Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls

 

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Antarctica!
Dec 7-20, 2000

Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nov 28 - Dec 6, 2000

Nepal - Around Manaslu
Oct 30 - Nov 27, 2000

India
Oct 18-29, 2000

Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Oct 6-17, 2000

Australia - Olympics
Sep 25 - Oct 5, 2000

Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Sep 17-24, 2000

Bali
Sep 10-16, 2000

Thailand - Bangkok
Sep 4-9, 2000

Cambodia
Aug 30 - Sep 3, 2000

Vietnam - Central and South
Aug 20-29, 2000

Vietnam - North
Aug 10-19, 2000

Laos
Aug 5-9, 2000

China
Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

Egypt - Along the Nile
Jul 16-25, 2000

Egypt - Touring and diving
Jul 11-15, 2000

Israel and Jordan
Jul 5-10, 2000

Norway
Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
May 17-20, 2000

Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Thu Mar 30, 2000 - To Buenos Aires

We had an uneventful morning, eating a great breakfast at Tres Reyes, then packing and heading to the airport. MomC did get up a little early and make a few purchases for the folks back home.

Returning the car at the airport was less than efficient, but we got on the flight with no problem, and arrived in Buenos Aires right on time. At the domestic airport we were mobbed by ersatz taxis that we had been warned against, so we wheeled our bags out to the taxi stand. There, 2 taxis refused to take us, and when one finally did, he didn't want to turn the meter on. Finally he did after we repeatedly asked him to, but he still charged us $2.50 extra "for the bags".

The Hotel Plaza Francia is lovely and a bit eccentric, but the people were nice and the rooms comfortable. Since we had the afternoon, we decided to explore our neighborhood (Recoleta) by walking around a bit. We headed up Ortiz and scouted restaurants for dinner, then went to the cemetary, searched for Eva Peron's tomb and found it by following other tourists with exact directions. Overall, we enjoye the neighborhood. After a few hours, we went back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

Dinner was at Clark's, and quite good. The signature steak is excellent, as are the prix fixe menus. Dessert was good, too, and we finally staggered off to bed, satiated.

 

Fri Mar 31, 2000 - Around Buenos Aires

The hotel delivers breakfast to the room, which is a definite bonus. The day began with a trip to the local lavanderia, where MomC enjoyed watching the Spanish transaction. Then we headed out to see Buenos Aires and its signature neighborhoods.

First stop was Plaza San Martin where we happened upon the changing of the guard at the monument to the Falkland Islands War. It was interesting to watch them march through the square in their colorful uniforms. We observed that they are not as regimented as other military groups that we have seen.

Calle (street) Florida heads out of the Plaza, so we strolled along window shopping. There were hordes of people making it slow-going, but interesting. This street seemed very similar to Santiago's commercial pedestrian walkways. After a while we reached the intersection with a renovated shopping mall filled with boutiques. Tom ducked out to an internet cafe while Louisa and MomC shopped.

After the interlude, we headed to the obelisk, a monument in the middle of Buenos Aires' widest street which has more than 16 lanes of traffic. The Colon Theatre is nearby, but was not open for tours, so we only got a glance from the outside.

A taxi took us to San Telmo, an artisan neighborhood. After a traditional (long and meat-filled) Argentine lunch at La Convencion, we strolled the streets. The streets are much narrower, with fewer people, making it seem as if we had travelled to a different city.

We passed a tiny and colorful Russian Orthodox church on our way into Park Lezema. We walked through and out into th La Boca neighborhood, the oldest. This is where Buenos Aires began, at the mouth of the river. We covered the entire neighborhhod. It is a stark comparison to the others we visited during the dayy. It is very run down and with even fewer people around.

At the end, we reached a few blocks that have been restored for tourists. The buildings are painted in flamboyant colors, and tango music plays out of a few windows. While picturesque, our walk through the rest of the neighborhood demonstrated the farce that these few blocks represented.

We ended at the harbour, looking at the river. It was disgusting. Oil and trash floated aloong the top, while rusty wrecks were interspersed around the harbor. And this is supposedly half-way through a clean-up.

We taxied home for a break. Tom tested the hotel's internet connection for a few quick emails and was pleasantly surprised. We researched Uruguay with the assistance of the helpful hotel staff. Tom and Louisa headed out and bought ferry tickets for the trip tomorrow.

The driver for the tango show arrived early, and then prooceeded to take us on a tour of the city while we picked up other tourists for the show. We were surprised at the number of places that we had not seen during our busy day. Even from the outside, La Ventana seemed nice and the inside was surprisingly appealing.

