Iguaçu Falls: An Incredible Wonder of the World

The day after our long overnight bus trip was gorgeous: possibly the hottest day of our trip so far, although I never actually saw what the temperature was. Adam and I walked through town and down to the river so that we could get our first glimpse of Brazil (everything on the other side of the water). It was fairly uneventful, we just snapped a photo and then trudged our way back up a steep hill in the scalding heat, but, we were excited at the prospect of having a 3rd country on our list. Our hostel had a really nice pool with hammocks and lawn chairs around it, so we took it easy for the rest of the evening.

The next morning we were pumped up for the falls! I woke up, showered (carefully, since it appears ALL the showers this far north are suicide showers) and headed outside to breakfast… As I got outside, I realized it was not just raining, but pouring down in a torrential monsoon only possible in tropical rainforests. Thunder boomed and the heavy-duty waterspouts on our building were having trouble holding in all the rain. 
However, the weather was not about to deter either of us from enjoying this wonder of the world, so we grabbed our raincoats and headed for the bus stop!

As we arrived at the falls, the rain calmed down a bit. We were still soaked within minutes, but the rain was warm and it wasn’t very foggy, so pictures were not a problem.
 I wish I could describe the falls and surrounding area properly, but I suppose wonders of the world are called that simply because they are too great for words: and Iguaçu Falls is precisely that. 
 On the Argentinean side of the falls, there are several waking trails (each around a km in length) that lead to different parts of the falls. We started on the Superior Trail, and found our first view of the falls to be directly on top of them! We stood above some of the smaller falls, and looked towards San Martin Island (a small island at the foot of the falls that we explored later in the day) and were totally taken aback. Both of us at the same time thought “Jurassic Park”. The place looked exactly like some giant T-Rex should pop out of the thick jungle and terrorize both the people and the boats around the base of the falls. Of course, to our relief, this didn’t happen, but it gives you an impression of what we were overlooking. Another thing we were surprised about, was how GREEN the falls were. The water was still a sparkling white, but green grasses and exotic plants clung to the rocks of the falls, making an even more beautiful panorama.

We continued through all the other trails (and San Martin Island) for the rest of the afternoon. I think we managed to see the falls from every angle possible by the end of the day. It was absolutely mind-blowing how much water rushed over the rocks and down into the river. Iguaçu Falls is the largest waterfall in the world in terms of water volume. There are a total of 275 waterfalls and each one bigger than the next!

For our last stop, we took the train up to the “Gargantua del Diablo” or “The Devil’s Throat”. This waterfall was by far the most impressive. It is one giant, semicircular waterfall that is absolutely unbelievable. We stood right on top, in the deafening roar, and looked down over the edge. From the top, you can’t even see where the water ends, due to the amount of steam and spray it gives off when it hits the river below.

The day at Iguaçu was epic to say the least. We managed to stand on top of the falls, look up from the bottom and even take a boat ride right through them (Which soaked us to the core completely as our boat crashed through the spray and right under the rushing water). In the end the weather was refreshing, and it made for a quiet day at the park: no lines, perfect views! 
The next day, the sun was up and we headed over to Brazil. We checked in at a hostel and headed back to the falls to see them from the Brazilian side! The Brazilian side was much less interactive than the Argentinean side. There were no path to walk through the falls, and it was impossible to get up close and personal; however, it did offer amazing chances for photos from a wider perspective. The weather was perfect and the falls were just as beautiful! It is definitely a two day event and a must see wonder from both countries. Unfortunately, the only way to really understand how amazing the falls are, is to make it down yourself. Because no amount of photos or words compare…

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Rosario: River Life at its Best!

We ended up in Rosario for the sole reason that it was “in the right direction”.  A city 4 hours North of Buenos Aires, Rosario was a great way to split the long haul up to Iguazu.  Maybe it was because I had absolutely zero expectations, but I actually really enjoyed this place! It had the perfect amount of “big city” to keep things interesting, but lacked the overwhelming feel that larger cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo have. To me, Rosario is the most “livable” city I’ve visited in South America yet.

