A Travellerspoint blog

Iguazu Falls

32 °C

A 21 hour bus ride from Bariloche, a 5 hour wait in the fairly unpleasant Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires, and a further 18 hour bus to Puerto Iguazu. I arrived at Hostel Bambu mini in my jeans and long sleeves, greeted by a humid wall of thick, silent +30 degree heat at around 8am. The very friendly señorita at reception promptly provided me with access to the bathroom in order for me to take what was undoubtedly the most overdue shower of my life thus far. As I had booked 3 nights in Puerto Iguazu my only goal for the first day was to stay awake. I spent hours walking around trying to find an atms that would not only accept my card, but also had cash, and managed to see most of what the little town has to offer that is of any interest.

Later that evening I started chatting to a lovely Australian girl in the hostel kitchen and we ended up heading out to dinner. 2 Aussie girls, 2 German girls, an American guy and girl, one Swedish guy and one Dutch, dining together at an Argentinian parilla, just off the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Some things money can´t buy. Other things, such as an incredibly large bottle of vodka with 8 glasses and a few cans of ´speed´at a bar for less than AUD $50, money can actually buy. With hardly a dent in the vodka (a pretty poor effort from 8 people really), it was smuggled back into the hostel for future consumption by our generous Dutch compadre.

The next day was my full day at the waterfalls. It´s a very well organised operation with hundreds of people transported with ease to and from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the border. Sadly, I would not have the opportunity to visit the Brazilian side. Being an Australian with only an Australian passport meant that I could not (legally) enter Brazil for just the day without a visa. Many South American countries have reciprocity (retaliation) policies which, because of Australia´s ´thorough´immigration and tourism laws and regulations, result in ´thorough´requirements for Australian´s who visit their countries in return.

In my first few minutes at the park I heard the unmistakeable Australian twang across from me and ended up having a quick chat to a very cute Australian couple who would have to be about 80 years of age. Older than my grandparents, it´s never too late for a South American adventure! As for the waterfalls themselves, the pictures can only describe them. The wildlife, the flora, the amount of water, it´s all absolutely stunning. My jaw literally dropped involuntarily many times during the day. You can see waterfall after waterfall for km after km in both countries. Plants are growing underneath the waterfalls, the noise and volume is astounding and butterflies of every colour imaginable come and say hello.

Once I had seen all that I could and had walked every path that could be walked on, I decided to head back to the entrance and find a bus. Alas, I was looking at the wrong place on the map and after 20 minutes of trying to figure out how to get back to the entrance, I was ever so slightly frustrated. And it was obviously evident on my face..... cue friendly Brazilian tour guide ´Marcelo´

M Hello, are you lost?
R Yes, I just want to go back to the entrance and.... well... I can´t find it
M Oh, no worries, look we are here and you need to walk down there for 10 minutes, follow the path to the right and then a few hundred metres to the left.
R Muchas gracias! I thought we were here (laughing, pointing at completely different place on the map)
M De nada. Where are you from?
R Australia
M Oh great! I have some frenz from Malbourne. I really want to go but I waz jus in Europe for six mons so I can´go yet.
R Where are you from?
M I am Brazilian. I live in Brazil an I waz working in de tours in Europe but now I come home in the past seven days and I start working again zis week. What is your name?
R Reagan, como el presidente.
M Muy bien! My name is Marcelo. How long are you here for?
R Solo tres noches en Puerto Iguazu.
M An you are staying en an hostel no?
R Yes a nice little hostel called Bambu mini.
(Dumb Reagan, very dumb)
M Oh great! A guy I know, Christian owns Bambu. It´s a great hostel right? An who are you travelling with?
R Just me.
(Ummm, what are the rules of female solo travelling Reagan???? You just told a complete stranger, a local male, where you are staying, how long for and that you´re travelling alone. FFS).

