Published: December 29th 2011December 17th 2011
The sun was shining as I woke up this morning with the coach still rumbling along to road. Although I was sat in air-conditioned comfort, I could tell it was a beautifully warm day outside. We passed by huge pine forests that spread across the landscape as far as the eye could see in every direction. We crossed bridges over vast rivers and winding valleys, that cut through the forests and disappeared into the distance. I was a little surprised that there were so many pine trees in the area as they didn't feel like they should be native given we were so close to the amazon. It wasn't until I saw the piles of logs and stacks of timber in large open warehouses along the roadside, that I realised that these trees had been planted as a sustainable resource for the locals.
The huge grass verges that ran the between the road and the forest played home to a few farmers whose stalls lined the route. I felt a lot more at ease than I had in Buenos Aires. I remembered reading somewhere that the negative ions generated by waterfalls had a massive effect on peoples moods, and could only surmise that this was the case for me. The Iguazú Falls were definitely going to be a major highlight of my journey through South America, but I knew I'd have to wait until tomorrow to experience it.
We arrived at the bus terminal at around 10am and after a quick glance at my instructions from Green Toad Buses, I made the short journey on foot to the hostel. Puerto Iguazú had a wonderful small town vibe to it and I felt completely relaxed as I walked down Avenue Coroba. It was strange to imagine with the streets so quiet that thousands of tourists descended on this sleepy little town every year just to visit the falls.
As I arrived at Hostel Bamboo Mini I was greeted by Manuel, the man in charge, who was fairly well travelled himself it turned out. After the formalities of checking in, he asked what my plans for the day were if I was visiting the national park tomorrow. I said that any suggestions he made would be most welcome, as I'd like to see more of the town rather than just the falls. Manuel said I should check out a local wildlife sanctuary that was just outside town, as I wasn't likely to see much wildlife at the park the next day, as well as watching the sunset from Hito Tres Fronteras. This seemed like a fantastic plan, because the thought of wasting a day sat in the hostel didn't seem like the done thing.
Once I had dumped my bags and worked out where everything was I headed into town to find a cashpoint. In my experience of traveling thus far, hostels were pretty keen to get the money for your stay upfront. Manuel, on the other hand, had been very relaxed about the whole thing, saying I could pay tomorrow or the next day if I preferred. With cash in hand, I saw a sandwich bar across the street that looked like they made proper sandwiches, rather the regular ham and cheese with the crusts cut off that I seemed to have been served on every coach trip so far. I walked up to the counter and saw exactly what I needed; a ciabatta style roll filled with salad, steak, ham, cheese and scrambled egg... a mans sandwich!
Fed and watered, I made my way back to the coach terminal to catch the bus to the Güira Oga wildlife sanctuary. The bus was hot and sticky when I boarded, so I sat as close as I could to a window to enjoy the breeze. It was only a five minute ride to Güira Oga, because it was just inside of the Iguazú National Park boundary, close to the edge of town. Thankfully when I entered the sanctuary everything was clearly signed in both Spanish and English, which meant that I wouldn't have to struggle with the language barrier on this occasion. Upon paying for my entry fee I was told that it included a tour which would be in English as well as Spanish... I knew I'd like Puerto Iguazú!
After a short tractor ride into the sanctuary, our guide Stephanie explained that although we were in the wildlife sanctuary we were still within the national park, which meant we may see animals roaming freely. Not sure if that meant we had to watch out for leopards or thieving monkeys, we began our walk along the nature trail.
Stephanie explained that the animals they were currently caring for came from several different backgrounds. Some had been found injured on the road, some had been taken from smugglers trying to export the animals illegally and some had been kept as pets but later donated. Güira Oga ran a rehabilitation program where they cared for the animals until they could be assessed and either released back into the wild or put into a breeding program to repopulate the national park. Unfortunately, in some cases where the animals that had been pets they were just too friendly towards humans and could never be released.
Stephanie began by showing us the pair of Red Macaws that were involved in a breeding program. The Red Macaw had become extinct in Argentina, but in five or so years they hoped to have started breeding the pair to release into the wild. She also pointed out the Macuco, the worlds largest partridge, weighing in at three kilos. The Macuco were involved in a mass breeding program, due to the fact they too are close to extinction. Locals of the falls and the national park regularly hunt the birds, and because they spend most of their time on the forest floor, they make easy prey. Bizarrely it is the male of the species that raises the brood, yet as with most species, the male isn't capable of looking after more than one chick hence their decline. Next was the beautiful toucans, which are always closely associated with South America. Stephanie pointed out that there are several different varieties of toucan, rather than just the large orange billed toucan. As I watched, the pair began playing with each other, and the noise of their razor sharp beaks clashing was amazing; like hollow plastic tubes being hit together.
The tour continued round past the black vultures and the monkeys until we came to the Tayra. The Tayra is essentially a huge weasel which can be found throughout the forests of the Americas. Stephanie explained that he was a permanent fixture of the sanctuary because he had been kept as a pet. I could understand why people might get the wrong impression if the Tayra had been released, as he was very boisterous when we approached his enclosure. It was fascinating to see the birds and animals up close, but after the first couple of enclosures I couldn't help but think that this was more of a zoo than sanctuary. As much as I understood that the animals needed to remain caged during their rehabilitation or during the breeding program, I couldn't help but think that it was more of a money spinner.
Once the tour had finished I thanked Stephanie and made my way back to the main road to catch the bus back into town. I didn't have to wait long in the baking heat of the afternoon sun before the next bus came along and I was soon back in the relaxed atmosphere of Puerto Iguazú. Unfortunately I didn't exactly know whereabouts I had been dropped off by the bus and was forced to sit and have a beer in one of the bars. Sitting enjoying the late afternoon sun was truly another of those moments that I could just be and not worry about having to be anywhere urgently. Relaxing with a Quilmes stout allowed me to continue blogging and just allowing everything to wash over me. It was a thoroughly pleasant experience and I began to remember that my round the world trip was as much about me as it was about seeing it all.
As time drew on I finished my beer and walked the shirt distance to Hito Tres Fronteras. When I arrived I could see that I wasn't the only one who had been told to check out the sunset from here. I approached the edge of the lookout point and was quite taken aback by the view. In front of me I could see Brazil and Paraguay separated from Argentina by a torrent of water. I sat and took in the view and thought that this would probably be the only time that I would be watching the sunset over one country whilst being in a completely different one. I took as many interesting photos as I could and waited until the sun had disappeared over the horizon in Paraguay before heading off.
I wandered back down Avenue Costanera towards the hostel keeping in mind that I still had to call into a supermarket to buy some groceries. It was getting dark as I walked back down the brightly lit street. It was clearly being renovated as it was closed to cars at both ends which made for an even more pleasant walk. The closer I got to the town centre the busier the bars, restaurants and shops became, most probably because it was Saturday night. I found a supermarket on Moreno and bought myself the usual steak, eggs, fruit and vegetables for the next two days. Although I'd tried to check the prices carefully as I went, I almost choked when I got to the till to pay for it all! At least it meant that I would be eating well for the next couple of days without any danger of getting hungry.
I walked back up Avenue San Martin to the hostel to cook myself dinner and chill-out for the evening. I was loving the opportunity to relax and unwind after what had felt like a hectic couple of days dashing around Buenos Aires. I turned in fairly early, so as to get a good nights sleep before a day of walking around the Iguzaú Falls.