Saying goodbye is best done in the fashion of band-aid ripping, quick and painless. We called a taxi to drive us to the omnibus terminal at 6pm and when the cab arrived we had to hug all of our friends and run off into the night. We sat in the cab after being sped through Palermo feeling entirely stale. We were going to miss those people, pout. Our sadness soon turned to anxiety and panic as we quickly realized we had left the hostel in the middle of rush hour traffic (6pm on a Friday, not the brightest idea). I bit my nails and most of my fingers off terrified we were not going to make it to the station on time. We were most put off by our cabby who opened his door in the middle of stop and go traffic to pee through his window, erroneous! We arrived at the station ten minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave. We opened the terminal doors and our mouths dropped as we took our first glance at the most chaotic bus terminal in South America. We had heard many mugging and theft stories so we were on our guard. We literally had to squeeze through thousands of people waiting for their bus. It was apparent that buses do not wait around for you as they stop for a few moments to pick up people then continue on their way. We were told our bus would be anywhere from stops 44 to 54 so we had to continue pacing up and down the over populated waiting area. Our bus arrived ten minutes late and with great relief we sighed and checked in our luggage. I was ever so happy to step onto the bus, away from the massive crowd behind me.
We were seated on the bottom floor across from the service station. Our room only sat six people as we were in the executive class super cama room! We were booked to sit in different seats but a very nice business man was willing to swap with us when we hinted that we were on our honey moon (shh, don´t tell). Our seats were only eight dollars more than the more uncomfortable semi camas upstairs. The chairs were made of leather and were nice and roomy. Super camas allow you to lean your chair all the way back as well as push up a little device that looks like half of an ironing board. The completed effect is a long, flat, comfy bed to sleep in! We were given a lovely assortment of candies upon arriving to our chair followed by agua con gas refreshments. For the first two hours we were forced to watch very cheesy music videos from the late 80´s and early 90´s (including Madonna´s Vogue, Elton John´s Can You Feel the Love Tonight and a rather revealing Spanish soft core porn in which a scantily clad female rolled around in the beach sand with her lover, crashing waves and everything). We were fed an interesting dinner consisting of white wine, flan, pudding, empanadas and a bowl of hot chicken and potato stew. We both swore not to pee on our bus journey but it became inevitable. I remember opening the bathroom door and moping a bit. Let’s just stay peeing while the vehicle you are standing in is racing 100 kilometers an hour while spinning around sharp turns on dirt roads, can be a bit challenging and un-nerving. As we reclined into bed we were suddenly haunted by a pirated version of the Spider Man 3 film which we had been making fun of since we saw it in Puerto Montt Chile several weeks ago.
We actually enjoyed a rather solid sleep, although my back and neck were a bit sore when I woke up since my body had to clench itself to the flattened bed as it spun around mountains on gravel roads. We were woken at 7am to a breakfast consisting of two sweet croissants. We were offered instant coffee or coca cola for our morning beverage, we opted for water obviously. For the next five hours I dozed off a bit and stared out the mud caked windows out into the tropical jungle landscape as we whipped down the dirt highway. We arrived at Puerto Iguazu at noon, ahead of schedule and immediately walked up to the bus companies to find out how to get to our next stop, Salta. We were met at the top of the floor with a jumping, crazy salesman from HI Hostel Inn. We had heard a lot about the hostel and were planning on staying here. He insisted we buy our bus ticket through the hostel rather than paying here. I know a scam when I hear one so we went over to the bus companies and checked out routes and prices (even though he continually prodded us to take a taxi to his hostel immediately as he moaned ¨Sarah looks cold, she needs to leave now.¨) We discovered the bus to Salta involves a 26 hour journey including one stop and transfer along the way. We were not so thrilled as you can imagine. We returned to the crazy man and he grabbed us a taxi to our backpackers hostel inn resort. The hostel is beautiful, it beds 200 people and is pretty much the place to stay when visiting Iguazu. The hostel has a beautiful lagoon swimming pool in the front with deck chairs and bar as well as pool tables and ping pong tables in the main reception area across from the sprawling open dining room.
