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November 30, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 1: Getting Ready

Monday November 30, 2009
Today is my typical pre-trip day. The plan was to pick up Gary at SNA (John Wayne Airport) and take him to his hotel near LAX. In the middle of doing that, I was going to get the rest of my errands done. Daniel and I got up early and headed to IHOP for a goodbye breakfast. Daniel had gingerbread pancakes and I had my usual. I decided to get a couple of errands done quickly, so I went to the bank to deposit some paychecks and get some money for the trip. Then we did a quick stop at Target and headed back to my apartment.
When we arrived, I noticed Daniel’s rear license plate on his Prius had been stolen. I can’t believe this was the second crime against one of my friends since I have lived in my apartment complex – the first being Tiffany’s radio being stolen way back in 2003. We called around and determined we needed to go to the police station to file a report. By this time, we were getting close to Gary’s arrival at SNA, so we quickly went down and filed the report. Heading back to the apartment, Daniel and I started calling around to see where he could get replacement plates. His mom offered to come and take him to AAA to get the replacement plates, the only catch being he had to become a member. I went to pick up Gary at the airport and came back to the Apartment. Daniel then went with his mom on an adventure to get his plates changed.
I hit up Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, and REI for shopping with Gary while Daniel was gone. It took him about 2.5 hours to go to AAA only to be told he had to still go to DMV because the address on his license was not where the car was registered. So all in all, he had to pay for replacement plates and a new license at the DMV. Once he was back and the new plate was on his car, we headed out to eat at the Olive Garden. We made a quick stop at DSW for shoes before heading to take Gary to the hotel.
We had Carpool access so the trip to the hotel and back went pretty quickly. It is weird that Gary, Mom, and I will all be arriving in Dallas on different flights before we join up for the trip to Buenos Aires. I spent the rest of the night packing and then watching some Ghost Adventures before finally heading to bed. I am either forgetting something major, or I am getting used to traveling and now can remember what I need.

December 1, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 2: Los Angeles to Dallas

Tuesday December 1, 2009
I fought the alarm clock as long as I could, but finally took a shower and got dressed and headed out for the airport. Had I not slept too much, we probably could have grabbed some donuts on the way to the airport, but we were pressed for time and it was the middle of morning rush hour. I thought I was being smart by taking a later flight, but because of the early arrival for international destinations, it put us in rush hour. Again, thanks to Carpool, the trip up the 405 did not take that much time, and we got to the airport just when I wanted to get there. After a quick goodbye to Daniel, I was on my way. I was struck by how many Japanese people there were in the terminal, and then I remembered that the American Non-Stop to Tokyo was leaving within an hour of my flight. I decided to plunk down the $9 for a Burger King Croissanwich, and then waited for my flight. It was a full flight on a 757 which is never a good thing. The 757 is basically a super-sized 737 and get the same cramped feeling when it is full. The couple next to me were very lovey-dubby – not in the sickening way, but in a way that made the middle seat occupant not encroach on my personal space. It was a bumpy flight to Dallas, but we made it with no issues. Arriving in Dallas, I discovered I lost Gate lotto. Usually it’s a lottery to see how many gates you have to travel to get to your connecting flight. When I went to Nashville, I was never more than a few gates. This time, I had to venture to the exact opposite side of DFW. The bonus for my effort, was that Mom had access to the AA Admiral’s Club. I had never been in one before. It was nice, but not quite as elitist as I had imagined. After relaxing and charging our various electronic devices, we headed off to eat at the weirdly spelled Champps. Must be to avoid a lawsuit from the athletic apparel company.
After a nice call with Daniel, it was time to board the flight to South America! Mom had upgraded to Business class so we got to board with her. This gave Gary and I plenty of time to get settled before the rest of the passengers boarded. We lucked out when the two passengers in the seats next to me no-showed. This allowed for ample stretching during the flight. Again, we had a bunch of turbulence in this flight: first over Texas due to a weather front, and then again as we went over the Andes Mountains in Peru and the rain forests of Brazil. Other than that, it was a nice flight. The food was OK, and there were no other passengers around me to annoy the heck out of me. One final plus? I actually found a comfortable spot and fell asleep.

