(Rain) Breaking Records – Iguazu Falls

We were welcomed to Iguazu with pouring rain…

As we had only two days in town (Puerto Iguazu) before we had to catch our flight to Buenos Aires, we contemplated what to do over lunch as far as seeing the falls. Iguaza Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River that fall on the border of Argentina and Brazil and form the boundary between the two countries. The falls can be reached from the two main towns on either side of the falls, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, both providing you different views and experiences of the falls. From the Argentinean side you are able to take a boat tour into the river and see the falls up close while the Brazilian side gives you overall panoramic views from a distance.

Since it was raining on the first day and we figured more time was needed to explore the Argentinean side, we decided on crossing over to the Brazilian side given it stopped raining, which it thankfully did. We were able to catch the last bus that crossed the border at 4 pm and the weather turned out to be really nice… we were not so lucky with the water in the river and the falls. Since it had been raining, the color of the water was brown and the waterfall pressures so powerful that many of the tourists attractions were closed in response, including a walkway known as the Devil’s Throat where some of the best views can be found. The panoramic views from the Brazilian side although still breathtaking were at a distance and we were excited to get up and close to the falls from the Argentinean side. Jaap, Farima, and I decided along with two other guys from our hostel that we would head to the Argentinean side the following morning, crossing our fingers for no more rain.

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We woke up excited like kids on Christmas morning the next day to a cease rain and the sun shining from behind the clouds. The feeling was short-lived as our hostel guy informed us that the falls were closed due to a more than normal high water level as a result of all the rain. Who knew that too much water in a waterfall could close down a national park? Farima and I were really bummed, we had come all the way to Iguazu Falls only to have the park be closed. Weather seems to be a recurring factor in the demise of our travel plans! Since there wasn’t much to do in town, we caught up on some TV shows, did some reading, and posted some blogs.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the Hito Tres Fronteras, an obelisk overlooking the Iguazu river where the three borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Whoever said you can’t be in three places at once?! We even have a picture to prove it!

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We headed back to the hostel after our little adventure and tried to figure out whether or not we should push back our flight one more day to try and do the tour from the Argentinean side. The unfortunate thing was that no one could predict whether the park would open back up the next day or anytime soon for that matter. Since we had the option of changing our flight up until an hour before departure, we agreed to wait till the next morning and make a last minute decision then. If we were lucky and the park was open the next morning, we were to change our flight and stay one more night and if not, we were headed to Buenos Aires as originally planned. We headed to dinner and drinks that same night with a big crew from the hostel, all of us hopeful and positive about what the next morning would bring… a reopened National Park!

The conditions were not in our favor as we find out early the next morning that the tours and the National Park were still closed. Apparently, Iguazu had received an excessive amount of rainfall that week causing the falls to receive high water levels that broke records. The falls remained closed up to a few weeks after we had departed the town, which we learned from fellow travelers who had the same experience weeks down the road. Thankful to have seen and experienced the Brazilian side, we headed to the airport after saying goodbye to our Iguazu crew and boarded our flight to Buenos Aires. Although we were a little disappointed not to be able to get up close and experience the Argentinean side of the falls, it only added to our list of reasons to come back and explore more of everything this amazing country has to offer!

Edited by: Farima Mn.

Vino and a missing corkscrew – Cafayate, Argentina

Salta was simply a stopover for us on our way to Cafayate. We arrived around nine at night, grabbed dinner, and went to bed. The following morning we had to say goodbye to Alaina, she was off to Buenos Aires and we were off to Cafayate. Once again it was hard to say goodbye, we had shared so many great memories together both in the jungle and the Salt Flats and were really going to miss her.

The ride to Cafayate was a quick 4 hours and we were excited to enter wine country! After settling into our hostel, we headed to some wineries around the main square. Our group had grown to four, we met an Italian on our bus ride to Cafayate named Filipo. Being on a traveler’s budget, our first stop was a winery with free tastings. Farima, Jaab, Filipo, and I tasted a Malbec and a Torrontes. The Torrontes grape is Argentina’s number-one white wine and grows abundantly in Cafayate. After our first tasting, we headed to the second winery where we tasted four different types of wines, a Malbec, a Rose, another Torrontes, and a Cabernet. We ended up buying a bottle of the Rose to go with dinner the same night. At our third and last winery for the day we decided to just buy different bottles of wine instead of doing tastings since it ended up being cheaper that way. We sat outside in the courtyard overlooking the vineyard, enjoying the weather, wine, and the company. For dinner, we bought some Argentinian meat and vegetables to grill over the BBQ back at our hostel. There was a nice size group of us hanging out, BBQing, and enjoying delicious local Argentinian wine!

