In this episode, we visit one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world: The Falls of Iguazu. We reconnect with old friends (Leebong!) and make plenty of new ones.
Thursday, June 28th
When we last saw our steady mechanical steed, our spunky spinning hood-ornament, and that one guy who seems to have a fixation with giving a “thumbs up” in photos; we were just leaving song place 62 of 92: Eldorado, Argentina. I’d always thought the location of this place was convenient, as one of the natural marvels of the world lies just up the road: The waterfalls of Iguazu. We had a short ride to our next stop.
I was treated to a preview of the waterfalls with a real deluge of rain.
The red dust gets everywhere down here, apparently even inside of the raindrops. It was a real chore to keep my visor clear, even when there was no other traffic. But it was a short day on the road and the temperatures were warm, so I didn’t mind too much.
The cities nearest the falls are in an area where three countries meet: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The city in Argentina is called Puerto Iguazu. I would be making my home there for a few nights at a place called El Guembe Hostel House. Just $6/night. Annie was trying on a new color by the time we arrived.
I got in a little work, then called it a day.
Friday, June 29th
Sometimes I just need a workday to catch up on things. This was one of those times.
Unfortunately, the hostel’s wifi was really spotty. I worked hard for a solid 9 hours on a post, but still couldn’t get it published. Usually I can get one out in 5-7 hours. My frustration was perhaps magnified by knowing that I had such an amazing spectacle just minutes away.
I did meet some really great people though and at least the views weren’t bad. I guess I always have to find the positive, right? 🙂
Saturday, June 30th
Time to go to the falls. It was about a 25 minute ride to the Park Entrance. The entrance fee for a foreigner was about $22 (cheaper for local) plus $3 for parking.
Warning: Before proceeding please verify that your stockings are well attached to your feet. Though I may not be the best photographer, the spectacle of this place might be enough to knock your socks off. Thank you.
As I was walking down one of the first paths of the day, I made a new friend: Mohammed from London. He is traveling alone as well and we teamed up for the day. He is quite a photographer too, so there are probably more pictures of me on this day than on any other of my trip.
He teaches math at an English school in Kuwait and travels during his summers off. Predictably, we had plenty to talk about.
The area along the falls on the Argentina side of the Iguazu River is full of trails and interesting paths. I won’t explain the location of each photo, put I’ll at least give the general path I was on.
Along the lower trail:
At first you just see the water after it has fallen…
…but views get progressively more dramatic.
(I’ll be doing a number of these little clips to give a better sense of context)
If I was weaving a spider web, I think I’d do it here too:
The views get better and better until you are right up next to the falls.
On the last part of the trail are the Dos Hermanas (two sisters):
Mohammad and I finished this first circuit and took a short break back at the station. Argentina was playing in the World Cup this day and I caught a few minutes of their game versus France. Argentina lost and were eliminated from the competition this day. Thankfully, I didn’t see any locals using the falls as means of saying goodbye to this cruel world.
The upper trail:
Sometimes when you’re having your picture taken so much, you start to feel like a model:
After this trail, Mohammed and I stopped for lunch. It was predictably expensive ($8), but not too bad considering the surroundings. The whole park is really well equipped with lots of food, bathrooms and shops. The only negative thing were the gangs of Coatis.
Yes, I know they look cute, but these ones are waaaay too used to humans. You can tell that people feed them all the time. It is not uncommon for them to bite or scratch a person who has food. The next day, on the Brazilian side, I saw them do this to a young boy with a bag of chips. Neither side seems to have any idea of how to control them. I have a few ideas, but they are probably a little too “American.” 🙂
Ok. On to the last circuit.
The Devil’s Throat Loop:
I saw the train going that went there, but I thought it cost extra (nope). We decided to walk. This trail isn’t really scenic as it just runs alongside the tracks. At the end, there are walkways built out onto the water so you can go see the most violent park of the falls.
In general, I didn’t find either side of the falls to be too overcrowded. Maybe I just came on good days. This part, though, was pretty packed. People were needing an average of 17 takes to get that perfect selfie. (No, I didn’t actually make a spreadsheet for that)
We had done about 6 miles of hiking, so we rode the train back to the station.
It was so great to meet Mohammed. I don’t mind traveling on my own, but sharing an experience like this with someone else is special. I hope our paths will cross again someday.
It was time to shift gears from “tourist mode” to “border crossing mode.” Today I was entering the 16th country of my trip, Brazil. Unless I ship home from Suriname, take a boat ride to Cuba or Texas formally declares its independence; 16 will most likely be the final tally of countries. Brazil is THE END, in a sense.
Leaving Argentina was kind of confusing. I couldn’t find anyone to take my vehicle importation form. I talked to a couple of bus drivers who thought the office was over on the Brazilian side. With that, it was time to bid adieu to Argentina.
When the barriers change from blue/white to green/yellow, you know you are in Brazil.
I don’t think I can fully sum up my time in Argentina in a paragraph. I’ve said so much about it already, that perhaps it is not necessary. Ushuaia, the tip of the continent, may call me back at some point. As I left this expansive country, I had to wonder: When will be my next time setting foot here?
Welp…the answer to that question was about 10 minutes. My interactions with the border officials were my first real conversations in Portugese, the language of Brazil. Though it was very hard to understand them, one of the guys spoke enough Espan-tugese to let me know I had to go back and drop the form off in person. Welcome back to Argentina.
I still had to wonder around for almost 20 minutes until I found someone to take my form. Some of the staff here were very terse and unhelpful. Having now exited the country properly, I went back into Brazil.