I chatted with Marcelo for another 5 minutes or so, until it was at that point where obviously there is nothing left to say but he wants to keep talking. I politely made my exit ¨Really I must get off to that bus. Lovely meeting you and thanks for the help, chau chau!¨

Later that evening, sitting quietly reading my Amartyr Sen ¨Development as Freedom¨novel in the kitchen I heard a familiar voice. I peeped my head around to the hostel bar only to see, you guessed it, Marcelo, sitting there having a drink. Sh!t!

Conversation in Reagan´s head: Just go and say hi, he´s really nice. Ummm Reagan, it´s not a coincidence that he is sitting at a tiny hostel bar where you happen to be staying and I hasten to add that NOBODY comes here, especially from Brazil, just for an afternoon drink because it´s not even a real bar.Oh come on stop being paranoid. You like meeting new people! You are so naive! What would Tabatha say right now? ¨Reagan you are your own worst enemy. Trust your gut.¨Gut says that you should take the non-confrontational option of sneaking out through reception and not come back for hours. I had an extended solo dinner after successfully sneaking out of the reception area.

On my final full day in Puerto Iguazu I finally got in a nice run. A couple of laps of the circuit that takes you to the point where the borders of three countries meet on the river. Europeans, South Americans, Asians might not appreciate the novelty of this as much as the relatively un-travelled Reagan :) I also managed to get lost in a town that most people would have great difficulty getting lost in, no one could change my 100 peso note so I couldn´t pay for my lunch. I went to the atm to get some 50 peso notes and then left my card in the atm.... the heat was starting to get to me and this was one of those many days where my brain just doesn´t make the right connections.

That evening I attended a traditional Argentinian Asado with another huge steak along with other types of meat that is cooked for about 2.5 hours. Muy rico! Another forced conversation (for about 3 hours) with an incredibly nerdy, awkward, but very friendly Austrian engineer and it was off to bed at around midnight in preparation for the mammoth bus ride back to Buenos Aires in the morning.

Posted by Reagank 18:14 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)


Horses, volcanoes, nose piercings, interviews and lost souls

Whilst I think I could very easily live in Pucón for a very long time, I did eventually get off my butt and leave. I can´t express enough how much I implore anyone visiting Chile to go there. The people speak Spanish very clearly and are very patient with this clumsy gringo and her very basic, broken language skills.

The day we arrived we went exploring the streets and stumbled upon a piercing shop, so I decided to get my nose pierced.... as you do. I had been thinking about it for a while and there was nothing stopping me this time so I just did it. Tash had the camera at the ready but the large, terrifying implements that the man used to undertake the procedure turned her off recording the event. Then whilst trekking up the volcano the next morning (that will be a separate blog post), the nost stud fell out into the snow after catching on my glove. So that evening I returned alone to the piercing man to explain (as best as I could - my Spanish piercing vocabulary is not exactly crash hot just yet) and try to get another stud through the whole. T´was to no avail, the inside of the hole had already closed so he needed to re-pierce it with the terrifying clamping instrument and ridiculously large needle. The needle went through, and for a split second everything seemed fine.... and then the blood started pouring out of the hole both on the inside and outside of my nose. Blood blood everywhere. The blood pushed the stud out of my nose and it didn´t look like it intended stopping bleeding anytime soon. I had to giggle at my predicament and the panicked looks on the faces of the young girls in the room. The only thing that was a slight issue, was that I had to call Australia in a matter of minutes. `El otro lado mañana? Porque mi nariz esta tan dificil??`(The other side tomorrow? Why is my nose so difficult?) I said to the man. He shook his head at my lack of concern and stubornness, but agreed, tomorrow we´ll try the other side. I want my damned nose pierced ok!

So holding tissue over my nose I headed to the call centre for a quick phone call to Brendan and then a call to Adelaide for an AYAD interview. My conversation with Brendan was prematurely cut-off and a wave of home-sick, whingey girlfriend emotion unexpectedly hit me at a very inconvenient time. Suck it up Reagan, breathe, make the Adelaide phone call and get the interview over with. Head is not in interview land, nose is hurting from sunburn and piercings, lump in throat.... this is not going to be good. Thank goodness I hadn´t agreed to a skype interview! They were already satisfied with my professional experience, and all they ended up asking me in the interview was why I thought I was ready to undetake an overseas posting on a personal level. So, choking back tears, I managed to splutter out enough about where I´m at personally to satisfy the lady that I am infact an emotionally stable and mature human being.

