaking in some vitamin D…

_DSC0807 _DSC0803 _DSC0798 _DSC0792 _DSC0758 _DSC0743 _DSC0741

We went into the giant dining hall and were seated essentially by language group. We ended up in the midst of a sea of Aussies, Kiwis, and Scots who were in town for the Golden Oldies rugby tournament. Apparently, this group of seniors does a rugby tournament in a different country every few years. They were all incredibly friendly–but the wine and beer were endless, and in the immortal words of Robin Williams, “if you’d ever like a linguistic adventure, go drinking with a Scotsman.”  We had some lively conversations about the Scottish independence vote that had occurred the day before (apparently, it was common for families to be split straight down the middle in terms of opinion on this).

_DSC0821 _DSC0828

After the obligatory meat feast–where we taught lots of people about morcilla, or blood sausage, which is much better on bread!–they started up a song and dance show. They did the usual tango dancing and gaucho ballads, and then moved into the tricks with the bolas, a throwing weapon used by the gauchos which in simplest terms are three balls tied together with leather strips that are used to catch cattle.  While the gentleman threw around the bolas, he did an intricate tap dance routine. Somehow, we didn’t get any pictures of this. I think we were too transfixed (and waiting for him to hit one of the chandeliers).

Finally, the day ended with a show of gaucho horse skills. They brought out a herd of ponies, and a few gauchos expertly navigated them all around the pasture–with the help of a doggy friend.

_DSC0831 _DSC0834 _DSC0840 _DSC0845 _DSC0847 _DSC0851

Then they did the high-speed version of the ring grab you can still do at some carrousels in the US. Small metal rings were placed on the top of a wooden frame, and three gauchos would race to the frame to see 1) who could get there first and 2) who could get the ring. They gave out the rings as favors–and I managed to snag one that’s in my keepsake drawer for now! I even got to ride behind one of the gauchos and take a cantering spin around the ring.

_DSC0857 _DSC0863 _DSC0869 _DSC0881 _DSC0950

All in all, it was a great trip. We really enjoyed all of the people we met there–and it was nice to have such a diverse crowd of English speakers!

For those of you interested in a review of Viator for this trip–they did a good job. They had a van pick us up at our hotel, and then we journeyed around the city to pick up the rest of our party. The van was comfortable, the guide was very knowledgeable, and spoke Spanish, English, and Portuguese (we had a herd of very boisterous Brazilians in our group). I highly recommend it if you’re looking for the gaucho experience near Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires–Zoo Buenos Aires

On a whim we decided to visit Zoo Buenos Aires while we were in town. We had already gone to Temaiken and loved it, but we were already walking around the perimeter of the zoo, and it was a beautiful day, so we decided to pay the approximately $14 each and go in.

The pros: The zoo has a lot of animals you can see close up, much like Temaiken. They’re right there! In many cases, you can feed the animals. Just buy the little bucket of animal feed, and you can feed lots of deer, bison, monkeys, etc.

_DSC0171 _DSC0183 _DSC0198

They also have maras–lots of them. They are free-roaming, and they are on every available grassy patch. They are friendly and adorable and by far were my favorite part of the zoo. We also saw some free-ranging nutria (kind of a groundhog with a long rat-like tail that gets made into coats in the US)!

_DSC0201

If you look closely near the brush, there’s a whole den of baby maras hanging out there.

_DSC0192

Nutria and rhea

_DSC0166 _DSC0156 _DSC0153

They also have a large amount of capybaras/carpinchos that you can see up close (though unfortunately not pet…). I was happy to see such a big herd of them. Capys are happiest in a big crowd.

_DSC0230

A whole nest of carpinchos. Plus a nutria with an identity crisis.

_DSC0226

The big con: this is a zoo in the truest of forms. That means that some of the cages are small, the animals have virtually no room to run around, and they aren’t given proper stimulation/toys. Also, the pellets you feed to the animals are one size fits all, so they’re not specific to the animal’s diets. The animals in Zoo Buenos Aires were not nearly as happy as those in Temaiken. Well, except for the maras and nutrias, who seemed pretty pleased overall.

_DSC0249 _DSC0245 _DSC0186

Was it worth it? Eh. Obviously, there were some high points, but the zoo is a bit run-down, and clearly focused on making the people happy, not so much the animals.

