That 'rock star' feeling in the Lost World

Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
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Trip End Dec 04, 2008


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Flag of Brazil  , State of Parana,
Friday, November 28, 2008

"What do you mean the tours are only in Spanish?" I said, trying to mask my growing irritation with the guide. I was on the bus from the Puerto Iguazu airport to the hotel on the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. He kept gruffly repeating in Spanish (he insisted he didn't speak 'Ingles') that I was booked on 'Spanish only' tours (solo espanyol) and rattled on about why it's not his fault but the travel agency's - my Spanish was sufficient to understand that much. He then added that if I wanted an English guide, that I would have to pay more. When I booked this tour in BA, I was told the guide would be bilingual in Spanish and English. So since I was the only English-speaking person on the bus, I figured he was trying to make a quick buck. I whipped out my phone and called the travel agent in BA who promptly said that she would look into it. Halfway to the hotel, the guide got a call and I saw him grow pale as the conversation wore on. When I arrived at the hotel's reception, the travel agent was on the line; she apologised for the confusion and assured me that everything had been taken care of. The silly guide walked up to me and said in almost perfect English, "I apologise for not speak good English", so he did speak English after all!

The Iguazu Falls are located in the far northeastern corner of Argentina at the tip of a spit of Argentine territory that's squashed between Brazil and Paraguay. It was interesting to see how the pilot navigated the plane to the Puerto Iguazu airport - in these parts, they're very careful not to venture into each other's airspace. We basically followed the flow of the Parana River to the north, then made a sharp bank to the right (to avoid flying into Paraguay), then another sharp bank to the left (to avoid Brazilian airspace) before descending to the airport. As a result of these confines, planes can only land from and take-off towards a southerly direction. The falls themselves straddle the Argentine-Brazilian borders, with the Iguazu River forming a natural border between the two countries. Most of the falls are on the Argentine side though. My advice to future visitors of the falls: visit both the Brazilian and Argentine sides if possible. The former gives you a stunning panorama of the falls (because from here, you look across to the falls on the Argentine side) whilst the latter allows you to truly experience the falls (i.e. get up real close). It's amazing what the presence of a natural wonder can do to the local economy. Three towns have sprung up in the proximity of the falls: Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, Foz do Iguasu in Brazil and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Each town has its own 'international' airport, all within a radius of 20 kilometers!

