Monday, June 15, 2009

Iguazu Disney Falls

Prelude: Because of the swine flu, Mike and I were able to take a vacation and we decided to head north to the Iguazu Falls-to dengue fever territory. I had heard that it’s a must see and since they are the second biggest falls in the world and since we live only about 20 hours away, we said why not.

Traveling to Waterfall Disneyland

We got our tickets for Thursday night so we could sleep most of the night before waking up in Puerto Iguazu. We got fed chicken and veggies, meat and cheese, and tea and whiskey. I can’t stress enough how great the long distance buses are here.

When we arrived in Puerto Iguazu we asked a man in the bus terminal where the campground
was close to town. He asked if we wanted Camping Americana and we said yes not having a clue what Americana meant. We went to the local bus stop and waited to catch a bus up the road. The driver told us where to get off and we came upon a very developed well lit campground that had a pool, restaurant, snack bar, fancy bathrooms, and cabanas. There was nothing rustic about it, including the high price. We kindly asked where the REAL campground was. They pointed us up the road and we came upon a more natural looking campground that was more of what we envisioned. Unfortunately, there is no camping in the Iguazu national park so the best we could do was stay close to town. We were the only campers so we had our pick of camping spots. We walked around the campground and found an avocado tree. I was elated and so I scurried around like a hungry little squirrel collecting them for future meals.

Puerto Iguazu is a town on the Brazilian and Paraguayan border. Part of the area is jungle and thats why town had a very tropical feel-the smells, the palm trees, the humid warmth. All the roads were made of a red clay that got on everything and must’ve been good to build with but not to get on your hands and clothes. All the trees were fruiting and had humoungus leaves. In our small campsite there were fig, orange, papaya, and avocado trees. It felt like Costa Rica. Plus it was so warm unlike frigid Buenos Aires.

After we arrived, we hung around the campsite setting up camp and catching up on sleep from the relaxing but not totally comfortable bus ride. After a while, we walked into town and walked along the very touristy streets. We looked in some shops and found that they sell pets in jars in Iguazu!

Also, we heard lots of Portuguese because the majority of travelers there were from Brazil. It was fun to listen and try to imitate them although we weren’t very good. Mike likened Portuguese to speaking like you're a deaf-mute; this horrible yet hilarious comparison entertaine
d us the rest of the weekend! Then we discovered this hot spot where there were stands selling olives, cheeses, meats, and all kinds of yummys. We sampled a bunch of delicious olives in various oils and stuffed with all kinds of good things. Then we saw people sitting and eating small platters of meat, cheese, olives, and wine or beer.

We saw one particular hot spot and tried to sit where everyone else was but ended up at a table next to the happening spot. It had much less charm and no other clients. Plus the waitress didn’t speak Spanish very well and got our order wrong. We stuck with her out of pity but watched all the other tables across from us enjoying their meals and chatting away in Portuguese. It was like we were exiled from the cool kids table from Brazil to the nerds in Paraguay. So sad! After our dinner/snack we walked back and Mike got some cheap ice cream at a cute shop. We headed to bed early so we could get up and head to the falls because the busloads of jubilados and Americans.

Saturday-Hitting up the Falls:
We got up early and Mike started a fire in our parrilla (grill made out of a half barrel) to make hot tea and granola. After about an hour we had eaten and gotten ready. We headed to the bus stop and a very full bus
rolled up. “Oh no” we thought, “Damn, other people are heading to the Falls at the same time we are. Its going to be crowded!” And yes it was. We heard lots of loud Americans all around us. We tried and keep our mouths shut not to add to the raucousness.

We arrived at Iguazu National Park and unloaded with the rest of the tourists. After we paid our lofty entrance fee, we had to pass through a few archways, 5 gift shops, a food court and a train entrance. This wasn’t a National park-It
was DISNEYLAND with waterfalls. We couldn’t believe how the nature part was second to making money part.

We decided to take a short hike to the first set of waterfalls instead of taking the tram. Upon arrival at the upper falls, we were taken aback by the beauty but also horrified to see how the drought that’s been hurting Argentina from north to south really was affecting the falls. I had seen photos of how water normally streamed down all sides of the cliffs. But what we saw was a few falls here and there. There also were numerous boats down below going into the falls, helicopters flying over them, and a giant hotel on both the Argentine and Brazil sides of the falls. It was not at all what I had envisioned as a peaceful and natural refuge of water and jungle.

The trails led you to see the falls from above and below. The most incredible fall was called La Garganta del Diablo (the Devils Throat) which was breathtaking. It was like a full blast of water being gargled down the devils throat and then spit out on the land below. Truly indescribable! We were splashed with drops of water and surrounded by rainbows. An amazing experience.

The wildlife we saw were butterflies of various brilliant colors, birds with crazily designed beaks, monkeys in the tree tops, and coatis, which are basically the equivalent to urban raccoons. They are very comfortable around people and were not afraid to climb up on people to get food. Although somewhat cute, I was weary after seeing all the warning signs about not feeding or petting the WILD coatis. Unfortunately other tourists were not heading the warnings and were very adamant about giving them food. Gross!!!

After many hours of walking, tramming, and photo taking, we were exhausted and headed back to town. We picked up some meat and other sustenance to make a grilled meal. When we arrived home, we had a visitor-a kittie that we named Jaguarate. He sat with us while we made dinner and sat under the parilla while Mike grilled the meat and heated up water for Ramen noodles (always a great camping meal). Dinner was scrumptious and Jague joined us through the meal, receiving all kinds of fat cutoff pieces. He even stayed by our tent at night.

Sunday-Firemen and Farewells:
Sunday we woke up late and relaxed at camp until we were ready to go to town and get small gifts for friends. It’s a tradition to bring back alfajores (delicious cookies) for people from various regions of Argentina. We got some alfajores and mate to try from the Missiones region where the falls are located. On
our walk back to camp, we stopped by the fire station which had antique fire trucks.

Mike wanted to take some photos of their awesome old Mercedes Benz trucks so I went and talked to the two fireman on call. They turned out to be the nicest guys. They showed us the trucks from front to back, played us the siren, showed us the station, and even fed us and shared mate tea with us. It was great hospitality. They were curious to know about us and us about them. I even bought a fireman shirt from them (I think it was one of the guys because it seemed well worn but smelled clean so I went with it). We said our goodbyes to the friendly firemen and headed back to camp.

It was our last day we cleaned up camp and watched the nearby GIANT ants collecting leaves and taking them to their ant hill. It was like a National Geographic show but LIVE! After a while, we had to catch the city bus back to the main bus station to head back to the city. As we boarded, surrounded by annoying American college students, I waved good-bye to our little tropical vacation and the closest I’ve ever been to Brazil. Chau!

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