Iguazu Falls, Argentina Jan 17, 2008
At one time Argentina had a good rail system but through the years with the political problems, the rail system has degenerated into a few tourist trains that aren’t connected and run through local areas only. Buses have taken over, running throughout South America.
There are literally hundreds of bus companies in Argentina. Local, long distance and international. Buses from Buenos Aires daily cross into Chile, Bolivia, Brazil and as far away as Peru. Of course, there is no central information with any type of schedule which means that the traveler must walk up and down the terminals looking for signs posted among posters, advertising destinations. Bus companies can have two or three locations in each terminal but each location sells tickets only to certain cities. You can’t buy a “Flecha Bus” ticket to Salta from location 23 or 46, you must walk down to location 98. Choice in buses range from the “coche” to “Cama Suite.” “Coches” are the local buses with boxes and luggage strapped to the top. “Camas” can have 3 or 4 seats across(3 seats across being larger and more comfortable for the larger traveler), double deckers with toilets, seats that lay back almost flat and big front windows. The “Semi Camas” serve food and drinks, and the “Cama Suites” or “Cama Executivo” have seats that flatten into beds, serve food with wine or beer and are very luxurious. Bus terminals in big cities are like small towns, usually clean with restaurants, banks, shops and in Cordoba, a supermarket. The Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires may well be the largest bus terminal in the world covering almost 5 city blocks with spaces for 75 busses at a time. Terminals decrease in splendor in proportion to the size of the town until only a shop front selling tickets.
The trip from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina took 20 hours and was very comfortable in the “Semi Cama” bus. Comfortable seats, good food and an awesome view (we were in the front 2 seats on the upper deck, a location we tried to get all the time.) The landscape from Buenos Aires changes from flat to rolling hills, forests with logging and all a lush green. We arrived in Puerto Iguazu where we had reservations at the biggest and best hostel (Hostel Inn) we’ve every seen, set in a park-like setting. A large establishment with internet, pool, tours, etc. the hostel arranges buses to and from the falls with a packaged lunch.
The Argentina side has built bridges and walkways over the actual falls. We started our visit by walking along a metal bridge, built from island to island to see Garganta del Diablo (the devil’s throat), a large hole where the falls begin. A small train takes visitors from the entrance to the top where it is a short walk to the bridges to see Garganta. From there, the train returns, stopping at the beginning of either the walk above or the walk below the falls. As the day was overcast, the weather was warm but not too hot. The falls are multi layered, marvelous and not as wet or as high as Victoria Falls, though, at almost a mile and a quarter wide, they are the largest waterfall on earth. Restaurants attract coati mundis regularly to visit as a ‘clean up crew.’ Large lizards slink under tables and in planted areas, cleaning up anything left by the coati mundis.
Puerto Iguazu on theArgentina side, is a very small town. We had arrived on Sat. afternoon and went walking on Sunday. As elsewhere in South America, everything was shut, closed metal gates prevent any widow shopping. On the other hand, Foz de Iguazu on the Brazilian side, is a very large city which borders both Paraguay and Argentina.
That night at the Hostel Inn there was a barbeque and floor show, a real Brazilian dancer and overly-loud music with an obnoxious MC. The show was aimed for the young males of the group as the gyrating, half naked dancer invited young males onto the stage to teach them how to shake their bottoms. Soon the older guests melted away, leaving the floorshow to the younger crowd.
Next day we crossed into Brazil to view the falls at Foz Iguazu, where the visitor sees an overview of the falls and the bridges (crowded with hundreds of visitors) that we had been on the previous day. Each side of the falls has its own magnificent views. Trees along the walkways were heavy with bromeliads and orchid plants as mist from the falls provides a constant source of water. Only a few of the bromeliads were in bloom and none of the orchids. It must be spectacular when they are blooming.
Next to the Foz entrance is a Bird Park where hundreds of South American birds are kept and a few from Asia and Africa. We wandered around, marveling at the colors and varieties of species, seeing some species that are new to us. There, I was privileged to be able to hold a South American Anaconda and a Macaw. Being able to touch animals is always a highlight of any trip.
