Monday, 30 September 2013

Iguazu

I had dreamed of a trip to Argentina for years and when the chance to go finally presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.  I knew that a trip to Argentina wouldn't be complete for me without exploring Patagonia or Iguazu.  So, I packed my thermal underwear and my bikini and off I went. 


I opted to take the short flight from Buenos Aires to Iguazu, although I have it on good authority that the overnight bus is a really good trip.  Apparently the seats recline to bed status.  That's probably the best way to go if you're trying to be economical as the ride is cheaper than the flight and you save on one night's accommodation. 

I got off the plane in Iguazu and was hit with a wave of humid, blistering heat.  February in Iguazu is mega hot and rainy.  I didn't mind either as the heat was a nice change from the Canadian winter I had at home and the rain would ensure rising water levels and thus create roaring waterfalls. The waterfall was my whole reason of being there, so I wanted it to be spectacular. 

As I was already in Argentina, so I opted to stay on the Argentinian side of the waterfalls that are shared with Brazil and Panama.  The first day I was there it started to rain pretty much immediately after I had checked into my hotel.  In a place where the main tourist draw is a National Park, there isn't too much to do when it rains.  Business opportunity?  I think so.  There is a casino, but I didn't head over there as I really dislike Casinos in general.  Instead, I used the afternoon to plan my activities for the next two days. 

You can view the waterfalls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side.  As a Canadian, you require a separate visa for Brazil before crossing over.  If you did not get a travel visa for Brazil, there is a consulate there, but you'll require photos and bank info as well as have a day or two to wait for it to be processed.  It's not worth the hassle.  Do it before you go.  OR take a walk on the wild side and pay off a driver to take you to the Brazilian side of the falls on the down low.  I'm not advocating breaking international laws, but it does seem a little ridiculous to go through all of that time, hassle and cost to take a two hour walk through a national park.  Whichever option you choose to go with, just be sure you have your reciprocity fee confirmation with you so that you can get back into Argentina.  I'll leave it up to you to infer which path I took.  

My first exposure to the Iguazu falls was from the Brazilian side.  When you enter the national park, you are taken aboard a double-decker bus that transports you to the beginning of the trail.  As you exit the bus and start to head down the path the roar of the water starts to get louder until you finally round the corner and see a giant wall of waterfall before you.  It is spectacular.  So spectacular in fact, that I began to laugh (by myself, I might add as I was traveling alone) in disbelief.  It seems as though the waterfall stretches forever. And with 2.7 kilometers of waterfall belonging to Iguazu, it almost does. 

Iguazu Falls: First look, Brazil


The path is paved and well maintained.  The biggest danger is bumping into other visitors as it's hard to take your eyes off the falls.  As you continue along the path, the energy seems to increase as the visitors get increasingly excited as they approach the Devil's Throat, a narrow chasm with half the river's flow.  As you get closer the air gets mistier and mistier until it eventually feels as though you're walking in the rain.  An umbrella will do you little good as the mist is coming at you from every direction, so if you really want to stay dry, I'd recommend a rain poncho.      

Devil's Throat, Brazilian side
The path is constructed so that you can walk over the rushing water in between the two shelves of the waterfall.  It's loud, windy, wet and AWESOME! It's almost impossible to refrain from squealing with delight it's so exhilarating.  Part of the fun is also watching the reaction of other visitors. Some try to shield themselves from the water, others timidly inch closer and some people, like yours truly, are just trying to soak it all in. 

The path then takes you back to an elevator so that you can get a view from the top of the devils throat. As you are waiting to get on the elevator you get super close to the side of the waterfall.  It almost feels as though you're about to sneak in behind it.  And if you stretch out far enough, you'll be able to stick your hand right in it.  From the top, you are treated with another spectacular view and can board the bus back to the main gate. 


Top of the Devil's Throat, Argentinian side
The next day, I set out to explore the Argentinian side of the falls.  Only a short bus ride away from the main terminal, it's easy and relatively inexpensive to get to.  Your visit will take you pretty much all day and there a lot of walking so make sure to put on your sunscreen, wear comfortable walking shoes and pack a bottle of water.  You're in for an exhausting day in the sun.  There are three paths that take to different look out points and to see some of the smaller waterfalls.  I started my visit with the last feature I had seen the day before: the Devil's Throat. There is a small train that takes you to the end of the park and then there's a path that goes over the river that takes you to the edge of the Devil's Throat.  And then you're wet. Again. On this day, a refreshing "misting" was very welcome as the thermometer had hit 37 degrees and there is little to no shade on this path.  That being said, it is also the least physically demanding of all the paths. 


The other two paths weave you in and out, up and down as you get different views of the waterfall as well as getting up close to some smaller waterfalls. There are a few places where you get can close enough to cool off with a little (ahem, a lot of) mist.  But the best way to cool off is to opt for the zodiac ride into the falls.  You will get soaked and feel totally re-energized. They give you a waterproof bag in which to put your belongings, so don't let the fear of getting your camera, wallet, or phone wet deter you from going on this ride. The water is calm and the ride is smooth and then with one quick burst forward the boat is in a tidal wave and you are as wet as a dip in the pool.  It is so much fun!!!! And suddenly you've made friends on the boat as everyone screams and laughs with delight.  


View of the falls from the Zodiac; about to go in for a dip
But you should be smarter than I was and not leave this to the end of your visit.   If you leave it to the end, then you're stuck getting on an air conditioned bus in wet clothes, which is not fun.  It's a long day of walking so you're not going to want to carry around too much stuff, but a small towel and flip flops might be a great idea if you plan on taking the plunge.  

At the end of two days, I had done a lot of walking and had experienced some of the most beautiful vistas this world has to offer.  And the best part of it is how "involved" you feel. Being able to feel the mist on your face, put you hand in the water or be baptized by the falls in a zodiac brings you a sense of connectivity and oneness with nature that is rare.