Monday, September 3, 2007

Iguazu Falls, Foz Iguassu

I first heard of the Iguazu Falls at Heinz Stulmuller’s birthday party when my old friend David Mooney said he planned to go to ‘those falls’ on his trip to Argentina. Sally first heard of them when the travel doctor asked if we planned to see them and if so he would give us malaria pills. He thought we would not need the yellow fever vaccine given our advanced age.

We then heard about the falls during just about every discussion with someone in Brazil. “Are you going to Iguazu Falls?” or “You must go to the Iguazu Falls”. This was usually followed by “Make sure you go to both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides. The Argentinean side is better”. While it was a bit out of the way to get there, we knew we would have to go.

Looking at the map, we decided to use it as a stepping stone from Curitiba to Buenos Aires. We arrived on the Brazilian side,at a small airport where we were greeted at the terminal by Brazilian musicians promoting a dinner/theatre production. “We must go to that” I thought. Once inside there was a large advertisement for a golf resort owned by the Bourbon Hotel chain, where we had stayed in Curitiba. “Maybe we should play golf too”.

I had booked the Hotel Carima on the internet since it was advertised as the state’s largest hotel. I wanted to be somewhere lively. It turned out to be a good choice, in terms of location, since it was close to the airport, the road to the falls, and the road to Argentina.

But as for lively, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we arrived, the lobby was so dark and gloomy we weren’t even sure if the hotel was open! For some reason, it was full of old cars and equipment, but no guests, other than the staff. (We did see a couple the next morning.)

The pleasant receptionist told us we had time to visit the Brazilian side of the falls that afternoon, and should see the Argentinean side the next day. So we left our bags in our very 60’s room, and got onto a bus to the National Park where the falls were located. From there we took a two-decker bus and got off when most of the other people did.

Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy and overcast. We couldn’t see much, but heard a giant roar. After walking down a long walkway, the falls were before us. They were impressive, but I wasn’t sure they were worth all the trouble getting there. We walked a little further, and I then realized there was more to see. The falls seemed to go on forever! We kept walking, and there were more falls. I subsequently read there were 275 falls over a 3 km precipice.

They made Niagara Falls seem like a small ripple! Sally kept saying she couldn’t understand how the Argentinean side could be any better.

That evening, we did go to the dinner/dance production, and I fell in love with a dark skinned dancer who looked very much like one of the girls in the painting I bought in Rio. I had my picture taken with her, but she looks much better in real life.

We woke up the next morning, and it was raining. Really raining. After breakfast in a large gloomy dining room, we set off for the Argentinean side. It was a lot easier getting there than expected. We took a $10 taxi ride through the Brazilian and Argentinean customs and were soon in the Argentinean town. Had we known how easy it was going to be, and how hard it was going to rain, we would have flown out that afternoon to Buenos Aires. Instead we stayed for the day, with plans to leave the next morning.

We're not sure we can say the Argentinean side was better since it rained so hard, we only saw a small part. But it was very well worth the visit. From the park entrance, we boarded a narrow gauge train out to a station, from where we walked along a 1100 km metal walkway over the river. Given the heavy rain, it was slippery and felt a bit treacherous. It was also disconcerting seeing remnants of older walkways that had washed away.

Eventually, we got to a point where we could stand literally on top of one of the two greatest waterfalls in the world. (Only Victoria Falls in Africa compares to it.) It was outstanding. Despite my white plastic raincoat that made me look like a member of the Klu Klux Klan, I got soaked. We therefore decided to skip the 4 km hike through the jungle to see the other portions of the falls, that we had seen the day before. Instead we returned to the small town on the Argentinean side to buy some wine and spend some time in the hot tub or sauna to warm up.

We did get the wine, but the hot tub was just warm, and the sauna needed an hour to heat up. So we stayed in the room and read the Vancouver Sun on the internet, including my story on safer cycling in the city. That evening, we had dinner in the hotel dining room, where I met a delightful young couple from Israel. We discussed our respective travels and I urged them to try out house exchanges and see Laos. We agreed to meet in Vancouver in 2 years.

Around midnight I went to bed and awoke the next morning feeling quite sick. But we were off to Buenos Aires, a place we had both wanted to visit for a long time.

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