Day 16: Iguazu Falls

Luis picked us up at 8:45 to take us to the park for our 4-wheel drive and soaking speedboat ride through the Iguazu River. He gave us a discount on the taxi ride since he got a commission for bringing us to the Iguazu Safari Company – the only company that can run trips through the park. (the monopoly would become relevant later) While we waited for Luis’ friend Mario to process our payments, we talked to Luis about his cup of mate (pronounced mah-tay); the traditional tea that the majority of Argentineans carried around in thermoses and drank out of gourds with long silver straws. We’d wondered what it tasted like so Luis offered us some of his. Definitely more bitter than I was expecting. I thought it tasted like a liquid-form of tobacco, but Mindy thought it tasted like really strong tea.

“Jungle Tour” 4 Wheel Drive
Our schedule included a lot of water and soaking wet waterfalls and the weather was already hot and humid, but we’d come prepared by wearing our bathing suits and had packed plastic bags to protect our cameras and passports. First was a jungle tour down to the river. Our 4-wheeler – which was really just an open truck – picked us up and proceeded to bounce and jolt down a foresty backroad full of trees and bushes. There was a guide who spoke to the group about the history of the falls and the local traditions, though we couldn’t hear him well since we were in the last row and the Irish lads next to us talked the entire time. And it probably didn’t matter since the truck was driving much too quickly to make any stops for photos or to point out local flora and fauna. Clearly the “jungle tour” wasn’t so much a tour as it was a way to get us to the boats – and that’s really what we wanted anyway.

Speed Boat Trip + A Good Dousing
The highly anticipated speedboat trip was excellent. We cruised down the Iguazu River – Argentina on our right and Brazil on our left – until we got to the falls. It’s a stunning sight from the bottom since they’re so massive and it was such a beautiful day. The speedboat driver positioned us for photos and then prompted us to put our cameras and belongings into our waterproof bags so we could start the good stuff: riding through the falls.

On the way to the falls

The falls from the bottom

To us it felt like we were getting pummeled by a high-powered water hose. Though that’s difficult to say since I’ve never been pummeled by either a high-powered water house or a large waterfall. Still it was an experience I’ll never forget. Since we followed the lead of the gajillions of Iguazu Falls tourists and wore our bathing suits, we were well prepared for the soaking. We were dripping wet.

Another boat going into the falls (on the bottom left)

A boat going into the falls

Mindy and me, post-soaking

Lower Circuit Hike
The very wet speedboat dropped us off at the bottom of the Lower Circuit trail, which we followed up to the top of the falls. Stopping for all the scenic views, of course.

The falls

Shannon taking pics

Search for Lunch
There was one hotel in the park – The crazily-priced Sheraton – which sat at the tops of the falls with spectacular views. Seemed like a lovely idea to have a nice lunch overlooking the falls in the comfort of the Sheraton lunch room, until we walked all the way there and discovered that scenic lunch would run $30. Not an outrageous price if you’re dining in NYC, but Iguazu Falls? Are you kidding?

The ultra-pricey Sheraton

The view from the Sheraton

We left and went for pizza at the same place we ate the day before, because it was good. And because we could.

Ecological Tour
When we bought the 4-wheel drive trip, speedboat ride and waterfall soaking we also bought an “Ecological Tour” that boasted a quiet raft trip up the Iguazu River. Craving something tourist-free and potentially educational we were looking forward to the quiet boat ride and experienced guide through the river. The one bad thing: we had to take the slow, crowded train to Gargatna del Diablo again. That may not have been so bad if it hadn’t stopped at Station #2 and inexplicably changed direction to return to its original station. The conductors told us we had to get out of the train and actually go to the end of the line. We were not happy at all with this development, and so after much haranguing they let us sort of go to the front of the line since we’d just gotten of a train that wasn’t supposed to end its path.

To top that off, the “Ecological Tour” didn’t turn out quite as we expected. The guide, who sat and paddled from the middle of the boat, spoke little English and never turned around to speak to the five of us in the back of the boat. He only spoke to those in the front. Even our questions of “What’s that?” in Spanish went completely ignored. On top of that the weather was so hot and humid that we sweat just breathing, and our hopes for a refreshing river breeze was not to be. So while we did see a few interesting things, the trip wasn’t quite what we’d hoped it would be. But we had a lovely moment when a colorful butterfly landed gracefully on my toe.


Mindy and Shannon – trying to smile for me despite the heat and Iguazu annoyance

Our “guide”

Pretty butterfly on my toes

Lovely bird

Ride in the back of a pick-up

On the bumpy back-of-a-pickup ride back to the park, we talked to a man from Kentucky about his visit to Argentina. He told us that he did the Moonlit Walk the night before – the once-a-month event when the park is closed except for a small group who visit Gargatna del Diablo via the full moon. We’d made reservations for that evening but had decided not to attend; the thought of coming back to the park, standing in more lines, and riding the Trauma Train again seemed more trouble than it was worth. But Kentucky looked at us and nodded, “You really should go. It was one of the best things I’ve done in a long time.”