The dinner was mediocre, but not terrible, which we expected since we were there for the show. From the moment the music started, the show was entertaining. MomC knows the tango and enjoyed watching how they combined the steps in each of the dances. Louisa and Tom were amazed at the fast pace, and the irregularity of the dance. It is quite flamboyant, with lots of kicks and twists. The energy of the dance was reflected in the colorful and seductive outfits.

After a while, a native band played a few songs with flute-like, ukalele-like and other instruments accompanied by brief vocal harmony. It was an enjoyable change of pace and addition to the show.

The band changed, becoming much bigger and more of the focal point for while. It turns out that it was an internationally known tango band, with 8 silver-haired band members. The dancers came out for a few amazing final numbers and then called it a night.

Overall, the show at La Ventana was good, but not great. We were pleased that it was not any more touristy, which would have been easy. It kept us up on Argentina time, which meant we did not get to bed until 1am.

 

Sat Apr 1, 2000 - Colonia, Uruguay

The trip to Uruguay required us to be up early and at the ferry terminal by 7:45 am. The extra time was useful since our fast-ferry left from another terminal, two blocks away from the main terminal. The lines were long, but moved incredibly quickly, especially for Latin American standards. Customs was a formality rather than an event, but the passports are definitely filling up!

The boat was surprisingly large and comfortable. The seats were larger, cushier and spaced further apart then an airplane, which induced MomC into an early morning nap. We did not splurge, but the first class was even more spacious and with tables.

The boat was very quiet and fast, making it a smooth trip. We were all surprised that there was not much to look at during the ride. The river is approximately 55 miles between Buenos Aires and Colonia. YThe expanse is brown, wide and flat. There were a few freight tankers, but nothing else. When we were very close to Uruguay a few tree-covered islands appeared.

Eugenia, our tour guide, met us at the ferry terminal and led us onto the correct bus. We rode for 15 minutes while she pointed out almost very building, including a defunct bull ring and casino from the early 1900s. We stopped at a very small crafts market where nearly every wooden item is labeled with 'Colonia' or 'Uruguay.'' We did find a lovely sweater for Mom-Tom as a present from South America.

Next the bus took us into the historic district of town to start a walking tour. After 30 minutes we left the tour to climb the lighthouse, since it wass only open for a few more minutes. What a great view! Fowers and trees line the streets and fill the plazas of Colonia creating an attractive vista from above. Since the tide in the ocean was high, the rivere was swollen so we could night quite see Buenos Aires. The day was clear enough, though.

The tour included lunch, so we strolled the few blocks from the lighthuse to the main street. The lunch was one of the worst that we have had, but the service was remarkably quick allowing us to return to the charming streets of Colonia.

We wandered along the coblestone streets, peeking around every corner. It is located on a small peninsula so most streets lead to the water. If we happened along a shop, we would scot it out, but did not buy anything more.

Even though it was a Saturday and Colonia is a weekend get-away destination, the streets and cafes were practically empty. e basked in the tranquility. We found a park bench along the river and next to the lovely gardens of Posada del Flor where we sat in the sun and chatted for awhile.

We also stumbled upon a well designed park with walkways that take you over the ruins of an original 'castle' which was an interesting way to view the ruins.

Overall, Colonia is a picturesque, quiet town which was a needed respite from the noise, traffic and congestion of the streets and sidewalks of Buenos Aires.

The boat ride back was more interesting since the city of Buenos Aires grew before our eyes. It is huge. The skyline continues for as far as the eye can see.

We disembarked near a recently developed part of Buenos Aires, Puerto Madero. It is a line of restaurants in renovated brick buildings along a tributary river. We decided that a couple of the restaurants looked quite good and that we woud return for dinner, and returned to the hotel less than one mile down the road.

Tom and Louisa took a much needed nap while MomC ventured to Recoleta's crafts market in the nearby square. She found a couple of good things for Harris and was quite pleased with her ability to buy without speaking any Spanish.

We enjoyed a good dinner at Happenings, one of the restaurants in Puerto Madero, followed by delicious Argentine ice cream cones from Freddo, a popluar ice cream chain.

 

Sun Apr 2, 2000 - Weekend Markets

We started our day by dropping by an internet cafe to print out some stuff for MomC's work. We asked the price per page and were quoted 7 centavos - very cheap, so Tom confirmed with the man, 7 centavos per page. When we tried to pay, he told us it was 70! After a big argument, we paid about half of that, but it was not a great start to the day.

We then decided to go on an adventure to the most remote and least touristy market in Buenos Aires, the Feria Mataderos. We walked to the subte (subway), grabbing a snack on the way, and rode all the way to the end of the C line. There we hailed a cab and for the market. We arrived shortly, but there was nothing there! The cabbie asked a few passersby who were also looking for the market, but all we got was "come back next week". Bummer!

