12 August 2012

Argentina - August 2012

10/08/2012

Didn't bother with the cycling gear today. Everything is so dirty in any case, I don't want to get my saddle sores infected any further. The border was a little further away than I had thought. Lots of Brazilian military moving up an around the bridge area - a sure sign of a border nearby. 

A long bridge to get across the Rio Uruguai (the river of painted birds). By my measurements, the river was 750 metres wide at this point - easily the biggest river I have ever seen. To think that there are much bigger ones to come yet. I was starting to get a little concerned with the lack of a border crossing. I was now in Argentina, but I hadn't 'left' Brazil yet! The border soon materialised though, got checked out of Brazil by some half asleep and out of uniform official - if there was a poignant image of my experience in Brazil, this was it. Then entered Argentina via what looked like a toll booth. Lots of people patiently stood while the border official played with my passport. Fortunately he didn't seem to understand 'The United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland', he just saw Ireland and I shook my head approvingly. A few more taps on the keyboard and then the stamp came out - he seemed to smile even more as he blotted out one of my USA entry stamps with a big fat Argentinian one. Not that I am bothered, the more they double stamp, the longer my passport will last. The Argentinians are going to be seeing a lot of me at border posts - this was entry 2, with another 4 to come at least. 

Border crossed, it was simply a case of making my way to Santo Tome, Corrientes Province. Santo Tome is quite atypical as a border town. Feels very safe and the locals were all very friendly. Besides my mood being greatly improved by being in Argentina, there was even more reason to be happy as the totty improved 100% too. Remarkable considering all I did was cross a bridge! Totty oggling aside, today was going to be about clothes washing, bike maintenance and some rest. 

My hotel was on the outskirts of the town, not far from the river itself. Didn't quite have a river view, but beautiful enough in any case. The hotel would do my laundry which solved one big headache. Next would be a trip into town to wash my bike. Unfortunately, it was past 12:00 by this stage and everyone was on siesta. I found a place to have some lunch and then went back to the Lavadero to get the bike sorted. The chap did a fine job or getting all the grime and dirt off. Back to the hotel for some maintenance now. Checked and sorted all the bolts and screws. Tightened up all the spokes, some were getting a little loose. Oiled the chain and put her away for the rest of the day. 

The afternoon was cooling off nicely, grabbed the bins and camera and went for a walk. Wasn't expecting much in the way of birds, but I was greatly surprised by a very happending bird party going on the in the small valley between the hotel and the river. Smooth-billed Ani, highly animated Red-rumped Caciques and a very confiding Squirrel Cuckoo. I tagged along with the Caciques, trying to get decent photos of them when I almost had my socks blown off. I knew what the bird was, that part was self evident - but I had not thought of seeing this species until Iguacu at least. I had already developed a slight drool, the Plush-crested Jay will do that to you. It is not the rarest bird on earth, and there are prettier ones, but the combination of colours and character make it a very special bird. Added a few more species, Greyish Saltator and Variable Antshrike before the mosquitos started to attack. I had no long sleeves or anti-bug spray on, so had to beat a hasty retreat to the hotel. I don't generally get welts from mosquito bites, but I certainly got some large, horrible ones from these buggers. 

Dinner in the hotel for the first time in a while. One of my former housemates, Javier had contacted me from Tenerife bemoaning how much he missed the great beef steak of Argentina. So in his honour I had a large Choriso steak, must have been a good 500gr. Finally some decent beer - a very fine Quilmes. 

11/08/2012

Today was to be a short 65km cycle to the ridiculously long named Gobernador Ingeniero Agrónomo Valentín Virasoro, fortunately known everywhere simply as Virasora. Collected a few provisions and headed off into the warm morning full of optimism. 

That optimism didn't last particularly long. First the hard shoulder disappeared, then the trucks increased exponentially before the devil himself opened up the taps with a 40km/h headwind. It is very frustrating and spirit crushing to be thrown about like a rag doll. It is even more dispiriting when you cannot even get on the road for most of the day because of the damn trucks. For the sake of anyone reading this blog, in particular my poor parents, it is no bad thing that I am writing it a day after the event - I certainly wasn't calling them 'damn trucks' yesterday. Almost had my first fall as I got bunted off the road and into some gravel by a heavy wind gust. Just about managed to unclip and keep the bike upright.

The wind was so strong that it was causing my gears to shift! If I stopped pedaling for any reason, the back derailleur would be blown into the next gear. Was having to stop every 30 minutes for a rest and water. Despite all the other issues, it is was also mid thirties. Water very quickly became tepid, hardly refreshing. I lost count of the number of times I contemplated just packing the ride in yesterday - set up camp somewhere and stop being stupid. I also knew that trying to fight or appeal to my mind was impossible. After all, sit and do what for the whole day? Wait for the wind to die down and then what - it might simply carry on blowing tomorrow too (Ed. - it has blown a similar gale today). So on we battled, I had to walk up even the slightest inclines as cycling them was impossible. Spent hours in the grass or rocky red soil avoiding trucks - at times just resigned to cycling in the crap rather than bother with trying to get onto the road. 

I am so sick of the wind, it has followed me for weeks now and almost invariably it has been a headwind. People must be thinking that I am just making this up, that I just can't hack the cycling. No matter in which direction I have cycled since leaving Agua Dulces in Uruguay, I have had a headwind in excess of 10km/h for all but 3 days. The one day I rest yesterday and there was no wind.  

Fast approaching my sickness of wind are the trucks. There are more trucks than cars here, I thought I had seen the most trucks of my life between Novo Hamburgo and Santo Cruz do Sul, but this is incredible - that is despite it being a Saturday. Despite hating them for occupying the road in such numbers, they still do give me room when possible and tonk their horns in appreciation of my efforts. So it is not a dislike for the drivers or their trucks, just the fact that it is not safe to ride on the road with them about most of the time. For the short periods of time I did get on the road, I started to trust the motorists again. Despite driving just as quickly as the Brazilians, they all without exception gave me room or tooted their horn to let me know they could not. Most followed this up by a friendly wave as they passed and the odd shout of encouragement. 

I’m baffled, how the hell can two populations of motorists be so completely and utterly different. There is a river and bridge, no more than a few kilometres separating two sets of motorists who for all intents and purposes may as well be in different worlds. This is like being in Uruguay all over again - Argentinian drivers so far have been responsible, friendly and respectful of other road users. Either way, it is some consolation while battling the environment that I don’t have to battle the motorists too. 

During my various stops, the wind managed to blow my bike over twice today. Thankfully all my devices are working and functional. I do pack them carefully with this in mind, but it hurts to see everything toppled over and worse there is no ‘thing’ to kick, murder or shout at for having done it. I want to scream at the sky, but the rational part of my head has already concluded that this is rather lame and pointless. On we peddle, each kilometre a minor victory.

Absolutely shattered, I finally made it into Virasora at 17:00. Checked into another hotel - a real cheap one, but has all the attributes that I require. My body is the colour of the dirt, iron red.  Showered and crashed for half an hour. Checked the weather report - strong northerlies for the rest of the week. I am not cycling in this crap anymore, so I consult the bus timetables. I want to get to Aristobulo del Valle. There is indeed a bus, at 05:45 tomorrow morning. Sod that, tomorrow I shall go to the bus station and see what else is on offer.

12/08/2012

Gear packed early and some more research into where exactly I want to go. San Pedro, San Vicente or Aristobulo del Valle. I’m struggling to decide. Despite this being an absolute birding mecca - there does not appear to be a map of all the various forests that people bird at. In fact this is proving very difficult - I have absolutely no idea where any of these places are except a rough estimation of distance from somewhere else. Well, I shall make said map in that case. By further research I work out that the first place along Route 14 that I want to visit (Parque Provincial Salto Encantado) is very close to the town of Aristobulo del Valle. So that is where we shall go.

Ride back to the beginning of town and find the bus terminal. I have cheated slightly and written down various Spanish sentences that I have taken from Google Translate. ‘¿Hay un autobus a Aristobulo del Valle?’ followed by ‘¿Cuanto cuesta un billete?’ and then to make sure that my bike could also go, ‘Tengo que tomar mi bicicleta’. I make out that there is no direct bus, but I should catch the next one to Posadas and then catch a connecting bus from there. This seems like hard work, but the alternative is to wait until 05:15 tomorrow morning for a direct bus. We’re going to Posadas in that case. 


Bus arrives on time and the conductor doesn’t seem perplexed by all my luggage. I have removed all my bags from the bike, but not covered my bike in a bag. No problem all went in just fine. People who know me, also know I have a morbid fear/dislike of busses due to vestibular issue I have - in lay terms, I get very motion sick! However, these were not the jam packed sardine cans I had imagined them to be. Quite new luxury liners with comfortable reclining seats too. Lets see how things went. So far I was impressed, bus was in it’s bay 10 minutes ahead of schedule and left bang on time. We arrived in Posadas exactly as planned too. Round one to the busses!

Next was to organise a connecting bus. This was not going to be with the same company however as they did not go there today. Found another company counter and with my lines now well rehearsed, managed to secure a ticket. The bus ride in total was some 245 kilometres, the cost of both tickets was 79 pesos (US$17.00). Next bus arrived on time, again no problem loading everything on. Similar luxury liner bus, I was brave enough to have a go at starting this blog piece on my iPad. Probably a little too brave, but I persevered without getting too ill. The one interesting oddity of these bus trips is that they stop almost anywhere to pick passengers up. I’m not sure why there is a terminal at all actually. You can get off pretty much anywhere to, just walk up to the conductor or tell the driver you want to jump at the next corner shop - no problem. Despite all this, it seems to make little difference to your arrival time. Bang on as scheduled. So the busses won hands down today, tomorrow I can be in a rain forest looking at birds instead of crunching along the roadside for another 3 days to get here. 

Am very chuffed with the Argentine bus service, will definitely be making more use of them on my very long stretched in central and southern Argentina. One more night in a hotel before I spend the next three in camp at the Salto Encantado forest. From there is further north into Misiones to other forests. Full on birding is about to begin.


13/08/2012

After yesterday's success on the busses, I was looking forward to getting some decent birding in for a change. Left Aristobulo del Valle a little after 09:30 after picking up some more provisions. Three days camping is what I was expecting from today. I only had a short distance to travel to reach the Municipal park of Salto Encantado. Salto means 'waterfall'. Having arrived, I was greeted by some friendly park rangers who showed me where everything was. Got changed and readied my gear for what I hoped would be a productive mid-morning session. 

