Iguazú falls is one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in the world, and we had the chance to get up close and personal with it.
The Iguazu river lies in the far northeast of Argentina (in the Misiones province) and provides a natural border between it and Brazil. We travelled from Buenos Aires up to Puerto Iguazu, the town on the Argentinian side of the river on an overnight bus in which we saw the landscape drastically change from what we were used to (dry and/or mountainous to wet, open and flat and eventually into rain forest). Puerto Iguazu is a pretty cool tourist town nestled in the rain forest just south of the junction between the Iguazu and Parana rivers which separate Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Hopping off the bus into humidity after little sleep made the first few hours difficult and threw our plans of heading to the falls that day out as we both thoroughly needed a nap. That and the fact it was raining. So we decided to just chill out, nap, enjoy a bit of food and organise lifts for the next day before waging war against the mozzies in our room so we could enjoy a good nights sleep.
The next morning we took a taxi arranged by our hostel out to the falls or Cataratas Iguazu as they are called in Argentina. The taxi was roughly the same price as it would’ve cost to go by bus so it wasn’t so bad. On the Argentinian side, the national park is set up so you pay and enter the park, walk through some information areas and shops before boarding a small train round the corner. You could have walked but we weren’t sure how far it was because everything on the map looked like it was a significant distance away. So once we reached the first train station you then had to hop off and join a massive line to hop on the train again to go further up the line, which didn’t really make sense to me but we ended up just squeezing into the second train that came our way and the wait only totalled about 25 minutes.
The second train stop lets you off at the beginning of the Garganta del Diablo walkway, or the Devil’s Throat walkway. This steel walkway takes you 1km out across the river to reach the section of the falls known as the Devil’s Throat. It is named thusly because the river bends around the corner in this location so water cascades down into this section from three sides making a very narrow and torrent waterfall. The platform at the very end of the walkway is situated right at the edge of the fall even with some of the water flowing underneath your feet giving a harrowing experience and quick retake on South American engineering. The platform is so close that the mist from the falls flies up to leave you somewhat moist but every few minutes or so, so much water will splash back up it feels as if its raining and left us wishing we had put our ponchos on, but it was hot enough that day that 5 minutes later it didn’t matter anyway.
From there we rode the train back around to the bottom which didn’t prove nearly as troublesome as before and began our walk on the lower falls trail. They recommend you take about 6-7 hours to do everything but we had booked a taxi to take us across into Brazil that afternoon so we opted to do the lower falls trail and skip out on the upper falls trail (which in the end we probably could’ve done) to save time. The lower trail takes you through the forest where you can see many local raccoons (called Coatis), lizards, birds, thousands and thousands of butterflies as well as monkeys although to our great disappointment we didn’t get to see any monkeys, just the warnings signs saying they may rip your face off if you feed them. It also takes you past some of the smaller falls before turning the corner to views of the Devil’s Throat from a distance, La Isla San Martin (which in times of low flow you can ride a ferry to for an extra viewing platform) and the majority of the rest of the falls. The walk was no where near as long as we thought it would be and definitely gave some breathtaking views of the falls and lets you see the whole thing from below rather than above like the other platforms, I highly recommend you do this trail if you only have time for one.
That afternoon after leaving the waterfalls we caught another taxi across the border into Brazil and the town on their side: Foz do Iguaçu (You’ll notice the change in spelling due to the transition from Spanish to Portuguese). We checked into our hostel which was a little ways out from anywhere so we decided to watch some telly and were delighted when our favourite Spanish ad came on, except this was a Brazilian version of the same thing. They are both ads for learning english online and feature two guys, one promoting the website and the other promoting an alternative method for learning and then showing off his english ‘skills’. You can check the ads out here and here. We reckon the second bloke is just taking the piss.
For the next day we had previously booked a flight from Foz to Rio de Janeiro for cheap which would save us a lot of time and money trying to get from Foz to Rio by bus but it meant we only had limited time in the morning to possibly go see the falls from the Brazilian side. We ended up making the decision not to risk it and miss our flight so one day we’ll get back and see them from Brazil, although if you only have time to visit one side you should see the Argentinian side as more of the falls are in that country and the Brazil side has only one walkway and viewing platform.
Flying into Rio we caught a taxi to our hostel in Copacabana (due to this fact we’ve had Barry Manilow’s song stuck in our head for weeks) that we later found out we got swindled for (only by about $20). I know previously I fluffed over how wonderful Valparaiso was due to reasons, but Rio de Janeiro turned out to be one of the best places we have visited (yes both of our favourite this time). Due to the scheduling of our flights in and out we ended up with 6 nights overall in Rio. One of the nights we met another Australian couple that said they enjoyed Rio despite it being a place where you can’t do much. That absolutely left me stumped because in our week there we managed to see a local ‘football’ game (and I use that term trepidatiously), attend a funk party in a favela in a 1000 person night club, visit Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, ride the cable car up to the top of Pão de Açúcar (or Sugar Loaf Mountain), watch the rehearsals of a samba club readying themselves for next years Carnival as well as riding up to the top of Corcovado to visit old mate Christ the Redeemer.
