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Break-ins and Waterfalls December 5, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Iguazu Falls.
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The last thing you want to do after a 17-hour bus ride is trek through the hot streets of a new town only to arrive at the wrong hostel. Factor in 35-pound backpacks, vicious humidity and sleep-deprived delirium and that’s pretty much where we were at.

Make no mistake, we went all out for this bus ride, springing for the deluxe full cama seats (almost fully retractable) instead of pinching pennies on the semi-cama like we usually do. Being only 2 of 3 passengers on the first floor of the bus, we had our own little minion slave who served us wine with dinner, kept bringing by a basketful of candy and brought us a tumbler of whiskey before turning out the lights for bed. But still, it was 17 hours. On a bus.

So we arrived very disoriented and showed up at the wrong hostel, wondering why they’d never heard of us and didn’t have our reservation. A quick email check proved that Jen had written down the address of a hostel with a similar name. Ours was about 6 blocks away. We finally arrived at the correct hostel only to discover that the door was locked and there was no one inside to answer our knocks and calls. We’re resourceful people and it was ridiculously hot, so Steve climbed through an open second storey window and unlocked the door from the inside. We went in and proceeded to search the entire grounds, upstairs and down, and still couldn’t find a soul

In the meantime, two other backpackers showed up so we let them in too. Now there were four of us, but still no proprietor. About forty minutes later, a groggy woman who’d obviously just woken up from siesta appeared from a room behind the kitchen. She was almost too shocked by finding four strangers in her hostel to be anything other than apologetic.

Thus our introduction to Puerto Iguazú. We spent the rest of the night watching movies from the hostel’s bootleg DVD collection and chatting with Silvia (sleepy owner) in broken Spanish.

Our first full day in Puerto Iguazú, we hiked a short way out of town to the grounds of a five star hotel overlooking the river. On our way we came across a group of barefoot boys engaged in some sort of jungle-esque warfare which consisted of throwing mud rocks at one another and ducking for cover behind the hotel’s bushes and shrubs. In Spanish, we asked if we could take their picture and they quickly assembled in the photo below as if they’d been doing it all their short lives.

From there, we continued on to Tres Fronteras, or Three Frontiers, the point where the Paraná and Iguazú Rivers meet and you can see Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay all at once.

The next morning we caught a bus for Parque Nacional Iguazú, pretty much the highlight of Northern Argentina. We entered the park and followed a small, single path through the jungle, anxious to see what we could already hear roaring up ahead. Under normal circumstances, a single waterfall constitutes an attraction, but Iguazu Falls consists of no less than 275 different falls, the greatest being the mammoth, semicircular Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat-the tallest fall, measuring in at 262 feet in height.

When we emerged from the clearing for our first glimpse of the falls, there was no doubt in our minds why they’re currently on the shortlist for one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The sheer power, and the incredible amounts of water pouring over the jungle cliffs and rock faces is simply awesome. Standing on one of the many lookout points to watch and listen to the water surging past was a hypnotic experience. You can’t help but wonder where all that water comes from and revel at its force. Meanwhile, exotic butterflies were landing all over us, on our arms, heads and backs, making the experience all the more surreal.

Checking off another activity I never thought I’d do in my lifetime, we took a “beneath the falls” boat ride, putting us so close to the falls that it was impossible to open our eyes even to see the towers of water crashing down on us from above. Needless to say, Steve got his adrenaline rush and we were soaked from head to toe.

As we’ve mentioned many times before, South America lacks a lot of the red tape we’re used to in the U.S. As a result, a series of catwalks and lookouts were built throughout the park, enabling people to get right over, next to and beneath the blinding towers of water.

These catwalks are an impressive feat of engineering by themselves. In order to reach the Devil’s Throat, you board a little train that shuttles you to the entrance of a catwalk that spans the river in a zigzag pattern for about 3/4 of a mile. At the end is what feels like the edge of the world, a gaping hole in the earth where several falls converge and drop into what looks like a bottomless abyss. The catwalk is built over top, right before the thrashing water disappears into nothingness, sending up huge gusts of white spray that soak through your clothes within seconds.

A vivid rainbow hung suspended right in the middle of the cavern, where we watched a butterfly get caught up and devoured by the rush of water.

During our day at the park, we also came across a band of coaties (rainforest racoons) taking a stroll along a path, a few gigantic lizards with no tails, huge tiger ants and spiders big enough to make your skin crawl. Overall, Iguazú was the perfect ending to our 5 weeks in Argentina. Now, with visas in hand, we’re ready for Brazil.