Archive | September, 2012

Exploring South America – Iguazu Falls

23 Sep

I finally got around to visiting the most famous place in “almost Paraguay”, the insanely impressive Iguazu Falls. The falls are located over Paraguay’s eastern border and situated between Argentina and Brazil. The land used to all be part of Paraguay, until it was lost in the Triple Alliance War in the late 1800s.

My friend Jamie from the States, two fellow Peace Corps volunteers, Marilu and Richard, and I met up on the Argentinian side of the falls in the town of Puerto Iguazu (the northernmost town in eastern Argentina). There we stayed at an amazing hotel, called Jasy, which means “moon” in Guarani, the indigenous language (though sadly, the staff doesn’t know how to pronounce the name of their hotel, as they only speak Spanish). We relaxed at the hotel for the evening, before heading to Iguazu Falls National Park the next day.

Jasy hotel sign

The sign for the lovely Jasy Hotel, or as Ginsey likes to call it the “Jazzy”

balcony view

The view from our balcony

welcome drink

Our free welcome drink. Yes please.

Iguazu is also a name coming from Guarani, meaning “big water”. The falls certainly deliver on their name. We spent a whole day exploring the various trails and gaping at these amazing waterfalls.

Big water

Big water indeed

When you enter the park, you pass the visitor center on your way to the train, your main source of transport between the different sections of the park. You can take the train up to the main level or to the top of the line, where the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Yhroat) awaits.

Paraguay f yeah

Paraguay, F yeah. Flashing my Paraguayan ID just got me a sweet discount!

visitor center

The visitor center

train

Riding the train

We decided to start at the top and work our way down. The walk out to the Devil’s Throat is oddly peaceful. You walk on an elevated trail along a seemingly calm and expansive river. It’s not until you see mist clouds in the distance that you have any idea what’s ahead. The trail ends over the top of the horseshoe section of falls. Your mouth agape, you just stand in awe of the size, sound and wonder. Niagara has nothing on this. From the Devil’s Throat overlook you can glance across the falls to get a nice view of Brazil.

devil's throat trail

Jamie walking the Devil’s Throat trail

plush-crested Jay

There were lots of birds along the trail, including this plush-crested jay.

approaching

Approaching the Devil’s Throat, it becomes clear that things are about to get interesting.

devil's throat area

View out from the Devil’s Throat

Devil's Throat

The main section at the Devil’s Throat

brazil

My first look at Brazil. Hi there.

After gaping at the Devil’s Throat, we took the train down to the main level, where there are 2 waterfall hikes, the upper falls trail and lower falls trail. The upper trail, as its name suggests, takes you to the tops of some of the other falls in the park. The views continue to impress.

Upper trail sign

Entrance to the Upper Trail

vulture

More cool birds: black vulture

waterfalls

Waterfalls as far as the eye can see

more waterfalls

Gape away

We took a little break after the upper falls to grab some lunch. When we first got to the lunch area we saw these cute coati wandering around and thought they were charming. They became incredibly less charming the second we had food on our trays, at which point we were overrun by these sharp-clawed animals as we tried to eat. It was a rough lunch.

coati

Look how cute and innocent I am.

Richard and coati

Wait, you have food?

coati

Did I mention I have sharp claws and teeth and I’ll cut you for that tasty lunch?

After lunch we headed to the lower trail, where you get a little wet as you view the falls from below. The sheer number of falls that this park has really becomes clear as you see them from this trail.

Richard at the falls

Richard on a bridge on the lower trail

Looking down at the falls

Looking down at another freaking waterfall

dusky swifts

These amazing great dusky swifts were hanging out (literally) in the middle of this waterfall.

girls

Marilu, Jamie and me on top of this particular waterfall

more waterfalls

Even more waterfalls

Richard getting wet

Richard getting wet in front of one of the falls

From here, you can walk down to the boat dock and take the nautical boat tour. This 15-minute boat ride goes up to the falls in two different places, providing an impressive and mildly terrifying perspective. Richard, true to form, didn’t bring any rain gear and got pretty darn wet.

on the dock

Jamie, Marilu and Richard getting ready for the boat ride. Don’t worry prior to that recent accident, they haven’t had any deaths in 10 years.

on the boat

Two of my favorite people, ready to get wet!

on the boat

I’m on a boat!

death

I was pretty sure when we got close to this one that we were going to flip over and die.

photoshop richard

As you can see from this photo, Richard wasn’t actually there, we just sprayed him indiscriminately with water, then Photoshopped him onto the trip.

On cue upon disembarking the boat, the sun came out and rainbows appeared in front of our eyes. Iguazu for the win.

rainbow

Rainbows, proving a great day can, amazingly, get better.

Rainbow

Last view of the main falls area…pretty satisfying

We finished the day exploring the two other trails at the park, the green trail and the Macuco nature trail, which were a nice way to wind down after the shock and awe of the waterfall hikes.

southern lapwing

More birds! Southern lapwing

The park was beautiful, I had great company, and the falls were breathtaking. It was an incredible visit.

mate

Peace Corps Paraguay volunteers in front of a giant mate guampa. All is right in the world.

Plus, there were toucans (my FIRST wild toucan sighting).

Toucans

You know, no big deal, just the first time I’ve ever seen toucans in the wild! I may have just randomly yelled “TOUCANS!” and run off from the snack area/my friends when I saw these guys.

Check out all of my Iguazu pictures on Flickr.

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Exploring South America – Buenos Aires

16 Sep

I got some much-needed contact with civilization in August, as I made my first visit to Buenos Aires. I was thrilled to see crosswalks, quality public transit, beautiful public parks, great street art, and loads of cultural institutions. Plus, my friend Jamie came down from the States to meet up with me!

