I’m thrilled to share that VirtualWayfarer just passed 1,000,000 views on YouTube (I’m so incredibly humbled and flattered – you are all amazing!). To celebrate, I decided to dive into my video archives, sort through the footage I’ve accrued over the past six years, pull out some favorite shots and to create a travel tribute video exploring and embracing snippets from some of the incredible adventures I’ve had over the past few years. The result is just under 15 minutes of some of my favorite HD footage and spans 19 countries.
To go with the footage I pulled up a chair, sat down, and attempted to explore the lessons I’ve learned from travel. The result is a heartfelt exploration of life, travel, and the magic of the road. In it, I attempt to share some of the more significant lessons I’ve learned from travel, offer some advice, and aspire to convey the sense of ever-increasing wonder I have at the richness of the world at large.
It’s a smudge long, but the feedback has been that the combination of the footage and some of the ideas expressed in the monologue make it well worth the watch. I hope you’ll take the time to give it a watch and then to share some of your own revelations or grand adventures. At the end of the day, travel and the opportunity to embrace the spirit of the moment is a wondrous thing.
Thank you all so, so, much for continuing to read (and watch!) VirtualWayfarer, offer your feedback, share your special moments, questions, and passion with me. I’m profoundly humbled and flattered by the messages you share with me and that you find my stories, photography, and video interesting.
Some have asked about the quality differences given clips were filmed over 6+ years – footage was shot on a mixture of devices. The earliest footage was filmed on an old Flip HD 720p handheld cam. Other footage was taken on a Vixia HF200. More recent footage was taken on a Canon 600D and a Canon 6D. Video didn’t load properly? View it here.
Located in the midst of cascading sheets of water and behind a wall of thundering noise Victoria Falls boasts a variety of beautiful rock formations. A visit to the falls is never quite the same as everything from the water level to the gentle but constant erosion of the stone that supports the falls is ever present and forever shifting. The falls have a reputation for majesty, for size, and for being truly memorable. Most rank them as the greatest falls in the world and a natural wonder of the world often just ahead of Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Niagara Falls in the United States. This reputation is well deserved and while I’m still torn on which is more captivating – Iguazu or Victoria – I know that Victoria ranks as one of the most spectacular natural wonders I’ve ever seen.
As I paused briefly, fighting a rainstorm of mist despite the day’s sunny weather, I noticed a face staring back at me. A water spirit, one that emerged from the stone’s cliff face casually stared back across the ravine at me. Can you see it? Its large moss covered nose, voluptuous lips with gently upturned smile. Its pronounced chin jutting out of the water. The face stood there, brought to life by the water coursing over/past it and gave me pause. This was a special moment in a wondrous place. A moment and place that the face demanded I take time to properly enjoy and reflect upon.
Victoria Falls is situated on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and is part of the Zambezi river. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is 355 feet at its highest point (drop). It is also 5,600 feet wide which is incredible to think about, but even more spectacular to see in person!
Have you been to Victoria Falls? Were you there in wet season or dry? What did you think!?
Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon IS 18-135mm lens.
Ack! Where’s this week’s Ask Alex? In light of my impending departure early next week I’ve opted to swap out this week’s Q&A with a quick update about what I’ll be doing for the next month and a half. Needless to say, I’m super excited about the upcoming trip though you probably haven’t heard me talk about it much here on the site.
On July 3rd I’ll be throwing an odd assortment of stuff into my backpack before setting off for London where I’ll be re-connecting with my folks. It has been just under a year since I left Arizona and moved to Denmark and this will be the first time we’ve been able to see each other since my move. After connecting in London we’ll jump a long flight on Emirates down to Dubai where we’ve scheduled an extended layover. After all, it would be a shame to pass through the famous (infamous?) city without pausing to see what all the talk is about and to take a peak at the Burj. After a bit over a day and a half in the city we’ll re-board our flight and continue the 2nd 7 hour leg (ouch) to Lusaka, Zambia. Wait, Zambia? Yep! Zambia!
Why Zambia? Well, as it turned out my brother and I decided to make it really easy on our folks. Out of the blue we both decided to head abroad for two years. For me it was a 2 year Masters Degree here in Denmark. For my little brother, David (pictured on the Elephant), it was a 2 year commission in the US Peace Corps. Happy but hard news for any parent, right? To make matters worse we both left within 3 days of each other….and haven’t been home since. As it turned out David got deployed to Zambia where he has been assigned as a health volunteer in the country’s far north, just outside of Mansa along the border with the Congo. For those of you who are about as familiar with Africa as I was before his deployment, it’s actually a pretty good gig. Unlike many of the countries in the region (here’s looking at you Congo) Zambia has experienced relatively competent management and been largely peaceful since the Brits pulled out a few decades ago.
