Journal 24 - April 15, 2003

Iguacu and a sad farewell » Go Back

Journal 24
After seventeen days in Rio it was time to get back on the road as a site seeing tourist again. From Rio I headed to Foz do Iguacu (Iguazu falls), one of South America's premier tourist destinations, located just above the border of Paraguay and right between Argentina and Brazil. Known by some as the eighth wonder of the world, the falls have a reputation as one of the world's preeminent sites of natural beauty. However, sometimes the hype on the gringo trail can be a little much, and as one of the last sites I'd see in South America, I had heard dozens of times how great the falls are. The falls are great.

Once in Iguacu I headed straight for the highly recommended Paudimar hostel, a traveler's oasis in Brazil, and the perfect place to relax while visiting the falls. With a pool, lounge chairs, hammocks, internet access, a futbol field and daily tours to the falls, it's easy to understand how many travelers get stuck there for weeks ($4 a day). I was happy to relax by the pool my first day, see the Brazilian side of the falls the following day, then on the third day join my friend Kiwi Greg for a tour of the Argentinean side. I originally met Greg on the Inca Trail in Cusco back in November, then ran into him at the hostel in Buenos Aires in December, then again in Buenos Aires in February, then again in Brazil. We're hoping our next meeting will be at the Running of the Bulls this summer in Pamplona, Spain.

Foz de Iguacu is an enormous 2.5 mile long set of waterfalls consisting of approximately 275 individual falls, some of which drop as far as 269 feet from the ledge into the gorge, while many others cascade along rock ledges into dozens of sparkling pools, then drop again as new falls into new pools. Long before getting a glimpse of these amazing waterfalls, you hear the tremendous roar, from hundreds of meters away comes the low rumble as millions of gallons of water drop off rock ledges.

I first visited the Brazilian side of the falls for a panoramic view of the 275 cataratas. This outing lasted less than two hours at a leisurely pace, but was well worth the time. The excursion took me along a nice path that ends near the center of the famous Garganta do Diablo, or Devil's Throat. This section of the falls is the most ferocious and violent combination of thundering water, producing winds of misty spray that douse visitors. With daily temperatures averaging well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, any chance to cool down is welcome, and the spay from the Devil's Throat was very refreshing. While standing on the viewing platform at the Devil's Throat, it was easy to get an appreciation of the incredible power of the falls. Representing just one portion of the falls, the Devil's Throat thunders constantly as the water from Rio Iguacu pours off the v-shaped ledge that composes this section. A constant gust of misty spray flies from the Garganta creating rainbows that glitter in the changing light of the sun. As you soak it all in hundreds of colorful butterflies dance and dive over the falls in kamikaze formations.

The following day Kiwi Greg and I visited the Argentinean side of the falls. Acknowledged by travelers as the superior side, if such a judgment can be made. The Argentinean side gets you directly on top of, next to, and inside the falls, offering an entire day's worth of activity. Kilometers of linked trails and pathways take you along the top of several falls, down to the middle sections of others, and directly to the bottom of a few. This while walking among thousands of colorful butterflies that dance in the mists of the falls and have no inhibitions about landing on visitors. While the falls roared like Maracana stadium at the Rio final, we walked along in complete awe, totally impressed by the awesome power of the water and the incredibly beauty of the setting. It's difficult to imagine a better place for such a tremendous display of power. Lush and tropical forest surround the falls as it borders a National Park where macaws, pumas, and other wildlife can be seen.

But for Greg and I walking along the paths and watching the falls wasn't enough, so we booked a ride in a jet-boat that rushed six kilometers up the river straight into the roaring falls. After flying up some light rapids, the boat stopped just before one of the large falls so we could take pictures, and then quickly put our cameras into the waterproof bags before the boat barreled into one of the Three Musketeers, a set of three huge falls that gush from a ledge containing dozens of pools. From there the boat headed for another bigger fall, this time completely drenching us and our belongings. "Otra vez!" Greg and I yelled hoping the captain would take us in for another go, but to our disappointment that was all we would get. The refreshing and exhilarating ride was the perfect way to cool down before lunch. Dripping wet we left the boat and headed for some Milanesa, very happy to be back on Argentine soil after a month in Brazil.

