Friday, November 27, 2009

(new) A wonderful wonder of the world.

I think most people traveling around the world have a list of most see things or must do activities. Iguazu Falls was one of those things for me. They are a wonder of the world, one of world’s biggest waterfalls. And since it had been raining we had heard that the falls were at full force. So for the first time in ages, I was genuinely excited about our sightseeing – complete with butterflies in my stomach.

Since the hostel wasn’t finished we weren’t expecting much for breakfast but we were pleasantly surprised to find the full breakfast buffet out when we got up. There was juice, coffee, cereal, fruit and bread as well as the usual assortment of jam, butter and dulce de leche. (Okay so they managed to get that right). When we were full we headed out to the bus station. Although the walk was uphill in the humidity it was still infinitely easier than the walk down was with our packs. There was a bus waiting when we arrived and once we were on it pulled out. The $2 air-conditioned ride took us down the highway past many hotels and the deluxe resort hostel. Actually I have no idea if it was deluxe but with the huge resort-sized swimming pool outside complete with swim up bar it looked a whole lot more deluxe than our place. It was too bad we weren’t staying there even if it was a good ways out of town. The Falls were another 15 minutes down the highway and the bus let us off right at the gates.

My first impression was that of a theme park – the gates looked almost exactly like the ones at Canada’s Wonderland back in Toronto, complete with re-entry stamps and colourful map. The difference was instead of rides the map pointed out hiking trails and falls in the park. Unfortunately for us though, the boat to San Martin Island at the foot of the falls was not running due to high water levels. But it didn’t matter it looked like there was plenty to do without the boat ride. Although I imagined that the view of the Falls from the island would have been amazing. Le sigh. Our first stop was the Interpretation Centre, a sort of mini-museum with a brief history of the area and a guide to the flora and fauna. We took our time going through until a pack of loud school kids overran the centre – then we quickly wrapped up our visit.

We decided to head to the furthest falls first. And I’d be lying if I said it had nothing to do with the name. The Devil’s Throat sounded the most exciting of all the falls and obviously I wasn’t the only one as the rest of the tourists all seemed to be headed in that direction. Like the Horseshoe Falls of Niagara, the Devil’s Throat is a circular fall but I think you’ll agree that Devil’s Throat sounds much more exciting than Horseshoe Falls. Perhaps, Niagara should rename the Horseshoe Falls something more exciting like the Arch of Terror or Curve of Thunder or something better than the semicircle of tepid running water that the Horseshoe Falls implies. Of course, my impression of the Devil’s Throat could be totally wrong. But first we had to get there. We decided to skip the nature trail and take the tourist train there, a wise choice as it was a bit of a trek and just as full of wildlife as the trail. As we pulled into the halfway station a coati came right up to us in the train, sniffing around for a food hand out. Along the tracks, clouds of butterflies hovered and when we disembarked they landed all over the passengers and didn’t leave. I had three on my hat and two on my bag as we walked the trail to the Falls. The trail was actually a raised metal walkway that crossed over the river to take us right up to the Devil’s Throat. The trail had some odd signage – one in particular seemed to request that humans keep right and let the snakes pass on the left. But we saw no snake on the walkway just more butterflies and some pretty navy and white birds in the trees overhead.

Before we could see the falls we hear them; the roar of the water getting exponentially louder as we got closer. Through the thick trees we caught glimpses of the brown water rushing towards the falls and then a cloud of spray rising just ahead. And then we saw the edge of the falls. The walkway led us directly to the edge so we could look down over the tumbling water. Thanks to the high water levels, it was intense and at this vantage point seemed to be five times the size of the Horseshoe Falls. The walkway offered multiple vantage points that were all spectacular and we spent a good half hour just taking in the view and snapping a bazillion shots of them (photo above is just one of those bazillion). If that had been it, I think we would have left completely satisfied but that was just one of three trails. So we tore ourselves away and took the train back to the other trailheads.

Although it was now getting close to lunch time we decided to do the Upper Trail before grabbing a bite to eat. We had heard of a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet offered at the onsite Sheraton Hotel and wanted to be good and hungry before eating all we could. As I’m sure you can guess from the name, the Upper Trail was a walkway across the top of the other series of falls, a 2km stretch of falls both small and large downstream from the Devil’s Throat. The falls here had less inspired names like the Two Sisters, Bernabe Mendez and Bossetti Falls. Although they weren’t as awesome as the Devil’s Throat the thick jungle all around them and the view of San Martin Island down below made them just as photo-worthy and we snapped another bajillion. As we finished the trail we were most definitely starving and followed the path straight to the Sheraton. When we got to the entrance, Adrian was so excited that he insisted on having a happy photo taken outside. Unfortunately, he got a little ahead of himself. When we entered the air conditioned, pristine and posh Sheraton, I sensed that something was up. There were no signs and no smells advertising of endless steam tables of buffet goodness. We poked our heads into the restaurant and saw nothing but empty counter space where the buffet had once been. Instead it was menu service only and an expensive menu service. Le sigh. I think I’ll blame Lonely Planet for this one. By telling all us riff-raff backpackers about the buffet, we’d obviously lowered the tone of the place and the hotel had done away with it. So there was going to be no buffet but what were we going to do for lunch – it wasn’t like the national park was overflowing with dining options. After stopping for a thumbs-down photo. we retraced our steps and took a wrong turn ending up at a parrilla that wasn’t on the map, an all you could eat parrilla. Jackpot. It was pricey but Adrian and I made sure we ate as much as we could without throwing up, visiting the salad bar (veggies!!!) and grill (steak, chicken, and chorizo) numerous times. By the time we were done it was just after 3pm.

With our very full stomachs, we waddled down to the beginning of the Lower Trail and hoped that we’d be able to make it down all the stairs. While the Devil’s Throat is the most exciting falls, the lower trail was the most exciting trail. It paralleled the upper trail but rather than taking us over the falls it ended almost directly under one of the falls. And judging by all those exiting the trail, we may get wet (or rather, soaked) on this ride. After sweating like pigs for the whole day, we were actually looking forward to the shower. At the end of the Trail we faced the cascade of water and even from 10 metres away the spray was enough to wet us. Adrian immediately stripped off his shirt and went walking towards the wall of water. He got within 5 metres and stopped already sopping wet from the spray and splash back. He raised his arms in homage to the scene in The Mission (where the natives throw the priest off the falls) demanding a photo or twelve before coming back to give me a shot. I wrapped up my camera in a plastic bag and left it and my purse with him as I edged towards the falls. Soon I was covered in a film of water and I was only halfway to where Adrian had gone. That was enough to wash off the sweat and dirty sunscreen. And that was enough of the falls.

We walked back to the entrance and caught the bus back into town. We picked up some empanadas for later knowing that there was no need to have dinner on top of the buffet. We’d had our fill of the falls and food. And it was amazing.


lynnmetcalfe said...

Merry Christmas Liz and Adrian. I have enjoyed visiting each location by reading your emails. Thanks so much.

Lynn Metcalfe

Katey said...

Happy Christmas and New Year, hope you are enjoying your travels, thanks for all the blog posts last year, I've really enjoyed following your trip!

liz and adrian said...

thanks for the greetings. Hope everyone had happy holiday and all the best in 2010.

we're now in botswana and finally found wifi so we're trying to get back online.