Now that he’s a year into his 2 year commitment he finally has some time to explore. So, instead of letting him wander around aimlessly, we’ve decided to get the band back together and to make him play tour guide. After all, who better to introduce us to things like dehydrated caterpillars, termites, and other local culinary delights? We will be in Zambia between July 8th and August 3rd. During that time we’ll be visiting Victoria Falls (which is the last of the big three for me, I’ve already done Niagra and Iguazu), jumping into Botswana for a mini safari, seeing his village, wandering about aimlessly and doing a world class photo safari with Shenton Safaris and when I say world class, I mean it! It’s going to be our first time in Africa and I’m incredibly excited. It will also be my first trip that far off the traditional grid. About the most rural trip I’ve done previously was to parts of Guatemala, but we still had two niceties which will be lacking during parts of the Zambia leg of our trip – running water and electricity. Oh, and flushing toilets. I’m already practicing my squats. No small feat for my 6’4″ (193), 200 pound build. I’ve already decided I need to do FAR more yoga.
On August 2nd we’ll be forced to undergo a tear-filled goodbye as we leave David behind and let him get back to work. The folks and I will just be getting warmed up, however, as we’ll head straight from Zambia to Prague, across to Berlin and then up to Edinburgh by the 11th of August. Once there I’ve signed the folks up for a 6-day backpacker themed tour which will see the three of us in a small 16 person bus wandering our way through the Scottish Highlands, over to the Isle of Skye (with a stop at the Old Man of Storr), past a few ancient standing stones, and then up and across to the outer Hebrideas to explore the Isles of Harris and Lewis. Don’t worry, we’ll likely also pause at the Tullibardine Distillery for a wee bit of Scotch.
By August 20th I’ll be back in Copenhagen and furiously working on getting photos and posts written to share the adventure with you all. In the meantime, however, I’ll be posting updates where possible to the VirtualWayfarer Facebook Page and my twitter account. I’ve also scheduled a number of fantastic posts about Italy and Turkey to keep you busy in the meantime! You can also learn more about what my brother is doing in Africa and his past adventures and observations on his blog DavidBerger.net.
It’s going to be quite the adventure and a startling contrast between incredible cultures and completely opposite climates. I can’t wait and look forward to sharing it with you all! Also, keep in mind that later this year (in October), I’ll be following this trip up with another to Churchill, Manitoba to partake in a 3 day polar bear watching tundra excursion thanks to the Canadian Tourism Board.
Lot of amazing adventures and stories to share with you over the following few months. As always, I treasure your feedback and the time you take to following the blog. If you have a special request, question or some advice to share please don’t hesitate to let me know!
When I set out to explore Argentina over the course of a 21 day trip in December 2010 I was drawn by the stories I had heard of Buenos Aires. Stories of passion, romance, great food and tango dancing so sensual it would leave you with goose bumps. I expected Buenos Aires to be the highlight of my trip, and the place I’d fall in love with during my visit. The embarrassing truth is that the time I set aside for exploring the rest of the country was done almost as an after thought – an added bonus if you will.
Wow was I wrong. While Buenos Aires is an incredible city, the Argentina I fell in love with is the Argentina I experienced in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, and Misiones. These regions feature some of the most incredible scenery I’ve seen anywhere on the globe, but don’t take my word for it – here’s footage I shot featuring four of my favorite destinations:
1. Iguazu Falls (Misiones)
This somewhat difficult to reach series of falls is often ranked as the 2nd most impressive waterfall in the world just behind Victoria Falls in Africa. The falls are one of the few “must visit in your lifetime” destinations I suggest to everyone. As an added bonus, if you get lucky it’s sometimes possible to swim on a small beach along San Martin island. Cool right?
2. El Chalten & Mt. Fitz Roy (Patagonia)
The area around El Chalten is stunning. The colors of the rocks in the mountains give off rich colors while seeming to glow. The rock formations are mind boggling and the combination of exotically colored river water, glaciers, and rugged peaks will leave you awed.
