Published: January 18th 2007January 15th 2007
The Dragon Slayer
This is my favorite piece of artwork at Recoleta Cemetery.
When I think of a perfect paradise, the image that forms in my head is one of endless cascades of light blue water interspersed with verdant, mist shrouded jungle foliage and colorful flowers of all sizes. The scene is completed with the soothing roar of the crashing water accompanied by the symphonic melodies of the forest and a pleasantly cool climate. The image I see always comes to me in the form of a cartoon, mainly because the images that helped me build my ideal place, the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood, the crocodile and monkey filled waterfall levels on the Pitfall video game that I love so much, or, more recently, the waterfall filled image of Rivendale from the Lord of the Rings movies, only exist in cartoon form, or so I thought! After years of playing in waterfalls I have now found the real-life inspiration for the cartoon inspiration of my perfect paradise!
Iguazu Falls is located on the border of Argentina and Brazil, near the tri-border with Paraguay. I was staying in the shady little town of Puerto Iguazu on the Argentine side of the falls. My exploration of Iguazu started off with a bang well
This is the picture I was taking when the coati climbed into my lap.
before I got my first glimpse of the falls themselves. I was walking down a well developed jungle path and, as I explained to the person that I was exploring the falls with that even though the forest was filled with life, it was highly unlikely that we would see any large animals, a herd of coatis emerged on the trail in front of us - I love being wrong! I quickly went into photographer mode and I started snapping away. It was clear that these 'wild' coatis were very tame, because they were not shy like the ones I saw in Central America and they poured around us like a deluge. I knelt down to get a better camera angle on one of them and, in the time it took me to compose the picture and press the shutter button, I had a coati in my lap! Needless to say, I was a bit shocked at first having a fairly large and potentially dangerous wild animal in my lap, but the coati curled up, sat down and proceeded to beg in such a well honed manner that I was convinced that he had gone to the same begging school
My idealic place! It was a little too hot though.
as Oliver, my family dog back home. I carefully pet the animal on its back and gently stood up, forcing the coati out of my lap - It was too early in the trip to be mauled by a wild animal! As if someone rang a dinner bell, several more coatis ran up to us, including about ten of the cutest little baby ones, and the children in the group behind me began aggressively petting them (grabbing their long tails and such!) I decided it was time to move on before the animals started getting mean - A few had already started growling at each other!
We took the turn off for the 'Upper Falls Trail' and within a few minutes we got our first view of the falls - I had seen many pictures of the falls, but I was still amazed by my first view of them, even though by the end of the day that first vantage point ended up being the least impressive! We peered over each of the awe-inspiring overlooks on the upper trail, slowly taking in the view from each and then, from the last and most impressive view on the upper trail,
Salto San Martin
This is the upper part of the falls that I got soaked in. It is the second largest cascade at Iguazu.
we turned around and headed back towards the lower trail. Our efforts to reach a potentially good vantage point at the top of a small white tower were thwarted by a locked steel door with the names of other barred travelers etched into its thick green paint - We decided not to add ours and we continued down the trail. After an eternity of wet switch backs and stair cases, we reached the first of many spectacular vantage points on the lower falls trail. The catwalks got right up to the edge of the falls and the mist blanketed us with a cool dampness that helped quench the searing heat that was descending on the park. We had been walking around for several hours, so we decided to take a break and we headed down a series of stone and concrete stairs to the water's edge. There we slipped our bags into the provided (not-so) waterproof sacks and we put on our life vests and then we boarded the boat for what would be one of the most exhilarating and refreshing activities I have done in quite a while. The boat first headed towards the giant San Martin falls, the
From the Lower Falls Trail
One of the many wonderful views from the trails around Iguazu.
second largest at Iguazu, and sat there long enough for us to take a few pictures and then we rocketed past Isla Grande San Martin and turned into the mouth the narrow canyon that leads to 'Garganta del Diablo', or Devil's throat, which is the largest cascade in the park. The boat took us as far up the canyon as we could go without hitting the black rocks that jutted up out of the tumultuous, white torrent of water flowing towards us and then we paused again for more pictures. The sound was deafening and the view was mind-boggling - The bow of the boat was pointed into a narrow box canyon with precipitous walls of white water and black stone rising well above our heads, disappearing into a giant cloud of mist that added an aura of mystery to the scene. The captain was having a hard time holding the boat strait against the water rushing towards us, so he issued the order, "Put your cameras into the waterproof bags now!", and then he drove us under one of the small cascades on our side of the rocks. With everyone sufficiently wet, we left Garganta del Diablo and headed
A Boat Under the Falls
Do you see the boat at the bottom of the falls? I took the plung four times.