Rio Jan 22, 2008
On the Pluma Bus we rode overnight from Foz de Iguazu to Rio through rolling green hills and fields of crops, riding through several very cute little colonial towns on an excellent road. As in Argentina, we went through numerous toll stops and on one occasion, stopped while the police boarded the bus looking for someone or something. Most of the farm houses we passed looked like modern houses and even the poorest ones had satellite dishes.
An interesting phenomenon that we observed was the Fire Rainbow, a rainbow that formed in the clouds without any rain. I tried to get pictures but they aren’t as great as they could have been had we not been on a moving bus. Most of the tourists were busy snapping cameras while the locals just looked at us strangely.
We had been told that Rio was always steamy hot but found that with an overcast sky and a few showers, it was pleasant. Not knowing what conditions might be, we had purchased two cheap ($5) sleeping bags. We used them on the air-conditioned bus and again at night during our brief stay in Rio.
Our hostel in Rio was in an upgraded favella. Upgraded means some brick walls, some stuccoed walls, lots of hills, lots of children, dogs and lots of garbage. To us, it was a slum. The hostel was run by a woman who seemed nice until we paid her. After that, she couldn’t have been nastier, threw our breakfast down on the table, snarled answers back, and finally at the end, threw open the door and screamed at us “OUT!! OUT!!” Never did figure out what we had done to create such behavior.
The hostel was located above the part of the city known as Santa Teresa, a barrio of winding streets climbing up and down the hills and lined with some of the most interesting old houses in the city and affording marvelous views both down to the port and up to the hill known as Corcovado (the Hunchback), 2500 ft. high with the famous Statue of Christ the Redeemer on top. There is an old tram line which goes up the hill from downtown. It figured highly in the movie “Black Orpheus”. Orpheus was a tram driver. Today it’s the cheapest ride in the city, only a few pennies, which means that it’s always packed with locals and tourists. Those that can’t get seats hang off the sides, back and roof. It reminded us a bit of the San Francisco cable cars only more extreme.
To reach the hostel we took a taxi to near the top of the mountain, climbed some of the way dragging our suitcases, up steps, through cement bags and garbage finally reaching the top where we had to pull our suitcases down a long rambling cement way, across more garbage, over and through a yard, on a wooden path about 12” wide, down some steps and finally to the hostel. Our bed mattress lay on a base made out of plastic bottles held in place with a taped cardboard box. The view from the balcony was worth all the climb and bad vibes. Overlooking the bay and Sugarloaf Mountain, we couldn’t have asked for better.
Our search for a restaurant took us back up and down to find a good German restaurant and 2 rather bad local places. Next day we tried climbing down the mountain and vowed “Never again!” Finally we found a house in the favella that served microwaved pizzas and beer for a few reals (Brazilian money).
For the three days we spent in Rio we rode the metro system and local buses. One strange thing about Brazilian buses is that upon entering, everyone must pass through a very small turn style. I had trouble and Ted found it almost impossible to pass through. It wasn’t only us; the heavier Brazilians really had a time pushing their fat bodies through with shopping bags and purses causing additional problems.
Everywhere in Rio it is dirty and cries out for a paint job except for the tourist beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema. The city is built in the middle of a jungle and mildew covers just about everything. Graffiti adorns every wall, sometimes up to the fourth floor of buildings. Everywhere strangers came up to us to warn us about hiding our cameras. I did, which is why you won’t see many pictures of Rio on the picture web shots. Ted continued to shoot and we didn’t really have any trouble but it did give us an uneasy feeling while we walked the streets.
On our final day we visited the botanical gardens which are very nice with large bromeliad and orchid houses. A treat for us was a family of marmosets running across the beams in the bromeliad house. At the entrance to the park, we were waved inside as senior citizens get in free. How did she know we were senior citizens?
Rio was a very big disappointment. Not only is it expensive, it is dirty, unfriendly and except for the beaches and the views from above, has nothing to offer in the way of sights. Poverty seems to penetrate every street, every house and every building outside of the beach areas. And this is the rich part of Brazil. We certainly won’t recommend it as a place to visit.