I have now come to realize why so many people are willing to spend top dollar for nice hotels that make the check in process quick and easy. We arrived at the hostel and had to wait two hours to check in! The first hour was in line, the second hour was waiting for the computer network to start up again. We decided to grab a bite to eat as we were starving so we ordered a hamburger and beer from the bar. The beer was fine, the hamburger patty was BOILED! The most vile hamburger I have ever eaten in my life. We were put in separate rooms as the hostel was at capacity for the evening. I was located in a bungalow outside so I lugged all my stuff (including my Heineken) to the Bungalow steps. I rattled my keys into the lock and for the life of me could not get the door to budge. I lugged all my stuff back to the front desk telling the attendant that my key didn´t work. He kindly gave me a new one and I lugged all my stuff back to the bungalow (while accidentally pouring Heineken all over my backpack). Arriving at the door once more I placed the new key in the door only to break the actual key in half. I certainly was not aware of any super human strength on my part so I assumed the key was made of cheap metal. At this point I was pissed off. I walked back up to the hostel and the guy tried to joke around with me. I told him I wanted him to come down to the room right now and open the door for me because I wanted to shower and nap. He got my drift and I was up there in no time.
I met up with Sarah in the lobby to take a cab to the bus station. We both decided to skip Paraguay because it is a volatile, corrupt and dangerous location. We opted for a (gulp) 26 hour bus trip to Salta. We walked through the little town of Puerto Iguazu stopping at a little bakery to snack on chocolate almond gelato. As the sun started to dim we walked past the local craft market which was our first visit to a truly aboriginal market (selling dream catchers, feather bangles and leather trinkets). We then jumped across the street to a large plaza surrounded by murals carved of wood. All of the murals had a central theme relating to the history of the indigenous people of the area and the Christian missionaries that arrived several hundred years ago. As we waited for a taxi back to the hostel we stood by a huge pot bellied aboriginal man with a two foot long mate glass. The longest we had ever seen. Sarah and I both wanted to get a picture of the gentlemen but we didn´t think he would be fond of our photography. He looked rather authentic to say the least. We hopped in a random car as it stopped by the road only to realize moments later that most of the cabs in this city aren´t legitimate. Any local that has a car basically runs around town all day trying to make a bit of cash.
We had a BBQ with 200 loud 18 year olds (or so the average seemed) in the main dining room. A huge bowl of the local drink Capihrini was being poured into tall glasses for everyone as we waited for our steaks and sausage. The drink nearly made me pass out. Apparently made of ice, lime, sugar and unprocessed rum. After dinner an erroneous little dance show took place. We were told it would be an entertaining Brazilian Samba show, Sarah referred to it as a ¨touristy Cuban resort dance off.¨ Two tall half naked Brazilian woman dressed to the nines in Carnival costumes came up the stairs and started shaking their asses in front of all of us. Some people were still eating! It was rather hilarious as these huge woman grabbed men and woman out of the crowd and forced them to dance along. We headed to bed right after the show as we had to wake up at 7am the next morning.
The evening was a disaster. I felt like I had been hit by a truck in the morning as I had barely slept at all due to intense hot sweats and cold shivers. I was worried I may not even be able to go to the park but by 7am I felt well enough to get on that tour bus! We drove twenty minutes to the park entrance and paid 30 pesos to visit for the day. Our first stop was the Iguazu Jungle Explorer. An insane experience as you will soon find out. We all lined up by a set of stairs as we waited for a huge open air army vehicle to drive up beside us. We all got ourselves seated and drove 30 minutes through the thick jungle forest. I kept thinking I was in the movie Jurassic Park. Sarah asked the guide if we were going to see any pterodactyls, hilarious. The jeep bounded along a tiny sliver of a dirt path so we had to hold onto each other in order to remain in the vehicle. It was also necessary to watch ahead because Sarah had a twig graze her eye lid which could have nearly taken out her eye ball. We arrived at Puerto Macuco where we would be boarding rather large speed boats. We had the impression this trip was going to be somewhat like the Maid of the Mist experience in Niagara. Many people had told us we were going to get soaked but we just thought they were over reacting. I put my cotton pinstripe spring jacket over my sweater and rolled up my skinny jeans as high as possible (just above the ankle).
