Waterfalls and black markets
Puerto Iguazu Travel Blog› entry 29 of 36 › view all entries
So, we flew to Puerto Iguazú on a warm sunny Monday and ended up in Paraguay that afternoon. No, this wasn´t part of our plan, but Natasha´s camera malfunctioning after her 3rd day in South America wasn´t either. Rumour had it that Paraguay has a good black market for electronic goods (well, for everything, really), and that it´s relatively easy to get to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, from Puerto Iguazú.
So instead of heading to the lovely subtropical jungle and waterfalls of Iguazú, we went down to the port and had our passports scrutinised by the official (he placed the stamps perfectly and we both agreed he would have gotten top marks for neatness back in primary school). There was a gigantic boat sitting in the river, but ours was a very small, rickety thing with gaps in its wooden floor. There were about 5 people on the boat: the very friendly, toothless boat driver who offered us some of his maté, Fernando, a Paraguayan medical student, and some locals. You can actually see Paraguay from the banks of the port, and you can also see Brazil, which is quite a novelty for an Australian. 3 countries in one glance! The boat trip only took around 12 minutes, then there was a bit of a hike up a cobbled path up to the main road. We were incredibly lucky to have met Fernando, because we completely forgot about changing money (the local currency in Paraguay is the guaraní) and wouldn´t have been able to catch a bus into town. He kindly paid our bus fare to his house, where he got changed while we chatted to his grandmother in the lounge room, then he paid for the next bus fare into town, and led us straight to the Sony section of the markets. We paid him back with a drink, then he showed us where the buses left to go back to Argentina. I was a bit skeptical about catching a bus back, as the only reason we didn´t catch a bus to Paraguay is because it goes through Brazil, and us Aussies aren´t allowed in Brazil without a visa. However, Fernando was quite certain that the bus back to Argentina didn´t stop in Brazil at all so there would be no problems. Besides, after he left us, we realised we didn´t know how to get the bus back to the port, and maybe didn´t have enough money to pay for a taxi there. The official had told us the last boat back to Argentina left at 5.30pm, but we weren´t sure if he meant 5.30 Argentinian time or Paraguayan time (one hour difference). We waited a good hour and a quarter for that bus back to Argentina, me stressing the whole time about whether it would come at all and if we would be able to go through Brazil without a problem, or if we´d missed the boat and would have to stay a night in Parguay. In the end, the bus came, we went through Foz du Iguazu (Brazil) without stopping, got through the Argentinian border crossing with no problems, and caught a bus easily back to our hostel by evening.
Oh, I guess I should write something about Ciudad del Este itself. The weather was hot and the markets were crowded on the sides of the streets, the people of Paraguay look distinct from those in both Argentina and Peru and Bolivia, but I suppose it didn`t appear drastically different from any city I`ve seen so far. We had been warned by several people not to hang around the black markets after dark (or even after they close, around 3pm) because the area is quite dangerous, so that was a bit of a worry but we had no problems while we were there. I suppose carrying around a brand-new digital camera and your passport makes you extra-vigilant.
The hostel that we stayed at in Iguazu is another story, a Hostelling International with a gigantic pool out the front, huge communal spaces (tiny bedrooms though), and a buffet dinner. After the buffet, we went on the full moon tour to Iguazú Falls. This involved catching minivans to the national park, then the park train - a quaint open-door wooden thing, to the park´s main attraction: Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat). There´s a 15-minute walk along raised walkways through peaceful waterways, before you begin to hear the roar of the falls. You can also see a great mist of water rising up in the distance. The falls themselves are indescribably fantastic. I haven´t seen too many waterfalls (live) in my lifetime, so maybe I´m easily impressed, but my god, so much water and power. The platform goes quite close to the edge so you can look down, but you can´t see much because it´s all white and misty. You almost wonder what it´s like to tumble down amongst all that water (okay, so you would die instantly, but it would be amazing for a split second). It was quite a sight in the full moon, too, although somewhat spoilt by some obnoxious American boys. We were treated to cocktails and front back at the park entrance before being taken back to the hostel.
The next morning, we tried to get an early start as we had a flight back to Buenos Aires that afternoon. We squeezed into a taxi with three US boys (not the obnoxious ones) after they had bargained the taxi driver down to 3.50 pesos each - the same price as the local bus to the park. There`s a relatively hefty park entrance fee of 30 pesos but the park train is free. Our plan was to go back to the Garganta del Diablo so we could take a few photos, as they didn`t really turn out at night, even with the full moon and all. The train (and park itself) was packed, absolutely packed, with tourists, a good majority of them either castellano-speaking (from other parts of Argentina, and many from Spain) and middle-aged American couples. We power-walked from the train to the falls to beat the crowd, and were again rewarded - it was just as amazing and powerful in the light of day as it was at night. After that, we did the upper circuit of a series of falls - nice, picturesque and probably impressive on their own, but just not the same... While waiting for the bus back into town, we saw loads of condors, some flying quite close above us. I remember someone mentioning that there were condors at Iguazù, and it was quite a novelty for me after the disappointment that was Cruz del Condor in Arequipa! They`re beautiful, huge birds and fun to watch. Iguazù also specialised in butterflies - we saw lots of different types, bright colours and sizes. Unfortunately, we didn`t get to see the little creatures known as the coati (I think), small cat-sized mammals who are reportedly quite aggressive and scary, or monkeys. But I`ll be in the Amazon soon so I wasn`t too fussed.
So that was our Iguazu/Paraguay experience; it would have been great to spend another night or so at the hostel and go back to the falls to do a boat ride - it wasn`t possible while we were there as the water on the river was too low (something to do with Brazil closing off the channels on the weekend). But seeing that waterfall was definitely a highlight...!