I got collared by one of the park rangers who wanted to take me along the boardwalk and show me the waterfall. Not certain why to was necessary, but off we went anyway. Having seen and photographed what is certainly a decent looking waterfall, I asked him where the camp ground was as I hadn't seen anything likely. No camping I was told. So I pulled out the brochure which he had given me, one I had already thoroughly looked at the day before. There in black, white and Spanish it said that camping and facilities were available. Not even a shrug, just repeated his sentence before, 'No camping'. I asked if he knew of anywhere nearby that I might be able to stay, but simply got the same refrain. The bear bug here is that if I do one thing really good, it is research things thoroughly. In this instance I had not only their own brochure, but other independent sources including the tourism website of Misiones stating that camping was available. So while it wouldn't have bothered me if I had just turned up unwittingly, it does start to upset my apple cart of hard work and research. Why did I waste every free hour for 6 months researching if it was going to come to this? 

I dispatched with him soon enough, although not in the way I had wanted to. Back onto the trails and tried to get some birding done none the less. I owns had to make an alternative arrangement for this evening, where I did not know though. Birding was slow and difficult, plenty of calls, but little to be seen. (insert birds seen).

With the heat of day beating down on the forest, the birds shut up and I sweated. I decided I needed to leave by 15:00 at the latest to give myself some time to look about for some form of accommodation. I had seen a sign for a forest lodge a little earlier, it would take me 6km's deeper into the forest along a muddy dirt road. I figured it was worth a shot, if it was full, too expensive or non-existent then I still had enough time to ride back to Aristobulo del Valle. 

Cycle and push we did, up and and down some very steep muddy roads. The final descent into the lodge was horrendous, I really did wonder if I was going to be able to get my bike up the hill when I left. Hopefully that would be tomorrows problem. I arrived to find a large contingent of rock climbers preparing for some work on the property. They must have elevated board walks for this to have been necessary. The manager introduced himself and we got down to business. A room was available, camping not allowed. How much was it I asked? Into the lodge we went and pulled his price sheet put to get the exact figure. I was not familiar with the words he said, I had clearly not heard this number before. So I asked to see the price list. The signboards directing you to the farm would have been better off instructing you to bring a large tub of KY jelly. I mean, all I wanted was a room, they could keep the Chateau Margeux 1982 and the 5 hookers. Near enough US$200 pppn. I'd be going back up that hill today then.

After much struggling, pushing, banging of ankles and swearing I did eventually make it back up the hill. Back along the dirt road and up to the junction quite stuffed. Before I turned right and headed back to town, I thought I would chance my arm and see if there may be a local motel or something in this very small settlement about 12km's from Aristobulo del Valle. With much relief I found an ATM first, I was getting dangerously and stupidly low on cash. Oddly enough, my card worked even in this tiny little town. Compare that to almost inevitable failure in every Brazilian town I ever tried to draw money from. There was even a motel, nothing fancy but again, I didn't want fancy - the cheaper the better. 

Some very decent eye candy checked me in rather out unfortunately. At least it was a decent end to a pretty shitty day. Unpacked and went through the usual routine. Shower, put the electronics on charge, checkin in with the wider world and bemoan yet another wasted day. Went through what few photos I had and updated lists and blogs. Walked across the road to a small Parilla that served a rather decent Hamberguesa. Spent the rest of the evening doing even more research into my upcoming options.

14/08/2012

After yesterday's debacle at Salto Encantado, I planned on heading up to San Vicente and seeing what I could find along the way. There were a few camp sites, hopefully one of them would be near to a decent forest.

Not a particularly long cycle, but there are certainly more hills than I have had to date. The extreme heat coupled with the 90% humidity seems to drain your strength very quickly too. I certainly could not be pushing much more than 70km's in a day here. Water bottle empty at twice the normal rate, I have taken to carrying an extra 1.5lt bottle strapped to one of my panniers. I have two camel bags, but have yet to make any use of them. Seem to have been a waste of money, but will hang on to them a little longer just in case.

With time on my side, I stopped at the first camp site on my list. Not what I was hoping for, so back to the road. Turns out there were two camp sites here, I went to the wrong one - perhaps the other one would have been better? Arriving in San Vicente, I filled up the water bottles and had a small bite to eat. I would now head east for 12km's to the next potential camp site. After a wrong turn and a few minutes thought I canned the whole idea and found another cheap motel to stay in. Perhaps I am more fatigued than I realise, but this had to be my laziest move of the entire trip. If I was going to be this lazy, then I had best make the most of it. 

First course of action was to get my smelly cycling clothes washed. They could drip dry in the shower and then I would hang them on my backpack while cycling. As it happens, I turfed almost all my dirty washing in and planned to have them dry wherever I happened to stay tomorrow night - with luck in my tent. Second action of the lazy day was to attempt to obtain a Sim card. Not that I have had any reason to use my phone, but I would like a local number just in case. As my Spanish is improving, it may well be useful to all ahead and ask questions rather than pitch up and find out. Into town and walk about to find a likely looking store. Store located, but siesta time in this town is different to previous places - shut from 12:00 to 16:00. I can fully understand why, it is too hot to do anything of use during these hours. So I shall return later. 

Back to the hotel and more work to be done. Despite being one of the birding Meccas in Argentina, there is precious little information on where exactly to go in Misiones. Fortunately, I have found Guy Cox's website (www.tucaibirding.com.ar) which at least points me in the right directions. I fiddle with a detailed, but not very user friendly map trying to work out my next move. I can just make out a small forest en route from San Vicente to San Pedro called 'Reserva Yaguarundi'. A Jaguarundi in case you are interested is a species of cat, not particularly attractive but another potential cat to add to my list if I am very lucky. The reserve has a website too, which by my reckoning has a campsite, lodge etc. There are also contact details. Taking no chances I pen an email to the reserve managers enquiring about camping facilities, cost etc. Throw it all into Google Translate and hey presto - we have an email in Spanish that reads pretty much like I thought it did. I wasn't exactly confident of a response, but who knows. 

Time to go back to the mobile store. I really wanted a Sim card from Claro Mobile as they seem to have the widest coverage of South America. At least Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecommunications mogul owns this company and the various others throughout Latin America under their various guises. No Claro in town though, so it is off to the new upstart called 'Personal'. It has received very good ratings, so I am confident of at least having a decent coverage in the area. I enter and put on my best smile and a very confident, "¿Hola, com esta?.. muy bien, gracias". It all deteriorates from there unfortunately, but I have been bright enough to have emailed the specific details of what I want from this companies website onto my phone. So without further ado, I opened specific email and hand to the lady behind the counter. The way she reads it concerns me, it is as if she has never seen this before. A few minutes later and she hands my phone back and says this is not a problem and asks me for something. I use my other now perfectly pronounced Spanish term, "no tiendo'. We both stand there smiling at each other until a gentleman in the shop uses a different word for the same thing, 'documentacion'. "si si", I hand over my South African passport. She examines this with some scrutiny flicking back and forth but seemingly not finding what she is looking for. I turn to the back page where all my details are. This seems to do the trick, and she gets onto her mobile to call a friend. They prattle on about the passport, by this stage the other gentleman is having a good go through the passport to. Something is no good as I get a shrug from her and asked for more ID, Drivers License gets passed over. Nope, not that either. As a last resort I take out my British Passport and show here the relevant page where I have the Argentine visas stamped in. This seems more positive and she is back on the phone again. All to no avail, this doesn't seem to be of any use either. I thank them for their time and head off back to the hotel. Sim card 0 - 1 bureaucracy. I'll try again in Iguacu where the staff are bound to be more familiar with foreigners wanting Sim cards.

I get back to the hotel non-plussed by the Sim card affair. It was a useful learning experience, the more different scenarios I can tackle, the better for my language skills surely. I decide to email Guy Cox too, to see what information he might be able to give me for another venue further north. So far I have the next few days sorted at Yaguarundi, then I will go to San Pedro and visit the Araucaria forest there for a few days, but it is the massive park of Urugau-i that I really need some help with. After that, it is off to Iguacu and a some hummingbird gardens, so really need only one piece of the puzzle to be sorted now. Feeling much happier with myself for at least making something out of this lazy day, I suddenly fancy some dinner. Not only am I starting to make progress with my Spanish, but I am also starting to adapt to the cultural ways. When I started this tour, I was getting dinner sorted by 18:00. Now I am not even starting to consider the idea until at least 20:00. 

No menus in this restaurant, so I have to wait untilI hear something I recognise from the waiter. Drinks are easy, a Quilmes por favor. Not that I really wanted a 'grande', but I didn't understand the other options so that is what I chose. Out comes the ice bucket and a monster 1 litre bottle. Going to be drunk tonight it seems. Dinner is much the same, although I understand these options better - ill go with the 'carne y salata', the beef and salad option. I wasn't expecting this to be too special given the nature of the hotel, but I was to be proved incorrect. No straight lump of Chorizo beef here, excellent cuts and perfectly cooked - you don't get asked how you want your steak here. As proper beef eaters, they only serve it like it is supposed to be eaten - the rarer side of medium rare. (Pops, of you do make it out here, the first word you need to learn when you order your steak is 'muerte').

Despite a large and fairly healthy meal, I am quite trolleyed as I head up they stairs. Clayton and lots of beer have just never been good friends. Bumping off walls, I figure now is a good time to go straight to bed rather than attempt anything meaningful. One last check of the email and a surprise. The good folk at Yaguarundi have replied with all the detail I requested. Camping is indeed available at the very affordable rate of $40 pesos a night. All facilities are included. For once I go to bed happy and looking forward to some proper birding over the next few days.

15/08/2012

Wake up as early as breakfast was being served and fill up on a few ham and cheese sandwiches and plenty of sweet cakes, Dulche de Leche and cream. Argentina will be lost on anyone without a sweet tooth. Gear packed and I get changed into my clean set of cycling gear. Only the shirt stinks to high heaven, worse than what it would have smelt like if I had cycled in it for 3 days straight. Buggers in Santo Tome clearly didn't dry my gear properly! No option but to wear it, the other gear is still wet. The small matter of about 50km's today. I get onto the road much earlier than normal, what with the increased temperatures and the sun rising earlier every day it is not only possible but necessary. 

Bloody wind again, by my calculations this is the 16th straight day of northerly gales. For anyone thinking of doing something similar to me at this time of year - start in Iguacu and pedal south, the wind will push you all the way. At least the wind is my only irritant today, all the other factors that make or break a cycle are in good order. I have now established a list of criteria pursuant to grading ones cycling enjoyment or lack there of :

1. Wind direction.
2. Hard shoulder availability.
3. Condition of road surface.
4. Terrain and altitude.
5. Quantity and type of traffic.
6. Other environmental factors (heat, cold, rain).
7. Driving standard of other road users.

Despite the wind, I had a large hard shoulder that was well protected by hundreds of speed bumps. The road surface was very smooth, the traffic light and the drivers very observant. It was relatively warm and humid, but the wind kept my temperature down at least. While the terrain was undulating, it was not Le Toure standard and I was only 400masl. So by my standards this was a pretty relaxed cycle, it could only have been easier if the terrain was flat and I had a tail wind but that would be too easy! A smooth road and large hard shoulder make the most difference, you feel much safer and you get decent traction for your pedalling. If I had to have a head wind, I'd rather have it on roads like these. 