December 2, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 3: Dallas to Buenos Aires

Wednesday December 2, 2009
I awoke mid-flight on AA997 with the realization that my classic 2004 iPod was not playing music. I like to bring this iPod on the long flights since it contains my entire audio collection. But there it sat, with the back light stuck on and with the title of a track it was not playing. In my stupor, I struggled to remember how to reset the iPod. It wasn’t until after I switched to my iPhone and put it away (still glowing) did Gary remind me that it’s a combo of two keys. Since I had tried a bunch, I remembered that it was up key and middle key. Lo and behold, iPod crisis was over.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and we finally landed in Buenos Aires. I wish I had a window seat to get an overview, but the glimpses I got looked good. We headed out the jetway and caught up with Mom before heading to customs. We didn’t fare to well in timing since our plane was late due to the weather. We arrived just after an Air France flight, so customs resembled LAX in mid jumbo dump. It was so crowded, we were held at the top of the escalators so as not to cause problems down below. It took about an hour before we emerged from customs and found our luggage. By the time we arrived at Baggage claim, our luggage was sitting next to the belt. We had to wait for Shirley to arrive, so we hung out in the airport for another hour. She finally arrived with some of the Doctors for the conference I will be helping them with while I am in BA.
We headed to the shuttle bus, a 15-20-passenger bus, so it fit all of our luggage and us. We got hustled by some guy who wanted a tip for helping to load the van. One of the Spanish-speaking Doctors told us, “Of course they want a tip, this is South America!” On the way into Buenos Aires to our hotel, most of us fell asleep in the traffic jams, only to be awoken here or there by a sudden slamming on the brakes. The last one was just before the hotel, and I think it was the driver’s way of waking us up.
The room was not quite ready for us, but since we are here for the conference at the hotel, we have access to the business club so we relaxed until it was ready. I discovered that the WiFi is tricky here in the hotel, so updates will have to be planned well in advanced. I went back downstairs to get information on a Buenos Aires tour for tomorrow and met up with Mom and Shirley. I helped them get some of the conference items into their makeshift office at the hotel. Looks like there will be a lot of work to do in the next couple of days, but thankfully I will be able to get out and see the city. It was shower and naptime next as we needed to recharge before venturing out to get some dinner.
We did not venture far from the hotel, and we ended up at Carletto Ristorantino right along the inlet on Puerto Madero. The food was good and I enjoyed a rare glass of wine with my meal. We ate around 8pm – early for the locals. They usually do not start eating dinner until 9-10pm. Most of the bars and clubs also do not start until after 1am and run past when the sun comes up. It is very similar to other places in Europe, and takes a little bit of adjusting. With the convention that I am helping my mom with over the next few days, I am not sure how much I will get to see or go out and do, but by Sunday I will be in full tourista mode.

December 3, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 4: Buenos Aires Tour

Thursday December 3, 2009
This morning Gary and I set out for a half-day tour of Buenos Aires. Gary had taken the same tour when he was down here last year for the conference, but agreed to go with me so I made sure I had a photo spotter. We made it down to the lobby a bit early by skipping breakfast. Luckily, I have a stock of Wheat Thins to tide me over on occasions such as this. The tour ended up being just 5 people and it gave a sense of intimacy to the group.
Our first stop was Casa Rosada and the Plaza de Mayo. We discovered that one of the tour group was from the states and seemed to have a question or comment on just about everything that the guide had to say. Casa Rosada and the Plaza de Mayo are important areas in Buenos Aires. The Plaza is where every major demonstration in Argentina history has taken place, and the Casa is the Presidential offices. It is also the site of the famous balcony where Eva Peron gave her speeches. In fact, Madonna was here back in 1995 to film the balcony scene for the movie Evita. Our guide mentioned there was even a protest for that since the loyal Peron followers did not like the idea of Madonna playing the part.
Moving on we headed to San Telmo and La Boca – two historical districts of Buenos Aires that range from touristy to authentically historical to downright unsafe and scary. It was interesting listening to how these areas helped invent the Tango and how yellow fever changed the course of development in the area. What were once huge homes for the rich became tenement homes for the poor. In fact it was this closeness of the immigrants that led to the beginning of Tango in Argentina. When we stopped at La Boca, we saw tourism at its highest and lowest. There were the sleezy street performers like the ones they have outside of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, but instead of Spiderman, you get your photo with a fake tango performer. The street was nice and decorated, but it reminded me of some of the scary areas in downtown LA where. You had the sense of one street being patrolled and safe and then if you wander off the beaten path, you would be in an unsafe area.
It was time to board the minibus and head towards Recoleta. On the way, we passed by the port of La Boca as well as by Puerto Madera, past where our hotel was located and then towards the British Tower (which is now Monument Tower since the Falkland war of the early 1980s). We arrived at the Recoleta cemetery – the final resting place of Eva Peron. The cemetery was very interesting and lots of spectacular monuments and burial areas inside. Eva’s was not the most grand, it was the Duarte family plot, since after Peron fell from power via military coup, they removed her mausoleum, where the people of Argentina could just go by her body (just like Lenin). Her body went missing for a bit but they finally recovered it and the family interred it in the family grave at the Recoleta cemetery.
After taking some photos, our quick tour was done and we set off back to the hotel. On the way we dropped one couple off at the historic Alvear Palace Hotel and I was reminded I needed to come back another day to take a photo. Once we got back to the hotel, we dug in and spent the rest of the night preparing for the ISES conference tomorrow. It was a long night. We started helping around 2:00pm and we stayed downstairs and busy until 3:30am. We had a mini food break around 11pm which kept our energy going, but it was a scramble to get everything prepared and ready to go. Mom did not make it back at all except to shower and change for the opening of registration. I did not get much sleep as I had to be back downstairs at 6:45am.

