Saturday, June 22, 2013

Las Cataratas del Iguazú

We were initially happy to be at Iguassu Motorcycle Traveller's Hostel for a number of reasons - staying put in one spot for at least a few days, seeing the incredible natural wonder that is Iguazú Falls, and meeting any travelers that also happened to be there.

plateau of water  (Foz do Iguassu)
(we didn't actually see the falls yet, but I didn't want to keep you waiting too long.  Many more pictures below...)

We didn't have any GPS coords for the hostel in hand, but we managed to eventually get in the right neighborhood and find the residential street.  At that same moment, a 4x4 Toyota had pulled up that we had last seen in Cochrane, Chile as we worked our way south along the Carretera Austral.  Life Remotely was nearing the end of their trip, planning to get to a hotel in Rio to unwind and finish the drafting of the overland cookbook that they had been creating.  I am not sure the cookbook would be so helpful for motorcycle travelers, as many of their ingredients and methods relied on the refrigerator that they had with them (not to mention a multiple burner stove and more than one pot...). Additionally, I'm not sure their living and working on the road lifestyle is that broadly applicable, unless you are lucky to have a flexible, internet-based, lucrative position. We tried picking their brains for ways to make their concept work for us and fell short. (Well, back to the drawing board for future life plans...)

We also ran into an Aussie who had been staying there for a few weeks and just recently picked up a BMW G650X (IIRC) to work his way up towards the Guyanas.  He had been emailing with Mike about the possibility of buying the trusty ol' TA, but timing wasn't going to work out with our 6 month delay.  We had hoped to make it to Foz about 5 days previous because Rodolfo had coordinated a Horizons Unlimited mini-meeting to gather overland travelers from all over the world.  It was fine that we missed it, though, because we had a chance to attend an even better party, more to follow on that.

Foz do Iguassu, Brasil is located in a corner of 3 countries with border towns in each, including Puerto Iguazú, Argentina and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Given that Paraguay has a reciprocity fee agreement with the states for a visa, we couldn't justify spending US$160 each to spend a day or two in that country. But we crossed the border anyway and bought some cheap tires (which is important given the high prices in Argentina). A pair of Pirelli MT-60's for US$130. Pretty good. And since we still had life left in our current tires, a quote to ship them by bus from Pto Iguazú to ourselves in San Rafael for around US$30. Still a screaming deal compared to new rubber in Argentina.

Traffic coming into Ciudad del Este
(lots of traffic flowing into Ciudad del Este to take advantage of the deals on electronics and tires. I guess they sell other stuff there, too, but people we know only seem to talk about electronics and tires.)

The following day we went to check out the Brazilian side of the falls. Mike had visited the falls back in 2000, but was excited to see them again, and was still floored by their magnitude. Jill was equally impressed, deciding that the 5 days of riding straight across the pampas had paid off. Pictures can't do them justice as it's hard to fit in the 3 km of river dropping into the waterfalls up to 80 meters high, but we'll do our best.

According to wikipedia, Iguazu has an average rate of 1,750 m3/s (61,660 cu ft), the second-greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world (after Niagara). Its maximum recorded flow was 12,800 m3/s (452,000 cu ft/s). By comparison, the average flow of Niagara Falls is 2,400 m3/s (85,000 cu ft), with a maximum recorded flow of 8,300 m3/s (293,000 cu ft/s).  Iguazu has larger drops, of between 65 and 82 meters (compared to Niagara's 50 m), and a larger span at nearly 3 km (Niagara's is ~1.5 km).

Here are some shots from our day at the Brazilian side:

looking upriver towards the main section of the falls  (Foz do Iguassu)
(looking upriver towards the main section of the falls)

looking towards la garganta del diablo (devil's throat) (Foz do Iguassu)
(looking towards la garganta del diablo (devil's throat) that you can see better from the Argentine side)

overview with a walkway on the Brazilian side  (Foz do Iguassu)
(as you walk along the Brazilian side there are a number of walkways with overlooks to get closer to the thundering, misting falls (and sometimes it's more of a mist, soaking you and all of your clothes, but you're in the jungle and it feels great))

us in front of the falls (and no, this was not photoshopped)  (Foz do Iguassu)
(us looking very photoshopped (but not, we were really there) in a self portrait)

misty side view  (Foz do Iguassu)
(a misty side view)

Coatis are most at home at the snack shops  (Foz do Iguassu)
(Coatis are most at home at the snack shops...)

