Saturday, July 30, 2011

Destination 1: Iguazu

Last Thursday afternoon, around 5:15 p.m., Maria and I picked up our bags, locked our doors behind us and left the residence, certain we wouldn't return for at least seven days.  We caught a bus to Retiro Station, where we had to find the bus we would be on for eighteen hours en route to Puerto Iguazu.  Retiro is a madhouse.  It's a train station, a bus station, and a crazy sort of market.  There are people and buses everywhere; there are booths selling everything from chipas to cell phone covers to mates.  When we got there, we didn't even know which part was the bus station.  First we walked into the train station.  Then we continued down the lane of cheap trinkets and snacks until we finally saw a sign: "Terminal de Omnibus."  Up a ramp, down a hall, around a corner, and we were met with a big departures and arrivals board.  Unfortunately, we were an hour early, so our bus was not yet posted.  We sat and waited.  Pretty soon it was ten minutes to seven (our scheduled departure was 7:00 p.m.) and still we had no word on where our bus was.  Frantically, we ran around until we found the customer service/ticket sales window of the company (Crucero del Norte) and showed our tickets to the woman, asking her if there was some problem, if our bus was going to come soon.  It was 7:06.  With a shockingly bored expression, she told us to wait downstairs where we had already been waiting.  Our bus would be here in a few minutes.

We ended up departing at about 7:20.  I'm not sure why I was surprised to learn that the lax attitude toward punctuality extended to the transportation industry, but I was.  So we boarded our bus, found our seats, and settled in for a nice, long ride.  These buses are not like Greyhound buses.  And they're not like Bolt Bus, either.  Each seat is a big armchair that reclines fully.  You get a pillow and blanket.  You get meals.  They show movies.  It's like a plane, but with more legroom and cheaper tickets.  I legitimately enjoyed the eighteen hours we spent on that bus.

Friday afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., we arrived in Puerto Iguazu in the Misiones province of Argentina.  After some disoriented wandering, we found the local bus we needed to take to our hostel.  When we arrived at Hostel-Inn Iguazu, I was in awe.  The place looked like a resort: a big, beautiful pool out front surrounded by lounge chairs, a cabana bar.  We walked in and there were people milling about and music playing; it was a party.  The whole place was just a party.  We checked in and planned out excursions for the following day at the park, then went down to our room.  That first night we met some girls from England who were finishing up a six-month tour of South America and not at all eager to be leaving.  Maria and I agreed we couldn't fathom six months of solid traveling, without some sort of home base.  We went into town for dinner, at a parrilla, where I enjoyed yet another amazing steak.  We headed back to the hostel and went to bed early so we could get to the park and see the falls in the morning.

For a week now I've been trying to put my experience with the falls into words.  I was awestruck, speechless, blown away.  There are hundreds of individual falls in this park, and each one just shocks you.  We walked the upper trail and the lower trail, then we went out in a boat on an "approach to the falls" excursion, where we got entirely soaked.  It was incredible.  After that, we found a sunny place to eat lunch and dry off.  Except the coaties (somewhere between a raccoon and an anteater) stole my sandwich.  Bastards.  Seriously, these animals have no fear.  It's probably because everyone thinks they're adorable and feeds them all the time.  They were cute when I first saw them, but it didn't take long for me to change my mind.  After lunch we took the train up to the other end of the park to see the unfathomable Garganta del Diablo.  This is basically the main attraction in Iguazu.  It's the biggest of the falls, the most powerful and terrifying.  We stood on a platform right on the edge-- everywhere in this park, you can stand so close to the falls it's actually a little unnerving.  For the next few nights I had dreams about falling or dropping things over the rails. 

We marveled at Garganta del Diablo for as long as possible, which was difficult with everybody shoving toward the front and throwing elbows.  Afterward we took another boat ride, this one a more peaceful excursion called the Paseo Ecol√≥gico.  There was a small group of us on this boat, with a guide paddling us through the river.  We saw crocodiles, flowers, birds-- it was so relaxing and a perfect way to finish the day.  If you're ever in Iguazu I recommend exactly what we did: Upper Trail, Lower Trail, Approach to the Falls, Garganta del Diablo, Paseo Ecol√≥gico.  In that order.  It was excellent.

That night we were hungry early and went back into town to find a restaurant.  There were several nice places, but we didn't really feel like spending too much, and we came across a place called Colors where the owner offered us 10% off if we paid in cash.  The food looked good, and the deal sounded good, so we went in.  It ended up being a very strange experience.  I still can't quite put my finger on it, but I was just incredibly uncomfortable the whole time.  The whole town felt like a tourist trap, like all of the businesses were working together to get you to spend money.  And, I mean, yeah, that's what they want you to do, obviously.  But it was creepy.  I felt like prey.  So when we couldn't find the bar for which we had received a free drink coupon, we weren't too upset.  We headed back to the hostel, pretty early again, because we had to get up the next day to get our bus to Wanda.

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