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Mercedes

Taking Ruta Nacional 12 south from Corrientes capital, you soon come to the turn-off for Ruta Nacional 123, which heads eastward towards Mercedes. The Esteros del Iberá ecosystem is becoming evident. Broad lagoons and sorghum farms sketch the landscape thronging with bird life. Just before Ruta Nacional 119, buses pull over to allow passengers to quickly make a request of legendary popular saint Gauchito Gil.

Six km (3.6 mi) down Ruta Nacional 119 is Mercedes. As soon as you step off the bus, you know you’re in gaucho territory. Men are dressed in low-crowned, broad-brimmed hats, bombacha pants held up with broad leather belts and alpargatas (cloth shoes). This is one of Corrientes Province’s principle cattle raising areas. Mercedes also has the distinction of being the nation’s first producer of rice, since the 1930s. The town was settled July 5, 1832, as San Fernando de las Garzas. In 1864 its name was changed to Mercedes. During the Guerra de la Triple Alianza, the village played an important role. After the Batalla de Yatay in 1865, General Mitre stayed in Escuela Número 83, near the bus station.

Many travelers only overnight in Mercedes, on their way to Carlos Pellegrini in the heart of Esteros del Iberá. The town, though, invites you to take in its history and culture. Avenida San Martín, the main commercial street, connects the bus station with the village’s focal point, Plaza 25 de Mayo. On one side of the plaza is the city hall (Palacio Municipal), built in 1932. On the other side of the plaza is Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. The plain-faced church was built in 1881 with red stone quarried at Itá Pucú.

The Centro de Interpretación next to the tourism office has excellent explanations in Spanish about gaucho fashions, horses, the local homestead, and chamamé music and dance (Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-9 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-8 p.m.; Sunday, holidays 2-8 p.m. Caá Guazú and Gómez, Tel: 1541-4384).

From the Centro de Interpretación, Calle Gómez becomes Avenida Madriaga after crossing Avenida San Martín. Five blocks south is Parque Mitre, which at one time was the town’s cemetery. The mausoleum of Coronel Marco Azcona, hero of provincial civil wars, is still here. Also in the park is the Casa de la Cultura, home to the Museo Histórico y de Bellas Artes and the Museo de Ciencias Naturales Regional Mesopotámico (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-noon, 2-6 p.m. Entry: free). A few blocks west is a mini-zoo within the grounds of the road works department. Around the lagoon is a path with benches. Take a seat and watch the free-roaming capybara, caimans and other creatures (daily 4-7 p.m. Calle Ñ'angapiri, 7 blocks south of Av San Martín. Entry: free).

Twenty-five kilometers (16 mi) east of Mercedes is Itá Pucú (long stone in Guaraní), a solitary stone monolith on the Correntino prairie. During the War of the Triple Alliance, allied troops rested here. Giuseppe Garibaldi also camped here when he passed through.

A pleasant way to spend lazy days is to cast a line for dorado, surubí, pacú and other local fish. Estancia El Dorado (Tel: 03773-42-0660, E-mil: eldorado@ibera.net), Estancia Rincón del Diablo (Tel: 03773-42-0103) and Pirá Lodge (Paraje Tacuaral, Tel: 03773-42-0399) near Mercedes can help anglers with this endeavor.

January is a busy month in Mercedes. On January 8 Gauchito Gil is honored. The next two days is the Festival de Chamamé. From mid-January through February, Brazilian-styled comparsas dance and drum in pure Carnaval style down at the Corsodromo Canizárate on the city’s east side. September 16-24, Mercedes celebrates its patron saint, Nuestra Señora de la Merced, with processions, an artisan fair and communal lunch. In countryside hamlets, San Baltazar is feted on November 25. For a month, his image goes from house to house in the afternoon and evening, accompanied by a dancing procession. On December 25, San Baltazar is enthroned in the settlement’s most important person’s house.

