Friday, January 27, 2017

Iguazu Falls - the Argentinian Side

27 January 2017

We're now back in Lima, but here's the second waterfall blog.  And this first photo is the view from our second hotel - from our private balcony.  Gorgeous, huh?

On Wednesday, Richard and I headed out to see the falls from this side, in Argentina.  Our hotel is in the middle of the national park, so we already had our entry ticket.  And yes, this first photo is the view from our balcony.  Amazing!!!

Turns out that many of the waterfalls, possibly even most of them, are here on the Argentinian side of the falls.  So everything I could see from Brazil is over here.  That means instead of having one single trail that follows the river, and has incredible view points of the falls, there's a web of interlocking trails that crisscross through the jungle, and lead to either scenic overlooks, or little platforms right next to the top or side of the waterfall.

Since we wanted to not get lost, and I have a horribly bruised toe from last week (seriously, for a while my toe was so black and blue, it looked like a monkey toe!), we opted for the easy hike to the farthest waterfall.  It really wasn't as difficult as that sounds.  We followed the trail from our hotel, roughly half a mile, to a little train station (where there are also restrooms, and a food place).  It's an open-air train, and travels to the biggest, highest, major waterfall, called La Garganta del Diablo - the Devil's Throat (or something like that - to me it sounds like the Gargantuan Devil). 

Except the other end is where the river spreads out into a huge wide basin like a giant low lake dotted with a series of islands.  So the trail isn't on the ground.  At all!

No, here the trail is a continuous raised walkway like an elevated bridge, made of heavy wire mesh stretched across a metal framework.  Complete with mesh sides, and a railing.  In some places, the walkway was maybe a few feet over the land, when it crossed an island.  But over the long expanses of water, the walkway was roughly 10 or 12 feet (3 or 4 meters) over the water.  Because in rainy season, apparently the level can be that much higher than it is now, in summer.  (Many photos of the falls show the water as very brown, even going over the falls - there's so much run off into the river during rainy season that even the falls look like foamy cappuccino!)

Not a hike for the faint of heart, acrophobic, or people with vertigo.  It was rather dizzying to walk and look down with rushing water under my feet.  But I REALLY wanted to see the falls at the end, so I continued onward, looking forward rather than down.

There were butterflies, including some kind of swallowtails.  There were occasional turtles in the lake, who like to rest on the concrete pilings that make the base of the cement pillars holding up the walkway.  There was even a medium sized crocodile, lazing half-submerged on a rock - and for some unfathomable reason, people were throwing coins at the croc.  For luck?  Instead of sacrificing a virgin?  NO idea here, and I thought it was rather funny.  One young boy managed to hit the croc with his coin, and his family cheered.  (That might have been the whole reason.  Not so funny for the croc, I suppose.)

So I walked on for a mile (clocking a mile each way on my pedometer), sort of zigzagging and island-hopping across the river-lake.  Bouncing on the heavy wire mesh, and really hoping it wasn't as fragile as it felt like, and that it would collapse below the thousands of people walking back and forth every day. 

Finally I reached the grand finale, La Garganta!  I walked out onto the platform at the end, which is just like the walkway but a bit wider, and a very nice man moved his wife over so I could lean on the railing and get a view down into the abyss of foam and mist.  I just gasped at this incredible view of falling water, rushing down and rising in mist, the power of nature and gravity, the beauty of it all.  "Buenissima?" he asked me.  "Si," I replied, "Soy sin palabras!"  ("Yes, I am without words!") 

It really is overwhelming, the constant thundering of the water plummeting about 240 feet (80 m) straight down, onto rock and into the river as it continues onward.  I watched for a bit, then set my camera to continuous and just tried to capture it all.  Really, from this vantage point, I couldn't get a photo of everything!  Right in front was the huge cauldron of rushing foaming churning falling water.  Off to the left, more of the same.  A bit further left, long bridal veils of scalloped lacy water.  On and on it went, this gargantuan waterfall. 

This is the first drop at Iguazu, so it's the most dramatic.  In fact, the Argentinian side is all about the drama of the waterfalls, and this was the Drama Queen of the falls.

I spent a while just watching, mesmerized by the motion and the incredible force and the beauty that invokes emotion and spirituality in many.  As I stood there watching, a butterfly came along, looking for a way to get a little drink of water.  It fluttered down into the mist, sort of like a little kamekazi butterly!  I tried calling to it, yelling "no, butterfly, no, turn back!"  But either it had a death wish, or was overcome by the mist on its wings, or maybe caught in a down draft.  It disappeared into the white, and was gone.

I finally relinquished my spot to another visitor, and wandered down the lookout to a few other locations, not as close to the humongous part of the waterfall, and with a different view.  Of course, that meant more waiting for people to finish their selfies so I could get over by the railing, and tons more photos.

As I leaned over, just to see whatever I could, I noticed rainbows in the mist!  Can't see these from the Brazilian side, but there's so much mist that when the sun shines through at a certain angle, it forms rainbows right in the mist!  Not sure if the photos really do justice to these, but they were fun.

I didn't want to leave.  Really.  I actually said that to myself.  I thought how wonderful it would be to build a house with this view, right at the falls.  Of course, then I'd have tourists in my backyard every day.  But seriously, what an incredible experience!