back to Salto San Martin (San Martin Falls). Everyone on board knew what was coming next and we welcomed it, but, as the captain pushed the throttle open and the boat launched towards the massive wall of white water that is San Martin, we all must have been wondering if we would come out of it OK. The crashing curtain of water got closer and closer, we started feeling the mist on our faces and then everything went white. We couldn´t keep our eyes open, but we all knew we had made it under the falls and we were feeling the force of the tons of water that were crashing into the boat and us. We emerged from the falls unscathed and we turned around and went in again. Most of the boats that we had watched from above only went through the falls twice, but luck was with us - The guide for the large German group in the boat with us managed to talk the captain into not one but two more passes beneath the falls! By the end of our fourth journey beneath the cascade, we all knew that, even at full speed, the boat didn't have
These giant black and yellow lizards were everywhere and the locals called them iguanas.
enough power to overcome the force of the flowing water and collide with the rock behind the water - It was a fun ride, but I wonder how they first discovered that they could safely drive the boat beneath the falls? We stepped off of the boat completely soaked, but very refreshed, and we boarded the small launch that shuttles people over to the Isla Grande San Martin.
On the beach of San Martin we were greeted with a scene from 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' - There was a massive cloud of bright yellow butterflies flitting around us in a giant swirling motion. We walked down the beach, passing several sun-bathers and swimmers, and then we headed up the trail into the forest, stopping to photograph a few giant black and yellow lizards that the locals called iguanas along the way. We took the trail to the left, mainly because the trail to the right was clogged with people, and we were quickly rewarded with spectacular views of the devil´s throat further down the canyon. The trail ended at an overlook that once had a great view of the falls on the other side through a natural stone
Garganta del Diablo
Looking towards the Devil's Throat, the largest falls at Iguazu. The land on the left side of the picture is Brazil.
arch. The arch is still there, but now the forest has reclaimed the view, leaving only a faint glimpse of the falls and several trees filled with vultures to look at. We wound our way back through the forest to where the trail had forked and we took the, now less crowded, right trail and we headed to the Salto San Martin overlook. The mist was flowing through the air on a cooling breeze as we passed through a landscape of stagnant pools, stone and grass, with a backdrop of falling water. We stood there for a while admiring the view as San Martin's water crashed, in a series of cascades, to the river below where the boats were still diligently at work drenching their passengers.
A grumbling stomach told me it was lunch time, so we began to make our way to the restaurant. We passed all of the small, heavily air-conditioned shops filled with the plastic-wrapped, prefabricated sandwiches and hordes of tourists, we passed both train stations and we finally made it to the 'La Selva' restaurant. We took our seat at a nice table and presented the waiter with the half price coupon that the man
Falling Water and Moss
This was right next to Salto San Martin.
at the information booth had given us that morning. The waiter, in turn, took our drink orders and pointed us towards the all-you-can-eat buffet - The feast quickly turned into a fresh-fruit glutton-fest as we each made our way through two plates piled high with some of the tastiest honeydew and water melon and papayas and pineapples. I did try some of the other food at the buffet as well, but mostly the excellent vegetables - I have enjoyed the frequent, heavily meat-based meals that I have had since I arrived Argentina, but the vegetables and fruit had been lacking until this delicious meal! What made the meal even better was that it cost us about the same as the prefabricated sandwich and a soda would have cost!
We were full and re-energized, so we set off to the train station and the final sight of the day - Garganta del Diablo. The first station had a bleak sign that said it would be a thirty minute wait for the next train. We wanted to keep moving, so we headed down the path through the forest to the other station. Along the way we came to a small green
Somebody Threw Away a Perfectly Good Coati!