3. Perito Moreno Glacier (Patagonia)
This massive glacier is located just a few miles outside of El Calafate. The clean whites and deep rich blues of this glacier are captivating. The towering mountains on either side humbling. The flowers in bloom and waterfalls flowing down and into the glacier amazing. When you visit, make sure to do a hike out onto the glacier. You won’t be disappointed!
4. The Beagle Channel (Tierra del Fuego)
Accessed through Ushuaia, the world’s most southern city and gateway to Antarctica, this video features a day trip out to a small island that serves as home to more than 4,000 penguins from two species. It also highlights spring in one of the world’s most southern locales.
Over the last decade Argentina has gone from quiet tourist destination to one of the world’s most sought after. With world famous steaks, an absolutely delightful wine industry, and incredibly captivating Argentine Tango the country has stolen the hearts and minds of 20-40 something adventurers throughout the world. I have to admit, I wasn’t any different. Hailed as the Paris of South America Buenos Aires offers a rich cultural experience and serves as the main draw for aspiring visitors. In reality, most of the visitors I met in Buenos Aires intended to spend almost all of their time in the city chasing great dances, food, and drink. I was initially drawn to Argentina by those three factors and in the early stages of my trip planning, envisioned myself spending nearly all of my 21 days in Buenos Aires learning Argentina tango, feasting on cheap meals, and finding grand adventures late into the morning. If I had I would have never truly experienced Argentina and would have made an egregious mistake.
Luckily, as I researched the country in greater depth I had several close friends suggest that I leave the city to explore some of Argentina’s natural beauty. Driven in no small part by the simple desire to get as far south as possible, I researched the southern Andes and was captivated by Tierra del Fuego, and the world’s southernmost city – Ushuaia. As my research unfolded I quickly realized that Argentina is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders and offers natural landscapes and terrain that can easily give New Zealand a run for its money.
The incredible thing about Argentina is that it allowed me to go from hiking out to the middle of a glacier and sitting with thousands of penguins on a pebble beach to lazily swimming at the base of one of the world’s most incredible waterfalls situated in the midst of a massive, sprawling jungle filled with vibrantly colored toucans and other exotic wildlife. I feasted on delicious gas fed steak, mouth watering seafood, and split lamb cooked over an open fire, all washed down with fantastic wines while relaxing after watching a heart stirring Tango. In short. I fell in love with a country I merely expected to enjoy. Sounds good right? Ready to go? Before you do here are a few of the surprises I ran into.
The Cost – One of the first things you hear when listening to people talk about Argentina is how cheap it is. I say bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that its an incredibly expensive country, but its also not an incredibly cheap one. With massive inflation over the last decade and an incredible surge in the tourism industry prices in all of the places you’ll probably be visiting as a tourist, even an off-the-beaten-path backpacker will still be fairly expensive. Believe it or not Argentina was my most expensive trip to date, yes, even more so than my recent 18 day trip through Europe and Scandinavia. In no small part, that was due to airfare, the size of the country and the pace at which I was traveling but it also had a lot to do with the general cost of, well, everything.
Street Food – I love street food. Yeah, that stuff that comes out of a cart, people are afraid will kill them, and which usually tastes absolutely delicious all for dirt cheap. I had mental images of incredible street side vendors selling mouth watering food lining Buenos Aires’ grand avenues. Unfortunately, they don’t exist. Apparently they’re banned from operating in the city (possibly the entire country). I was incredibly disappointed. On the upside, the classic Argentine grills/holes in the wall do exist, typically boasting a large open faced grill covered in the meat(s) and cut(s) of the day.
Steaks – Argentinian steak especially “Bife de Chorizo” really is as good as everyone makes it out to be. However, to really find a good steak you’re going to need to hunt for it and take care in how you order it. I ate a LOT of steak during my trip but unfortunately I didn’t figure out how to order it until about half way in. In your standard cafe or low-mid range restaurant in Buenos Aires they will consistently do two things. Under salt, and over cook. When you order make sure that you specify that you want it medium-rare or pink, they probably wont ask and the default is a great way to waste an even better steak. It also never hurts to make sure the steak is properly salted to really bring out the flavor. Also, don’t assume that price means anything. Some of the best steaks I had were also some of the cheapest. Similarly some of the worst were the most expensive. Also, the stories of $3 steaks? They’re a lie. Expect to pay at least $7 and usually closer to $12/meal for a decent steak in any of the main cities.
