12 Days in the Bolivian Chaco | A Glimpse of our Road Trip

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*There’s no easy way to sum up the twelve days we just experienced in Bolivia.  Or maybe there is, but it takes a wiser person than I to figure out how to neatly package 12 days of thrills, misadventures, Bolivian hospitality, and  close calls into a readable blog post. Still, I’m going to try my best to explain where and why we went, and try and fill you in on some of our most notable memories. Here’s hoping that it comes out the least bit comprehensible.

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When you think Bolivia, you probably think Andes, Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Potosí, maybe even Madidi National Park or even El Beni. Me, too. I still do. And I definitely hope to see those sides of Bolivia in the next five-ten years. But now, when I think of Bolivia, I also think of the the cosmopolitan and honk-happy city of Santa Cruz and the Bolivian Chaco.

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Our purposes on this Chaco trip were threefold, just as they were on our recent Santiago del Estero Chaco trip. Two of us were interested in bird-watching. The other two of us tried our best. Often, Jordan and I went out on the bird walks; sometimes we stayed in the car. What? I had to journal at some point, right?

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The other two of us were interested in collecting agricultural points using the GPS, the field notebook, and my little coding system. All together, Jordan (and I) collected about 500 agricultural data points. I’ve never seen so much sorghum in all my life. For a bit more about the agriculture, check out the What is the Chaco? post.

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And finally, I don’t think that any of us were opposed to just a wee bit of sightseeing, especially when the weather or vehicle (poor Kangoo) didn’t allow for fieldwork at the time. Sometimes, we were lucky enough that a sight would be on the way to a [fieldwork] site. And even better, sometimes a [fieldwork] site was also quite a beautiful sight.

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There were places at which the others needed to/really wanted to take data. Beyond that, our itinerary was…I’ll say, flexible.  We had no hotel reservations, no lists of guide book recommendations.** Spontaneity may be great for you, but it generally goes against my planning nature. Still, when you have no other options, you learn to let go as best as possible, worrying only slightly (and on one occasion more than slightly) about where you will lay your head. And when you worry, you pray, and then your trust in that prayer.

We split our time between budget hotels, hostels (if anyone wants recommendations for Cabezas, Santa Cruz, or San José de Chiquitos, feel free to contact me via FB or e-mail), and camping in national parks or along the side of the road.

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That’s where and why and how we traveled. I should also note that we pretty much disregarded all of the advice provided by guide books. I’m not saying that I did it without hesitation or that I recommend doing it. Some was done out of necessity, some was done because, well, I was lazy and didn’t feel like insisting.  We bought food on the street. We basically drank water from any spigot found. We ate raw produce that had been washed in that unfiltered water.  We approached stranger after stranger to ask for directions. And generally, all of this seemed to be just fine in the end.***

As for some of our highs, hiccups, and notable experiences, Jordan and I had a real laugh while creating the following graph. It’s a little hard to read, so I’ll fill you in on some of the details below.

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We drove through the beautiful Argentine provinces of Salta and Jujuy. We stopped before the border and stayed at a hotel, where I shared the room with Jordan and a few scurrying cockroaches. The roaches weren’t a big deal, but the next morning the power in the whole city went out. Showering by the light of one tiny flashlight is difficult. Even worse, no power at the border crossing makes for complications. We had  unbelievable difficulties securing our Bolivian visas. Finally, by the end, we were so thankful to be granted them that we didn’t even bother complaining that they were screwing us over with the exchange rate (and although the price for the Bolivian visas are given in US dollars, they were not accepted). There was also the issue of locking the keys in the vehicle that day. If you need a locksmith in Yacuiba, we can help you out.

Once we finally got into Bolivia, we bought provisions, which included 4 kilos of chaqeño cheese. It was huge. It was fuerte. But it was delicious. And somehow, this cheese needs no (some say very little, but we had none) refrigeration. By day four it was sweating. It had to be left in the sun to dry out. I thought I’d stop eating int by day six. Nope. By day 12 it was still with us. We all ate some on day 11. And we all survived. The cheese was good, honestly. Still, because we had so much of it and it lasted for so long, it became a bit of a running gag.

