Wow, I’m sorry that posting monthly has become the regular… It turns out its even harder to get a blog post together when I’m traveling all over the place than when I’m in school in one place. Because of that this post is going to be a tiny bit incomplete, due to the fact that a couple weeks ago my offline photo editing app broke down and so the only way for me to edit my photos is online, and I just haven’t been in a single place with consistent enough wifi for long enough to edit my photos. So I will still include my photos in this post, it will just be that more than half will be unedited and then some other ones will be from my phone (which will have very obvious filter edits on them).
So, I arrived in Manaus pretty late on Saturday May 10 and was immediately picked up by the company we were eventually going to take our amazon jungle tour with and whisked off to my hotel. Joe was already there so after some front desk confusion we settled into the new room. It was such a nice hotel, which we could afford for a couple nights because my mom paid for it with rewards points.
Sunday we woke up to warm temperatures but pounding rain. We decided to brave the rain and venture out to the mall next door in search of food. Maybe it was because it was Sunday, but all the stores in the mall were closed except the food pavilion and everywhere was deserted except for the food pavilion which was super weird. After the weird mall adventure, where we realized how foreign of a language Portuguese was, we headed off to the grocery store. There, it was made even clearer how lost we were going to be with our lack of Portuguese speaking. Then we went back and got one more night at our nice hotel.
Monday we left the nice hotel, saying goodbye to nice rooms for a few months, and took a bus downtown where we wandered around a tiny bit before finding our new hostel. It was actually a super cute, super clean and new hostel less than a block away from the main plaza in Manaus where the Amazonian Theatre is. Unfortunately, AC was only turned on from 8 PM through the night, so we relaxed outside in some hammocks for a bit and then went on a bit of a city exploration. We went to the famous theatre and walked down to the river for our first glimpse of the Amazon river.
On the way back to our hostel, where I completely lost my sense of direction, there was a guy selling massive young coconuts so we bought one, drank all the coconut water and then later back at the hostel scraped out all the young coconut meat and ate that too. It was so refreshing. And then we got some freshly fried banana chips and that was perfect with the young coconut.
The next day we left the hostel at peak heat again to do some wandering in the opposite direction. We went to this old house that had been turned into a museum of all sorts, there was a modern art part, an old money part, an archaelogy part, and an old military part. The modern art part was the best developed part and had quite nice art, the rest was maybe a little bit questionable. Then we wandered through some market-y areas and back to the hostel.
Wednesday, we were picked up early from our hostel early by someone from Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours with our tour group and driven 3 hours north. There we got on a speedboat and boated for an hour up a major Amazon river tributary until we got to the jungle lodge. The boat ride was nice until it started pouring and even though they put down a tarp, we all still got pretty wet.
The lodge was super cute, it had a nice outdoor kitchen and dining area, lots of little cabins, and a tower that had lounge chairs on top where you can sit and watch the river or the trees around you.
Immediately upon arriving at the lodge our tour guide, who’s name was also Joseph, caught a venomous parrot snake for us to look at.
Then Joe and I went on a short walk through the jungle next to our little cabin and a swim right off the boat launch. I was a little terrified to get in the water because it was black water so it was a weird color and there were piranhas, but apparently the pirahnas there don’t ever get big enough to be interested in biting humans.
Then it was time for our first group outing. Our tour group was only 5 people, and Joe and I were the only ones staying for the full 5 day tour so it quickly thinned out. Our first outing was canoeing through the flooded forest. It was so beautiful and so cool. There are 2 different seasons in the Amazon, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season goes from Jan-June, so since we were there in May, it was the end of the rainy season meaning that it was at peak flood. Its crazy how much the rivers flood. Our guide said that at that point it was about 10 meters of flooding, the highest week of the year. So we canoed through the forest until a certain point when we stopped and everyone else in the group besides me went piranha fishing. I refused to do it because I don’t even eat fish, but it was alright to watch.
Everyone caught a lot of little piranhas that they put back and then finally someone caught a piranha that was big enough and someone else caught a pretty big sardine-type fish and we headed back right as the sun was beginning to set. We watched a little of it from the boat and then went up to the tower and watched the rest of the sunset from up above. While watching the sunset, a pod of grey dolphins also went swimming by, one of the two species of dolphin that lives in that part of the Amazon.
Dinner was very tasty, along with all of the other meals. It was super nice to have every meal provided for you and have so many healthy food choices, many of which were also vegetarian.
At night we went boating way down river to look for caimans. Unfortunately we didn’t find any, but it was amazing being out on the water at night, particularly since that night was a full moon so the moon lit everything up. It was very peaceful.
