Sunday, July 3, 2016

Wanderluster and Waterfalls


Like most people who work at an outdoors store, I love to travel. More than that, I love traveling to beautiful natural places. This spring, I got the chance to spend six months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studying and teaching English. On the weekends, when I wasn’t going to boliches (Argentinian clubs) or spending time in the city, I traveled, seeking out South America’s most breathtaking environments. Of all my travels, one of the best places I’ve explored so far is El Parque Nacional Iguazú in Misiones, a small province in Northern Argentina up by Brazil.
A few months ago, my friend and I decided on a whim that we needed to travel. We got online, looked at the airline prices and booked a flight to the one of the country’s true natural paradises: Iguazu, Argentina. I had heard from my porteño friends (and various talkative cab drivers) that I had to go there and experience the best the country had to offer. In the words of one Buenos Aires cab driver: “You see the falls of Iguazu and you know that God is real.” With all unanimous high praise, it was worth the cost of the plane ticket there.
On the day of our departure, my friend and I hopped in a cab together with our backpacks, cameras, and high hopes for adventure. We had been scheduled to leave the night before but had delayed because of a storm, so we weren’t too sure of what to expect as far as weather in Iguazu.
When the plane set down at the two-gate airport in Iguazu, a thick fog crept over our windows; we couldn’t even see the trees surrounding the runway. It was about 4 p.m. in the afternoon, and due to the fog, we decided to just go check into our hostel then walk around the town a bit. We had a nice “Peruvian/Cuban” dinner (which wasn’t really either Cuban or Peruvian but was still good) at a local restaurant, then went to bed and hoped for clear weather the next day.
The next day, I woke early to rays of sunshine dancing on my face – the fog had lifted, and so had my spirits. My Iguazu adventure was happening. I jumped out of bed, woke up my friend, then rushed to get dressed, gather our things, and hit the road to see the park. We quickly ate our breakfast of rice, beans, and medialunas (the amazing Argentinian version of croissants) and left the hotel. Forty minutes later, we had bus tickets to the Parque Nacional de Iguazu and were waiting rather impatiently on the bus platform.  
After a short 20 minute bus ride, we arrived at Parque Nacional de Iguazu. We practically ran to the ticket booth to get our park tickets. Finally, after a flight, a bus ride, and a line for tickets, we entered the park and made our way down the trail towards the falls. After a bit of walking, we turned a corner and suddenly saw the falls.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but my cabbie said it best. “You see the falls of Iguazu and you know that God is real.” I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, but I’ve heard that Iguazu’s falls are significantly bigger. And I can believe it. They stretched for what looked like a mile or more of solid waterfall.
As my friend and I wandered around the park, we were struck by how many different viewing platforms the park had for the falls, and how each view was somehow more impressive than the last. One of the best points of the park is called “Garganta del Diablo” literally “Devil’s Throat”; it was true to its name.
After the spectacular views of “Garganta del Diablo”, we made our way through the park’s other activities. We walked all the listed trails and stopped at all the viewing platforms, taking in the luscious forest at every opportunity. We didn’t go on the boats at all because it was rather cold that day, but we were ok with that – after our long hike and the early morning, we were about ready to call it quits. Satisfied, we got on the train to head back to the main entrance and leave the park. When we got off the train, one of the guys working at the park waved us over.
“Have you guys done everything in the park? Seen all the falls?” He asked questions like he already knew our answers.
We nodded yes – we walked the high trail, the low trail, and the Devil’s Throat. Of course we’ve seen all the falls. The man shook his head and smiled. “There’s a hidden one,” he told us, then motioned for my friend and I to follow. He led us over to a small trail and pointed down a winding path. “3.5 km and there’s a small lagoon. You have to go visit it before you leave.”
My friend and I took inventory of things we’d need for the 7km hike. Water? Check. Time before sunset? Check.
It was a pretty short list, and a pretty easy decision.
Because I’m used to hiking National Parks in the Utah desert, we had more than enough water and food for this quick extension of our day. We thanked the worker and started down the trail. 3.5 km later, we came to a beautiful grotto with a waterfall and a crystal clear pool at the bottom. It was the kind of place I felt like should stay at least a bit of a secret, so I didn’t take any pictures. In the true spirit of the place (and our friend by the train), I felt out of place sharing that fall with the Internet. So if any of you want to see the secret fall at Iguazu, you’ll have to go and find it for yourself!
We got back right as the sun was setting which was perfect timing. We made our way out of the park and back to the bus stop, completely in awe of the entirety of the Iguazu Falls.
Now back in Buenos Aires, writing this post and going through my pictures of the falls, I wish I could go back and experience it all again. There’s pure magnificence in every part of Iguazu National Park: the dramatic post-storm clouds, the roaring of the cascading tons upon tons of water sliding off the cliffs, and the breathtaking vistas. But luckily, Iguazu is not the only beautiful place in South America, or even Argentina. I have lots of other adventures to look forward to during the remainder of my time here in South America.