So, we told the cabbie to take us back to the subte, and we went to San Telmo instead. We found a nice restaurant for a pizza lunch, and then wandered around the market at Plaza Dorrego. There was a lot of junk for sale, with a few nice things mixed in - much like a flea market. There were also some tango dancers, and we enjoyed the passion and excitement that the better ones created.

Once done with that, we decided to shop for clothes for our upcoming trip to South Africa - we need jeans and cotton shirts for riding. We grabbed a cab and asked him to take us to Paseo Alcorta, a mall a mile or two away. We noticed that the meter seemed to go up rapidly, but it wasn't until we arrived and the fare was nearly $18 that we realized that the meter had been rigged. We had no choice but to pay the fare, and while we tried to note his license number, we found that the displayed license wasn't his, and it was too long to remember anyway. Another bummer!

After a little while in the mall, we made another amazing discovery: they only sell clothes for small people. To look at them, you wouldn't think that Argentines are much smaller than Americans (estadounidenses, to use a word we learned recently). However, the large ones must get their clothes custom made - they definitely don't shop at the mall.

We went in to every single men's store in this huge mall (about 12 - we counted) to find jeans for Tom. We finally found some Timberland khakis that had cuffs that we could unravel to make them long enough. Shirts were almost as bad - when we found one that fit but was missing a button, they sewed it on as we waited. Louisa had just as much trouble, and didn't actually find jeans that worked until we had given up, but on the way out decided to try on one last pair at Wrangler. She didn't have as much trouble with tops, however, and we left with several new ones.

For some reason, Argentina doesn't seem to have department stores. All the stores seem to specialize in just one thing. Also, we couldn.t find anywhere in the mall to buy underwear and other basics. We found out later that the grocery store on the first floor also carried these things, sort of like a Kmart crossed with Safeway.

After lugging everything home, we went out to find dinner, but we made a quick stop at an internet spot so MomC could send some important work emails. We then went to a "restaurant row" near Buenos Aires Design (near our hotel) where many restaurants had outside seating. We sat at one place, but nothing on the menu looked good, so we moved next door to Il Gran Caruso before ordering. The italian food was reasonably good, and we listend to live music from the restaurant next door.

MomC then headed back to the hotel, while Tom and Louisa tried the same internet place where we had a problem this morning. It was 10:20pm, and the sign said open until 11, but the man (a different person) told us they were closed. Don't go to the Telecentro across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe!

A bit further up the street was a cybercafe open until midnight, and we closed the place down. Tom worked on the new web site, while Louisa emailed long letters to friends. We got to sleep pretty late.

 

Mon Apr 3, 2000 - City Life

When we saw MomC at 9:30 she told us about a message from Damian and Laurita that we had not gotten. We called and left a message confirming dinner. Laurita called back quicklyy nd we set a date to meet for dinner at their apartment.

The three of us walked through Plaza Bullrich, then along Santa Fe to see the designer stores. We returned to Florida avenue since we knew the shops there. MomC found a shop to buy a charm to commemorate her trip, while Tom and Louisa bought more cotton clothing for South Africa.

The morning ended with momC buying Louisa a birthday present. They had noticed a ring with a modern silver design set on an attractive black band. Louisa tried it on and it was a definite purchase. We talked with the man at the jewelry store while they fitted the ring learned some about the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

All of the shopping made us ravenous so we had lunch at the food court in the Gallerias Pacificas. MomC and Louisa encountered rude service when the girl presumed that they would speak English to her, but it worked out in the end.

It was time for Tom and Louisa to determine their plane tckets for after South Africa. The tickets were issued on British Airways, but were for flights on other carriers. British Airways were incredibly accommodating. They changed all of the flights in Brazil to take us from Buenos Aires to Sucre, Bolivia - incredible! Especially since there were no change fees.

We eaded across town to Paseo Alcorta for MomC and Louisa to be pampered with pedicures and manicures. TTom tried to internet, but it went down as he was about to log on. The cyber cafe got back on line as we walked by, so Tom and MomC surfed for an hour.

We headed for Damian and Laurita's apartment, but the cab driver did not understand the address. We stopped to cal Laurita again and discovred a difference in Guatemalan versus Argentinian spanish which is how they refer to the letter "v" when spelling a word. This resulted in a few laughs, but allowed us to get on our way.

We arrived at their apartment and discovered that Laurita had cooked, and it smelled great! Damian wasstill at the hospital with a glut of patients, but surprised us by arriving sooner than expected. The home-cooked dinner was fantastic! Laurita cooked typical Argentinw food including a delicious beef tenderloin cooked over sea salt; salad of an Argentine vegetable similar to lettuce, but slightly bitter, with garlic; salad; and roasted potatoes.

Dinner conversation covered topics from vacations, to work, to poliitics and the economy. Lots of fun! We sat drinking Argentinian wine and eating the delicious dessert of cream, dulce de leche and chocolate until MomC could not keep he eyes open.