The next day we canoed downriver to a different part of the forest and went for a long hike through it. The hike was really cool and we saw tonss of monkeys. Our guide was excellent at hearing them and tracking them down even though they were at the top of the canopy. I think we saw about 6 different groups of monkeys, many of which were different species, including one group of little tamarin monkeys. Unfortunately, it was really hot and humid and there were mosquitos everywhere, so I didn’t have the energy to take out my camera, also because my camera is great but has a terrible zoom so it would have been worthless to try.
After lunch the first member of our group went home because he was only doing a 2 day jungle trip and the remainder of us (me, joe, and 2 chinese women who were studing in New York City) set off on a hike into the jungle with our guide to a campground type area. We got there and set up hammocks under this large tarp tent.
Then we went trampling around in the jungle until we finally found dry dead wood which we had to hack off a tree and then made a big campfire. While we all relaxed in the hammocks, our guide made us dinner of this potato-vegetable rice dish, roast chicken, and sausage over the fire and then made us bowls out of forest leaves and used his machete to carve spoons out of wood.
After dinner we went to bed at 7:45-ish because there wasn’t really much else to do in the jungle in the darkness. I didn’t sleep terribly well, because I don’t think hammocks are the best thing for my back and I kept feeling like I was surrounded in bugs and mosquitos. Then we woke up bright and early, had a very nice and fresh breakfast and went on a hike around the area where we were camping. We saw some birds and a couple more monkeys before heading back to pack up our stuff.
On the way hiking out of the forest, it began to pour and continued to rain even harder the rest of the hike out so by the time we got back to our cabin all of our clothes and stuff was completely soaked, and it never really got dry (or clean) after that.
After lunch that day, the other two women in our group left so it was just me, Joe, and our guide. In the afternoon we went out on another boat ride, this time in search of the other kind of dolphins, pink dolphins. We got to a ¨lake¨ in the middle of the river, and sure enough there was the first pink dolphin. We followed him around for a bit and then a few more appeared throughout the lake. It was pretty much impossible to get a decent photo of them, because the pink dolphins are more solitary and swim long distances before coming up for air so you could never predict where or when they would surface. But they are such cool looking animals. They’re pink and grey and instead of having the stereotypical dolphin fin like the grey dolphins, they have a big rounded nob on their back which looks pretty cool. We watched those for a long time, following them around the lake and then headed back for dinner.
The next day we woke up and after breakfast, headed out for a long day. Our guide took us down this flooded ¨stream¨, which when flooded just looks like another big flooded river rather than a little stream. Because the flood waters are always at different heights, we were going through parts of the canopy that hadn’t been paddled down that year, so our guide had his machete out the whole time and made a trail down the stream as we went along it.
We saw lots and lots of birds and at one point passed a huge brazil nut tree where our guide fetched us a bunch of fresh brazil nuts. We went way deep into this flooded forest and then stopped to have a late lunch and as we were getting our food out it started to rain again. However, the place we stopped to eat was also under a bunch of big palm trees, which are monkeys favorite trees to eat, so even though we were soaking wet, another big group of monkeys was playing around right above us. It got sunny for a tiny bit and we paddled even deeper into the forest, where we saw another group of monkeys, this time a different species, but then it started to pour again, so our guide decided to turn around.
As we were heading back, our guide got a bit lost and since its essentially just one big flooded forest with no real trails, I had completely lost my sense of direction and started to have a bit of a panic attack. It took a while for us to find our way to the stream looking part again, and I was positive that we were going to be lost in the flooded forest forever in the pouring rain, but thankfully after a few hours we found our way out and it finally started getting sunny again.
In the evening, we just rested after spending the whole day sitting in a boat the day after a whole day spent hiking.
Our final morning, Joe and I got a canoe and paddled around the flooded forest right by our cabin on our own. It was a bit mosquito-y though, and I felt I already had sufficient enough numbers of mosquito bites so we turned around and went back and packed up our stuff.
Then we speed-boated an hour back to the road, bid farewell to our wonderful jungle guide, and hopped in the van that took us back to our previous hostel. That night we went to a cafe right by the Amazonian Theatre where we met an American living in Sao Paolo. He worried us a bit by telling us that flying out of Manaus is very pricey so we headed back to the hostel, looked up prices for plane flights out and realized that he was very very right. So we began looking up alternative plans and decided that taking a 4 day slow boat for a little less than $90 to Porto Velho and then a $200 flight to Campo Grande, our next destination, was better than a $550 flight to Campo Grande. Unfortunately it appeared that the boat only ran every Tuesday and Thursday and since it was Sunday evening and we had booked our hostel (and paid for it) through Wednesday, it appeared we weren’t getting out of Manaus until Thursday. Then we went to a bar and got Caipirinhas, and the people next to us at the bar were from Venezuela so we talked for a while in Spanish, which was really fun for me since I missed speaking Spanish and my lack of Portuguese and thus inability to communicate was driving me crazy.
