• Los Esteros del Ibera: A Natural Paradise

    Posted by James Lyons on 3/5/2007 10:00:00 AM

    A large area of the central region of Corrientes province is occupied by an unspoiled, primeval wilderness known as Los Esteros del Ibera. This reserve is a haven for the native flora and fauna of the area. It is also, along with the aquifer that runs beneath it, one of the largest concentrations of fresh water on the planet. Visiting Los Esteros (The Marshes) has been on our agenda since we found out that we were going to be living in Corrientes. Although we have traveled thousands of miles to Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Iguazú Falls we haven’t had the opportunity to visit this marvel of nature, until now.

    On our return from Concordia we had to pass through Mercedes, the town that’s the gateway to the Esteros. We expected that once in Mercedes the trip to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini in Los Esteros would be simple, but we were very mistaken. The distance from Mercedes to Carlos Pelligrini is about seventy miles, much farther and remote than we expected. The trip can only be made in a four wheel drive vehicle. We arrived to our destination after a butt numbing, two hour ride over an unpaved road. It was immediately apparent that we were in a special place. The inn where we stayed was near the shore of a lake surrounded by green vegetation. Staying in the midst of this natural beauty was so pleasant and relaxing that we decided to stay an extra day in spite of the high price of the accommodations (visiting Los Esteros, because of its remote location and sensitive environment is very expensive).

    In the morning of the second day we took a two hour boat trip into the reeds and brushes of a primeval wilderness where we saw a dizzying variety of birds and animals such as; yacaré (similar to caimans or alligators), capybara (the largest rodent in the world reaching 100 pounds), marsh deer, American storks and several species of which we only learned the Guaraní (local indigenous language) names.

    In the afternoon we took a horse drawn carriage ride which was marred by an unrelenting attack of swarms of mosquitoes. It started off pleasant enough but as it was nearing dusk and we turned off the main road onto wooded trails we were bitten mercilessly. Once we returned to the main road the clouds of mosquitoes disappeared.

    If you would like to see what Los Esteros look like, you will be able to find pictures of our trip on the first page of my blog.

    Comments (0)
  • Keeping Legal

    Posted by James Lyons on 3/5/2007 10:00:00 AM

    In order to reside in Argentina legally, we need to leave the country every three months to renew our visas. Our last visa expired on the tenth of this month so we made the trip to the nearest place that we can cross for free, (we must pay for visas to enter Brazil or Paraguay) the Uruguayan border. Itís not a real burden because the border crossing at Concordia, Argentina is in the beautiful, forested province of Entre RÌos, due south of Corrientes, known for its hot springs. We skipped the hot springs this time, however, because they were much more inviting in the cooler weather of November than in the summer heat of February. This time we crossed the Uruguay River to Salto by ferry instead of taking a taxi across a dam as we did before.

    A proposed paper factory on the Uruguay River on the Uruguayan side has been the source of a major conflict between these two neighbors. The River is a tremendous basically unspoiled resource for fishing, recreation and water and the Argentines are fearful that the waste produced by a dirty industry such as a paper factory will pollute the river. Due to this conflict several bridges across the river have been closed by protestors. It is noteworthy that the Finnish company that may build the factory was prohibited from building it in Finland by environmental protection laws.

    Concordia and Salto are both quiet, attractive towns. Upon crossing the river to Uruguay the terrain suddenly becomes hilly. This is particularly notable to us after spending months in Corrientes, which is flatter than Iowa.

    Comments (0)
  • Change of Address

    Posted by Pat Burgio on 2/20/2007 10:10:00 AM

    For anyone who may be wondering, we are alive and well in Corrientes. My blog has been silent lately because we were had to move at the end of February. Margara Perrens, my counterpart did such a good job finding us furnished accommodations that we spent six very comfortable months in her sister’s apartment, but because we extended our exchange we had to find a place to live for the next five months. After a search of several weeks we found an apartment just two blocks from the first one.

    Here in Corrientes most apartments are normally rented completely unfurnished so we had to buy a refrigerator, stove and washing machine. We have been able to make the apartment comfortable without breaking our budget due to the overwhelming generosity of our friends who have lent us beds, bedclothes, pots, pans, silverware, a TV, table and chairs. In fact, whenever we see them they always ask us, “Is there anything else that you need?” Of all the marvels we have experienced over the last eight months, the kindness of the people of this region of Argentina has made the deepest impression on us.

    The last couple of weeks have served as a good lesson in appreciation and improvisation. Personally, I feel very grateful for all I have, here and in Buffalo. The first couple of days in our new apartment, before all of our furniture and appliances arrived, were particularly challenging but we made due with a few plastic plates, cups and a empty fruit cocktail can as a makeshift pot. It was kind of like indoor camping. Now everything has fallen into place and we are getting ready for the start of a new school year which, by the way, is March 1st.

