Adding to the shock value of getting up at 4:15am, was the realization that it had rained overnight; Mendoza normally gets only 200 to 300 millimeters of rain a year so apparently we were there for their year quota. The taxi we had arranged to pick us up at 5:30 arrived early but despite the rain, it only took 15 minutes at that hour to get to the airport. We had booked the 7:25am flight out of Mendoza on Flybondi (the first Argentinian budget airline) because they had the only direct flight (and only twice a week) from Mendoza to Iguazu so we figured it would be better than a 3 hour layover in Buenos Aires. We were wrong; the flight was delayed 4 hours. Belatedly we realized we should have checked email because there was a notice in there, which meant we could have had 4 more hours of sleep (sigh). We secured a couple seats in the waiting area, amused at people who had also not checked their email, standing in line waiting for the check-in to open (Warren finally showed his email to one person in line – after which most dispersed). When security had to be called because a guy was having a fit about not being allowed to carry bottles in his check-in, we were glad we’d packed ours in our carry-on. On the plane, we were thankful that we had filled our water bottles because “budget” meant you had to pay for everything, even water. We took our “randomly” assigned seats and realized no one had purchased a seat assignment so no one travelling together sat together. It made for a quiet but uncomfortable flight: the seats were so small (even for Cynthia’s diminutive frame) and the air so fart infested that we couldn’t wait to get off.
As we funneled into the crowded baggage claim area of the small Iguazu airport, we had time to figure out transportation which was just outside the baggage claim. At 700 ARP (minimum) for a taxi, we opted for the 200 per person “Bus a la Ciudad” which drops every passenger at their hotel. After retrieving our luggage, we stood in the swift moving bus ticket line, showed them the name and address of our hotel, and hopped on the shuttle bus just outside to the right (they cleverly print the license plate of the bus you were assigned to on your ticket). Unfortunately there is only one lane out of the airport so we sat in the tropical heat for 45 minutes on a non-airconditioned bus until we made it to the gate booth – where we found out the reason for the booth was to pay for parking – which our bus already had so it seemed relocating the booth to the actual exit of the parking lot should have been a no-brainer.
After circling the town a bit for one woman who did not have the correct address for her hotel, we finally arrived at Jose Gorgues Hospedaje, a very nice place with outdoor kitchen, beautiful landscaped courtyard and an air conditioned room (hurray!).
Arriving too late to visit the park, we decided to check out what the town of Puerto Iguazú had to offer. The first stop was the amazing hummingbird garden (Jardín de Los Picaflores) just across from our hotel. Clapping our hands as instructed to signal for someone to let us in, we paid the 150 ARP per person at a booth where an emtpy cage sat open with a sign that read “It’s not an empty cage, it’s a free bird”. The garden was quite small and seemed to be the backyard of a residence. There were no cages or netting, but thanks to the feeders setup throughout, there were hummingbirds everywhere. There were also seats where you could quietly sit and view the birds quite closely. It was quite a sight seeing loads of them flying in and out of the garden.
We realized we were now out of the desert and into the tropics when we started getting eaten by mosquitoes. Next stop was downtown to scope out the bus to the falls and to get some food. We found out that the bus leaves very regularly from the main bus station. Starving, we found Color – a parilla and pizza place near the bus station. Of course we didn’t have either grilled steak or pizza but went for a dish of local specialties. It consisted mostly of various dry corn breads, some very fishy local river fish, among other not so good items. The last thing on the agenda was to visit the Tres Fronteras or Three Borders. This is where two rivers divide Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Walking, we wound up on a dark cobble stoned street with nice houses on one side and a forest on the other. We had our head lamps with us and when we finally saw three girls coming from the other direction we asked whether we could get through – they pointed to our lights and indicated there was a path, but we opted to backtrack a bit and take the roads instead; all of which had sidewalks right down to the Fronteras. Arriving around 7:30, we had hoped to see the light show they supposedly had every night but we either arrived too late or it was canceled for the day. We stopped at the plaza and listened to an old man playing “America the Beautiful” on a harp, before walking down to a bench overlooking the water.
We grabbed a beer from a vendor along the way then stayed for a bit watching a lighted Ferris Wheel and listening to a lively show on the Brazilian side. On our way back we stopped at Carrito Salus an open air place across from Plaza San Martin to share a beer before heading back to get some rest for our journey into the park.