Still feeling a little lazy I struggled to get going but pushed onwards with a few harsh words to myself. At least I knew where I was going to be going today - this makes a huge psychological difference than simply pedalling and hoping. I arrived at the turnoff to the reserve at 11:30 knowing I had a little over 4km's of dirt road to get through before reaching my target. More pushing up hills and desperately hard braking down a few. Reserve reached but no one in sight, within a few minutes a delightful middle aged women found me. She was having none of my 'com este', a big hug and a kiss to each cheek was required. To best describe her, she has the manner of your favourite aunt or grandmother. We prattled away for a while then she showed me about. How to use the showers, taps etc. Water is quite scarce up here, so every pipe has a valve on it so as not to waste any. Got camp set up and ready for an afternoon of birding. Was taking much longer than I usually do, my body just didn't have any energy. Mid day heat had sapped most of that strength without me even doing much. Dawdle we mustn't, birds need to be seen.

Wade my way through the walls of flies, wasps and other insects that have enveloped my gear. I hadn't seen many insects, not even that many mosquitos to this point. They were here with a vengeance now, trying to lap up any bit of moisture. Birding gear sorted, I headed off to the nearest trail head. At least the trails were shaded and the wind all but negligible inside the forest. I had gone no more than 10 metres when I heard a rustle in the undergrowth to my immediate left. Expecting to see a warbler of flycatcher, I stood motionless trying to locate the fellow. Nothing, took another step and that rustle again. By now I was pretty convinced it must not be a bird but a lizard. Train my eyes even harder trying to find said reptile. Reptile I did find, but not a lizard, a rather more deadly fellow. My first snake of the tour and what a creature. While I am always keen to find snakes, there are a few species in the world that I yearned after since a young age. This was one of them, a Coral Snake. He was in no mood to slither away either. He had been catching a few rays when I came stomping along and clearly wasn't interested in moving away from his chosen spot of leisure. This is most unusual, normally snakes take one look at you and disappear at a rate of knots, generally with me in hot pursuit. However, he just sat there in a slightly defensive pose, flattening his body as best he could to augment his beautiful but equally obvious 'danger colours'. In the reptile and amphibian world, brightly coloured members (red, yellow etc) are marked as such to warn predators to fiddle at their peril. Some harmless species have evolved similar colour patterns to try and take advantage. Of all the snake mimics the Coral and Corn snakes are perhaps the best known. One will kill you, the other is a harmless and commonly kept pet. The difference is slight, the sequence of colours is all that discerns them. The common saying to working this out is : red on black venom lack, red on yellow kill a fellow. My baby here was most definitely red on yellow, there would be no grabbing of tails or necking today. Not that I needed to, as the photos below attest, I was able to get what I wanted without disturbing or harassing him at all. In fact, unlike most of my shots I had to zoom down to the lowest setting I had of 70mm and then take a step back just to get him in the frame. If I was standing 2 feet from him it was a lot. 

After that excitement and the thrill of finally having seen a Coral Snake (specifically this was the Painted Coral Snake), I headed off to see some of his evolved relatives, the birds. Albeit, with much more care as to where I put my feet and how quickly I moved. He had been kind to me by making not one, but two warning noises - the vipers were unlikely to offer such warnings nor were they brightly coloured either. 

Birding was slow at this time of day. My previous joy at having seen Plush-crested Jay was starting to wane as they had by this stage become a 'trash bird', a flock everywhere I looked. Not that one would allow me to improve on my poor images of them though. Forest birding is tough, the birds are either too deep in the tangles to see or so high up in the trees to make identification almost impossible. My new found 'slowness of walk' was paying dividends however as I started seeing birds before they saw me. A Red-breasted Toucan just about sat in a position to allow a decent photo. Others did not, Magpie Tanagers sat still just long enough to see, but not for photos. 

Had some equally frustrating moments with some woodpeckers. The mammoth Robust Woodpecker perched on 'my side' of a dead tree long enough for me to ID her, but then went and sat on the other side for 10 minutes drumming away at the branches like an oversized JCB digger. I was quite certain that half the tree was about fall over. How an Ivory-billed Woodpecker must have looked given that it was even larger than this bird. Unfortunately I'll never know, the poor sod went extinct some years ago now. Although one can still hope that an isolated patch of forest in the Sierra Mastrae, Cuba might still hold them? Some poor views of Black-goggled Tanager before the birding activity slowed to a halt. Dusk was approaching as I returned along the trail, only to come eyeball to eyeball with a Solitary Tinamou. Neither of us blinked while I moved ever so slowly to engage my flash and switch the camera on, but it jumped back into the tangles before I could begin to take aim. 

No more snakes, birds or cats despite trundling along in the dark for a while. Tomorrow would be an early start to take advantage of better energy levels and hopefully birds to. Time for dinner and a shower. Got the fire started first time for a change and prepared my meal of choice, pasta, green peppers, mushrooms and a can of tuna. Off for a shower, no hot water. Almost everywhere I have stayed features this great shower system devoid of a geyser or boiler. A small plastic filter head attached to the mains heats the water on the way through - must be so much more efficient and saves a shed load of space. Mine wasn't working for some reason. I figured I'd trip the main switch on and off to see what happened. Into the off position, but the lights stayed on and the water got warm. Interesting electrical work this who needs an On/Off position when you are going to wire it up as you wish regardless. Nice to have a hot shower despite the interesting wiring set up. 

Back to camp and put the kettle back on the fire. Unlike my normal regime while in London of a minimum of 10 cups of coffee a day, I find that I am hardly drinking the stuff. My coffee bottle is still half full after a month and a half and I don't even bother having one at the hotels for breakfast anymore. I had a very nice gift when I left the hotel in Aristobulo del Valle, a packet of Yerba Mate. Commonly known simply as 'mate' (pronounced : mahtay) Only I had no way of using it, I had not thought it proficient use of space to buy myself a Mate gourd and I certainly wasn't going to carry a flask of hot water around with me all day either. None the less this evening gave me an opportunity to have a go at becoming even more 'Gaucho'. I now had a gourd and a bombilla, some Yerba Mate but bugger all technique. Only one way to learn I suppose. Kettle on the fire, gourd filled to a suitable level. Now I just had to wait for my 'Agua caliente'. Water boiled and added to gourd, the process of drinking began. Your metal straw has a straining filter on one end, so the straw goes at the bottom and the mate herb is poured over that and then you add your water. Simply manoeuvre your straw slightly to create a little room at the bottom and drink. You get about two mouthfuls before adding more water. Never stir the mate! Now, for the rest of the day every time you fancy some mate, you just add some boiling water, drink the resultant tea and put away again until you fancy some more. I first drank 'mate' when I was a guide in South Africa many years ago. The company I worked for at the time had a high number of South American clientele who exposed me to it. They didn't seem able to go anywhere without the gourd, mate and hot water attached to their hips. It was no tourist joke, just about everyone here packs their mate kit like people in the UK pack their mobiles. In fact people leave their mobiles at home by error occasionally, I don't think any Argentinian has ever left home without his/her mate gear.

Bloody hell, is that the time already, almost 01:00. Need to catch some sleep, early start for the birds. Goodnight.

16/08/2012

Despite getting to bed very late last night, I didn't get much sleep. Woken at 04:00 to the sound of a thunderstorm and some rain. Bizarre these thunderstorms in the morning, I'm only used to getting them every other summers afternoon in southern Africa and about once every 5 years in the UK. I could use the cliche of having turned over and gone back to sleep, but I can't turn over in my hammock tent. Closed my eyes and tried to sleep again. Woke up again at 06:00, still very dark to my surprise. There was no use in trying to sleep for another half hour, so I got up and put the kettle on. I found the kitchen last night which has a gas stove, much quicker and less smelly than making a fire. Have gotten quite into this 'mate' business, replaces my coffee overdoses and also eliminates my sugar intake. 

Sipping away, I do a little research on the birds I am looking for today. Fortunately the excellent website of Guy Cox has given me a list of targeted species. I have a browse through the field guide and listen to the calls a few times to better familiarise myself. Dawn seems to be on 'siesta' time, but as some light starts to lift the gloom, it also reveals some heavy rain clouds hanging about. Well, if I can just about make out where I am going, then so can the Antpittas, one of my major family targets. 

Down the path I go, doing my best to keep an eye out for Mr Scales - don't want to hurt one by treading on them. Forest is quiet, the odd call here and there but not as I had expected. Walking more stealthy than ever, I catch the silhouette of a large Cracid - Dusky-legged Guan standing near the top of some bushes hoping for some sun to start the day. It's a good start, but I really would like to catch a glimpse of an Antpitta before it starts getting too light for them.

No luck on the Antpitta front and it would seem that I have other problems now. Those threatening rain clouds have started to open themselves up a little. What starts off as a light passing drizzle gets progressively harder. Cover my gear up and stand under some bamboo hoping it will pass shortly. It doesn't, but I am now beyond the point of return. Head back to camp and get soaked or stand here and hope not to get as soaked. Head bowed to further protect my gear I wait and wait. Rain seems pretty set, half an hour goes by without any change. I spot an Azara's Agouti trotting along the path, at least it is another twitch to the mammal list. 

The frequency of patter starts to ebb and it would seem that I may be able to get on my way and see what birds are left of the morning. Due to my little brush up on calls this morning, I recognise an Antshrike's voice. Not certain of which one in particular but at least I know it is one of only two possible species. Get my iPhone out and hook up the amp. Not Giant, definite Large-tailed. Play the call and out pops a male Large-tailed Antshrike, bozo takes his sweet time on the camera and gets only a blurry image. By this time the Antshrike has recognised an imposter and left the scene. 

Further along and a flurry of activity, a small flock of flycatchers is busy dismantling a horde of insects. Again, attention to call allows me to ID another excellent bird, the Sao Paulo Tyrannulet. At least this time I get some half decent images. Black-goggled and Ruby-crowned Tanagers call incessantly but rarely venture out of the tangles for more than a split second. More good stealth work gets me onto a Pileated Parrot before it has seen me. Given the grey, overcast lighting I manage another respectable image. Not that my stealth always pays off. Paying more attention to the ground than the forest, I fail to spot a flock of Red-ruffed Fruitcrows sitting at eye level. In fact I just about made an ID as the last one flew off. Not a common species either, berate myself for not being more observant. 