    Comments (0)
  • La Fiesta de San Balthazar

    Posted by James Lyons on 1/19/2007 10:00:00 AM

    On January 6 we attended a festival dedicated to one of the Three Kings, Balthazar from East Africa, in the Camba Cua neighborhood. Camba means slave and Cua means cave in the Guarani language and this neighborhood is known by this name because it was where the African slaves lived in colonial times. Today it’s been swallowed by the city but centuries ago it was on the periphery. Those who organize this festival recognize and celebrate the contribution of the Afro-Argentines to the melting pot of Corrientes. There are many people, however, who do not recognize that there ever was the presence of an African population in Argentina.

    It is a known fact that there were African slaves in Argentina in colonial times but this population has seemingly vanished without a trace. What happened to them? Some people speculate that many of them were soldiers during the independence wars, the struggles between the new nation and its neighbors and civil conflicts that followed independence in which many were killed in battle. Others, it is assumed, migrated to Uruguay or Brazil. It seems highly unlikely that the entire population of African descent was simply absorbed by the surrounding population.

    Several small statues were brought to the park at 9:00 in the evening. There was a sound system playing the music of carnival as well as some music dedicated to Camba Cua and the festival of San Balthazar. It was a small affair with several families from the neighborhood. We donated several pints of blood to the local mosquito population before a merciful breeze swept them away. The participants began dancing at around eleven but unfortunately that is too close to our bedtime so we had to go as the fiesta was beginning to get caliente. It was interesting that several of the participants, although light skinned, had notable Afro features, remnants of past generations from Camba Cua.

    Comments (1)
  • A Tale of Two Cities

    Posted by James Lyons on 1/19/2007 10:00:00 AM

    Where exactly is Corrientes? If you find Argentina on your world Atlas and look to the area on the border with Paraguay in the Northeast you will see that Paraguay has a panhandle surrounded on three sides by Argentina. There at the confluence of the Paraguay and Paraná rivers the land forms a sharp angle that points to the city of Corrientes. If you look closely you will also see that the city of Resistencia is on the other side of the Paraná about 12 miles from Corrientes. Resistencia is the capital of the province of Chaco and both cities are linked by the General Belgrano Bridge.
    In spite of their proximity these two cities are different worlds. Corrientes is a four hundred year old city that retains much of its colonial charm. Streets and sidewalks are narrow, building facades often end right at the sidewalk and many buildings are colonial (they have interior courtyards and red ceramic tiled roofs). Resistencia, on the other hand is a new city with wide, tree-lined boulevards and modern buildings. It is a little more than one hundred years old.
    The society of Corrientes, like its architecture, is quite traditional. There has been relatively little immigration to the province and the culture and lifestyle is ingrained and stable. Immigration to Chaco, a new province on the other hand, has been encouraged by the government and therefore there is a greater ethnic mix as well as a society that is more modern. The vast differences between these two worlds only twelve miles apart is just one more fascinating aspect of life in the Litoral (Northeastern Argentina).

    Comments (0)
  • After the Holidays

    Posted by James Lyons on 1/9/2007 4:00:00 PM

    Hola mis amigos. There is not too much to report. The holidays have come and gone here in Corrientes without much fanfare. It suited me fine; we avoided the holiday rush and shared nice meals with friends on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. As soon as the holidays were over many families packed their cars and headed for summer vacation destinations in Mar de Plata, Patagonia or Punta del Este, Uruguay. Corrientes is very quiet now. It attracts a lot of students from other provinces during the school year because of its educational opportunities and many of these students are back home for the summer break. Also many people from here have left to spend their vacation in more comfortable regions.

    We are planning to stay in Corrientes for the summer. We are enjoying the peacefulness although the heat can be oppressive. Fortunately, the Regattas Club is only five blocks away so we spend many an afternoon and evening at its beautiful beach on the Parana River. The weather and seasons in the southern hemisphere are reversed so that the summer solstice was a couple weeks ago and the sun doesn’t set until 8:30 or so in these days. Mrs Lyons, who we have affectionately dubbed the sunscreen gestapo, keeps us safe from the damaging effects of the subtropical sun. If she weren’t insisting that we wear copious amounts of sunscreen number 65 we would all be the texture and color of raisins.

    I don’t recall if I mentioned it in previous entries but the folk music from this part of Argentina is known as Chamame. It has a strong link to Gaucho and Guarani culture and is rooted in this province. Corrientes just hosted a five day Chamame festival in which groups from around the region participated. We went on Saturday night and the amphitheatre, which accommodates several thousand, was overflowing. The music was spectacular and the audience very enthusiastic. The Correntinos have a profound appreciation and love for their own culture and traditions. For us it’s a privilege to experience these traditions, untainted by pop culture.

