Saturday, 31 January 2009

Iguazú Falls

Here's a blog about my latest trip, which was only actually the third trip I've made in the three months I've spent in Argentina. But who cares? Still, fair play to the youngsters I've come across who are on a mission to tick off as many towns and cities as they can: at least if you keep moving around, you're less likely to get bored.

I'd originally planned to go to Iguazú in December, but changed my mind at the last minute (after going to the bus station without sufficient pesos in my pocket, as it goes) and went to Pinamar instead. But, since virtually everyone I met told me that I just had to go to Iguazu, because it was amazing, I decided that maybe sitting on a bus for 14 hours would be worth it. As it goes, the bus ride was longer than 14 hours: the journey there took 16 hours, and the journey back took 18 hours. It's a bizarre life when you spend longer travelling somewhere than you actually spend enjoying that place. 

Whatever, I was told that I could spend a good three days enjoying the waterfalls, so I booked myself in to a wonderful hostel for two nights (the Hostel Inn, in case you're wondering: it seems to get good reviews from everyone, and I think it deserves them). It had a swimming pool and everything, which was very handy on the first day, as it was incredibly hot, and I had little else to do when I arrived. The hostel provided a transfer service to the park that contained the waterfalls, but it left in the morning, and I only arrived in the afternoon. It's quite possible to get a different bus there, but entry to the park costs $60, and I wasn't prepared to spend $60 for an afternoon (as it goes, if you go on two consecutive days, the total cost will only be $90, but I discovered that I could see everything in just one day anyway). So instead, I just jumped in the pool, then lay in the sun, then got out of the sun because it was too hot, then eventually went to investigate the tiny town that is Puerto Iguazú.

High Street

There wasn't much of note in the town: it's just a place that lives off the thousands of tourists that continually pass through. I bought some cheese, olives, bread and water, which would be my afternoon and evening meals for the next two days (tell me how gross that is). And I took some pictures to try and entertain myself for as long as possible. Eventually, I got the bus back to the hostel, read a bit, swam a bit, had a shower and went to bed early, because I was tired and I had a long day ahead of me the next day. I set my alarm for 7, which was when breakfast started at the hostel. After dining on bread, cheese and olives, I planned to eat a hearty breakfast.

My alarm didn't go off the next morning, because the clock on my phone was set incorrectly (I thought it was 17 minutes too slow, but it was in fact 12 hours and 17 minutes too slow). Fortunately, there was enough noise coming from another source (it sounded like a water pump) to wake me up. I got up and ate my breakfast, then waited for the bus to arrive to take me to the falls. I'd bought tickets for a couple of boat rides to help make the day more entertaining. I made friends with a group that was staying in another hostel, and we set about exploring the park. One of the guys complained to me that 8am until 4 pm seemed like a bit of a long time to be wandering around looking at waterfalls. He was proved wrong: the park was certainly big enough to keep us entertained for the duration of our visit.

We started off by walking around the lower circuit of the park. When we found our first viewing point, we were all quite impressed by the sight. The cameras came out and we started snapping like maniacs. As we continued to walk along, it seemed that the view got more impressive with every few metres we walked. What made things better, and something we didn't appreciate until about an hour later, is that it was early and we were the only ones there. Later, we'd have to fight against the swarms of other tourists that were all trying to get almost identical photos, but on their cameras (I'd be intrigued to see how many photos of the falls are on flickr). Here's one of the 200 pictures I took:

Iguazú Untitled #16

With the exception of one of the girls in the group, we all had a ticket to go on the boat ride that would take us right into a couple of the waterfalls. Getting the soaking out of the way at the beginning of the day made sense, as we'd have longer to dry off. The ride was quite a laugh: getting soaked was refreshing, and disorientating. I've been under a waterfall before: the tiny thing that was in the grounds of the University of Nottingham (the "Water of Soberness", as we called it, after discovering the ability of the water to make the most drunk person feel sober again. Happy days...). But here we had proper falls, and there was so much water that it was impossible to see anything for the most part of the time under the water. Thankfully, the guy in control of the boat could see, or else we'd have been destroyed by the falling water. Whatever, as you can imagine, we got totally drenched. There was not a part of my body that was dry, and I had to stand up slightly to get the water out of my shorts.


