| Entry 42 of 46
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Landing at Puerto Iguazu airport, we realised immediately that we were back in the rainforest. As soon as we left the air conditioned comfort of the plane and entered the small but relatively new and neat, terminal, the humid air of the jungle reminded us exactly where we were.
Not having a clue where the airport was relative to the town, we enquired as usual at the information desk to be told that we could either pay 80 pesos for a taxi or for a considerably reduced fee, share a minibus with other passengers. Since it seemed that the town of Puerto Iguazu was the only place to head to, the bus seemed the logical option.
Driving towards civilisation, the road gave the impression of cowering from the dense forest on either side as small pockets of mist rose from the damp tarmac. As the trees on either side started to part to reveal occasional hotel and self catering properties, we pulled into a driveway leading through palm trees, around a swimming pool to a low, tin-roofed building which looked like some luxury hotel complex.
Barely had I uttered the phrase “I wish we were staying here” than, to my amazement, I saw the sign proclaiming that we had arrived at the ‘Hostel Inn’, our home for the next week. Lonely Planet described the place as one of the best hostels in the country but I couldn’t believe our luck as we stood at the reception desk in the middle of a bright, airy lobby, looking out at a tropical garden surrounding the pool.
Unfortunately, when we went downstairs to our room, it wasn’t quite as luxurious. We very quickly realised that everything in the Puerto Iguazu area is slowly being reclaimed by nature. The high humidity and temperatures seem to result in timber structures starting to rot from the moment they are erected. Steel frames rust and even new concrete buildings appear aged and dirty as mould quickly forms on the damp surfaces.
Our room was little different. Although the hostel was kept immaculately clean and well managed by the innumerable staff, the skirting boards were starting to rot, the walls had patches of dampness and irrespective of whether the windows were open or closed, the high humidity seemed to pervade everything, to the extent that bedding and clothes felt constantly damp.
We also soon discovered that we had probably allowed far too long in the area. When we checked in for the initial three nights, our intention had been to spend the following four on the Brazilian side of the border, seeing the famous Iguazu Falls from both perspectives. Unfortunately, when we spoke to the staff on the hostel’s travel desk, we were greeted with a surprised and bemused expression at the concept of anybody wanting to spend a week in the area. Apparently anybody staying more than two nights is a bit of a novelty.
When we suggested that our intention was to move to the Brazilian side for four nights, we were asked simply “why, there’s nothing to do there”? Taking our cue from this, we decided to stay at the Hostel Inn for the rest of the week and look at the tours available from there.
Puerto Iguazu being situated on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay gives an almost unique opportunity to visit three countries before lunchtime and (being the sad engineers we are) we signed up for the trip to Paraguay and the Itaipu Dam.
Having been picked up from the hostel at 8am, we began to realise why the trip seemed quite cheap. Not only did the driver / guide speak no English (all our fellow passengers were south American) but we seemed to be doing the economy version tour. After sitting at the Argentinean border for about an hour, a bored looking customs official eventually stamped the passports and allowed us to proceed to Brazil.
Entering Brazil, we had to leave the bus and troop through the Brazilian customs’ passport stamping shed before heading off for the Paraguayan border – which, much to my disgust, we were waived through without stopping and more importantly for my ever growing collection, without a stamp in the passport.
Entering Paraguay gave me a strange feeling of wariness. It may have been the now almost constant rain or simply that we were in a less desirable area but the country seemed to have an edge to it that hadn’t been present in any of the other south American countries we had visited.
Seeing the Itaipu dam, and it’s famous ‘energy dispersing’ spillway was certainly an impressive sight but we were disappointed that, despite the gift shop (which we, on our ‘cheap’ tour didn’t have time to visit), visitor’s centre, internal coach transport, etc. there was no English translation available for the tour.
After the quick and virtually unintelligible tour of the dam, we boarded our minibus again and headed for the highlight of our fellow travellers day – the local tax free shopping market.
In something resembling ‘the barras’ Paraguay seems to attract residents of other south American countries selling electrical goods at what are apparently ‘knock down’ prices. From what we saw however, the items for sale are little cheaper than what we could buy (with a guarantee) at home.
Taking a walk through the market was an experience and there were definitely some traditional market ‘characters’ in evidence – including the one who managed to persuade Vicki to buy an Argentinean football shirt, claiming that the footballer Messi had changed position and played as number 18.
There were also several reminders however that we were in a somewhat ‘more dodgy’ south American country, from the massive array of combat knives on sale to the security guard in an off licence standing prepped with pump action shotgun in hand.
Less than impressed with what we had seen of Paraguay, we were happy to climb back on board the minibus and set off across the border again to Brazil where we stopped for lunch in what seemed to be a warehouse serving buffet meals to minibus loads of tourists visiting Paraguay.
