Bewitched, bothered and bewildered

Trip Start Jun 06, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Where I stayed
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What I did
Nearly got stuck

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday 2 September

KK: We were reluctant to leave our divine hostel in Salta, with its balcony, friendly staff and handy supermarket. LK wandered into reception and asked when check out was, then ran back to the room to say it was in 20 minutes. Not good considering all our belongings were still scattered across the room.

LK: But we've clearly developed military precision in re-packing and off we went into the welcoming sunshine to kill a few hours before embarking on our next (24 hour) bus journey to Puerto Iguazu.

KK:  Some awful bog-standard shoot 'em up films helped the time crawl by. A recent Steven Segal film where they got round him being too old and fat to run by having villains fleeing and him raising an eyebrow towards a back alley, then him miraculously turning up to head the villain off. Time and time again. I was delighted when "Thor" came on. I’m not saying it was a bootleg but I’ve seen Thor and it isn’t in Spanish and the cast haven’t all got green skin. In the world outside the bus entered and left town after town with little idea where we were or what places were called. Young folks buzzed around on scooters without helmets. Older people sat outside bars. We considered getting off and joining them but these buses only run once a day.

Saturday 3 September

LK:  Something we have noticed is that the Argentinean police (Gendarmeria) like a good old check of buses. After midnight they stopped our bus, got on and off on three separate occasions, each time me thinking more and more that they’re just looking for an excuse to stitch up us foreign tourists with a limited grasp of their language. Two women were escorted to the side of the road and their luggage was disembowelled onto the dirt of the hard shoulder. What the hell are those long slabs of white packages? Why have you got 50 pairs of trainers in your bags? The women didn’t seem to bat an eyelid, and were inexplicably returned to the bus minus their white packages but clearly not under arrest. Must have been biscuits. But we were now running over an hour late which wasn’t good news for two subsequent connections.

KK:  Afeared we would be abandoned in Resistencia for 23 hours whilst waiting for the next bus we scrambled off and tried to get our luggage. The bus drivers are very courteous and explain things in great detail so as not to confuse people. Except we don’t do “great detail” in Spanish and would prefer them to just point or better yet carry us to where they want us to be. We hadn’t missed the connection because we were already on the right bus. Confused we sat back down and the bus was making up time. Right up until the police decided to wave us down and have another poke around for 20 minutes.

LK: We were late into Posadas but again told to stop on the bus. But only for it to drive over the road and then the staff to shoo us off onto another vehicle. At least we saw our rucksacks being successfully transferred but I am now in a permanent state of bewilderment. And I don’t like it.

KK:  Working air-con, what joy! Half an hour later we were rummaging for extra layers of clothes because we were cold. Oh look, a film is starting. It’s only that bloody stupid Jason Statham film again where he murders people and (worse) displays his bare arse. We fidgeted and sniffed suspiciously at ourselves after being cooped up like battery hens for a day. The countryside became expansive of forest and a lush green. The road rolled up and down and we pulled into innumerable small towns for one or two people to hop on and off. Eventually we arrived in Puerto Iguazu, got off the bus and were surprised to find our luggage intact. LK had also made us a little map to our hostel. And what a hostel it looked like on the internet. We would be staying in a separate guest house which sounded like it was across the lawn past the bar and swimming pool. What luxury we would enjoy.

LK: Our grumpy hostess showed us to a six bed dorm. I gathered up all my Spanish to be stroppy and explain that this is not what we reserved. A second consultation of the reservations book revealed that she had been looking along the wrong line. She threw open the door to a small double room and sauntered off. This strangely was no separate “guest house” and there certainly was no lawn. I need to lie down.

KK:  We were in a damp shed with a bed in it. A damp bloody shed. What to do. LK was right, sleep. We have learned to do nothing rash after a long journey. After a short kip we discovered the shed had an upside; arguably the best shower we have encountered on our trip. It blasted hot water at us and a thick wonderful steam swirled about our filthy feet. The world was instantly much, much better.

LK: And happily we bumped into Sarah (from Chillingham Road via San Pedro) that evening, joining her and Patrick (from Ireland)  for a chatty beer or two, only interrupted four times by a bloke offering to mould our faces from his big bag of clay. Why would he want to do that? Why would we want him to do that? Is everything going to be this strange?

Sunday 4 September

LK: We have found a laundry, which is a small victory and definitely overdue.

KK: We left the bag with the poor cow at the laundrette and rushed off before she had time to open it and release its fumes. Downtown Puerto Iguazu is a little bereft of activity on a Sunday morning but it was bursting with promise (bars, craft shops, a hint of reggae in the air – like a South American Taos – which you will remember rhymes with mouse). We followed a road hoping to find a river. On the way we discovered a little place displaying orchids. There were crafts on the walls and feeders for humming birds, of which there were plenty.  The woman running it didn’t make any attempt to sell us anything, in fact there was a sign saying you couldn’t buy the orchids, we were encouraged however to take pictures of the hovering  “colibrie”.  