My favourite thing about Rosario is the nightlife on the river. The whole city stretches along the big Rio Parana, and, while the downtown core remains practically empty on a Friday night, the river swarms with thousands of people! 
The first section of the river we waked through was upscale restaurants. At 11:30pmthese places are hitting prime time for dinner and drinks. Large outdoor areas are set up with tablecloth-covered plastic patio furniture so that groups can enjoy the still stifling temperatures with a cooler river breeze.  As we continued along we discovered the BBQ pit. Far below the walkway – which is several meters above the river level – are row upon row of picnic tables (all completely full with families, friends and good food). There are hundreds of BBQ pits set up along one wall for people to grill up their own food and have a meat cook-off! People brought boom boxes to blast tunes and everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening. Even further along we reached some stairs that brought our path down to water level. Couples lined the giant staircase, hiding in shadows, embracing one another and watching over the happenings below. At the bottom of the steps there was even more to do! Giant, graffiti-filled skate parks were packed with young kids trying out new tricks and showing off to their friends. Families gathered on blankets or lawn chairs on the grassy fields and caught up on their week. Everyone from young babies to grandparents were awake well into the morning, enjoying the lively river-life.  Many people fished off the edge of the walkway (on clearly marked no fishing zones) and EVERYONE shared mate with each other.

Even though I’ve been getting used to the late dinners, the mid-day siestas and having NOTHING open on Sundays, I’m still amazed by the late social aspects of South America. I can’t think of one place in Canada where thousands of families, young and old, friends and lovers will gather around EVERY night and socialize until well after midnight. And although this is still so foreign, I actually am really enjoying it!

We ended up spending 3 days in Rosario altogether. The first evening we went down to the water and joined in with the local nightlife. On the second day we had a “historic” day. I was a little disappointed in seeing Che Guevara’s birthplace. It was one of the top things to do on my list in Rosario, and I couldn’t believe all they had was a red sign outside the building he was born in that read “La casa natal de “Che” Guevara”. The building has now been turned into a bank. No museum, no plaque with something historic written on it… just a street sign.

The creator of the Argentinean flag, also from Rosario, was a completely different story. He had a huge 2 block squared monument for him! Giant columns with a huge, eternally burning, cauldron stood in front of a marble courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard was a massive building with larger than life statues of angels and warrior motifs along the walls. For 75cents you could take an elevator up the 20-story building and get a great view of the city and surrounding river. Worth it for photos for sure!

Our third day was a beach day, the temperature finally cooled to a MUCH more comfortable 33 degrees and was overcast (which tricked me into burning again, even with loads of sunscreen on). It was a perfect way to spend the day after a little too much beer, vino, cards and dancing the night before; also, it was a relaxing way to spend Nikki’s last day with us (so sad!). 
We took it easy that night to be up early for the bus this morning.

Adam and I had no clue this morning where we would be sleeping tonight. We figured we’d just head to the bus station and look for another city north of here. When we found out at 10:30 this morning that the next bus headed in our direction was at 4:45pm we were slightly deterred. We had hoped to spend the night somewhere near Posadas, but to no avail! So we found a bus at 2:30 to Iguazu Falls and picked that one.  We then spent a few hours in the air conditioned McDonald’s across the street, played a few games of our 4-month long crib competition (Loser buys full steak dinner in Buenos Aires at La Cabrera on our last night) and then hopped on the bus… for EIGHTTEEN HOURS!! Looks like “where I’ll be spending the night” is in this chair, with a baby behind me, and the worst movie choices in the history of the world. On the upside, we have been fed dinner, which was a total bonus! Unfortunately, It was a strange mix of what I think was a chicken breast with lemon (Nikki will get a kick out of this – “when you’re really craving a sandwich, get a piece of chicken with lemon”) and a weird slice of a wrap with cheese and ham.  Maybe it was an olive: something salty anyways. Then there was a stale bun with a slice of ham stuck to it, but the ham tasted like it was doused with sugar. Not sure why. There was also another rock hard bun, and a strange cookie that was dipped in yogurt? White chocolate? Not sure, nothing had any flavor in it. Adam swears the cookie was the best part, but I took one bite then passed it over. To compare, I would eat airplane food everyday of my life rather than look at that meal one more time. Needless to say, I’ve called dibs on the bathroom first when we get food poisoning, so Adam’s shit out of luck on that front.
  Anyways, I’ve now been on the bus for a little over 8.5 hours and I really think my years sitting in a car, working at BC Ferries, has prepared me well for South American bus rides! Unfortunately, sleeping on moving vehicles is NOT my forte, so Adam has promised to drug me up with sleeping pills so I can function tomorrow when we are dropped off in Iguazu at 9am.  These falls better be all their cracked up to be…
Wish me luck!