Aw, man. *sigh* Fine. We bought tickets to finalize our spots.

Pooltime and Pina Coladas
It was time, however, for some much needed downtime at the hotel pool. We took our magazines and our sunglasses and spent a few relaxing hours poolside.

Aaaaaahhhhhh… heaven

Me and Shannon by the pool (pic by Mindy)

The song “If you like Pina Coladas” had followed us since we’d first heard it in boutique in Palermo, and we’d been singing it for days. But somehow it altered to a customized version of “If like cold empanadas / and getting stuck on the train”. We clearly still work to do on the additional lines, so we ordered a round of pina coladas to get started.

Full Moon Walk
That evening we went back (again) to the park for our 8:00PM Moonlit Walk to Devil’s Throat. We got to the park early to avoid waiting in heinous lines, but as it turns out we didn’t need to. The park sold a limited number of spots for this event so the park wouldn’t become unmanageably crowded, and the rangers put in enough sit-around-and-wait checkpoints that there was really no rush. Like the waiting in line to get tickets. Then the waiting around for a ranger to walk us 100 feet. Then the waiting around to go another 100 feet. Then the waiting around for the briefing before getting on the train. Then waiting on the train. Then – finally – the lovely walk to the falls.

The train, just sitting there waiting for us to board

Waiting and waiting…

Lovely sunset while we waited, though. And Mindy excitedly spotted two toucans that flew by while we stood there – so we should probably be thanking the park rangers for being a mass of slowly moving red tape.

Toucan sunset
When we finally got to Devil’s Throat we were fairly exhausted of people and crowds so we opted to let everyone off the train to head to the falls first, making us the last in the group and therefore further from the mobs of photographers. This was a great tactic. There was only a small group of us toward the end and for the most part we had Iguazu River to ourselves.

The moon over the water

The girls and the moon

It was worth it. Shannon and Mindy got some stunning photos with their swanky new Canon G9 cameras – and this moonlit session was especially educational about camera settings, exposure times, and light angles. The girls emerged with some exceptional pictures of the moon and the falls, and it was pretty special to watch the evolution of photos from the beginning of the night to the end.

Unfortunately the Trauma Train almost ruined our happy feelings since the 20 minute ride took – get this – 50 minutes. There was no apparent reason for the train to come to a dead stop for almost 30 minutes in the middle of nowhere. I understand that that 9:45 crowd was coming through on the same track but we definitely could have made the trip without waiting (and waiting… and waiting…) for them to pass. It was awful. We were starving. It was late and cold. And after 20 minutes of waiting in the dark we were ready to get the heck out of there. When the train finally started again and reached the station we raced to get out, happy to be finally, completely done with Iguazu Falls.

A True Argentinean Night Out
On the train, Mindy and Shannon (I sat in a different car due to seating constraints) made a new friend: Ben from Germany. We adopted him, gave him a ride in our taxi, and convinced him to meet us for dinner at a recommended restaurant Pizza Color in town after he showered at his hotel. By the time he arrived twenty minutes later we were seated and had finished our (first) round of caipirinha, into a (first) bottle of Navarro Correas Melbac, and dinner had just arrived.

Mmmmm… caipirinhas…

Dinner on a stick!

Ben, Mindy, Shannon, and Me

The Train Trauma defaulted us into a late Argentinean dinner – which was absolutely fine since all that waiting around obviously worked up an appetite. So we ordered another bottle of Navarro Correas for dessert though the waiters had stacked up all the outdoor tables around us and were clearly waiting for us to leave. Ben – clever boy – sneakily picked up the check when we weren’t looking so of course we had to take him out for more drinks. The only place still open in Peurto Iguazu at 1:30 in the morning was a bar called (of all things) Bamby three blocks away. Probably not smart to order another round of caipirinhas, but after so many rides on the Nightmare Train our brains had all but shut down. Made for some great pictures, though, since we spent most of the time changing the settings on each others’ cameras and taking ridiculous amounts of late-night pictures.

Mindy, late night and toying with her camera settings

I LOVE this self-portrait of our happy, happy Shannon, who had fallen in love with a cute stray dog near our table

Me and Shannon (pic by Mindy)

Ben, wondering how he’d managed to get mixed up with these three crazy American girls

Downtown Iguazu on extra exposure

Mindy with a long exposure (pic by Happy Shannon)

One of Shannon’s new puppies

Awwww… a late, late taxi ride to the hotel