(Altitude: 98 meters / 322 ft, Population: 30,961, Phone Code: 03773)

Services

The tourism office has a good town map and guide of tourist services in Mercedes and Carlos Pellegrini (Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-9 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-8 p.m.; Sunday, holidays 2-8 p.m. Caá Guazú and Gómez, Tel: 1541-4384, E-mail: munimer-turismo@hotmail.com, URL: www.mercedesctes.gov.ar). It also has an office at the western access to town (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; weekends 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-8 p.m. Ruta 119, Tel: 1541-6215) and a more basic one at the bus terminal (Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-noon). Fundación Reserva Iberá is an independent NGO based in Mercedes that is working on conservation issues in Esteros del Iberá (Pujol and Batalla de Salta, Tel: 42-2260, E-mail: fundacionibera@payubre.net, URL: www.fundacionibera.org.ar).

Other services in town are: police (San Martín 753, Tel: 42-0051), post office (Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 4:40-7:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-noon. San Martín and Rivadavia), internet cafés (no Skype), phone centers, Hospital Las Mercedes (Lacour 1059, Tel: 42-0031) and pharmacies (several on San Martín). All three banks have Link ATMs: Banco de Corrientes (San Martín and Ferré), Banco de la Nación (San Martín and Rivadavia), Banco de Entre Ríos (Sarmiento 565). The Claro phone kiosk across from Banco de Corrientes exchanges US dollars and Euros.

Artesanía

Excellent-quality silver, leather, basket and wool goods are crafted in the Mercedes area. If buying yacaré or carpincho leather, be sure it’s de criadero (farm-raised) and not hunted (de caza).

Carpinchos (Av Pellegrini s/n, Tel: 42-2520)—leather and wood

Lossada (Pujol and Ferré)—silver

Fundación Manos Correntinas (San Martín and Batalla de Salta)—wool, baskets and other crafts

Tours

Tour agencies in Mercedes can set up lodging-excursion packages for Esteros del Iberá and estancias (ranches) in the area. Budget travelers will find it cheaper to organize Esteros outings upon arriving in Carlos Pellegrini.

Zoom Travels (Belgrano 711, Tel: 42-0263 / 1540-4435, E-mail: zoomviajes@ibera.net, URL: www.iberaspirit.com.ar)


Savona Viajes (Martínez 962, Tel: 42-1747, E-mail: savonaviajes@gigared.com, URL: www.empresasavonaviajes.com.ar)



Delicias del Iberá (Rivas 688, Tel: 42-3167, E-mail: deliciasdelibera@yahoo.com.ar, URL: www.hostels.org.ar; also office at bus Terminal)—also books HI hostels in other parts of the country; English spoken


Hotels

Camping Municipal (San Martín and Arroyo Las Garzas)—basic sites (grills, bathhouse), no hot water or security; free

El Portal del Iberá (Beltrán 746, Tel: 42-1554, E-mail: marcialmino@hotmail.com)—dorm $10, private room 1 or 2 persons $29


Delicias del Iberá (Rivas 688, Tel: 42-3167, E-mail: deliciasdelibera@yahoo.com.ar, URL: www.hostels.org.ar)—dorm $12; private room: single $24, double $34; discount for HI members; includes breakfast

Hotel La Recova (Beltrán 1110, Tel: 42-2400, E-mail: larecova@payubre.net)—single $40, double $58; includes breakfast, parking


Restaurants

Resto-Bar Sabor Único (San Martín 1240, Tel: 42-0314 / 1544-1556, E-mail: saborunicorestobar@hotmail.com)

Resto-Bar La Estancia (San Martín, between Chacabuco and Mitre)

Pizza Libre (Pujol and Chacabuco, Tel: 42-1478)

The town has several large supermarkets.



Other neighborhoods in Esteros Del Iberá: Reserva Natural Provincial Del Iberá and Colonia Pellegrini.







By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

28 Jul 2010

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