Buenos Aires–Bioparque Temaiken

T and I just made it to a big work milestone, so we decided to take a few vacation days and continue our exploration of all of the sights of Buenos Aires!

One of the first items on our list was Bioparque Temaiken. It’s about 40 minutes outside of Buenos Aires (although a little longer for us, since our taxi got stuck in major traffic due to some sort of political demonstration). All in all, it’s about 50 km outside of the city in Belen de Escobar, which is a suburb of the city very reminiscent of a US suburb. It cost us about AR$170 (or approximately $14USD) each to get in. If you take a taxi, make sure they are willing to wait for you! There’s virtually no taxis in this area. Ours cost AR$1500 ($125) which included the ride there and back, plus four hours of waiting. There are buses that go there (see Viator for the most up-to-date offers) for about $50 per person, including admission and a private guide–but we figured that out after the fact.

_DSC0057 _DSC0059

We loved Temaiken. Their focus is on preserving wildlife, rehabilitating animals caught in the illegal exotics trade, and protecting wildlife native to Argentina. All of the enclosures were clean, airy, and bright, and you could get so close to all of the animals. We have never been to a zoo where the animals were so active and looked so happy. Although there are no guide books in English, it’s pretty easy to figure out which animal is which. They do have a 360 degree theatre, which offers one show a day in English. We missed that, though, because we were too busy watching all of the animals! We remarked several times that Temaiken felt like one of the most “American” things we’ve done down here–in that it was clean, modern, well-organized, and everything seemed to happen on schedule. They had several very cute playgrounds for kids, which were well maintained and the kids seemed to really be enjoying! Lots of shade, lots of places to stop and rest.

_DSC0227

Another great kid activity? The farm animal/petting zoo area. It was filled with cows, chickens, sheep, and goats. Also–the lushest vegetable garden (or huerta) we have seen yet. We were definitely salivating as we looked at the huge vegetables, and plotting how to make our own huerta look half as good!

_DSC0299 _DSC0254 _DSC0238

Bioparque Temaiken is just one portion of the Fundación Temaiken’s mission. Up in our neighboring province, Missiones, they have a full rehabilitation center. They also have a full breeding center outside of Buenos Aires (for those Smithsonian Zoo buffs, it works pretty much exactly like Front Royal). They attract a lot of school groups, and focus their efforts on educating kids to respect the environment, not keep exotics as pets, and teach them about their country.The main attraction was the monkeys, and they had cute little signs all around the park that said things like “Monkeys don’t wear deodorant,” “Monkeys don’t use WiFi,” and “Monkeys don’t use mattresses.”  Very cute.

_DSC0202 There was an on-site animal hospital showing some of the current animals that are receiving rehabilitation. There was an adorable baby aardvark there (did you know they cling to their mother’s back for the first nine months of their lives?), plus some snakes and lizards. In an outdoor pen, they had a sloth that had been hit by a car in Corrientes province (where we are) and received care, and a monkey that had been found in the black market.

_DSC0218 _DSC0225 _DSC0230 _DSC0213 _DSC0233

The variety of animals was kind of astonishing–beautiful bright pink flamingos, various varieties of antelope, peacocks, yacares (crocodiles), and much more!

_DSC0155 _DSC0157 _DSC0085 _DSC0094 _DSC0066 _DSC0069 _DSC0067 _DSC0073 _DSC0327

I think this is one of the only zoos I know of that has a bat (murcielago) exhibit–and you could even go into the enclosure on this one. These were vampire bats, and they were HUGE.

_DSC0342 _DSC0334

 

Our most exciting portion of the day was in the large bird area. T is apparently very popular with birds. We went up to an observation deck in the African bird area, and when we went down the stairs, a bird decided that a step belonged to him, and attacked T’s shoelaces. We had a small crowd watching as the bird pecked feverishly at T’s feet for a while. (No worries–he was wearing steel toe shoes, and we ended up going down the other set of stairs and retracing our steps.)