I walked back to the train station, met up with Richard who wasn't inclined to cross the rather fragile-looking network of walkways across the river lake.  We had a light snack - mostly water, because it was a 90+ degree day (30+ C), and quite humid in the jungle.  Then a train ride back to our station, a hike back to our hotel, and time for a shower and a rest.  (Put it this way - it was such a hot and humid day, my pedometer actually was fogged up inside the plastic, and I could barely read it!!!)

The biggest disappointment for me on this trip, or maybe the only disappointment, because it has been wonderful, is that I didn't see a puma or jaguar.  I really wanted to.  Not necessarily up close and in my face on the trail, because despite being convinced that they'd be my big cat buddies, I realize that they might not know that and might think I was lunch or dinner.  But, running along the river bank, or prowling the hotel property at night - that would be good.  Alas, no jaguars or pumas for me. 

They really are out there, though.  The park doesn't allow visitors from 6 PM to about 7 AM, most likely due to the nocturnal hunters.  They do have signs in both parks, Argentinian and Brazilian, about what to do if you see a jaguar.  Don't run, don't crouch, don't look them right in the eye, don't scream.  I guess slowly back away, but keep an eye on them, and try to look big.  Hope they see you as bigger than they are, and are willing to move along for easier prey.  (Turns out there was a puma prowling the hotel grounds several weeks ago.  It had been shot with a tranquilizer dart and moved several times previously.  But it turns out male pumas tend to be very territorial, and this one kept returning from the opposite end of the park.  So they finally had to shoot it, which is really sad.  The desk clerk told me the pumas often come by at night to drink from the pool.  But some children saw it, and there's a history of pumas around here killing children occasionally.  So the park rangers first try relocating the pumas, but if they're persistent about one territory, well, sadly the pumas are then shot.  I'd think they'd have a zoo or something, which while not great, is better than dead.)

There are also coaties, those raccoon looking animals.  And capuchin monkeys, who apparently can open the balcony doors and like to eat the items from the fridge bar - we were warned at the hotel to be sure to keep our balcony door locked when we weren't in the room.  We didn't see the monkeys, but we saw plenty of coati, including what looked like baby coati school!  Really, troops of baby coati, with a few mothers supervising, running through the jungle and looking for food.  A few sniffed my shoes, just in case they were edible.  I don't have a decent photo of the babies, they're in perpetual motion.  And like every species of animal, they spend half their time playing and fighting with each other.  Absolutely adorable, even if the signs all say they bite and scratch.

Oh, I had a few mishaps when I went to the Brazilian side.  I booked a driver at the hotel - to the falls and a return trip, with time at the border crossings, cost a bit less than just the taxi ride from the airport, which is closer than the falls - so I thought the price was reasonable.  Plus I could chat with my driver.  (Everyone wants to know what we think of the new US president, which makes for interesting conversations in limited Spanish.)

Anyway, I somehow had grabbed Richard's passport that morning, instead of mine!  He wasn't feeling great, so opted to stay in our hotel.  Fortunately, the driver wanted to fill in the border crossing form while at the hotel, so I discovered the mistake and could quickly exchange passports so I had the right one.  Then onward.  At the Brazilian national park, their system is that you buy an entry ticket, walk in, and they have buses to take people to the trail head.  So I climbed upstairs, with a great view, and once the bus was mostly full we set off.  We stopped at a few places, but no one got off.  There was a sound system with an informational track going, describing the falls and all, in Portuguese and English.  We reached a stop and most of the people got off the bus, but not all.  And the info tape didn't say "This is the beginning of the trail, get off the bus here."  I asked the people near me if this was the beginning, but they didn't know.  Well, it was.  Except I didn't know, so I stayed on the bus.  Next stop was the end.  Sigh.  I asked the driver and he agreed, this was the end.  The beginning was up there.  I tried asking if I should get out here and walk in that direction, but apparently mangled the Spanish.  He called over a guard who spoke English, and we worked out that I'd stay on the bus and get a ride back to the beginning.  Ah well, I guess I had the scenic tour!

Dad's hat didn't come to the Brazilian side, but he enjoyed the Argentinian side.  However, right at the top of La Garganta was pretty windy, and there wasn't a safe place for him to sit - so no photos in front of the falls.  Just snuck in a few spots.

Before we arrived, I had heard and read that the Argentinian side was better, and the Brazilian not so much.  I personally think that the Argentinian side is much more dramatic, and has much more hiking.  But the Brazilian side has more of an overview with extended vistas, and having the trail with sequential views sort of makes more sense.  You actually see more, though from a distance, when in Brazil.  But if you want to feel like you're inside the waterfall, then come to Argentina.

Both sides were great!  And for anyone who has ever thought about travelling to Iguazu Falls, do it!  Really, it's gorgeous!  Wherever you are, consider flying into either the Brazilian or Argentinian side, because the length of time and price of getting there can vary immensely.

Our hotels:  we spent three nights at the Iguazu Grand Resort Spa and Casino, and had a suite.  Included breakfast, and free wifi, beautiful grounds, a pool, everything like that.  Our last two nights were at the Iguazu Sheraton, which is right in the park and has a view of La Garganta.  (I'm somehow a gold member, so had some perks, including free wifi.)  However, in hindsight, I'd say stay at the Iguazu Grand - our suite was half the price of the waterfall view room at the Sheraton, with twice the space.  Both are lovely hotels, and it's really wonderful being inside the park.  But neither is a budget hotel, this trip was a bit of a splurge for us. 

But definitely get here if you can!

More photos so you can see how incredibly magnificent these falls are when you're right there at the top: