It’s been a bit of hard travelling to get from the bottom of Uruguay to the top of Argentina – part exhilaration, part tedium and part comedy of errors. There were some painfully long bus journeys (including one with my legs crossed for hours and hours because the toilet was broken), a self-indulgent cross border taxi ride, clouds of mosquitos in dengue fever alert zones, miles and miles and miles of walking, a few incidents of being a bit lost and one of being really lost, a trail of lost items including my mobile phone, too many meals of chips and tomato sandwiches, litres of beer, many rivers, moments of impossible to communicate across the language barrier frustration and quite a few random bondings with beautiful souls (both human and animal). We stayed in some wonderful places and some definitely slumming it kind of places, complete with broken shower heads, no gas, cockroaches, grime, sheets that slide off the bed, broken windows, curtains for walls…you get the picture. Along the way the farms and grasslands turned into forests and the heat and humidity intensified.
Finally we reached Puerto Iguazu. Although it’s the gateway to the world famous waterfalls, it’s still a small frontier town with muddy streets and ramshackle infrastructure. Apart from being too bloody hot it’s kind of likeable. It sits in the far north-eastern corner of Argentina with river borders to both Brazil and Paraguay. There’s a lot of movement and intermingling between the three countries with the inhabitants of each regularly crossing over to enthusiastically party and shop.
This region is our first encounter with the Guarani indigenous peoples, a collection of tribes related through language and culture that live mainly in this area of northern Argentina, southern Brazil, throughout Paraguay and into Bolivia. From what I can gather so far, they travelled down the rivers from the Amazon area sometime in the 14th century in search of a promised land, the ‘land without evil’. They suffered the usual horrific massacres, enslavement, dispossession and exploitation carried out almost everywhere by the European colonial powers. In this case mostly Spanish and Portugese with some input from the Bristish and French. It’s a miracle (and testament to their strength) that they’ve managed to survive with so much of their culture intact. In Brazil the Guarani are still struggling. Read about it here. I’m hoping that this isn’t the case everywhere and that their situation is better as we go further north.
It seems there are still quite a few steps to get to see the waterfalls once you’re in Puerto Iguazu – a walk to the bus station, then a bus trip, then another walk, then a very crowded train ride, and another walk…did I mention how hot it is? To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to be super majorly impressed by the Iguazu Falls. I mean, I’ve seen waterfalls before. Lots of them. But I was. Impressed. Very. They are huge! Roaring and powerful. A mystical other-land made almost entirely of water.
There are around 270 waterfalls (Las Cataratas) in a 3km semicircle and 82m high, so you can’t see them all at once (not from the Argentine side at least) and it’s not something that can really be captured adequately on camera – not by me anyways. I think this is one of those things you definitely have to experience for yourself.
There are a lot of tourists, mostly tour groups. It’s the first time I’ve seen the whole ‘selfie’ phenomenon so in your face and on such a massive scale. Imagine hundreds of (mostly young, but not always) raucous people vying for space on the edges of cliff-hanging walkways to take photos of themselves and each other. What would you do with fifty photos of yourself posing like an idiot in front of a waterfall?
The rainforest in this region is very similar to the northern rivers (NSW Australia) and the wildlife is sensational. There are a zillion fascinating birds and animals that live here including jaguars. I hope to see one somewhere but hopefully it won’t see me. We made a visit to the Guira Oga Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation centre where they’re doing an excellent job of rescuing injured wildlife. Some of the stories about how these amazing birds and animals have been mistreated by ignorant humans selling or keeping them as pets would break your heart. Many are endangered for the same reasons as wildlife everywhere – deforestation, mining, hunting. There is one particular type of parrot, whose name I can’t remember, that is almost extinct. There is one small family group left in the wild but they only eat one kind of tree that have all been destroyed. Replacement trees have been planted but they take forty years to grow and produce the fruit they eat. The parrots only live to be thirty-five. As happens in nature they’ve stopped breeding because the food supply has gone. Sad story.
Here’s some of the most exciting wildlife I’ve seen in Iguazu.
And adorable Coatis – a relation of the raccoon.
There are more Argentina photos here.