Spices – Sure, its a bit dense of me but I honestly assumed all of Latin/South America was powered by strong spices with a passion for spicy food. Not Argentina. In practice they avoid anything spicy like the plague.Even the various spiced sauces they serve with meats and meals is a bland, but flavorful mixture of spices and ground peppers without any bite or zing.
Buses – I’m a train guy. To say that I didn’t like traveling by bus before Argentina is an understatement. That said, you don’t take the trains in Argentina. It took me a long time and a lot of conversations to finally be dissuaded, but it’s the simple truth of the matter. You fly, take a bus, a ferry or a taxi. That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you spend a little extra for an upgrade and skip the chicken buses, the buses are actually fantastic. They are clean, modern, surprisingly fast, and if you invested in a cheap upgrade you’ll find great food service and an experience that rivals a commuter 1st class on an airline. Those 17 and 26 hour bus rides you hear about? They’re not a bundle of fun, but they’re not nearly as dreadful as you might imagine.
Distance – While this can’t quite be considered a real surprise, it bears repeating. Argentina is large. Very large. Massive in fact and getting around isn’t the worlds easiest (or hardest) task. The nation is also dominated by two major airlines and lacks any major budget airline presence. So, you’re either left with long-leg, sometimes multi-day bus rides or somewhat expensive flights. It sucks. It’s also totally worth it.
Tours & Trips – There’s a lot in Argentina you can do on your own as a traveler. There’s also a lot that you can’t or really just shouldn’t. For some of you jumping on a guided tour of something may be par for the course, for others it may be the last thing you want to do. Especially if that tour is relatively expensive ($50-$200 USD). Do your research, but when it comes down to it, if you’re doing Argentina you need to bite the bullet and do it. Two of my favorite experiences on the trip were my Penguin adventure and guided hike to the center of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Neither was something I could have done on my own, and both were well worth their near budget-busting price points. I spent the extra $50 to do the on-glacier hike, which was a full $130 more than just visiting the national park’s boardwalk across the bay. It was worth it. It was incredible. Similarly, the extra money I spent for a guided tour out to an island with 4,000 penguins on it. It was slightly more expensive. It was guided. It was the only one that landed on the island and gave us an hour 2 feet away from the Penguins. They only allow 40 people on the island a day. Of the places that I visited where I didn’t need a guide and can be done freestyle I strongly suggest doing Tierra del Fuego National Park, the hikes around El Chalten, and Iguazu Falls.
Language – One thing that took me by slight surprise was how difficult it was to speak English in Argentina. Which is not to say that it was difficult to get around, only that it is fairly common that most Argentinians only speak limited English or none at all. While this can be a slight challenge in taxi-cabs and elsewhere, I never found it to be anything more slightly surprising. For those more familiar with traveling in parts of Mexico or Europe, be aware that you may have to do a little more work to ask questions, seek directions, or engage in conversations. Luckily the Argentinians are delight, friendly and welcoming people.
Must See Destinations
While I feel a bit guilty in constructing this list I have to admit that there wasn’t a single stop along my trip which I would have skipped or shortened. For the specifics of each stop along the way I encourage you (if you haven’t already) to read my blog posts on that leg of the trip. You’ll note that Buenos Aires is NOT at the top of my list despite being a required starting point for any trip through Argentina. More on this later.
Iguazu Falls – This is hands down one of the most, if not the most, spectacular place I’ve ever been. I’m a huge waterfall guy and these falls did absolutely nothing to disappoint. Even if your skeptical about major tourist destinations, this will impress, awe and amaze. It’s a bit hard to get to but well worth the effort.
Perito Moreno Glacier – The Andes are incredible, Glaciers are spectacular and the Perito Moreno Glacier combines the best of both. Accessed through El Calafate this was an amazing experience. Don’t just settle for seeing the glacier though, make sure you book a tour and hike it as well.
Tierra del Fuego – There’s something magical and exciting about being as far south as you can go without heading to Antarctica. The landscape is beautiful, the weather was energizing, and the chance to see and spend time with wild penguins was fantastic. While not as majestic as other National Parks in the area it’s a great starting point (do it first) and I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Also, as the base for most Antarctica trips, be prepared to want to stow away.
Buenos Aires – A great city, especially for those who love a European influenced feel and spirit. While the city has some historical draws the main things to see are cultural and revolve around tango performances, social dancing, food, and night life. The city never sleeps and its impossible to experience both the day and night life simultaneously. Set aside a few days to focus exclusively on one, then on the other.