The next day we were booked in for horse-riding in the Chilean country-side. Whilst I have had many good friends from primary and high-school that loved horse-riding, it had never actually occurred to me to try it myself. I was introduced to my horse Pepe´, who would be my companion for the next four hours. After very limited horse-riding instruction we were off, with no helmets, along a winding mountain dirt road. It quickly became apparent that Pepe`was a stubborn horse and also had tendencies consistent with that of a procrastinator. Two stubborn procrastinators are not likely to operate very effectively so our guia brought me a small stick. ´Pepe´ needs more motivación sometimes´. Muwahahaha, Reagan has a stick! A very light tap on the butt is all Pepe´needed to keep up with everyone else. Oh dear, no one warned me about this, I should have warn my sports bra!! My legs and butt are going to pay for this tomorrow!

´Ok everyone, now we are going to gallop´says our guia. Ummm, sure, ok.... gallop. No further instruction seems forthcoming. So I ask what one is supposed to do whilst the horse is galloping. She demonstrates what position my body should be in. Rightyho. She takes off in a cloud of dust and Pepe´has no intention of galloping. I really like Pepe´right now, because frankly I have no intention of galloping either. A nice little trot is perfect thank you very much and a canter for a short while is bearable.

The riding thing gets a bit easier, even comfortable at sometimes. We cross a river and then cross back, we wind along riverside tracks and through dense bushes of yellow flowers. I did end up galloping toward the end for all of 10 seconds and it scared the living daylights out of me.

In the late afternoon Simone and Tash departed on a night bus to Santiago whilst I had decided to stay and immerse myself into this little town for a while. I headed back to my piercing man and we successfully pierced the other side of my face without a single drop of blood. It is not my good side, not my photogenic side but I will suck it up. The piercing still stands a week later :)

I spent the next few days getting into a routine in Pucón, early morning runs on the volcanic gravel beach, some kind of daily task that involves conversing with locals. Hours were spent chatting to other travellers in the common room - many lost souls end up drifting into Pucón and staying there for longer than expected. There are people who´s parents and grandparents all passed away within a couple of months. There are people who are just wandering aimlessly around the world and have been for 15 years, and loving it. There are Britains and Americans who have built successful businesses and will never leave. Helen and American born Australian citizen who spends half of each year in Indonesia and a few months in Byron, who didn´t really warm to me at first, ended up telling me her life story including the hilarious story of how she sent her very disobedient son from Australia to a very expensive brat camp in the American wilderness for 2 months and he ended up getting accepted to university this week. She doesn´t have a maternal bone in her body and really didn´t know what to do with this boy. She also ended up getting married to her partner of 15 years in Pucón on Sunday, never thought she´d ever marry again but he insisted in the spur of the moment. Tan romantico!

I learned a lot in Pucón and loved it. Perhaps Felipe the Narrabundah tarot card reader was on to something when he said¨Zere iz a place in Sous America somewhere an yoo will ave such an affinity wiz zis place, yoo will definitlee go bak zere to do somezing special later in your laife.´

Posted by Reagank 10:25 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Mendoza Winery Tour

The main attraction for tourists in Mendoza, an area on the Western border of Argentina sitting just off the Andes Mountains, is the wineries. Whilst it is a lovely little town in it´s own right, it would be a waste to go there and not do the traditional tourist near death experience of a bicycle tour through the unpaved roads of Maipu.

Utilising Tash´s Spanish fluency to the max, we conquered the local bus system and made it to Maipu for about $2 in total. As we alighted from the bus a muchacho was waiting on his bike, his job to convince us to choose his parents´bicycle hire business over the multiple other hire businesses in the area. He quoted us 25 pesos each ($6) so we decided to give him a go. Our hostel had quoted us 95 pesos so we were quite chuffed at our efforts here.