Monday we decided to haul all of our damp, moldy, mildew-y, and just plain filthy clothes to the lavanderia a little while away. However, once we got there we realized it was outrageously expensive (1-3 dollars per item of clothing), and the people at our hostel said there really wasnt another choice if we wanted it done for us. So, we went back to the hostel and spent the entire day (and I mean the entiree day) hand scrubbing our clothes in the sink at our hostel. Pretty much all of our clothes were filthy, some even had visible mold growing on them, so it took the whole afternoon and even then I wouldn’t call our clothes clean, just not gross.. So that was not the most optimal day.
Tuesday we headed to the port to buy a ticket for a slowboat to Porto Velho. However, it was incredibly confusing as no one spoke English nor Spanish. But eventually we figured out that the boats to PV ran Tuesdays and Fridays, not Thursdays, so we either got on a boat that day or waited until Friday. Considering we still hadn’t planned beyond Porto Velho and we had heard it was not really the sort of place you wanted to hang out in, plus we had booked our hostel through Wednesday and didn’t want to waste our money, we decided to unfortunately wait until Friday to leave. So we bought our boat tickets, bought hammocks, mosquito nets, and rope for the boat, and went back to the hostel to begin planning our future travels. From there we booked a flight out of PV to Campo Grande on the following Thursday, because we had heard that often times boats get delayed or have mechanical trouble and so we wanted a bit of leeway.
Wednesday we did some more planning, because at this point I had decided that things were just too chaotic and money too tight to not be planning ahead of time, since the world cup is coming up. Then we went on a dérive, which basically meant we wandered without plan or objective, allowing ourselves to be pulled in whichever direction we felt was most desirable. Of course, our dérive pulled us into another rainstorm so we huddled under a bank awning and then in a little market until the rain let up, but the rest of the dérive was nice and we found some pretty little urban sights.
Thursday we switched hostels because our hostel was closing for cleaning. The new hostel was not really a hostel, but more of a bunch of very cheap little dingy apartment rooms. It was fine though and we talked to another woman switching from the same hostel into the same apartment area about her travels. It seemed like she was having a terribly complicated time, which made me feel a little better about all of our little transportation predicaments.
Friday after packing up again, we headed down to the port where the guy we bought our boat ticket from put us on a taxi to another port that was pretty far away. I was terribly confused the whole time and positive that we were getting ripped off, but it turns out we werent and we made it to the port and easily found our boat. We got there around 12 and the boat didn’t leave until 6 which left us plenty of time to tie up our hammocks and sit around. I also wandered around the boat dock and took a few photos as it was fairly pretty.
At first it seemed like it was going to be great, there weren’t that many people, we had lots of space, it wasn’t too hot. Then, slowly it started filling up more and more and by the time we left around 8, there were sooo many hammocks. each hammock got about a foot to a foot and a half of space, which is really not much at all and somehow Joe and I ended up with even less than this. I was pretty unhappy. Plus, due to all the warm bodies, there wasn’t much of a breeze so the temperature increased, causing me even more unhappiness.
As we headed out of port and down the Rio Negro, we were provided with dinner which was ok but very meaty and then we went upstairs to the bar and lounge area where we had lots more room to sit around and watched the water waiting for the Meeting of the Waters. I was sure we weren’t going to see it because it was so dark, but then we looked down and sure enough there it was, two rivers of different colors flowing next to eachother for a long ways. It was quite cool. Then we tried to sleep. I slept terribly though because I already don’t sleep well in hammocks, but then add in the fact that you’re packed in like sardines and there was no way I was going to get a good nights sleep.
I woke up to the breakfast whistle at 6 AM, ate some measly but included breakfast, and then went back to sleep until 8. Then I sat in my foot of hammock space for a while, edited some photos, tried and failed at conversing with my portuguese speaking neighbors, went upstairs to watch kingfishers on the banks of the Amazon, and then went back to my hammock, trying to kill time while trying not to lose my temper at the lack of space that I had to stretch out in. Literally, killing time felt impossible though.
It turns out that I must give off some sort of child attracting chemicals because a bunch of kids on the boat decided that I was somehow special and spent the whole day, and night, following me around trying to talk to me. But they definitely didn’t speak any english or spanish, and there was no way I was going to understand a word of their portuguese, but still they persisted. The only break I got from them was the hour and a half that the european football (soccer) championships were on and I was focused on watching Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid. As soon as the game ended though, they were back to pestering me. Again, I slept terribly. Hammocks are not for me.
