BUENOS AIRES | ARGENTINA
IGUAZU FALLS | BRAZIL / ARGENTINA
BUENOS AIRES IS KNOWN AS THE “PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA”. MAYBE THE GERMANY OF SOUTH AMERICA WOULD BE MORE ACCURATE. I FOUND MYSELF IN A GERMAN HOSTEL, DRINKING GERMAN BEER, WITH GERMAN PEOPLE.
I decided to stay here for a few days while on my way to Iguazu and the Brazil border. It’s a pretty city. Wide avenue’s were lined with what looked like purple cherry blossoms as I walked down towards the Casa Rosa, the balcony were Evita told people to eat cake if my history serves me correctly.
One night I attended a tango show. I’d been looking forward to seeing a bit of tango while I was here. Dinner and wine was also included in the ticket, I plumped for the steak and red wine and sat back to enjoy the show. Despite being labelled a tango show, it contained a lot of opera style singing from some old guy who obviously felt the crowd couldn’t get enough of him. The tango itself was impressive, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more of it. At the end there was a performance by a bunch of dudes with ropes which was really good, maybe even better than the tango. The best part was when they didn’t sing.
The main avenue here is apparently the widest in the world. It’s certainly something you want to cross in stages. Close by to the Teatro Colon (ranked the third best opera house in the world don’t you know) is the huge Obelisco. You can climb to the top for views across the Plaza de Mayo and the city, I gave it a miss. This structure was once covered by a giant condom for World AIDS Day. I didn’t want to go inside unprotected.
I also got lost one day trying to walk down to Evita’s grave. I ended up in a park instead. On another occasion I got lost trying to find a bus station and ended up at the French Embassy. It’s probably the most french looking building I’ve ever seen, and I include France in that too. In short Buenos Aires really screwed with my already terrible sense of direction. I was beginning to realise I might not make it home alive.
While I was relaxing at the embassy and basking in it’s frenchness I saw a guy with no legs in a wheelchair begging at the traffic lights. I felt sorry for the dude so when I got up to leave I gave him what change I had in my pockets. It amounted to 25 pesos. He seemed happy (well as happy as you can be with no legs) and I was happy in my own selfish way too. The next morning when I was grabbing the metro bus to the airport I didn’t know it only accepted a travel card, and not cash. Luckily the good Samaritan behind me covered the fare, and despite my protests, wouldn’t accept any repayment. You can probably guess where this is going…… That’s right.
The guy was an alien.
No seriously, the fare was 25 pesos. Fate or coincidence? I never did see the guy again….
Probably because I don’t live in Argentina.
About one hour’s flight north I landed in the cute little town of Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side of the falls. Alternatively you can take the bus from Buenos Aires if you have the time. You’ll need 24 hours of time to devote to sitting on a bus. If this sounds like fun to you then go for it. Apparently the buses are really nice (I’d already been on some excellent sleepers in South America so far) and meals are included. It’s funny that back home a “day trip” on a bus in reality amounts to a few hours. Here it literally is a 24 hour day.
Unlike it’s Brazilian counterpart in Foz du Iguassu, Peurto is a small, easily walkable town filled with hostels, bars and restaurants. Buses to the falls depart regularly from the small, central bus station here. It’s definitely worth seeing both sides of the falls. Most of the action happens on the Argentine side, and there are several walkways which take you directly over the flowing water. The most famous is the Devil’s Throat,the main horse-shoe shaped curtain of water which made Eleanor Roosevelt exclaim “Poor Niagara!” With good reason too. It’s roughly three times as big. It also has a mental local name – Garganta del Diablo. I don’t own a motorbike, and probably never will. But if I did I’m totally calling it that.
Unfortunately the day I was there the water level was too high and the Devils’ Throat walkway was closed. It’s a testament to the spectacle all around you that the disappointment barely registered. Iguazu is the largest waterfall system in the world. In terms of a continuous curtain of of falling water it’s beaten only by Victoria Falls during the wet season. Having visited both I’d probably give the edge to Iguazu. It’s just more spectacular, and there are several different hikes and waterfalls to visit here, as well as the river safari boat which takes you underneath some of them.
The boat safari is ace, and it’s something you should definitely try if you’re lucky enough to get here. Be sure to put your electronics in the dry bag provided, sit back, and scream your head off with everyone else as you try to avoid getting whiplash from the strength of the falling water. If you don’t enjoy getting wet (what’s wrong with you?) then stick to the viewpoints. The boat will power it’s way through the spray and as close to the falls as possible, even going directly underneath one of the smaller ones. The boat I took didn’t venture towards the Devil’s Throat. I’m not sure if any of them do, or if they’re scared of being snapped like matchsticks.
I was already crying for Argentina, but like a sweets-laden pedophile, Brazil was luring me across the border. After a jaw dropping day in Iguazu National Park, I hopped on the bus towards Brazil. The driver told me that the Argentine bus will stop and the border, and that the Brazilian bus will pick us up on the other side to take us into the city. After border formalities, we waited at the bus stop on the other side. And waited. And waited……for about two and a half hours before a bus turned up. It wasn’t great for me. I only had one night here in Foz de Iguassu before heading to Rio, so I was banking on getting into the Brazilian side of the park pretty early. I had no idea where I was going here. Unlike the Argentinian town, Foz is quite a big city. It was also eerily quiet. There seemed to be nothing but empty streets and boarded up shops, so it took ages to find my hostel with no one around to ask directions.
Luckily the guy at the hostel was helpful and friendly so it didn’t take long to find the local bus stop which made it’s way to the falls. I get the impression that taking the local bus isn’t the method of choice for tourists judging by the looks I was getting from the locals. But I get weird looks at home too, especially when I ask for directions to Iguazu Falls on Dublin Bus.
The Brazilian side of the falls offer a grander and more panoramic view of Iguazu than the up-close-and-personal experience of Argentina. A main road runs along the river, so I jumped out of the bus as early as possible to take the trail leading towards the Devils’ Throat. There truly are some spectacular viewpoint’s only this path. You are offered incredible views from here right down the Throat. It also made up for the walkway being shut. Almost.
When you get to the Throat, there is a further spray soaked walkway to traverse to get an excellent view of the cataratas. There is a small canteen up the elevator and a further view over the Iguazu river before it takes it’s tumble into the gorge. The downside is that it’s infested with my old friends from Central America – the coatyl’s. Like a mix of a dog and a racoon, these guys have no respect for personal space or boundaries, just like Jehovah’s Witnesses. At least the coatyls don’t bang on your door at 7pm in the evening asking me if I had “time to talk about our lord and saviour carbohydrates”.
There is a lot more to see here than just the falls. There are national parks either side of the river and they contain some amazing looking jungle and a great opportunity to spot some wildlife. On your trails you’re likely to see large lizards, spiders, and that staple of south american rainforests – the toucan. All vying with the coatyl for your food and attention. Stay away from the spiders though. Fuck spiders.
A large part of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was filmed here at Iguazu. Don’t avoid coming here thinking it will be another disappointment though.
Next time: I ride Garganta del Diablo all the way to Rio, and throwing the concept of “staying topical” out the window I go on another rant about religion.