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The Rest of Argentina

May 14, 2009
Perito Moreno Glacier from Afar

Perito Moreno Glacier from Afar

El Calafate

Back to El Calafate after hiking in El Chalten. The campsite where we stayed was in town, quite close to the center. It had three separate areas with three different prices, first you had your individual sites (mostly for what we would call car camping), second you had an area for motorhomes and RV’s (A parking lot in the back), and finally you had a space across the river designated for backpackers. Of course this is what we needed and it was the cheapest. Fifteen pesos per person per night. Since we had camped here before we were familiar with one of the camp staff and he welcomed us back. We talked briefly about our travels within the park, then started about the business of setting up camp and settling in for the night.

We  also started loading and editing our pictures from Fitz Roy. Diego, who is one of the campsite’s attendants, became quite interested in what we were doing and ended up sitting with us for an hour or so. We shared adventure stories and pictures. The next couple of days were spent editing pictures and uploading them (I know we neglected to post here during that time…sorry). We also enjoyed playing with the grill and building our cooking confidence.

As you can imagine after a couple of days sitting and working on files, we were both anxious to get away from the computer for a little while. So we headed off to the rent a car place we had previous used, and made plans to head to Perito Moreno the next day for a second chance at seeing it. The weather was forecasted to be sunny in the morning (when we wanted to be at the glacier), so we figured it was our best chance at seeing it under blue skies. We planned on getting up around 6 to get an early start to see the sun rise on the glacier.

Round Two

See Gerad’s professional shots of Perito Moreno HERE. Our shared picasa album is HERE.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep “Click” goes the snooze button…Beep Beep Beep Beep “Click”, this was the sound from our tent at 6am the following morning. It took us a little longer than we thought to get up and going, and with the all too familiar feeling of “crap we’re going to miss it” we headed on our way slightly later than planned. We were relieved, however, to see that the forecast seemed to be correct and the visible stars were just beginning to fade to the morning light. Laura (the worry wort on the trip) was concerned that we wouldn’t make it through the gates before the guards got there and we would have to pay the way too overpriced entrance fee; however, when we arrived at the entrance to the park, the gate was still and quiet and we drove through without interruption. The few clouds that were in the sky started to get the beautiful morning pink as we drove through the park (still about 15 minutes away from the Glacier). The views were much more inviting this time as the lake and mountains were painted with the pink and purple colors of the waking sun. We rushed to get our camera stuff out when we arrived to the parking lot of Perito Moreno, and hurriedly headed down the walk ways. The sun rise had hit the glacier and cast a pink shade across its top; unfortunately, we were able to see it, but arrived too late to be able to take any decent pictures of the beauty before us.

As the pink faded, the blue arose. “Great!”, you might be thinking, which it would have been if it was the nice comforting blue of a clear sky; unfortunately, it was the dull grey/blue that comes from overcast skies. Still it was plenty better than our previous experience with the glacier, so we began shooting. We spent about an hour taking pictures before heading back to the car for some food. Later with full stomachs and after much deliberation we decided to return to the walkways to take advantage of the suns advances in the sky.

Lull of Tourist Season

It is late in the tourist season down south due to the fact that it is the start of autumn and winter seasons, so in the tourist towns and especially at the tourist attractions they are starting to do touch ups and additions. Projects that would be difficult to do with the thousands of tourists during peak season. So standing on the viewing platform looking out over a magnificent glacier we were deafened by the sound of a jack hammer, mounted on a back-hoe, which was slicing a place for the new walkway they are installing. We know the sound of even the smallest of ice breaking from a glacier and the sound of the glacier shifting and doing what glaciers do from our previous experience at Glacier grey and to not hear any natural sound while watching such majesty was extremely strange, more like watching home video with your crying kids at home than actually standing there.

Eventually we both felt we had exhausted the variety of shots we could take; although the glacier is among the largest in the world and is quite an amazing site, you really can only take so many pictures from the limited angles we had to work with. Now it turned into a waiting game. A game we shared in with about 100 to 200 other glacier guests to see if any large pieces of ice would calve off Perito Moreno’s bold face.

