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Across Andes by Frog I should explain the nonsensical title of my journal, 'Across Andes by Frog' - it is a sort of homage to an episode of the drolly funny 1970s British TV series "Ripping Yarns" by Michael Palin & Terry Jones.

Iguazú Cataratas and Garganta: The South American Maravilla in the Jungle

ARGENTINA | Monday, 11 November 2013 | Views [791]

 Argentina La Parte Uno:

Early the next morning the taxi does indeed get 'removed' to the airport, but fortunately for the progression of my trip, I get to keep it company on its journey. In the cab the transfer driver hands me a sheet from CTS to evaluate my experience of the Chilean leg of the tour. As the trip proceeds, I find that this becomes the norm for Chimu - giving me a form, purportedly to objectively assess their performance, with about five minutes to complete it!  The skeptic in me rails against this dodgy practice, but nonetheless in the few moments I get before we get to SCL Airport I make a rushed attempt to summarise my complaints of the Chilean experience.

At the airport I am exposed to the vagaries of LAN customer service. The complacent, unhelpful staff are vague and imprecise with their directions as to where I go next. I tried to print my own boarding pass for Argentina from the self-serve ticket machine as advised by LAN staff, but it was awry. Fortunately, a useful Chilean representative of Chimu Adventures is at hand and he comes to my assistance and manages to print out my tickets. When I get to the Immigration control point for departure, SLC's signage is misleading and some of the necessary passenger forms are missing, forcing me to repeat the whole immigration passport check stage. The unsympathetic, blasé and possibly sarcastic immigration officer at gate 17 is basically uncooperative to the point where I spend several moments pondering whether somehow they had borrowed her from the LAN front counter.

 After touching down at Buenos Aires Airport, I have a lengthy delay waiting for my transfer flight to Iguazu. I pass the time sampling my first taste of Quilmes whilst staring out of the airport bar window at the Rio de la Plata, trying to see if I can chance a glimpse of the distant Uruguay coast (the vast River Plate is up to 40km wide at some points).  The Quilmes seems quite a decent cerveza, but maybe I’m just thirsty. After a second sampling, no, I decide, I do prefer this Argentinian drop to the Cristal I had in Chile. The flight is a fairly brief one, as the plane nears Iguazu the jungle becomes more and more dense. Then just as we get the "prepare for landing" instruction, I get my first, partial sighting of the Iguazu Falls. It's certainly partial because I can barely make out the misty spray of the falls on the horizon, spiralling upwards out of a broad patch of deep green. I sit back and wait for mañana, when all of the mystique of the Falls would be revealed, hopefully.

Iguazu Falls are a trans-border phenomena, encompassing Brazil and the Argentine, with a third country, Paraguay, also very approximate to the location. My hotel in Puerto Iguazu, La Sorgente, is not old but its not new either, and the door uses those old cumbersome latchkeys which I always have trouble with, but that aside, it is a quite reasonable lodging (outstanding even, if I might extend to hyperbole, if the comparison point is the dire AH Hotel in Santiago!) After settling into my room, I wander up for a look round the town. Frankly, it is a quite unprepossessing place, old dilapidated buildings, many signs have faded or partially unhinged, the surface pavement(sic) of the roads, a strange concoction of jagged pieces of broken rock which are unfriendly to both car tyres and human feet. The local youth seem to spend all day cruising up and down Avenida Cordoba in their defect-laden, beat-up old cars, their hands manically tooting the horn for no reason. And, as in Chile, the many mangy-looking, roaming dogs are an integral feature of the grotesque local ‘picturesque’. Whatever money the Government makes from Iguazu Falls tourism (and I imagine it would be substantial), by the look of this place, it is certainly not being recycled into the Iguazu infrastructure!

My first night in Puerto Iguazu I had dinner at the popular Colors restaurant in the Avenue. I’m not a real ‘foodie’ with an overdeveloped appetite, but in the spirit of “when in Rome ...” I went for the whole meat package, the formidable bife de lomo, cooked Argentinian parrilla-style - an enormous 135g slab of tenderloin steak.  More rare than I would usually have it, but I did enjoy it, and managed to get through it all, probably in part because I had skipped lunch and was a tad ravenous by 7pm.

