Peace Corps volunteers earn 2 paid vacation days for each month of service in-country. This adds up to a total of 48 vacation days for an entire two-year service.
There are a few stipulations:
1. No vacations during the first and last 3 months of service,
2. You need approval from your PC bosses,
3. You need special approval to advance vacation days for months you have not yet accrued.
And now onto our vacation:
Our site is located in the southern extreme of Paraguay, only an hours bus ride to the border of Argentina. We decided to take advantage of our location and travel through Northern Argentina.
Encarnacion, Itapua, PY
Since volunteers get bonus vacation days to travel to the border, we spent our first night in Encarnacion. The city has a beautiful beach costanera that is lined with fun little restaurants. We walked barefoot in the sand and gazed across the river at the city we had been itching to go to since we first laid eyes on it. Posadas, Argentina! We ate dinner at a beach-side pizza place. The owner of the place was so delighted that we spoke English that he gave us each a free piece of cheesecake! We felt like celebrities :)
Posadas, Missiones, AR
Early the next morning, we took a bus across the big suspension bridge to Posadas, Argentina. We changed all of our money to pesos and headed for our hotel, a small residential near the main plaza. We spent the day exploring the town and walking along the river. We ate lunch at a gaucho-style restaurant over-looking the water. The waiter brought out our pork on a huge skewer! It was delicious! That evening we checked out the paseo and the plaza downtown. The sidewalks were filled with artists, musicians, and locals selling handmade jewelry.
Resistencia, Chaco, AR
The next day, after a slight alteration of our travel plans, we boarded a bus to Corrientes. Although the bus was a double decker, we made up 2 of the 3 passengers aboard. We had the bus completely to ourselves! Halfway to Corrientes, we decided to extend our bus ride across the river to Resistencia in the Chaco province. We arrived in Resistencia after dark, ready to camp at the park. To our dismay, we discovered that they were having a heavy metal rock concert that night in the park. Not that we have anything against heavy metal, it just didn't seem like it would be a very restful night.
Backpacks back on, we headed into town. We didn't want to spend too much money on a hotel, so we asked for recommendations from the locals. This brought us to the glamorous Hotel Luxor. The price seemed reasonable, but before checking us in, the clerk asked us if we wanted to see the room first. Well that seemed strange, so yes let's go see the room. We walked up three flights of stairs to our would-be room. On the way we noticed that many of the guests like to hang out in their rooms with the doors open and playing the radio for all to hear. We heard a baby crying from the floor above, and I was more than a little bothered when a 40 year old man walked by with his arms around a scantily clad teenage girl. We decided on our way back down the stairs that this was definitely NOT the place for us! After that incident, Ben said "I don't care how much it costs, we're staying at a nice hotel downtown!" So we ended up in a beautiful hotel with a balcony overlooking the central plaza.
In the morning, we went on a self-guided walking tour of the town. Resistencia is famous for its statues and sculptures. Every two years, the city holds a contest where artists come from all over the world to create works of art. The winning sculptures earn a permanent place on display in the city. Now, the city boasts over 150 sculptures!
Chaco National Park, Chaco, AR
That afternoon, we boarded the bus called "La Estrella", and headed to Chaco National Park. The park is about a 5 kilometer (3 mile) hike down a dirt road from the bus stop. Lucky for us, we were able to catch a ride, with a very friendly family. The park had an interpretive center and great campgrounds with public restrooms and grills. As we were setting up our tent, we saw parakeets and toucans in the trees above our heads.
We woke up the next morning to a cacophony of birdsong. We unzipped our tent slowly so that we could watch the birds hopping around our campsite. We flipped through our bird guide to identify all the different birds we saw. Our favorite was the urraca (plush-crested jay), a bird with a black head and back and a yellow underside. His electric blue eyebrows gave him personality. After eating a quick breakfast, we rented bikes and toured the park. From the vantage point of an observation tower we gazed across a wide grassland dotted with palm trees. Our guide told us that this area used to be a river populated by a variety of fish, wading birds, and caimans. We learned that the region had been experiencing a serious drought for the past 5-7 years. On our way back to the camp ground we spotted a family of howler monkeys hanging out in the trees. You can easily tell the males and females apart by their colors. Males are black and females are tan.