Sure enough, the glacier rewarded us by calving a massive section of its northeastern side, just as a tour boat happened to be in that area. The boat drove away to better safety as massive waves of water rushed away from the glacier. Chunk after chunk fell into the water, some huge (like a small apartment building), many smaller (school bus, minivan). Although we could clearly see what was going on with our eyes, it was very difficult to capture much of anything with the camera, except for the aftermath — a huge ring, thick with iceburgs, gradually expanding outwards from ground zero, with perfectly flat, calm water at its center. What a view the people on the tour boat must have had!

See PHOTOS on Picasa and Flickr (at right).

Having witnessed that event, the little bits of ice that fell of the glacier close to us were not as impressive. We packed up our gear and headed away from the glacier, stopping periodically so that Laura could shoot a caracara, as well as an interesting fox that happened to be trying to cross the road (see pictures on Laura’s flickr).

We stopped at a viewpoint far out from the glacier, with an overall view of it and the ranges from which it was protruding. At this point, Gerad was feeling slightly sick and exhausted, and he decided to sleep for a bit in the car while Laura prepared some lunch. After eating lunch, Gerad felt a little better, and we proceeded on toward our next destination — Lago Roca, a place that had been recommended to us by some friends we had met down in Chile. We drove ’round the countryside, stopping repeatedly to take more photos of caracaras, as well as sheep, and horses (see Gerad’s flickr for horses), eventually making it to Lago Roca about a half hour before sunset. The area turned out to be a nice campground in the mountains, with a lake, as expected. There seemed to be lots of trails that we could take from this area if we camped here. Unfortunately, knowing that we had been to Perito Moreno and El Chalten, we didn’t plan to spend much more time in this area, so Lago Roca would just have to wait for another trip to Southern Argentina.

Day After the Day After Tomorrow

The following day we set about booking tickets back to Buenos Aires. There is still so much of Argentina we haven’t had the opportunity to see; however, time and money will not allow us to visit those places on this trip. The best way we decided would be to fly, since a bus was over two days of travel and only about $35 cheaper than the flight. The next flight was Friday; unfortunately, this airline only had a twice weekly fight to Buenos Aires, and a long way about it. The flight was scheduled to fly from El Calafate to Ushuaia (which we thought was amusing since we had previously been there) then onto two more cities before finally into Buenos Aires.

Our New Friends

Having booked our flight, it was back to the campground. We had met a couple youths from Mar del Plata the night before, and made plans to do Asado with them this evening. We spent the day working on photos and chatting with people on the Internet. In the evening, we went grocery shopping with the boys from Mar del Plata — Maxi and Germain, who turned out to be big fans of American rock, metal, and grunge music. Gerad bonded with the two, who were also in a rock band. Sharing tunes with their iPod and our computer, we proceded to make Asado. Maxi showed Gerad the art of making the asado, and also some cordero (lamb), and we showed them how we prepare garlic bread. One interesting trick that the boys had was to take a whole onion, unpeeled, and throw it directly into the charcoal of the barbecue early on. After about a half hour, we took the onion out, peeled off the burned outer layers (maybe 2 layers) under cold water, and cut open the onion, which was very hot, moist, soft, and flavorful — delightful.

Germain, Maxi, Gerad, and Laura at our Campground in El Calafate

Germain, Maxi, Gerad, and Laura at our Campground in El Calafate

Going to the Dogs

With the onion and asado cooking away, we got distracted by sharing music and stories. Eventually, we turned around to check the meat, and Gerad noticed that we went from four pieces of asado to three somehow. Off in the distance, we had seen dogs arguing over something a few minutes earlier, most likely our meat. Damnit — a huge piece of meat gone to the dogs. Oh well, it turned out that we had more food than we needed. Maxi and Germain loved our garlic bread, and we deeply enjoyed the asado, cordero, and choripan (chorizo sausage on a bun). With full bellies and many stories shared, we turned in for the night.