Still in Brazil, we visited the water falls which thanks to the recent heavy rains were at an impressive level. On the down side, however, because it was still raining, we barely caught a glimpse of the falls through the mist until we reached the walkway out into the river.
With the river level thundering inches below the underside of the concrete slab, we edged our way through the mist towards the top of the main fall on the Brazilian side and were rewarded with both an instant soaking from the spray and an awesome, if slightly scary view straight over the edge of a waterfall to the churning white water below.
After much fooling around in the spray, (apparently the negative ions created by the waterfall cause a sense of great happiness in humans) the sky cleared sufficiently to allow us to take a few photographs of the impressive drops before returning to the bus and heading back to the hostel.
We soon discovered that the hostel caters specifically for the ‘two night stay’ clientele and the alternating ‘buffet’ and ‘barbeque’ dinners soon began to lose their appeal. We did however discover a few wonderful (and reasonably priced) restaurants in town. With a regular and convenient bus service for 1.5Real door to door, it proved a good alternative to the hostel’s cuisine.
On the plus side, we did move to another room in the hostel, this time on the first floor which elevated us from the dampness and, via the two walls of floor to ceiling windows, gave us an excellent view of the laundry and a tree.
Still, it had finally stopped raining, so we made the most of the pool, it’s amazing daily collection of dead flies floating on the surface, and the immaculately kept garden area around it complete with sun loungers.
Deciding to use our status as ‘practically locals’ we declined to let the travel desk book our tour to the Argentinean side of the falls and decided to use the local bus (since there only was one road and two destinations in each direction it wasn’t difficult). Having just missed a bus, we were standing waiting for the next when one of the local taxi drivers came and offered us and a Columbian couple a lift to the falls for the same price as the bus.
Entering the park together, we got chatting to Natalia and Carlos and immediately struck up a rapport which saw us spending the rest of the day together. Boarding the small trains that took us from the main entrance (via the inevitable gift shops and restaurants) we headed for one of the viewing areas and were immediately impressed by the excellently managed national park.
With almost perfect viewing weather and the river still very high (we were told that if it rose much more they would have to close some of the access routes) we had arrived at the ideal time to see the falls in their full glory.
With the ‘negative ion’ effect kicking in again, and the sheer beauty of hundreds of thousands of tons of water falling off a cliff in the middle of a rainforest, it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the falls.
Not to be outdone by their Brazilian neighbours, Argentina (who ‘own’ 70% of the width of the falls) have built two, even longer walkways that allow access to the very centre of the river. Once you have reached this spot (along with the several thousand other tourists unfortunately) it is almost impossible to tear yourself away, like a young child wanting to wait ‘just one more minute’.
With the shear size of the falls, which, in addition to the main ‘horseshoe’ also encompass several smaller but nonetheless impressive ‘tributary’ falls, we easily spent the day walking along the various paths and bridges, where sadly the impressive jungle and wildlife fade into second place against the watery backdrop.
Having been ‘old and boring’ every other night, we decided to ‘stay up late’ and had a few drinks with Natalia and Carlos that night, only to discover that for some reason everybody else in the hostel decided to go to bed at about ten o’clock.
The following day, thinking that the good weather was now here to stay, we lazed around the pool and did some sunbathing while our Columbian friends waited for their 18 hour bus journey to Buenos Aires. Our plan was to return to the falls the next day and take the speedboat up the rapids to the base of the fall.
Sadly, we discovered that in the rainforest, rain is never far away. The next day dawned (eventually) on a torrential downpour to make Scotland seem ‘a bit damp’. Not letting up until about 5 o’clock we discovered just how boring sitting in a hostel all day can be – especially when the power has gone off and the available food is limited to sandwiches and crisps. Also no TV!!
When it finally seemed safe to cancel our ark building plans, we took the bus into town to discover (deduced from the piles of sawdust and hastily re-joined power cables) that the storm we had sat through had in fact brought down a few trees and appeared to be excessive, even for Iguazu.
Wondering desperately if we could manage to squeeze in a power boat trip in the morning before having to catch a taxi to Brazil (I just love saying that casually) we decided with some regret that it was just going to be too tight and opted instead to have a slap-up final meal.
Having found a restaurant that offered an ‘Argentinean barbeque’ we were soon struggling our way through a meat-feast, including to our surprise, black pudding which we always assumed was a Scottish peculiarity.
The next day we sought out our friendly taxi driver from earlier in the week, negotiated a price and headed off for the border. Strange as it seems to us, simply taking a taxi to another country, it is part of daily life in Iguazu and as the driver handed us customs declarations to complete, we said goodbye to Argentina and entered the last country of our trip.
| Entry 42 of 46
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