 

Tue Apr 4, 2000 - On to Iguazu Falls

Fist thing, we headed to nearby parks of Palermo. We walked by the planetarium, a tennis club with clay courts and an extensive rose garden. There were quite a few dog walkers, each with 10 or 12 dogs. Tom decided to run, during which he saw a race track where the jockeys were exercising their horses. MomC and Louisa found a pharmacy in the neighborhood.

After an hour and a half, we returned to the hotel to pack. We checked out and stored our luggage then went to Pizza Cero on the plaza for an early lunc. We all contributed to the cross word puzzlle before eating good pizza (although not the divine pie from San Telmo). Tom used the internet at the hotel to check for important messages, which was good for MomC as well.

We arrived at the aeroparqe with plenty of time sincce the flight schedule was slightly later than we thought. We had an uneventful 1.5 hours flight to Iguazu. A sunny, warm and humid day greeted us when we got off the plane.

From the airport we grabbed a ttaxi to the hotel. The driver, Omar, was friendly, helpful and spoke good english (bonus for MomC!). During the drive we discovered that we need a visa for Brazil, $54 each - yikes! This caused us to consider how to reach the country since we definitely wanted to see the falls and fly in a helicopter.

The Sheraton was under major construction. The front door did not work, lobby was filled with work men, and only one elevator was functioning. However, there is an amazing view of the falls from the lobby. Both rooms have the same great view as well.

We tried to walk out to the falls, but the paths were closed since the park closed at 6. We explored everything else possible about the hotel. One agency has a desk in the lobby. We chatted for awhile about the activites available and definitely wanted to sign up for the "Green Pass," but he encouraged us to go to Brazil tomorrow.

We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was very mediocre but we had good Argentinian wine.

 

Wed Apr 5, 2000 - Brazil

Got up early to see wildlife on the Macuco Nature Trail, we started a litte before 8:00 and hoped to see some morning wildlife. We watched a family of Cai monkeys eat breafast in the Ambay trees over our heads, which was wonderful. The jumped between trees easily. The little ones liked toscamper past the larger ones and reach the fruit inaccessible to the larger ones.

We saw a gorgeous bright blue-winged butterfly. Later we found out it is quite rare to see one. The rail leads to a narrow, but tall waterfall, which was pleasant, but no great sight considering th low water.

After the 7 kilometer walk, we called Omar to head to Brazil. The remise office said that he was already busy, but somehow he called us right back, we liked that ingenuity.

We started out for Brazil at 11:00, but were not certain that we could enter due to the visa requirement. However, the border was quiet and we passed through with hardly a glance at our passports.

First flew over the falls in a helicopter. The views were amazing during the 10 minute ride. The pilot circled a few ties, and tilted the helicopter sideways for better views of the water thunderng over the precipice of Devil's Throat, the fall with the highest volume of water.

We had to change US$10 into 18Reais to pay thhe park entrance fee since they only accept Brazilian currency. Everywhere else in the area other currencies are welcome.

We stopped in front of the the Hotel Cataras (pink hotel near the falls on Brazilia side), where an entire family of Coatis (coatimundis in Guatemala) were begging for food. After, we took a quick walk to a nearby vista point for the falls, slowly working our way closer to the.

We had lunch at restaurant/snack bar near the hotel with a view of the falls. The restaurant had a harpist next to our table who was friendly and explained why this harp was smaller than those we are used to at home.

The service was quick sowe were back on the trail by 1:15. The views continued to build as we alked along the trail approaching the falls. We took lots of pictures on the way out as we were amazed at the magnitude and beauty.

The area has a huge number of colorful butterflies which were fluttering around us during our wak. They added to the beauty of the day, and the fun of taking pictures as we tried to capture them while their colorful wings were open.

The path leads to a walkway only a few yards in front of Floriano Falls,a wall of cascades shooting a great force of water down in front of us. With every breath of wind, the mist would sprinkle us as we gazed in amazement. The walkway ended with an incredible view of the Devil's Throat from the water level.

We saw a zodiac-size boat shoot up the river towards Devil's Throat. Our excitement bbuilt for our boat trip the next moring as they disappeared into the thunderiing mmist below the falls. The schedule beckoned, so we headed out via the elevator ($.50 each).

Next we stopped at Parque das Aves (Bird Park). The park exceeded expectations. There are countless cages with numerous varietiesof colorful parrots, macaws and other varieties. The signs indicate which ar endangered, most of which seem to be native to the Brazilian rainforest. The highlight were the huge cages where the birds fly above your heads and walk by your feet. It was wonderful to see the birds without a cage between us andthe birds. We tried to get a few on our arms, but without success.

