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My guidebook calls Iguazu "Niagra on Viagra." Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly said, "Poor, poor Niagra," the first time she saw Iguazu. Niagra bashing aside, I've now spent a couple of days at the famous Iguazu waterfalls and all I can say is - wow! "Waterfalls" seems like a weak word to describe multiple tiers of water crashing over the cliffs for 14 miles in the rainforests of Argentina and Brazil.
The Argentine side of the falls consists of three separate circuits - the Upper and Lower Circuits, plus the Devil's throat. On the circuits, viewing platforms are connected by two miles of metal walkways. The platforms and walkways make the waterfalls extremely accessible to tourists, but the downside of accessibility is huge crowds. In most places, the walkways are only wide enough for two people, so if one person stops to take a picture (which, as you can imagine, happens approximately every five seconds in a place this beautiful) it causes a traffic jam.
Hoping to minimize the crowds, we took the little tourist train to the far side of the park to make our first stop at the Garganta del Diablo (translation: "Devil's Throat") waterfall. Following the walkways over sections of the Iguazu River and through small wooded islands, we came to the top of the gigantic waterfall, the tallest in the park at 82 meters. The bubbling, root beer-colored water crashed over the edge and out of sight, occasionally floating refreshing puffs of mist back up to us. It was spectacular.
After the Devil's Throat, we walked the half-mile Upper Circuit, which led us along the tops of several waterfalls, including San Martin, the park's widest.
In the middle of exploring the Upper Circuit, the skies opened up.
There was a hard downpour for about an hour, and I had conveniently left my raincoat, umbrella and emergency poncho back at the hostel. After getting completely soaked, Patti and I huddled under the shelter of an old maintenance building along with a few other tourists until the rain slowed to a drizzle.
On the bright side, the storm made half of the tourists leave. It was much more relaxing to explore the Lower Circuit without smashing into other tourists on the walkways. Toucans flew overhead and coatis (aka: Brazilian aardvarks) emerged from the jungle to beg for food and climb up into the trees.
The Lower Circuit was my favorite because it brought us up close to the waterfalls. From the lower height of the viewing platforms, it was easy to see how high the waterfalls really were. One part of the path lead so close to the falls that everyone who went down it came out drenched. That would be so fun to run through on a hot day.
On our second full day in Iguazu, the weather was sunny, so we returned to the park. A day's admission costs 100 pesos (like $25 USD), but you can return on the second day for half price.
In the morning, we hiked the 7,000 meter Macuco Trail. It's possible to see Capuchin monkeys and toucans along the trail, but we didn't get that lucky. We just saw more coatis and some big spiders. It was still a nice walk, and the trail ended at a waterfall-fed lagoon where people were swimming. The water was nice and cool and the spray on my face was perfectly refreshing. We could've stayed there all day, but there were more waterfalls to see.
In the afternoon, we walked the Upper and Lower Circuits again. Although we'd seen the waterfalls the day before, they had been shrouded in mists and fog. In the sunlight, many more colors emerged from the landscape and there was a clear view all the way to Brazil.
Unfortunately, the river was too high for us to ride the free boat across the Iguazu River to San Martin island. The island is supposed to have nice swimming beach and amazing views of the waterfalls, which appear to wrap around the island on three sides. Oh well.
The best part of the day was around 4 p.m., when the rainbows came out. The sun, lowering in the sky hit the mists and spray at just the right angle to cause a spectacular scene straight from a fairy tale. Patti and I agreed that the green hills and waterfalls, rainbows and rising mists made the scene look like the Mermaid's Lagoon from Peter Pan.
Our hostel here - the Residencial Uno - has been quite an experience. There's a nice pool that I swam in under the moonlight, and the best private DVD collection I've ever seen.
While the hostel appeals to me, it's definitely not for everyone. It's a bit shabby but mostly, that's due to the five enormous dogs who have the run of the place. They look to be a little smaller than my Sam, who now weighs 70 pounds, but not by much. The dogs sit on the sofas and there's a lot of hair anywhere. I live with a Samoyed, so shedding is not a big deal to me. In fact, I love being around big dogs because it eases some of my homesickness for Sam. Overall, these dogs are really well behaved, but I heard some people complaining about having to step over the dogs and shoo them out of our rooms. I can understand how five enormous dogs might be a bit overwhelming, especially when they jump on each other and play-fight.
I would say maybe half of the guests at the hostel are Israeli; apparently it's featured on the Israeli version of Hostelworld. In fact, Patti and I have noticed tons of Israeli people in general in Argentina. El Calafate even had some signs in Hebrew. One Israeli guy I talked to explained that it's really common to travel for a few months after getting out of the army. He said they try to go to inexpensive places, which mostly means South America or Southeast Asia.
I wish extended travel were that common for young adults in the US. It's such an important developmental step. Traveling teaches you about the real world outside of your own bubble. It exposes the endless array of choices you can make to shape your life into exactly what you wish for. It forces you to take care of yourself. While traveling, you make friends from other countries, which is good for the world on both micro and macro levels. In my opinion, travel is just as important as a formal education because the skills learned are different, but complementary to a college degree.
And that's my sermon for the day.
Anyway, speaking of making friends, Patti and I really clicked with two Israeli guys that we met at the hostel. They were so much fun and really nice. I've said it once and I'll say it again: the hard part of traveling isn't meeting cool people. It's saying goodbye to them. I could totally see myself being good friends with these guys, but now I'll probably never see them again.
Ah well, there are many more pics below.