Jamie and me on streetcar

My awesome friend Jamie came to visit me! Here we are on a vintage streetcar. I’m excited (because I got to see Jamie, and ride in an awesome old streetcar).

Buenos Aires is a bustling city set on the estuary of the Río de la Plata and it’s full of history. The Plaza de Mayo marks the center of the downtown area. It houses the Casa Rosada, the president’s house, as well as the city’s cathedral and other striking buildings.

Casa Rosada

The Casa Rosada: All I could think of while looking at this building was Antonio Banderas sexily rolling his r’s singing “outside the Casa Rosada crying Eva Peron.”

Casa Rosada inside

The inside of the president’s house is pretty impressive.

Casa Rosada patio

This lovely patio is in the middle of the Casa Rosada.

Cathedral

The cathedral doesn’t look very cathedral-y from outside…

inside the cathedral

the inside on the other hand, exceeds expectations.

Behind the Casa Rosada lies the Puerto Madero area, which is home to a cute waterfront with lots of restaurants, as well as a Santiago Calatrava-designed bridge, the Puente de la Mujer.

Puerto Madero

A tallship in the Puerto Madero area

Puente de la Mujer

Calatrava’s “Puente de la Mujer” is the visual center of Puerto Madero

They also have a spiffy demonstration light rail, which I was excited to ride.

demonstration light rail

This demonstration light rail runs along the Puerto Madero neighborhood, with a total of 4 stops.

Amy on light rail

Me, all excited, riding the light rail. Note: clean, efficient, and generally awesome.

Bordering Puerto Madero is the Costanera Sur Ecological Park, a big open space along the river featuring wetlands, walking paths and lots of birds. This was a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon in the city.

Eco park

This trail in the Costanera Sur ecological park was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

river

The park borders the Rio de la Plata, which makes for nice shore views.

There are numerous other interesting buildings downtown, including Congress, malls, churches, and bookstores.

Congreso

The main entrance to the national congress building

Congreso

The whole building is even more impressive.

fancy mall

Galerias Pacifico, a super fancy mall with the nicest food court I’ve ever been to.

clocktower

Weird English clocktower in San Martin Plaza

church

Nuestra Señora de Belen church in San Telmo

Santo Domingo Church

Santo Domingo Church

Beautiful train station

Beautiful train station near San Martin Plaza

bookstore

Amazing Ateneo Gran Splendid bookstore, housed in a beautifully restored old theater

On Sundays there are street fairs in various parts of town, including a great antique market in San Telmo and an artisan’s fair in Recoleta.

street fair san telmo

San Telmo street fair

inside antique market

Stalls at the indoor antique and food market in San Telmo

bottles

Multi-colored bottles for sale in San Telmo

Recoleta fair

Street fair in front of the church in Recoleta

My friend Jamie and I rented an apartment in the Palermo neighborhood.

apartment

Our super-cute apartment in Palermo

This area is home to the city’s biggest public park, which houses the zoo, botanic garden, rose garden, Japanese garden and the planetarium.

elephant house

Crazy cool vintage elephant house at the Buenos Aires Zoo

botanic garden

Statue and greenhouse at the botanic garden

black-hooded parakeet

A black-hooded parakeet in the rose garden

rose garden

Bridge in the rose garden

japanese garden

Japanese Garden

Planetarium

The retro planetarium building

We had a great time exploring all that the park had to offer, including the ridiculous number of cats living at the botanic garden, and the surprisingly exceptional zoo.

cat

Cat #3

Cat

Cat #135

animal

I get to roam around the zoo…and Amy has no idea what I am.

monkey

No zoo is complete without an angry monkey on a monkey island

One morning we stopped at the Recoleta cemetery to explore, and it ended up being one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

cemetery

The cemetery entrance

crypts

A line of crypts

cemetery

Cool statue tops a crypt

statue

Another interesting statue

cat in graveyard

One of many graveyard cats

crypt

Cat strolling in front of an impressive crypt

glass

This dome has seen better days, but I think the wear and tear makes it more interesting.

There is a lovely church right outside the cemetery gates.

church

Nuestra Señora de Pilar church in Recoleta

It was also great to get to see art, both at museums around town, through public sculptures, and in the amazing street art scene.

malba

Malba art museum: modern art, I missed you.

Museo de Bellas Artes

Museo de Bellas Artes, home to some nice impressionist works

amy flower

Me with giant flower sculpture, known as Floralis Generica

flor

Floralis Generica

We ended up taking a graffiti tour that was the highlight of the trip. On the tour, we got to see some amazing pieces and meet a few of the artists.

street art

Some cool art from a big international street art festival

walls

Bikers in front of some cool walls

Ever

Mao art by Ever

street art

Commissioned work on a private building

fun building

A bright piece near the start of the tour

collective

Cool piece on a hostal in Palermo

stencil

A clever praying mantis stencil

I also got to indulge my public transit nerdiness with a thorough exploration of the Buenos Aires metro system, including a ride on a wooden 1930s metro car (A line!).

wooden car

Tagged wooden subway car on the A line

old car

Inside the old subway cars

We also got to ride in two historic streetcars which are run for free on Sundays by a cool group of train enthusiasts. I was totally geeking out with them during the rides.

streetcar

Cool streetcar from the last batch of new cars for the BA line (built from 1956 to 1960)

brussels car

A 1960s streetcar from Brussels running on the heritage line.

It was a great visit, and it was wonderful to finally see this impressive city and catch up with Jamie! See all the pictures from my visit on Flickr!