The park also includes a wonderful butterfly area, as well as a small reptile section. The highlight of the latter however, was a strange monkey with a face like a bird. Time limited our exploration of the park, which surprised us.

We arrived at the Itaipu hydroelectric plant shortly before 4pm giving us a few minutes to read the good display in the lobby. The film turned out to b more propaganda than eduational, but it did include some facts about how the dam was built.

Itaipu organizes the tours through the plant, so we hopped onto one of their buses. The complex is massive. They stopped once near the diversion canal for a view. The rest of the trip we had to stay on the bus.

The dam spans the Parana River which is the boundary between Paraguay and Arrgentina. The our included a drive along the top of the dam, so we actually drove into Paraguay for a few minutes. The dam is massive. The amount of energy that it generates is incomprehesible (90 billion megawatts in 1999).

Drove to the town of Puerto Iguazu, with a wave through at customs, not even a glance. The town is small. Omar laughed, he siad yes, evryon knows each other, but that makes it very safe.

He took us to the corner of the three countries, the confluence of the Parana and Iguazu Rivers. It was very tranquil and beautiful, accented by the sunset. Omar pointed out a conference center where the leaders of MercoSur meet.

Mario came to the lobby of the hotel to sign us up for the "Green Pass" adventure on the Argentinian side. Both he and Omar emphatically said that the restaurant at the Grand Iguazu Casino is the best in town. The casino sent a luxuriouscar for us which was a nice bonus.

The casino was almost empty at 8:20pm when we arrived, as was the restaurant. The buildings were beautiful or else we might have worried. The staf were friendly, and the food excellent.

We wondered why it seemed that there were no guests considering how beautiful it is. The children's pool was spectacular, we couuld hardly guess about the main pool. We inquired about rates and found out that they stat at $300 which helped explain the vacancy. However, the casino was busy when we left.

 

Thu Apr 6, 2000 - Iguazu Falls, Argentine side

We got up early again, this time so we could be on the Circuito Superior by 8am when the park opened. The trail and bridges run along the top of the falls on the Argentine side, and have incredible views of the whole panorama. We looked down from the top over many of the largest falls, culminating in a fantastic view of San Martin falls and San Martin island. The falls seemed to glow in the perfect morning light, and we felt very special to be enjoying them alone in the early morning.

We returned easily in time to catch the 9am bus for the "Grand Adventure". We got on a modified truck and rode 8km through the subtropical rain forest, along roughly the same track as the Macuco trail we hiked yesterday, while a guide explained the flora and fauna to us. We know this is subtropical because the humidity averages 85-90% (vs 100% for tropical), rain falls every other day {vs every day}, and the canopy is open (vs closed). The animals are very similar, but the plants are different. We didn't see any animals except a few guinea pigs, so we learned a lot about the plants.

At the end of the road we transferred into a powerful launch that jetted us upstream along the rapids of the lower Rio Iguazu. Along the way we were amazed at the watermarks along the gorge - the water can get 25m higher at times, and it's already 25m deep in this gorge, and it moves fast. As we approached the falls, we got good views up the Devil's Throat and along the wall of Argentine falls. We got close to the 3 Musketeers, then put the cameras away and got doused by the San Martin falls. MomC was in the front and got totally soaked, despite her rain poncho. The boat driver was a bit concerned about her, but was relieved when she laughed and enthusiastically told him to do it again. We went back in twice more, and it had lots of fun.

We were a bit disappointed that we didn't go up further into the Throat, however. We had seen other boats up much farther, and saw them again from the top of Isla San Martin, but we later found out that they are the Brazilian boats. Our recommendation would be to go over there for this experience, or, failing that, take this same boat but start at the Circuito Inferior, (where we got off) because you're not missing anything downriver or on the truck drive.

Once off the boat, we immediately took the ferry to Isla San Martin, staked out a spot on the beach, and dived into the Rio Iguazu. The water was surprisingly warm, and the view incredible. We sunned and snacked a bit on the beach, and watched a music video of a local artist being filmed in front of the falls. Once dry, we headed up the stairs to the plateau on the island. The views up the Throat weren't that great, although it seemed that they would be. There is a cool natural bridge called "La Ventana" (window) that you can see the falls through, but you can't get close enough to really see it. The only really worthwhile thing up there is the view of the San Martin falls, which are truly incredible.

We headed back down and across the river to climb up the Circuito Inferior. At this point MomC noticed dozens of bug bites from the tiny polvolin, probably from the beach. We climbed past a beautiful view of the Bosetti falls, stopped for a few minutes, and then headed for lunch and air conditioning - the day was very hot, and the humidity really exhausted us.