The lovely senor and senora ran us over the map and told us that we should not worry if we have any problems because the police will see us. Apparently they are always driving around checking on hopeless tourists.

The first winery was only a couple of kms away. We sampled some Malbec and took our time browsing over the little museum they had developed out the back, whilst ogling at the biggest wine barrels imaginable.

Next stop was a chocolateria/ liquer producer. We sampled a huge variety of olives, olive oils, tapenades, jams, chocolates and liquers. The amaretto and port warmed me from the inside out, whilst the creamy egg-based concoction that Simone decided to sample was a bit too potent and my head was starting to wooze and it was only our second stop.

We had a few disappointments with wineries that weren´t open or didn´t have tours starting at convenient times, but all were beautiful just to see the buildings and vines. It became apparent that we were infact riding in a fairly unsavoury area, with some streets signposted with huge red signs saying ¨PELIGRO¨(DANGER). How comforting. Next road please!

The last winery we made it to provided tastings of 1 glass for 12 pesos ($3) or 4 glasses for 30 pesos. Tash´s eyes lit up with delight at this deal. I decided to try their most aged cab sauv whilst Simone and Tash had a few different Malbecs and Cab Sauvs to compare. Then we were off to an incredibly late lunch (about 5pm).

We jumped off our bikes at a restaurant that the bike hire couple had recommended. All meals were served with gorgeous mini-cobs of bread and olive oil, and a decent portion of local marinated olives - by far the best we´d had so far. The waiter also poured me another Malbec before I had a chance to protest. Perusing the menu, my eyes stopped at a salad. OMG, they have a salad here!! A real one! (Salad is not a very well understood concept in Argentina and I was having fresh fruit and vegetable withdrawals). Empanadas, salad, olives, wine, all came to a grand total of about $12. This turned out to be one of the best value days I have ever had!

As it was now after 6pm, we headed back to the bike-hire. There were plenty of local men staring, saying hola, some whistling etc, but I wouldn´t say that at any point we felt particularly unsafe. After we´d been riding back for about 5 minutes or so, I noticed 2 police officers on motor bikes riding alongside us. At first I thought they were escorting a large machine that was making it´s way along the road but then one of them pulled up onto the footpath and motioned for us to ride ahead of them. They continued to follow us on the road and then at a large intersection one of them pulled out onto the road with his hand out motioning for the cars to stop (in peak hour) simply so that we could continue riding unpertubed. It was not until that moment that I realised we were being given a police escort and I burst out laughing. I suppose three white females on bright orange bikes might stand out a little? Once we´d made it back to the bike rental house I took a couple of seconds to adjust my backpack whilst Simone and Tash crossed over the main road. As I started to cross, one of the policemen again pulled out onto the road and stopped the cars just to make sure I made it all the way into the driveway before he disappeared into the distance. Hilarious!

The lovely bike-rental owners motioned for us to sit down and fetched us some snacks. They offered us more Malbec and then gave us a slice of their son´s birthday cake. His 13th birthday and he had to spend the day trying to get tourists to enter their shop. I think we may have been their only customers for the day. We tried to leave them a tip but they refused and asked us to comment about their business on the internet instead. Orange Bike Hire - if you are ever in Mendoza don´t forget to go to ORANGE BIKE HIRE!

Posted by Reagank 09:50 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Bailamos - we dance

An all-nighter in Buenos Aires

On our first Sunday night we decided we would head out and experience Buenos Aires´infamous night life. After a long day walking for hours on end through markets we had an evening siesta and crawled out of bed at about 9pm. An hour or so later we were ready to go out for dinner. Tash had a few recommendations and was playing tour guide for the evening. I had my passport and main cash underneath my clothes, and was carrying my wallet with minimal cash in it. As we headed down a reasonably bustling street, a young woman told us to be careful with our purses. We were starting to notice that a lot of really nice people were going out of their way to look out for us, and we hadn´t seen any of this supposed negative side to the city that everyone is so worried about.

