What do you do immediately after an all-nighter in La Plata and an 18hour bus trip from Buenos Aires-Iguazu? You take a service bus to Brazil.
I´m in Puerto Iguazu, a city of 42,000 (I didn´t believe that, but it says so on Wiki) in Misiones, in the north-east of Argentina. To put it into perspective, my running route has been along the river which borders Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay. It feels a million miles away from the capital in every sense: We are essentially in the middle of the jungle, our hostel is a smart wooden hut with a pool, breakfast, hammock, stray cats and mosquitoes included, located just 17km from the Cataratas de Iguazu.
After a night of broken sleep and thunderstorms, I rocked up at Nomads hostel at 2pm Tuesday. The staff are brilliant and one suggested if I run I could get the last service bus to the Brazilian side of the falls. A shower or a nap would have gone down nicely but the next thing I know I´m on a rickety bus handing over my passport to Brazilian border control and getting off at Foz de Iguazu, wearing flip flops and scoffing empanadas. In hindsight, I think I wanted to get there asap to reassure myself that travelling that whole way had been worthwhile. And it was. SPECTACULAR. I didn´t really have a clue where I was going initially, I followed the crowd and was completely fascinated by the coatis (a funny, racoon-like animal) scurrying about the place. I was arguably more invested in getting a photo of these fellas than the falls themselves, especially considering the queues of Brazilian ladies taking selfies along the canopy. Maybe I can forgive them, as the view is picture perfect and completely mesmerising. I did the whole thing entranced by the falls, but at a canter, as missing the last bus back would have landed me in a sticky Brazilian mess. Although what you see is amazing, that side of the cataratas doesn´t take too long and it´s doable in a couple of hours. Good news, also, as this sneaky spin meant that my VISA/90 day issue has been resolved. Two hours very well spent.
That night, zonked, I cooked and ate at the hostel (gigantic avocados are the order of the day) chatting to others from the UK, France and Argentina, all of which were equally enthused by their visit to the Argentinian side of the falls which is supposedly more impressive. Rain stopped play the next morning and I decided, along with a French couple, to head to an animal sanctuary in the morning. We’d bide our time and head to the cataratas if the sun showed face by l’aprem. We went on a tractor through the jungle, saw how they took in mistreated animals from traffickers and zoos and tried to reintroduce them gradually into the wild. It wasn´t your bog standard happy chappy zoo: we saw monkeys with one eye, toucans with damaged beaks and armadillos, big cats and parrots in a bad way being cared for and fed. We saw one monkey who had been released bringing food to the enclosure and swapping some potatoes for bananas with those inside. Fantastic. The guide explained how zoos will be made illegal in Argentina within the next two years, and there will be more centres like this, with a limited amount of visitors and basically only enough income to survive. It was an eye-opener and worth more than the pesos we paid to get in.
As the sun popped through the clouds, we jumped on another bus to the Argentinian side of the Cataratas, notably less ´bling´ than the other for the same price and we arrived feeling as though we had Disneyworld all to ourselves. We found ourselves racing the clock to do all three trails. Incidentally, one other walking trail had been closed as there was a puma loose. Yep. I can´t describe what you can see with words, and the photos don´t even come close. Seeing these waterfalls in real-life, with lizards on the track as you walk through the jungle and hummingbirds flying through the tourist train is like nothing else I´ve ever experienced. We took a free tourist boat over to Isla San Martin for a special viewpoint where the sun brought us a stunning rainbow and it was literally impossible to take your eyes off the view. I was undoubtedly ruining a really lovely romantic moment for this French couple but my third-wheeling is nothing new and we had the most brilliant day exploring, walking miles and pleading the guides to let us through at the last minute to see each and every viewpoint. We left when even the souvenir shop was closed.
Our evenings here are spent drinking Argentinian beer (pisho cath) and playing cards with travellers in a bar that comes to life to the sounds of Oasis Wonderwall “Guarani” style. I’m off to revise my French grammar before the others get back from excursion… It’s at time like these, lying in a hammock chatting nonsense to frenchies in the jungle that I realise doink a degree in French wasn’t such a bad idea after all.