At the bus station, we paid the cash-only 320 ARP pp at the booth and caught the 8am bus for the 30 minute ride to the park. We paid the non-citizen 700 ARP pp admission and Cynthia mistakenly used the restroom adjacent to the turnstiles before entering the park, resulting is a rather lengthy wait (note to self – next time use one of the plethora of clean restrooms inside the park). We walked to the train station only to discover that the ticket booth was a small, portable stand that we’d passed 100 meters before, so we went back and got the free ticket to the Devil’s Throat at 9:15 a.m. It was a very hot morning but the cute little open-air train with its wooden benches left exactly on time and provided a pleasant ride as it chugged to the end station. It paused twice at junctions supervised by workers in long sleeves and pants (seemingly melting before our eyes in the jungle heat) to let returning trains by. The 1100 meter hike from the train over boardwalks and rivers to the viewing platform was pretty although very crowded even though we were one of the first trains to get up there. But the views over the falls, when you could find some rail space, were incredible. While getting wet from the spray, we stayed there long enough to wedge into a few places for some great angles of the multi-colored falls and the valley below before making our way back to the train station. We stopped a few times to watch the fish and then accidentally walked though the exit onto the train platform. Realizing our mistake, but then seeing the large waiting area outside, we made a snap decision to snag the last 2 seats in different cars on the immediately departing train.
Disembarking at the middle station, Cataratas, the first thing we noticed were the Coatis. They look cute, like a cross between a raccoon and a lemur, but they are little devils as we discovered later.
We grabbed an icicle pop at the store (did I say it was hot?) and made our way to the lower trail. As we were debating which was the correct path, Cynthia suddenly called out “Hey, I recognize you two!” the girl looked around and grinned “Oh, yeah, from the unfortunate bus trip!”. (see our Los Antiguos post). We started down a trail to the right (what we thought was the correct tail to the lower falls) when a girl returning from that trail told us it only lead to the lighthouse over a long series of stairs. Saved from that discovery, we took the left trail. Iguazu consists not only of a single spectacular fall, the devils throat, but numerous other falls that spread out thru the landscape. We visited the Two sisters falls (Dos Hermanas) and Chico Falls, before circling around to get amazing views of the series of falls leading away from the Devil’s Throat. We overheard a tour guide explaining that the boat was not running “today” over to Isla San Martin, but we could not find a single trace of a dock or trail leading to the water. Although all the maps still have the trails, we later found out from an information booth that the boat (dock and all) have been missing from the park for years. We finished the lower circuit and stopped to try to have our sandwiches at one of the food plazas but were literally attacked by the coatis. We had to find a place well away from the food plaza to eat our lunch in peace. After lunch, we walked the Upper Trail, a one-way circuit, and marvelled mostly at the large spiders dotting the trailside in their huge webs. While it was very pretty, the views from the other trails were much more breathtaking. Walking back to the entrance, we caught the waiting 3:35pm bus back to town.
We cooled down in our airconditioned room before heading into town for a very early dinner at “A Piacere – Restaurant Parrilla”. After a series of false starts (a missing napkin, bringing water without bubbles when Warren had ordered “con gas” and bringing the wrong wine), the waiter admonished himself and Cynthia said “comenzamos otra vez” (we start again) and he laughed. When ordering the steak, we debated over “a punto menos” (medium-rare) and “jugoso” (rare). When the steak arrived, it was perfect; part of it was medium-rare and part was rare. There was a picture window at the back of the restaurant where you could occasionally see the chef grilling. At one point, the chef was looking through the window to the few patrons in the restaurant, when Cynthia caught his eye and pointed to the steak, gave 2 thumbs up and motioned the kissy “mwah” signal. He smiled, nodded and gave a return thumbs up. Afterwards, we walked to the Three Frontiers park again in order to see it in the day light. We made it there just before 7pm and while we were able to see it before sunset, we found out that the light show was again cancelled.
On the walk back to town we had just started walking under a store awning when we got caught in a huge tropical downpour. Two kids on bikes and another guy made it under the awning and we all just watched as the road became a river. After about 15 minutes, the kids got antsy and took off in the pouring rain. We waited until it had abated a bit more before continuing our trek back (fortunately we had our rain gear). The storm had knocked out the power to most of the town but Bambu’ Restobar still seemed to be serving. It was on a 5-street intersection and the sidewalk went through part of the outdoor seating area. Unfortunately that meant a lot of beggar kids who were not deterred by the rain. We ordered yucca fries and potato fries, the latter were the soggiest french fires we have ever had and were inedible. Cynthia found the word for soggy (empapado) and when it came time to pay she explained why we did not want to pay for them – she must have gotten all the Spanish words right because the waitress promptly removed them from the bill.
We walked back to our room to get ready for our morning flight. Next stop: Buenos Aires.