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One of the best parts of the trip came early on. We were camping near a less-than-busy road. After a supper (complete with cheese), we headed to the road and laid on our backs, staring up at La Via Láctea (the Milky Way), passing chocolate bars back and forth in awesome silence. I’ve never seen the stars shine more brightly. It was glorious and breathtaking and disorienting not to see all of the constellations we are used to seeing in the northern hemisphere.

Also, not listed on the graph are the many sunrises and sunsets that we were privy to.

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The bird watching stops were more like nature walks for me, though certainly I tried to pay attention to birds and identify what I could. (More about the birds we didn’t see in a separate post). The scenery was often gorgeous (lake photos above at a bird observation stop, for example). But there were points when the bugs (ticks, biting flies, etc.) got to me. I let out only two girly screeches during the trip–one for this snake (with good reason, it was within two feet of me when I turned the flashlight on and it is poisonous) and one for this tarantula who made its way into my path several times in one night. The two-inch country cockroaches seemed less sketchy than those we’d seen a few nights prior.

There were also really fun, non-bird wild animal sightings. But I’m saving those for the bird watching/nature walking post. The suspense!

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The most “stretching” night of the trip came on Jordan’s birthday.^ Bolivia sells gasoline at two different prices–a higher one for foreigners. One stop would only give it to us at all in a container and then we had to funnel/siphon in. One of us had the unfortunate task of sucking on the end of the tube. We were driving on windy gravel roads where the livestock have the right of way, night was falling, a storm was headed our way (meaning that we had to beat the rain or be stuck for days). One of us wasn’t feeling well presumably because of the gasoline, the road was intense, the lightning beautiful but reminding us of the threat. Finally, we reached asphalt. Oh, the relief. And then we pulled into the town of Abopó, which had one hotel. I don’t know what to say. Maybe we misread the town; maybe we misread the situation. But the place made me nervous. And I’ll leave it at that. The relief I’d felt about getting off the dirt road quickly evaporated.  Sure, I was eating a tasty and fresh fried sabalo and washing it down with Paceña, but I still wasn’t at ease. I didn’t feel at ease until we left the next day. After that night, there were still many mishaps, but generally, things were fine. No other situations made me feel particularly nervous, even if they did seriously change our plans.

For example, the next day our car broke down in Santa Cruz. We learned that the Paraguayan visas would cost three times more than we thought and maybe wouldn’t come for six days (weekend and holiday thrown in there). We poorly navigated and ended up in the wrong place. We struggled to find gasoline (gas does not equal gasoline!), almost ran out, an animal or two may have made contact with a wheel or bumper, and two of the doors on the vehicle might have stopped opening. And the tolls and police stops were tiring.

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Somehow, [almost] all of this is overshadowed by the things we learned, the laughs, and the hospitality of the people we encountered.  Things didn’t always go smoothly, but the people we traveled with are good people, fun people, smart people. As for the Bolivian hospitality, people gave us directions, offered us samples of foods, gave us recommendations, and even drove us to and from a mechanic. That man walking toward your campsite with machete in hand? He’ll just give you a big smile and say “Buen día. Lindo día en el Chaco, ¿no?”

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There are so many more things I want to tell you. Things I probably shouldn’t. I saw things I didn’t know existed. I ate things I never thought I would. I did things I never thought I would. When Skyping with friends and family, I couldn’t believe the stories we were telling were ours.

Am I happy I did it? Yes.  Do I recommend travel to the Bolivian Chaco? Certainly. Just do more research than we did. Maybe look for tour guides or take day trips. Will I return to Bolivia? Absolutely. There’s not a doubt in my mind. Our Bolivian Chaco road trip only scratched the surface of what the country offers.  We’ve got so much more to see.  I’m excited for the days when I can blog about my adventures in the Bolivian salt flats (no actual plans yet, just the dreams).

But for now, I am sorting through, sharing, and storing away the memories of our up-and-down twelve-day road trip through southeastern part of the country. Thanks to the biologists who let us tag along. Thanks to Bolivian people for a warm welcome (yeah, yeah, Abopó aside for the time being). Thanks to my husband, who didn’t give me grief about forgetting his birthday. And thanks to you for reading and listening about my trip.

More details about the Chaco and our trip coming your way soon 🙂

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*This was not our vehicle. We drove a Kangoo. We just followed the road trip hippies for a while, that’s all.

