Fire pierces night’s veil, barely lit by light from stars that can be appreciated in ways the city never could. The forest is pitch black as soon as sundown. Delving in it and in the night is an adventure, but the resourceful guides string along and provide safety to the tourist that’s eager for the experience. Ticueí (chopped meat stew) is cooked oldstyle at the bonfire, using just the meat’s fat. Next to it, a generous reviro (shattered fried dough made with wheat or corn flour) awaits, sprayed with a mate cocido made as the Guaraní did: burning the sugar and the yerba with a firebrand, which mutates into an intense sweet aroma that mixes in with the aromas of Misiones’ hills.
The forest is an exclusive protagonist that surrounds everything. The nearest populated place is 60 Km away. To the left, the Yaboty creek softly profiles its natural reserve namesake. To the right, State Park Moconá can be heard in the distance amidst the silence of Virgin Lodge’s night, one of the few establishments inside of Misiones’ green lung, one that offers elegant comfort for the most demanding tourist, as long as they are willing to live the Forest Experience.
That’s what it’s about. About the tourist being able to take in Misiones’ forest like in no other place. Being inside the reserve, a few kilometers from the Moconá Falls, you will be in the middle of an immense green cloak of half a million hectares to which we can add the 17.500 hectares of state park Do Turvo on the other side of the Uruguay river, the last slice of Atlantic shrubs of the Rio Grande do Sul state. All of this is yaguareté territory that often times gifts a print to photographers, but usually lets itself be heard by night when it goes out in search for a meal that, as the forest, is plentiful: venison, tapirs, wild hogs and dorados in the Uruguay.
The Virgin Lodge has fourteen rooms in the middle of the forest, all of which overlook Yaboty creek. It’s four hours away from Posadas, on the coastal route 2 that reaches up to the feet of Moconá Falls, and it’s 350 paved Km away from Misiones’ two main airports. It’s also 60 km from El Soberbio and even less from San Pedro.
Amongst the lodge’s proposals you can find zip lining just 50 meters over Black Sheep creek, kayaking on Yaboty -a recommended experience to someone that seeks to take in nature’s sounds-, tubing in the stream -riding on donut shaped tubes- and abseiling in Salto Horacio.
Juan Manuel Zorraquin, Virgin Lodge’s CEO -also owner of Posadas Bemberg Port, in Port Freedom- understands that the forest experience is “an opportunity to take advantage of something that contains all of Misiones’ touristic development”.
“Jesuit Missions, Moconá Falls, Iguazú Falls, it’s all within the natural wonder. Highlighting the forest can have a very interesting potential for the (touristic) activity and a different marketing strategy”, explains the specialist.
Zorraquin considered that Misiones has to develop routes that “spill” locally to several main towns in the state and in doing so one has to be able to appreciate different sceneries or natural milestones. “That is what touristic development and presence is”, he suggests.
“Reactivating the forest touristic route can be a good strategy, but there has to be content. It’s not just the forest, but an opportunity for a circuitry that spans the entire state. It’s about connecting through the routes the different impressive landscapes. Choosing the forest as one of Argentina’s seven natural wonders implies a new scenery that we have to know how to use”.
The touristic businessman recommends visiting the hotels and lodges of the area that proffer living the forest experience. Particularly at the Virgin Lodge the “Moconá Experience” has to do with feeling the forest, with services aimed at different activities and tourist types.
“Every activity generates jobs; we see it as fundamental for local development. At the lodge we hire and train local labor”, he points in reference to the fourteen young workers that serve at the lodge.
For the State, taking advantage of the forest as a natural wonder is a new challenge, that’s why it will start to be part of advertising as trademark, next to the (Iguazú) Falls. “Tourism is going through a stage of experiences, of sensoriality, of taking in the deep silence of the forest. And Misiones stands on a grid of enormous relevance. The forest stops being a natural resource to transform into the face of an offer, as a touristic attraction in itself”, explains the undersecretary of ecotourism, Fabio Zapelli.
“Iguazú Falls are part of the forest. The forest environment has world relevance and now it’s our queen, being promoted through its biodiversity, through its sheer number of species, flora and fauna, it’s a lifegiver and source of oxygen. It’s an ideal place to cultivate oneself spiritually, to live outside of everyday life”, adds the government worker.
Zapelli ups the ante and ascertains that in order to take full advantage of the forest as one of Argentina’s seven natural wonders, Misiones has to keep creating protected areas. “We can join Moconá Park with Emerald Park -a nearby reservoir that consists of 31.569 hectares, also in San Pedro- and stablish a co-management, either through speaking with the land owners or through expropriation. But generating a great biological corridor is necessary”, he insists.
The woods are, by the way, very rich inside of this green redoubt that on the whole is bigger than Iguazú National Park. The yaguaretés know every inch of the forest, same as the guaraní people who live in it as they did 500 years ago. The flamboyant toucan flies fast amongst the trees, seldom letting itself be seen as a colorful example of the almost intact biodiversity.
PH: Daniel Pérez, El Soberbio.