2 ladies trying to avoid a coati attack (Foz do Iguassu)
(...and scaring tourists like mice in cartoons)

red brocket deer.  Apparently pretty rare to see so plainly.  At least that's what some lady in a uniform told us and we believed her. (Foz do Iguassu)
(red brocket deer. Apparently pretty rare to see so plainly. At least that's what some lady in a uniform told us and we believed her)

View of the Argentine side around the tree  (Foz do Iguassu)
(view of a main section of the Argentine side with boats below)

Butterfly  (Foz do Iguassu)
(lots of cool butterflies were around)

Beginning stages of half pipe construction for the X-games.  We were about 10 days too early.   (Foz do Iguassu)
(we were 5 days late for the HU mini-meeting and 10 days too early for the X-games. Here they are setting up the half pipe)

After a day of walking around the park, a stop for a beer sounded ideal. We found a sports bar showing a soccer match. Unsurprisingly, Bolivia didn't give Brasil too much of a challenge. The beer was good, though.

Sports bar in Foz do Iguassu.  Brasil (not surprisingly) dominated Bolivia.

Rodolfo had invited us to an asado (BBQ) at his parents house to celebrate his younger brother's birthday. What a great day it was! His family is super nice and were happy to host us for an asado of some of the best lamb, chicken and beef we have eaten in a while. Thanks again, Rodolfo!

Roberto and his dad preparing the meat with salt, and salt alone
(preparing the meat with salt, and salt alone)

Mike excited by what Roberto had cookin'
(Mike excited by what Roberto had cookin')

Lamb and beef on skewers.  Roberto liked to cook and was quite good at it.  The meat was all phenomenal!

Jill and Mike enjoying the meat
(us enjoying the asado)

A homemade Brazilian complete!
(a homemade Brazilian complete! It had been awhile since we had eaten such a great combination of foods all on one plate, and none homemade. This was most definitely a treat)

The following day we visited the Argentine side of the falls, making a stop along the way at the bus station to ship a bundle of rubber back to San Rafael. Turns out, the bus company wanted the package to look tidy and were not impressed with Mike's hack attempt at wrapping them with free cardboard from the grocery store across the street. So a two dollar plastic wrap job was purchased from the luggage storage facility and we got the tires off of our hands.

The cheap tires purchased in Paraguay were smuggled into Argentina and then put onto a bus to San Rafael (still much cheaper than finding tires in Argentina).  Here, Mike dripping sweat onto the irregular box.
(Mike dripping sweat onto the irregular "box")

There were some other bikers visiting the Argentine side (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(There were some other bikers visiting the Argentine side)

looking upriver  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(looking uprivier from the Argentine side)

The Argentine side has a different feel than visiting the Brazilian side. Those walkways on the Brazilian side give such a great overview of both sides of the falls while the Argentine side gets you closer up, right next to some of the cascades.

a beautiful day at the falls  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(absolutely beautiful)

water falling  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

some of the span of the Argentine side  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

The water was high from recent rains, so no swimming allowed  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(taking the free shuttle boat across to an island gets you another vantage point for the falls, but due to the recent rains, no swimming allowed)

the span of falls as seen from the island  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

birds on the cliff  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(big birds on a cliff)

little yellow-breasted bird on the rocks  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(small bird on the rocks)

us in front of Salto Bossetti  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(us in front of Salto Bossetti)

plants hanging on  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

some smaller twin falls  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

The jungle setting is home to so much amazing wildlife, big and small. We saw even more fun animals on the Argentine side:

butterfly close up  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

bright butterfly  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

one of the few coatis we saw well away from a snack bar  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(one of the few coatis away from a snack bar)

Modern looking butterfly  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

There were somewhere around 15-20 monkeys right at the trail.   (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(and immediately beside the trail there was about 15-20 monkeys that entertained us for a long while)

looking down the falls  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(looking down one of the falls)

falls, jungle and clouds  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

One of the best known attributes of the falls is la Garganta del Diablo, the roaring main section of the falls. There is a 1 km long walkway out to an overlook that gets you right next to it. We both got stung in the foot/ankle by the weirdest of critters along that walk. At some point we both stepped down and something immediately stung one of our ankles and top of a foot. It looked almost like an evil ear wig and was really stuck into each of our skins (this sounds really weird, but it literally did happen to both of us simultaneously). Knocking the alien creature off left an incredible stinging sensation and some slight swelling for the rest of our walk. Neither one of us has any idea what this thing was, why it didn't attack any other tourists walking on the same walkway, how it attacked both of us simultaneously, and why it hurt so damn bad. The jungle is a crazy place. Cuidado.

Entrance to the Devil's Throat  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

the calm Iguazu river  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(the calm Iguazú river)

the old walkway  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(the old walkway, taking out by floods in 1982.)

top of la Garganta del Diablo (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(the top of the Devil's Throat)

la Garganta del Diablo with rainbow  (Cataratas de Iguazú)

us in front of la Garganta del Diablo  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(self portrait in front of la Garganta del Diablo)

la Garganta del Diablo with sunlit clouds  (Cataratas de Iguazú)
(la Garganta del Diablo with sunlit clouds)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Crossing the plains

We left San Rafael with about 3 weeks to make a loop through a bit of Uruguay and to check out Iguazu Falls.  The days filled up quickly, and involved more riding in a straight line than we would normally choose, but that seems to be a necessity to cover any of eastern Argentina, home of the pampas (= plains).

