Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Time to unwind in Tigre

The Delta of the Parana, commonly referred to as Tigre for the former jaguar population that used to inhabit the region until 1900, is a popular weekend and vacation spot for Buenos Aireans looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

A commuter train on the Mitre Line that costs just 10 pesos (approximately 70 cents Canadian) will take you for about 45 minutes from the heart of Buenos Aires north to the end of the line in Tigre. It’s a city of about 380,000 people that has a charming riverfront area along Rio Lujan that I’m hoping to return to later in the month to explore further.

This trip, however, was about getting further into the delta — which is comprised of a labyrinth of dozens of islands and interconnected small rivers bounded by the much larger Rio De La Plata to the east and Rio Parana De Las Palmas to the north.

A map of the area.
Anyone who lives in the area already has a boat of their own because that’s the only way that places in the delta are accessible, but there are a variety of options for those not lucky enough to own property there, which can be compared somewhat to Ontario’s cottage country.

The great crew from Unsettled, which essentially acts as a concierge service with multiple added benefits for myself and 30 other nomads from around the world in Buenos Aires, arranged this mini adventure. 

This included a 170-peso (approximately $12 Canadian) round trip ticket for the comfortable boats run by Francisco Bugatti Hijos S.A. that essentially act as water buses for some of the rivers extending from Rio Lujan. The main terminal is in Tigre, but people along the route can stand on docks and wave down the boats, which will stop to pick passengers up or drop them off where they want.

China Town
Our trip started on Rio Tigre before a quick left turn on to Rio Lujan, so we got to see some of Tigre’s main tourist attractions — including the Museo De Arte Tigre, the National Navy Museum, China Town and the Parque de la Costa amusement and water park — and several impressive buildings while in transit. Just when we came to larger freighters docked to our left we turned to the right and entered Rio Carapachay.

The Museo De Arte Tigre.
This narrower river featured private homes and cottages, small resorts, a few restaurants and a school. Some were in great shape, others not so much. Some looked like they could have been primary residences while others seemed better suited for weekend getaways. All had docks and almost all were elevated so, even if river levels rose, the water wouldn’t affect the interiors. As I found out later in the evening, water will also seep up from the ground, turning formerly dry grass temporarily swampy.

It was a pleasant and relaxing hour-long journey, though larger or fast-moving boats can cause reasonably large wakes that add to the challenge for the kayakers, rowers and canoeists who also frequent these waterways.

One of the houses at Poema.
We eventually arrived at our destination, a compound identified as Poema on its dock. We’d been warned that the accommodations (which Unsettled paid for but apparently cost about $50 Canadian per person per night) would be spartan, and I brought ice packs to keep my drinks cold thinking there would be no refrigeration. But while the two houses that would be our home for the night were far from luxurious, they had electricity and fully functioning kitchens and toilets. I’m fine with rustic and basic and got more than I expected.

The other house at Poema.
As people scrambled to the cramped bunk rooms to claim a bed, I’d noticed that the large games room had a fridge and bar as well as pool, ping pong and foosball tables — and two beds in the far corner. I immediately claimed one of them and it took a surprisingly long number of minutes before someone else twigged in to take the other bed.

My Poema bedroom.
The extensive property was fronted by the river and surrounded by trees on every other side. It featured: a decent-sized swimming pool that proved to be a much more popular swimming location than the murky brown river; lawn volleyball and paddle tennis courts; a large outdoor grill; outside dining areas; three kayaks; and a hiking trail.

The Poema pool and some of my new Unsettled friends.
After walking for about 15 minutes through forest on the trail on Sunday morning, I still didn’t have a destination in sight and no one knew where it led to so I returned the same way. I spotted a few different types of scat that belonged to smallish but decent-sized animals along the way, but saw no wildlife aside from some birds and large but empty snail shells.

My new favourite dog, Tigre.
Perhaps best of all, the property came with its own dog — appropriately named Tigre. He was constantly running all over the place, acted as my guide on the hiking trail, and would often swim long distances in pursuit of kayakers. But he always returned and, when he tired, would casually ease himself on to a friendly and accommodating lap to rest or sleep on.

If there was one thing better than Tigre, and it was a tight competition, it was Ben — who Unsettled had hired as our personal chef for the weekend. We all contributed 250 pesos (approximately $17.50 Canadian) and he brought and prepared all the food — which was more than we could eat.

Lunch was a delicious curried chicken salad that could be added to hummus, shredded carrots and cabbage and eaten as a wrap.

But that was nothing compared to dinner, which was a traditional Argentinean parrilla (a meal featuring a lot of grilled meat) with a lot more extras than you’d get at most restaurants. There were staggering portions of steak, beef ribs, sausage and pork shoulder as well as cheese and a variety of salads and sauces that were a welcomed accompaniment to all of that protein.

Later, as many of us were sitting around a bonfire talking and drinking, Ben brought out crepes slathered with dulce de leche, a favourite Argentinean confection that’s like a very sweet caramel, for dessert.

Breakfast consisted of leftovers from the previous day as well as heaps of scrambled eggs, homemade bread with jams, and coffee. No one should have gone hungry during their 24 hours at Poema.

The garbage we created was bagged and hung off the dock, where a trash boat would apparently come by later to pick it up.

While I’ve been trying to put in my normal work week while also endeavouring to cram in activities to help me discover a new (to me) part of the world, Buenos Aires isn’t stressing me out. I don’t anticipate that it will either but, should such a thing happen, spending more time in the Delta of the Parana around Tigre would provide a quick antidote.

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