After 5 hours of slow walking and standing about, I reach the lower camp and some stomach grumbling tells me that it is lunch time. Oreos, the snack made for champions. Barely a bird trip has been conducted without them. Pesky domestic ducks stand in front of me clapping their bills for me to feed them. Incessant little bugger has the nerve to tap the bench too, just in case I hadn't noticed him. They weren't getting any Oreo's and I had nothing else on me either. Ducks are supposed to eat duck food in any case. Rain started again, seems I had timed my walk perfectly. While waiting about for the weather to change, a high frequency buzzing alerted me to the possibility of a hummingbird. A Planalto Hermit, part of the hummingbird family. A flycatcher with beak full of moss posed long enough for me to wheel off a few snaps. I had no idea which species, but I had good images and could work on it later. Fellow was building a nest in the strangest of places. Behind the toilet was an open pit, covered by some railway sleepers. The flycatcher had found an open access point and was building inside there somewhere - I had no intention of finding out precisely where. 

Perched on the tops of some distance trees where some Red-ruffed Fruitcrows, at least I could get a decent view of them. They seemed quite happy to be sharing their vantage point with an equally large flock of Red-breasted Toucans. I didn't know that Toucans flocked, but I'm learning new stuff all the time. The rain eased off, back up the path before it changed it's mind. Another good bird, Rufous-winged Antwren - a new family for me too. The forest quietened down just after 14:00, by which time I was getting tired and needed to get some non-bird things done. 

No sooner did I get back to camp than the heavens opened again. Made it again, perhaps my luck was changing. Dirty clothes washed and hung, put my peripheral devices on charge (from a battery, don't like the available electrical circuits much - especially after the job I saw last night). Have hardly used the external battery, so will be good to drain it completely before giving it a good charge tomorrow. Settled down to another round of 'mate' and started filtering through my images and updating my lists. Got just about all species identified - just two to go, one of which really has my knickers knotted. So many characteristic features yet I cannot even be certain of which family it belongs to. Guy Cox has invited me for tea when I make it to San Pedro, so hopefully it will not prove a difficult species for him to identify. He has even invited me to set up my camp in his garden which is next to the Araucaria Municipal Park. Am very much looking forward to meeting him, has been very helpful to me and rather looking forward to being able to speak uninterrupted or stilted English to someone - the fact that it will be almost exclusively about birds is an even bigger bonus. [Post script : Guy did identify my bird for me - Rusty-breasted Nunlet].

The power has tripped again, any breeze tends to do that - another reason why I am not plugging any of my devices into these sockets. I have just finished my work and about to head off for some more hot water to add to my 'mate' when the mother of all gales hits. I've gone on about 'gale force winds' before, but that was clearly in relation to little me on my heavy bike. This was the real deal, as far as I recall, when trees start getting blown over one is very high up the Beaufort Scale - somewhere between Gale Force and Hurricane Force. This was not good, my laundry was about to go airborne - quickly grabbed all that and battened down the hatches. Even my empty bike was wobbling. Lashed the bike to a pole, closed up all my gear bags as rain was spraying everywhere. If it wasn't for the stability of the concrete floor, one could have been forgiven for thinking I was navigating Cape Horn. The first branches had already come down 10 minutes ago, now the first trees were starting to crack. Suddenly those citrus trees that my hammock was attached to didn't look quite as strong as they had yesterday. Luckily the communal sitting area had some poles just about far enough apart for me to hook up on. Hammock up, knots doubled from the usual four to eight. The logs I was using to anchor the fly sheets got tripled up and double tied. This was going to be one hell of night. I'm not one to get easily fazed by a little bad weather, but I was starting to get a little anxious about the stability of the entire unit under which I was sitting. It was built out of some solid timber, the corrugated iron roof looked well attached - but the wind felt even stronger. 

Not that I could dawdle, with the electricity off and surely not to return, I had best get dinner arranged before running our of light. Dinner tonight would be the remainder of what I didn't have yesterday. So, we had a can of mixed veg, half a green pepper, a carton of chopped tomatoes, some spaghetti, half a sachet of Parmesan cheese and some Oregano. However, I had spotted a vegetable patch yesterday and (I believe that is what I understood) was offered free reign of it. There wasn't much to choose from unfortunately, but I did harvest some spinach and even three radishes. I am not a big fan of radishes, but I planned to fry the up with the green peppers and hopefully I wouldn't notice the difference once that was mixed with the tomatoes. Don't carry cream, so the spinach would simply be boiled down. Just then, then Martin (the park manager), husband of the lovely lady I had met yesterday walked over to check that all was still fine here. He spoke a little English to, no doubt picking up pretty quickly that my Castellano accent was far from perfect. I assured him all was well and we chatted for a bit about birds - he has taken some photos he wants to show me in the morning. Ten minutes later and he is back again, this time with 4 hard boiled eggs for me. Awfully kind of them, the eggs were straight from the farmyard chickens by the look of them, probably laid today too. They went straight into the pot.

No fires tonight, it would be too dangerous if nigh near impossible to have lit in any case. Besides, I had a new set of clean clothes on and I did not want to stink of fire tomorrow. Once the spinach had been reduced it seemed rather pointless to keep it separate from everything else, so into the big pot it went too. It was all going down the same trap, may as well have it mixed up. Ended up being a little too much for me, the first time that I have not completed everything on my plate in months. This camping food is still a little hit and miss, the odd error in portion size is expected. Nothing to write home about in regard to taste or presentation, but full of healthy stuff. 

Washed the dishes and sat down to continue with this piece. Wind suddenly died almost as suddenly as it had arrived. Perhaps there is hope for some electricity later. Put the clothes line back up and strung my sopping clothes back up. No hope of them being dry by tomorrow, but at least get them as dry as possible. They will still have a few hours in the morning while I am out looking for birds - hopefully the sun makes an appearance tomorrow. Electricity made a brief appearance, cheering me up for the 30 seconds it was on for. My iPad being the only source of light for the million and one insects means that I am being swamped, even with the brightness turned to the minimum. Spiders are dropping from the roof onto me and I cannot see where the buggers are going either. Got stung yesterday something chronic, but fortunately only by a gigantic ant. I say fortunately as it wasn't a venomous bite, but the welts were still visible even this morning. 

Hopefully the weather has improved by the morning. Would like to take some decent images, grey skies are certainly not conducive to that. Add a few more birds, in particular an Antpitta before cycling the 20km's to San Pedro. Tonight will not be a late one, quite looking forward to my bed now. Time has ticked on to 21:30 as I say that, so that is it for today.



17/08/2012

Woke up early, but today the clouds had dispersed and it was already getting light. Slow start again, something I am becoming used to. Birds don't seem to wake up as early here as what they do in Africa. Nothing extraordinary today though, much the same stuff as I saw yesterday. Only two new additions, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker and White-shouldered Fire-eye.

Time to pack my gear and head off to San Pedro. Back wheel seems a little flatter than a few days ago. Have a bad feeling that I may have another puncture, albeit a slow one. Put it down to the rough gravel road I went over getting to the park - add some more air just to make sure. Say my goodbyes and head off for the the 4km of rough track to get back to the main road. 


Take to walking most of the inclines, nothing to be gained from trying to cycle up them. Spinning back wheel and my weight can only be potentially damaging to my rims - flat wheels I can handle, a cracked rim I would rather do without!

Takes almost an hour to get back to the main road, bumpy gravel tracks are just no good for speed or gear. Back on the smooth tar, I have the small task of 20km's to get to San Pedro. Not that this was an easy cycle, with the heat building and humidity almost 100%, every hill was greeted with dismay. There was to be plenty of dismay! Manfully cycled them all, but needed to take more rests than normal, my water consumption has almost trebled since being in Misiones.

Get into San Pedro expecting to find a few hotels knocking about. I am a day earlier than Guy Cox was expecting me - all I want to do now is unload my gear, have a shower and rest for the afternoon. I find a hotel right at the entrance to the town, but it fails my WiFi test. Carry on cycling to find another. Indeed there is, the American Hotel. Also fails the WiFi test and looks to be an absolute rathole. I'll avoid this one then, there must be others. Up and down the main roads - bloody hell San Pedro has some hills! Much struggle and sweat reveals nothing, there don't seem to be any other hotels in the entire town. I find this quite bizarre, but with my patience for hills at an end, I head back to the hotel at the entrance to the town, Lapachos. 

At least we have a room, but it seems to be as equally dodgy as the American Hotel. For only $60 pesos, I suppose this is not surprising. It will have to do. Gear unpacked, I get dressed to go for a walk. I need to find some wireless and get some food in me. Have yet to find the Araucaria Park either which is a bit of a concern - it is supposed to be he in the town somewhere. Not a signboard in site though. Off for a walk, find an open WiFi connection, but it is terrible and I can barely get my Facebook updates, fail on the email front. More walking, starting to get hungry. Again, I have arrived in town mid-siesta, so most places are firmly shut until 16:00, but one small venue is open. It will be a hamburger and a bottle of orange soda. Make a mental not to reduce my outlay on soda, am buying anything up to 3 bottles a day. 

Lunch and soda were very cheap, less than $20 pesos. Up and down the hills, checking for WiFi connections. Finally find a decent one opposite some government offices at the top of town. Mail gets sent and downloaded. Guy Cox is out of town for a few days unfortunately, so probably won't get to see him unless I stay here for another two days. What a pity, was very much looking forward to meeting him. Depending on how I get on at the local park will dictate how long I stay. If I dip out on the two major species I am looking for there, then I will have to spend another night in any case. That is if I find the park, right now I am still lost and there is nothing on the Internet pinning it down any better than 'in San Pedro'. 

16:00 has rolled on and the locals are back in their shops. Stock up on some provisions and then continue my walk about town trying to find the park. Instead I find a large map of the town showing where everything is. I am in luck, I now know where the park is and there seems to be another hotel in town en route. Will have a look at that while investigating the parks exact location. Park found, but this other hotel proves elusive. Time for dinner and then I will return to the government office to update lists and send some more emails. 


Walking back through town, I spot a number of teenagers with their laptops sitting in the small town square. It seems most unlikely, but I try for WiFi just in case. What do you know, we have wireless in a nicely lit park with benches and the works. Back to the hotel I head for dinner, it won't be a long walk for WiFi in that case. Take a chance and have dinner at the hotel. Simple minute steak with rice, bread and tomatoes. Tomatoes are rather decent in Argentina.

Leave the hotel with my gear packed. I have an entire bench to myself and start laying my gear out, then the lights go off. Not in the entire town mind you, just the road on which the park is located. So no WiFi... Normally these power outages don't last long, so I wait it out. Twenty minutes later and power is restored, start tapping away at the computer. WiFi signal is strong, but this must be a pre-dialup style modem - data transfer is rubbish. I am unable to get the most basic website like the BBC’s to function. Sod that, pack my gear and start walking up the hill. Hot and sweaty even at 20:00, plonk myself down opposite the government building and start getting my blog updated, sorting lists and checking the cricket score. KP has been axed, but RSA don't exactly dominate the day, runs coming from the lower order. Bowlers did a decent job, but being held up by the new kid Bairstow and the another Saffa, Prior. 