The next morning was a scheduled early start to fit in a full day at Iguazu Falls. This left me less than 15 minutes for a ‘run-through’ breakfast, even less given that the Iguazu bus arrived five minutes early, meaning I had to quickly grab my bag upstairs and scoot out the door brushing away the bread crumbs as I go. Like the early morning departure from Santiago, this was basically a sans breakfast day. I find that he bus isn’t ‘full’ as claimed by la guia to pressure me into immediate action, however we do make several hotel stops on the way to pick up a lot more people, so in retrospect I can understand his desire to expedite the action. We get to the entrance of the Falls complex and of course it is full of visitors, international, Argentinians from other regions, school groups, etc. After getting our tickets and navigating the turnstiles, the guide decides that we should by-pass the train immediately inside the gates and walk a couple of kilometres through the bush to the next train station. This sounds a bit curious to me, walking when the train is just there, but when we get to the second station he explains the method in this, the entrance train (which didn’t get to the second point until after we had got there by foot) has to terminate, and so passengers would have to alight to await the other train which is the one which goes to the Waterfalls. Our advantage, the guide was at pains to stress to us, was that by getting there first, it would ensure that we were in the first train to the Falls. Fine! But I was left wondering why, a) there was wasn’t more trains scheduled seeing that Iguazu was a world-class highlight on the global tourism calendar, and, b) the first train just didn’t go straight through to the Falls, considering that both trains left from the same track! That would be logical, but would that be the Argentinian way?

The totality of the Argentine Iguazu is divisible into two parts, the Cataracts and the Gorge. We arrived at the Gorge first, the entrada to El Diablo Garganta, still needing to walk almost 1200 metres on a linear footbridge to the actual 'Devil's Throat'. This recently-constructed metal and wood bridge or catwalk is somewhat of a marvel in engineering in itself, as it would have posed considerable challenges to erect across such turbulent waters. As you get closer to the throat, the roar of the powerful waters gets louder and louder and a couple of hundred metres away, the spray shooting up from El Diablo can be seen. So, two trains, a hike through the jungle and a further ‘walk on water’, all of  the preamble is worth it, 100 per cent, when you finally get to see it! At the edge of the waterfall, the footbridge bends round into a U-shape (more accurately, fork-shaped) to maximize the number of people that can view the waterfall from point-blank range. The viewing platform extends out over the edge of the land (as it does at the Grand Canyon), so that anyone standing on it, cannot avoid getting a decent old drenching! Ponchos are definitely the preferred fashion garb at the Throat! Standing on the catwalk, trying to look and take photos and videos at the same time, you get the sense of all that cascading power, of water everywhere, it is just totally fixating in its impact! I was fascinating by dozens of little birds that would rapidly dive in and out of the enormous mouth of the waterfall, it was like they were playing 'chicken' with this, most powerful beast of nature, disappearing into the all-encompassing spray, only to return skywards several seconds later. The spectacle was quite mesmerising.

Later we explored the multiple, other reaches of the Falls, walking on the National Park's two trails, the Paseo Superior (Upper Trail) and the Paseo Inferior (the Lower trail). This gives us a different viewpoint and lots more photo opportunities. We also explore the Park's flora and fauna. Unusual, dazzlingly beautiful butterflies can be seen as can the plentiful long-nose coatís, these cute, small mammals have a developed understanding of human visitors as purveyors of food and tend to dwell close to the park's Kiosk and restaurants.

As 80 per cent of the Waterfalls are on the Argentinian side of the river, the best panoramic views tend to be from the Brazilian shore.  As I hadn't had time to arrange a visa for Brazil before leaving Australia, I did the next best thing which was to pay for the optional speedboat ride under the Falls. Before you get onto the boat, an attendant gives you a green waterproof bag and asks you to divest yourself of as much clothes as practicable. I was rather disdainful of the guy ahead of me who had stripped right down to very brief swimmers thinking that this quincey was really overdoing it, or else was just exercising an exhibitionist bent. When I realised how drenched we would get in the boat, I took it all back.  Only then did I remember the advice from the Chimu consultant in Sydney to pack my swimmers (I was kicking myself because I did in fact pack them but left them behind in the hotel room that morning!). Once underway, I soon realised that my concern was less about the threat posed by the precipitation from the Waterfall above, than from the action of the powerboat.  As the boat accelerated and powered through the water, swerving rapidly from side to side, the huge waves rushing in over the side of the speeding boat doused me and filled up the bucket seat with water. When this would happen, I would instinctively rise from the seat and frantically start scooping the water out whilst clinging urgently to the seat in front. And as I did this the boat attendant would immediately order me to sit down. This pattern got repeated every time the horizontal flow of water rushed in.  I had to bounce up and down repeatedly to keep bailing the water out; at the same time I had the added anxiety of trying to avoid the vigilant watch of the zealous crew member. Eventually, when I realised that it was inevitable that I was going to be saturated, I gave up and stoically resigned myself to my fate. Mercifully, the ordeal was soon over and we returned to the shore where I l sought out a rock in the sun to dry myself on. Notwithstanding my (temporary) dampness, I certainly relished the great viewpoint afforded by the boat of the falls.

