In the forest’s inner reaches, howler and capuchin monkeys cavort in the canopy, yacaré caiman, or South American alligators, sun themselves on river banks, and no fewer than seven feline species — from the tabby-sized Geoffroy’s cat to the mighty jaguar — hunt silently by night.
In the jungle’s dense foliage, however, the chief difficulty lies in spotting them. Far easier to see are the birds: 550 species, more than in all of Europe.
I had landed at Posadas, the province’s capital, and headed east, paralleling the Paraná alongside trucks laden with the trunks of guatambú, petiribí or camboatá trees — native species named by the Guaraní that have yet to earn names in Spanish or English.
At Jardín America, where the road climbs towards Misiones’ central sierras, the vegetation grew denser, the land’s crumpled folds forming delightful compositions of gully and peak that changed at the turn of a steering wheel. Swallow-tailed kites soared by, their tapered tails trailing elegantly in the thermals. From a vantage point, I looked down at the 200-foot Salto Encantado waterfall before edging along four miles of dirt trail to Tacuapí Lodge.
In 2006, local notary Julio Benitez Chapo erected Tacuapí’s seven cabins on a 128-acre bowl of jungle adjoining Salto Encantado provincial park. He chose his spot well: Two years later, Hungarian television chose its darker recesses to film a reality show.
Julio chuckled as he recalled how star model Éva Horváth had lived in a treehouse, challenging a wrestler, a magazine editor and other minor celebrities to feats of jungle derring-do.
“All the neighbors got something out of the shoot, from hotel bookings to manual labor,” laughed Julio. “Helga, an old German neighbor, even got a hundred pesos for her ox. She was delighted: the contestants were asked to wash it, so the animal even came back clean.”
That night, I settled into one of the lodge’s cozy wooden cabins. It was stuffed with forest oddments: a soap dish carved from a branch; a basin from a trunk. I fell asleep to the cackle and caw of subtropical birds and woke early to the sound of munching. It was nothing more impressive than a squirrel, perched high in a nearby pindó palm, interrupting its morning feed only to screech occasionally at passing kites.
In the end, I was glad of the intrusion: As dawn broke, a parade of puffbirds and parrots, cuckoos and caciques alighted on a nearby branch, each newcomer more colorful and exotic than the last.
After breakfast, Fidel Ramírez, the lodge’s guide, led me down narrow forest trails to show me more of Misiones’ birdlife. Scanning the twigs and rotting trunks, he began to imitate the caburé, a pygmy-owl whose call is thought to attract birds of many species.
“Scientists say the other birds come to mob the caburé and drive him off, but the Guaraní believe the owl has the gift of hypnotism,” Fidel whispered to me. “He seems to mesmerize birds of all sizes.”
I was doubting Fidel’s tactics when a tanager hopped into view, followed seconds later by a swallow-tailed manakin, which began the distinctive dance it performs to attract a mate.
Fidel pointed upward: he’d spotted a real caburé, flicking its tail in indignation at what it thought a territorial threat. Quickly, he changed his whistle and a black-throated trogon, a striking yet shy bird, alighted on a branch 10 feet away. For five minutes, I listened entranced as Fidel exchanged avian chitter-chat with the trogon.