December 4, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 5: ISES and Tango

Friday December 4, 2009
All to soon the alarm went off and it was time to get dressed and head back downstairs. I was already in my suite in the nick of time and was pleased that my suit did not wrinkle in my suitcase. My shirts were a mess, but thankfully I did not need to take my jacket off during the whole time I was downstairs. I spent the day helping the doctors get registered at the desk and running errands to help mom out. I did not get to eat much until around 1230 when we finally ordered room service. It was such a whirlwind of activity getting everything done, and by 3:30 or so I was wiped out. I headed upstairs for a nap so I would be good to go for the night event.
I woke up around 6:30 and got cleaned up and headed downstairs to meet the big group going to La Ventana for a dinner/tango show. To me it seemed like the Buenos Aires equivalent of the Moulin Rouge in Paris. When we arrived, we were led into the theater showroom and then surprisingly down some stairs. The room was decorated with many photos of Argentina history and of great Tango stars. It was a mix between someone’s basement and one of the off-strip Vegas showrooms. First up was dinner, and despite picking a salad that turned out to be cheese balls and some sliced tomatoes, the steak was wonderful and the dessert was awesome. I was seated with the tech guy from the conference and two German heart doctors. It was a strange mix of conversation with them asking me about my job and me asking about theirs. Finally, after a long dinner service, the show began.
The show was three acts. The first act was tango classic with dancers and singers moving and shaking across the small stage backed up by a great tango orchestra. The finale of this section was one of the singers belting out “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” after playing a sample of an actual Eva Peron radio broadcast. The second act was traditional Andean flute music with a Gaucho dancer who swung balls on a cord around and around at high speed. It sounds weird, but it actually was very cool. The third act brought back the tango orchestra, but this time it was headed by an accordion superstar who got his own video that shows him playing at a young age on TV. At least, that’s what I think it said since it was all in Spanish and repeating over and over. The superstar and his fellow accordionists were amazing and the tango dancers and singers came out for some more demonstrations of skill before the show came to a thrilling end.
Overall, it seemed like everyone in the group loved the show, but felt it was a tad long. I admit I felt it could have been shortened a bit, since the dinner started around 9 and the last part of the show ended at midnight. All in all, I had a great time and never wanted to learn the accordion more in my life!
We made it back to the hotel and instantly crashed. It was a super long day and we were all looking forward to getting a decent night’s sleep.

December 5, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 6: Shopping in Buenos Aires