Mercedes, Corrientes, AR
Later that day, we headed back to Resistencia and boarded a bus to Mercedes, Corrientes. We arrived after dark, so to keep things easy we stayed at the closest hotel to the bus terminal. Mercedes was really just a stopping point on our way to Carlos Pelligrini and the Ibera Wetlands. Since our bus didn't leave until 12pm, we spent the morning walking around the town. We stumbled upon a free museum that had a great collection of stuffed birds, reptiles, and mammals that live in the wetlands.
Carlos Pellengrini, Corrientes, AR
The bus runs from Mercedes to C.P. twice a day. Be prepared for a bumpy and dusty 3-4 hour ride along a very long and straight road. About an hour into the trip, you'll start to see wildlife out the windows so stay alert! The Ibera wetlands are the second largest wetlands in the world and home to some really cool animals.
We camped for 2 nights right at the water's edge of Ibera Lake. The campgrounds were fantastic! Each site had a cabana, picnic table, grill, electricity, water, trashcan, and clothesline. Their public bathrooms felt very clean. We took a morning boat tour of the wetlands and saw tons of wildlife! Birds we saw: greater rheas, tinamou, cormorants, whistling herons, great egrets, ibises, roseate spoonbills, maguari storks, jabiru storks, southern screamers, crested caracaras, and wattled jacanas. There are floating islands formed by thousands of water lilies that grow on top of each other. Over time, they collect soil and provide habitat for animals. We saw dozens of caimans basking in the sun and capybaras swimming and foraging around the islands. We even got to see the extremely rare marsh deer! The deer was wading up to his shoulders foraging for aquatic plants. We felt like national geographic photographers snapping pictures of him from the boat. Our guide even let us get out of the boat and walk on one of the floating islands! Walking on the island was a lot like walking on an inflatable mattress. The ground dips down a little with each step and if you jump you send a ripple across the island. It was really cool!
In the afternoon, we crossed the bridge to check out the interpretation center and trails. The center had a great video (English subtitles) was very informative and had awesome clips of wildlife. We hiked both the trails, and even hid a geocache on one of them :)
Unfortunately, there is only one bus that goes from C. Pellingrini to Mercedes and it leaves at 4:00 AM. So, we woke up in the middle of the night, packed our tent, and waited. That whole day we spent traveling from when we woke up at 2 AM to when we arrived in Posadas at 12 AM. That was a long day, but at least the buses are really nice and offer movies.
San Ignacio Mini, Missiones, AR
After crashing hard in Posadas, we took the bus to San Ignacio Mini to see the Jesuit ruins. We dropped our things off at the hostel and found a place where we could drink some refreshing beverages and eat french fries. The ruins were crowded with tourists from all over the place. As foreigners, we had to pay a higher price than both Argentinians and Latin Americans. That kind of irritated us since we have Paraguayan I.D.s. For those of you coming from Paraguay, I think the ruins in Jesus and Trinidad are just as good, if not better, than those in San Ignacio Mini. On the other hand, we really enjoyed the ruins in Santa Ana. In Santa Ana they leave the ruins as they are instead of trying to maintain them.They even let the jungle grown up around them, so you're not just walking through buildings, but a forest. They had a slight Indian Jones/Tomb Raider vibe.
Back in Posadas, we decided to make our last night a date night. We walked through the plaza, ate candied peanuts, had a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant, and stayed at a beautiful hotel. Overall, we had an incredible vacation and hope others follow in our footsteps. For those traveling around southern Paraguay or northern Argentina, it is definitely worth your while to make it our to Carlos Pellingrini and experience the wetlands of Ibera.