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Hola from Iguazu, Argentina

This update was originally sent as an email on June 15, 2009

Hola chicas and chicos,
You know those things that are on your list of things to do before you die? Well I have wanted to see the waterfalls shown in the movie The Mission for years and years and I´ve finally done it. The shots of the waterfalls and jungle have always stayed in my mind, and were a major draw to come to Argentina.

I took a luxurious night bus to Iguazu, a 16 hour bus ride. You get a sinking feeling you might have paid more than you absolutely needed to when they feed you two course meals, nicer than on international flights, and are served a free mini bottle of wine. You really feel like you paid too much when they come around with a champaign or whiskey nightcap. But when it´s time to sleep and the seat pulls out into a fully reclining flat bed for the night, and you actually get a decent sleep, the $70.00 CDN ride feels worth every penny. We pulled in at noon on a sunny clear day, ready to explore.

I checked into The Secret Garden Bed And Breakfast, a lovely little place with a jungle garden with bird of paradise flowers as long as my arm dangling over the pathway to my room in the guesthouse at the back of the lot. Although tempting just to stay there on the deck and write and relax, I didn’t want to waste the sunny afternoon in case it rained the next day, so I took off immediately to the National Park. Good thing I did; it became overcast the next day and poured the day I left.

I took a short bus ride to the National Park on the Argentinian side of the falls. You walk through a nice compound with thatched huts showcasing different tours and options, and then walk to the free train that takes you throguh a bit of forest to the highlights of the falls. At the very end is the most spectacular part, the Devil’s Throat. After getting off the train you have to walk along long metal mesh catwalks to get to the viewpoints. As you get closer, the thundering of the waterfall reverberates through the rock and catwalk. Still, it takes a surprisingly long time to actually reach the falls.

When we finally rounded the last length of catwalk and got to the viewpoint, I could hardly believe my eyes. The river is massively wide and the water just slips down and down and then really plunges down into a deep abyss. You can´t see the bottom for all the mist.

The falls were different than I remembered (of course; it’s been years since I saw the movie) but no less spectacular. I was awestruck. And the amazing thing was that there wasn’t just one huge cascade to oogle, but many, all around this huge crescent like shape, stretching for miles in an area called Las Cataratas. I think I died and went to jungle waterfall heaven.
The pictures tell most of the story.

The next day I went back for more, and took a jeep safari through the subtropical rainforest around the falls to round out the park experience. Jeep safari´s are always a hit and miss thing since you can see nothing or lots of wildlife. The sky was getting dark with clouds and it smelled like rain was coming, so it seemed like a bit of a risk. I really wanted to get into green living forest, though, and decided that even if I only heard birds and had a 4 by 4 ride through the rainforest, it would be worth it.
Even while waiting for the safari to start I spotted some birds that are supposed to be quite hard to catch sight of,called the Seven Colours birds. I had seen some Toucans on the pathway a few minutes earlier and was approached by a cheeky little golden finch, so it seemed like luck was on my side.
A lot of luck was with us,as it turned out. We saw a lot of wildlife, and bigger animals than usual. Animals tend to be on the move before a rain. And it
never did rain on us.

We followed a deeply rutted road into the off limits side of the park. Whenever we got to a particularly mucky patch,the guide yelled yeehaw and pretended to whip the 1968 jeep along faster.  I was amazed we didn´t get stuck.

Moments after our guide talked about what we might see, with a heavy caution that we might not see anything, a tayra lit across the road (looks like a fox ) and then peccaries charged across the same pathway (they look like huge guinea pigs). When the jeep behind us caught up to us, they had even more exciting news to share. Apparently while we were watching peccaries, three Jaguarundi, small Puma – like cats, dashed out on the road and followed our jeep a few steps. Seeing one is rare enough, but three made the guides ecstatic. The next most rare big cat to see is the Puma. In fifteen years the guides have only seen two. They have never seen a Jaguar, the most elusive of all the big cats.

We also came across a family of Capuccino Monkeys, oblivious to us as they munch on forbidden fruit, that is fruit from a grove of trees that are not native to the area, but have thrived in the secondary forest that´s part of this national park. We saw the Alpha male chase off a contender with a lot of crashing through the bush and intimidating growls. Mostly they just dropped discarded fruit rinds on our heads.

While the guide talked about the selva (the forest) and the differences between secondary and primary forest, we came upon fresh puma tracks. Not once, but twice. Then we saw thrushes and a lot of white tailed deer. I had no idea that white tailed deer lived that far south. The chorus of frogs and chirps and squawks of birds and clacks of insects grew louder as the sun disappeared for good, a surprisingly soothing sound considering how loud it got.  A few night animals appeared, like the Night Jar bird that refused to move off the road. We had to drive around it.
I  was sad when the tour had to end because the park was closing for the night. Besides, it really was going to rain anytime.
That night I went to a fancy restuarant and ate a river fish and the first stir fried vegetables I´ve seen since I arrived here.

I went back to Buenos Aires the next day.

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