**I’ll admit that I fall on an extreme end of the spectrum here. I like adventure. I like new places. But I don’t like spending time searching for a place to stay when I could have arranged one. Also, when staying in a place, safety is my number one priority. A shower of any kind is number 2. I know that I need to embrace spontaneity a bit more. I’m working on it.

***We were at least diligent about washing our hands and using sanitizer. Many stores will have a jug on the counter for you to use. We also swallowed a couple drops of Thieves oil each day. Maybe it was just luck. Maybe it was a combination of these things. But generally, no stomach issues for most of the trip, excepting a few spells that didn’t result in anything the least bit serious for our systems.

^I am a horrible wife. I lost track of days and didn’t even realize it was Jordan’s birthday until about 3 PM. We bought a Bolivian wine to share while camping that night, but with the threat of rain and change of plans, he didn’t even get to partake. I made him a birthday meal upon our return to try and make up for my oversight.

Not Every Day’s a Good Day | La vie en rose avec des épines

Though I’m not an exuberant person, I am almost always in a good mood. I like smiling, I like laughing, and I like enjoying the company of others. On the interwebs, this blog in particular, I don’t dwell upon the bad, and although I did get a wee bit snarky in a recent post, I typically try and avoid it. Because there’s enough of that on the internet. Enough of that in our daily face-to-face interactions.

And so, I choose to post things that have helped me learn, have intrigued me, inspired me, may be helpful to others, or that I want to remember or refer to down the road.

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When traveling or moving to new places, it’s easy to find things to post about. Living in Montreal and learning French sounds glamorous to some. Moving to Argentina and being your husband’s live-in field research assistant doesn’t sound bad, either. And they’re not. They’re really, really rewarding experiences. They’ve changed and are changing me beyond measure and in ways I’m not even beginning to understand. My personal growth and knowledge base have gone in directions I wouldn’t have dreamed of. I feel richer in experiences, though consistently hungrier for more knowledge, more growth, and more experience.

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Still, you must know that traveling comes with bad days, right? I don’t always see la vie en rose, either.

I mean, really, think back to those family road trips to Branson, Wisconsin Dells, and Mt. Rushmore. Now add cultural confusion and loss of communication on top of it. And a lot bit of governmental bureaucracy. Exactly. Yes, Shirley, you knew there were off days.

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Days when I wish I didn’t need to worry about navigating new bus routes or asking for directions to an address that might be wrong anyway. Days when I wish I hadn’t forgotten about that cultural inconvenience known as a siesta. Days when I don’t want to hear the word visa, or conjugate verbs in another language, or think about yet another job and apartment search.  Days when I just want to crawl into a world where the internet streams unlimited amounts of Veronica Mars at conducive speeds. Days when I just want to pick up the phone, easily understand the person on the other end, and be delivered a greasy Papa John’s five-cheese pizza with garlic bread sticks within the hour.

These days humbly remind me not of what I’ve learned, but of how much I have left to learn.

Here’s to progress. Here’s to learning. The more we fail, the more opportunities we have to learn.

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Full disclosure: This bad day wasn’t today. This post past written about a couple weeks prior.

And I’m aware that I’m basically quoting Poison in my title. But it’s wittier because I’m using a French expression within it, right? And anglophones often say that “everything sounds better in French.”

 

Little Lessons. And a Little More Hiking.

In the last couple weeks, we managed to hike two more times within the park. I know, it does seem like we’d be able to do it more often considering we live in the park, but remember, we’ve been gone a lot, the husband works every day (though, okay, not a full 8 hours on the weekends), and I prefer hiking in his company. What can I say?

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During these hikes, we learned a bit about the trees and birds in the area. I found a helpful site that points out some of the trees and birds we see. Beyond that, we’re reinforcing the hiking lessons we’ve already learned and adding a couple new bits of knowledge into the grey matter.

An orange tree found along your hike is a sweet sentiment, though probably a sour reality. We didn’t try the grapes.

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Mercedes Sosa was from Tucumán! We discovered this after stumbling upon a viewpoint dedicated to her memory. I’ve known of Mercedes Sosa for years and enjoyed listening. But now that we’re in her home province, she’s on our nightly playlist. Not sure who she is? You’re in for a treat. Check out this playlist on YouTube.