Saturday December 5, 2009
Gary and I got to sleep in, but Mom had to be back downstairs to work on the conference again. Thank goodness it wasn’t that busy. Gary and I headed downstairs around 10:00 to see what needed to be done. There was not much to do other than prepare for the end of the conference. We had a few things that we needed to accomplish today: Go shopping along Av. Florida, go to the Alvear Palace Hotel, get tickets for the ferry to Uruguay, and purchase our plane tickets to Iguazu.
It was raining off and on so we lingered around the hotel for a bit. It was also Gary’s birthday so we waited for them to bring a cake so we could sing Happy Birthday. We also managed to score some free food from the conference lunch. With food in our bellies, we set out to do our walking tour first. First up, a revisit to Casa Rosada so I could take my Eva Peron pose photo, then we walked up to Avenue Florida, a pedestrian shopping street. It seems all good cities have at least one!
It was the typical mix of high traffic area shops. Part Harijuku, part Powell Street. We did poke into an electronics store where I discovered the latest MacBooks were priced at 7999 Argentine Pesos for the low end (approx. US$2100) and the high end 15″ was priced at 10,599 Pesos (US$2800)!! Besides that, there were the usual iPods and HDTVs galore. One thing we did notice was an old Harrod’s storefront that had been long closed. After awhile, we finally reached the Alvear Palace Hotel.
The street that it is on is full of super expensive boutiques and nice homes and embassies. Certainly one of the nicer parts of Buenos Aires. The Hotel itself is very glamorous and way out of my price range, but the reason I wanted to see it is because this is where Walt Disney and his animators lived for several weeks in the early 1940s on his Good Neighbor tour of South America. Fittingly, it was Walt Disney’s Birthday on the day I visited. After taking some photos, we headed over to the Hard Rock so Gary could see if they had anything new since last year. There was nothing special, but I did get to see the Recoleta market that is outside the cemetery that Gary had mentioned. Since time was getting short, we hired a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Thankfully, my high school Spanish of “Vamanos a Hilton en Puerto Madero” managed to get the point across to the driver.
We made it back in about 10 minutes – fast compared to the time it took to walk there. Back at the hotel, Mom had made our arrangements to Iguazu Falls. We are supposed to fly out on Monday and she made the plane reservations. When we went to the American Desk in the hotel to purchase them, we discovered she got quoted the Argentina citizen rate that was US$100 less than we had seen the price online. After what seemed like forever, we got our tickets purchased. We headed back up to continue the wrap up of the conference, and finally figured out how we were going to get our ferry tickets. Gary and I went down to the terminal, and after a few attempts and some Blackberry Messenger-ing, we purchased our 5 tickets. Again, high school Spanish ruled the day, especially after we had to switch to different ticket sellers.
Walking back to the hotel, we spotted a good place to eat dinner that featured a huge grill where all the meats and large baked potatoes were cooked. When we made it back, Mom and Shirley decided to try the El Faro restaurant in the hotel. It was good, but it was very Top Chef proportions and heck the menu even had a Ceviche. After dinner, we all headed to bed. I got to stay in a room that was vacated at the last minute by someone from the conference. It was nice having my own room for a night, but not so good was that it was in the smoking section of the hotel. Now time for slumber as I get ready for Uruguay tomorrow!

December 6, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 7: The Great Ferry Disaster