After wringing out our t-shirts, we got going again, to see more falls. There's not much to say: the pictures are all on flickr for anyone who really seriously wants to see what we saw. The last place we visited was the Garganta del Diablo (the Devil's Throat), which is perhaps the most impressive part of the park. This is where some of the falls form a big throat-like bay where the water just gushes down in a rather frightening manner. It's a nice place to hang out, if you're not of a nervous disposition. As I looked, I couldn't rid myself of the idea of being thrown down the throat and swallowed up by the water before being smashed into pieces against the rocks at the bottom of the fall. One of the Australian girls in the group wasn't plagued by such visions, and said she felt incredibly at peace up there. Whatever, it was an impressive place.

Iguazú Untitled #68

I left the group for a bit, to meet them back at the bus, as I was the only one who'd bought a ticket to go on the calm boat ride down the river (there were three boat rides in total: one that hurtled down the rapids, the one that went into the waterfall, and this one, that was rowed gently down the river). It was a nice way to end the day, as I got to sit on the side of a dinghy for half an hour and just relax after having walked around for the previous 6 hours or so. Although, at first, there was a slight sense of fear among some of the people on the boat, as we floated along and could see the edge of one of the falls not too far from where we were, and could still hear the sound of the Garganta del Diablo (I clearly wasn't the only one who'd been slightly disturbed by the sometimes terrifying nature of nature). Of course, the boatman knew what he was doing, so we weren't at risk, and he wasn't about to take us to the edge to give us all a thrill either. We just enjoyed a very pleasant ride, and not even the mosquitoes came to bother us.


After the boat ride, it was nearly time to go. It had been a pleasant 7 hours or so of seeing the park. I'd seen the falls up close from the Argentinean side: the next day I'd be seeing things a bit further away, from the Brazilian side. The selling point of the Brazilian side is that you get a more panoramic view. There's not so much to see, though: for this trip, the bus left at 10am, took 45 minutes in arriving, and picked us up again at 2pm. Which was just as well, because I was very tired that day. Whatever, I got my passport stamped a couple of times, spoke a little Portuguese, had difficulty understanding a little Portuguese, got some Reais, and ate a cheese baguette.

Iguaçu Untitled #4

With that, it was time to wait for the bus to leave Iguazu again. I could write about my time on the bus, but I really can't be bothered. I returned to Buenos Aires, and it was raining. I just got a cab home to save myself the hassle of the underground and the wet streets, arrived home and started uploading the photos I'd taken.

And that's that.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Rosario, and the joy of looking for a hostel

It was about time I wrote another blog, so I decided to go on another trip. I told my friend Cecilia I was heading off to Rosario, an idea I'd put in her head a few weeks previously, and she said that her and another friend were up for coming along too. Happy days! Company for the trip. We headed off on Tuesday morning, a bit later than planned, because the third traveller, Luis, is always late and, true to form, he turned up late...

The bus ride was only 4 hours, which is about as short as bus rides get in this massive country. The coach had the air con on full blast and was about as cold as a fridge, which made things a bit difficult when we got off at the other end, where scorching heat awaited us. I don't know why they do that. But anyway, we stepped out into the heat, in need of food and accommodation. We picked up a sheet of hostel names from the unmanned tourist information booth and went to check a few of them out.

In Pinamar, Doug and I paid $60 a night for a room that was pretty much 3-star hotel standard. So, I was a bit annoyed when we went to the first hostel and some surly German girl showed us a tiny room shared between ten people and said: "That one's $40 each," and then another tiny room for two, but with room for 3 if they throw down a futon and the guy on the floor doesn't mind getting stepped on, and said: "This one's $160 for the room". We went elsewhere. A long walk to the next hostel, which was much of the same. There were two choices: with air conditioning, or without. The room "with air conditioning" (we couldn't see any air conditioning) was tiny, and shared between 8, and the one without, shared between 10, was slightly larger, but equally crap. The price was the same: around $40. Jokes. We deliberated for a while, then looked elsewhere.

We passed another hostel, and I said: "What's the point? It's probably going to be the same as the other two...," but we went in anyway. This one was called "Cool Raúl". They had a room for just the three of us, for only $32 each, and we were relieved and out of energy, so we took it. We went into the room and shut the door while we arranged ourselves and, upon trying to exit the room, we discovered that the door handle didn't work from the inside... We were trapped in the room! Upon knocking, an American girl who worked there came and opened the door for us. She spoke to us in a bizarre mix of appalling Spanish and native English (the opposite of what normally happens), and the lack of any solution to the problem confused Cecilia into thinking that there was something she'd missed. "Oh, no," I said, "no solution was given to this problem. She just said that sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't." Fortunately, Luis didn't waste time in getting a nail and a hammer from the hostel "management", and he fixed the door for us. Of course, the door didn't lock. And the wooden lockers in the room were a bit bizarre: either you couldn't actually lock them, or there was a hole in them, so locking them didn't make much difference. We found one that was actually half-decent, put some stuff in it, and got the hell out of the place (leaving the key in the bedroom: there was no point in taking it with us...) to find some lunch and explore the town.