LK: We found a river. Actually we found two, the Rio Iguazu joining the Rio Parana and forming a junction for Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. You could see three countries in one look, how amazing, and each had a small stone obelisk painted in the colours of their national flag. We returned to the hostel to dip our feet in the pool and meet another one of the two hundred people in the world, this time Kim, a language student from Durham University.

KK:  We collected fresh folded clean clothes from the same unfortunate woman we had presented our fermenting sack to. She seemed none the worse for wear. Then we hooked up with Sarah and Patrick for a pint. He was off to Brazil, her back to Chile. We might see him in New Zealand. Sarah is likely to turn up anywhere, a creature of utter chaos with a cheeky smile.  It was a pleasure to have met them both.

Monday 5 September

LK: It was our trip to Iguazu Falls day. We awoke to a thunderstorm. We bought our bus tickets. The hammering rain started bouncing back up from the pavement. Luckily the only other water we saw for the rest of the day was cascading over cliffs and chasms in a spectacular manner.

KK:  When you first see the falls it is almost impossible not to be stuck speechless except for a wayward exclamation or involuntary profanity.  We were lucky enough to visit Niagara a couple of years back and Iguazu makes that look like a babbling brook. The massive crashing violence set amidst serene beauty with circling turkey vultures above our heads made our senses reel. “And look over there,” points LK, “that’s Brazil.”

LK: The park is pretty well organised and runs a train line up to the Garganta del Diablo every thirty minutes which spaces out visitor numbers effectively. Our timing meant that thankfully we were 30 minutes behind an elderly Japanese tour group and 30 minutes ahead of the hyperactive rabble that was a school party. At one station in particular, feeding tourists are menaced by a pack of coatis, a sharp clawed and needle toothed raccoon-like beastie. We saw at least 12 of them trotting about together. Anyway, the Garganta del Diablo is just on a ridiculous scale, a semi-circular torrent which descends with such force that a permanent mist cloud hangs in the hollow and above.

KK:  When we left the park it was through our own exhaustion rather than having seen all it had to offer. We caught a bus back to town and found the hostel invaded by a horde of young Argentines who were having a barbeque by the pool. By the time we had returned from dinner in town that night they had become quite boisterous. But, I hasten to add, utterly unthreatening; “later we dance, yes?” said one alarmingly handsome young fellow.  We name checked Coloccini and Gutierrez for extra credibility which presumably we later lost when failing to dance. Instead we slept to a Latino beat punctuated by irregular screams and splashes from the pool.  

Tues 6 September

LK: We had bought bus tickets on a special offer for Buenos Aires but it meant sticking around Puerto Iguazu until Friday which seemed way too long. I managed to get a refund and went to withdraw more cash to cover a couple of days’ living expenses. The ATM “does not accept this card”. We have just enough cash to pay for our new bus tickets out of town, and an unreliable credit card. I am starting to feel like I have fallen into a Franz Kafka novel and expect to wake up as a giant beetle tomorrow morning. I handed over my credit card to the bus company and I struck lucky with a swipe and sign machine. Now we have loads of cash and can at least pay for our first night’s accommodation in Buenos Aires, and we’re skipping town tomorrow. Hoorah!

KK:  LK was beaming when she returned with news of our impending escape. I had spent the morning sitting by the filthy pool trying to sort the online sale of my new book. “It’s like trying to organise kittens into a motorcycle display team,”   I complained at one point. Anyway it appears to be sorted so if you could all move directly to after reading this I would be more than grateful. And when I say “move” I mean “buy four copies each of Spitting in the Wind please.” Then we watched Inglaterra v Galles on the outdoor TV while the owner gave the pool an overdue clean. The excitement of seeing the game was somewhat undermined by the reality of seeing the game. Grim.

LK: The gentleman behind the hostel bar had one of the ubiquitous metal straw and cup contraptions for drinking maté and I enquired what it was. He very kindly offered me a sip and I didn’t realise you could get tea that tasted like liquid nicotine and makes you light headed.

KK: Last night the waiter and owner of an Italian style diner were so kind to us when we were clearly counting our pesos that we determined to return so they could share the benefit of us being suddenly better off. Over eager, as it turns out, we were told to come back later but what a remarkable place this is for chance encounters. Our Dutch hostel neighbours from San Pedro in Chile were walking up the street, Paul and Kim, so we went for a beer and a chat. They work as snow-board and ski instructors in Austria when not globe trotting and both fizz with energy and enthusiasm. And because they are Dutch they speak about 50 languages. Later back at the hostel the Argentine kids were in party mood again. This time we weren’t on a detox day so we foolishly joined the throng. We ended up at a table with a crazed 19 year old called Maggie (who we briefly adopted until she refused to stop smoking), a quiet German lad from Frankfurt called Jonathon and a Hungarian lass called Fanny who was on the prowl for an Argentinean boyfriend. There was much laughter and probably about a litre of Quilmes too many but tomorrow we are bound for Buenos Aires. Yee-ha!
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