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The following morning, the four of us rented bikes from the hostel to explore the wineries a bit further away. The bikes had definitely seen better days and weren’t exactly the best for dirt roads. The first winery we stopped at was Vasija Secreta, where we enjoyed a bottle of wine and cheese. After relaxing for a bit, we hopped back on our bikes in search of the next winery. The next stop was a bit out of our price range so we decided to skip it and head to the next on the list… little did we know it was an hour away. Since our bikes were a bit old, it was difficult to try and bike uphill, against the wind, on gravel, not to mention a couple glasses of wine deep. At one point, Farima and I gave up and decided it would be easier to walk our bikes instead (no shame).

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On our hour adventure, we ended up following a sign for a winery that seemed to have closed ages ago once we actually reached it. As unfortunate as that was, on our way back up the main road we stopped at a local family’s house and had a wine tasting experience like no other. An older man who was the owner of the property/vineyard, poured us tasting of his homemade wine he produced in barrels placed in his own garage. It was a cool experience to taste a local wine straight from the barrel that was made using clay barrels by a local rather than what we were used to in our previous wine tasting experiences.

We were all getting pretty tired from the strenuous bike ride so decided to make the next stop our last. The last winery was absolutely breathtaking and probably one of the nicest wineries I’ve ever been to, and not just in a foreign country. Since we were all exhausted anyway, we stayed a little longer and enjoyed lunch at the winery’s restaurant overlooking the vineyard and surrounding meadows. Our ride back to town was a lot easier, downhill and with the wind. The hour ride back only took us about 15 minutes to return. As if wine wasn’t enough of a reward for biking, we headed straight to the ice cream shop known for its famous wine ice cream, where Farima, Filipo, and I enjoyed a Cabernet flavored ice cream and Jaap had the Torrontes one.

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We headed back to the hostel after our desert and Farima and I dropped our bikes and the boys off and headed to the square to explore the numerous shops and have some girl shopping time. Upon our return to the hostel, there was another big group of people BBQing so we ended up joining them for our last night in Cafayate, eating, chatting, and enjoying more delicious Argentinian wine. That same night we said goodnight to everyone around 2 am since Jaab, Farima, and I had to catch our bus to Tucuman (6 hours away), where we then had to catch another to our next stop in Argentina, Iguazu Falls(19 hours). As much as I was dreading our 25 hour journey, it surprisingly wasn’t as bad as expected. The bus company gave us lots of food and played pretty good movies – they were even in English! Although it was a fairly easy bus ride, I was beyond ready to get off the bus when we arrived in Iguazu around 9:30 am a day later. Cafayate was an enjoyable and relaxing few days and I’m glad to have experienced the Argentinian wine country different than the norm.

Edited by: Farima Mn.

Stargazing in the desert – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The four of us (Jaap, Farima, Alaina, and I) arrived in San Pedro de Atacama around 1 pm, checked into a hostel and went to grab lunch. San Pedro de Atacama is most widely known for stargazing so we booked a tour that night to learn about them. After watching a short clip about the universe and history of stars, we were taken up to a rooftop where a couple of telescopes were set up for us to observe them more closely. First we saw the moon and its craters, then our guide, Jared, showed us the Southern Cross and how to differentiate it from other similar looking ones. Starting from the bottom, then left, top, and right the brightness of the stars decrease in the Southern Cross and the bottom star is near a black hole. Two other cool things we got to see was a cluster of 300,000 stars and Saturn. It was a pretty cool experience overall, but would have been nice if we got to observe more planets as well.

The next day Farima and I decided to go sandboarding since we missed out on it in Peru. Though it was a little difficult at first, once you got the feel of the sand it turned out to be a lot of fun! I presumed knowing how to snowboard would have made it easier, but I think it was actually the opposite. The technique in sandboarding is very different than snowboarding and it took me a little while to get used to the sand since sand is less dense and when you try to carve, it’s easy to get stuck in it. Walking back up the sand dune after each ride was exhausting since it took about 15 minutes to walk up but only 15 seconds to ride down. So we boarded for a couple hours max and afterwards headed to the Valle de Luna (Moon Valley) to enjoy our free-when-you-book-the-tour Pisco sours while watching the sunset. The sunset turned the surrounding mountain peaks various shades of pink, orange, and yellow and it was beautiful. I don’t think I will ever tire of watching the sunset anywhere in the world. We headed back to town afterwards and made plans to meet everyone on our sandboarding tour for dinner the same night.

