Excited to start the trip to the falls today, we shoveled down a few more (un)healthy servings of eggs and headed to the bus station. We found out the day before that buses every 20 minutes so we knew we’d have very little wait at any time of day. When we got to the station everything was running smoothly and in about 10 minutes we had started our 40 minute bus ride to the Falls. When we got to the Falls we grabbed tickets and headed into the park.
To start we headed to an overlook next to the main falls to see the full power in action. This required us to catch a train and naturally it pulled out just as we got to the station. Luckily it’s a slow train taking a circuitous route for the first stop and we were able to walk to the next station before it left and off we went to the main falls. From the station, there was a 2/3 mile raised metal bridge over the river. There has been a drought so the river level was a bit low and the water flow for much of the walk was very gentle. This allowed us to be able to see and even identify a number of fish and even a turtle along our walk to and from the falls.
At the end of the pathway, the bridge opened up to an amazing view of the main falls. We were at the top of the falls looking down and the roar was quite loud. We stayed there for quite a while, marveling at the various parts of the falls. It was incredible to watch the water go over the edge, turn into streams and then into vapor that hits the bottom with such force to send up a constant cloud of mist. It was raining off and on for most of the day but here the drops were raining up instead of down. We probably could have stayed here for the rest of the day but we had other views to see.
After this trip, we rode back and had some lunch. As is typical of parks, the lunch was quite expensive so we opted for the cheap fast food and Dick and Karen got their first hint of just how prevalent ham and mozzarella are down here. We got hamburgers and they came with a slice of ham and mozzarella (not advertised). After watching the painted jays get their fill off leftovers outside and finishing our own plates we headed on to other views.
Unfortunately, though the park closes at 6 many of the trails, trains and boats, close earlier. We had seen some of the closing warnings but not all of them and the trail that was highest on Karen’s list was already closed. This was the only trail that boasted a chance to see monkeys and tucans and while that might seem a little hokey, I would’ve really like to see a tucan outside of a zoo. We chose another trail and set off down the path to see what we could see.
The path we chose afforded many panoramic views of the larger falls and close ups of several lesser falls. It was a beautiful sight and I’m very glad we took the opportunity to go. When we hit the end of the last trail we weren’t ready to leave and Dick and Karen said they would meet us at the exit after a trip through the gift shops. When we separated ourselves from the waterfall we managed to go back up the wrong trail but finally found our way out. After meeting up with Dick and Karen we headed home on the bus exhausted from another awesome day.
As we disembarked at the bus station, the rain stopped and the clouds opened just a bit for an incredible rainbow that you could follow all the way across the arc. And just in case we hadn’t had enough beauty for one day as we left the bus station walking back to the hotel a vibrant sunset painted the sky.
For anyone considering a trip to the falls, I would definitely recommend going. Don’t let the water level at the falls deter you. When we were there the water level was very low and it was still quite impressive. You could see the wear of constant water flow on all the igneous rock. That said, I saw some recent pictures and it looks like some rains increased the level and they’re flowing quite nicely right now. Either way take the trip!
Alright, I recounted our adventures traveling to and from Iguazu but I didn’t mention anything about our time there. I guess I owe a post about that adventure. The first day we were there Randi and I were absolutely exhausted from the three-day tournament we had just finished so we took it easy. We had a relaxing morning and I got a little overly excited when the hotel had scrambled eggs for breakfast (previous hotels only had bread, ham and cheese). After a few portions of eggs, we obtained a map from the front desk and explored the town around our hotel.
We found we were set back from the downtown so we aimed ourselves to the city center and struck out. (To call it a downtown, might give you the wrong impression. Here’s a map of the area, decide for yourself.) We were searching for three things: a restaurant for dinner (it was Dick and Karen’s [Randi’s parents’] anniversary), the bus terminal to get to the falls and a place where we would have views of Brazil and Paraguay at the same time. The bus station was a quick find and we also found a grocery store and a bank as bonuses along the way. The town was pretty quite, though apparently we got there just as lots of people were leaving. The week before was Semana Santa, an Easter holiday. Many people take the whole week off and Argentina in particular had national holidays Monday and Friday. The town was breathing a collective sigh of relief as we ambled through. We found the bus station with a schedule and fares for the next day and moved on. Karen stopped in a local bookstore and found a guide to the local flora and fauna. We spent the remainder of the trip trying to check off as many species as possible.
