Brazil/Argentina: Iguazu Falls

A photo of Iguazu Falls has been the background on my computer since I visited in 2008.  Most people think it is a generic stock photo from Apple.  It’s just too crazy to imagine a place like that exists.  But, it does. It’s located at the intersection of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.  I had been telling Joshua that it was a “can’t miss” in South America from the get go, and I was determined to share it with him.  Unfortunately, the logistics of getting there undermined his enthusiasm.  The bus ride from Sao Paulo was too long and surprisingly expensive.  We weren’t excited about the added cost of more unexpected plane tickets, especially after having to throw away a leg of our “halfway” round the world ticket.  Side note to anyone considering purchasing these…DON’T DO IT.  We thought it would be helpful to have a few tickets pre-purchased to serve as milestones and keep us on track.  It was supposed to be easy.  According to the company we used, AirTreks, we could make changes through the airline for little or no fees and we would earn airline miles all the while.  It hasn’t been easy AND we’ve wanted to change every flight we’ve taken in some small way.  But, airlines wouldn’t work with us because we used a ticket wholesaler, and AirTreks wanted to charge us $100 for each change.  Plus, I honestly think we could have saved more purchasing them on our own.  The only way I would ever recommend this service is if you are a person that can stick to a schedule or if you want to extend your layovers in certain places – they make it very easy.  You can, in fact, extend layovers yourself by calling airlines directly when preparing to buy a ticket, FYI.  Either way, we pulled the trigger.  It’s just money, right Mom?!

We flew in with one and half days to see the main attractions – ½ day on the Brazilian side and a full day on the Argentinian side.  The Brazilian side gives you some breathtaking overall views of the waterfalls, especially of the “devil’s throat,” but they usher you down the same path as all the other visitors who are interested in seeing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  In contrast, the Argentinian side has numerous loops and pathways that allow you to literally walk just above the edge of the waterfalls, so you can actually spend some “alone time” with the water.

We tried to get an early start on the exploring, so as soon as we arrived we threw our bags in a locker at the airport and took a bus (and our red shirts) directly to the Brazilian side of the falls.  This plan was only a half success.  We had great weather but we ended up having to share it with a lot more people than we were used to.  It’s hard to connect with something as amazing as Iguazu Falls when other tourists are constantly pushing you to get to the best picture spot.

Even with all the commotion, the falls were incredible and so were the rainbows that filled the misty sky.

Since it was still early in the afternoon, we thought we could position ourselves better for the next day by bussing over to the Argentinian side for the night.  In theory, it was a great idea.  Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong bus, and it was packed.  Even though we were coming from the airport, people still found it necessary to ridicule us (in Portuguese) about our big backpacks.  To alleviate the stress, we just followed some other backpackers off the bus and started walking, per usual.  We had no reservations and were quite a ways from the bus terminal to Argentina.  Many hostels and hotels were booked, but luckily, we found a little house with a few rooms.  We probably should have checked it before we scoured the city for lodging since it was aptly named Pension Laura.  To recharge after a LONG day, Joshua and I ordered way too much shawarma.  He knows me.  Problem solved.

The next morning we optimistically headed across the border to Argentina despite the threat of rain.  We wanted to hit every trail before the crowds arrived or we were too soaked to continue.  It sort of worked, but it didn’t matter…when you are on the Argentina side you feel like you are actually IN the waterfalls.  Unlike Niagara Falls, there are waterfalls everywhere, and they have built walkways right above them.  Iguazu is surreal.  We were drenched…in a good way.

To celebrate our great day, we used the last of our Argentinian pesos (which had depreciated mightily over the last three months) on two bottles of our favorite “economical” Argentinian wine, Uxmal.  We hopped on a bus back to Brazil, unsuccessfully stopping at the border to claim our taxfree refund from our hiking boots we purchased in Patagonia (the salesperson lied!).  Our disappointment was quickly forgotten when we found a great Brazilian Churrascaria for dinner.  As always in Brazil, it was all you can eat.  Meat comes by on spits straight from the grill.  Beef, steak, roast, pork, ribs, chicken, chicken wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon wrapped in cheese, chicken hearts, roasted pineapple and those are just the ones I could identify. Oh yeah, and a self-scoop ice cream counter.  If we didn’t have to get up for a 5:45 AM flight, we probably would have finished both bottles of wine we brought.

The flight was so early that we had to take a taxi to the airport.  When we arrived, we couldn’t check in and that’s when we figured out that our flight was cancelled.  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t speak Portuguese.  Luckily, we were not in the US, because the airline proactively offered meals, a hotel to nap in, shuttle service and a flight going out later that afternoon.  Although, we specifically picked the early flight to maximize our time in Rio, we couldn’t complain with all the assistance.  We also met two college students from Colombia, Daniel and Natalia, that made the disappointing situation a little bit better and much easier (they could speak Portuguese)!  We don’t usually sleep all day, but in Iguazu we took a long mid-day nap to recover from our 3:30am wake up, ate loads of dessert that apparently weren’t covered in our food stipend and told ourselves the whole ordeal was worth it to get the chance to see Iguazu Falls.

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