_DSC0504 _DSC0508 _DSC0515

Later on, in the parrot area (which was awesome–you can get so close to such beautiful birds) there were two blue parrots that were not happy about life. They were cackling at people and being fairly aggressive. Unfortunately, they were also right next to the exit door. At one point, the birds flew at a little boy! Again, it was T to the rescue–he let the parrots attack his steel toes while I and some other zoo patrons made it through the door.

_DSC0557

The were biting at the cage bars after we left the enclosure!

_DSC0527

Just a few parrots strolling through the underbrush.

_DSC0550

They may look calm here–but these are the two infamous blue parrots.

_DSC0543 _DSC0549 The rest of the bird area was great–again, very active animals and lots of great photo opportunities!

_DSC0566 _DSC0579 _DSC0701 _DSC0710

Temaiken even has an aquarium, complete with some great exhibitions on both local and more exotic fish. There’s a huge tank of rays (which are native to here–we see one near the dam at work all of the time), and there was a really impressive tank filled with giant rays, sharks, and some of the bigger fish. We couldn’t get great photos of that–too dark, but got some other good ones!

_DSC0361

This is a piranha. They are deceptively pretty, with gold sparkles.

_DSC0357 _DSC0367

There was a part of the park more dedicated to local fauna–such as the rhea (sort of like a slightly smaller ostrich that’s brown), and maras (which are pretty much what you would get if you crossed a capybara/carpincho with a rabbit).  Maras are one of the national animals of Argentina–and you’ll hear more about them in a later blog post!

_DSC0619 _DSC0646_DSC0715

All in all, we had a great time and highly recommend Temaiken to anyone who is visiting Buenos Aires and has a spare day to get out of the city center!

_DSC0199 _DSC0194

 

 

Fiesta Nacional de la Yerra y la Doma

Two weekends ago, we had lots to celebrate! We hit a major milestone at work, which means that things slow down for the next few weeks. More importantly, that means that we get to have five day weeks for at least a few weeks!

In addition, the 14th was what we refer to as our “other anniversary.”  We were legally married on November 1, 2012, but had the “white dress, tux, and cake” wedding in September 2013. We like the opportunity to celebrate twice. 🙂

Since we had some time this weekend, we got to enjoy a local festival.  The Fiesta Nacional de la Yerra y Doma Correntina is part livestock show, part county fair, and part equestrian event. The weekend started with a parade that we managed to miss since we were so happy to sleep in and completely forgot about what time it started. (Note to self: 11 is not the same as 1.)

YERRA41

It’s a major gathering of all of the gauchos, or cowboys, in the area to ostensibly celebrate branding their cattle. We didn’t see a single cow branded, but did see a lot of cows! The main event seemed to be a variation on barrel racing–the two riders would serpentine around the barrels and race back. I’m sure that there’s a proper name for this in the US–if anyone knows it, feel free to comment! There were all sorts of levels and divisions, and the banter from the announcers was hilarious. For the women’s division, every time they mentioned the next competitor’s name, one of the announcers would inevitably say, “Hey! I had a girlfriend by that name once!”

_DSC0028 _DSC0030 _DSC0039

Local ranchers brought some of their prize livestock to the arena, and we enjoyed looking at (and, I’ll admit it, petting) all of the pretty farm animals. There were cows and horses, of course, but also ducks, chickens, sheep, goats, and bunnies! A very nice gaucho noticed me admiring his very pretty horses, and let me pet his four month old colt. I was really fascinated by all of the people in their traditional gaucho garb–it looks impressive to see everyone all dressed up in their national costume, and the pieces themselves are incredibly beautiful and durable at the same time!

_DSC0027

Local firefighters

Local firefighters

We got some new housewares while we were there. There is a furniture maker we see in town occasionally who sells very ornate wooden chandeliers, and I’ve always admired their work. We didn’t end up with one of those–but instead got a nifty wine rack with wine glass holders, a huge new basket for our towels, a decorative mirror with some really interesting wicker work so we can start making the place feel more like our own, and some wooden plates in a holder–for our own asados!

We finished our weekend up with a meal at the Manantiales Hotel, where we lived for our first two months in country. We haven’t eaten out in ages–so the staff was all very happy to see us, and everyone asked us how we were doing.