El Chalten – Located just north of El Calafate the hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy is stunning. If you want nature, awe inspiring grandeur and mountains that look like they’ve been photoshopped this is a must. Make sure to hike, and to set aside some extra time in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
I’m sure a lot of other travelers who have been to BA will disagree, but I’ve got to beat up on the city a bit. Buenos Aires was one of my most heavily anticipated destinations. It was also the one disappointment on my trip, though I hesitate to say that as it was still delightful and I’d go back in a heartbeat. The people I met in BA were incredible, the dancing I did and saw was absolutely some of the best in the world, and the food I found was great. The night life in BA is also some of the best you’ll find anywhere. The real disappointment for me was the city itself. La Boca was dirty and seemed more like a cheesy ride at Disneyland. People often compare BA to the Paris of the Americas. I disagree. I wasn’t overly impressed and found it to be more like a dirty, run down version of Madrid than anything. The old districts and the San Telmo market are great, but they’re nothing special. In truth, that’s how I felt about the majority of the city. The main architectural and historical tourist draws are interesting, if nothing to write home about. So, my final verdict? It’s a great city with a lot to offer, the safety and security concerns are over stated, but so-too is the city’s character and personality. Go instead for the food, the people, the dance, and the people’s culture.
Argentina is spectacular. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re a person drawn to natural beauty, rich culture, or food you need to put Argentina at the top of your list. The language barrier can be more pronounced than in some other areas, but its never insurmountable and always worth it. I’d go back in a heartbeat and know that for as much as I fit into my brief trip, there’s much, much more which I missed. I highly encourage you to peruse my videos, photos and previous posts documenting my time in Argentina and invite you to ask any question you may have. Have an amazing trip and enjoy the adventure!
After a delightful evening filled with relaxation, socialization and an absolutely delicious Argentinian steak it was time to decide what my second full day in Puerto de Iguazu would consist of. I debated a return to the falls and explored my options for a quick visit to he Brazilian side. There is a $140 visa fee for entrance into Brazil, in addition to a 1-2 day wait. Both unwilling to spend the $140 for a 1 day visit and lacking the time to wait for the visa I explored rumors that it was possible to visit the Brazilian side of the falls without a visa if you took an organized tour.
Unfortunately, as with most travel rumors they turned out to not only be false, but led to a short conversation with a very annoyed tour salesman. Unwilling to experiment with the second option I’d heard mentioned – trying to sneak or bribe my way across – I turned my attentions towards other options. There was the usual zipline option which didn’t strike me as overly appealing or cost effective and waterfall/cliff repelling adventure tour which looked interesting but was sold out. Frustrated by my limited options I asked the front desk girl for suggestions – her response? The animal rescue located just outside of town.
With my interest piqued I quickly looked through the brochure, asked a few questions and then prepared to catch one of the local buses out of town. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was eager to see local wild life above and beyond the butterflies, coati, large lizards, cows and horses I’d encountered so far. After all, what’s the value of a trip to the jungle if you don’t see at least one Monkey or Toucan?
The Guira Oga Center is located a few minutes outside of Puerto de Iguazu and stretches across a large, sprawling green area of mixed jungle, raised boardwalks, small buildings, rookeries and spacious cages. I paid my $30AR (about $7 USD) and settle into a chair near a lazy cat content to lounge by the gift shop and completely oblivious to anything occurring around him. Before long another tourist showed up and shortly after that a large tractor rumbled out of the jungle. The tractor had a decent sized open air trailer behind it which was ideal for a tour and reminded me of adventurous trips to the pumpkin patch as a kid.
As the tractor wound back through the jungle our guide explained a bit about the Bird Rehabilitation center and how it had also added several mammals. He talked about the approach they take, where their animals come from, and which they’re able to re-introduce into the wild. He informed us that the tour would include visits to Coatis, Toco Toucans, Guans, Turquoise-fronted Parrots, White-eyed Parakeets, Scaly-headed Parrots, Macaws, general small and medium sized birds, Plumbeous Kites, Peregrine falcons, Hawks, Stygian Owls, Barn Owls, Tropical Screech Owls, several monkeys and an alligator.
