TANGO YOUR WAY ALONG AN ARGENTINIAN SAFARI
“We dance to seduce ourselves. To fall in love with ourselves. When we dance with another, we manifest the very thing we love about ourselves so that they may see it and love us too.” Thanks go to author Kamand Kojouri who was born in Tehran, raised in Dubai and Toronto, and resides in Wales for this stellar description of the Argentine street-side tango. If it draws you in, then a safari trip to the Argentine Republic should be your next step. THE PRIDE OF THE SOUTHERN CONE Located mostly in the southern half of South America, Argentina forms the Southern Cone along with neighbor Chile to the west, Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil up northeast, both Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east and wrapping up with the Drake Passage to the south – all 2,780,400 km2 (1,073,500 mi2) of it. Argentina is eighth on the list of the largest countries on Plant Earth, number four in size in the whole of the Americas, and the largest Spanish-speaking nation. If you get easily bored by what happens on the ground level, then we’re glad to inform you that Argentina's highest point is Aconcagua in the Mendoza province – an incredible 6,959 m (22,831 ft) above sea level. You’ll also find yourself at the highest point in the Southern and Western Hemispheres. On the lower side of the scale, there’s Laguna del Carbón in the San Julián Great Depression, Santa Cruz province at minus 105 m (minus 344 ft) below sea level, incidentally the seventh lowest point on Earth. GET YOUR RIVER ON Of rivers, there are aplenty. Check out the flow: the Paraná in Uruguay joins the Río de la Plata in Paraguay, also the Salado, Negro, Santa Cruz, Pilcomayo, Bermejo, and Colorado. They all make a beeline for the Argentine Sea – a shallow area of the Atlantic Ocean over the Argentine Shelf, which is quite a broad continental platform. Its waters consist of a good spoonful of ocean currents: the balmy Brazil and the icy Falklands Currents. There are seaside creatures, creatures of the skies and land animals – think Argentine jaguar, the Andean condor and Magellanic penguins, to name just three, but let’s make a quick pitstop to discuss the ecosystem and its diversity. Argentina is considered one of the most exceptional ecosystem varieties in the world: 15 of them are continental, three, oceanic, and then there is the Antarctic region – all contributing to a massive boost in biological diversity. WHOSE COMPANY DO YOU SHARE WHILST ON SAFARI? Let’s get back to what incredible creatures you’ll see. We’ll rank them on a global scale: 24th position: 9 372 cataloged vascular plant species, meaning land plants whose tissue conducts water and minerals and products of photosynthesis throughout the plant 14th: 1 038 bird species recorded in field notes 12th: 375 different types of mammals 16th: 338 roaming reptiles 19th: and 162 amphibian species See? We weren’t kidding about the biodiversity thing. A FORMIDABLE COCKTAIL OF NATURAL WONDERS There is hardly a tree to see, climb or photograph in the original pampa, making for spectacular vistas of pure grassland. Here and there, some imported trees – like the American sycamore and the eucalyptus – are found dotted along roads or in towns and estancias (grand old country estates). There is one treelike plant native to the Pampa, and that is the evergreen Ombú. The surface soils of the pampa are a magical deep black color, known locally as humus. The knock-on effect is that it’s hugely productive, agricultural-wise, yet at the cost of overriding the original ecosystem. The rains play a hiding game in the drier western pampas – an expansive plain of short grasses or steppe. TO THE HILLS AND ICE From the majestic Iguazú Falls in the subtropical north to the loud, audio advance of the Glaciar Perito Moreno in the south, Argentina is ridiculously and formidably natural. Diversity plays a significant role. Like icing on a Black Forest Cake, the Andes shows off with its snowbound peaks, and you’ll be surrounded by moist wetlands, a fusion of brown, white and yellow desert, mysterious cobalt lakes, lichen-clad Valdivian forests and Patagonia's dry steppes. MEGA WILDLIFE ADVENTURES AWAIT The Argentine Jaguars shouldn’t be confused with, well, Argentina’s jaguars. The aforementioned is the professional rugby union team, Los Pumas, based in Buenos Aires, who in recent years proved themselves capable of scaring and more than