Sunday December 6, 2009
Today it was time to head to Uruguay! Mom and Gary finished packing up the convention items and I met them just before heading down to meet Stuart and Shirley who were joining us on the adventure. We took two taxis to the Buequebus terminal, which is relatively close to our hotel. I was in the second taxi and it took some time before a cab showed up for us. Once we were reunited we got into the terminal and went to the express check-in lanes. We were a little concerned that we were not in the right area, but all turned out well and we got our boarding passes. We proceeded to immigration and got stamped out of Argentina and into Uruguay without having to leave the gate.
Our ferry was scheduled to depart at 1200 and around 1145 or so they made an announcement in fast Spanish that I did not understand. People began to boo loudly in the terminal so I deduced that we were probably going to be delayed. Around 1230 our ferry showed up and we thought we were going to begin boarding procedures. Buequebus had other ideas. People started going down into the jetways (I guess it’s a ferryway?) and then coming back up. Puzzled, we finally made it down towards the gate after waiting for what seemed like forever, we talked to a worker who explained that someone had died on the ferry on either the trip going over or back and due to the investigation the ferry was going to be delayed 3 hours. They told us if we wanted to get a refund to head downstairs and that is where the fun really began.
One can only describe the scene as chaos. First up, we had to be stamped back into Argentina. The solution that they came up with was to cross off our stamps and write something over them. It took a good 20 minutes for us to make it through this line and people were starting to get crazy. Once we went downstairs to the ticket counters, things got worse. Shirley and Stuart headed for the cashier booth to get a refund, and Mom, Gary, and I headed for the ticket counter to re-book for after our Iguazu trip. It was pandemonium. People were shouting at the poor ticket agents and banging the counter. The lady behind the counter took our boarding passes in an attempt to manually match them with the torn off tickets. I can’t believe they had to do this by hand! Also, if you had a credit card transaction and needed a refund, they had to look at the register receipt scrolls.
After two hours, word started getting back to us that not only were the manual checks taking forever, they were out of cash. Anyone who had not bought their ticket the same day, the employees were refusing to give them their money and was telling them to come back on Monday since the bank will be open then. It was very clear that Buequebus was not prepared for such a huge cancellation. Then again, I am sure this is not something that happens all the time.
After another hour, we finally were able to get some resolution. Part of the reason was the next ferry to Montevideo was trying to check in and we were all in the way. They finally told us to come back and ask for the supervisor and they would be able to rebook us on the 10th. Shirley and Stuart had to pound on the glass and were ignored by one agent who after telling them it was impossible to give them their money, would up the cord on his cash register and walked away with it. The moved down to the next window and after Shirley showed them that she had a plane to catch the next day and that she would lose her job if she missed it, they finally caved in and gave them their money back. We were concerned that they could not find my original ticket (probably the reason it took hours to get it back) but they found my original boarding pass and hopefully it will all be OK on Thursday when we try again. I do not have great hopes, but hopefully it will work out.
Exhausted from the ordeal, we walked back to the Hilton and decided to eat at a restaurant called Cabana Las Lilias. It was very pricey, but very good! We kept laughing over wine and food over what we had just experienced, and despite some frustrations we all had, we all now have a great experience to share with everyone.
We finally made it back to the hotel around 7pm and relaxed for a bit before heading out to meet Irina, one of the people who worked at the convention with Mom and Shirley. We met them at an Italian family style restaurant called Piegari. It was under an underpass with a few other restaurants which made for an interesting atmosphere. The place was close to the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires. Irina and her friends from Brazil were a lot of fun and we had a great meal together. We took lots of photos and I had fun introducing them to the Gorn. They all wanted to take a photo with him. One waiter referred to the three Brazilians and Charlie’s Angels and wanted to be Charlie!
After midnight, we finally bid them farewell and headed back to pack our things and get ready for our side trip to Iguazu. I managed to get ready fairly quickly and managed a luxurious 4 hours of sleep.

December 7, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 8: Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls

Monday December 7, 2009
The alarm clock and wake up call wait for no one. It took us just about an hour to get ready this morning. Our strategy was to take just a small bag with us to Iguazu and keep the rest of our stuff at the Hilton until we returned later in the week. This led to all sorts of second-guessing as to what needed to be brought and what should be left behind. I felt pretty confident in my choices as we hopped into the cab to take us to the Jorge Newbery Airport. This domestic airport had a more civilized feel to it than the craziness of the International airport. We quickly got checked in for our flight on LAN Airlines, and we grabbed a small light breakfast. Gary got the mystery muffin, and I am still not sure of what all was in it. I think it was more fruitcake than muffin, but I was glad I stuck with the plain croissant. I found some postcards to send and will try and write them later in the day. Last night, I had plugged in the laptop and phone into the outlet to charge, but little known to me it was the one controlled by the light switch. I tried to get some juice into my phone so I could listen to songs on the plane.
Once we were boarding, I realized this was a fake-out gate. Instead of going down the jetway to get on the plane, we veered left down some stairs and caught a scary looking bus to the plane. So CDG!! The plane was an Airbus 320 which are the same planes we took on Air France at CDG so it brought back all sorts of memories. LAN even gave us a vintage Ontario/Southwest moment as they let us board through the back of the plane via stairs. We squeezed into our seats and finally were on the way. I knew I was tired because I kept snoozing throughout the flight and didn’t even get a chance to listen to my music. It was a quick flight and apparently as I was snoozing, they announced they were going to spray the plane for mosquitoes. Just hammers home how bad the bugs are going to be up in Iguazu!
We arrived at the brick terminal and found a stand to take us to the Sheraton Resort located within the National Park. I was struck by all the butterflies and other bugs and fauna were all around. It was nice to actually be in someplace that looked and felt different. The cab ride was fairly quick and before long we passed through the gates to the National Park and arrived at the Sheraton. Immediately, we saw the falls behind the hotel and it took our breaths away. We checked into the hotel and because Mom was a gold status member, we were upgraded to a Falls View room. Up in the room we were treated to one of the best room views since I was in Tahiti. Out our window, you could see all of the falls from an angle, and Brazil and the hotel on the other side of the river.
After a mediocre hotel lunch, we decided to see the Upper Falls trails and Devil’s Throat, the largest falls. We hiked a short distance to the train depot. Iguazu National Park has a narrow-guage propane train called the Rainfalls Ecological Train that runs from the visitor center to Devil’s Throat. It was controversial when built, but I like the fact that it is a minimally impact train and has taken tons of vehicles out of the rainforest. Once at the Devil’s Throat station, we proceeded across a series of catwalks that went between the small islands and across huge portions of river. Finally we arrived at Devil’s Throat. It is truly one of the most spectacular places I have visited. I loved being at the edge of the falls and getting the big billowing mists when the winds shifted. I took a ton of photos before realizing how wet I was getting. When I arrived it was bright and sunny, and it got darker and darker. Before we knew it, it was pouring rain! We started heading back to the train station and it kept pouring rain. It would let up for a bit and then get back to dumping. It was your typical tropical downpour with nice big drops. Needless to say, we all got soaked. I quickly moved all valuables into my shoulder bag to avoid the water, but my passport got a bit wet. Ironically, when I was leaving to go on the hike, I had thought for a moment about bringing my windbreaker with a hood. Oh well, tomorrow for sure!
By the time we were on the train, it had stopped raining and the temperature rose again, allowing us to dry a little. We decided to then head to the Upper Falls trail, which took us over the tops of a bunch of the smaller falls. As impressive as Devil’s Throat was, this trail really offered some spectacular vistas. Despite being wet, I also loved this route. After taking way too many photos, we headed back to the hotel to get out of our wet clothes. Right as we got into the room, housekeeping was delivering my roll-a-way bed and I noticed that it was a torrential downpour outside! Thank goodness we missed getting soaked for a second time. We decided to crash for a bit in the room, and by the time we recovered from our adventure it was after dark and the park was closed. After 6pm, you are confined to the hotel unless you hire a taxi to Puerto Iguazu. We decided to eat dinner at the hotel and then call it a night. My steak was a bit on the Medium rare side, so I will need to make sure I have them cook it a bit longer next time. It was still delicious.
Finally, it was the end of the day and we settled back in the room. We are still not sure what we are going to do tomorrow, but we think it will be a river cruise, followed by a trip to Puerto Iguazu, and hopefully a bus ride into Brazil and Paraguay. If all goes according to plan, I will have added two more countries. It is frustrating being so close to a country and not visiting it, but at the same time, there is so much more to Brazil, that if I can’t actually visit it now, It gives me an excuse to go to Rio or Sao Paulo sometime in the future.

December 8, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 9: Iguazu Falls and Puerto Iguazu