The birds were an incredible mixture of vibrant and muted colors, large birds, small birds, vocal birds and silent birds. Some were capable of flight and others mirrored modern domestic chickens preferring quick hops and glides over long-duration flights. The cages were mostly open wire with raised wooden boardwalks running beside them – each isolated by vines and swaths of jungle like small bungalows at a fine resort. Our guide was careful to pause periodically to remind us to watch our fingers and to keep them out of the cages.
At one point we paused outside of large windows which offered a view into the incubator rooms where they’re protecting, and hatching some of the rarer and more endangered inhabitants offspring. Some will go to Zoos and similar places, but most will be groomed for introduction into the wild. In addition to the incubators there were also other areas where food was being raised and bread for the carnivorous birds.
Some of the most impressive birds at the rescue were the eagles and falcons. Several were tied up on perches in an open area where they were able to stretch their wings, screech loudly, and stare at us with inquisitive eyes. The main eagles were truly massive. The size of a medium-sized dog, their wingspans were massive and they dwarfed their handlers as they carried them in and out of the common space.
As we wound our way towards the end of the tour we paused at a small construction area where the guide informed us that they were building an enclosure for several big cats (jaguars or leopards I can’t recall). So, if you get the chance to visit sometime soon, there’s a good chance there will be a lot more to see than beautiful birds and gorgeous butterflies.
Guira Oga Center was an absolute delight to visit. What they’re doing there is fantastic. The birds were gorgeous and the way the facility is laid out and the tour is given is delightful. If you find yourself with a spare hour or two in Puerto Iguazu, definitely don’t miss it.
Like the photos in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11, check out the Canon G12 now on Amazon.
My legs pumped furiously. The burn forced a slight grimace. Mossy step after mossy step I launched my 6’4″ 200 pound frame up the narrow staircase. Still damp from my swim in the falls and in a subtle supplication to the region’s tropic environment, I’d long since sacrificed my t-shirt. My jeans were darker around my waist, revealing where I’d lazily pulled them on over my still-wet boxer briefs. Pausing briefly to look up and take stock of my location, I quickly realized I was nearing the top of the island – the Isla de San Martin. A gorgeous spire of land that stands resolute against the falls. Located smack dab in the center of the river, the one-time peninsula has gradually been overwhelmed leaving a small island with steep cliff faces, a wealth of local wildlife, and incredible views of the falls.
As I reached the top and the narrow stairs gave way to a wider path, I found my attention swinging sharply to my right as a rustle in the underbrush startled me to alertness. As I hopped back slightly a large lizard about the same size as a fully grown iguana slowly stalked its way out of the underbrush. Harmless (to the best of my knowledge) I still kept my distance, quickly reaching for my camera and video equipment. All the while eyes locked with the creatures armored scaly flesh and piercing dark eyes. Tongue periodically flicking out, it carefully stalked across the path before being startled in turn by a passing tourist, at which point it launched itself forward and into the brush.
What had started as a perfectly cloudless day had now evolved into something far more picturesque. Still sweltering hot with leave-you-drenched humidity, puffy made-for-Hollywood clouds had formed up and drifted in. I found myself facing a fork in the road. Two paths, each to different sides of the island and different views of the falls.
With a chuckle at the decision facing me I quickly started to meander happily along the path to the right with a gentle hum on my lips and a skip to my step. My initial fears had been proven completely unfounded. This truly was a natural wonder of the world and a destination that I’d already realized would go down as one of my favorite experiences to date.
As the jungle gave way to bushes, small pools, and grassy areas it was obvious I had entered the more recently cut/oft flooded area of the island. I could hear – almost feel – the roar of the falls and found my glasses constantly misted by the water in the air.
Iguazu’s charm isn’t just that it’s one of the largest waterfalls in the world. It’s the contrast of stunning rich green moss and vegetation cut by vibrant white falls all set against incredibly blue skies. In some areas large clumps of moss and flower-covered stone appear to hover in space, suspended by white pillars of water.
The view from the lookout was incredible. Located immediately next to and over parts of one of the major falls the sound was thunderous, the spray from the falls invigorating, and the plant life in bloom. All the while, inexplicably, a small army of gorgeously colored butterflies survived the humid river air and waterfall spray, to flutter in and around my head.
After a few minutes spent in consideration and perhaps relaxed meditation I struck back to the center of the island where I came across the most peculiar of wild birds. Mostly black, the little creature had two vibrantly colored blue eyebrows which left it looking more like a comedian than avian predator. I slowly stalked the strange creature pausing to take several photos and enjoy its odd coloring before striking down the island’s second path.
