Sunday, January 30, 2011

Buenos Aires - Iguazu Falls

It was raining hard when we left Buenos Aires. We decided to take a train out to the nearest town - Zarate, and hitch from there. The train was unlike the flashy, new, air-conditioned ones going between Villa Ballester and Retiro - this one had old, dirty cars, with seats ripped out and broken windows. There was a policeman patrolling the train. On the way out of the capital, we rolled slowly by the most poor slums we have seen yet. Houses built of plastic sheets and sticks, children going through garbage on the huge mountains of garbage, dirt roads and horse-drawn carts...
When we got to Zarate, it was already getting late. We walked to a super-modern YPF gas station on the highway. A friendly attendant showed us a lawn where, he said, ´we always let people camp`. So we did, too. We took a free shower and retired for the night. In the morning we walked to the near-by toll booth and were underway with a truck in about 10 minutes. That day we got 3 rides in total, all trucks. The last one was a Brasilian who spoke no Spanish, our first encounter of such kind. He was speaking slowly and listened hard, so we understood each other pretty well, although we spoke different languages. He dropped us off near Paso de Los Libres. There, we went over to a group of truckers. They were sitting in a circle around a gas burner with a teapot on it, passing mate around. We approached them without doubt, knowing perfectly what we should say and how will things go. After 5 minutes of talking, we have already joined the circle and were offered the mate. 5 minutes more, and we had our camping spot picked out - in an empty dump box of one of the trucks. It was perfect because we wanted to camp out of sight for obviuos reasons, and what better place could there be? Unfortunately, the truckers were not long howlers - they were working on the road construction project and their daily route was only 20 kms long.
In the morning we had to wait for some few hours before we got a ride. A local tree farm worker Luis gave us a ride to his home town La Cruz. We got stuck there. The sun was so hot that we had to take refuge in the shade for some hours, a siesta. When the sun went down a bit, we walked back to the spot. Half an hour later, we were riding with a fat and cheerful Brasilian trucker. He had an unusual name - Elder, but he liked to be called Gino. He dropped us off 40 kms outside of Posadas, at a truck stop with free showers, again!
Posadas in the capital of Misiones, and it is very difficult to hitch-hiker there, especially in the tourist season. We happened to be passing through precisely at the busiest part of the year. Cars were going by full with vacationing families, and the locals, it seemed, had no custom of picking up hitch-hikers. Although there was a heavy traffic and our position was ideal, we waited for over 8 hours before a truck stopped.
The trucker Daniel was the king of the road. He was happy on the road. He drove fast, took chances and bossed the small cars around. He had no load, and sometimes we were roaring at 120 km/h. It was 1 in the morning when we camped at a gas station (free showers, once again), 40 kms from the Falls of Iguazu. By this time we have been on the road for four days, and we were taking a shower every night! In Brasil, they say, ALL the truck stops have free showers, hmmm...
We were unable to hitch the last 40 kms to the town of Puerto Iguazu. We were on the road by 6am, and at 8, when the sun has gained strength, we gave up and flagged down a local bus.
Puerto Iguazu is a typical `tourist trap` type of town. Lots of hotels, souvenir shops, a busy bus station, and not much else. The park (the falls are surrounded by a National Park), is 17 kms out of town, and there are no campgrounds, in fact it is prohibited to camp within the limits of the park. Well, we were not deterrred, we knew that there MUST be a camping spot in the forest:) We stocked up on provision in town, took a bus to the border fo the park and started walking. The skies opened up and got us drenched in an intense tropical shower 20 minutes after we started out, but it was actually a pleasant refreshement. We did not mind getting wet when it was +35 C.
We walked for about 6 kms when a perfect camping spot revealed itself to us. A trail was leading off into the jungle, and to the side of it, there was a sign. `NO TRESPASSING`, in Spanish and English, and a rough image of a park ranger, with his palm of a hand streched towards us, prohibiting entry. 100 m behind the sign, there was an abandoned parking lot! The lush vegetation creeped up on the pavement from all sides, leaving only an area for our tent!!! A forest stream flooded some of the area, and we had a shower with the stagnant (but still very clean) water.We pitched our tent and watched yet another thunderstorm approach. It started to rain again and we slipped into our leaky tent. The twilight fell, and with it, the miriad of the forest creatured started their concert. Our camp was on the edge of a swamp, and all sorts of frogs and toads, aided by the giant cicadas, grasshoppers and we don´t know what else, emitted all sorts of sounds. We laid on our backs for half an hour, listening to the powerful cacaphony.
In the morning we folded up our camp, stashed our bags deep in the jungle and walked to the Fee Collection Booth.
`You haven´t camped somewhere in the forest, did you?` sternly asked us the park worker when he saw us appear on foot from around the bend, first visitors of the day.
`No sir, of course not, it is prohibited, you know.`
`So where did you sleep?`
`We... ehhh... we camped on the camping ground in town, and walked all night to see the falls!`
`Yeah, right...`
By the time the park opened, at 8, there were already 200 people in line for the tickets. The park stuff was sitting around, chatting and sipping on terere. Terere is the same as mate, only it is drunk cold. You can use ice-cold water or any fruit juice you like - it is very refreshing in the humid heat.
The guard looked at the clock, 7:48, and flung the gate open. We were second in line and followed the first couple, who looked like they knew where they were going. The park that we were going through looked more like a shopping center or may be a Disneyland. Lots of concreted plazoletas, sidewalks and lawn, lawn, lawn. There is even a little train that you have to take to get to the falls.

The falls were, of course, impressive, but the highlight of the day for us was the small secluded falls at the end of Macuco trail. After having viewed the main falls, alongside with the multinational tourist crowd, Macuco was a relief.It was actually a place straight from a fairytale, or even from heaven. A small cool stream weaved its way through the thick bush before it fell off of a 40 m cliff, hitting the black rocks below. The water broke into millions of streams in the air and filled the air with freshness. A small lagoon has formed at the base of the fall. May be a dozen people were there besides us. You could swim up to the falls (or walk to them, the lagoon was only waist-deep) , stand under the strong massaging shower, and swim back to your chilling place, letting the next person to enjoy the shower. We stayed there until the sun hid behind the trees and shadow fell. Rainbows and butterflies disappeared and we went back to our camp. We camped in the same place the second night and walked over into Brasil the next day.

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