After lunch in the hotel, we attended to some errands - reconfirming air tickets, arranging transport for tomorrow's excursion, and briefly checking email. The hotel was packed with suits attending a conference on municipal development in Latin America, and we often felt out of place, but the hotel staff was very accommodating for us as guests.

Tom opted for a nap in the AC, while Louisa and MomC got some sun by the pool. It was so hot they spent almost as much time in the water as in the sun. At 4pm, after a couple more last minute errands, we took another truck up to the Gargantua del Diablo (Devil's Throat). A small launch ferried us above the falls to the beginning of the walkway - we definitely did not want the motor to break down on that trip!

Along the walkway we saw amazing evidence of the power of the water, which can get up to 6m higher along the entire 4km frontage of the falls. Earlier concrete abutments were scattered like pebbles in the seemingly placid waters. The experience of walking above a calm, wide river, and suddenly seeing the power and fury of the Devil's Throat defies description. Literally dozens of waterfalls of all sizes pour together over a 60m drop into a narrow gorge, sending clouds of spray up hundreds of meters. Standing in front of the main falls, the water almost seems to fall in eerie slow motion.

Because of the relatively low water level, there was less mist, and we got some great pictures of the Throat. At high water many of the walkways are impassible, and the mist obscures many of the falls. Our view was incredible. I know we keep using that word, but this is one of the few things in the world that is actually more amazing that our expectations, despite the foreknowledge that it is one of the wonders of the world.

After the Throat, we boarded a rowing raft, that took us along the shallow part of the river above the falls. We floated through the jungle, looking at the plants and searching for animals. The guide spotted a jacare sunning himself on a rock, and we thought we saw a snake that turned out to be a rope. We also saw a few birds during the 40min trip. Our guide didn't speak English, so it wasn't as fun for MomC. In the end, the trip was not bad, but definitely not a must-do - there are much cheaper and easier ways to see the Devil's Throat.

Once we got back to the hotel, Tom and Louisa borrowed rackets and balls and played tennis on the lighted court as the sun went down. It was still hot, and we finally gave up after 45min of sweating and chasing balls. We then went back and showered.

After a short internet break (the hotel staff let us use their offices, because the conference had taken over the regular business office), we took a taxi to town for dinner. The food at La Rueda was very good, and we relaxed with a beer and a complimentary after dinner Creme de Menthe. Our driver took us to an ice cream place for dessert, and then we went back to the hotel and slept the sleep of the dead.

 

Fri Apr 7, 2000 - San Ignacio Mini

The institutional breakfast was livened up by toucans eating breakast in the trees in front of our table. The flew in pairs with their colorful beaks leading the way. Quite wonderful to see the toucans in their natural environment.

Omar met us at 8am and we were off for the San Ignacio Mini. Even though our trip included one province of Argentina, the police had a check point where they looked at our passports. Omar told us that the police are there every day checking for people and goods that came across the river illegally.

Further along, the road as lined 2 or 3 deep with huge trucks. The drivers were milling around the sides of the road and burning tires. We came upon 3 places where the drivers were organized similarly. They are protesting the tolls and high gasoline prices. It appears that they plan to remain in protest until the government reacts.

Another road sight was a speared VW truck. The force with which it must have hit the guard rail is incredible. It was speared all the way through from the engine through the bed and 10ft out the back.

First Omar took us to the Minas de Wanda, specifically the Tierra Colorado mines. A young girl showed us the mines using a mix of English and Spanish. All three of us were surprised at the appearance of the "mines". The ground is the typical red-clay of the region but here the path of an ancient lava flow is intersprsed with geodes of various stones. A few feet from an amethyst geode might be one of topaz or quartz. Seeing the ":mines" which are actually circles along the ground, fascinated us.

We continued with a long drive to San Ignacio. Arriving hungry, we had lunch at a restaurant catering to tour buses, but as Omar said "It is clean.."

After our quick lunch, we entered the ruins of San Ignacio Mini. The ruins start with a fascinating museum. Each room has its own theme depicting the life in the mission, usually constructed with rather modern artistic lines. We all concurred that it has the look of a well-executed high school art project, yet was interesting.

The ruins themselves are not marked with many signs, so we depended on the pamphlet in Spanish, and appreciating the buildings themselves. The stone ruins are handsome, glowing red from the native clay stone used in their construction. The ruin centers around a central plaza with the cathedral as its centerpiece. The facades and decorations around the mission appear to have been quite advanced and decorative, at least on the buildings around the square and for the Jesuits. The majority of the structural ruins were the endless housing for the Indians, which appear to have been simple, small rectangular rooms.

On the return trip to Iguazu (3.5 hours direct) we stopped at a mate factory. Omar had never been either and joined us on the tours. This was fortuitous since the guide spoke rapidly and used a vocabulary significantly more advanced than Tom or Louisa's. The tour demonstrated how mate is prepared for sale, starting with dried leaves through packaging for shipment around the globe. This factory, Monte Carlo (in the town of the same name) packages four separate labels, each with a variety of blends.