The route wound me along the opposite side of the island and gave me a view of the Brazilian side of the falls, as well as my first taste of what I’d later come to learn was fondly called the Devil’s Throat. As I walked I paused, once again, to capture an incredible combination of sights. A large vulture was resting in one of the branches which left a view of the falls perfectly framed. All the while one of the local tour boats – boats like the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls – rushed at, and into one of the smaller falls before being driven back by the force of the water. Though obviously modern, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d been transported back through time to a distant, wild, and undiscovered jungle. Places such as this must have served as ample inspiration for authors writing great romanticized texts like the Lost World.
As I wound back down, caught the small ferry back to the mainland and began my trek back up towards the top of the main falls I found the path full of wonderful delights. Small places that demand a brief pause, some to enjoy the brightly colored flowers, lazy fluttering of butterflies, and others a beautifully framed view of the falls.
The path back towards the top of the falls offered fantastic close-up views of the falls. The amount of water, and the sheer power of the falls themselves is staggering. It left me feeling small, insignificant, and fragile.
One of the things that makes the falls so gorgeous is the different types of falls present. Some are mighty chutes, others are long thin curtains, yet others are tiny streamers spitting out tiny trails of water.
Growing a bit tired from my hike and having already burned through my entire bottle of water I was thrilled to stumble across a small store and food stand sandwiched back and away from the falls. For a relatively reasonable price I was able to buy a mediocre sandwich, new bottle of water, and small soda. As I ravenously set upon my sandwich I quickly discovered a new friend – an odd grasshopper/cricket with incredibly long legs and antenna. As we enjoyed brunch together another of the area’s local creatures, a Coati, emerged from the underbrush and began to make his rounds. The raccoon-like creatures are the size of a mid-sized dog or large cat, have long noses, large tails and tend to be particularly friendly, though I avoided trying to give him a scratch on the head.
Re-fueled and ready to renew my adventure I struck out along the path that offered an incredible look out over/along the leading face of the falls. Viewed from the top, rather than the middle or bottom, it really dawned on me just how expansive the falls were and how much water was passing over them.
My next destination was the fall’s main cutting edge – the Devil’s Throat. The path to it was a small adventure in and of itself. A raised metal walkway which cut out and across the massive shallow-water river. The walk spanned a number of small islands, was mostly raised over the water, and lasted some 5-10 minutes. The small islands along the route (most the size of a small house) were full of gorgeous butterflies, and the water offered the periodic sight of a large catfish or turtle lazily relaxing in the gentle current.
As I approached the throat I could hear it roar, and see a small plume of mist. Obscured by the smooth curvature of the water’s forward face as it gently bent before breaking completely into a churning cauldron the true size of the Devil’s Throat was invisible until I got closer.
A giant V, there is a semi-dry island which serves as the secure base for the raised platform which stretches along one side of Devil’s Throat offering otherwise incredible views of the falls.
The thunder of the falls made conversation difficult as I paused to talk to several other travelers. The view out over the falls was spectacular. With thick mist obscuring everything down river, the whole area was turned into a magical wonderland. Decorated by rainbows, birds were diving in and out of the mists. It left me feeling as though I was floating in a magical city.
As spectacular as the rest of the falls were, I think the most magical part of Iguazu was the view out over Devil’s Throat. The way the water was ejected out off of moss and grass covered cliffs into the mists, with bottom in sight left me feeling as though I was on one of the floating islands from the recent blockbuster Avatar, or the magical Cloud City in Star Wars. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was….dare I say it? Mist-ical.
My state of awe seemed to slow time and left me enjoying the sheer wonder of the falls for what may have been a few minutes, but was more than likely closer to half an hour. Even now, several months later, as I think back to that moment I can close my eyes and feel a sense of awe wash over me. Aware that I was burning, hungry, and exhausted I eventually tore myself away from the falls, made the walk back to the small in-park shuttle train, and then found the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.
The falls at Iguazu are one of those places that I hope everyone will visit in their lifetime. The weather can be problematic, the route to get there expensive and time consuming, but I can say with complete confidence that it’s all worth it. Travel always touches us and leaves us changed. There are some places, however, that go beyond that and captivate our hearts. For me, Iguazu Falls was one such place.