Our flight back to BA was interesting. The plane from El Calafate to Ushuaia was tiny, and looked like an old cargo plane that had been converted into a passenger one. There were still hooks all along the cabin where you could strap cargo down. We could see through the front window up through the cockpit where the flight attendants hung out for the entirety of the trip. About twenty minutes before landing they set down the wheels and we could see the looks on the faces of the crew (worrying); it seemed that they were all looking at a compass or something, so Gerad and I both started joking about what is happening. We demised the captain let one of the flight crew let the landing gear down and he simply did it too early. Also, the poor guy in the seat beside us had major air sickness, and was puking into a bag from the second we took off until the moment we were on the ground again in Ushuaia. It was strange flying into Ushuaia, our former stomping ground, looking down over the Beagle Channel, and over the water to the town, mostly shrouded by the mist of heavy rain. Our plane from Ushuaia was bigger and more modern, thankfully, and we had only to land a couple of times along the way in Comodoro Rividavia and Mar del Plata to pick up more passengers (and drop some off).

Back to City Life

Back in the big city, we took advantage of late night empanadas whilst overwhelming Marcelo with Travel stories from the past few weeks. It felt nice to be back in the City, so we spent the first few days wandering around taking in a few more attractions such as the Lakes District, the Costanera Area (where all the fishermen hang out, street vendors don’t sell the normal treats and souvenirs but things you’d find in a tackle box), downtown and the Zoo.

The Buenos Aires Zoo

Laura feeding a deer with some discarded pellets

Laura feeding a deer with some discarded pellets

I have always had a love/hate relationship with zoos. I love the fact that it is a way for people to view and learn about wildlife they would not normally, but I hate the fact that the animals are stuck in smaller quarters than their normal habitats. This zoo gave a fairly positive first impression with ducks and things wandering around and prices being reasonable; however, it did not take Gerad or I very long to start noticing huge faults in the maintenance and care of the habitations and animals. We came to the Bear area where there was a Polar Bear in an area the size of a very small apartment with little water, and a Grizzly in the same size habitat. The Camels were in such small quarters their muscles could not form properly and it was painful for us just to watch them try to walk, let alone the pain they must be feeling as they attempt to hobble the three meters squared they have. The deer were grouped with a few others that were clearing sick (tongue sticking out, drool, red puffy eyes etc..), one of the small leopards was missing a leg, and the Cheetah had a broken one (which we were confused by since even a child could hardly have room to break a leg in that cage…), the Hippos did not have any water in their containments. Other animals were all skin and bone it was sickening, as if they had no medical attention whatsoever. Maybe the zoo had a policy of letting the patrons feed the animals in place of the zoo keepers, as this seemed to be the encouraged behavior in the zoo. That’s right, you could buy pellets at the front of the zoo to feed ALL the animals. The Elephants performed for a treat (sitting pretty and such), and there were holes in the fences to the deer and other cages that you could reach through and feed the creatures. I don’t know but something tells me that exotic animals from all over the world don’t naturally have the same diet of pellets that they received at this zoo. We were told by the “zoo photographer” (Or so he called himself) that it was due to the entrance fee being kept so low, they do not have enough money to support the animals…

We did not leave the zoo feeling happy in fact we both left the zoo feeling utterly disappointed. Recommendation: If you go to Buenos Aires…avoid supporting the zoo, go to a Tango show or something instead.

After spending a little over a week in Buenos Aires, we booked our bus tickets to Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls

Gerad’s professional photos HERE. Our shared picasa album HERE.

Us at Bossetti Falls, Iguazu

Us at Bossetti Falls, Iguazu

It was a Wednesday  night when we boarded our bus to Iguazu at 10pm and we expected to be about 18 hours before we would be getting off the bus. We were fortunate enough that none of our fellow travelors felt the need to listen to Celine Dion or other music loudly from their cell phones, so the only thing inhibiting us from sleep was the lack of a proper bed, or sleeping mat.