Lists done, I head off back to the hotel for a shower and sleep. Shower wouldn't get warm, so fiddled with the head setting - whack! 220Va for my efforts. Clearly this was the reason things were not getting warm. Water and electricity don't make the best of bed fellows. An insistent itch on one of my thighs revealed a tick. Damn, I have spent so much time worrying about mosquitos, sand flies and snakes that I had neglected to look for ticks. This was a small one too, which meant there were likely to be others. Out came the vanity mirror and 20 minutes of contortions later I had only found one more. Cold water would have to do, was rather more awake after this shower than I might normally have been at 23:00. Tomorrow will be an early start at the park, so into bed to warm up a little and get some rest.

18/08/2012

Can't decide whether to book another night at the hotel and take a leisurely morning at the park or take a chance and bird hard for a few hours hoping to see what I need. I take a chance and head off to the park for what should be little more than a few hours before I need to be back, either to checkout or stay another night. 

Enter the park and hear some parrots calling not far away. A pair of Violaceous Parrots sit atop an Araucaria tree. Great start, one target species down, one to go. Pull out my iPhone to check what call I should be listening for. Despite searching my playlist, I cannot find Canebrake Groundcreeper. What an arse, how could I not have downloaded this call, how could I not have checked this last night - complete muppet. Nothing for it, we'd just have to try the hard way. At least I knew where to look. Into the bamboo thickets I went trying to find a bird that makes a habit of staying deep in the tangles - best of luck here I thought. A fruitless hour of walk, wait and listen. Nothing much else about either barring the odd thrush. Reached the end of the trail and had to decide whether to return the way I had come or take a chance on taking one of the forks. 

Took the fork and carried on walking. Rustle of leaves only a few feet from me - thrush or another Coral Snake... This was too close for a bird surely, I peeked over some bamboo at the edge of the path as carefully as I could. The last thing I wanted now was to step on Mr Scales. Blow me down, there it was was, a Canebrake Groundcreeper only a few feet away and relatively visible too. Ease the camera up, but no luck. The bird carried on foraging and as a consequence got itself into some right tangles. A few metres further up the path and some more Groundcreeper like activity. Not that I could see if they were or not, too much cover. That would do very nicely then.

Things had now changed, I would go back to the hotel and get moving then. Needed to make a pass by the government offices first to check the cricket score and let Guy know that I was not going to be about now. Email sent, the cricket not looking so healthy though. Bairstow was proving to be an ample replacement for Mr KP. Back at the hotel I got everything packed, a few grain biscuits for breakfast. 

Off we go, destination unknown - being a late start, I have no immediate target destination and there seems to be next to nothing in the way of towns between here and Eldorado. Turn off onto the RP20 and immediately lose my hard shoulder. Bog, but at least the road is quite this Saturday. The road is however heavily rutted from overloaded trucks, some of the ruts have caused walls of tar over a foot high - will need to be careful that I don't knock myself off by catching one of my pedals or panniers on them. First port of call is Pozo Azul, some 30km's away. Hopefully there is at least a gas station where I can grab a proper bite to eat and fill up my water bottles again. 

One damn hill after another. For the first time since my climb into Sao Francisco de Paula I am forced into my lowest crank (the granny gears). Get to the top of one hill and then you fly down the other side. Battle to keep my speed under 50km/h. Then it is down into the lowest gear and crawl up the other side at 6km/h. This goes on ad nauseum, but I maintain my normal sector time and speed somehow. Reach Pozo Azul and sit down for a quick bite to eat. A chicken sandwich followed by two beef empanadas and a bottle of orange soda. Fanta Orange costs around $8 pesos a go, but the equally tasty local brand half that. So I justify maintaining my soda consumption by at least switching to the cheaper brand. Back on the bike and it is now 14:00. Eldorado looks a hell of a long way, probably not possible in the time remaining or for that matter the level of strength I have. I have certainly never completed over 100km's starting at 11:30 in the morning.

I will cycle on until I am in a better position to gauge my distance/speed/time remaining equation. The hills get a little steeper and then I get a very long downhill. Far from enjoying the freewheel downhill, I am very much regretting it's existence. From my cycling experience, I have developed an empirical maxim : what goes down, must go up with interest. In this case, the wind was going to have it's two pounds of flesh as well. Clip the 55km/h barrier before chickening out, the thought of a possibly dodgy back wheel has me jumping on the brakes. Down and down we go, fully 7 km's without having to pedal. The whole time, I could only think of how much I was going to be paying for this. Then I bottomed out at a large river. Yes, the hill that greeted me did not look pleasant. It was time for a break anyway, I normally do not stop with an uphill to come, but I wasn't ready to tackle the giant just yet. 

Break over, there was no avoiding it. Slog away at 6km/h, reach a bend, more hill and more hill. This went on for almost 45 minutes during which time I covered just over 5km. No breaks, no plateau, just one gigantic and continuous climb. Quite chuffed that I did not get off and walk at any stage I pushed on. It was now 15:00 and by my rudimentary calculations, Eldorado was about 50km's away. I would have to make a decision at 16:00 as to it's viability. Problem was, I was starting to flag quite badly. Hills started to hurt more than they normally did, flats felt like they were hills in disguise. 16:00 rolled on and I was still nearer to 40km's away. It wasn't on, I would have to bail and find somewhere to camp for the night. Not before cycling for another hour just in case though. 

The one thing that kept me going was that Argentina, unlike Brazil  does have distance boards every now and then and they are accurate. At 16:45, a signboard - and my luck was in, Eldorado was only 20km's away rather than the 30km I had calculated. With that I picked up some more vigour and pedaled on. A smaller town called '9 de Julio' came into view. I would take a quick break here before knocking off the last 9km's to Eldorado. The one aspect of Argentina's signage that doesn't work for me is that they measure to the town edge rather than the town centre. So even though I was now effectively in Eldorado, I had some way to go to find some place to stay. Eldorado is a long town too, many more hills and now there were lots of people watching - I couldn't be walking up hills now, I haven’t lost all pride just yet.

On we went, I started to get worried that this was a 'hotel free' town as I had seen nothing. I did recall a sign at the edge of town for a hostel. Better a cheap hostel than a hotel any day, but I had no way of knowing where that road was. Almost at the end of the town I consulted with my Map App. With luck I had downloaded this town in some detail, at least the major roads were named and there it was, the road that supposedly had the hostel on it. It was starting to get late and to get to this road meant I had to descend quite a long hill. I just hoped it was there and available, the thought of having to come back up this road was too much to bear. 

Hostel found, I nearly buckled with relief and fatigue. One of the managers was decidedly drunk and wanted to have an in-depth conversation with me. Despite his friend explaining that I didn't understand a word he was on about, he was having none of it - if I wouldn't respond then he was quite capable of doing the talking for me as well. This was not the time to be rude and lose the accommodation that I very badly needed, so I put up with it until his friend eventually persuaded him with another beer to leave me alone. Into my room and the first thing I needed was a shower. I didn't even bother taking my gear off, just climbed under the cold tap.

The first decent shower I had had in 3 days. Gear went straight into a bucket, washing would happen tomorrow. Too buggered to do much else, I grabbed my Mac and sat outside my room in the now cool air to drink a deserved beer and catch up with the rest of the world. At least this wireless was of decent speed. The cricket still seemed in the balance, so no improvement there. Guy Cox had sent me more information about places to go and things to see as well as helping me sort out the ID of a bird that I had struggled with despite decent photos. 

Despite being severely fatigued after my 105km cycle, I was still tapping away at the Mac until midnight. Dragged myself off to bed, today there would be no need for an alarm. Tomorrow was Sunday and absolutely bugger all happened on Sundays here.

19/08/2012

Woke up late and spent the morning researching various places to visit. Made great use of Google Translate to email some lodge about availability and costing. So I now had a plan for the nest week. Thanks to the very useful information provided by Guy, I knew that I could camp at Urugua-i and then I would spend a few days each at two lodges to the east of the park. Tomorrow I would cycle about 50km's to the town of Wanda, stay over night before embarking on 7 days of solid birding. 

I wanted to pick up some more provisions and find a spot of lunch. Being a Sunday, it was absolutely dead. Eventually found a place to eat at the local casino, but not even the Super Mercados were open. Found a large Claro Mobile shop - perhaps I could get a sim card here tomorrow. Fed and watered and with a plan of action for the morning it was back to the hostel to check for email responses. Sure enough, my emails had been answered and making use of Google Translate again, it turned out that there was indeed availability and the prices were not too steep. Fantastic, an epic week lay ahead.

Got dinner sorted, fiddled with some more lists and got to sleep. 

20/08/2012

Up a little earlier than planned, I had my gear packed and headed off into town. The up side of having a midday siesta, is that most shops open much earlier than I am used to by UK standards. Mobile shop excluded it would seem. It wasn't quite 09:00 just yet, so I walked a block to the Super Mercado to stock up on provisions. Needed more 'Yerba mate' and some Dulche de Leche. Not sure what I am going to do when I start heading north into Peru where such things are not to be found. Worse, should I ever leave South America, what then - no Dulche de Leche, impossible! 

09:30 and there was still no movement at the mobile shop. Perhaps this one didn't open on Mondays either or it was simply shut. Couldn't hang about, back onto the road and off to Wanda. Rear tyre was sluggish again, so off the bike and more air inserted, definitely had a slow leak going on here. Would have to change the tube when I got to Wanda.

Despite having a decent rest over the weekend, my legs didn't want to know. Struggle up every hill, 5 rotations then stop, start again etc. Cannot understand what is happening, it's hot and humid, but I have barely gone 20km's and it feels like I have already done 100km's. Start walking up hills, drinking more fluid and now I have the sniffs. Thoughts turn to the tick bites, perhaps I have a problem greater than simple fatigue. After much huffing and puffing, way too many breaks and sodas I eventually role into Wanda. At least I have done my hotel homework, but trollop has deleted the directions for this particular one. At least I remember half of the address. Find a bank and withdraw some more cash, cannot take chances on being able to pay by card in these small towns. Have yet to have any problems withdrawing money in Argentina, every ATM I have been to has worked and better still, all have even given me the option to work in English. My struggles with ATM's in Brazil are well documented - bloody rubbish.

Get checked in and headed straight for the shower. Despite having only just washed my cycling gear, they are encrusted in granulated sweat salt. Perhaps the heat and humidity is my problem after all. Sniffs have gone, so seems to be in the clear as far as the ticks are concerned, at least for now. Not much to be done in the communications department, so settle in to adjust the remainder of my bird calls. For some reason iTunes loaded the species by first name, so I have had to laboriously sit and alter all 2800 names so that they are ordered by Genus then Species. That completed, time for dinner. Walk aimlessly through the town, not a restaurant in site. Just as I am about to conceded defeat and settle for a pack of biscuits, a pizzeria comes into view. Well, not the healthy food I was hoping for, but don't have much choice. A ham pizza it is, another very large one, but I have never had a problem eating entire 15 inch pizzas on my own.