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Our time in Chile was very short lived, but we are excited to return and explore the rest of the country in September. After a couple nights in San Pedro, we were off to Argentina! Alaina, Farima, Jaap, and I boarded a bus the following morning and headed to Salta. Since there was no night bus due to the Argentinian border closing at 4 pm, our 12 hour bus journey resulted in a full day of traveling, something I try to avoid.

Hot Springs and Nicknames – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Dan, Farima, and I arrived in Uyuni around 4 am that morning and booked a room at the same hostel as Alaina. After we slept for a few hours, we walked around town comparing the different tour agencies offering tours into the Salt Flats. Farima, Alaina, and I decided to go with Red Planet, they were a bit more expensive, but received the best reviews online. Uyuni is basically a ghost town except for the tourists who go there to explore the Salar de Uyuni, the famous salt flats. We honestly didn’t do much the rest of the day and there is nothing really worth writing about, but I did buy some awesome indigenous high top shoes!

We woke up around 10 am the next morning, grabbed breakfast, and headed to Red Planet’s office to jump into our 4X4 for the next 3 days. There were 5 of us in the car, Alaina, Farima, myself, Faith, and Tom, as well as our guide, Bismak, and our driver, Jimmy. Our first stop of the tour was to an abandoned railway yard filled with the decaying skeletons of trains. We then headed to what would be the highlight of the trip, the Salar. Salar de Uyuni covering some 9000 square kilometers is by far the largest salt lake in the world. The Salar is no longer a lake as it is mostly dried up, but now consists of a thick, hard crust of salt with water below. The water forms hexagon like figures with the middle being rock solid. Almost all pictures taken in the Salar are of those using perspectives. Our driver Jimmy really knew what he was doing and took some really awesome pictures of us! After about an hour of taking as many pictures as we could, we were off to our next destination, a cactus-covered island with breathtaking views of the vast Salar.

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We all got back in the car and headed to the salt hotel where we would be staying for the night, but first we stopped to watch the sunset over the Salar. The salt hotel was awesome, everything was made of salt including our beds and the tables. After dinner, Jimmy took Alaina, Farima, Jaap (another guy on our tour but in a different car), Tom, and I out into the Salar to stargaze. Jaap had never seen the Milky Way before so he was probably the most excited out of all of us. The stars were absolutely incredible! That night was also the night nicknames were created for everyone, which would be our names for the remainder of the trip. Mine was ID (Irish dancer) because I decided to show everyone that I used to Irish dance back in the day.  As you can tell, the nicknames may have been lacking a little creativity 🙂

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The next day consisted of a lot of driving with various stops along the way which was fun but less so with the freezing cold weather. It was so hard to get out of the car because it was so cold that at each stop I would jump out, take a few pictures and jump back in. We were lucky enough to have the guide in our car as he would explain things inside the car instead of outside in the cold. We stopped at the Laguna Verde, as well as the Laguna Colorado, glacial salt lakes whose icy waters are stained bright red or green. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the colors because the wind was not strong enough. Most of the lakes contain a mineral that is widely used in cleaning products. We observed the flamingos at yet another lake, but like I said before it was so cold that I didn’t observe for too long. We visited the Arbol de Piedra (Rock Tree) which only became famous because of the artist, Salvador Dali, who painted this particular tree. An interesting fact is that Salvador Dali has never been to Bolivia or to the spot of the now famous Rock Tree. Our last stop of the day before heading to our hostel was the Geyser Sol de Manana, geysers created by the semi-active volcano.

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We arrived at our hostel around 7:30 pm just in time for dinner. Our hostel was located near a natural hot spring created by the volcanic lava underneath the ground. After dinner I couldn’t wait to jump in the hot springs just so I could be warm for a little while. It was absolutely incredible, sitting in a natural hot spring underneath the Milky Way stargazing. We stayed in the hot springs for at least 3 hours until someone finally told us we had to get out. The best part was that we had the hot springs all to ourselves as our tour company was the only one staying in the hostel that night and therefore the only ones with access to the hot springs.

