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Iguazu Falls

Written on: Friday March 14th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Author: Julie

Hola!

We finally left Buenos Aires with long good-byes and promises to be back some day. Our departure almost didn't happen as we got stuck in early evening traffic. We could see the bus station far away, but our bags were still in the trunk and it wouldn't have been safe to get out in the middle lane of a 3-lane road. We made it with 15 minutes to spare, found our bus gate out of what seemed like 100s and got comfortable. The bus was the most luxurious we had taken to this point with 180 degree reclining seats and foot rests that would rise up, forming a comfortable bed. There was a service attendant who continuously plied us with a set dinner, snacks and offering us free drinks, including champagne, whiskey and beer. Time passed by quickly as we watched movies and by midnight, what seemed to be the whole bus, was snoring away. The next morning brought us a different view of what we had seen of Argentina till this point, red soil, basic villages, and a scrubby jungle interspersed by fruit fields and the occasional cattle farm. We finally arrived at the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay 18 hours after we left. The last few hours in the morning seemed to drag on as we were excited to be somewhere new, as well as the bus had run out of all liquids including water so everyone was incredibly thirsty.

Disembarking we realised that although we had a list of recommended hostels from friends, we didn't have a map and it wasn't instantly recognizable where they were located. We wandered up and down streets, reading signs and starting to sweat in the sweltering humidity. I had forgotten how hot and draining it could be in the jungle. We finally settled on a hotel with a pool. We collapsed gratefully in our room and turned on the air conditioning, waiting for it to perform its magic by transforming our sweat box of a room into a freezer. We settled down to take a nap, only to wake up 30 minutes later drenched and the air conditioner blowing out hot air. We approached the staff to see if there was something we were doing wrong with the settings but we were informed that it was broken. They would send someone in the next morning to fix it. They didn't have anymore rooms available so we were stuck there. The night did get a bit cooler but sleep was slow in coming that evening.

The next day, we packed up our bags with the anticipation of having to move to another place. They asked us to give them a couple of hours while someone would look over the unit to see if anything could be done. We had wanted to go to the falls today but it was starting to get late in the morning, so we decided to try to find the Brazilian embassy to get our visa processed for our entry over into Brazil in the upcoming couple of days. Following the map and directions in our lonely planet, we wandered up and down the street looking for it but to no avail. There was a police station and governmental office but everything else was private homes. There was no flag pole or sign announcing the embassies location. We approached a few locals, thinking that since the lived there and that it was a fairly small town, they could direct us to it but none knew where it was. It was getting late afternoon so we returned to our hotel to see what the situation was and if we had to move to another hostel. They hadn't been able to fix it; the room was now torn apart with the bed and furniture moved to the other side while a man was in the room trying to get it fixed. Fortunately, someone had checked out that morning and we could have their unit. We were surprised when we were given a large two-story room with loft, 7 beds with a kitchenette and TV, and best of all it was freezing cold in the room. We were quite happy to drop our bags and get settled for the next few days.

The next day, we woke up late, having caught up on our sleep from the previous two nights. It was too late again to head out the falls so we resumed our search for the Brazilian embassy, starting at the same street as the previous day. Lo and behold, at the first house on the street, a sign was out and a flag was waving. It's only open for certain hours per day and that's only when they advertise their presence. We filled in some forms, included some photos, paid a higher fee then if we would have applied in Buenos Aires and promised to return in an hour to pick up our passports. We had waited to apply till now because we had heard horror stories about the Brazilian embassy in BA. Supposedly, it could take between 5 to 10 days, with multiple forms to be filled in asking not just for your personal contact information and the amount of time intended to spend in the country but also bank account statements and signed letters from your employer confirming you were employed. Given that Kevin was unemployed and I had taken a leave from my work, I didn't really want to deal with that hassle just to visit a country. A quick search on the internet confirmed that the embassy at the border near the falls processed passports quickly and efficiently. A quick lunch and wander through the small town later, we returned to the office to collect our passports. As promised, they were ready and now contained a nice new visa allowing us entry for 30 days. Perfect!

The next morning we woke up early. It was time to see the world-famous Iguazu falls, located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paranß and the Argentine province of Misiones. The waterfall system consists of 275 falls along 2.7 kilometres of the Iguazu River. Their name comes from the Guarani words "y" (water) and "űas˙" (big). Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful aborigine named NaipÝ, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobß in a canoe. In rage, the god sliced the river creating the waterfalls, condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. The first European to find the falls was the Spanish Conquistador ┴lvar N˙˝ez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, after whom one of the falls in the Argentine side is named.

The local bus system was well organized and we hopped a bus that would take us to the entrance, for 4 pesos. There was no need to pay more money just to take a special tourist shuttle that charged almost 30 pesos for the same service. At the entrance, we queued behind the long line of tourists that been dropped off by their respective hotel shuttles. The entrance fee was 40 pesos per person which allowed access to the whole site including rides on the mini-train that would save us walking a couple of kilometres to the head of the waterfalls. Reviewing the map, we decided to see the showpiece of the location first: Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat). The fall, a U-shaped 150-metre-wide and 700-metre-long cliff, is the most impressive of all, and marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. Two thirds of the falls are within Argentine territory. We were dropped off at the start of the walkway which spanned a 1-kilometer part of the river. Looking over the side, the river was slow-moving and shallow. We could see turtles sunning themselves on small rocks, small fish glinted in the water and hundreds of butterflies carpeted the walkway. We soon had 2 or three stuck to us, licking our salty skin with their proboscis. Some of them were brown with large eye patterns, other yellow, others white and my favourite had a swirling black and white pattern. They stayed with us for a long time, tickling as they moved around on our arms and hands. Our approach to Garganta did not have us prepared for what we would see. The peaceful river was a cover-up for the raging torrent that suddenly appeared at the end of the walkway, plunging 700-meters below into a frothing cauldron of mist. The viewing platform was perched over the falls, on one of the tiny island areas that separated the falls into three sections. Across we could see the visitor's center on the Brazilian side. We stayed for a while entranced by the disappearing white water and the loud thunder. Looking away from the falls, up the river, everything was serene, with butterflies flitting here and there, exposed basalt rock covered in green plants and flowers. Upon seeing Iguašu, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed "Poor Niagara!" Vastly larger than North America's Niagara Falls, Iguašu is rivalled only by Southern Africa's Victoria Falls which separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. Whilst Iguazu is wider because it is split into about 270 discrete falls and large islands, Victoria is the largest curtain of water in the world, at over a mile wide and over 108 meters in height. The water falling over Iguazu in peak flow has a surface area of about 400,000 square metres whilst Victoria in peak flow has a surface area of over 550,000 square metres. By comparison, Niagara has a surface area of under 183,000 square metres.

We walked back to the train and took it to the next stop where all the lower walking trails began. We spent the next few hours walking in and out of cool jungle coverage, along walkways giving us access to the many waterfalls of various size and shape that cascaded down from the river far above. In the open areas, especially along narrow river flows, large groups of yellow butterflies would fly in rows up and down the water's edge, creating streamers of yellow in the green jungle. Sometimes we were greeted by the South American Coati, a member of the raccoon family. These inquisitive animals had become used to being fed by humans and some were quite bold to approach us in hope of having a snack or two. We had been warned to hold on to our bags as some had figured out how to open zippers and velcro to get access to whatever was inside. It was getting late in the afternoon when we finally made it to the last fall accessible by the walkway. A quick few photos and we started home. It was past 6 PM when we returned via the city bus. The next day we would be leaving Argentina for our final country in South America: Brazil.