I found my Espan-tugese friend again and asked him about getting the paperwork done for my bike. I really liked this guy. He seemed like that one friend who is the most likely to tell an off-color joke, but also the most likely to have your back if things go wrong. He told me that the system was down and that I needed to come back Monday (this was Saturday) to get the importation done. I was a little nervous about having Annie undocumented, but he said “just don’t go to far.” 🙂
My home for the next few nights was Hostel Mandala. It was absolutely fantastic, just $9/night and had a real breakfast.
(picture from the next day)
I had one more significant adventure this day: Trying to get some money. The currency in Brazil is called the Real (pronounced “hey-oww”….no I’m not joking….I’ll write more about Portugese in the next update). Obtaining these was quite a goose chase.
(the game never stops in Brazil)
In hindsight, I think the problem was on my bank’s end. My “travel plan” had expired meaning that they were not approving foreign transactions. All told, I spent over two hours, walked over three miles and tried no fewer than 25 ATMs in my currency quest. Since I was already a little tired from the hikes at the falls and really hungry, I was actually getting a bit frustrated. My phone ended up running out of battery as I was on hold for a representative for the fourth time. Ahhh…these are the glorious reasons why we travel.
Thankfully, I was able to use my credit card (not affiliated with my bank) to get enough food to get me through the night. Yay, I guess.
Sunday, July 1st
I spent a leisurely morning around the hostel. One of the best things about the hostels that are near to tourist hotspots is the diversity of the guests. You meet people from all over the world. This hostel, especially, just seemed to be brimming with great people with whom I connected.
In the afternoon, I headed to the park on the Brazilian side of the falls. There are fewer trails here and half a day is generally enough time to see everything. The parking area is actually a long distance from the actual falls. It is about a 20 minute bus ride to get to the location. Entrance fee plus parking was $22.
Ok…time for me to shut up again. 🙂
I didn’t meet any nice Londoners this time, but I did find a little flying friend:
Generally speaking, the Argentina side is known for its variety of views and number of trails. The Brazilian side is more about grand panoramics.
The facilities around the Devil’s Throat area are really nice. There are lots of different levels at which to take pictures, as well as a walkway out onto the river.
Given her history with Niagara Falls (That post here), I figured Annie would like to see:
Unlike the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara, no one has ever gone over the falls at Iguazu in a barrel. Perhaps that could be a good adventure to follow up this experience. 🙂
There is an elevator up to an observation tower that provides some more great views.
Words really can’t describe it….I hope I’ve told the story through photos to the best of my ability. This place is absolutely a wonder.
As the sun was sinking, I thought I might be able to get some neat view back down the trail again. I hiked back and ended up getting perhaps my favorite picture of the falls:
It was great to stay around until this time. The trail was empty, so I could just walk around singing Jesus songs as loud as I wanted and completely savor the experience. The bus that I took back to the parking area was mostly staff.
A common question is which side of the falls is better? For me, this question is kind of like when your significant other asks you which side of their face is prettier. Don’t ever answer. That question is a trap and is the exact reason why the Fifth Amendment exists.
To fully appreciate the falls, I think it is vital to experience both sides. Argentina gives a greater variety of views and experiences, but Brazil gives a sense of grandeur and context. They are the perfect team.
Monday, July 2nd
Three goals for the day: 1. Get Annie imported. 2. Get some writing done. 3. Watch lots of soccer. Thankfully we had success on all accounts. 🙂
When I returned to the border, my Espan-tugese friend that I had met two days prior greeted me. Upon our first meeting, I had foolishly told him that I was probably going to cheer for Mexico in the Brazil-Mexico World Cup game earlier that day. He let me know that this was going to result in my paperwork ending up in the trashcan, before throwing his head back and laughing heartily.
The guy in the office was efficient and friendly. I had my paperwork in order in just about 30 minutes or so. It felt good to officially be able to have Annie in the country.
Tuesday, July 3rd
I kept finding reasons to stay “one more day” here. Today I had two very good ones. First of all, Sweden was playing. Second of all, my good friend Leebong was coming to town.
My day began with some weird feelings in my stomach. I wasn’t sure if I was just hungry or if something was “off” with my system. I just tried to be a little more careful about what I was eating and drink lots of water.
After watching a Sweden victory, I rode to meet Leebong at a restaurant downtown. Brazil would mark the sixth country in which our paths would cross. Since I haven’t used it in awhile:
He was not alone, accompanied by his new friend from Paraguay, Natalia. She was a very welcome addition to our time together.
In a strange sense, this conversation was kind of like a “final exam” for my Spanish skills. I’ve worked so hard over the last six months to pick up as much as I can just so I can engage in these sorts of connections. As always, it was great to get caught up.
There was just enough space next to Leebong’s signature for Natalie to fit her message on my mirror:
It was absolutely worth sticking around a couple more days to make this meeting.
Leebong even paid for my meal! What a gentleman!
This was a great way to cap my time in the Iguazu area. This place actually lives up to all of the hype that it gets. In terms of natural beauty, there are very few places in the world that can match it. I’m glad I was in the neighborhood.
Keep gushing, everybody!
Realtime update: I’m doing much better now, physically. The rebellion within my digestive system has been mostly quashed. I currently sit in the town of Lençois Paulista, Brasil; in the home of a guy I met in Peru on the train to Machu Picchu. True story. 🙂 I’ll stay one more night then make my way to Sao Paolo.