Upon Arrival to Puerto Iguazu, we checked with the tourist agency to find campgrounds and prices. The campground was stated to be 17 pesos a night/ person (with Hostels being around 35 to 40 pesos) We made a poor attempt at catching a city bus to the site, but were persuaded to take a cab to our intended campsite, since we were both exhausted from the trip. The campsite was called Camping Americano…not a good sign. The price turned out to be 17 pesos per person plus 17 per tent per night…a bit of a rip off if you ask me. There was a pool, and a market onsite, which we discovered to be quite reasonably priced. So, although we were disappointed with the price we were paying to camp, we decided this would be our best bet. One thing we noticed from the bus on the way to the north was the colour of the land. The vegetation became a deeper green, and the soil a deep deep red, moreso even than clay. All around this campground was the red dirt, with grass peaking through. Various types of ants were working their way along the soil doing the stuff ants usually do. Right away, we knew we were into the beginning of the rainforest. One bug that seemed strangely absent was the Mosquito — we had heard many stories from visitors to the falls about the huge mosquitos attacking them like helicopters or something, but right now there were none. Having set up our tent, the plan was to head to the Argentina side of the falls the following morning, then play it by ear after that.

Taxi Mayhem

We woke to catch the 8:50 bus in the morning. Since we were already on the outside of town we had to catch the bus on the side of the highway. There is no stated stops, you just wave down the bus as it drives along. Approximately one minute after stopping to wait for the bus a taxi approached us offering a lift to the “Cataratas” (Waterfalls) for only quarenta pesos (40 pesos, or approximately $13.00), since the bus was due to arrive in about five minutes and was only going to cost us a total of 10 pesos we kindly refused saying we were taking the bus. A litte disgruntled the cabby pulled a u-turn and parked on the opposite side of the road with about three other taxi cabs. Another fellow crossed the road and came to join us, he was from Malta and was traveling around South America, then onto New Zealand. We were in the middle of exchanging stories (about two minutes after meeting). when yet again a taxi pulled up in front of us offering a lift for the three of us for only twenty pesos this time, we played a little and told him we would go for 15, but he knew that’s what we would be paying for the bus. He left a litte more upset than the last guy. Now the bus really would be arriving in less than a few minutes, so it was pointless for us to get a taxi. Two girls, then crossed the road to join our crew waiting or the bus and of course, without missing a beat, the taxi driver again returned to us. This time it was 25 pesos for the five of us (In his just enough room for four people car), “no gracias” we all said to him. We were not about to pay the same amount we would pay for the bus to be crammed into a little car. The bus was approaching in the distance, so off the driver went. We heard him exclaim when he arrived across the street to the other cabbies “bus! Bus! Bus!…augh”. We all shrugged it off and boarded the bus.

First Glimpse of the Park
The park entrance fee turned out to be slightly more expensive than we thought at 60 pesos, but we had come all this way, we weren’t going to skip it now.

Entering the park felt the same as entering disneyland; you go through a gate, then you walk on a paved path past stores, concessions and visitor centers. There turned out to be many guided tours through the park; you could rent your very own tour guide for the day. We ended up walking behind a medium sized group tour for the first while, but luckily they stopped to take the Train (included in the price of your entrance fee) to Garganta del Diablo (Or Devil’s Throat), which is the largest of the series of waterfalls. We decided we would wait to do that until either later in the day or the following day.

The Park had risen walkways that had high railings to dissuade people from going into the rainforest, or disturbing the wildlife. We walked down to the lower trail system, since it was approaching noon we did not want to be subject to the hard sun as much. Passing across river beds you could tell normally would have plenty of water flowing over them, but due to the lateness in the season there was hardly any; in fact, in a lot of the river beds there was no water flowing at all. The scenery was spectacular though with lush greens and yellows everywhere, and you could not walk anywhere without a poor little lizard startling and running off. Cute little things those lizards, if only they could stand still no one would ever know that they are there.

We also passed by a couple large rodents (the name of them is escaping me at the moment), the babies looked like very large hamsters, while the adults seemed a cross between a hamster and a rabbit. They did not have long ears, but they did have fairly long lanky legs.

Tourists Tourists Everywhere!