Dinner done, a slow stroll back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow the birding starts. 

21/08/2012

Leave the hotel at 08:30 after another pack of grain biscuits for breakfast. The last few hotels have not provided breakfast and I cannot be bothered to go running about town trying to find a place that does. Onto Route 19 and headed to Urugua-i. Damn hard shoulder has disappeared again. Looks like I will be playing with the traffic today.

While traffic is heaving in the on coming lane, it is relatively quite on my side. Lose count of the number of trucks loaded with timber coming down the road. At least it is only pine, unlike in Pozo Azul where I saw many trucks with native hard woods. Bastards, how much more forest needs to be cut down before anyone decides enough is enough. There is barely any Atlantic rain forest left. It has long been a lingering thought to become an environmental 'campaigner', the word I want to use has been in vogue for the last 11 years and would probably have been flagged causing me much trouble I suspect. Putting violent thoughts to one side, I struggle with equally violent opposition from my legs again.

Even these relatively minor hills are proving too much. Off the bike and up the hills we walk. Start to wonder how on earth I managed to put in an entire week of consecutive 100km+ days together when I am struggling at the 20km mark already. More air into the tyres, forgot to change the tube yesterday. With some relief, the last 3km's to Urugua-i camp site are downhill. I meet two young rangers and get directed to the camp site. One shows me where everything is, not that there is much. A few wooden tables and some fire places. He makes a showering motion and points to the river and then points towards the latrine, a small wooden hut. The word 'latrine' comes with some preconceived notions - basically I am going to avoid going anywhere near the thing as best I can. 

Set up camp next to the river and got my bike next to the bench for a change of tube and some general maintenance. Still not certain about the slow leek, but cannot think what else it might be. My front tyre by comparison has only had some air put in once since arriving, so I know that these tubes hold their pressure well. Tyre off and plenty of grit comes out with the tube. The first puncture I had occurred just after I had dragged my bike through the mud and this caused much dirt to go into the tyre when I replaced the tube. I half expected the friction from these dirt granules to cause another puncture at some point, so perhaps this is what the problem was. Tyre down to the river for a wash, followed soon after by the wheel itself. New tube in, back on went the wheel, much easier this time around - the practice from the last change has certainly helped. Wheel back on the bike, clean the chains and sprockets. Fair amount of gunk has built up including some fibrous cotton type junk from the Wild Papaya tree seeds at Yaguarundi. WD40 applied to all components, it was now time to investigate the tube for holes. Tube pumped and back down to the river. 

Eventually found the cause, a tiny pin prick of a hole that was only allowing a bubble to escape every other second, so a very slow leak indeed. Slow leak or not, when the tube is under 7bar of pressure and has 150kg's resting on it, the air loss makes a discernible difference. Given the size and position of the leak (side wall), I deduce that this must have been friction related to the tiny sand pebbles from the previous change. Was the tube and apply a patch. Only one virgin tube left now, two with patches. That sorted, I gather up my gear and secure it so that I may go for a walk. 

I am about to pick up my back pack when I notice a large bird standing in the river. I stop instinctively pleading internally that the bird will stay put for just another 10 seconds. As slowly as can be done with such adrenalin coursing through me, I pick up the camera a reel off a number of badly aimed shots. With the bird seemingly unperturbed, I take some better record shots before setting about to stalk a better position. I make it to the edge of the river bank behind the cover of a thin tree, bird still in place and continuing to drink water. Slowly get onto my bum and shuffle forward as slowly as I can, I now have a full and uninterrupted view of this magnificent specimens. Reel of another 20 shots. 

It's a rare bird, and I am in the best location to see one, but I hadn't expected it would be sitting in the middle of the river on a sunny afternoon. This is supposed to be a shy species, keeping to the dark undergrowth. A highly persecuted bird no less, it's fear of humans should have had this bird disappearing at first sight of me. The Black-fronted Piping-Guan! Having reeled off a good 50 shots, I decide to make use of another facility on my camera that I have not used before, the video camera. Apparently it records in HD, so this should make for interesting viewing. I take a few commentated recordings before slowly retreating to see what the videos look like. I immediately regret having opened my mouth - of all the accents in the world, the Saffa accent must sit level with those from Birmingham and Newcastle for cringe inducing displeasure. Slightly ahead of the Liverpool and Afrikaans accents mind, but not by a long way. My desire to speak Spanish or English with a Spanish accent has just increased, in fact it is a necessity! 

A Red Brocket Deer has just walked up to within 10 feet of me. Didn't seem too fazed my my torch, but I wasn't able to get the camera out in time for a shot. Not that I think it would have come out, even with a Speedlight, way too dark. By the time I had my gear ready, the deer was nowhere to be seen, crept away as quietly as he had arrived. It was with some relief that it was only a deer, I only became aware of it when I heard the rustle of leaf very close by. Had it been coated in spots, I might be typing in a very different language right now.

The Guan spent the best part of an hour standing in the middle of the river quenching its thirst. Despite being just below the bridge of the main Route 19 with numerous vehicles going by, it seemed not to mind. I decided it was best to simply carry on birding around the camp this afternoon. A flock of Swallow Tanagers had just arrived for good measure. An hour later Ai started sorting out the fire for dinner and the Guan was still there - where it was putting all that water I do not know. 

Dinner on the go, it was going to be spaghetti with a can of beef bolognaise. Or at least that is what I thought the can said. Turned out to be a meat flavoured bolognaise sauce rather that tally having any beef in it. It would have to do. Dinner sorted and time to start sorting the blog out, have not written anything in many days now. Something to keep me occupied this evening at least. 

Have had enough of the various rustles and splashes of water, especially with my back tot he river and a path that runs down to it. Time to switch sides of the table. If Mr Spots and I are to come face to face, I want the table between me and it at least. I'd love to see Mr Spots, just not at night when he has maximum advantage. There is a lot of activity going on down at the river now, that hair on the back of my neck has raised itself a few times. Unlike most cats, Jaguars love water and are frequently seen swimming.

That is it for the night, tomorrow it is an early start in this huge forest. If today's start is anything to go by, tomorrow should be a good day hopefully.

22/08/2012

Woke up a little ahead of schedule this morning, got a brew on and sorted out my gear. Headed off to the first trail, the 2400m long Sendero Las Malvinas (which does NOT translate into Falkland's Island Trail!). Birding activity very quiet again, but this has become expected. First bird of the day creates all sorts of confusion as is also customary. I get a decent image for ID purposes later. Next up is a small bird party, chiefly Ochre-breasted Foliage-Gleaners. Can hear a Black-throated Trogon calling, a dull looking female flies into view. Saw the female on numerous occasions today, but no males. White-spotted Woodpecker giving a branch some tap. 

So far, I am feeling a little more at home. Most of the commoner Tanager's do not have me running about trying to ID them anymore, I recognise their calls. I snap off a decent image of a Chestnut-headed Tanager none the less, I haven't got one of him yet. Then a call I do not know, but it seems familiar from last nights homework. I take a punt on Bertoni's Antbird, indeed it is - a pair operating the bamboo thickets. Joined by a very sought after bird, Blackish-blue Seedeater. They won't sit still long enough for photos unfortunately. 

Further into the bamboo thickets, a light repetitive tape sounds very much like that of a Piculet. At least like the Piculets I remember hearing in Vietnam. Eventually I find the little chap, an Ochre-collared Piculet. The morning is turning out to be a very good one. An Antshrike dashes though the foliage, I don't have enough time to be sure, could be a Variable, might be a Spot-backed. Get the iPhone out and play the Spot-backed call. The bird I am trying to see is not responding, but by some luck there is a response behind me. Much higher up than I was expecting and awfully well hidden there is a Spot-backed Antshrike. To top off another good periods birding, an Olivaceous Woodcreeper joins in too. 

Time has rolled on, and my stomach is complaining about a lack of breakfast - never mind that it is almost lunch time. Trail over, I sit for a spot of grub. Get four bread rolls covered in Dulche de Leche down my gullet. A bottle of Orange Tang. The insects are now on the offensive and it is difficult to get anything done while constantly swatting your brow. I don't mind the conventional flies and butterflies so much, but it is the damn 'sweat flies' constantly trying to get into your eyes that really get me wound up. The only way that you are going to get at them is to whack yourself, and they seem to know when you are about to do so. The unavoidable is no longer avoidable - it is time to investigate the latrine. All things considered it is in pretty decent shape. Surprisingly there is no smell and there is even a moderately clean toilet seat. Not that I am taking any chances either with the seat or what might be lurking just beneath it - time to make use of the best squatting techniques I learnt in India and Thailand.

Grab my gear and head off for the other trail, the slightly longer 'Sendero Luis H. Rolon' at 3250m. Given that it is now midday, I am not expecting much. While the forest is cooler than the camp site, it can hardly be described as pleasant conditions for a walk. My first bird as usual is some unknown flycatcher. I persist with this one, even after taking photos and recognise it as a Sepia-capped Flycatcher. A bird I have already seen and photographed well. Another small bird party, but this one contains a very sought after species, the Scaled Woodcreeper. Despite the relative lack of birds, I am doing quite well. 

Up the trail we go in search of some more birds. The path is covered in sun dappled leaves, so I crunch about as I move, but the path is wide and doesn't contain many bumps. Half way through a stride I hear a noise that causes me to barely move a fibre, let alone breathe. It is the type of noise that whether you are human or animal, regardless of whether you have ever heard such a noise would draw the same response. Indeed it is the response that is intended - 'don't tread on me'. At the edge of the path, a little more than 2 feet from me is the CEO of Rodent Management Solutions, Mr Scales. A small Jararacussu, Bothrops jararacussu of around 50-60cm. A Viperid species, they are the longest species of the Bothrops family attaining a length of up to 2 metres. Venom is potently myotoxic (muscle necrosis) and cytotoxic (cell necrosis) - bites are not recommended.

I've no desire to get bitten or irritate the snake too much, especially since it has been sitting in the sun. Hot snakes are mobile snakes! I find myself a suitable long stick and attempt to persuade the fellow out onto the path. He is having none of it, turns tail and heads into the thicket with me right behind it. I get him over the stick and start to bring him back to the path, but being all warmed up, this chap behaves more like a cobra, jumps straight off the stick and into a dead tree trunk. There wasn't much hope of getting him out of there, I doubt a mouse on a silver platter would have convinced him otherwise. I let him be, have hassled him enough as it is. 

With that, the pace of my walk slows dramatically. Every spot of sun is inspected, I now walk with the stick that I used to try and catch the snake. Spend more time prodding away in front of me that bothering to look for birds. Where there is one, there could well be more. There are also young ones about, perhaps small, but loaded with venom just as potent as the adults and more willing to use it. While cycling in yesterday, I saw a small one of no more than 10cm squashed on the road. That was it for the birding, but there was precious little going on now in any case.