 

Sunday Walk

Yes, I am well aware it is Thursday. But T and I have been super-busy this week, and I’m just now uploading our photos from our Sunday walk around the neighborhood. It was a beautiful day–and we’re trying to get all the vitamin D we can, since our office is at least 12 meters below the nearest sunshine!

We live in the villa permanente, which is a neighborhood essentially created by Entidad Binacional Yacyreta as a place for all of its workers to live. The houses roughly correspond to your place in the hierarchy–there are some low white houses that look like small barns and can be kindly described as man camps.

Then there’s our neighborhood of yellow houses. We love our quiet, friendly neighborhood. Pretty cobblestone streets, lots of people walking and biking, and plenty of little groups outside on a beautiful day enjoying the sunshine and a cup of mate. For being identical houses, each of the houses clearly expresses the personality of the owner.

_DSC3347 _DSC3351 _DSC3337 _DSC3342 _DSC3344 _DSC3353

Then there’s the brown houses

_DSC3364 _DSC3362

And finally, for the really important people, the white mansions:

_DSC3367

It would not be a walk if there wasn’t a moment of “Sara pets a strange but friendly neighborhood dog.”

_DSC3359

 

 

 

 

Capybaras or Carpinchos

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have a soft spot for most rodents. (Minus rats, which I attribute to horrible experiences in the L’Enfant metro station in DC. Sorry, Clara.)

Argentina happens to be home to the largest rodent in the world. Known in the US as a capybara, down here they are called carpinchos.  Looking vaguely like a brown, webbed-foot guinea pig, they live near water in groups of 10-20 and can weigh more than 75 lbs when fully grown. And, more importantly, they are the most judgmental animals known to man.  Mr. Winks can look incredibly judgmental of what you’re eating for dinner, the movie you’ve chosen to watch, or what time you’re going to bed, and he is only about 3 lbs. Multiply that, and give them wilderness street smarts… and you’ve got a highly judgmental giant rodent. Or I could just be projecting.

Watch out for capybaras! And marsh deer. And jacares.

Watch out for capybaras! And marsh deer. And jacares.

On our way to work, T and I pass through a wildlife preserve with a sign that encourages us to not hit the wildlife, including capybaras, marsh deer, and jacares (a type of crocodile).  We spent the first week trying to see a herd of capybaras. The locals seem to afford them the same attitude that Pennsylvanians have towards white-tailed deer: adorable, and even tasty, but don’t hit them unless you would like to get a new car.

We saw herds of what we were sure were capybara in the distance (or, for all we know, could have been anything vaguely brown and round-ish). But last week, we hit the jackpot. Driving home, we saw a herd of capys right next to the guard rail. And not just a herd–a family! What follows are photographic evidence of 1) how tolerant T is of my obsession with rodents that he backed up, turned around the car, and stuck his head out of the window to get photos of them, and 2) how adorable capys are.

DSCN3217DSCN3223DSCN3228

Capybaras can actually be pets in the US, albeit only in the most exotic-friendly states. They can be trained to wear leashes, but they would probably be a horrible pet to clean up after. They prefer to do their business in water, so they need to have access to a pool. Which one then has to clean for them.  However, much like their smaller guinea pig cousins, they have wiry hair, enjoy eating lots of veggies, and tolerate people petting them. According to the Google (through which all things must be true), however, capybaras hate hugs.

At some point T and I plan on going to the fancy-schmancy hotel outside of Posadas and getting the full wildlife tour they offer.

The weather here has gotten slightly cooler. Whereas early last week was easily 100 degrees, it’s a chilly 85 out there now after some strong storms over the weekend. We spent the weekend watching “Los Simpsons” and “Que Esperar quando Esperando” (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) on Fox. A fun adventure in learning colloquial Spanish from a show and movie we already knew the storyline to.

Something that is blessedly similar worldwide–technology jargon!  Everyone knows what an iPhone is. Everyone can identify the word “internet.” They all know “wifi.”  Thank goodness for the importation of American jargon. I actually used the word “user-friendly” in a meeting today when I couldn’t possibly think of the Spanish equivalent, and the tech guy totally understood what I was saying.

As a final note, I remembered that T took a picture of us in the plane on his iPod right before we took off. Here we are in all of our traveling glory:

Delta time! BWI to ATL

Delta time! BWI to ATL

Ciao!