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THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAY

16-17 2OO9

Do

the
As we leave the houses behind. the delta opens up into the wide river and just beyond this the dense rainforest closes in. Kilian tells

de[a
An hour out of Buenos Aires lies a lush and tranquit network of waterways, reports Dan Cooper
the only sound we hear is the
lapping of waves against the side of the Zodiac. Our guide Kilian has suddenly cut the engine to let us drift and fully appreciate the peacefulness of Argentina's Tigre Delta. We are surrounded by a lush green wall of rainforest and immersed in the soft perfume of subtropical flowering trees. The Tigre Delta is the ideal place to briefly unwind. Its maze of channels and lush islands S we float down the Rio Parana,

us these waterways trace back more than 1000km into Brazil's Amazon rainforest.
hunted out here. The jaguars that gave the delta its name of Tigre roamed freely, but they're long gone, as are most of the red deer and wild capybara (a large rodent the size of
a hog). But here on the quiet side tributaries north of the Rio Parana we are completely alone tc glide along the many streams and tributaries I marvel at how Kilianrnanageq to fiqd_hiq wiy tfrroueh thelonfusing labyrinth of rivers and islands without getting lost. The delta covers 14,000sq km and the 886sq km north

Most inimals and snakes have

been

We think he means to take another swim, but when he jumps overboard he's standing in 15cm of water,-only a few feet away from the 15m drop-off. We cautiously join him in the lukewarm shallows and wiggle our toes on the smooth, sandy bottom. It's as if we're walking on water. Kilia-n explains that we could walk from here all the way to Uruguay, even thouglr, at this point, the delta is more than 60km acrosi, the widest in the world. Every year, 200,000 tonnes of silt from the

upper reaches of the rivers in Argentina, Piiaguay and Uruguay wash down and are depoiited in the delta, creating new islands
and sandbars.

provides a tranquil oasis just 20km to the


northwest of the tango nightclubs and racing black-and-yellow taxis of Buenos Aires.

of the Rio Parana has been declared a protected UNESCO biosphere reserve because of its unique environment. Hunting or logging are no longer allowed. We finally stop for lunch at a small cabin
on a secluded stream and are greeted by Lulu,
th-e

Only constant dredging keeps the boat channels open. In the distance, we can see the skyline of Buenos. Aires. Even closer, the sky is dotted with the brightly coloured sails of 50 or more parasailers and surfboarders from marinas in San Isidro and Tigre.
ebaos qf Bueuas Airel.

Removing his shirt, Kilian slips over the side of the Zodiac and tows it through the water to extend our silent commune with nature. He invites us to join him in the cool river, but we haven't brought our bathing suits so we sit back and relax in the sunshine, happy to let him do the work. We take deep breaths of the pure air to cleanse our lungs. Occasionally a bird calls and we begin to forget about the capital's heat, noise and pollution. Kilian promises us "the air in the delta is so full of oxygen that you will sleep very well tonight back in the city". All transportation in the delta is by boat; close to 4000 people inhabit the first section, which is made up of traditional houses on stilts and summer cottages for wealthy Buenos Aires residents. We slowly cmise through the populated part of the delta past these quaint holiday homes, their gardens dotted with bright, blue hydrangeas. Weeping willows stretch down to the cool water; as we pass, people wave from the restaurants and small resorts that line the banks. Even petrol stations, schools and hospitals are accessible only by boat. Children are picked up for their classes in long launches and residents are provided with medical and dental services on a floating
hospital. Large grocery boats and water taxis also ply the waterways. We see more active visitors in rented kayaks and canoes and pass a school for wake-boarders.

itr n*f.iodtve its betly stroteA, just like


siriilar to a muskrat but a distinct

owner'r

pefotter",

which rollsover-on,
a species

We reluctantly board the Zodiac for the return trip to Tigre and the train back to the

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doe. The otter is actually a nutria, or river rat, orized for its fur. Kilian reassures us, however, ^that th"v aren't about to skin Lulu. "She's part of the familY." ^ Our home-cooked lunch includes a delicious bife de chorizo (sirloin steak), baked sweet potato, salad, a nice bottle of Argentin-

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ian milbec and, for dessert, a pancake with


sweet caramel. The highlight of the tour, however, is yet to come. After lunch, we make an extended trip out to the mouth of the delta where the Rio Parana and the Rio de la Plata meet and spill towards the distant Atlantic Ocean. As we leave the nalTow rainforest streams and slip into the wider river, the sides are lined with several dozen sailboats and large cabin cruisers, the floating retreat of some of the wealthy from Buenos Aires. Kilian tells us that on weekends there can be a hundred times that many clogging the river. We follow the channel markers into the mirtdle of the Rio de la Plata, dodging some of the larger boats, then stop just to the side of the l5m-deep dredged boat channel. Kilian cuts the engine again and once more invites us to join him in the water.
Rio Parttna

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Tiere from Buenos Aires's Retiro Buenos ifr% one-hour ride goes through northern suburbs' Tigie can atso be

a.oart regutarly to the smatltown of


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or visited on an organised one-day tour for weekend ;;;;;; ;d ;ti on' i s avai lable rtrut ot longer at sma[[ boat-access resorts' sJ'tii-o.tta"orga n i ses sm a[[ tours i n. tributaries ili;.; that 96 into smatter safari Delta has a ;i;;;b;.is ian't reach' iriitt tours kiosk on Tigre station' More: safaridetta@sion'com'
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+ THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAY


16-17 2OO9

DESTINATION AFLOATTT

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Picture: Dan CooPer

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