Taking our time viewing the falls, which fell with various amounts of water and over various rock embankments, we enjoyed a relaxed day. I think both of our favorites was the Bossetti waterfall, which was at the end of the series. At this time of year it fell elegantly like angel hair and looked almost fragile (see Gerad’s flickr for pictures); however, it was disrupted by a rude American. Gerad had set up to take a shot of Laura (A Tourist) in front of the falls, when a tour group came to the platform all of the about 60 people stopped for a moment to let Gerad take his picture, but a rude ignorant American who decided even though he had no camera to take any pictures he needed to walk through Gerad’s shot and stand in the middle of it. Laura turned around and gave him a bit of a nasty look before returning to Gerad (since the shot was useless now), and the man’s wife quickly apologized…while he smirked at us. Most likely they were staying at the Sheraton in the middle of the park. Oh yeah, did we neglect to mention in the middle of the park (a UNESCO Biosphere I may add) is a huge Soviet-missile-command looking eye sore called The Sheraton Iguazu Hotel? Grrr, what an atrocity.

Anyways, since the shot at Bossetti Falls was no longer possible without a long wait, we decided to head over to Isla San Martin, which is an “island” locked by waterfalls and cliffs. A small boat was prepared to take tourists to and from the island, which offered a different view of the waterfalls, particularly the San Martin fall, the second-largest one in the park. From the island, there was a section in the river roped off to have a dip, and many people did take advantage of this, particularly during the blazing afternoon sun.

On Isla San Martin, we found that most of the views weren’t all that spectacular, primarily because the falls were low at this time of the year. Also, we happened to be standing there looking out at the falls from the worst angle (relative to the sun), at the worst time of day. Thus, we didn’t take too many photos here, and opted to just sit down for a bit on some concrete in the jungle, and snack on crackers. As we were eating the crackers, a few very curious birds, about the size of magpie’s, but with very brilliant blue feathers around their eyes and a tuft of feathers on their head, came to visit us. It wasn’t long before Gerad was able to coax them to within a few feet of us, using tiny crumbs of cracker as bait. Laura tried to take some photos here, but the birds were very fleety, and it didn’t work out too well. However, a couple of lizards seemed to be just as tame as the birds, and were approaching us, as well, almost certainly looking for food. Laura was able to get a few shots of them, at least. By this point, it was apparent that the animals were begging for food, and we quickly realized the error in our judgment, which was encouraging this behavior to continue. From that point on no more food was given to any animals in the park or otherwise.

Garbage Eaters

Coatí Bums Sticking Out of a Garbage Can

Coatí Bums Sticking Out of a Garbage Can

Tired from the sun beating down on us, and with only two hours remaining  before the park closed, we crossed the river and headed back up the steel girder trail system toward the Sheraton. Along the way, near the Bossetti Falls, we came to a huge group of tourists, it took a few minutes to figure out that they were all watching animals playing in and around some garbage cans. It turned out that a group of Coatís, which are something like a cross between a raccoon and an ant eater, had figured out that they could dine like humans by getting into and digging around in the park’s garbage cans. We took tons of photos of these beautiful creatures eating ice cream, the remains of people’s lunches, etc, crawling in and out of the garbage cans, fighting over access to them. This was a stark reminder of why we shouldn’t be feeding the animals, and why the park should be doing everything it can to prevent them from finding and eating human food, including ejecting people from the park who are caught feeding animals (like we were). We witnessed several people feeding the coatís at this point.

Later this became even more clear. We walked further up the hill to a cafe and had espressos and water in the comfort of aire acondicionado. While we sat inside, we repeatedly witnessed the commotion happening outside as coatís would steal the lunches and food from the other park goers, or would be fighting each other for the right to some bag of garbage they had pulled out of the garbage cans. It started to become disturbing to watch. We later witnessed a coatí steal a plastic bag of food from someone, and run all around the plaza with it, shredding the bag to bits (which were subsequently carried off into the rainforest by the wind), and eventually discarding it after finding its contents. Laura witnessed a man (an adult) bait the coatís into coming close with his shopping bag so that he could take photos of them. As he paused to review his pictures, a coatí climbed onto the bag and was sniffing around inside it. The man vigorously shook the bag, but the coatí wouldn’t let go, so he flung the coatí and the bag around wildly until it let go and flew off. This situation played out over and over, each time making us more disgruntled and disappointed in the park, which we had come such a long way for and paid so much to enter. We did see a few park rangers, called guardaparque, but they seemed to be there more for symbolism than actual purpose. They occasionally cleaned up the mess made by the animals, but not once did we see any guardaparque do anything to prevent people from feeding the animals, or reprimand them afterwards.