Just then, a bird gets flushed off the path. Must have been a thrush, other than doves they are the only things that sit on paths. Luckily the bird has landed where I can still see it, even if behind plenty of tangles. Get the bins up, expecting to see a Rufous-bellied Thrush. My tongue almost falls out of my mouth, I want to do a jig, I really want to get a photo - but there is no chance in hell I am going to get an image. My long sought after Variegated Antpitta, at 14:00 in the afternoon. I sit down on the path and hope that it might consider coming back out to do whatever it was doing when I disturbed it. After 20minutes my patience ebbs, it is clearly not coming back out. A few yaw down the path I find the likely reason for the bird being in the open like this - a thick trail of large ants. 

That's was me done, time to get out of the forest and start dealing with other issues like dinner. Few other birds were found on the way out and no more snakes fortunately. In the 53 days that I have spent in South America, this is only my third reptile - I have yet to see one that is not potentially lethal. With my luck, I'll be into the Bothrops family next. 

I sit down for snacks and start to download my photos and videos. Some park rangers come by and I show the the Jararacussu - everyone giggles and instinctively takes a step back. Then the stories start about where and how big etc. By what I can make out, they don't see them too frequently. Alarms flock of Plush-crested Jays fly in to see what I am doing. They really do want to know what I am up to, four or five of the, perch low in the surrounding trees peering at my laptop. I chatter away to thesis if they were talking parrots, this cause even doers curiosity. I take some more photos, probably the best I have managed of them to date. They get bored of me and push off to play on one of the wooden tables.

Dinner tonight will tuna and tomato sauce with penne pasta. I have eaten more tuna in the last three weeks than I have probably and in the last 12 years. I most shops, it is the only form of canned protein I can find. Carrying raw meat or chicken with me just won't work, or at least I have yet to find a way of doing so without potentially contaminating my pannier. Something to be worked on, but tuna will do just fine for now. Bloody flies are still at it, sure it is past their bed time. I generally have a window of about an hour between the flies pissing off and the moths starting. The iPad normally has this oily metallic sheen to it in the morning after all the moth deposits spread about while I am trying to type. At least they don't bite, and there seem to be precious few mosquitos fortunately. Am still getting nailed by sand flies, despite the 100% DEET I am applying. Crafty bastards are hitting me in the only place I cannot put the spray, on my fingers - they have a particular liking for knuckles. This ends up becoming an infuriatingly itchy swollen welt that last for a few weeks. At least they have yet to bite me on the face like the buggers in Thailand managed. 

Dinner done and eaten, I had just enough light left to scamper up the path to the lodgings of the Guardaparques and give my dishes a quick rinse and fill my water bottles. Keep the fire just about going. Settle down to start tapping away at the blog. Tomorrow will be another early start on the trails before I leave the park. Have about 30km's of tar road to cycle before hitting the Route 101, a dirt road and going south to meet Ramon at San Sebastian de la Selva. This is again thanks to Guy Cox who was actually spending the weekend at the lodge when I was in San Pedro. He gave me some tips about some scarce birds that could be found here, so I fired off an email to the lodge asking about accommodation. Guy mailed me back a day later to say that Ramon had emailed him to say he was expecting me. I plain English - birders then to operate in fairly close knit circles! 

So that is the plan for tomorrow, a couple of days there and then a few more at Karadya Lodge before heading to Iguacu. Given my recent lackadaisical approach to cycling, I am considering getting a bus from Andresito or Almerante Brown straight to Iguacu. Not only because I am lazy, but it will actually save me time and money too. I won't have to spend two nights in Urugua-i and Wanda nor will I have to fork out on the food and accommodation either. Hopefully by the time I have finished at the lodges, I won't have many birds left to see either. Iguacu is much cheaper to stay in, with so many hostels competing for business, few charge more than $60 pesos a night including breakfast as opposed to these rat hole hotels I have been staying in that charge double and don't provide breakfast or even facilities to cook in.That's enough, am going to punch a moth through the iPad shortly.


23/08/2012

Rose with a level of grogginess, decent sleep - just really tired. Can’t be helped, grab my gear and head off. Same clothes now for three days, no bath/shower and it is starting to show (I am beyond smelling myself - I don’t exist as far as my nose is concerned.) Birds are a little slow today. Family of Rusty-margined Guans got up late as I traversed the Luis H. Rolon trail in reverse. I was on the look out for a Streamcreeper, so much of my time was spent peering through clearings at the river and it’s banks. After an hour of fruitless searching, I found one. Even better, it seemed to be building a nest. I stood and watched as one bird (assume it was male) carried dead bamboo leaves into it’s nest under an overhang on the river bank. Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper on the list! The rest of the morning elicited little in the way of new species. As the day warmed up and the birds quietened down, I made shifted gears and headed back to camp. Time to load up and get on the road again. 

Getting packed and changed was good fun, clearly the insects knew I was leaving and had arranged for an extra special ‘leaving dinner’. I was the food of honour. Gear packed, clothes off, cycling gear on and shift. 

The day was now rather warm, the humidity high as usual. My legs whinged again and there was more pushing to be done on the windy uphills. Eventually got the hang of things and made it to the Commandante Andresito turnoff. Now it was time for the dirt road. It was not quite time for a scheduled break, so I decided to continue until I hit the dirt before stopping for lunch. A few kilometres went by and still no dirt road. After 5km’s, I started to wonder if perhaps I had misunderstood the information. Perhaps it was only the northern section of R101 that was dirt? Another 5km’s and it was time for lunch in any case. A few brad rolls and the remains of my Dulche de Leche. Some Orange Tang and I was ready for the road again. Only 10km’s left until San Sebastian de la Selva. 

By now I had come to the conclusion that I must have mis-read the information about the road, it was tar all the way. Had to walk up one last hill as I approached the ‘aquafauna pass’. Route 101 runs along the border of the large Provincial Parque Urugua-i, with many smaller private reserves creating a corridor. The aquafauna pass is a bridge with vegetation on top rather than a road allowing animals and birds to cross the road without running the risk of being run over. A great piece of environmental work, even if it is only 50metres wide. (I would later meet one of the people who designed and implemented it). 

A few hundred metres on a dirt road and I had arrived at San Sebastian de la Selva. I was met by the owner and professional photographer Ramon Moller Jensen and Natalia Germain (http://www.fotosavesdeargentina.com/). They showed me about and got me settled in. First requirement was a shower and change of clothes. That done, I settled in for an afternoon of rest and recuperation. Sorted out my general internet requirements before settling in for a very large and sumptuous dinner. A large beer didn’t help my stomach capacity, but was very welcome! Tomorrow I would be out looking for birds, meant to start writing my blog, but fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
24/08/2012

Woke up at a reasonable hour of 07:00 and proceeded to breakfast. I have given up getting up earlier as the birds don’t seem to be active as early as I had expected. Again, more food than I could get my stomach around! Get back onto the coffee in a big way. A week of ‘mate’ has whetted my appetite for coffee again. Onto the trails, a pair of Burrowing Owls sitting in the morning sun. These are some of the cutest owls about, and they are also diurnal - meaning they are easily seen during day light hours. Unusually they make their nests in burrows rather than inside hollowed out tree trunks. 

Into the forest proper and I bump into a full on bird party. Get some of the speciality species ticked off : Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher as well as some Foliage-Gleaners. A couple of stunning Tanagers (Green-headed and Fawn-breasted). Further along, a distinctive call emanating from a small, drab flycatcher. I sat and played with my iPhone, running through a heap of calls before I found what i was looking for, Drab-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant. An overflying flock of White-eyed Parakeets before I was done for the morning. Headed back to camp, some White-winged Swallows flying over the lake. 

While engrossed over another cup of coffee, Ramon grabbed me and off we went looking for some Scaled Dove’s. After some more coffee, I went for a short stroll around the lake. A Grassland Sparrow and some White-browed Sparrows further demonstrated how the habitat in the area had changed, These are grassland species, but for the logging of the forests, they wouldn’t.

That was it for the day. Time to have another huge dinner of roast chicken, potatoes and the trimmings. Of course, another litre of beer was needed - they don’t serve small portions around here. Heavily stuffed, I made my way up to bed. Tomorrow Ramon was going to take me into the forest to look for Spotted Bamboowren - a real speciality that I was ever so keen to see. 

25/08/2012

Breakfast at 07:00 before Ramon was due to take me off to look for Spotted Bamboowren. Filled up on coffee and then got an unexpected bonus, there would be no long walk to the top of the property, Ramon and I jumped onto an ATV and headed up at speed. Arriving at the site, Ramon hauled out two very large machetes - just in case some trail clearance was required. Headed a long a small trail, but machetes were not required. Just before reaching the Bamboowren site, Ramon heard a Speckle-breasted Antpitta calling. Out came the mobile phone and he started some playback. We were in luck, our bird was interested and crept over to see who was invading his patch. Not the greatest view, but as anyone that has ever seen an Antpitta will testify, good views are nigh near impossible.

Happy to add a second Antpitta in a matter of days, we proceeded onwards for our target. Ramon used some playback, but we were not getting any response. Our luck seemed out and we returned a little later to the ATV. I bid Ramon farewell as I wanted to continue walking the trails to see what else I could find. Not long after Ramon left, I heard a distant Bamboowren calling. So I headed back up to the stake out and waited. Sure enough the little fellow made his way closer and closer. When the bird seemed to be within 20 yards, I started some playback of my own. A good response had the bird coming in to within a few yards. I could just about see him now, so switched off the playback and waited to see what it did. The bird circled about and then proceeded to forage, calling occasionally. It didn’t seemed overtly perplexed by my presence as I scurried about underneath it trying to get some photos. Ultimately, it would not descend from it’s favoured spot about 10 feet off the ground, but did allow me to take some useful photos. I left quietly, internally over the moon! Easily the best bird of my entire trip.

With a spring in my step I headed back towards the camp. Today I was due to checkout, so birding was now over. Along the path, I bumped into Ramon again. He had been off onto a different path photographing. With some pride, I showed Ramon the photos of the Bamboowren. High fives all round. Onto the back of the ATV and back to camp.

I had to receive any confirmation from Karadya Lodge, so was getting a little concerned about my accommodation prospects. After my experience in Brazil, I wasn’t prepared to chance my arm of arriving at a place without confirmation of me being expected. With time ticking on, I had a decision to make. I was going to be staying at San Sebastian - being the only client about, I worried about inconveniencing Ramon and Natalia by staying another day. They were having none of it though. They tried calling Karadya for me and when that had failed said they were most happy to have me for another night. With some relief, I sat for lunch and a celebratory beer. I would head out again this afternoon for a long walk, comfortable that I knew where I was going to be tonight. 