At least we enjoyed some nice hilly roads on our way through Córdoba. Turns out we weren't the only ones on the road those days. It was the start of an official 5 day weekend covering Easter sunday (some national holidays combined with some religious days off) and the Argentine travel spirit took hold. It was nice to see so many people out on the road, but there were 2 particular places that this caused a bit of an issue: gas stations, which tended to run out of gas, and campgrounds, which just about ran out of space.

The first night we camped in a little town near San Luis. The first campground we came to looked really nice, seemed to be located on a fairly luxurious, mansion-filled road, and wanted us to pay the price for it, something around US$15 (okay, maybe not exorbitant, but we know what camping prices should be in Argentina...). A small little kiosk just a couple of km up the road had camping for a few bucks and we had the place to ourselves. A fairly early start the next morning took us through Mina Clavero, along with many other people.

Lunch stop, Mina Clavero
(Lunch stop in Mina Clavero)

Camino de los Artesanos, leaving Mina Clavero
(Camino de los Artesanos, leaving Mina Clavero)

Camino de las Altas Cumbres, outside of Mina Clavero
(Camino de las Altas Cumbres, outside of Mina Clavero)

The municipal campground in Alta Gracia, just outside of Córdoba was a gem. There were lots of activities at the neighboring park in the evening (that actually quieted down when it got dark, rather than picked up) including soccer (of course), BMX riding, asados, and plenty of people just drinking mate.

Alta Gracia happens to be the childhood home of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. We passed the museum, located in his old house, randomly when trying to follow the gas station attendant's directions to the campground. However, in the morning the place had an entirely different feel.

crowd outside of Che Guevara musuem, Alta Gracia (outside Córdoba)
(tour groups in front of Che museum, Alta Gracia)

Che Guevara musuem, Alta Gracia (outside Córdoba)

The crowds seemed a bit much, so we kept on kepting on. Turns out that on display there is a replica of the bike that Che and Alberto rode on their South American adventure in this museum, but we have only seen pictures online.  Next time, next time...

Not knowing exactly where we were going to stay, we started eyeing a little town on one of our tourist maps that showed hot springs - La Paz. That little town was a perfect stopover. We ended up squeezing into the municipal campground along with a whole lot of Argentines, many who had set up for the full 5 day holiday. A 10 minute walk took us to a nice hot springs complex that was also quite full of Argentines, but big enough to find a comfortable spot to soak.

Setting sun at La Paz hot springs
(setting sun at La Paz hot springs. The water had a lot of salt in it, making it easy for even Mike to float (he's a sinker) and leaving a flaky white crust on you when you got out. But their showers were hot, so no problem)

That night we knew that it was raining while we slept. It turns out it was raining hard. So hard that some people woke up and left in the middle of the night, and those that we saw leaving in the morning were having trouble getting through the mud. 4x4 pick ups made it okay, but anything else caused the passengers to get out, push, and get covered in mud. Our neighbors across the road were our saviors on that extremely wet and cold morning. They invited us into their porch, giving us coffee and bread, and even let us pack our saddle bags in their porch too.

The La Paz municipal campground was packed with people.  This nice Argentine couple were our saviors on an extremely wet and cold morning - inviting us into their porch, giving us coffee and bread.  They were sweethearts
(We can't remember their names it's been too long, but these two sweethearts saved our day. Argentines are great!)

Back on the road the weather cleared and we hit the main road up towards Posadas.

Nice, even load on a truck.  Somewhere near Posadas
(nice, even load that keeps people from passing on the right)

We found a nice little hostel in Posadas that just about kept us there for a few days. The young couple running the place was very accommodating and there were a few guests (from Spain, USA, Argentina, and elsewhere) there for a long stay that were good company. But with only 3 weeks for our loop, we continued on the next day towards Iguazu.

An even better hostel was awaiting us in Foz do Iguassu, Brasil. We knew of the place through the HUBB and looked forward to checking out the waterfalls from a comfortable place. It worked out perfectly!

Rodolfo and Adriano are excellent hosts, and the boxers were good company, too.  If you are traveling through the area, check out Iguassu Motorcycle Traveller's Hostel:

Rua Nilópolis, Nº.666 - Jardim Lancaster - Foz do Iguassu/Pr - Brasil
Coordenadas GPS: S 25.29.557 / W 54.33.047
Telefone: (45)9956-1091 / (45)9137-1743
Face: iguassu hostel (grupo)
Skype: iguassuhostel

Jill with the boxers, Iguassu Motorcycle Traveler's Hostel, Foz de Iguacu, Brasil

We really enjoyed the hospitality offered by our hosts there.  Even though the hostel is located in a neighborhood outside of town, downtown is easily accessed by bus (or by bike, of course), and there is enough within walking distance (grocery, restaurant, etc) that you won't need to go to town that often.  You'll soon see why we liked the place so much...