Argentina is the supporting actor in the cast of the supermassive Latin American countries, dominating the west of the continent with a tropical north and frozen south. Flanked on its western arm by the great Andean peaks, the south sits facing the abyss of Antarctica and is home to the southern most inhabited place on the planet. A mammoth undertaking on the backpacker trail, but an absolute must, and not just because of its location. The food, the wine, the people, the buzz of Buenos Aires, the hyperbole of Patagonia all make Argentina one of the greatest and most challenging countries on earth to explore.
I crossed into Argentina like I did most places, wholly unprepared and with no real plan of where to go and when. After changing some money on the blue/black market (that’s the best way to get a decent rate in Argentina) we found ourselves in Salta, a small town right in the very north. Your run of the mill small Latin American town, a nice cathedral, busy streets and a million places to eat.
We had heard from our stay at Loki Mancora (Peru) that the new Loki Hostel in Salta was offering free accommodation as it worked out its place in the world, so we jumped a local bus half an hour out-of-town to see what free digs felt like. When you seek out free accommodation you really can’t complain about standards, you can’t complain about a half filled green pool, no internet or overgrown lawns because its free, no money. I’d love to go back there again now to see how it has established itself, the staff were great, the food was great and the alcohol was plentiful. We left five days later, relaxed, full and a little hungover. A few of us rented a car and drove south for a day to the vineyards of Cafayate, the long winding roads there took us past strange rock formations in the baking desert sun, The Devils Throat, The Castles and The Windows, all worth a visit en-route. Driving in Argentina is a strange experience, other vehicles blaze by on one lane roads, small roads will have your car surrounded by stray dogs and nothing but myself is to blame for me mounting the curb pretty hard after being tailed by police for a little while.
After a month or so on the road together, me and Dave parted ways as he went on to Mendoza and I headed for the supreme Iguazu Falls on a 32 hour bus, we had seen a lot and drank a lot through three countries and as it would turn out, that was not the last destination we would drink together in.
Puerto Iguazu (Iguazu Falls)
So the legend goes, some ancient God once forsaken by his love with a mortal paramour, cut the throat of the Iguazu river as they sailed away, forever condemning the great pretenders to an eternal fall.
Iguazu falls are a natural phenomena truly befitting a tale of Gods and men, cascading down where Brazil meets Argentina head on and Paraguay referees off to the side. The largest waterfall system in the world, it can be accessed from two sides. Brazil’s Foz de Iguacu provides the panoramic view of the falls, and Argentina’s Puerto Iguazu side provides the access deep into the falls (quite literally at times).
Four of us caught a local bus from the town of Puerto Iguazu to the Brazilian side of the falls in the early morning heat, after crossing immigration into Brazil and for a small entry fee we were in the National Park, unfortunately so were the rich tourists from the many resorts that line this side of the great spectacle. An impressive sight, the network of falls sprawl as far as the eye can see across the other side of the river basin, but there is no personal touch to them on this side, no real experience of the power and the glory time has carved here. That came the next day, rested and up at 5am we caught a short bus to the majesty of the Argentinian side of Iguazu.
Afoot through tropical paths between the trees, sweat pouring, our senses heightened as the onslaught of distractions became frenzied. Toucans perched overhead sang, razor clawed Coati surveying your every step from the paths, the Doppler effect of the falls approaching with every placement of foot, what sounded like an impending battlefield orchestra became more apparent as the trees dispersed and the grandeur assumed form. Several walkways take you over the tributaries and to the colossal mouth of the falls, the Devils Throat, the noise was deafening, the water titanic and powering underfoot, rainbows soar through the vastness of chaos. As stunning as nature can be, as I have ever seen.
From there we navigated the falls through a complex system of paths, above and under the seeming endless succession of waterfalls, we jumped on a boat at the mouth of one of the falls that took us head on into the mayhem, as we struggled for breath under the weight of the bombardment one woman screamed a perilous scream in front of us, it was funny but I kind of felt like doing the same.
We dried off in the late afternoon sun, with the sound of the water still in earshot we headed back for a bus through clouds of butterflies and multicoloured birds, almost battle hardened from the extremity of the day. That night we drank red wine and ate steaks, in raptures over what we had experienced together.
Iguazu Falls, truly a wonder of nature.