We then headed towards the river. As we followed the winding road to the river’s edge, we were greeted by wonderful views and some surprisingly manicured landscaping. As we walked down the hill we noticed flood markers up to 40 meters above normal levels. That would be a pretty incredible flooding but their presence indicates it’s happened in the past and explains why there’s not much in the way of buildings at this level. The road continued around in a circle and as we walked up the hill we found a great restaurant overlooking the river for dinner that night. At the top of the hill, we arrived at Hito Tres Fronteras. This is a landmark overlooking a “T” in the river where each shore is a different country. From here you can see both Brazil and Paraguay.
Perhaps the result of some high water in days gone by.
A monument at the Hito Tres Fronteras. Standing in any one country you can see the other two. If you were really ambitious you could swim out into the river and float in all three at once.
This whole trip only took a few hours but Randi and I were thoroughly exhausted at this point and after inhaling some lunch we collapsed in our hotel room for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening, we all went out to dinner overlooking the river. The food was great, we had a nice bottle of wine and enjoyed being able to share in the celebration of a 30 year milestone!
With full bellies and somehow exhaustion from the day even after long afternoon naps, we returned to the hotel and to our rooms. Tomorrow was going to be a big day and we were all excited to see the falls!
After the tournament, Randi and I took a trip with her parents to Iguazu Falls. We took a taxi straight from the fields to the airport. After Randi prompted the driver, I had a great conversation with him for the 30 minute ride to the airport. We talked about everything from Ultimate, to the global recession’s affect on the US, to the area we were driving through and the history of it. It turned out he was a long distance cyclist; he competed in a number of century races. As we approached the airport, he also told us that the entire area the airport is on was filled in from the river. It was a really interesting cab ride and a great start to the trip!
After getting to the airport, we checked in quickly and got through security line very quickly. Security here was about like pre-9/11 levels in the US. It was nice to be in a place where people aren’t subject to so much Security Theatre. When we boarded the plane there were no boarding zones everyone just makes lines up and files in. Since there’s no charge for checking a bag you don’t find people battling for overhead compartments with their overstuffed bags. Although we boarded about 10 minutes before departure, everyone was comfortably seated and we pulled back from the gate right on time. Randi and I slept through the whole trip but apparently for the quick 1:45 minute flight they handed out little meal boxes with a sandwich and some snacks. The flight on the way back from Iguazu, connected in Buenos Aires on the way to Montevideo. Most of the travel was a very similar experience with the quick, efficient security lines and boarding.
We had one little hiccup on the way home. We got in the wrong security line in Buenos Aires. A little explanation is due. There are twoairports in Buenos Aires and we flew through the small one, serving mostly regional flights. There are 14 gates with one line for 1-12 and another for 13-14. There’s no signage that we saw saying what the difference is and flights don’t get gate assignments until they are close to boarding. So, when we saw a long line for 1-12 we just followed the crowd. That’s also the line we went through on the way to Iguazu so it was familiar if quite a bit longer. Even with over 150 people ahead of us in line (Dick counted), it only took about 15 minutes to make it to the front. Once there, the ticket checker let us know that since we were taking an international flight we would be leaving out of 13-14. Oops. There was absolutely no line through customs on the other side of the airport and Buquebus had already filled out our exit paperwork so Randi and I quickly made it through the checkpoint. Followed closely by her parents, we navigated the duty free shop and waited for the last leg of our journey. Again the plane boarded in about 10 minutes with very empty overhead bins. When we touched down in Montevideo, I had an unexpected sensation of arriving home. I guess I’m beginning to settle in here.
Yesterday, Randi and I traveled to Buenos Aires ahead for an ultimate tournament here this coming weekend. We came early to spend some time in the city and see a bit without the time commitments of an ultimate schedule and the constraints of having meals that make 20 people happy.
We started the day yesterday with a leisurely departure time from the port at noon (right next to our vaccination destination). By the way, this is the way to travel. We spend a lot of time focusing on getting to a place so we can have time to do stuff once we’re there. Deciding to take a later boat so we could enjoy the travel and have a relaxing morning was nice. I digress. As with any international mass transit, the beginning of our Buquebus voyage was a game of shuffling from one line to another. The time spent at the desk at the end of each line was brief but there are a lot of people to serve. We waited for a while to check-in and get our ticket, then to get our passports stamped and finally a hot couple minutes waiting for boarding. I suppose they decided not to air condition the gate so that people would spend more time in the duty free shops below.
We were sitting in the middle of the bottom level of windows.