The boat thundered backward and did a huge doughnut striking fear into my body. What had we gotten ourselves into? Our driver sped at what must be illegal speeds up the river. Brazil on our left, Argentina on our right. After five minutes of calm waters we reached the rapids which were somewhat horrifying. The entire boat started screaming. We then drove up the Rio Iguazu to Salto Tres Mosqueteros, our first glimpse of the falls. A huge beautiful rainbow spread across the sky in front of the crashing falls. We thought the worst was over as we were told to get out our cameras to take pictures. Five minutes later we were told to quickly put our cameras away. We all sat down quickly and in moments fear and terror crippled our bodies. Sarah grabbed my hand and stared at me with a mouth full of laughter and eyes full of worry. Our boat was being driven directly towards the falls. I can safely say now that the Maid of the Mist is for sissies. Our boat was driven directly under the falls. Not once, but three times. At first shock all I could think was, “this is ridiculous”, while screaming a few obscenities. The water poured on us from above as if firemen were douching us with power hoses. Our entire bodies were soaked as if we had been held under water for three or four hours. My jeans were soaked (even bellow my ankles). They drove us out of that waterfall and everyone started screaming and freaking out as no one expected such an experience. Sarah made me laugh hysterically as she screamed ¨that was so unnecessary!¨ Little did she know we were going to be driven to two more waterfalls with similar treatments. I had never experienced a crashing waterfall all over my body until today. It is amazing the adrenalin your body produces when it experiences a quick fear of death. Our boat stopped at a small dock where we all disembarked with massive wet wedgies. The rest of the day, good and plenty chafing.
I stood on a rock, in a bit of shock. I glanced over at all of the other people from my boat and noticed them all ringing their jeans out like wet napkins. We popped our shoes on and waddled, slish slosh, to a little dock a few meters down the road which departs for Isla San Martin. The island gives the best views of the Argentine falls by far. It is centrally located at the fork of the two rivers so you can actually see five of the main falls from different vantage points. We saw some interesting lizards, vultures and butterflies along the way. The park is actually affectionately referred to as ¨the land of rainbows and butterflies.¨ There certainly isn´t a more fitting title. As we walked back to the islands beachfront we gabbed about how nice it was to actually experience sunny summer temperatures for the first time on our trip. We could also hear screams every few minutes. It was hard to distinguish if they were from tourists being soaked under the falls or from hikers crashing on the slippery moss covered pathways. We found a comfy rock (yes those exist) on the beach and ate a tangerine as we stared out into the lush jungle surrounded by crashing waves. A butterfly landed on my pinky finger and I stared at it for a few seconds before it flew away into the rainbow above. It was sort of fun to watch boat after boat of tourists laughing as they past us…followed by screams as they were plunged into the falls beyond.
The rest of the day was divided into three different hiking circuits. We took the best route first, the Circuito Inferior. This circuit scales across the lower sides of the waterfalls with beautiful vantage points just two or three feet from the crashing falls. These are the best trails as they allow you to look up and around at the falls, a beautiful panoramic. It seems as though where ever you go you can´t get away from the lightly fluttering clouds of multicolored butterflies. It seems as though they metamorphosized out of the sparkling rainbows above, sort of magical. We then hiked up a set of 500 slippery rock steps to the Circuito Superior where we had a chance to walk over a network of bridges behind the falls itself. Here everything is calm and silent as the river runs slowly through reeds and tiny rapids. The views here are spectacular as well as you can see the transformation from calm river to thundering waterfall bellow. The views across the entire park from this altitude is stunning. I felt like I could throw a stone at the Brazilian side of the falls it was really trippy.
Our final hike was during the hottest part of the day. We took a cute little train for about ten minutes to the Estacion Garganta del Diablo. From here we had to walk about 20 minutes over what seemed like hundreds of bridges to the amazing Devils Throat. This part of the falls is what gets everyone most excited. It is most similar to Niagara Falls as it is in a horseshoe shape and awes the spectator with the sheer quantity of water and thunderous rumble. Sarah wanted to take a river safari cruise back to the park entrance instead of taking the train back so we hopped in a river raft row boat and spent 30 minutes crashing down the river. We saw some interesting little crocodiles and turtles and the guide told us a bit about the trees around us and how they are used for various medicines today. After an exhausting eight hours of non stop hiking we had finished a perfect day at the world’s most amazing waterfall and national park, an adventure to say the least! As we walked to our pickup location we walked by several aboriginal vendors selling wooden tucans and deadly amazon dart shooters (you know those ones you shoot out of your mouth). We saw tons of little wild guinea pigs jumping around on the grass which was rather unique (I thought they were squirrels at first, how Oakvillian of me). As we waited for our bus back to the hostel a group of ten aboriginal children stood on the street singing a beautiful native tune while swaying in the wind on one hip and shaking their maracas. In the evening we took it easy. I napped for three hours as my fever from the night before had caught up to me again. Sarah and I sat on lawn chairs beside the pool in the pitch black staring up at the stars. I discussed my most recent food cravings: Presidents Choice chocolate chunk cookies and Tim Horton’s Honey Cruillers. The constellations were a mess obviously but I enjoyed the cool jungle breeze and the swaying palm trees in the rouge warm summer night.