As soon as we stepped out of the airport in Iguazu Falls, we were in the rainforest.
Hot, humid and muggy. Despite the road being paved into town, it was dense jungle on either side with signs announcing ‘Tapir Crossing’ and ‘Leopard Crossing’. We were in a whole different biome for our last few days in Argentina.
Argentinian Side of the Falls
We walked to the bus station the next morning and got round trip tickets to the park for 200 pesos each. To get to the park was a 20 minute drive from town and after passing through the park entrance there were a series of trails that you could hike down to see the falls from different perspectives. We hiked the ‘lower trail’ which had more steps and less traffic and had better vantage points, but with the heat and humidity, our shirts were soaked and our inner thighs badly chaffed.
Arriving at the top of the falls on the Argentine side, we walked to the ‘Garganta Del Diablo’ or ‘The Devil’s Throat’ where visitors peer over the edge and clamor for selfies. For the last 3 weeks, we hadn’t encountered many tourists so we felt a bit out of place in such an international community. Since we crossed into Uruguay weeks ago, we had only met 1 german at our hostel and a retired couple from Minnesota at the bus station in Colonia. Last week was in Argentina’s northern college towns of Rosario and Cordoba and most locals asked us ‘Why would you want to come here?‘
The bum rush to the falls overlook was a beautiful but hurried affair. There were rows three people deep who elbowed their ways through the forest of selfie sticks to put on their best face for their social media feeds. An elderly woman who was taking her time enjoying the view of 1.5 million gallons thundering over the side was shamed by others who thought she was taking too long and getting in their shots. Being around such disingenuous and unoriginal mania made me feel gross, but being there yourself, you realize you’re part of the problem. It’a not enough to take in a beautiful painting, landscape or work of art anymore. Now, you have to ‘prove’ you were there.
Finding our Budget Groove
With two months of our trip left, we’ve had to be more conscientious of our budget and are planning very much like a teacher in the last month of school where every lesson is accounted for. Daily travel costs can skyrocket on visits to national parks, hotel payments or the odd flight so staying within a budget has become a challenge. Here are some strategies that have helped us during long term travel:
- Paying off our credit card on a weekly instead of monthly basis. This has allowed us to make sure if we have a high spend week, to curtail it the following week or the week before.
- Set up Automatic Transfers. I have the bulk of our trip budget money in a high yield savings account that sends $1,200 to our Bank of America account each Thursday. If we run out of money for the week, we just chill in our apartment and do walking tours. I don’t pay off our credit card balances until the new transfer comes through.
- Utilize Travel Rewards. I recently got a free flight on points from Rio De Janiero to Lima on points through our Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and also received a $250 travel credit from our new Bank of America credit card. So far, we’ve gotten 12 free flights with travel rewards since we started in June.
Crossing into Brazil
Just under a year ago, Brazil made it much easier for Americans to travel to Brazil. Before, there was a tedious visa application process, but now there is no cost and no application-not even an arrival card. We paid our airport pickup ‘Manuel’ $15 to drive us across the border to our hotel and it was the easiest border crossing we’ve had yet on our trip and took 40 minutes from doorstep to doorstep. (Best $15 I’ve ever spent.) Driving over the river, the concrete bumpers on either side of the road turned from blue and white (the Argentinian flag) to yellow and green (the Brazilian flag) until we got to customs where we were shooed through in Portuguese.
Since we landed in Buenos Aires December 29th, our Spanish has been getting pretty good. Whereas Lisa is fluent, I’m proficient and have no trouble reading or speaking, but as in English, listening is my weak suit. Northern Argentinians have a peculiar Spanish dialect and seem to ‘zzz’ their double ‘L’s. Llamado or ‘ya-maado’ turns to ‘xuh-maado’ and ‘llegar’ or ‘yay-gar’ sounds like ‘xay-gar’. Portuguese is heavy on ‘xuh’ sounds and I wonder if the proximity to Brazil is what brought these tones over the border slowly over time.
The last time we were in a Portuguese speaking country was back in 2006 when we visited Lisa’s Peace Corps host family in Mozambique and we were the star attraction to the local villagers. The son of the house, ‘Rene’ took me on a 6 hour pub crawl through the dankest cantinas around Macia during which I survived on the 3 following Portuguese phrases: “It is hot outside today.”, “How are you?” and “mmmmh” to which I said when someone was telling an unintelligible story of which I could not understand. Rene was proud to show off his new friend (and the only ‘Mullungu’ within 100 miles) and I was proud to prove that I could hang with the best of them.
Brazilian Side of the Falls
Visiting the falls the next day from the Brazilian side was a completely different experience. The infrastructure was much better than in Argentina and there was easier and free public transportation from the visitor center to the trail head. We saw coatis, a monkey, a myriad of geckos and lizards including a baby iguana. A few hours at the falls were met afterwards with a cool splash in our hotel’s swimming pool which is a luxury we haven’t had in months.
Tonight, we’re having our first ‘Churrasqueira’ or Brazilian BBQ. Brazilian style BBQ is an ‘all you can eat‘ dining experience when a small flag or puck at the table announces to the waiters to bring skewers meat to you and slice off a piece. Turn the puck over, they leave you alone. I’ve had Brazilian BBQ twice (one in Vietnam and once in Thailand) and they’ve ranked in my ‘Top 10 Life Experiences‘ alongside falling in love with Lisa and the birth of our daughter.
Will the real thing be better?