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Walking along dry rivers looks easy, but makes you wish you’d added more balancing poses in your yoga practice. All of our hikes in the park so far have included some dry river time. I love walking through them, but can tell that my ankles are weaker by the return trip.

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Food tastes better with a view. Hiking to a restaurant, even a tiny one with cookies and hot tea, makes it more fun. Hiking to pizza and beer takes it up a notch.

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It’s not at all uncommon to find altars/chapels along your hiking route in South America. We were a little surprised when we found one during our first day hiking in the park. We’re a little less surprised now.

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Flowers are easier to photograph than birds. I think that’s my overall lesson from living in Horco Molle/Argentina. We see so many amazing birds and I have a camera on me about 60 percent of the time. But my photos of birds simply aren’t worth posting.

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Pictures with a view don’t need a lesson or reason to be posted. Right?

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the lab | where the magic happens…and ping pong battles take place

Friends, family, readers (you’re all my friends, too, of course), here is where I write my little love notes blog posts to you.

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Finally, I’m taking some time to show you where it is that we connect to the world each day (or the days that we able).

Welcome to the lab.

It’s really cool, but we get the feeling that it’s novelty and charm have worn off for most of the people who work/study here. The building was meant to be a hospital (maybe actually was), but is now used as offices for geographers, ecologists, biologists, etc. at the university. There is even what was a morgue downstairs, but I haven’t been able to think of an excuse to make my way in there with the camera. Someday I’ll get in there–it is my oath to you. The building is being renovated in sections, but I’m a bit partial to the non-renovated sections. Naturally.

Anyway, for just a couple minutes, let’s pretend we’re hanging out together in the lab. Writing. Reading whatever the internet has to say for the day. And drinking a mate together. And engaging in a ping-pong battle.

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As this post goes up, we’re probably somewhere near Santa Cruz, Bolivia. At least I think that was the plan. I hope your week has been wonderful and have a great weekend!

11 Things People Say When They Learn I’m from Wisconsin

This summer I had the pleasure of spending one month in my home state of Wisconsin. This is where I’ll always “be from.”

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But for the rest of the last 11 years of my life, excepting a few holidays here and there, I’ve been somewhere outside the state. I don’t know what it’s like for people from elsewhere, but when traveling or living outside of the Midwest and I say I from Wisconsin, the reactions are almost always limited to the following. 

1. Oh. Followed by a blank stare. This typically comes from two groups of people.

Group one is the group that doesn’t care to follow up. Expect this from East or West Coasters who consider the rest of us fly-over territory. Don’t get me started on how incredibly annoying their condescending I-never-needed-to-know-much-about-your-state ohs can really be. This is the worst.

The second “oh” group are those people who simply don’t know anything about it. And don’t care to learn or get into a discussion at the moment.

2. That’s in the north, right?

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In my experience, this is often uttered by Canadians who have typically made fun of how bad my fellow “Americans” are at geography. Sure. Wisconsin’s “in the north, right?” Just like New Brunswick is, like, in the east, right? Sure, I’m happy that they’re at least in the right geographic ball park and they did express more interest than the person from Providence, Rhode Island, who didn’t care enough to clarify.  But that’s probably just them being “Canada-nice.”*

If they’re from a different continent and haven’t just made fun of everyone in the US for being dumber than everyone in their more-evolved (yet currently Harper-run) paradise, I cut them some slack. And am simply happy they care enough to pinpoint it. And then do confirm that it snows a lot.

Numbers 3-8 usually come from people who have a little bit of background about the state. This tells you what the state is known for.

3. You’re a cheesehead!

DSC_0865If someone says, “Oh, you’re a cheesehead,” they could be simply referring to anyone from the state, or more specifically, the fact that I’m likely a Packers fan. Most of us are. I like to say I’m a Packers fan by birth. I haven’t strayed, except for one year when I supported both the Steelers and the Packers. My grandmother was upset with me, and when I decided to put an end to my Steelers fling, she welcomed me like a prodigal daughter. We did, sadly, lose one of my sisters to the Patriots during the Bledsoe years. She’s never returned. Prayers are welcome on her behalf.