    Comments (0)
  • Christmas Here and There

    Posted by James Lyons on 1/9/2007 3:00:00 PM

    As I mentioned in my last note there are notable differences between the Christmas celebration in Corrientes and Buffalo. There are many more decorations adorning the streets and houses of Western New York than there are in Northeastern Argentina. The high cost of electricity discourages the municipality and private citizens from stringing Christmas lights everywhere. Another element of Christmas that has been absent is Christmas music. It is not heard in supermarkets or stores. There was not the same level of frenzy as there is back home in the weeks leading up to Christmas, which I didn't miss at all. I did, however, hear many commentaries from people here about how subdued the run up to Christmas was this year. One thing that we did have in common though was a green Christmas.
    On Christmas Eve we had an invitation to an asado, Argentine barbeque, with our dear friends Claudia and Jorge. We went to mass at 9:00 PM and then from there we arrived to their house at around 11:00. This is a perfectly normal dinner schedule in Argentina. We had had quite a rain and wind storm in the morning which gave us a cooler than average day. It was a beautiful, clear night and we were gathered on the open air terrace with several families.
    Suddenly at midnight the city shook to the sounds of fireworks. It seemed that every house had there own arsenal of firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, M-80's, etc. This intense barrage didn't subside for well over an hour. Earlier in the evening I happened to walk through a plaza where people were selling all imaginable types of fireworks. Naturally I bought my own supply because I didn't want us to be left out of the fun.

    Comments (0)
  • Living a Dream

    Posted by James Lyons on 12/22/2006 12:00:00 PM

    It's hard to believe but we have already been more than two months in Argentina. We have been living a dream. We spent two days in Buenos Aires upon our arrival with the other American teachers and our Argentine counterparts for some meetings with the Fulbright commission and then went off to all different provinces to begin our assignments. The city that I am working in is Corrientes, northeastern Argentina right along the Parana River just a short distance from Paraguay. We were lucky enough to spend a full week with my counterpart, Margara Perrens, who is teaching in my classroom at Lancaster High School right now.
    I am working at a fine arts institute called "Instituto Superior Josefina Contte". I am teaching English at all different levels from young teenagers beginning their study of English to young adults studying History and Linguistics in a teacher training program. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I do not have all of the comforts of my own classroom but I do have a comfortable room, chalk, a chalkboard, the will to teach and students with the will to learn. I also have colleagues who are warm and friendly and have helped me a great deal in my adjustment to my new environment. In fact, the warmth of the people of this city in general has amazed us.
    Corrientes is a 400 year old colonial town. There are 400,000 inhabitants but it has the feel of a small town. We have been able to do without a car because the city is very compact and we can comfortably walk to wherever we need to go. My walk to school every morning, for example, takes me about twenty-five minutes. We arrived in mid-winter but only experienced a few "cold" days in August when the temperature dipped into the forties. Now Spring is here and every day is warm to hot. We have been told to beware of the 100 degree heat of December and January.
    We haven't been able to do much traveling but a couple of weeks ago we went to the province of Misiones and saw one of the world's spectacular sights, Iguazu Falls. The jungle environment all around the Falls has been preserved and walking through it enhances the experience. Here is a picture taken at a country house at an Argentine barbeque or "asado" with Margara's family.

    Comments (0)
  • Happy Holidays/Happy Summer!

    Posted by James Lyons on 12/22/2006 12:00:00 PM


    Today is the first day of summer in South America. The temperature has been climbing and this weekend it was really extreme, even for the Correntinos (people of Corrientes). On Sunday the temperature's real feel was 122 degrees. On top of that the electricity went out so there was no fans or air conditioning for several hours. We are very lucky to have the Parana River right down the street.
    There is more evidence of Christmas in The U.S. than here in Corrientes. I can only speak for Corrientes because we haven't been out of Corrientes since the end of November. It seems that Christmas is more private and personal here. There seems to be much less emphasis on decorating here than back home. There are a few lights around and a few Christmas trees but there is not constant reminders of the Christmas season, or at least not the kind which we are accustomed to.
    We will be spending Christmas Eve at our friends' house with their family. We will be having an asado on their outdoor terrace. We are notorious for leaving parties early, before four or five in the morning so we have been instructed to take long naps during the day of the 24th. Dinner will be served at about 10:30 PM and then there will be fireworks in the early morning hours.
    To all my amigos at Lancaster, Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo.

    Comments (0)
  • Life in Corrientes

    Posted by James Lyons on 12/6/2006 10:00:00 AM

    Corrientes is in the region known as the Litoral, in the Northeastern part of the country. The first city to be founded in this part of the world by the Spanish was Asuncion, Paraguay which is about 150 miles due north up the Parana river. After establishing Asuncion the Spanish travelled down the Parana and founded Corrientes in 1588. The city maintains much of its colonial charm. The streets are narrow, sidewalks often tiled and the building facades usually end right at the sidewalk. It is fun to walk the streets and look beyond the walls because you never know if you will find a garden, courtyard, elegant house, abandoned lot or a very humble dwelling.
    There are some 400,000 inhabitants but the city is very compact and has the feel of a small town. We do not have a car here and very seldom do we take a taxi. We have enjoyed not having a car and walking everywhere. It also helps that the weather is usually warm and we have had very little rain. My walk to one of my schools is about 10 minutes and to the other is 25.
    One of the most popular walking areas is La Costanera, the riverwalk. La Costanera is wide, tree-lined and almost always full of people day or night. As you walk along the river you can see people fishing along its entire length. We are only about 10 minutes from La Costanera and we often go there for a relaxing walk.

    Comments (0)
Last Modified on November 6, 2017