(As a side note, the bus took 20 hours, but we arrived safely!)

Buenos Aires: When in Doubt, A Bottle of Vino

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Well, I finally have friends! Adam and Nikki have successfully joined me here in Buenos Aires and we’ve had numerous cultural experiences: some successful, others not so much.  
Adam and I explored the gorgeous Teatro Colon and the cementerio where Eva “Evita” Peron and Jim Morrison were buried. We walked around the city, stopping for ice-cream at the famous Freddo cafe, and then stopped along the river for happy hour and shared a bottle of Argentinean Malbec. The wine here is so amazing that our new motto is “when in doubt, a bottle of vino;” and so, whenever we find ourselves exhausted from walking, we stop at the closest cafe and expand on our newly founded wine log.

The next day we toured again; we saw some beautiful churches, visited the presidential palace and explored the San Telmo district – by far my favourite in Buenos Aires! It is filled with quaint little cafes, cobblestone streets and European style architecture! I could stay there all day, just sipping on coffee in one of the plazas!  We carried on from there to this giant park on the other side of town.  We figured, if we crossed the whole park (5-ish km) then we would have our first taste of South American OCEAN! I’m so excited about this! So we trekked through the park, which to me felt strangely like a slightly greener African safari than a park in the middle of a metropolitan city, and made it to the first beach of the trip! 
Definitely NOT what I expected. Giant dead fish lined the tide line, the place reeked of decay, and the water was a sludgy brownish colour. There were a few people hanging around, but NO ONE was interested in touching the water. Naturally, I felt the need to put my foot in the ocean, but I could possibly have some strange disease because of it. I’ll keep u posted 🙂

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After our failed ocean attempt, and a 5km walk back to the city, we stopped at a mate bar for some traditional Paraguayan tea.  The locals here drink mate like a fat kid eats cake; it’s EVERYWHERE.  However, when we ordered the tea, instead of each getting a cup, we were given: a 1/4kg of loose tea, a thermos of hot water, a pitcher of cool water, a spoon, several packets of sugar, some biscuits and one cup with a cool straw to share. Needless to say, we were slightly confused at how to put everything together.   So we mixed a spoonful of the tealeaves in the cup, added the hot water, used the straw to stir and began drinking. Minutes later the waitress came over and started laughing at us. Clearly we weren’t doing this right.  She poured out our sad mixture and did it for us: half a packet of sugar at the bottom, fill the cup half full with the tea leaves, add the other half of the sugar, fill the rest of the cup with tea to the brim, add hot water, enjoy through straw.  At first it was super bitter and very strong. The caffeine went straight to my head within minutes and I was unsure whether I wanted more. After a bit, however, we both grew very accustom to the taste and we ended up sitting for a couple hours sipping at the tea and enjoying the patio!