4. The Dairy State!

deep fried cheese curds colby wisconsinYes, we produce a lot of milk and cheese. I maybe only lived on that dairy farm for the first ten years of my life, but much of my family members were also dairy farmers. I’m proud of this one. And, yes, I do have to often confess that I eat more cheese than I ought to. Sometimes it’s even—can you believe it?—fried!

 

5. Beer Comments

new glarus brewery tasting glassesYes, there are a lot of breweries. And consumption levels are high. Often, people continue on to tell me “Yeah, they make a lot, but it’s all gross commercial beer.” I don’t really like Pabst (sorry, hipsters) or Old Milwaukee that much, either. But there’s a lot more offered at this point. I will sip on that New Glarus fruity Serendipity beer or Great Dane Emerald Isle Stout. Also, I hate when people assume that my being from Wisconsin means I want to do a keg stand. I don’t. I never did.

6. That ’70s Show!

193px-That_'70s_Show_logoThat ’70s Show logo“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Hello, Wisconsin!” has been screamed in my face countless times in several different countries. Still, the show was funny and so many cultural references seemed to be spot on. At least we can follow this up with a conversation about how funny Fez was or Ashton Kutcher’s career. Not the best, but not the worst.

7. That’s where Frank Lloyd Wright is from!

fallingwater-108-480x640I’ll take that, too. Being known as the home to one of the most intriguing architects of the last century is not bad at all. Review a couple life facts before traveling, just in case someone springs this one on you.

8. Wiscahhhhhsin!

The thing is, they didn’t hear the Wisconsin in my accent at all until they knew where I was from. I do not deny that we do have accents (especially after being away and then returning), but if someone had thought he had so clearly pegged my accent, why was he asking me where I was from in the first place? And beyond that, I spent 17.5 years in the state and now have spent 11.5 outside of it. My accent is a bit watered down. I do not say Wiscahhhsin. And if I don’t, they shouldn’t either.

9. I love Wisconsin!

lake chetek kayaking, wisconsinOh, bless these people. They have visited the state as tourists. They maybe have cousins or grandparents there. They have been in Madison on Halloween, gone sailing in Door County, tchotchke shopping in the Dells, or fishing Up North. I love it, too.

 

 

10. Ah! Cool, I’m from Minnesota/Iowa/Michigan/Illinois!

july corn wisconsinWe might be rivalries within the Midwest, but when find ourselves in Québec or Argentina together, we bond over all things Midwest. Think euchre, puppy chow, summer sweet corn, and the hilarity that is the Jell-O salad.

 

 

11. Me, too!
IMG_2164 (3)And then we hug like long-lost sisters and brothers and rejoice about all things Wisconsin. Because people from Wisconsin are so friendly. Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but it’s usually a pretty cool surprise, and there is an instant understanding between us. Even if there’s no hug, there is still talk about what part of the state we’re from and how interesting it is to meet wherever we find ourselves. There is, of course, always an exception. You will, maybe once in 11 years of travel/living outside the state, bump into some guy who acts like a d-bag, doesn’t care that you share a home state, and seems to only wants to talk about how much he agrees with everything Ayn Rand writes.**

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Okay, Wisconsinites! What am I missing? How do people react to you when they learn where you’re from?

Others are allowed to weigh in on the conversation, too. What do people always say to you when you tell them where you’re from?

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*Canadians often tell me that “everyone always says Canadians are nice.” Mostly, I hear Canadians talking about how nice they are. I’m pretty sure northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba are comparable in the nice department. I do not usually mention this in conversation, however. Because that wouldn’t be very “Midwest-nice” of me.

**Oh, purely hypothetical, I assure you. He was a hypothetical jerk. Not because he reads and likes Ayn Rand, but because he hypothetically asks you why you haven’t more, hears your answer of simply not making time to read any and not being sure that is what you have prioritized in your reading list, and says, “Yeah, some people are afraid of reading Ayn Rand.” I guess I’m hypothetically too scared to read more of her stuff. For those who have known me since my middle school years, Ayn Rand has become my new “Hobbit.” I refused to read it for years because someone used my lack of having read it as an insult. Was really my loss in that case. This case, I’m still holding the grudge. And prefer Sartre.

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Featured image photo attribution: “Flag of Wisconsin“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

All images not attributed elsewhere are property of www.restoflhistoire.com and subject to copyright regulations.

Misty Morning | A Visit to a Chaco Farm

This is Part II of our camping trip to the Chaco in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Click here for Part I.

