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domingo, 1 de septiembre de 2013

Chaco Lodge

This past weekend, Karina and I had the amazing good fortune to return to the Chaco. Our goal was to find a matrix of giant salt lakes hidden by the dense Chaco forest. Two massive properties surround the lakes, to the north lay our destination – “Chaco Lodge” and to the south a larger property – “Campo Maria” which consists mostly of cattle ranching. Our journey took us over 9 hours of travelling over the worst road in the country; the asphalt broke open into huge potholes 3 feet deep and 5 feet wide. In other places, the asphalt disappeared entirely and we were forced to weave our way along equally treacherous dirt roads. But no fear, our new Wingle 5 (think the mystery of the Wind meets the elegance of an Eagle) brought us safely to our destination, even if we did get lost a number of times along the way. Our biggest mistake actually led to an amazing discovery. While searching for the entrance to the “Chaco Lodge,” I took the wrong turning and we entered the neighboring property of “Campo Maria.” Campo Maria truly was a massive cattle ranch; a huge labyrinth of different fields, each looking just the same as the last. But during our futile search for the exit, I made another wrong turn and we started heading for the center of the property. We passed through a dense part of forest and came out into an open expanse. We’d found the southern tip of the salt lakes! The winter in Paraguay is the dry season so this part of the salt pan was as dry as the desert. We crossed the pan following in the tracks of other explorers that had come before us, kicking the salty white dust behind the truck as we sped northward. We were half trying to find our way off the property, and half hoping to find any bit of water that might still remain. Our search was not in vain. As we rounded one corner, the water spread out in front of us. The hot Chaco sun reflecting off the water as the strong North Wind was whipping waves along the surface. And more than that, the lake was full of thousands of birds. Hundreds of flamingos took flight as they heard the Wingle approach. The sky was full of the beautiful pink birds. Two huge Jabiru (link to Fauna Paraguay) paced along the shore occasionally sticking their long beaks into the soft soil in search of food. Karina and I spent several hours bird watching and exploring this amazing gem hidden in the Chaco before deciding to move on. Eventually we pealed ourselves away from all the birds and the wonderful landscape to attempt once again to find our way to the Chaco Lodge. We retraced our footsteps until we made our way back to the road. I was telling Karina the number of places where I could have made a mistake when we arrived at junction. I told her “This is where I turned right. I’m sure that was the right decision.” Only to have her point out that a street sign had been knocked over was lying face up in the dirt. We approached slowly and sure enough the sign read “Chaco Lodge 20km to the left.” So I admitted I was wrong and we were finally on our way again. We arrived without any other problems and placed all our stuff down at the campsite. We ate a quick lunch and hoped right back into the Wingle. After such an amazing morning at Campo Maria, we wanted to see what the Chaco Lodge had in store for us. We were not disappointed. The massive lake at Campo Maria looked like a swimming pool in comparison to what we found at Chaco Lodge. The water spanned so far that in places you couldn’t see the other shoreline. The birds were just as abundant and we were actually lucky enough to see two beautiful Coscoroba Swans swimming loyally side by side. We found tracks of several dozen wild peccary moving from the shoreline back into the forest, along with sporadic huge footprints of Tapirs. But my favorite part of this trip was definitely our night drive around the lake’s edge. In a single evening, we caught sight of five foxes, two different species of armadillo, a pair of White-collared Peccaries, a Greater Horned Owl (the largest owl in Paraguay) and a troop of nine Greater Rhea. The amazing nature we found at the Chaco Lodge really goes to show what a difference large protected areas can have on biodiversity. Begrudgingly, we left early the next morning to make our trip all the way back to Asuncion but we spoke the whole way down about how we could plan our next trip back to the Chaco Lodge. PLT is working very hard to establish ourselves in the Chaco and the Chaco Lodge may have just jumped its way to the top of our dream list. If I got to choose, I’d go back to the Chaco Lodge tomorrow. Joseph