Every travel guide you read on South America says that attending a local football match is a necessity. Our previous attempts at attending a match had occurred in Santiago and Buenos Aires. Both times however, we had been there for what they call their “Superclasico” matches, where two fierce rivals meet during the regular season. And both times the tickets were ridiculously expensive so we had decided not to do it. Also I should add that for the Santiago match, under recent law changes, the majority of tickets are sold to supporters of the home team who must prove their loyalty with the presentation of a members card or article proving their support such as a jersey etc. Only 3000 tickets (out of about 40 000) are reserved for fans of the away team who are then seated inside 3 metre high fences topped with razor wire. The Buenos Aires Superclasico featured a stadium full of torn newspaper, inflatable objects and smoke flares, so in both cases we sufficed ourselves with watching on tv.
The Rio match in comparison was far more tame. The local team Vasco were playing lowly Sport who were battling away to stay out of the relegation zone which meant a less than capacity crowd. That didn’t mean the supporters present were any less vociferous and the multiple marching bands kept their drums banging for most of the match. I say most of the match because Vasco ended up going down 3-0 and with each successive goal, the crowd began to dwindle and the booing increased. I’ve never seen supporters boo their own players like that. Regardless of the result it was definitely a cool experience and one I’m glad we finally found the time for.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, for a reasonably priced fare you can ride up to in a cable car. The weather wasn’t amazing while we were in Rio with regular cloud obscuring the view so we tried to pick the nicest day we could. On the ride up from the bottom to the first hill, everything was clear and looking good. As we wandered around to the second cable car that takes you to the top of the Sugar Loaf itself, we saw the signs of the first cloud appear above the Sugar Loaf. As we boarded the second cable car and got under way we were already completely surrounded by fog and couldn’t even see behind or in front of us. Once up the top we just had to spend a little time and wait about half an hour for the fog to clear away enough to get some awesome pictures looking out over Copacabana as well as the port and Centro in the other direction. Definitely worth doing but check your weather forecast and maybe go as early as possible. Every day we were there it was meant to rain but it never did but the cloud did build up towards the end of the day.
The samba rehearsal was incredible, with 2000 people filling up a community centre type hall, that belonged to this particular samba ‘club’, and playing the same song for an hour and fifteen minutes straight. The performers were broken down into separate sections of percussion, singers and dancers who were again broken down into smaller groups of different drum types, vocal groups and then the dancers were separated into two distinct groups: the old ladies twirling in lines and the young, lithe, booting shaking girls in their scant costumes. And boy could they shake their booty. According to our guides, these women had no formal training and simply learned by attending samba club as a child with their parents. Also, these 2000 people were only half the total number that would eventually perform at Carnival next year. The whole samba club scene is taken very seriously, even with different ‘leagues’ and relegation between them. This club was in the premier division with a shot at the title and open their rehearsal processes to the public in order to raise money for the main event through food and drink sales etc. Apparently most clubs do this so if you are in Rio and you’re going to miss Carnival, find a rehearsal to get the next best thing.
Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer is a statue of Jesus of Nazereth (and one of the seven modern wonders) situated atop Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park, which is the largest urban forest in the world, replanted due to significant loss of the Atlantic Rainforest in the early days of settlement. They have monkeys there. Although once again we managed to not see any. What we did get to do was ride up in a taxi (you can take a ‘train’ but the wait was too long and the taxi was much cheaper) to a viewing platform about halfway up the mountain which gave us excellent views looking down over the city including Ipanema, Copacabana and Sugar Loaf Mountain. Unfortunately it didn’t give us any views of the Christ Statue because the top of the mountain was obscured by cloud. Regardless we decided to continue upwards and made it to Jesus’ feet. The base of the statue was extremely crowded despite the poor visibility (as in you couldn’t even see past his crotch standing directly underneath him) but with a bit of patience, the cloud would clear long enough for his face and the rest of his body to appear eerily out of the mist to the exclamations of most of the crowd, which provided just enough time to catch some happy snaps. Despite not being able to look out over the city from its highest point, the statue was pretty imposing and almost more impressive due to the cloud cover. Rain, hail or shine we both recommend visiting this symbol of Brazils faith, even if you don’t care who the statue is of.
In short Rio is fucking awesome and everyone should visit. Coming up are some pretty good opportunities with the 2014 world cup and 2016 Olympics. It remains to be seen whether the infrastructure will be ready or cope with the influx of tourism but from what we saw the city is making a very real effort towards cleaning the place up (particularly the favelas and a lack of stray dogs like the rest of South America) and we have confidence they’ll be alright. Everyone might have to take on a bit of the Brazilian attitude and just chill, but she’ll be right.
Onward! Next time we’re back in America, so stay tuned.
Don’t forget to comment or sign up with the email, follow along, like, tweet, retweet, twit or just do nothing.
Foreign Language Tip of the Day: Iguazu
Meaning: Big Water