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After the tea we figured we would go back to the hostel and wait for Nikki. But what to do while we wait? When in doubt, a bottle of vino! Nikki arrived fairly soon after we got to the hostel, so the three of us sat out on the second story terrace and sipped on wine and caught up. After that, it was dinner (it being 11pm, and that being the acceptable hour for south Americans to eat dinner). So we went out to a local milonga bar to have pizza and watch locals tango dance late into the night (over another bottle of wine of course). The tango is SUCH a beautiful and sexy dance to watch! Definitely another bucket list crossed off my life’s to-do list.  “Tango show at a local milonga in Argentina sipping wine with good friends” – Check!

La Bombonera!

The Boca district, on the west side of Buenos Aires, is home to the famous Bombonera (chocolate box). La Bombonera is the home stadium for the world-renowned Boca Junior Football team (soccer for the confused North Americans out there) and is home to HUGE names like Diego Maradona – who played with the team throughout his career and who is arguably one of the greatest football players of all time. 

 Two days ago, I had the pleasure of touring the Bombonera stadium and was amazed by the feel of the place.

The blocks surrounding the stadium are fully dedicated to the team.  Bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, all painted in the infamous blue and gold colours, sport flags and signs and give the neighborhood an exciting, but focused, atmosphere.  Even without a game on this month, you can feel the craziness; broken beer bottles line the sidewalks for blocks, and with the small, windy streets you can see how a crowd would be pushed through the area.

Inside, the stadium is tiny. At first I was shocked by how intimate it all was. Don’t get me wrong, the place still holds 50 000 fans, but I guarantee safety regulations in Canada would half that number. The fans are divided, not by priced sections, but instead, by how crazy they like to party. Any actual seat in the stadium is considered “preferred seating”. Because the field only meets minimum size requirements, every seat has pretty much the same view. So fans that prefer to sit and enjoy the game quietly are placed in the seats along the length of the field; whereas, the fans that want to riot while watching the game are placed behind the goal, on the second level, next to a giant painted number “12”. These fans are considered the 12th player of the game. They will literally involve themselves within every call, every kick, and every move a player makes on the field. They will shout obscenities, call out to their teammates and personally attack a referee for making a bad call by shouting about his mother or his sister!

The lower level of the arena offers a standing room only section: one on each end of the field. Each space was apparently meant for 2000 fans (although I can’t imagine how). Turns out, the areas each fit 5000 standing fans: 2 1/2 TIMES the original capacity. No wonder people are trampled to death when riots break out!  Of the 50 000 fans, only 3000 seats are allotted for the opposition. They have to sit on the top floor, and are denied any and all luxuries; they enter from a separate door; they have no shade, no hot water nor any of the amenities granted to the home team fans. Their section is surrounded by giant walls of glass, topped with barbed wire and chain-linked fence to separate the two groups. The entire debacle is absolutely insane.  
Just standing within the stadium walls one can imagine how moving, and passionate, and out of control the big games against Boca’s arch enemy River would be. The stadium is clearly Argentina’s pride; that much is evident in every detail put into the stadium (and the museum that sits in the lobby).  
I am definitely lucky to have stood in the stands where so many fans have cheered for Boca, and I am hoping so much we get to catch a game there in May on our way back through Buenos Aires!

Arriving in Buenos Aires: Not So Bueno After All

I successfully made it on the plane to Chicago, and I found myself sitting there, thinking “What in the world am I going to do in Buenos Aires for 4 days?” I’d spent so much time getting organized for Brazil, figuring out what major cities I should visit, Carnaval reservations, etc, that I actually have no idea what the capital of Argentina has to offer. I figured I wouldn’t worry much about it on the plane; there was really nothing I could do until I got there. So I picked up my in-flight magazine, flipped it open, and read “Three Perfect Days in Buenos Aires,” a 4-page article, detailing step by step, what to do in the city if you only have 3 days: right down to the last cafe and ice cream stop! 
Just goes to show I’ve still got lucky traveler’s syndrome even without my dearest Caitlin by my side! *Knock on wood*

Okay… The knocking on wood didn’t work. It has been almost a full day since I was joyfully on the plane to Chicago and thanking my stars that I’ve still got luck on my side. 