After lunch we made our way to the final destination of the day. A mini-train ride and series of walkways led us to the top of the Devil's Throat for a different view of the most violently impressive and frightening section of Iguacu. The roar from the Throat is like the constant rumbling of a 747, but the sight of the water dropping off into its own misty cloud is more impressive than the sound. Oceans of water pour into the Devil's Throat in a constant stream, producing cool mists that obscure the bottom of the falls and create brilliant rainbows in the sun as the dancing butterflies perform their ballet, an amazing site.

Iguacu was just the thing I needed to inspire me and invigorate me for the remaining months of my trip. After my visit I decided I'd soon be ending my time in South America. However, before leaving I had to say goodbye to my favorite city, Buenos Aires. Essentially in the neighborhood at a mere 20 hour bus ride away, I jumped on the night bus and went back to the Tango City for a farewell week. In a sense I needed to get Buenos Aires out of my system, all of my previous visits there had been cut short due to time restrictions or planned meetings with friends. This time I was able to wander, sit in the parks, and soak it all up until the point of saturation. Fortunately, during my time there I was joined by my good friend Lilach Shay, one of my Israeli friends who I had traveled with in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. It was great to see her again, and to say goodbye to her and the city I love for the final time of this trip.

My time in South America was incredible. The continent is so vast and diverse that in six months I covered less than half of it, completely ignoring the north, including northern Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, northern Peru, not to mention dozens of other places I could easily spend another six months visiting. For those who haven't looked at a proper world map lately, take a look, South America is not just an extension of Mexico. Brazil alone is bigger than the continental U.S. and the terrain and cultures represented there are diverse and fascinating far beyond anything I imagined prior to my arrival.

I had such and education there, from my first weeks in Chile with my Latin family in Santiago, where Marcelo and his family took great care of me after I arrived sick with a fever from the U.S., having left my continent for the first time. After being nursed back to health and shown around Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and other parts of Chile, I ventured off on my own to the north of Chile, into Peru for Cusco and Machu Piccu. Then into fascinating Bolivia for the jungle, La Paz, the amazing and incredible Altiplano of the Andes, and the unforgettable Salar de Uyuni. In Bolivia I also met my three great Israeli friends, Nitsan, Lilah, and Lilach, with whom I traveled with for weeks in Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. After amazing Bolivia I entered the promise-land of Argentina, where I was happy to spoil myself for over two months with steaks, ice cream and espresso, then to the south to see Patagonia, Bariloche, Chalten, Fitz Roy, the Moreno Glacier, the Torres del Paine in Chile, and the end of the world, Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. Finally my trip brought me to the world's biggest party in Brazil, Carnival in Florianopolis and Rio, yet another spectacle worth coming back for.

The end for me was Iguacu and a final few weeks saying goodbye and organizing the next part of my trip. After six months there are many places I'd love to come back to. I'd also strongly recommend visiting many of these places for those who have never been. South America as a continent is so diverse, and there is so much more to it than many people's perception of jungle, snakes, and cocaine (hopefully my emails have done something to demonstrate that).

Among the sites I'd like to see again and most highly recommend:

-San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
-Cusco and Machu Piccu, Peru
-La Paz, Bolivia
-The Salar de Uyuni and the Andes of Bolivia
-The Andes in general, top to bottom
-Buenos Aires
-Mendoza and Bariloche, Argentina (The Seven Lakes drive from Bariloche)
-All of Patagonia
-Fitz Roy, Torres del Paine, Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego
-A futbol game at Maracana in Rio - AWESOME.
-Ipanema and Carnival in Rio

Alas I had to leave, I was very sad to leave a continent and the cultures I had grown to be so comfortable in, like leaving home for the second time of my trip. From Sao Paulo, Brazil I caught a flight to NY for a quick pit stop in The Big Apple to get some supplies. In a couple of days I leave for Nepal, then finally to France this summer to see the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France. Despite being so sad to leave Latin America, I'm looking forward to all the adventures that lie ahead.