- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

ESQUINA, Corrientes, Argentina — This small town, built along the east bank of the mighty Parana River, is about as long as the river is wide.

This is wide country, where the sky dominates the flat land and low hills that stretch forever; at times the other side of the river seems to go to infinity. The twin spires of the Church of St. Rita are the only things that can be called tall. The local casino is not remarkable but adds a bit of color at night.

Clouds can be great dollops of whipped cream, cotton-white against sky as blue as on the Argentine flag. At times, the clouds are low and soggy, making the Parana look murky. A storm with a lightning and thunder show can shatter the night.

By day, the freshwater dorado can shatter the water as anglers try to reel in this fish known as the “tiger of the river.”

The dorado is the Salminus maxillosus — Salminus because of its similarity to trout and salmon, and maxillosus because of its large jaw. The dorado is as golden as its name; sometimes its tail and fins are orange, almost red. It is a prized game fish and draws anglers here to test their skill and luck.

The dorado’s teeth and jaw are so powerful that steel leads must be used; otherwise it could chew through a line and swim out of sight. The dorado can be more than a yard long and often weighs 40 pounds, sometimes more than 50. In the Esquina area, they generally are from about 9 to 15 pounds.

Other game fish include mandube, manguruyu, pati and palometas. Anglers can use the conventional bait casting or can employ fly-casting from a boat or the shore.

Big fish need plenty of water, and the dorado finds that in the Parana and its tributaries. The Parana is the second-largest drainage basin in South America — after the Amazon — with a watershed of more than 1 million square miles. Its 2,485-mile route from its source in Brazil and through Paraguay and Argentina makes the Parana the 13th-longest in the world.

Esquina is in the heart of Litoral, the northeastern corner of Argentina and one of the country’s six geographical regions — besides Corrientes, the Litoral provinces are Missiones, Entre Rios, Santa Fe, Chaco and Formosa. The Litoral wraps around the southern half of Paraguay and also borders on Brazil and Uruguay. It is very hot in summer — when the Northern Hemisphere is having winter — and at all times of the year, much of it is wet and swampy. Winters are cold but brief; summers are, yes, tropical.

The provinces of Corrientes, its northern neighbor, Missionies, and, to the south, Entre Rios, are also known as the Argentine Mesopotamia because they are the “land between rivers,” in this instance between the Parana and the Uruguay.

Parana is a Guarani Indian word translated as “torrential” and “mighty.” To the Argentines it is “caudaloso,” which connotes a large amount of water moving rapidly. Mighty it is as it rushes over Iguazu Falls to the north. The falls, where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, are 21/2 miles wide.

To the south, the Parana meets the Uruguay to form the Rio de la Plata, by which Buenos Aires is situated. The Parana delta north of Buenos Aires covers about 5,400 square miles and is filled with thousands of islands, marshes, channels and other estuaries. Buenos Aires is 360 miles from Esquina.

Corrientes is the name of the province and the capital, which was the setting of Graham Greene’s novel “The Honorary Consul.” Then there’s the Corriente River, whose clear waters enter the murky red-brown Parana near here. More than 5,400 of the province’s 34,000 square miles are the Ibera Swamps, home to lakes and marshes, lagoons and aquatic wildlife, and the source of the Corriente. Bringing even more water to the Esquina area, the Guayquiraro also joins the Parana 25 miles south of the town.

With all this expanse of water, it is natural that water skiing is available on the rivers.

Corrientes is farm country. Many tractor-trailers can be seen on the roads headed for Rosario, taking loads of cattle to plants that process the famous Argentine beef. Other trucks, and often trains, carry loads of timber cut from plantations of eucalyptus and pine.

Gauchos often are seen from the highways, riding horses alongside the road and in adjacent fields.

One of the main crops is rice because water is so abundant and the land is so flat. Other important crops are citrus, tobacco, tea and yerba mate, which makes the national drink.

The major wild enemy of a bountiful rice harvest is the capybara, known throughout Argentina as carpincho. It is the world’s largest living rodent and the source of leather clothing and accessories for sale in most of the country, including Buenos Aires’ fashionable leather shops. Some people cook carpincho; I found it tough in a stew.

The carpincho, which likes marshes and thrives on rice and other grasses, is very shy and alert — even during forays into rice fields. The animals are viewed much more easily at the National Zoo in the District than in their home in the wilds of the Argentine swamps.

With abundant marshes and lagoons and the many channels of the Parana — and corn as well as rice — this area is a popular feeding area for wild fowl. Wing-shooting draws hunters from Europe and the United States as well as other parts of South America. The bag limit on wild ducks is 30 — in some places 50 — per person each day.

Other birds sought by hunters include partridges; picazuru and spot-winged pigeons; rock and eared doves; common snipes; and red-winged and spotted tinamous. Hunters also find muscovy, comb, silver teal and Brazilian ducks and three from the tree-duck family: fulvous, black-bellied and white-faced.

The hunting season lasts from April to mid-November but is particularly active from May through August.

As the dorado and game birds — and wild boar and Mediterranean buffalo — attract sportsmen, an industry to accommodate their visits and outings has developed along with agro-tourism in the Corrientes area.

About two miles from Esquina is Posada Hambare, a most comfortable lodge fronting on the Corriente River. Posada Hambare caters to anglers, hunters, families and honeymoon couples, people who want to spend a few days in the quiet country setting and escape the bustle of cities.

At Posada Hambare, operated by the genial Rohner family, a normal hunting day begins with an early wake-up so the hunters are in position at the sun’s first rays. They return to the lodge where lunch awaits, then can resume their wing-shooting until sundown.

Transportation is arranged through the lodge with outfitters such as Raul “Laly” Caferatta — the seats of his four-door pickup truck are covered with carpincho leather. The truck also carries helpers called bird boys plus tree branches to make a blind for the hunters. On some outings, boats also are used for the hunters.

For fishermen, one of the outfitters used by Posado Hambare is Marcelo “Chompi” Gianechini, who is an artist when he is not on the water. He painted the dorado on the back of his sporting vest. He also was an artist on his boat one cloudy morning, snagging a large dorado on his first fly-cast.

Accommodations are available in two buildings: in a large thatched home and in rooms on two levels in the new building, which includes the kitchen, restaurant, bar and a lounge with a fireplace that is most welcoming in winter. Some of the lodge’s guest rooms also have fireplaces, as well as balconies and river views.

Posada Hambare offers comfortable single or double bedrooms with private baths, television, air conditioning, and maid and laundry service. The rooms are nicely furnished and can provide a good night’s sleep.

The food is delicious, including fresh orange juice at breakfast, good breads and hearty soups, chicken, fabulous Argentine steaks and lamb, even duck breast and substantial desserts. The wines are Argentine, and there’s nothing wrong with that — and the bar is well-stocked.

It is possible for small planes to land at an air club in Esquina, and charter flights can be arranged through Posada Hambare. Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral airlines fly to Santa Fe from the convenient Aeroparque Metropolitano Jorge Newbery in downtown Buenos Aires. Santa Fe, however, is a three-hour drive from Esquina, although transportation can be arranged through Posada Hambare.

The owners of Posada Hambare say they like taking the overnight luxury bus between Esquina and Buenos Aires.

Travel packages offered by Posada Hambare for hunters and anglers include accommodations and meals with wine, tour operators, shells and any necessary licenses.

One afternoon I was sitting on the lawn at Posada Hambare, looking at the channels and islands of the Corriente, and was amazed at the stillness. “You know,” I said, “this reminds me more of Africa than anywhere else.” The space, the river and the flat terrain for a moment led me to think of Botswana when the Okovanggo delta floods. Such splendid peace served with the marvel of rivers.

American Airlines has connecting flights in Miami between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport. Delta Airlines flies to Buenos Aires from Atlanta, and United Airlines operates nonstop flights from Washington Dulles International Airport and Ezeiza.

The cost of Posada Hambare’s six-day fishing program is $2,000 per person for a minimum of two anglers. This includes five days of intensive fishing and six nights at Posada Hambare from January through November; four meals daily — breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner — and wine, beer and sodas; boat rental; experienced guide; fishing gear; meal and drinks during the fishing trip; and fishing authorization. It does not include airfare, personal expenses, insurance or tips.

The wing-shooting program, also six days and from April through September, costs $2,800 per hunter, with a minimum of two persons. Meals, beverages, guides and 1,000 free shells also are included.

German Rhoner, son of the owners of Posada Hambare, is based in Buenos Aires and provides liaison for guests arriving there on their way to the lodge. For more details about the wing-shooting, fishing and game-hunting programs, visit www.hambarelodge.com or contact Mr. Rhoner, info@hambarelodge.com. The address is Ruta 12, Acc. Norte, Esquina, Pcia, Corrientes, Argentina.

If visitors want to make Iguazu Falls part of their trip to Argentina, Aerolineas Argentinas, Austral and also Lan Argentina fly from Buenos Aires’ Aeroparque to the town of Iguazu. The drive from Esquina to Iguazu takes about 71/2 hours.

Buenos Aires has a number of fine hotels, including the luxurious five-star Four Seasons, which is convenient to the downtown shopping area and tourist attractions, in the Ricoleta section — and is 15 minutes from the Aeroparque (Posadas 1086/88, Buenos Aires C1011ABB, Argentina; phone 54/11-4321-1200; reservations 54/11-4321-1715 or fax, 54/11-4321-1687; visit www.fourseasons.com.

The four-star Claridge Hotel was remodeled in a pleasant decor last year and also is in the historical, commercial and tourist area; room prices average about $150 (Tucuman 535, Buenos Aires 1049AAK, Argentina; 800/223-5652; or visit www.claridge.com.ar).

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