My luck continued for a little while, I must admit. I got to Chicago without a hitch: had a perfect view of the city skyline with a sunset backdrop! I even arrived at the airport a FULL 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and easily found my gate across O’Hare’s oversized airport. A minor glitch in the system meant we had to be moved to another flight to DC, but that left me with, not only a whole row to myself, but the entire back half of the plane! 
Once again, I arrived 10 minutes early in Washington, caught my connecting flight with practically no wait time, and set out towards Buenos Aires.

I didn’t sleep a wink on the entire 11-hour flight. Nor did I on the previous 8 hours of flights and connections. By the end of the 19-hour journey I just wanted to go to crawl into bed. My eyes were burning from lack of sleep and recycled air; not to mention, I was at that beyond-tired stage that leaves u feeling physically ill. When we landed in Buenos Aires safe and sound, I thought, “At least I’m only tired; overall, I think I’ve done pretty well on my own. I’m so glad it’s all over and nothing horrendous happened”

That’s when everything went horribly wrong.

..

The plane landed at 9:30am; however, we were left stranded on the tarmac for some unknown reason. So we sat… and we sat. People were itching to get off the plane after such a long flight, and I thought I was going to be sick from the heat and exhaustion. At 10:10, 40 minutes after landing, they allowed us to begin unloading, and only then did they inform us what the problem was. Apparently, the ENTIRE Buenos Aires airport was malfunctioning and there was zero electricity! Not to worry, we were told, the immigration and customs offices were moving “just a little slower”. 

So we all walk off the plane into a dark airport. Luckily it was morning and some sunlight could come in, but, as soon as we shuffled downstairs to immigration, only a couple small overhead lights, from a backup generator, lit the path. It was 33 degrees outside, but with all the bodies and no AIRCONDITIONING, it was many degrees hotter in line. The escalators and elevators were out of service and flight crews had to try to carry people in wheelchairs down the large flight of stairs. Soon, more planes began unloading from other berths. This caused a rush as people from all directions started pushing their way haphazardly to the front (The “front” being the top of the broken escalators where guards stood to prevent people from going further). After about a half hour I pushed my exhausted body to the front of the line and made it down the escalators. I was lucky. The Aussie guy next to me had been there for 3 hours and had missed his connecting flight in the next terminal over. 

 At the bottom of the stairs, we had to wait in a line to pay for our visas on arrival. This process was excruciatingly slow considering all the computers were down. From there, I was pushed into another 2-hour line up, to make it through what I assumed was customs. We waited in a long hallway, in the dark, all squished together in the scorching heat of the EZE airport. My line, which was all foreigners from Canada, the USA and Australia, was pretty tame. Not much you can really do I guess! The Argentinean line, however, was in an outrage! Everyone was pushing, shoving, and shouting louder than the person next to them. It was chaos (and their line was twice as long)! After finally collecting my backpack (thank God it was there), I turned the corner towards the exit; there, I was faced with 3, GIANT lines for customs. You have got to be kidding me! 
Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it appeared. Maybe 10 minutes and I was through the real exit. At this point, I have been on the ground for over 3 1/2 hours.

Hours awake: 24.

The rest of my dilemmas could have been avoided by three simple things: planning ahead, listening to my mother, and my following my experienced traveler’s voice. Unfortunately, I decided I was either too busy or too lazy to make it to the money exchange in Vancouver and get Pesos at a better rate. As well, I was too focused on booking flights and hostels that I didn’t really think about HOW to get anywhere. On top of that, I knew Adam would have my back when it came to a guidebook, so who really needs one in the first 4 days of the trip, right? 
So I walk out of the airport, into freedom, with absolutely ZERO Argentinean pesos. I have $11 American, 15 Brazilian Reais (thank you Cathy) and about $15 Canadian dollars (thank you mom). As for directions to the hostel, I have AN ADDRESS! That is all. No district, area, bus route, taxi cost, approximate distance from airport by car, nothing. 

