After being back from my big trip for a couple of months, I think I am finally ready to finish off the final few blog posts. I was on such a roll while I was away, but for a while there was something about being back in Perth and at work that made it difficult to return to writing about being away in so much detail. But that seems to have passed now so I will pick up where I left off – crossing the border from Bolivia to my last major destination, Argentina. As much as I enjoyed our crazy week in Bolivia, I have to admit I was pretty happy to about the prospect of crossing the border into Argentina. Bolivia was full of stunning, unique landscapes but the high altitude was really taking its toll on my body – between the cold and the frequent breathlessness, I was pretty ready to be descending back down to sea level. First we were heading to Salta, which is the home of empandas, before flying over to the northwest of Argentina to check out Iguazu Falls before heading down to the big smoke, Buenos Aires.
After taking all of the anti-nausea meds that I had thanks to a badly timed tummy bug (is there ever a well timed one?), we rocked up to the Uyuni train station at 9pm for the overnight trip down to Villazon. Not being able to sleep much on the train turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it was a full moon and the scenery we were flying past was spectacular, looking otherworldly lit up by the moonlight. Oftentimes we were winding alongside the side of mountains or through canyons, at a few points surrounded by sheer cliff faces on either side. After the train it was a border crossing on foot with a two hour wait at the border, a three hour wait in the bus station and an 8 hour bus ride to finally arrive in our first Argentinian town, Salta – ah, the joys of travel in South America! It’s all part of the experience though, and at least its a gorgeous journey.
Salta was a nice town to relax in for a few days after being so busy in Bolivia. There isn’t a whole lot of touristy things to do there, but there are a lot of empanadas to be eaten, which suited me just fine. We visited one really interesting place called La Patio De Empanada, a large alfresco dining area where there are 6 or 7 empanada vendors that you can purchase your tasty little parcels of goodness from. We had both fried and baked empanadas, meat-filled and vegetarian, and my heart definitely belonged to the fried mince ones. They also sold the ubiquitous 1 litre ‘Salta’ beers, which were served in a styrofoam containers – a strange look but certainly effective at keeping them cold. We also jumped on the cable car to see the views over salta, and wandered around the city centre, which had an extraordinary number of shoe shops, with more platform boots than I have ever seen in my life.
After our brief stop in Salta, it was time to visit the mother of all waterfalls – Iguazu Falls. These falls lie in a subtropical rainforest that straddles the border of Brazil and Argentina, in a corner close to Paraguay. The humidity smacked us in the face the moment we walked off the plan – we were definitely a long way from cool, dry Salta. We didn’t spend too much time dwelling on this though, because one of the first things we saw when we walked out out the airport doors was a toucan amongst the plentiful greenery. The scene was officially set for an amazing few days!
It was so happy to be here, as waterfalls are one of my favourite natural phenomenons – the sheer power of that amount of water flowing all day every day never ceases to amaze me. I’ve read that waterfalls bring about an abundance of negative ions which can make stimulate serotonin levels in your body making you feel happier, and I certainly always feel simultaneously energised and at peace after a day of chasing waterfalls. I was sure Iguazu was going to be no exception – with a system of 275 waterfalls and both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides to visit, I was so ready to get exploring!
We spent our first day in the area on the Argentinian side, where you can get up close and personal with many of the individuals waterfalls. It is home to over 10km of trails to explore with different vantage points of the falls – over, under and next to the falls, you can see it all here. Of particular note is Devils Throat, where you can practically walk on top of a semi circle of waterfalls with an 80 metre drop that creates a perpetual mist. The highlight of the day was getting on a boat to go underneath the falls, which was exhilarating. Based on my experience of the boat ride at Niagara Falls I thought we would just be getting up close to feel the spray, but we got right under one of the (relatively) smaller ones and completely soaked – the cold water was so refreshing in the hot and humid weather! After this, we cruised down the rapids and jumped in a jeep for a ride back through the jungle before sorting out some lunch.
In the afternoon we explored more trails, encountering butterfly swarms and the strange little creatures called Coatis which are prolific around Igauzu. These racoon like animals are actually quite vicious, and it pays not to get too close to them – when we were eating lunch we spotted them climbing up onto a table full of food and eating their fill, much to the surprise (and horror) of a young family sitting at the same table. There are also a lot of quite graphic signs around warning you not to pet them, lest you incur some nasty scratches!
After our full, hot day of wandering around, we were in serious need of some food (and beers, of course). Puerto Iguazu isn’t exactly a hotbed of culinary options, although there are some options if you’re seriously cashed up – it’s definitely suffering from the curse of being a tourist town with guaranteed foot traffic. We did happen across a cool alfresco area though with a food van selling decent burgers and a bar with Argentinian beers which was pretty cool! Although not outstanding quality it was cheap and cheerful, and good enough to eat there two nights in a row – we were saving our pennies for our restaurant adventures for Buenos Aires!
The next day it was on the bus and across the border to see the panoramic views from the Brazilian side. Before that though, I made a stop at the Parque de Aves, a sanctuary for rescued birds and other wildlife. It was a really really cool experience – although some of the birds are behind fences or cages for the safety of them and the guests (I’m looking at you cassowary), many of them are free to roam around in large aviaries that you can walk through. There are staff all throughout the park to make sure patrons aren’t interfering with the animals – it was just a really nice vibe! I was particularly taken by one particular toucan, and spent ages just watching it preen its feathers. The flamingos were beautiful as well (although very smelly!) and at the end there was the chance to hold a macaw which was a little bit terrifying! There was lots of information throughout the park about the rehabilitation efforts that they undertake, and it felt like the birds have been well cared for and have lots of space to fly around.
After this, it was a short walk over to the entrance to the national park to see the waterfalls. To my surprise, this side was much more organised and developed than the Argentinian side. Buying my ticket, I was allocated a bus to get on for the 10 minute drive to the viewing area. Once there, it was only a short walk along the river to see the different vantage points, picking out all the spots I had visited the day before along the way. Before I knew it I had reached the end, where you could walk out along a viewing platform to stand above the falls – by the time I got to the end I was almost as soaked as I had been the day before going under the falls! The mist generated by these powerful falls is pretty hectic! The Brazilian side was a cool view, but if I had to pick I would have to say I enjoyed the Argentinian side more – it was more varied and more opportunities for unique vantage points with less crowds.