Crossing the border into Brazil was no problem, at least, not for those with European passports. Americans have to pay a significant sum (I believe it's more than USD 120) for a Brazilian visa while the rest get to cross for free! I stayed at Hotel Suica, in the suburbs of Foz do Iguasu, on the Brazilian side of the falls. I was given a massive family room with a view of the pool. That evening, I knew I'd made the right choice to stay on the Brazilian side - well, apart from the extra stamp in my passport - as the food was refreshingly different than in Argentina. There was a huge variety of salads (seriously, Argentines should learn to eat more greens!), meats and fruits. Yummy!
The next morning, I was picked up at 8:45 for the tour of the Brazilian side of the falls and was greeted by Veronica, the sweetest, most cheerful guide I've experienced on this trip. The national park wasn't too far away and we were soon in the midst of the (sub) tropical jungle. Once inside the park, we were led down a trail which took us to our first view of the falls. Oh wow, they were stunning! Massive curtains of water plunge down the jungle-clad cliffs, producing a giant cloud of spray that could be seen from miles away. At the foot of the cliffs, gorgeous rainbows formed, seemingly stretching from the edges of the falls and disappearing into the thick jungle canopy. The volume of water that plunged down the cliffs and its sheer force were totally mind-blowing. OMG factor: 9+. I can imagine that the first Western explorers who visited this area must've thought they'd discovered the Lost World. It really felt like being in the Lost World, that's if you can mentally block out the crowds and their incessant chatter and elbows (yes, quite a bit of elbowing to get the best photo!). We continued along the trail and were treated to magnificent vistas of the falls through the openings in the trees. Halfway, as I passed a large group of elderly Brazilian ladies and their husbands, someone grabbed my arm. I turned around and saw this beautifully coiffurred lady flash me a brilliant, gold-gilded smile. I had no idea who she was but she started chatting away in Portuguese. She hung on to my hand and let her other hand glide up and down my arm. She pulled me along and soon I was surrounded by a group of terribly excited 70-something ladies who wanted to have a snapshot of me. I'm serious, they formed a queue and their husbands were instructed to take the pictures while they happily posed with me! I was hugged, caressed(!!) and kissed. That was probably the most bizarre experience I've had on this trip. I'm not quite sure why they singled me out but I did feel like a rock star for a full ten minutes (albeit one with a 70-plusser fan base)! :-) The trail ended at the highlight of the Brazilian side: the boardwalk along the falls to the edge of a cliff where you could experience the enormous roar and the spray of these mighty falls as they hurtle over the edge to the murky Iguazu River below. Needless to say, everyone was soaked by the huge clouds of spray. Fantastic stuff. Later that afternoon, we were taken to a restaurant for lunch where there was a huge grill. You could choose all sorts of meats and different parts of the cow. I'm not sure which parts of the cow I asked for but I stayed clear of the one part I knew: the bull's testicles! I was quick to decide on that one: uh, uh, absolutely not going there!
The next day, the bus picked me up for a full-day tour of the Argentine side of the falls. A cheery Veronica greeted me with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. The border crossing back into Argentina went smoothly and we were then taken for a short tour of Puerto Iguazu, a pleasant town with leafy streets and charming houses. We made a brief stop at the three-country point, at the intersection of the Iguazu and Parana rivers. Brazil and Argentina face each other across the Iguazu River while Paraguay face both countries from the other side of the Parana River. We then continued southwards to the Iguazu National Park. It was scorching when we arrived there; 30-odd degrees and 80% humidity. After getting the tickets sorted (foreigners pay USD 20 while locals pay a third of that!), we were ushered into the park and taken down the Green Trail. This trail, through secondary forest was quite uninteresting, but it led to the entrance of the Upper and Lower Trails. The Upper Trail is a series of boardwalks that takes you above the falls while the Lower Trail takes you to the feet of the falls. We followed the Lower Trail past several stunning waterfalls, like the Two Sisters and the Bossetti Fall. The latter was awesome! The trail led to a platform that was almost directly under the falls. The roar of the falls was awesome. I went right to the edge of the platform and had a fantastic shower to shed off the searing heat. Wonderful! We then wound our way back, stopping briefly to spot a coati (cute, racoon-like creatures) and then headed for lunch. After lunch, we walked along the Upper Trail which took us across the rivers (above the falls) and close to the edges of the cliffs. The views of the falls were truly breathtaking. At the end of the trail, we boarded a little kiddie train (ummm, not my favourite form of transport) which took us to the highlight on the Argentine side: the boardwalk that leads to the edge of the massive Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) falls. The boardwalk took us across the delta of the Iguazu River. Along the way, we spotted many colourful birds - the birdlife here is stunning: colourful macaws, toucans, egrets, etc... From afar, we could see the giant cloud created by the Garganta del Diablo. As we approached the falls, the view of the broad river disappearing into the misty abyss was amazing. The boardwalk led right to the edge of the falls. The experience of the deafening roar, the huge sprays of water and the seemingly bottomless abyss below was simply astounding. OMG factor: 10+. We stayed there for quite a while, making a sport of pulling out our cameras to take pictures when it was clear and shoving the cameras back into our bags when another big cloud of spray came our way. I was completely drenched and I loved it!

I left Puerto Iguazu the following day. The 1.5 hour flight back to BA was uneventful but upon arrival in BA, I first had to wait more than an hour to get a taxi from the airport, then got stuck in traffic for another hour plus - there were several demonstrations in the city and some major roads had been barricaded. On top of that, BA was experiencing its hottest day in 50 years - the temperature had gone past 40 degrees! On our way, we passed the scene of a traffic accident involving a truck, a van and a pedestrian (I think). It wasn't pretty. There was one dead. The sight of that lifeless body, left uncovered to bake on the road was abominable. I said a little prayer as we passed.


Anyway, I'll be in BA for another six nights and that will then be the end of my world trip :-( Oh well, all good things must come to an end, I guess.

Till my next (and final) blog!


Cheers,
Keith
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