La Garganta del Diablo

La Garganta del Diablo

La Garganta del Diablo

With the sun starting to get low in the sky again, and only a couple hours left in the park, we headed to the ecotren (Green Train), which took us through the jungle to a long sequence of catwalks, eventually leading to La Garganta del Diablo, or “Devil’s Throat”, the largest of the falls, forming the border between Brazil and Argentina. Walking along the catwalks, we could see lots of fish swimming in the calm, clear water below. There were plenty of sucker fish moving along the rocks, which looked to be volcanic, polished smooth by the river. Not to be outdone by mother nature, people had also done their part to beautify the area by throwing lots of coins into the water, making the pristine river look more like a cheap city fountain than the natural beauty it should be.

Eventually, as the catwalk approached the Garganta, we came to an area with a perpendicular catwalk, and lots of twisted metal girders, re-bar, and concrete strewn about in the water. A sign on the catwalk commemorated the destruction of the former catwalk system here by a flood in 1994. All around us was evidence of the destruction, including the metal plates that had been used as walking platforms. One couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t spent any money on removing at least some of the material, a day or two with a helicopter and clean-up crew would do wonders here.

Anyhow, it wasn’t all bad. When we arrived to the Garganta, we weren’t dissappointed — it was huge and wildly impressive. The Argentine’s had built a large, long viewing platform directly over a section of the falls. Underneath us, on our right, and out in front of us, a mind-boggling volume of water was making its way over a sheer drop, down several hundred feet, and disappearing into the mist. In and around the falls were many birds, which may have been sparrows of some kind. The birds nest in the cliffs behind the falls and somehow find ways to fly out through them. Thousands of feet above the garganta you can usually see thousands of these birds gliding around, as there are some kind of thermal updrafts here that they can effortlessly ride in all day. Next to the falls are a few trees in which we could see dozens of grey vultures, and often they are seen gliding around up above the falls. This area seemed to be like a “Club Med” for them. We later found out that the vultures like the park not only because of the falls, but also because there is so much roadkill here.

After taking shots of the Garganta from the busy platform, we were shuffled back to the train by park officials, because the park would be closing in an hour and they wanted to make sure everyone was out of there before the last train left. With lots of time to spare, we arrived back at the train platform and waited for it to arrive. On the way back toward the park entrance, we chatted with a couple of guys from Britain, one of whom was a photographer. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, save for the beautiful sunset that we witnessed while we waited to catch our bus back to the campground. Unfortunately the park closes before sunset and opens long after sunrise, precluding photographers like us from obtaining the best shots possible of the falls without paying a hefty sum for a special access permit. Oh well, just adds to the challenge.

Day One Complete

Having walked every pathway on the Argentine side of the falls on our first day, we now realized that the four days we had allotted ourselves was maybe too much, but our return ticket was booked in advance and we had no choice but to stay. We elected to return to the Argentina side the next day (at half price) to take a few more photos, including the garganta in the morning, then do the Brasil side on one of the remaining two days.

The next day in the park was pretty much more of the same thing. The Garganta in the morning was very difficult to shoot, because the cooler morning air allowed more mist to spray up at us. Within a few minutes we were drenched as if we had been standing in the shower; it was not very productive, but fun. Soaked, we walked back toward the train station, pausing at some benches to relax and have some dry cereal. As soon as Gerad had the bag of cereal out of his pack, a group of those brilliant blue magpie-like birds came over to see what we were up to. Without feeding a single crumb to the birds, they were almost attacking us for the food, flapping around our heads and standing just over our shoulders on the seat back watching us eat and looking for an opening to steal the food. Dazzled by the sight of these birds, a couple of large tourist groups stopped, and we quickly became the center of attention — well sortof, more like the birds were the centre of attention, and since they were basically sitting all around us, we had a couple dozen tourists taking pictures of us like we were a spectacle on display in the zoo!