The mate is cut, dried, and rough ground before it arrives at the plant. It is then stored in 100lb bags for a minimum of 8 months, and usually over a year, to "cure". If this aging process is shortened, the mate can give you a stomach ache. There are separate bags of the stems, which we didn't learn about until later. No special climate seems to be required for the aging, the bags were just piled high in a warehouse. We passed two men running through the building as they unloaded a truck and manually built a 30ft high pile of bags - they are paid by the kilo, so the faster they unload, the more they make.

Once the mate is aged it goes into a machine that grinds and/or sorts it (something got lost in translation) into 4 densities: molido grueso (ground coarse), polvo fina (fine powder), palo (stems, chunked), and hoja solo (leaves, chunked). By mixing these 4 in various proportions, they create the various kinds of mate - strong vs soft flavor, or easy vs long-lasting preparations. They also use more aged mate for premium brands.

They then package it in 1/2 kilo bags, a surprisingly manual process requiring 4-5 women to tend the machine. They do have a fully automated packaging line, but it doesn't work in very humid weather, like we were having. They also make "yerba cocido", which is basically tea bags of mate. We were shown huge pallets of cases of bags, ready for store shelves. The tour ended with a surprise, huge gift bags of yerba mate and yerba cocida for all four of us.

As we drove along, we discussed the process and came up with many unanswered questions. Omar offered to stop at another factory along the road home in order to learn more, and discover the answers to our questions.

We stopped in El Dorado at the yerba leaf drying plant. The process started about 10 yards off of the road. In fact Louisa thought that we were just going to observe from the car since the fires seem large from that vantage point.

Our tour guide was one of the workers, covered in dirt and sweat. He energetically led us around the relatively small plant. The entire facility was outside, with roofs only over the ovens and drying rooms. MomC and Louisa were struck by the apparent lack of safety concern, with exposed belts, and direct access to huge wood fires.

The processing begins with the raw yerba branches that arrive from the campos. These have been hand cut in order to preserve the bushes. Immediately the branches run through a rough tumbler to separate out the seeds, and soften the leaves.

The process continues for upwards of 7 hours, and includes three wood burning fires. The stoves are huge, brick ovens that are fed with trees rather than logs. These are wide open to any passer-by and radiate an incredible heat. After the three fires of various temperatures and times, the dried leaves are roughly ground and bagged in 100lb white burlap bags where the leaves will remain for a minimum of 8 months to "mellow."

fterwards, Omar took us the rest of the way home. We all esperately wanted showers and met in the lobby bar for the cocktails that Omar had been touting. His brother, Hector was behind the bar and mixed up three delicious caipirinhas. By the time we had drunk the glasses dry, we all felt the cane liquor hitting home. Who would ave thought such a sweet drink could havee such power. As Omar mentioned, one caipirinha and you smile, two and you can speak Portuguese.

The casino car picked us up for another lovely dinner there. The major difference with two nights before, was that the restarant was filled. We could not help but to watch the crowd which was very flamboyant and colorful. The casino driver on our return to the International told us that most of the hotel guests are Brazilizn since gambling is not legal there.

 

Sat Apr 8, 2000 - Louisa's Birthday

The cai pirinhas delayed us slightly, but we were still on the trail shortly after 8:00am. This morning we hiked the circuito inferior since we had not walked it in its entirety. Once more we had the park to ourselves. MomC declined the opportunity to return to Isla San Martin where she received over 100 bug bites last time.

Tom and Louisa climbed to La Ventana. Even though there had not been any rain, there was more water than the previous trip, evidenced by a few new wateerfalls. Tom climbed out through the ventana for some views and pictures. The view in front of San Martin falls beckoned, but eventually we tore ourselves away.

Omar drove us to the airport. Our plane was delayed an hour, which meant that we had plenty of time to eat the club sandwiches that we brought from the hotel. There is not much to do in the Iguazu airport, so we wrote in our journals and read.

In Aeroparques, we waited in a "line" for information to get MomC to Ezeiza airport. While she could have taken Aerolineas' free shttle, we preferred for her to come with us to the hotel for awhile. The three of us headed around the corner to our favorite cafe, La Rambla, where we had cafe cortados and finished the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.

Tom and Louisa saw MomC off to the airport in a taxi with plenty of time to spare. It made Louisa sad to see her go, but the terrific thank you letter that she had written helped soften the good-bye.