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The land we camped on really was great. Remote, but not too remote. Quiet and interesting. All that. It was full of photographs. But the farm that we were able to visit the next day for research purposes was nothing short of mystical with the morning mist and pasture grasses. Just look at it.

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A beautiful office, yet again. We were definitely thankful to the farmer for letting us explore his place. The guys for research purposes. Me for my usual reasons as well.

As mentioned in the last post, there was work to be done. And I pitched in a wee bit. More timing and location of observation points, naming the five Chaqueño trees I know (and then verifying if I was correct…wasn’t always :/), taking notes and photos for the husband. I also had the very important responsibility of marking the end of the tape measure with yellow tape. A task which proved to be nearly pointless in the end but made me feel slightly more important that the days before. Our comrade below, though definitely a fan and supporter of nature conservation, is not hugging the tree, but measuring it, I swear.

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Particularly during the ten minutes of bird observation at each point, I was able to explore my surroundings camera-in-hand. There were cattle and horses roaming through the pasture with us, peeking over the grasses. I also spied on what I believe were intimate relations of locusts. You can see for yourself. The pastures were a bit easier to make our way through than the forests, but still full of thorns. Really full. And you could even see where the farmhands had gone through and chopped and/or burned some of the worst offenders.

These pastures may have been easier to walk in, but both groups still ended up getting lost, even with GPSs. Once you get into these misty fields with clouded skies, there is no longer a north.

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Kind of a magical place. The farmhands looked like, dare I say, modern-day gauchos (I really didn’t think the hat was still worn, but I was mistaken),* the land was muy lindo (said the Argentines), and we were never given a proper tour of the place, adding just the air of confusion to make something mysterious.

We’re not sure how many actual farms we will have the privilege to set foot on during our stay (we’re just stealing many of their GPS points from the side of their fields…ha), but I would be thrilled if we’re able to find one with pastures that could be called más lindos.

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*I really have no idea how Argentine farmers would take being compared to the romanticized gaucho figure by a foreigner. But I truly mean no offense. I’m just going to cash in all the naivete that they’ve cast upon me as a gringa, apologize, and hope that makes up for it.

To Hell with Glamping | Our Visit to Argentina’s Chaco Region

-1 tube of Benadryl, a pack of alcoholic swabs, and a pair of teezers: 12 dollars
-3.5 days worth of groceries: 50 dollars
Gas to Santiago del Estero and back: About 30 dollars
3.5 days in the Chaco with these three guys: Priceless. And dusty. Really dusty.

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I don’t always know what I’m getting myself into. This might have been one of those cases. No one asked me if I wanted to spend four days in a dusty, dry forest with three guys and limited supplies of chocolate. No one specifically asked if I wanted to pop-a-squat among communities of bees and other creepy crawlies. No one specifically asked if I wanted to pull thorns out of and ticks off of my body for four days straight. No one specifically asked if I wanted to go 84 hours without a shower all the while applying alternating layers of sunscreen and insect repellent on top of fresh layers of dirt.

But they did ask me if I wanted to join for a four-day/three-night camping trip in Santiago del Estero. I love camping.  And I love visiting new places. So it seemed like a no-brainer at the time.

Jordan and I joined two other people for a university-approved visit to the Chaco region of Argentina. The other two gentlemen were on the look-out and listen-out for bird species, particularly in something called silvo-pastures. Jordan was out for GPS points, particularly of pastures and crops.

Now just to clarify, I like bird-watching as much as any senior woman, and I can point out your usual orioles, jays, finches, etc. But I know now that I can’t even call myself a proper amateur/hobby bird-watcher. My contributions were primarily limited to scribbling coded field notes for the husband and taking photos of the fields for verification purposes. Still, I was happy to help (as much as my limited knowledge of birds and trees native to the Chaco would let me), but let’s be honest, the work was my means to an end. The end? Learning random facts that I hope will at least make interesting dinner conversation later in life and taking photos of new and intriguing things. And in that respect, this trip did not at all disappoint.

We left from good ol’ Horco Molle on the first morning. Naturally, there was mate consumed on the way. Because we wouldn’t dream of going more than two hours without it.