Comfort Zones

This is maybe a good moment to pause and point out a key difference between the people of South America and the people of North America. Studies have found that North Americans need a good meter (just over three feet) or more of space without people around them in order to feel “comfortable”, thus leading to the phrase “comfort zone”. From what we can tell, that number must be a lot smaller down here. The people taking photos of the birds over our shoulders crowded in front of us until they were up against our knees — claustrophobes beware!! Over time, more and more of the gawkers started to feed the birds, drawing them away from us, so as soon as we could get away from the crowd, we did, heading to the train station.

While at the train, a conversation struck up between us and an older couple from Buenos Aires. The couple had a lot to say (in Spanish) — at first they spoke slowly and asked us the customary questions (where are you from, are you going to Buenos Aires), but after they realized we could understand them, the man started talking at full pace, giving us a 90-second run-down about how Argentina used to be such a great place to live and how she is falling apart due to their corrupt governments (including the current one), and how now a person can barely walk down the street in Buenos Aires without fear of being robbed, kidnapped, etc. All of what he said was surely true, and we knew it already, but the conversation was actually a highlight of our day, because the couple was so friendly and we could tell how happy they were to be able to say what they wanted to say to an outsider, and have us understand (which we were also delighted by).

Mariposas Bonitas

The 88 Butterflies

The '88' Butterflies

After that chat, we took some photos of the hundreds of butterflies present there, some of which had a brilliant “88” pattern on them, and decided to head back to the garganta for a second try. Just as we started toward the catwalks, a butterfly landed on Gerad’s hand, suckling away at the salts or sugars or whatever else happened to be there. Gerad said, “hey, looks like I’ve got a new friend”, to which Laura flatly replied, “you must be salty, it just likes the salt”. We walked the some 450 meters down the catwalks, the whole time expecting the butterfly to fly away, but no, it stayed there, clinging away for dear life. When we arrived at the Garganta, we again found it to be heavily misted and ourselves getting soaking wet. The butterfly continued clinging to Gerad, in spite of the heavy wind and mist, even while Gerad was setting up his tripod and taking photos of the falls. Another kind tourist gave Gerad a newspaper to shield the camera from the mist, but it did little to prevent it from getting soaking wet (nothing Gerad isn’t used to, though). After some 20 minutes of attempting to shoot here, cleaning the camera lens over and over, holding the newspaper up, etc, the butterfly was still there. Although Laura had been denying it before, she was now forced to admit that this butterfly really seemed to like Gerad, and it wasn’t just chance that he had stayed on him on the boardwalk. On the long walk back along the boardwalk, the butterfly continued to stick to Gerad until he was accidentally bumped off by Laura.

Something Kinda Funny

With the rest of the day we ate some lunch and were finally able to get a good shot of Bossetti Falls. With all our shooting finished, and the park closing again soon, we decided to head back to the campground. On our way back through the park, we smelled something citrus, like oranges being peeled and squeezed right in front of our noses. As we rounded a bend we noticed a lot of coatís on the ground, and a few people looking up into the trees. Looking up, ourselves, we saw small monkeys scrambling around in the trees, eating oranges that they were plucking out of some of the branches there. This was delightful, as we had both heard that monkeys were present in this area, but we thought that the odds of seeing them would be very low, and that you’d have to take a safari tour in the jungle. The light was low and the monkeys were quick, but Laura managed to squeeze off a few photos of them for the blog (we havent had time to upload them yet, though). It turned out that all the coatís were there because the monkeys were sloppy and were dropping pieces of oranges there. There were so many of the coatís that we were almost tripping on them while looking up at the monkeys above.

Having seen the monkeys, we happily left the park and returned to the campground for the night.