After the speedboat escapade we embarked on a slow drive through the Nacional Parque jungle and rainforest in an open-top truck, stopping several times to have our attention directed towards different types of forest vegetation, I suspect that the open-top truck was a device to assist  the boat participants in the drying-off process. In which case it was definitely appreciated! If there was a disappointment with the jungle part of Iguazu ,it was with the paucity of wildlife that we managed to spot. Apart from the conscipuous, aforementioned raccoon relatives, little else in the way of fauna could be spotted. I wasn't exactly expecting to see jaguars or ocelets in the trees (perhaps thankfully!), but I was hoping for a glimpse of the odd tapir and certainly, of the toucan, given that this South American bird appears on just about every Falls souvenoir painting, plaque and fridge magnet sold in the local shops!

Most of la Catarata visitors seemed to be be from other parts of Argentina, probably a big portion from BA, but the day-trippers in my tour group were a real mixed bag, North Americans, Britons, Australians, other South Americans, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch. I engaged in a stimulating conversation with a young Spanish honeymooner who has surprisingly good English. If I said anything she thought interesting, she would turn and patiently translate it to her new husband who was both monolingually Spanish and seemingly monosyllabic, a considerate touch on her part which I thought very endearing.

Argentinians refer to Iguazu Falls as a 'maravilla' (wonder), and seeing its power and scope  was one of the great spectacles. The cliché goes ”comparisons are odious”, so I am reluctant to say which is the greatest waterfall, Iguazu or Victoria Falls in Southern Africa, especially as I visited neither sites when the falls were at their peak. In all regards it is a contentious topic, as both are stupendous waterfalls in their own distinct ways. For another thing, it is a bit of an "apples and oranges" comparison. Victoria Falls, Mosi-o-Tunya, is the largest, single curtain of water in the world, at its highest it is 26 metres taller than the highest point of Iguazu. Iguazu, conversely, is composed of approximately 275 discrete waterfalls (rather than one continuous stretch of water), and extends all of 2.5KMs along the Argentine-Brazil border, the sheer number of individual waterfalls scattered about the place makes for an unforgettable spectacle. Against this though, it should be noted that there is nothing at Iguazu to equal the Devil's Pool in Zambia! The metal footbridge at Iguanu allows you to get right on the edge of the waterfalls, and at the Devil's Throat, to get soaked feeling the cascading spray of the Falls, but at Iguazu you can't leap into the rushing waters of a rock pool which pushes you to the very precipice of the waterfall, as you can at Victoria Falls. Both of these falls, you can see, have their own distinctive characteristics, and both are genuine maravillas in their exceptionality.

The tour's guide, Rodrigo (who I renamed ‘Rodrigid’ as the day wore on), had this irritating trait of always referring to members of the tour group by their surnames only (no mister, señor, señorita, and the like). When he persisted with this army drill address, I decided to return serve by pointedly calling him "Mr Rodrigo" or just "Apelido", which made him laugh but I'm not sure if he got the point.

On return to the hotel, I reverse my original notion to eat at the hotel restaurant when I notice that they were still painting the interior, and venture down to the township to eat. I discover that Puerto Iguazu is much larger than the one street (Av Cordoba) hick town I had surmised it to be on my first day. Cordoba Avenue is not even the main road but leads on to Victor Aguirre, a much more important street with its own little side streets,with a a liberal smattering of  largely unexciting bars and eateriesa, and a welter of souvenoir and gift shops, more or less all duplicating each other's products, in the typical tourist-town manner



Devil's THroat train line

Devil's THroat train line

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