21 October 2013

las cataratas del iguazú

a 21-hour bus ride stretched into almost 25, with only dry cookies and the non-ham-tasting bits of ham-and-cheese sandwiches for sustenance.

my european friends planned a day trip to brazil while my american passport made it illegal to join.

the zipline group was booked up the only day that i could go - most of the others already had gone while we were still on our later bus.

it felt like the universe was conspiring against me last weekend on my longest, most ambitious and expensive trip outside córdoba. but nothing could bring me down because IGUAZÚ FALLS.

whether you're floating beneath in a boat or hiking the trails to see each cascade on the argentinian side both up close and from afar, the falls are awe-inspiring. incredible. unbelievable on a scale that's impossible to capture in words or in images or even in memories.

it's one of the seven natural wonders of the world - and you can see why. there's something about a waterfall that's special. the awesome power, the massive volume of water, how can it be possible that so much water can come together at the same place while a thousand miles away córdoba is having a drought.

me and ava. i adore this picture.

even the insanely long bus ride was bearable, since in the morning i moved to sit with my friend malin at the first row of the top level, with a panoramic view over the gorgeous scenery. i witnessed the landscape change from córdoba's desert dryness to incredible dark green forests, packed red dirt roads, and colorful but rundown buildings and towns. i was unprepared for how developing-country the landscape would look - both the natural and human features were strongly reminiscent of burma or really many places in southeast asia. beautiful places, but with clearly disadvantaged rural populations. 


jungle. (and a very dirty bus window.)

the falls are visible from both the brazilian side, which offers a panoramic view of the scene, and the argentinian, which gives more up close experiences and offers more paths and areas to explore. because of visa requirements, brazil was out of the question for me, but parque nacional de iguazú in argentina turned out to be more than enough of an experience.

we spent all day sunday exploring the falls in the park. we started out with a tour package called the "gran aventura": first a jungle ride on a safari vehicle where the guide introduced us to the flora and fauna of this subtropical rainforest. we didn't actually see many animals except a couple toucans, but even being in the rainforest is exhilarating. i love the tropical climate, the diverse flora and fauna, the smell of the air.

our ride.

tou toucans.

our guide told us about a lot of animals that we didn't get to see. the weirdest was the tapir. how had i never heard of it before?

jungles are magical.

then we got on a big motorboat and cruised down the river below the falls, taking pictures and gasping at our first view of the cascades and struggling with our ridiculously thick life vests. at the captain's word, we thossed our cameras quickly into the dry bags provided, and we were off - into the waterfall! each time the boat was steered under a new fall, we got soaked. the best part was looking up, though the strong spray made it difficult, into the mouth of the waterfall as it pelted you. it was completely awesome and unbelievable - i wish i could have a picture of that moment, facing the falls from below, soaked to the skin but completely refreshed, but i'm not likely to forget it anytime soon. my rain coat helped a little in keeping my clothes dry, but there was no way to avoid the water - we never properly dried off all day thanks to the d.c.-like humidity and abundance of spray from every waterfall we saw.

hiking to the dock.

very! large! ants!

a lot of my view from the boat.

we cruised by lots of mini falls.

see the waterfall?

FIRST VIEW OF THE FALLS. (through someone else's camera lens, of course.)

two different sections of falls were visible from the boat, this photo and the photo above. we actually dunked under both of them.


with ava.

twelve of us went to iguazú together, and 10 went on the boat tour at the same time. 

water on the lens already.

there were several paths in the park to explore, including a lower path with views of the falls from below and mid-height platforms as well as mini falls hidden in the forest. the upper path took us to the top where we could see the water just as it was falling into the cliffs.

lower trail.

getting photobombed.

yes, this has to be a series.

i was so, so happy.

and i finally took a normal-ish picture. 

ava. feat. my really wet shirt.


started climbing to the upper trail.

smaller waterfalls hidden in the jungle.

an old lighthouse in the park.

pretty trails.

with laura, my new housemate.

francesca and laura.


i love that you can see the spray in photos.

from the paths you could also see the animals that hadn't retreated into the forest in the face of human traffic: butterflies, birds, disturbingly large ants, lizards big and small, capuchin monkeys ("capuchino" in spanish), turtles, catfish, and large raccoon-like animals called coatis. before the second trail, we stopped for a lunch of overpriced mediocre empanadas at a park café. some of us sat inside, but a few of my friends tried to eat outside and their table came under siege by a pack of six coatis, who stole the empanada bag and ran. apparently the animals are terrifying when they attack en masse. unfortunately, they're far too accustomed to human contact and have learned to take advantage of clueless tourists or, worse, visitors feeding them.

around the park eateries and cafés, there were coatis EVERYWHERE.


some sort of wild guinea pig.

i didn't know that impatiens came from the rainforest.

spot the capuchino.

mother and baby!

we were very fascinated by this hardworking ant. it was also quite large.

actually we ran into this same lizard on two different occasions, but i'll spare you double photos. we could tell it was him because of his half-molted tail!