Advertising Rosario's dirtiest hostel

After spending a nice day out, it was time to return to the hostel. This was the part we hadn't really been looking forward to. Cecilia had a shower, and said that the girl's bathroom wasn't too bad. That made sense, as there were only about three girls at the hostel. I said there was no way I was going to have a shower unless I absolutely needed one, as the boy's bathroom was shared between at least 20 guys, and was a touch neglected on the cleaning front... Anyway, we got away from the place again as soon as possible to find some dinner.

We finished our dinner, so tired that we could barely even speak to each other, but I pointed out that there was clearly no way we'd be getting much sleep back at Cool Raúl. A party had been brewing when we left, and the bar was right next to our room: we had a window looking out into the bar, in fact. I figured they'd be partying all night. We returned at about midnight and discovered that, yes, my prediction had been correct. The front door of the hostel was wide open, and the place was a lot busier. There was a party! Not really in the mood for partying , we went to bed (to be honest, I might well have enjoyed staying up to drink and smoke weed and talk nonsense to strangers once I'd got into the swing of it, but my friends were definitely against doing such things).

Fortunately, I'd brought my earplugs, so I could block out a lot of the noise from the party. For me, it didn't sound like the party was happening right next to our room, but down the stairs. I was able to grab portions of sleep throughout the night, and my dreams were all the same: that I was staying in a hostel with friends (different friends each time, I think, form different chapters of my life), and there was a party going on. Whenever I woke from these dreams, I realised that I was actually in a hostel, with friends, and that, yes, there was a party going on too.

It seemed as if my waking moments coincided with different stages of the party: there was a moment when the party seemed to reach its climax and there was much shouting, and then the moment when the party started to die down and people were leaving, the moment when there only seemed to be a couple of people left, talking nonsense under the influence, and then the very end, when I heard noises in the kitchen. I realised it was time for breakfast, which was a bit of a strange moment, as the rest of the hostel had only just gone to bed. We got up and laughed at the selection on offer: a jar of coffee with a few spoonfuls caked onto the bottom of the jar, some bread, butter and dulce de batata. We ate the plums that Luis had brought with him instead. 

One of the hostel chiefs came and tried talking to us for a bit while we were sitting there. He was blatantly off his nuts and in dire need of sleep. This guy was so wasted that, earlier, he'd been talking to Cecilia in English, even though she'd been talking to him in Spanish. This time, he finally twigged that she wasn't lying when she said she was from Buenos Aires... It was one of those embarrassing situations where someone wants to talk to you, but you have no desire to talk to them, and they just won't go away. Whatever, we all found reasons to leave the table and left him just standing there looking like a lost soul who needed to find his sanity again. 

Fortunately, we wouldn't be staying there another night: the previous day (after checking in to Cool Raúl, as Sod's Law would have it), we'd stopped by at another hostel, where there was a beautiful spacious room with a balcony, in a clean building, for only a few pesos more than we were paying at Cool Raúl (and a lot cheaper than the cramped ten to a room hostels we'd first visited). We didn't hesitate in booking ourselves in there after seeing what was on offer.

We found a nice hostel in the end - love that balcony

We got packed, paid the guy and got going. I thanked him anyway, and shook his hand. He then said to me in English: "There's laughter in my head... I took coke all the night..." And I just laughed, thinking: "No shit, it's kind of obvious what you've been up to!" We got a cab to the hostel we'd stopped by at the previous day , which was far nicer. We got some coffee there and felt happy that we would be able to get a bit more rest and stay in a far cleaner place that night. We said to one of the management team: "Yeah, we stayed at Cool Raúl last night, it wasn't the best place...," and he was all: "Oh yeah... yeah, I've heard about that place...".

Anyway, we headed out to make the most of the day. First stop was Dixon Beach! As we waited for the boat to arrive, I lay in the shade, enjoying the cool breeze and the clear blue sky. Lying there, enjoying the tranquility of my physical and mental environments, I thought back to our friend at Cool Raúl, and the mild coke-induced psychosis he would be having to endure. We were in different worlds...