Tuesday December 8, 2009
Just as I was finishing and logging off last night, the power to the whole suite went out. I think we overloaded the 1970’s electricity with our various electronic items we needed to charge overnight. Thankfully, the repair team was on the ball and we were back up and running in time to go to bed.
I woke up this morning feeling like an ant under a microscope! In my tiredness last night, I neglected to shut the blinds, and as a result, the morning sun hit me and warmed me up. In a half-asleep stupor, I managed to close half the blinds, enough to shield me. We did sleep in a little, but managed to get our first free breakfast of the trip. It was actually quite good, and allowed us to fill up before the big adventure today. Today is our full Iguazu day, so we were determined to do the river boat ride up to and into the spray of the falls as well as head down to Puerto Iguazu.
We selected the 10:30 departure that included the rain forest trek, and as we were waiting at the departure station, I noticed the photos they had of the falls during it’s highest and lowest flows in recent history. It is amazing the variation – especially during the drought of two years ago. There was barely anything trickling over the edge at all, and just looked more like a cliff than anything. We finally boarded the jeep into the jungle. It was very much like the Kiliminjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, but slightly less comfortable. Since there were only 5 English speakers, the majority of the tour was in Spanish, and then she would give a brief summary of what was spoken in English. The jungle trek portion was a bit disappointing since we really did not see more than what we had already seen on the trails to the upper portions of the water falls.
Finally, it was time to board the boat. I knew at this point I should have put on sunblock as my skin was already on fire. We strapped on our life jackets and put all our shoes inside the water bags. I as glad we were allowed to use the cameras for a little while down the river. The “rapids” section was not very rapid at all, but the sheer cliffs on the Brazilian side more than made up for any lack of river action. For a time, I was actually in Brazil! We then pulled up near the Devil’s throat to take some good photos and then drove around to some other falls. We managed to take a bunch of photos before the driver stated – Cameras Away! I quickly wrapped everything up and put it away and then we headed into the waterfalls themselves. It was a pure adrenaline moment and the water felt so good and so cold at the same time, I was having difficulty breathing. I wish I would have taken my glasses off before hitting the falls, because everything was soaked and I could not see a darn thing. I put my glasses in my hands, which helped a lot. It was an amazing experience being below the falls and looking up to the sky.
In too short a time, our trip was over and we headed for the dock. It was nice to have dry shoes and socks to get into and the warm humid weather was drying my swimsuit and shirt quickly. The trail back to the hotel was via the Lower Falls trail which had some awesome vistas from the bottom of the falls. I took some amazing shots as we went down the trail ending up at the overlook to the Boselli Falls where I had taken a shot of the lower viewing area the day before. I decided to get a photo of the Gorn and I in full mist, and the time we were done, I was soaked again, except this time, my shoes were completely soaked. From there we all headed back to the hotel to dry off. We made a pit stop at the Dos Hermanas snack area where I got some water, and Mom found some shorts. Back at the hotel, we removed the wet items and placed them out on the balcony to try and dry before we headed into town. I was already turning beet red from the tropical sun – darn no sunblock, but thankfully was not tired like you usually get from a sunburn.
We chilled in the room for about an hour before we headed into Puerto Iguazu. Our driver Ramiro was from a company that has a contract with the hotel and was very nice, but not adventurous enough to illegally smuggle us into Brazil. I think he thought about it long and hard as we asked him, but we would never want anyone to get in trouble from our shenanigans. One option is the ferry across the river to Paraguay, but today is a holiday so it was not running. Ramiro took us around Puerto Iguazu, which looks more like a third world country than anyplace I have been so far on this trip. The streets had a hard clay color around them and there were dogs roaming the streets. Our first stop was Hito Tres Fronteras. It reminded me a lot of Four Corners because this is the one spot in Argentina where you can see Paraguay and Brazil and Argentina all at the same time. Again, it was frustrating to be so close and yet so far to where you want to go! Stupid Visa! Our driver then took us to a vantage point where we could see the International border bridge to Brazil. He even drove us to the International Casino that is next to the bridge and I was able to take a photo of customs. He drove us down, and I think he thought of it for a moment, but then decided to turn around and take us back into Puerto Iguazu.
We wanted to get something to eat, but it was still early and none of the shops and restaurants was open yet. Ramiro took us to La Aripuca, a traditional wood house made of huge redwood trees. Did I say they were large? Because man, they are large trees and it was a large house. It reminded me of the Tahitian village I went to on Moorea back in 2001. They had a lot of native Indians with woodcarvings and necklaces for sale and they also had some snacks and are in the process of building a restaurant. I think that down the road, busloads of tourists will be doing the dinner and native experience show.
It was a nice distraction, and after almost heading back to the hotel, we decided to see if some shops were open. I wanted to take photos of the small central area of Puerto Iguazu, so we stopped on one street before driving around some more. I was getting thirsty so the decision was made to get some drinks. Our driver mentioned he had a friend who owned a restaurant (although upon further thought, I think he just had a friendly connection with this new restaurant in Puerto Iguazu). We stopped at the Maria Preta restaurant and met Walt. Walt was the greeter for the place and since there was little foot traffic, he spent the time chatting with us in between greets. He was from Mendoza, Argentina and his family emigrated to Ontario, Canada when he was a little boy. He and his family had been living there until 8 months ago when they were deported back to Argentina. Ever since then, he has been trying to get back his residency in Canada and move back. Four months ago, his cousin convinced him to move to Puerto Iguazu and he has been working at the restaurant ever since. He was a nice guy and Mom got lots of info from him about the local scene. He encouraged us to take the bus into Paraguay tomorrow and that it actually was not that difficult. We decided to brave the flies and ordered dinner with our drinks. The food was good and we had company not only from Walt, but a poor beagle with a hurt leg who plopped under the table for a nap. Mom had to replace one of her Malbec glasses since a fly got drunk and went for a swim. I had an adult beverage called Fernet and Coke – apparently it is very popular in Argentina and man did it pack a wallop! I can’t imagine ever drinking more than one of these puppys. We finished up our meal and thanked Walt for a great time and the information about how to get to Paraguay. Our driver showed up on schedule and we headed back to the hotel.
On approach to the hotel, I was surprised how foggy it was, but it turns out it was just the high humidity near the falls fogged everything up, including my glasses when I got out of the car. The front of the hotel was covered in bugs, and I found one that was on me awhile later after I changed into my pjs. I printed my boarding pass for tomorrow’s flight back to Buenos Aires. We are still up in the air as to where we are spending the night, but hopefully it will all come together tomorrow. We will try and get up early tomorrow to take a quick jaunt into Paraguay via the bus. Fingers crossed!!

