As most of you know, I have booked very, very little ahead of time on this little trip. Outside of the Antarctica voyage, I secured only five other flights at various points along the way. The next one on the agenda was the hop from South America to Africa, or more specifically, from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg, South Africa. For whatever reason, the main international airport for Brazil is not in Rio de Janeiro, as you might expect. Now, I can't possibly visit Brazil and not see Rio. So, I had some planning to do.
Fortunately, the hostel in Buenos Aires I was staying in had a travel agency, operated by a beautiful young lady named Cecilia. Unsurprisingly, I spent a good bit of time at the travel desk figuring and re-figuring out my options. For all those interested in such things (I'm certain the list is pretty short), a flight from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro is expensive - especially during Easter weekend. Almost prohibitively so. And, once there, I'd still need to catch a quick flight or a bus to Sao Paulo for my trip to Africa. Thanks to Cecilia though, I found I did have a few other options. It turns out taking a quick domestic flight up to Puerto Iguazu, then riding an overnight bus to Rio is a lot more cost-effective, as well as scenic.
For those of you like me who aren't aware of such things, the Iguazu falls on the Brazil/Argentina/Paraguay borders is one of the most impressive set of waterfalls in the world. Apparently over 200 different falls are concentrated in one fairly small area. I've not seen Niagara Falls, but others I talked to said there is no comparison. Iguazu falls is a must-see.
After weighing my options and factoring in the ETA on getting my passport back from the Brazilians, I decided to check out the falls. Cecilia helped me make all the arrangements, and I hopped on a north-bound Aerolinas Argentinas flight the day after I retrieved my passport.
I touched down at the tiny Puerto Iguazu airport around noon or so. There were only two jet ways and two small baggage carousels. I picked up my belongings, walking past a covey of pretty girls trying to get everyone to stay at the local casino/hotel. Good marketing, that. I walked outside into the warm, muggy sunlight and was greeted by a few hundred butterflies flittering about the bright green trees. I don't think I'd ever seen that many butterflies in one place. It was beautiful. I caught an eight-peso shuttle into town, and was dropped off right in front of my little hostel.
As my timetable was tight, and the bus to Rio was to leave the next day at around noon, I set about figuring out how to get out to the falls. After talking to no fewer than five people, I figured out there was indeed a public bus to the Iguazu National Park, leaving every half hour. I caught the next one at 2:00, and headed out with seven or eight other people.
The park is out in the middle of the jungle - it's a good 20 minutes from town, and surrounded by dense green trees and bush. Once inside the park though, the jungle has been reduced to patches of green lawns spotted with curio shops and restaurants. I picked up a map, and proceeded to the little inter-park train which would take me out to a set of falls called "The Devil's Throat".
The train ride was uncomfortable - again, the manufacturers not necessarily building the benches for someone of my stature. The poor old Asian lady across from me was not happy that my knees were pretty much in her face. The heat didn't help anything - it was a hot with very few clouds overhead, but some looming in the distance to the West. They packed each four-person bench full, until the train was full of 80 sweaty people fanning themselves with their park maps. However, the scenery through the jungle was beautiful. At certain points the vibrations of the train would disrupt a group of feeding butterflies along the track, and the swarm would take to the air, looking like swirling confetti in the wind.
We reached the end of the line, where we all disembarked, and headed by foot along a marked pathway. In the distance, I could hear a low rumble - like a continuous roll of thunder - I looked above the trees in the direction of the sound and saw the mist of the falls in the distance. Just the sound of them was pretty impressive.
Swarms of beautifully colored butterflies surrounded us during our walk, seemingly unafraid of human contact. It was a rare occasion when you didn't have one attached to your hands or arms. The dirt trail quickly turned into a set of suspended metal bridges spanning long widths of rushing water.
During one long stretch of the bridge work, I saw people gathered together, looking over the side. A small crocodile was sunning itself on the rocks below. It wasn't all that big, but was a reminder that I probably didn't want to find myself in the water at any point today.
After about 15 minutes of walking along the packed walkways, I reached the roaring, misty Devils Throat. It was absolutely amazing. This scene, again, is one where words will come ridiculously short of portraying it accurately. Just the sound was impressive. The entire area seemed to vibrate with the power of the water.
The Devil's Throat is essentially the start of the falls, where water pours over three sides of the crevasse, creating an immense wall of white. A constant white mist rose out of the depths of the falls, of which you couldn't really see a bottom. All along the Brazilian side of the river, individual waterfalls poured down the side of the cliff face, creating a beautiful façade of individual white streams against a dark brown and green background.
After about half an hour of being completely humbled, I started back, as I wanted to see as much as possible before closing time. I headed back to the train, stopping from time to time to watch swarms of butterflies, or to check out more crocodiles sitting on the rocks.
I rode half way back, jumping off at a point where I could see another set of cascades further down the river. Another set of metal bridge work led to points above the water to a point where you could actually see it water drop below your feet a hundred feet down to the rocks below.
Far below, in the distance, some adventure boats sped around on the relatively calm water of the river. From time to time you could hear some shrieks and screams from the passengers as they approached the mist of the powerful water. As I walked along the path, I had a few people take my picture. Adding another notch on the "weird connections" belt, one couple I met happened to be on vacation from California. As we chatted, I found out they were in the shoe business, and were friends with the owner of Bob Jones shoes in Kansas City.
I stayed at the park as long as I could, until the sunlight dipped below the Western horizon, and the sky turned red and purple. As I rode the bus back to the hostel, I thought about how well this little detour had worked out. Again, my investments in procrastination and spontaneity pay off!