This is the coati that we played our little game with.
trash can, like all of the other waste receptacles throughout the park. This can was special only in the fact that a large coati had climbed on top of it and was staring at us with a mischievous grin. Once he gained our attention, he dove face first, his enormous pointy nose guiding the way, through the small opening in the top of the can until only his long, fuzzy, ringed tail and his hind feet remained. I decided to take advantage of the moment and I pet him, which prompted a growl from deep in the bowels of the green plastic receptacle and a hurried climb back out. The coati then stood on top of the can looking at us and smiling - The same smile that a dog has after he has just caught the plastic squeaky toy for the thousandth time in an hour and is sitting excitedly waiting for the next throw. He dove back into the can and we pet him again and out he came, a little quicker this time. We went through the dive, pet, growl, climb out cycle four times before we had grown tired of the game - The coati was
On the Edge
The view of the Devil's Throat from the viewing platform at the edge.
happy because he had emerged with a partially eaten bag of potato chips, so we said farewell and continued on the path.
The line at the next train station would have wrapped around the Earth three times if everyone stood hand to hand, but they somehow managed to pack us all into the tiny train and we were off. The small train ran on equally small tracks through the forests of Iguazu National Park. It is the only (legal) way to get to the Garganta del Diablo walkway and it was a pleasant ride. We stepped off of the train into a small rain storm. Though we were close to the front of the train we ended up being the last people off and, thus, we entered the long, narrow walkway behind a group of tourists larger than the populations of some small countries. It was slow going, but, due to the sticky rubber on the soles of my shoes and its ineffectiveness on wet steel, I was slipping and sliding worse than if I was trying to run on ice and I wouldn´t have been able to go much faster anyway. We did finally make it to the
And the Sun Emerges
Just as I was turning to leave the sun came through the clouds and formed a wonderful rainbow through the mist.
viewing platform and the views along the catwalk were great anyway, so there was no need to hurry.
It is an awe-inspiring feeling standing on a platform at the very edge of the Devil's Throat with water flowing all around you and crashing to the depths of the mist filled canyon below, just waiting for the water to take the platform and you with it - There is still evidence remaining of the previous walkway that was destroyed and washed away in a flood in the early '90s, so it has happened before! I stood with all of the other tourists and stared in wonder at the panorama of falling water and mist that we had become a part of - Before us we watched a very wide, slow-flowing river disappear, in its entirety, into a narrow box canyon in a way that made a large horseshoe shaped waterfall of white water interspersed with the occasional patch of black rock or green jungle vegetation. The river was an olive-green color, but it quickly faded into bright white as it took the plunge over the edge, with only a few streaks of its original color remaining when it disappeared into
Looking at Brazil
Most of the photographs you see are from the Brazil side, but due to expensive visa issues this will have to do.
the mist. I tried in vain to capture the glory of Garganta del Diablo with my camera, but it was not to be and then, as if to say, "Ha, Ha, You have been beaten!", the wind shifted and the mist erupted out of the canyon blanketing everyone and everything, camera included, with water. I dried the camera off and put it away and then I walked back to the rail on the edge and stared into the cauldron and wondered about things like, 'Could you survive a plunge in a padded, watertight barrel?' - I decided to let someone else try it first! Just as I turned to walk away, the clouds parted and the sun forced its way down to the mist and exploded into a magnificent double and occasionally triple rainbow - The classic view of the falls! I hurriedly set the tripod back up and got the camera out and I took pictures of the new face of the falls until I had no more room and then I stopped. We passed a small caiman beneath the walkway on the way back to the train, which was cool to see, and then the train took me
The Facade of Teatro Cervantes
Many of the older buildings in Buenos Aires are beautiful.
away from the falls and my time at Iguazu came to an end, for now.
By the time I made it to Iguazu Falls I had been in Argentina for about a week. I arrived in Buenos Aires early on a Thursday after a pleasantly bumpy flight. I took the shuttle into town and I started walking around until I got to the place I wanted to stay. I spent the rest of that first day walking around, relaxing and dealing with the absurdly ignorant situation that the airline had put me in - They would not let me on the plane in Atlanta without proof of onward travel and apparently a boat out of the country didn´t count, so I was forced to buy a fully refundable one-way ticket back to Atlanta that I didn´t need and now I have to get a refund! I struggled to make it until after 9:00, the start of dinner time in Argentina, and then I went out for my first big Argentine steak (in Argentina).