December 9, 2009

Argentina 2009 Day 10: No Paraguay and back to Buenos Aires

Wednesday December 9, 2009
Well, the best-laid plans did not come to pass. We got up a little bit late, and we could have attempted the bus ride into Paraguay, but we were worried that we would not have enough time as a buffer should there be a problem with the bus. We did not want to be stranded in another country and miss our flight to boot. Sadly, this means that I will only get two countries on this trip out of the four intended. Then again, I am glad I will have to do a proper trip into Brazil to visit all that it has to offer.
So after breakfast, we decided to head to the Visitor Center complex – ironic that we had waited until the last moment in the park to see what most see first. We took the Ecological Train down to the central station and walked around the various gift shops. I ventured a little further to the interpretation center, something any good National Park must have. I was there at the same time as a middle school group, and even though most of the displays were in Spanish, they had a few English notes to give me the basics. The displays were in two sections – one for flora and fauna, and the other about the people who inhabited the region from the Native Americans to the European settlers. It was interesting to browse, but since we did not have a lot of time, I skipped the movie. I met back up with Gary and Mom and we headed back on the train to check out of our room.
I was hurting from the sunburn, but as long as I was careful putting the backpack on and off, I would be OK. We hung out in the lobby for about a half an hour taking some final photos. After breakfast, I had finally figured out how to get my iPhone connected to the free WiFi. It kept crashing, but was able to try a few different settings and it came alive. I wish I had gotten the two-hour option because now that we were checked out, I could not access it.
It was now time to get the taxi to Iguazu International Airport, and head back to Buenos Aires. After checking our bags, we headed upstairs to get to the gate. Apparently, the Aerolineas Argentinas flight was two hours late and was going to depart near the same time as our LAN flight. This caused some pandemonium at the Pre-board check in desk where one person told the LAN people to line up on one side and the Aerolineas people to be in another. The lines eventually crossed after the LAN line stopped moving. It was all sorted out (not without some British lady getting all p.o.’d because she was in the wrong line and we were going ahead of her) and we made it into the boarding area. More pandemonium ensued as the LAN flight had to do the walk of shame down the stairs and board via ladder. We got back at Aerolineas as we departed first.
This was one of the bumpiest flights I have been on recently. It seems all my flights over South America have been very turbulent – perhaps due to all that tropical uplifting! We had another snack box of Habana crackers (now with Pork flavored crackers and chocolate covered orange flavored crackers). After the turbulence and a brief shower from the flight attendant, we settled into a routine flight.
Back in Buenos Aires, we collected our things and headed to our hotel. We were not 100% sure which Marriott we were staying at, but we headed for the historic Plaza Hotel. Turns out we guessed right, and we were indeed at this great hotel. This hotel was built in the early 1900s and had a great old regal hotel feel about it. No rollaway available, means I get my first big bed since last Saturday! After we were settled in, we headed for a quick shopping trip down Florida street and my high school Spanish ordered McDonald’s. It was not very good and does not make me yearn for more. We walked down the Avenida and looked at all the trinkets and such and I had to buy something to get me through the next day since we are not getting back to our regular clothes until tomorrow night. I misread one of the signs and instead of getting 4 pairs for the price of three, I got the special price for three. The lady was nice and between my little Spanish and her little English, we got the deal done.
I saw a store called Prototype that I want to check out another day since by this time almost everything was closed. Back in our room, we ordered some dessert and called it a night. Tomorrow is our second attempt to get to Uruguay, and hopefully all will go as planned!