Brazil Bound
We decided to get up really early the next morning and catch the first bus to the Brazil side of the falls. We had heard that a tourist visa might be necessary for Americans to go there, but we weren’t sure about Canadians. The next morning, we were on one of the early morning buses going to Brazil. Things were going smoothly, we went through Argentina and got our exit stamps, but when we stopped at the Brazilian border, we were told that we couldn’t enter without a visa, but that they could be purchased back in Puerto Iguazu, where we had just come from. We asked what the fee was, but they wouldn’t tell us. Someone else had told us that americans had to pay 180 Argentine pesos for the Brazilian visa, which was highway robbery, especially considering that visas for Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia are all free of charge for Canadians, and that we only were planning on staying in their country for a few hours and had no need for a 90-day visa. The whole thing left a sour taste in our mouths, particularly the unprofessional way the Brazilians handled the situation at the border — it seemed that Brazil was simply trying to gouge the naiive gringo tourists who came to Iguazu Falls, and by charging an expensive fee for a visa, they would encourage people to stay at least one night in their country, spending more money there. It seems, to us, that if Brazil devoted as much effort to making the border experience as friendly and easy as possible, they’d encourage more tourists to come to their country and ultimately make more money, but hey, who are we to tell them how to run things. Anyhow, we decided to boycott Brazil and avoided getting their stupid visas, even though we still had two full days to fill up before we returned to BA.

After re-entering Argentina, and getting another stamp for our passports, we ended up in Puerto Iguazu. We decided to lighten our spirits by eating some steak. We went to a local supermarket, bought some carne, charcoal, and other essentials, and headed back to our campground. At camp, we relaxed in the pool for a while, which turned out to be very cold and buggy. cooked up a large meal with the charcoal — our typical steak, garlic bread, and onion combo. We spent some time talking about the future, what we wanted to do with ourselves when we return, etc, and headed to bed.

La Casa de los Pajarros

Gerad pets a howler monkey

Gerad pets a howler monkey

The next morning we walked a short distance from the campground to “La Casa de los Pajarros”, or “House of the Birds”, where we expected to find several local bird species in cages in some sort of building. When we arrived, we learned that the name was misleading, for it was not a house, but rather a 50+ hectare sanctuary in the jungle, throughout which a conservation organization worked to rehabilitate injured or domesticated animals, specializing in carnivorous birds, like falcons, hawks, eagles, and vultures. We took an hour long tour through the sanctuary, seeing many different types of birds, and hey, guess what, some coatís from the Iguazú park. It turns out that the park rangers have singled out some of the worst-behaved coatís, and sent them to the Casa de los Pajarros, where they are working to reintroduce them to normal food again, and trying to get them used to living without humans. Our guide at the casa said that they “would take all of the park’s coatís, if they could, but they just don’t have enough room for them”. Unfortunately it seems that the park’s policy of managing the wildlife is to allow people to completely corrupt it, then when it doesn’t behave naturally any more, to ship it out of sight.

Most of the animals in the sanctuary turned out to be exotic pets that had turned out to be too difficult to take care of, like giant ant eaters, or some of the macaw parrots, which live to be over 120 years old in captivity. Our guide also explained to us that any Macaws that are rehabilitated can not be returned to the wild, because all of their natural habitat in Argentina has been destroyed over the past hundred years by the lumber industry, who has stripped all of the natural jungle from the riverbanks to replace it with roads, and this just happens to be where the macaws live. Further, the lumber industry has replaced a lot of the natural forest in this area with pine trees, which grow significantly faster in this climate than they do in Canada, taking only six years to reach an adequate size for harvesting (versus 25-30 years back home). Thus, the nature in this area has been severely damaged by humans.

Anyhow, the house of the birds turned out to be very interesting and impressive, and we were happy to finally meet a group of people who actually seem to have conservation on their minds, rather than just raping the land and its resourses for personal gain (like the Argentina government).

Almost caught up!

So this post catches you up almost to where we are. We have been working hard to finish this up. We thank those of you who have the patience to continue to read through our long wordy posts and for the support you all continue to show us as we continue our journey. Next up will be the beginning of our adventures in Bolivia. Quite a different taste than Argentina and Chile.

Gerad and Laura

One Comment leave one →
  1. Joanne permalink
    May 15, 2009 2:11 am

    Don’t worry about the long blogs I read every word with anticipation. I love to hear your point of view of the places you have been. Love the pictures. Luv Mom

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