Anyway, heeding her warning, I clutched my wallet a little closer to my body and held it infront of me at all times.

Following the map to the restaurant, we found ourselves wandering down some fairly unsavoury, narrow, dimly lit streets with piles of rubbish all over the sidwalk. We found the so called infamous restaurant, abandoned with doors closed and lights off so we headed back up the street to a cervezeria we had seen earlier. I ordered my first Argentinian steak (bistek) de chorizo. Mine arrived cooked to a perfect medium, whilst Tash´s was well-done but nonetheless delicious. They don´t ask you how you want it to be cooked, they just serve it up but I suppose it is their national dish so they know what they are doing!

After dinner we decided to try out a bar that was supposed to be a few blocks away, but upon arrival at around midnight, it too was closed. We made tracks for another club that Lonely Planet recommended for Sundays, all the while cursing Lonely Planet and threatening to email them regarding their recommendations so far. Hooray!! The next place is open! So we paid the 30 pesos entry (less than $10) which included a free ¨speed & vodka¨i.e. redbull and in we went.

The music was some kind of fantastic fusion of club, latino and pop. At first glance it appeared to be just like any other club you might go to in Australia with the lighting, bar, dancefloor etc, but on closer inspection of the dance floor it was quite obvious that it was something very different. The dance floor consisted only of young couples dancing some style I´ve never seen before. It was so beautiful and sensual. The women´s bodies seemed to pivot from their waist with the man´s knee in their crotch (not as perverted as it sounds) as they dipped backwards, throwing their heads back with their long hair almost scraping the floor. The women were absolutely gorgeous. One was wearing a black bra, a diamante encrusted belt and matching heels with pale denim jeans. The men... well what does one need to say, they can all dance!

It didn´t take long for a man to approach us holding out his hand. He was fairly tall and very solid with gbulging biceps and a tight black t-shirt. We were all terrified, and frankly I had only had one drink all night which is absolutely not enough to bring on the courage required to get out onto that dance floor with those people. Simone gave in and took the first dance. Steven it turns out was a very good dancer and quite willing to give these gringos some guidance. I was up next - ¨No hablo espanol muy bien y no se bailar¨(I don´t speak spanish very well and I don´t know how to dance) ¨No importa!¨he said. Oh crap, here we go! It was definitely an Elizabeth town polaroid moment, my first dance in a BA nightclub, and I wasn´t as bad as I thought I´d be, though flinging my hair back is not really my style I´ll admit.

We spent a lot of time just watching the dancers in awe. These are just normal young Argentinians and this is what they do at 2am on Sundays! They were dancing so much that it seemed like they barely had time to drink anything. We were approached by a few different guys over the evening, one older guy who frankly couldn´t dance very well. For those of you who haven´t had the pleasure of experiencing my rant about men who can´t dance but think they can and then blame you when you don´t follow because they didn´t lead.... there it is haha. He was counting out the beat ¨un dos un dos¨and I was thinking, ïf you could lead you idioto, then you wouldn´t need to count the damned beat out loud to me!¨. Then there was the sweaty man with the protruding stomach, was dancing with me on the front and Simone and-or Tash at the back hahaha. There was quite a bit of three-people dancing and the men were quite talented at leading two women at once. There were sometimes even two men (no they weren´t even remotely gay) dancing together, just for fun and for practice. My favourite was the short (er than me), bald, quite fit guy because all of a sudden I found that I knew what I was doing. That´s right people, merengue egg-beater moves on the dance floor in BA! Whoop whoop! All those salsa lessons culminated into that exciting moment where I felt slightly better than incompetent.