We traveled tourist class and once we got on the boat we realized the seating arrangement was some cross between an airline and an auditorium where everyone is arranged to watch various hungry patrons sate themselves on vastly overpriced consumables. I had envisioned some sort of boat with room for standing outdoors and wooden benches indoors so the reality was simultaneously an improvement and disappointment on my dreams. The seating was quite comfortable but there was no way to feel the breeze in my hair.
A constant reminder of the delicious things we could be eating if only we would kindly come to the front.
Along the way we had plenty of time to talk and listen and felt an odd sense of relief hearing English from the family in front of us. We later heard them speak Spanish and felt a flash of pride at our relative mastery of the language. We eventually broke down and got some sandwiches and a brownie for more than we typically spend on food in a day.
When we got in there was a similar set of lines as everyone left the boat, collected their checked luggage went through more security and then waited for taxis, private drivers, buses, friends and family. We had selected a hotel on a whim which turned out, very conveniently, to be an easy walk from the ferry terminal. Between that and not checking any luggage we walked past all the long lines which is always very satisfying.
Our check-in at the Dazzler Tower Maipu was entirely in Spanish though we discovered later that the front desk employees speak fluent English. I guess our Spanish is getting good enough that for simple transactions people have decided that it’s generally easier to speak to us in Spanish that English. The more times we give it a shot the easier it is for us, too. Who’d have thought…
We got in early enough to explore the city in the evening after we settled in but that’s a story for another time.
Raul stopped by for a bit earlier this week. For those not in the know, Raul is our landlord. He does sound production for movies all over the place and is currently working in Mexico. He was in town and called to see if he could stop by and check on The Little House. He came over and we hung out on the patio for a while. Among many other bits of knowledge and wisdom to be covered in other posts, he told us a bit about the land in which we live.
“You know that Uruguay isn’t the name of the country, right?”
I guess we all looked a little dumbfounded, he took that as his cue to educate us. He proceeded to tell us that the official name of the country is the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. Now, to the uneducated (that would be us), this sounded like a perfectly reasonable country name. As it turns out, as this name is further analyzed, it’s really just a description of a geographical region. Oriental meaning of or to the east. Republic.. pretty obvious a country with elected representatives. Uruguay is apparently the name of the river running by us here in the indigenous tongue. So, we’re actually just in the country to the east of the river.
To compound this he continued, “Well the city you’re living in doesn’t also has no name.”
Raul informed us that Montevideo can actually be broken down into Monte VI-D-E-O. Which was the Spanish Navigational Shorthand for Monte VI de Este a Oeste, meaning the sixth mountain from east to west. Saying anything around here is a mountain is a bit generous but we’ll let that slide.
All together now! We’re living near the sixth mountain from east to west in the country to the east of the river. It may be a bit overly dramatic to say we’re living in a land without a name, but etymology is always interesting.
Randi and I voted that it was Matt’s turn to cook, and being the great guy that he is, he obliged. He set to work making salads, raviolis and a cream sauce. Now, cream sauces make Matt very nervous. He has vivid memories of his sister fretting over white sauces at home because of their tendency to break. So, he looked up a recipe online assembled the necessary ingredients and set to work, carefully following every instruction.
I was blissfully listening to the sounds of dinner preparation from my lethargic position on the couch, when Matt came a little sullenly into the room to ask how to fix a broken sauce. I had made several white sauces since we got down here so I was a little surprised, but I had only made them with milk and Matt had decided to use cream, which could account for different behavior. We determined that the best course of action was to add more cream and stir, after which, I followed Matt back into kitchen.
The cream he was using came in a box roughly the size and shape of the juice boxes one would relish as a child during recess. The milk and yogurt drinks here come in bags so why wouldn’t the cream come in a box. As Matt began to add more cream to the sauce, I noticed, with some amount of trepidation, that it was coming out in clumps as he was really working to squeeze it out. He assured me that this was how it all came out. Now, many things are different here, but chunky cream drew some suspicion. I sampled this with my finger and found that the cream he was using was actually whipped cream.
Upon closer inspection of the box, one side said cream while the other had the clarifying subtitle of whipped, all in Spanish of course. Now to be fair the box did have a picture of whipped cream with strawberries and mint leaves but we’ll chalk that up to assuming that it was a picture of something one might make with the contents of the box. After all, cereal boxes often show a bowl with milk, and even on occasion orange juice, on it but most of that doesn’t come in the box.
I suggested that we just add some milk (from a bag) and I stirred continuously for about 5 minutes to fix the broken sauce, while Matt finished prepping the rest of dinner. Everything came together quite nicely and the sauce, whipped cream and all, was delicious.