Buenos Aires turned out to be a great town to walk around. There are amazing old building all over the city, many of which are
A Window for the Dead
Several of the crypts at Recoleta have stain glass windows - This one was just visible through the door from outside.
in great condition, and there are pedestrian walkways connecting many of them. I spent my entire second day walking around the city, with my ultimate goal being the grand city of the (rich and powerful) dead, Recoleta Cemetery. The day started with the typical (and very unsatisfying) Argentine breakfast of bread and coffee and then I hit the streets. By noon, my stomach was telling me it was lunch time, but I ignored it. The circuitous path I took to Recoleta took me past the beautiful, but boarded up, Teatro Colon and then the impressive facade of the Teatro Cervantes and then into the quiet, tree-lined streets of Recoleta. By the time I saw the cemetery ahead of me my stomach was on the verge of eating itself - It was one-thirty, the traditional start of lunch time in Argentina, and there happened to be a string of fancy restaurants beside me! I walked past two steak houses and two Italian restaurants and took a seat at a nice looking cafe with a '20s racing theme. The turkey and red pepper sandwich that I ordered was just that, no sauce or anything - It did its job and was fairly
A Stately Angel
One of the many angels on guard at Recoleta.
tasty, just a little strange. I took a quick look in the cathedral connected to the cemetery and then I entered the city of the dead through its massive main gate and was instantly amazed. I strolled down the narrow, shady lanes flanked by polished stone facades and ornately carved columns and statuary for hours. Some of the crypts were very plain and some were amazing works of art suitable for display in the finest museums, but most of them fell somewhere in between. Many of the most spectacular crypts were modeled after Greek buildings and guarded by heart-broken lions, or took the form of a church looked after by grand angels. I had never heard of most of the names so proudly displayed above the doors, but a few were unmistakable. There were former presidents, famous war heroes, doctors and, of course, Argentina's beloved Eva Perón - Her tomb, Familia Duarte, was a polished black edifice adorned with colorful fresh flowers attesting to its status as somewhat of a pilgrimage site and the large crowd of people there confirmed the fact. My favorite work of art in Recoleta Cemetery was not adorning one of the super-fancy crypts that's construction
This is the well visited tomb of Argentina's beloved Eva Peron.
was clearly fueled by the 'one-up-manship' of the city's elite, but on a simple tomb on a back alley I almost missed - The facade of stone was plain in comparison to many, but the ornate bronze (I think) door had a scene of a knight in shining armor astride a gallant stead. In the knight's hand was a lance that was piercing the heart of a winged dragon, reeling beneath the horse's hoofs. The whole scene was contained in a small circular disk and completely surrounded by intricate bronze vegetation - It was beautiful! The tolling of the bell told me that it was time to let the spirits rest for the evening and I headed back to the hostel via a different route through the 'wealthy' mansion strewn streets of Recoleta.
Day three found me on a short train journey to the town of La Plata, south east of Buenos Aires on the Rio de la Plata (river of silver). La Plata is home to a large university, a zoo and a well known natural history museum, I had come for the museum. I entered the museum through its main entrance beneath a massive columned facade flanked
Looking down the narrow isles of Recoleta, Buenos Aires' city of the dead.
by two large saber-tooth tiger statues. Inside I explored rooms filled with skeletons, stuffed animals (the dead kind) and lots of pottery - The lifetime collections of the Argentine explorer Francisco P Moreno. I saw the giant skeletons of the Mylodon, or giant ground sloth, and the Glyptodon, a car sized armadillo, all found in the Patagonian regions to the south. One of the rooms contained the skull of a blue whale (there wasn't much room for anything else) and I was completely amazed - I have a hard time picturing an animal so large! I was also very impressed by the pottery collection on the top floor, which contained hundreds of pieces, several of which are well known for their artistry. I was forced to move quickly so I could make the train back to Buenos Aires, but it was certainly a worthwhile journey.
My last two days in Buenos Aires were spent just walking around. I explored all of the beautiful, but heavily graffitied, government buildings along Avenida de Mayo and then I turned south towards San Telmo and a massive street antiques fair. The antiques available for purchase were mind-boggling - There was no shortage of
A Heart-Broken Lion
More from Recoleta.
swords, statuary or bronze sculptures. There was also a store selling antique surveying equipment, which undoubtedly was used to build many of the grand structures throughout the city, and another place that was selling maritime antiques like old sextants (I almost bought one, but it was broken). I took in a few tango shows in the street and I listened to the great street musicians and then I boarded my night bus to Puerto Iguazu, eighteen hours away via one of the most comfortable buses I have ever been on.
There are more photos below