it was interesting how above the waterfalls the river was just a marsh-like area that reminded me of great falls national park near my house: relatively calm water with a few strains of currents, swampy and surrounded by vegetation. it's hard to believe looking out at that scene that a few hundred yards away it becomes a violent, loud waterfall crashing and spraying in every direction. we were lucky that it didn't rain during our day in the rainforest, but it certainly seemed like it had since the spray soaked everything. literally, it felt like rain, even a hundred meters away from the cliffs. i'm glad my camera is pretty hardy against water, because despite my best efforts it, too, got very wet. a lot of my pictures are totally blotchy due to water on the lens - artistic effect, right?

looks so calm and normal, but all that smoky fog you see in the background is actually spray.

before and after my lens got wet:

first view of the devil's throat waterfall.

right as we left.

my absolute favorite sight was the wettest, scariest, most massive: la garganta del diablo, or devil's throat. it was pretty far away - exhausted from hiking, we got there on a train that reminded me of the people movers you take at disney world from the parking lot to the entrance gate. devil's throat was incredible. i cannot even describe how amazing it was. it was loud and big and fast and strong and finally forced you to really appreciate the volume of water being moved and the immense size of the waterfalls. it finally gave a sense of scale that is difficult to wrap your mind around no matter how close you get to the rushing water of any of the many falls. it also afforded an amazing panoramic view of other falls as you got soaked with what felt like driving rain - but was again actually just the spray.

thanks for the heads-up.


looking away from the falls.

we read in my guidebook pages on iguazú - a pathetic ripped-out chunk of a lonely planet since i didn't want to lug the whole book - that the first europeans to discover the falls were alvar nuñez cabeza de vaca and his crew of spanish explorers in 1542. we discussed this over dinner the night after the falls: can you imagine being lost in an unfamiliar rainforest and stumbling into a sight like that? it really seems like a calm and normal river or marsh until you are right at the drop. i wonder how they found it and how they reacted - i just cannot comprehend.

into the abyss.

from our (subpar, but oh well) hostel in puerto iguazú, i walked with a couple friends to a spot called la triple frontera, where the iguazú and paraná rivers converge and you can look over at the shores of both paraguay and brazil. actually, i went to the spot twice, once at night, and again with different friends during the day, since though it's not that exciting, if i'm going to say that i've seen paraguay and brazil, i'd like to at least have seen them, not just squinted in the dark at a tiny lit-up "paraguay" sign that's probably across the river. my cell phone, at least, thought i'd traveled abroad: i got text from the argentinian cell company both welcoming me to paraguay and welcoming me to brazil. the wikipedia page on this region also has a large section on terrorism... apparently this border crossing is important for al-qaeda... glad i didn't know that before i went.

the walk to the obelisk at dusk.

ran into a scary-looking snake when we went after dark.

my nighttime visit. each country has an obelisk in the colors of its flag.



paraguay at night.

paraguay's on the left shore, brazil's the right.

similar view at night.

inexplicably large crowds gathered to wait a turn to take photos with this flagstand.

more views of paraguay and brazil.

impressed by how this couple matched their shirts to their chairs.

i spent the next morning with a couple friends wandering puerto iguazú, the town near the argentinian falls, in search of something touristy worth seeing. we almost went to "la aripuca" an ambiguous tourist destination that seems to have been built solely to have a place to send tourists to, but by the time we got there on the slow city bus, we didn't have time and didn't feel like spending the money for the entrance. i still enjoyed the scenic tour of the outskirts of the city.

reminds me of the abandoned brick buildings reclaimed by the myanmar jungle.

la aripuca.

the city of puerto iguazú.

bus stop.

"i'm selling a house. lights, water, installed bathroom. malvinas neighborhood." who wouldn't want to buy it?

on the bus ride home, we were stopped for over an hour when a protest blocked the entire highway, stopping literally hundreds of buses and cars coming from every direction. the intersection was at a standstill as local teachers and government workers from montecarlo, misiones province, protested for higher salaries in a group a few hundred meters up the road. i know i said i love and admire the argentinian political consciousness... but maybe not when it delays my 22-plus hour bus ride by another couple hours! it's funny how there's no detour even considered; everyone just stops and waits it out as if this is a normal occurrence. malin and i got off the bus to discover that there was also the national orchid festival going on in the same town, and while we didn't see the festival itself, we did stumble upon some enthusiastic tourists who wanted their photo taken with the town's welcome sign - and then did the same for us.

the bus ride back was again beautiful and interesting and weirdly relaxing, since there's not much to do but sleep and look and read and see snippets of weird movies without really bothering to watch them. i finally finished from the land of green ghosts by pascal khoo thwe, a memoir set in burma that i've been reading since burma. I LOVED IT. it was an absolutely amazing life story, just unfathomably difficult but also serendipitous. and it was an insight into the recent tumultuous history of burma, which i found fascinating and would now like to learn even more about.

back in the city of córdoba.

i'm beyond sad that maddy wasn't able to share the iguazú trip with me; she would've loved it. but i've got two weeks left in argentina! glad i've gotten to do so much in my short time here.

xo, m

p.s. tiger was very disappointed when i told him a couple weeks ago that i hadn't seen any street soccer in argentina. turns out i had just been looking in the wrong places... on our drive through city outskirts, towns, and middle-of-nowhere rural villages, we saw fútbol everywhere. photographic evidence:


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