occasionally, crushing traditional rugby giants like South Africa, Australia, Wales, France, and Scotland. The latter is the most sizeable feline in the Americas, and native to the north of Argentina. It prefers to dwell in places with a great deal of water, such as rainforests, swamps, and regions of dense woodland. It’s a consummate swimmer all right, along with an unbelievably powerful bite when going in for the kill. Luckily for safari-goers, conservation efforts in the Iberá Wetlands have reintroduced this marvelous cat – smaller numbers also inhabit the Misiones Province. HIGH UP IN THE SKIES The giant black Andean condor with its ruff of white feathers at the base of its neck and wings is a truly magnificent creature. It’s a scavenger, makes mincemeat of carrion and doesn’t say no to the large carcasses of deer or cattle. You’ll find its nest high up on rock ledges, some sitting at 5 000 m (16 000 ft). Old condor can also get long in the tooth, or beak instead – with a lifespan of over 70 years, and it’s one of the planet’s longest-living birds. RUFFLE THOSE TAIL FEATHERS While we’re talking birds… a trio of flamingo species breeds in South America: Andean, Chilean and James’s. They live together in flocks or colonies, mainly in the salt flats and lakes of the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and here in Argentina. Algae and plankton are on their menu, and quite comically, they use glands located in their nostrils to get rid of excess salt from saline water. The Magellanic penguin colonies on Argentina's coast are adorable, with their black backs and white abdomens. Two black bands sit between the head and the breast – the lower band is shaped in a reverse horseshoe pattern. The head is pitch black with a white border extending from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and finally joining at the throat. Talk about accessorizing… In the water – that’s where they feed – watch out all you cuttlefish, squid, krill and crustaceans. They don’t mind ingesting seawater along with their prey. Their salt-excreting gland will get rid of the excess salt. You bet you can take a diving lesson or two from these guys. Adults dive to depths of up to 50 m (164 ft) deep in order to go after prey. You can also expect stunning sights of capybaras, giant anteaters, whales, mild-mannered guanaco herds, and more. In Argentina, guanacos (a type of camel, closely related to llamas) are more numerous in Patagonian regions, as well as Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. Their natural predators are pumas and foxes – they’ll alert the herd with a high-pitched bleating sound, which sounds like a short, piercing giggle. Before you know it, they’ll spit when threatened, even if Mister Fox is only a short distance away. PARKS AND FALLS GALORE Choose from a grand total of 35 national parks across the country. Different terrains and biotopes are a given – from Baritú National Park on the northern border with Bolivia to Tierra del Fuego National Park, way south. Let’s go park hopping. Thrilling Parque Nacional Los Glaciares Situated in the south and wait for this… a wonderland of ice, continually advancing – up to 2 m (6.5 ft) per day, causing massive icebergs to avalanche from its face. Watching the glacier is a sedentary park experience that is all kinds of thrills. Astounding Iguazú Falls Your jaw will drop, quite considerably, because of the strength and the sound of the cascades – hundreds of waterfalls interlinking for nearly 3 km (1 mi). The setting is a classic one: split between Argentina and Brazil. Surreal Parque Nacional Los Glaciares The Fitz Roy Range with its rough and tumble wilderness and jagged summits is a trekking triumph. Well-marked trails for hiking will guide you along, amidst fantastic scenery – once the clouds stick to their end of the bargain and clear away. A COUNTRY FOR ALL SEASONS The best time to go on safari is in the spring – September 21 to December 21, exactly. It’s when locals, too, emerge from hibernation after the not-too-long winter. Yes, there is winter skiing on offer in Bariloche, yet spring is where it’s at; make a note that summer ups it in the humidity stakes. If you’re on safari in the flat grasslands of the pampa or traversing the mountains of Patagonia, spring is the ultimate season of the Southern Cone. Argentina awaits you, the safari-goer, with the traditional drink of yerba mate in a hollow calabash and a 4x4 ready to roll.