The afternoon walk started slowly and never really progressed at any pace. By now the clouds had descended and the temperature started to drop. There was still some bird activity, but most of the species I had already seen. Added a few of the commoner flycatchers that I had been missing. With the flycatchers starting to call, their ID was becoming possible if not necessarily easier. Arrived back at the lodge in the early evening. A small note had been left saying that Ramon and Natalia had gone off to the shops. Upon their return, Ramon proudly announced that we would be having an ‘asado’ (BBQ). The ‘asado’ is a staple of the Argentine diet and with such a proliferation of good beef, hardly surprising. Ramon got the fire going and the beer open. What a steak - a huge rib section with beautiful and thick steaks either side. Typical of San Sebastian, the food was excellent and their was way too much of it! 

Having pigged out, I was starting to think of bed. There were some birds calling, but I had no idea what they were. Ramon informed me that these were Common Pauraque, I species I had not seen yet. Torch in hand I headed off into the darkness to find one. After some time I had one in my sites, sitting in the middle of the road calling it’s lungs out. I crept up to within photo range as was just about to pull the trigger when a loud bark caused the bird to fly. Bloody Carpinchos (Capybara), why it had decided to bark at that particular moment I shall not know, but it caused a stampede of them before much splashing as they jumped into the lake. While they are rodents, Capybaras resemble and behave much the same as miniature hairy Hippopotamus. 

At least I got to see the bird, perhaps I will get a photo some other time. It was definitely time for bed now. 

26/08/2012

I slept in today, getting up a little after 07:30. Fortunately Karadya had come back to me now saying that they would be happy for me to stay tonight. Seemed a bit daft only going for one night now, but I felt that I had now seen as much as I was going to anyway. Went for another walk around San Sebastian not adding much. Had another lovely breakfast before packing my gear and getting ready to go. I really did not want to leave, I had started to feel like part of the family. I knew this was always likely to happen at some point, it is one of the reasons that I do not like to stay anywhere for too long. It didn’t help that Ramon and Natalia are such great people! With somewhat of a depressive feeling, I loaded the last of my bags and said goodbye. Ramon took a few photos before I got on my bike and headed back down the road. Even now, 3 days after the event, I still miss being there.
I got to Karadya at about 14:00, knowing that Julian was not going to get back from Iguazu until 17:00. Gave me some time to get a few emails written and think about what I was going to do for the next few days.

Julian arrived bang on schedule to show me about. All sorted, we sat for a cup of coffee and Julian offered to guide me around in the morning with some of his clients free of charge. (normally costs US$50). This was quite unexpected and I happily accepted. A few minutes later his clients walked in. I recognised Roberto Guller from San Sebastian, he is another of Argentina’s top bird photographers. This would be some treat to watch Roberto and his friend Diego in the field with their cameras. I was about to get my gear out and start dinner, but was invited instead to have drink and dinner with Roberto, Patricia and Diego. At risk of getting repetitive, but the hospitality I have received in Argentina has been remarkable. It is difficult at first to accept. Having lived in London for so long, one is immediately suspicious of anyone that offers you anything, let alone a free meal! 

Dinner was an interesting affair, plenty of Castellano being spoken and a little bit of English from me. While I am starting to understand much better, I still don’t speak much. Fortunately Diego spoke excellent English and could help translate between us when necessary. Roberto did most of the talking and I did much listening as I asked for and received much good advice on where and how to continue my trip. Dinner completed, I headed of for bed rather looking forward to tomorrow walk.

27/08/2012

Breakfast at 07:00, big dollops of Dulche de Leche on fresh rolls. More excellent coffee before we jumped into Julian’s Landrover and headed into the higher sections of Karadya’s reserve. First bird to show, Euler’s Flycatcher. Roberto and Diego probably rattled off 50 shots each. Onwards we went, picking up interesting species as we went - male and female Blue Manakin. Julian called out a Green-backed Becard for me to.

Another bird for me, Blond-crested Woodpecker. More excitement in the photography department as some Black-throated Grosbeak perched patiently for autographs. Try as we might, White-shouldered Fire-eye would simply not sit still for long enough to allow photos. Just before the imminent rain started, Julian managed to get a Dusky-tailed Antbird to show briefly. 

The rain started and we headed to Julians house for lunch. At his house, he heard the call of the Tufted Antshrike, another species I had asked him to help me with. Sure enough, eh got it to abandon the tangles for long enough that I could even get a few images. Time for lunch, left overs from yesterday evening. Then it was back down the road for some more birds. The call of a Blackish-blue Seedeater had Roberto and Diego with their cameras at the ready. Julian played the call and out popped a male, perched in the open for some stunning images. Given the dark skies, I was marginally with the shot I got - a better flash would have helped.

The weather was not intent in improving, so it was back to the house soon after for coffee. I tried one last time to get the Planalto Tapaculo to show. I tend to avoid using playback and I didn’t bother in this occasion either, watching as a single bird made it’s way through the tangles. Sighting complete and time to go back to the hostel for an early evening. 
By this stage, it was obviously too late to be leaving. I would stay another night and leave first thing in the morning. Bags packed and the last of my ingredients removed for dinner. I didn’t get very far on the dinner front as Roberto, Patricia and Diego insisted I had dinner with them. Diego opened and bottle of champagne and I sat down for another excellent meal from these most delightful people. Got plenty of advice from Roberto and Diego about my crossing into Paraguay - they certainly did not recommend it. With that, I decided I had heard enough of this Ciudad del Este and the ‘peligroso’, I would skip and head south to Posadas and cross into Paraguay from there instead. More info on insect bites, Malaria, Dengue and Chaga’s. 

Dinner completed, it was off for sleep - tomorrow would be a long day to Iguazu. 

28/08/2012

Woke at 07:00 for another helping of fresh bread and Dulche de Leche. Plenty of coffee and I was ready for the day. I was going to cycle as far as Andresito and then catch a bus to Iguazu - I wanted to give my elbow as much rest as I possibly could prior to seeing a doctor. Time for more good advice from the crew - no need to go to Andresito, just stand outside the lodge at 09:00 and flag down the bus that would take me straight to Iguazu. Even better.

I bid farewell to another group of amazing Argentinian people. Are there a more hospitable people in the world? I certainly haven’t met them yet - Argentinians rule my a country mile right now.

The bus arrived a little late, but no need to dismantle my bike. Straight into the boot and only $50 pesos to get to Iguazu. The journey was just fine, no motion sickness for me fortunately. Arrived in Iguazu just after midday. Headed off to the hostel of my choice, but unfortunately they were full. They recommended another hostel just down the road. So off I went, hoping this was not one the many I was trying to avoid. 

I was in luck, the hostel looked very good and by staying for 5 days, I even got a reduced rate - only $60 pesos per night. Stashed my gear and settled down to some work. Today I would get my images and lists sorted, tomorrow I would attack the mobile phone companies and attempt to see a doctor.

Time flew by and my stomach started it’s grumbles, time for dinner me thinks. En route to dinner, I found a Personal Mobile store open. I’d try my luck right now. Again, the passport was useless - sounds as if Personal do not sell Sim cards to foreigners. Not a problem, I didn’t really want one of their packages anyway, it was Claro I wanted. Found a local spot serving Bife de Chorizo. Another excellent steak finished off with some Dulche de Leche pancakes. Rather stuffed, it was back to the hostel for a decent nights sleep.

29/08/2012

Rose at 07:00, I had slept well for most of the night and was now ready to attack the town. Dressed and gear packed - into town. First port of call was a mobile store. They sold Claro Sim cards and it was no problem for me to get it. Chap even cut the card for me and set everything up. We were off to an excellent start. Now had my phone pretty much sorted, time to find a doctor.

Found a local hospital and went in to see what I could make of things. Despite my poor language skills, I got checked in. Paid my consultation fee and was seen by the doctor within 10 minutes. Doctor took a look at my elbow and I told him what the problem was, not in so many words though, more actions. Had a feel to check the strength of my grip which he was happy with. Once he saw the lack of lateral movement and power, he had another feel of my elbow and explained that this was most likely an inflamed nerve. I hadn’t even mentioned the cycling yet, he asked if I spent a lot of time leaning on my elbow? No, I was cycling a lot. He nodded and said the best course of action was to prescribe some strong anti-inflammatories and a course of vitamins. 

After all the research I had done, I had expected either this course of action or surgery - so at least we were on the same page. Off to the Farmacia for some Diclofenac and a combination of Vitamin B1, B6 and B12. As I later read, I was going to have to lay off any alcohol while on the meds - so I am sitting with a glass of fresh orange juice, wishing I could be drinking a large beer instead. The course of drugs will last a week, so I shall rather put up with a lack of beer than a buggered elbow.

What an excellent morning, Sim and doctor sorted and I still had all afternoon to work with.  I would visit the Jardin de los Picaflores (The Garden of Hummingbirds) later. Tried playing with my mobile, but I first needed to add some funds. Off to a local shop for a Recargo Card. Attempt to load funds, but am not successful. Get one of the hostel staff to give me a hand, but they cannot do it either. Back to the shop to speak to the bloke who gave me my card. Closed, siesta...

Oh well, I have been without a working mobile for 2 months - a few more hours was not going to make any difference. I would go to the Hummingbird Garden and then head back to the Sim card a little later. The Hummingbird Garden only opened at 15:30. Lunch time and then I would return later. Tried to fiddle with my phone a little more, but no luck. 

Off to the Hummingbird Garden, paid the $20 peso entrance fee and sat down to watch the show. My camera worked like a machine gun this afternoon as I fired off some 320 shots in little under 2 hours. Got some cracking birds, certainly more than I had expected. The whole host of Hummingbirds included : Planalto Hermit, Black-throated Mango, Black Jacobin, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Versicoloured Emerald, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Gilded Sapphire, White-throated Hummingbird and the winner, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird.

I know it was a little like shooting fish in a barrel, but it was amazing to sit with so many species in someones tiny back garden. Well satisfied, it was back down the road to the mobile phone store. Explained my problem to the bloke who had given me the Sim and he fiddled for a while. He didn’t seem to be very successful either and said something about looking on the internet. I wasn’t interested in persisting with someone who clearly didn’t seem to know what was going on. I would go back to the hostel and fiddle myself, if things didn’t work then I would wait until I arrived in Posadas. Oddly, Puerto Iguazu is not a large town, certainly nothing as large as the town of Iguazu on the Brazilian side of the border. I was going to be buggered if I was going back into Brazil for anything though.
Tonight would be dedicated to trying to edit those 300 photos and complete this blog piece before it start running to book length. 

I have finally managed to upload my Black-fronted Piping Guan video. I have officially joined the ranks of contributing, rather than simply watching on YouTube. I apologise in advance for the dodgy accent. If it helps, I cringe listening to myself too - horrible accent.