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tucuman argentina sugar cane field

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aluminum mate cup in the car

By afternoon, we arrived at our destination outside of a city south of Santiago, the capital of the province. For a good portion of the afternoon, we were given a sort of orientation to the area by an employee/researcher from a government agency that manages the land we were staying on. This all went down in Spanish, so I missed, well, a solid majority of what was being said. By the time I figured out a sentence, we were walking again, and I was newly distracted by a thorny plant that had decided to take me as its prisoner.

And yes, there was another mate break during this orientation. Hehe.

santiago del estero dry chaco

dry chaco santiago del estero

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santiago del estero dry chaco argentina savannah

santiago del estero chaco argentina

mate break thermos chaco argentina

dusty feet with sandals

Night fell. Camp was set up.  And then snacks were consumed. And even though we had no artificial light to extend the evening, we still stuck to eating on the Argentine schedule (and by that I mean later than God intended). There was an asado one night and a couple pasta nights. Viva Argentina!

sunset on dirt road santiago del estero

moon through tree santiago del estero

The daylight hours were about work for the others. Except for when we did as the Santigueños do and took our siestas. During these work sessions, there were apparently 93 species of birds observed. I saw some, really I did. But they moved too quickly for my camera or were simply a bit too far for the pitiful zoom we have on our Nikon. Besides bird observation, there were also tree surveys done.

As for Jordan, many points were taken. The proof is in the pudding photo.  Here’s proof that he and the others worked. And please note the amazing list of bird calls. These fools be serious.

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bird calls

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dry chaco argentina cactus

santiago del estero pasture savannah

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planted field argentina chaco

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This environment makes for a tough office. In order to work, battles had to be fought. I typically lost them. During the “work” times, we wandered through dry forests, pastures, and grasses. I was attacked by thorny trees, thorny bushes, thorny I don’t-even-know-whats. Thankfully, our leather shin guards saved us much of the time.  The rest of the time, we carefully pried ourselves from the grasp of the enchanted dry Chaco forest.

And later, the husband surgically removed the thorns from my hand at the picnic table. That’s real love.

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thorns dry chaco santiago del estero

dry chaco forest santiago del estero

leather shin protectors for hiking

cactus chaco argnetina

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chaco santiago del estero cactus

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All this trouble was worth it. And we were taught the perfect proverb to use in this case.

El que quiere celeste que le cueste.

This translates roughly to “there’s no easy path to heaven,” or “If you want heaven, it’ll cost you.” Yes, indeed, that dry, dusty, thorny environment is harsh. But it can be beautiful and is full of little photogenic treasures.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but the locusts and the turtle were definitely noteworthy. Also, be sure to look more closely at that photo of “harvested corn.” Do you see it?! It was so weird to watch.

Also, the flowers and plants were all entirely new to me. For the first time in my life I considered a seed show-stoppingly beautiful. (You’ll see three photos of that beautiful–and huge–seed below). I clearly had fun taking photos, as evidenced by the number in this post.

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chaco field flowers argentina santiago del estero

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quebracho blanco leaves

tortuga turtle chaco santiago del estero

algarrobo árbol tree santiago del estero argentina

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tree banch with lichens chaco santiago del estero

yellow tree chaco santiago del estero argnetina

santiago del estero argentina chaco

locust exoskeleton chaco santiago del estero argentina chaco

tree branch chaco santiago del estero argentina

quebracho blanco seed santiago del estero argentinalangosta locust dry chaco santiago del estero argentina

quebracho blanco santiago del estero seed chaco argentina

dry chaco santiago del estero

tree dry chaco santiago del estero

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quebracho blanco seed

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quebracho blanco tree leaves with spider santiago del estero

flower dry chaco santiago del estero

tree with thorns argentina

hiking boots argentina dry

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langosta locust chaco argentina santiago del estero

prairie flowers santiago del estero argentina

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tree seeds argentina

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praying mantis argentina

santiago del estero chaco argentina

So, no, no one did specifically say this was a little bit more intense than family camping. And I do prefer running water, a supper without bugs, and comfortable bed in a temperature-controlled dwelling. But if that’s what we had to sacrifice for our little slice of heaven on Earth, so be it.

dusty truck dry chaco

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At the end of this trip, we were granted permission to visit a nearby farm. Photos of our first Argentina farm visit coming your way on Friday!