But this is not an issue, because I know that I can go to the currency exchange or the ATM at the airport and grab some cash. Then I can flick on my iPod, connect to the free wireless Internet the EZE airport has so kindly offered, look up hostel directions, and then be on my way! Only problem: You need electricity for ALL of these things. All the staff at the currency exchanges were just hanging around with nothing to do. Computers were down; Zero exchanges were being made in any currency. ATMs: completely turned off without power. Wifi? Haha, forget about it! 
I don’t even know what the exchange rate is remotely CLOSE to! I thought of even finding an American who would switch me a dollar for some Pesos, but I had NO clue what I’d be getting.

So I go to the information desk and tell them my dilemma. Will the bus take Reais or Dollars? Can you give me a terrible exchange rate just so that I can get on a bus and get the Hell out of here? His response: “Hahaha! You’re fucked!” …Thanks buddy. 

So I’m sent to another terminal to check there. No luck. So I walk to Terminal C: nothing. Then, BEYOND Terminal C I see a bank, and it’s got power! Success! However… There is a line longer than rides at Disney land and by the time I wait five minutes, the whole bank is out of money. Is this really happening? 
 Then I think my luck is changing when some guy tells my there’s one exchange place open at the back of Terminal B. When I find it, I ask to change in the 10 American dollars I have and the attendant agrees! I’m ecstatic. I blabber on about how thankful I am, because I’ve been wandering through terminals forever now, when his computer shuts down too and tells me I’ll have to come back later. What! When? “I don’t know, an hour, maybe two, it’s hard to tell”. Jerk! Finally, I find this tiny coffee shop in the back of Terminal C that is using an old school cash register and has a chalkboard sign with the exchange rates of US Dollars, Euros and Reais. The girl behind the counter looks bored, now that the whole airport has essentially shut down, so I go talk to her. She speaks absolutely zero English, so I ask her in my best Spanish if I could buy a bottle of water and pay with American money. She says yes, but the change will have to be in Pesos… YES!!!!! 
I get some change, run out to the bus stop JUST as my number 8 bus arrives. How far is it to the center of town? I asked some guy in the airport earlier, “40 minutes, give or take, depending on traffic”. Not bad. AN HOUR AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later all I want to do in life is get off the goddamn bus! The map I grabbed at the airport is all gibberish to me, the streets all look the same, and the bus is so hot and crowded I think I’m about to die. Ironically, however, the first song that plays on my Ipod is Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar”. I’m so out of it, I find this hilarious and literally laugh out loud on the bus! (Thanks for the song suggestion Adam. Who knew it would be so appropriate!)

Hours awake: 28.5

I met some Japanese girl on the bus who made me feel slightly better about my predicament. She has been traveling for a year and a half now. By herself, she managed to bus from Bangkok to Turkey in an epic 10-month journey. From there, she made her way down through Africa and into Cape Town, South Africa: another 6 months by bus. She then flew to Morocco, made her way by boat to Italy, and hung out in Naples for a little while. Three weeks ago, two men ran up behind her, slashed her backpack off her back with a machete, and stole all her worldly belongings: clothing, toiletries, laptop, diary and photos! 
 As much as I can complain about electricity, things could have been a lot worse.

Hours awake as I’m writing this: 32.

Anyways, I’m surprised I’ve written out so much after such little sleep. I’ve now been awake for 32 hours and haven’t eaten in 12 (I’m on a roll!). So I’m off to find some food 🙂

To conclude: after a fantastic All-You-Can-Eat-Meat BBQ and a bottle of wine with my roommate Connor, I managed to get some shut-eye after an epic 40-hour day. As for the Japanese girl: back at the hostel, her new friends pulled together to donate as much as they could to her; hand-me-down clothes, a sleeping bag, a new backpack, the whole works. She then flew to Buenos Aires and has a further 7 months of traveling to go. Down through Patagonia, and then busing back up through South and Central America to San Francisco (Wow).