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The next morning, we were headed to the Chilean border. Bolivia had been good to us and we nearly spent almost a month in this country, but it was time to travel on and explore what the rest of South America had to offer!

Edited by: Farima M.

Dinosaurs and more – Sucre, Bolivia

After taking a nap from a nightmare of a bus journey, we went out to explore Sucre. Sucre was by far the prettiest city in Bolivia with its Spanish colonial architecture. All the buildings in Sucre are whitewashed making the city seem extremely clean and polished. We tried to explore the interiors of the various churches around the city, but each one we went to was closed and oddly enough it was a Sunday! There was some sort of parade going on throughout the city and we guessed it was a graduation as each group of students was carrying a flag with the field of study on it.

Later that day around sunset a group of us from the hostel made our way to the Mirador overlooking the city. We ate dinner at Café Gourmet Mirador while watching the sun set over the city below us. After dinner, Max, Farima, and I enjoyed a delightful Nutella banana crepe and found out there was a chocolate festival in town and it was the last day. Even though I was overstuffed from the dinner and the crepe, I couldn’t turn down a chocolate festival. The festival ended up being three stories high with various companies selling any kind of chocolate you could imagine. I decided on the submarine, which was basically steamed milk and a chunk of chocolate on a stick that melted into it. It was delicious and I so badly wanted to eat more but I’m sure I would have been sick had I continued.

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The next day was a National holiday in Sucre so almost everything was closed including the churches as we tried to explore their interiors once more. We also tried to catch the Dino truck, a truck that took you to Cal Orko, home to the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints, but it ended up being closed as well. Seeing as there was not much to do in Sucre that day, we just hung out at the hostel with the other hostel goers and had a relaxing day. For dinner, a group of about 10 of us went to Kultur Café Berlin, which ended in a night of Headsup (basically a Charades app on the iPhone).

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We slept in the next morning and headed to Condors, a vegetarian restaurant, for lunch. After lunch we explored the markets around town and I tried a famous chorizo sandwich, which wasn’t the best thing I’ve eaten but was okay. We had decided we wanted to leave the next day for Uyuni to explore the salt flats, but when I emailed the company for reservations, they had written us that the 3 day tour was canceled due to weather and snow in the national park. We didn’t know what to do next since the road to Chile, our next destination, would also be closed. We tried researching other options in Chile or Argentina, but couldn’t find a convenient method of travel so decided to stay a few more days in Sucre hoping the weather would turn around and the tours would open back up.

The next morning we tried to catch the Dino Truck once more, but it never showed. Dan, Farima, and I decided just to take a taxi to Cal Orko. A tour was included in our ticket price which always enhances the experience. Once there, we learned that the dinosaur footprints were discovered in 1994 by workers at a local cement company. The footprints are now vertical because of erosion and there are about 5,000 footprints from 150 different types of dinosaur. Unfortunately, we were not able to get too close to them as they are on quite unstable rock and are at risk of crumbling. There was a tour that took you a little closer to the wall of footprints but we were there so early and didn’t want to wait until noon for it. We ended up heading back to town and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee at a café.

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That night, I just felt like relaxing and as they were showing a movie at a cafe nearby — Devil’s Miner, a documentary about the lives of children miners in Potosi – I met up with our friend JC, who we had met earlier in Peru, to watch it. It was sad to see children so young working in the mines in order to support their families. Other people watching the movie had been to Potosi and the miners there had told them the movie was not very accurate and over exaggerated the situation. Regardless, I can’t imagine the health effects of mining being good for anyone. I ended up googling the two main kids in the film to see where they are now as the film was made 10 years ago, and both are still working in the mines, but one is also now a tour guide of the mines.

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That night we got some good news! We found out from our friend Alaina, who arrived in Uyuni the same day that the 3 day tours were open again. As soon as we got this news, we booked a night bus from Sucre to Uyuni for the following night. On my last day in Sucre, I met up with JC to get what he described as the best ice cream in town that was near the park. It was good, but I have definitely had better. I headed back to the hostel to pack up my things and hang out until our night bus. Sucre was perfect for doing nothing and taking a break from the crazy backpacker life of constantly being on the move.

Edited by: Farima M.