So, it seems most houses around here don’t have a washer and dryer, and The Little House is no exception. There aren’t places to do your own laundry either. You take your clothes to a lavandería and if you’re organized enough to get them there in the morning, they’ll be done in the evening. I think we’ve seen numerous such establishments in our limited time here, but luckily for our decision making process Raul recommended one that he used.
We (or at least I) seem to assume everything here is going to be hard because we are still learning the language, but as it turns out getting clothes washed is pretty easy. This morning Randi and Kress dropped the clothes off and without too much trouble got a number (11) and were told they would be ready this evening at 7pm. Easy as pie.
Randi and Kress headed off to play Ultimate and I stayed behind for a meeting at work and just as I started making dinner about 8pm realized that I had forgotten. Luckily, we’re in Uruguay and the Lavandería is open until all hours of the night. When I got there with our laundry bags and the ticket our clothes were in fact ready and packed into 6 bags about the size of a pillow each, to ensure that the folding they had done wasn’t lost in transport. Incidentally, their ticket book was on 25 and washers and dryers were still running so there was plenty of action after our clothes were dropped off.
After convincing the husband and wife team that the clothes would in fact fit in the bags (I trusted this was the case since Randi and Kress had transported the clothes this morning in the same bags) they relinquished our laundry and accepted my payment.
It seemed that was the test, after which, we were best friends. The guy behind the counter started asking me a few questions. Apparently, I hadn’t mangled the previous conversation enough to convince him that I was, perhaps, not the best target for conversation. He learned a bit about where I was from, or at least I think I communicated it pretty well. Upon learning I was from the US, he complemented my Spanish. I responded that I was just learning and he said, “Obviously, but it’s much better than my English.” I beamed and ducked out on a high note.
We took a quick trip to the beach to see what Raul had told us was a must sea event. He mentioned something about candles and that it was just up the Rambla on the beach. We later found out it was a festival for people to provide offerings for the water goddess, Lemanjá. So, around 10:30 or so we set out.
As soon as we made it past the American Embassy, we could see that there were throngs of people hanging out near the beach. We walked up to the beach and it mostly seemed like aftermath of small boats washing ashore and hundreds of holes with lit candles inside. It was quite scenic and we were pretty happy with just that. Still we were disappointed that we had missed out on the festival. About the time we gave up hope, a group of people dressed in all white carrying a boat passed by us headed for the beach. As it turns out, the event isn’t over at all, groups pay tribute all night long.
The beach littered with candle divits and throngs of people
Generally, groups where about 20 people all dressed in white, some with tiki torches, some with candles and 6 or so people carrying a small boat (not because it’s heavy but because it’s a ritual). In front of the group, is someone ringing bells that sound something like sleigh bells. This group heads down the stairs to the beach and after some preparation (we were too far away to see what exactly) they lit the candles/tiki torches on the shore (sometimes there was even a candle on the boat) and waded out into the water about 500 yards to send the offerings out to sea. The wind was blowing out to sea, so the boats that had candles and sails provided an impressive display as you could see them far out into the sea.
Raul was right, this was a pretty impressive spectacle. I’m glad we decided to follow his suggestion and head out to observe.
I bought a big black duffle bag at some point in college and it’s served me quite well. It’s nice and light which makes it great for checked baggage since anything over 50 pounds tends to get quite pricey and we’re traveling for quite a while. So, anyway seemed like a good choice and I thought it would survive one more adventure. Not so.
The shoulder strap had broken back in December and I never got around to fixing it, mostly because there were four other handles by which to schlep it around and that seemed like it would be plenty. We checked it into baggage claim on the train and had our ride down. When we got in to claim our bags Randi tried to pull it off by one of the handles and it ripped straight off. At this point we noticed that the matching handle on the other side hadn’t even survived the luggage handlers on the way down. Still two handles left, that should do…
Looking urban sheik with my backpack straps deployed meandering down the street near LAX
Suffice it to say by the time we got to the hotel there were no straps remaining and I had carried quite a bit in a bear hug. It seemed like it was time to find a new one that would last the rest of the trip. Staying near the airport it seemed as though this should be the mecca of luggage sales. Thought that wasn’t the case we did find a Kohl’s a bit over two miles away and trekked over to it. Thankfully, they had a pretty good selection in the store and we were able to find quite a suitable replacement. It’s a roller duffle and though it weighs more it’s quite versatile with various handles and backpack straps.
Thankfully, we had taken the early train and there was plenty of time in the afternoon to take care of this. Randi took care of that planning and kudos to her.