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After a relaxing day spent at the Marco Polo Backpacker’s Hostel in the town of Puerto Iguazu (located immediately across from the bus station) I set out to explore Iguazu Falls. As I bought my bus fare (transportation/price info here) and hopped on the shuttle to the falls, I did so with slight trepidation.
I say trepidation because, while hailed as a natural wonder of the world, I feared disappointment. In the past my experience with famous destinations with grand reputations has been mixed. Which is not to say that places like Knossos and Chichen Itza aren’t incredible – they are – but often they’re so sterile, over stabilized, full of tacky tourist crap and – I don’t know – dare I say bland? That I often leave slightly disappointed. For example: Was Chichen Itza impressive? Yes. Does it have the incredible pyramids, wild and untamed essence, and majesty of nearby Tikal? No.
I’m a huge waterfall guy and my expectations for Iguazu were every bit as expansive as the famed falls. Luckily, despite my initial concerns and hesitation I can honestly say that Iguazu was one of the most spectacular, incredible, and breath taking things I’ve ever visited. It was worth the 36 hour round trip bus ride from Buenos Aires and in truth, would have been worth the entire trip in and of itself, even if I hadn’t managed to see other parts of Argentina. It really is that magnificent. If you’re like me and are a bit skeptical about visiting, bury your skepticism and book a ticket immediately. It’s worth it.
The 15 minute bus ride out to the falls was on a small bus packed with a mixture of sweaty locals and tourists alike. As we bounced along the uneven paved streets I overheard the two girls next to me speaking in Aussie English. Before long we’d struck up a conversation, and exchanged all of the usual questions and answers. As we pulled into the roundabout in front of the visitor’s center and disembarked we decided to team up and explore the park together.
I had read online that the small island of San Martin was incredible, only accessible by a boat/shuttle, and was subject to water levels and flow. The information I’d read suggested starting with it, as the water levels tended to rise later in the afternoon. It didn’t take much to convince the girls to head for the island, and with maps in hand we made our way along small paths, which cut through the thick jungle vegetation before giving way to raised metal boardwalks.
The metal boardwalks were well done. Unobtrusive natural metal colors and made of open wire and mesh, they blended into the scenery without leaving ugly scars across the jungle floor. They also allowed us to effortlessly pass over, beside, and around large waterfalls and uneven jungle terrain.
While the main falls are the primary draw for any visitor, it’s important to note that the whole region is full of small falls tracing their way down towards the river. Some of these more intimate falls, while smaller, offer their own natural beauty and a more delicate sense of power.
As we slowly traced our way down towards the river we wound along metal walkways, stone stairways, and small cliff-side paths. We found ourselves pausing regularly to take in a particularly elegant vantage point, wild life, or to pause for a quick photo op. At one point one of the numerous butterflies in the area landed on one of the girls mid step, in the midst of one of the stairways. Each new step seemed to reveal more and more of Iguazu’s magic.
Before long we reached the “dock” area. Which consisted mostly of two small metal docks and some old tires. From the area, there were two lines. One for the small ferry which would take us out to the island in the middle of the river and a second which served as the boarding and prep station for the waterfall excursion boats. These high power speedboats offered a similar service to the Maid of the Mist at Niagara falls and would take eager passengers up into the falls outer mists before, drenching their passengers, before allowing the water to push them back down, and out towards saftey.
To our delight, once we reached the Isla San Martin we discovered a small sandy beach had been cordoned off and made available as a beach. Eager for the opportunity to fully experience the falls and escape from the steamy-hot summer day the girls and I quickly agreed on quick stopover, before we climbed the massive staircase to the main part of the island. As the girls did their best to change into their swimsuits in as subtle a fashion as possible, I kicked myself for not wearing my swimsuit, stripped down to my boxer-briefs and made a B-line for the water. It was warm, with a strong-but manageable current and made the entire visit and experience that much more real. As the water bombarded my senses with a different set of stimuli it shaped and re-crafted my relationship with the falls. As odd as that may sound – I think my experience would have been every bit as wonderful, but fundamentally different without the chance to actually swim in the river and to connect with the falls in a more tactile way.
After a relaxing break in the falls/river the girls realized more time had passed then they had expected and after a quick exchange of information they re-boarded the ferry and made their way back towards their scheduled boat tour. Sad to see them go, but glad to have had the company for the first part of my time in the falls I turned my sights to the long, steep stairway which would take me up the side of the Island’s cliff face and eventually lead me to one of the islands two incredible viewing areas.