It was probably at about 3:30am when something inaudible was said over the pa system, the music stopped and everyone moved over to a stage just to my right that I hadn´t noticed until now. All of a sudden there were four incredibly attractive young men, with no shirts on, on the stage doing a choreographed gyration style dance. WTF!?!?! And when I say attractive, think Ryan Gosling airbrushed quote from Crazy Stupid Love.... but Carribean not Canadian. Washboard stomachs and bright white smiles. Simone came out of the bathrooms and made a v directly to the front of the stage, whilst Tash and I kept looking to each other, then back to the stage, then back to each other in a whirl of confusion about what the hell was actually going on. The guy sitting next to Tash clarified the situation... apparently they put on this entertainment so that the women get ¨hot¨and then the men get excited because the women are excited and everybody wins! Ummm I thought this was a machismo culture? There were guys down on the dance floor trying to follow the dance that the men were doing on the stage because they want to know how to make the women ¨hot¨haha. We joined Simone at the stage and her mouth was permanently wedged open, with intemittent giggle sounds bursting out. All agreed, entry to that nightclub was the best 30 pesos we had spent so far, all was forgiven with Lonely Planet.

As the hours passed, the club seemed to change, becoming more like a normal club with less couple dancing and more drinking. All of a sudden it was 4:30am and I was wide awake and had only had 2 drinks the whole evening. So damned proud of myself at that moment, it´s almost my wake-up time! Simone and I high-fived :) We made tracks and headed back to the hostel via a cafe where we had 5:30am pizza, and then passed out from sheer exhaustion. How on earth any of the people in that club intended to be at work any time soon (it´s Monday morning don´t forget) I have no clue.

Posted by Reagank 08:49 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

BA - Estamos Aquí! (we´re here!)

El espanol es muy dificil.

I arrived in BA at about midday on Saturday and had a few hours to kill before I could check in to the hostel and have a nap. I decided to embark upon a quest to purchase a sim card for my phone.

The young Argentinian guy at the hostel gave me some directions in very fast spanish (I made the mistake of saying I could speak espanol un poquito). I wandered into a small newsagent type shop and eventually summed up the courage to say ´deseo comprar una tarjeta por mi telefono´(I wish to buy a card for my phone). The young female shop attendant simply shook her head with pursed lips ´no acqui´(not here). I then approached a middle aged man at a news stand and tried again necesito comprar una tarjeta por mi telefono´(I need to buy a card for my phone). He motions for me to hide my camera bloody idiot tourists I could see him thinking. No, I can´t buy one from him but I understood enough of what he was saying to know that I needed to continue right one and a half blocks, and go to the shop at veinte seis (26).

After a few minutes, much to my sweaty, tired and slightly frustrated relief, I found number 26. I headed into the shop and grabbed some water and gum on the way to the counter. A grand total of 8 pesos or $2. I said to the girl ´tiene una tarjeta por mi telefono´. She looked slightly confused, also with pursed lips and said ´un chip?´´Si si, un chip!´I said. ´No venden´she said quite rudely in between chomps of her gum (they don´t sell). I handed her my 100 peso note which is worth about $25 and she said ´no puedo cambiar´(I can´t change). Aaargh! Please remain calm Reagan, breathe breathe breathe. I handed over my mastercard for the $2 transaction and then headed for the hostel.

On the way back I came across a tiny shop with a ´moviestar´sign out the front. This is a local phone company, eureka! This time I said I´d like to buy a chip. The lady pulls on out of the drawer and tells me it is 10 pesos. I hand her the 100 note (they don´t take card) and suprise suprise she says ´no tengo cambiar´. My head was about to explode. I said ´donde puedo cambiar´(where can I change?) ´no se´(I don´t know) she replies shortly. Two young guys and a middle aged lady come to my rescue. The guys give me change and the lady tells me to pay 40 pesos more because I need credit. She was actually speaking at me for about 5 minutes but we evenutally figured it out. I could hear them talking between them, ´ella es perdida´(she is lost) and then talking about if they were travelling they wouldn´t be able to speak ingles.

I finally have a chip! And credit! We were all laughing as I left the little shop and said ´Gracias a todo!´(thanks to all!). I was quite satisfied with myself but also aware of the daunting language task ahead of me. The next 7 weeks are going to be much harder than I though. Back to the hostel for some sleep before Simone and Tash arrive!

Posted by Reagank 00:38 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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