We rested for awhile before heading out for Louisa's birtday dinner. She selected a Thai place in Belgrano that sounded amazing. After a few minutes the taxi driver called over a flower seller at an intersection under the premise of buying Louisa a flower. The crazy taxi driver bought 3 jasmine blooms, but then exposed his real purpose, he asked the flower seller for directions! After a few blocks, the cabbie started to ask anyone on the sidewalk for directions. This continued every block until he delivered us to the correct intersection. However, the Thai restaurant ws not there, it had been replaced by a new establishment.

As it turned out, this part of Belgrano is filled with restaurants and bars, so we headed down the block looking at menus. We selected Masseys (Arce 305 in Palermo), complete with mod decor and lit by funky candles. The meal was great, accompanied by a delicious Luigi Bosci Cabernet. However, the creme de la creme was the dessert, Chocolate para Ganesha. Pure heaven, and by far the best dessert so far.

 

Sun Apr 9, 2000 - Rest day in Buenos Aires

We slept in. I mean really slept in. We did get up for lunch, eventually. The pouring rains and thunderstorms created significant inertia, however. Finally, we headed out to accomplish a few errands, but the laundries were closed, and the ATMs out of American dollars.

On the return walk to the hotel, we noticed a small restaurant on Calle Posada between Ayucacho and Callao, that was filled with people. We decided it looked like the perfect place to escape from the rain and eat a hot lunch. The tables were full and noone appeared to be close to finished. However, we noticed a bustling take-out (para llevar) counter.

Our attempt at understanding the system was not quite accurate, but with the help of an English-speaking local, and the cashier, we finally had empanadas and salads to go. During the wait, we noticed that all of the food looked delicious, and vowed to return.

We sprinted through the downpour to the hotel for lunch. The rain contined for awhile, but eventually let up and we headed out for an internet cafe. The rest of the afteroon we surfed and emailed.

We missed connections with Damian & Laurita and ended up having a late dinner at Broccolino. The meal was good pasta & lasagne, accompanied by the Montrechet Cabernet we discovered at the Casino Iguazu.

 

Mon Apr 10, 2000 - Errands and studying

After succcessfully completing our errands we headed to the shopping area in San Nicolas for leather jackets. Shops line the streets and most have hockers on th streets asking you if you want to buy leather clothing. We tried several places, and finally decided on made-to-order black jackets at Uru Sweaters (Suipacha 978, Beatriz assisted us). They were the most attentive, helpful and flexible.

Beatriz recommended a place around the corner where Tom got his hair cut. After the full morning of shopping, we were ready for lunch. Rather than face another meat and potattoes meal, we found a Thai restaurant. The decor was fabulous, the appetizer delicious, and the Pad Thai fair.

We decided to surf the web for information about Asia travel and send a few critical emails. Three hours later we left. It was rather shocking how quickly the time passes.

Tom suggested refueling with mint chocolate chip ice cream, and we studyied Spanish for a little while. Then it was time to pick up our jackets. They fit great, if anything Tom's sleeves are too long!

We connected with Damian and Laurita and set up dinner for 9:30pm. While we waited, we started to pack for South Africa. Hard to believe that it was alost time to go to a new continent!

They picked us up,and we tried their favorite pizza place, but it is closed on Mondays. A friend of theirs recommended a parilla where we had an authentic Argentinian dinner. Meanwhile they drove us to parts of the city that we had not seen before. In fact the parilla is in an old district that is beginning to be restored. Most buildings have beautiful accents, such as huge carved wooden doors.

They introduced us to some new foods, including provoleta (grilled cheese with herbs) and mollejos, the pituitary gland of a cow (it tastes like chicken). The steaks were deliicious, and we finished it off with chocolatte mousse and flan. It was fun to try new thngs and share the different dishes. We talked for hours with long discussions in spanish about doctoring, Argentina, everything really. They were very patient with our Spanish, and helped out by correcting us.

We tried to treat since they hosted us to a delicious home cooked meal, and were our chaffeurs, but they insisted on splitting the meal. After a fantastic evening, they returned us to the hotel very late and we fell into bed.

 

Tue Apr 11, 2000 - Day in Buenos Aires, Night to Johannesburg

After packing and checking out, we returned to the leather shop to have the shoulder pads in Tom's jacket removed. Being in the sam e commercial center, we also stopped and had Louis.s birithday ring fitted.

Next stop was British Ariways to research our ticket for the second half of the year. A South African man works at British Airways, and when he heard where we were heading in the afternoon he sa us down and shared his favorite spots in his home country, and also where not to go. This added to our excitement for our next journey!

We were off to airport with plenty of time to spare. While we waited we used our time to make phone calls and clear up financial quandaries.

When we boarded the flight it suddenly became 10pm, bbut our bodies did not cooperate, still acting as if it was 5pm. We watched all 3 "B" movies rather than sleep on the plane, so we arrived exhausted.

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.