The next day I woke up, was pestered some more by the children and spent the whole day trying to ignore them so they would get the point. Then around mid day, tragedy struck. I went to my purse to get money to buy a bag of chips, and guess what, someone stole all of the money in my wallet, which was a lottt of money, around 400 Reals, which is about $200. Of course, no one speaks English on the boat, and its pretty much hopeless to try and recover that much money on a boat with 100 people. So that turned my day pretty sour and I spent the rest of the day being angry in my hammock. Because my hammock was in the corner of the boat, it really felt like it must have been someone sleeping around me to know when no one was around, which just sucks because that just meant I couldn’t really trust anyone around me. And it just made me feel awkward being stuck on a boat with someone who stole something from me with no way for me to figure out who it was. The evening got worse when we docked in a town. I got excited thinking that the town was not too far away from Porto Velho and that we would be there the next day. Turns out that the town was the halfway point, so we still had 2 full days left. Also the children still wouldn’t leave me alone.
By the fourth day, I was getting stir crazy. I accepted the fact that there was no way I was going to successfully communicate with anyone, since no one on the boat spoke a word of english and wasn’t really willing to try and help me understand their Portuguese. Plus it started to feel like everyone just wanted something from me, for example one girl who persistently came up to me on the boat and tried to buy my nose ring even though I kept saying no, and the children who just wanted me to play with them, and their parents who just wanted me to distract the kids so they could not have to deal with them. Not gonna lie, by this point the trip was pretty miserable.
The trip only ended up getting worse because then on the 5th night I got terrible food poisoning and slept on the floor of the boat because there was no way I could sleep in a hammock with the levels of pain my stomach was in.
We ended up finally getting in to Porto Velho on Wednesday, which meant 6 days/5 nights on that boat, which was 2 more days that we had been led to believe. Thankfully our flight wasn’t until Thursday because we wanted to give ourselves leeway in case something like this happened. My overall reflections on the boat ride were mixed. On one hand it was an interesting experience, we saw lots of new bird species on the riverbanks, a few dolphins, and a couple monkeys. Plus it was incredibly cheap at about 90 USD for what ended up being 5 nights of accomodation, 6 days with all meals included, and transportation all in one. However, I ended up getting almost 200 USD stolen from me (the exact cost difference between a boat and plane flight, mind you), had to sleep in a hammock for 4/5ish nights, got food poisoning, had no one to talk to for that time and nothing to do, and wasted a whole bunch of days that I could have spent elsewhere.
Bleh, anyways, we got into Porto Velho eventually, a small city that takes the prize as Brazil’s number one most dangerous city (yay). It was a pretty ¨meh¨ city with falling apart concrete buildings, mud everywhere, no nice architecture or anything. However it was still nice to be off the boat and our hotel was a gem in such a lame city. We got a big private room with a bathroom and AC for about 12 USD each and it was right next to a couple little places to eat. We did a little bit of exploration in the city and tried Tapioca, which are crepes made out of tapioca, and had some Acai.
Then Thursday we got a plane to Campo Grande, where we were picked up by our tour guide for the Pantanal and transfered to a nice little hotel there. We got wifi for the first time in a week and went to a market area for dinner where we had delicious Soba noodle soups because Campo Grande has a huge japanese population.
Friday morning we got in a van with 5 other tourists, 1 British guy who ended up becoming a good friend and 4 friendly Israeli guys who had just finished their mandatory military service, and we were all driven 4 hours out to our lodge in the Pantanal. In case you were wondering, the Pantanal is a giant half-savannah, half-wetland area with a bit of jungle-y vegetation too that stretches along the Brazil/Bolivia border and is supposed to be the best place in Brazil to see birds and wildlife. Upon arriving, there were Caracaras (Brazilian fishing eagles) everywhere and a couple Capybaras grazing in the grass, so it was already off to an exciting start. We got settled in our dorm room which we shared with the british guy, which was small but was on a permanently docked boat so it looked right out on the river which was very pretty.
In the evening we took a night boat down the river to watch the sun set, watch the stars, and look for wildlife. The wildlife part then was lackluster, all we saw was a bunch of Potoos which are kindof like Nightjars and are related to owls but not quite as cool as an owl. But the sunset and stars were both quite beautiful so that was nice.
The next day (Saturday), we woke up early and hopped on a safari jeep for a safari jeep tour until we eventually reached a trail for hiking. On the safari jeep tour we saw gazillions of Caiman, really tons of them, they were everywhere…large ones and small ones. It made me shocked that we hadn’t seen a caiman up until that point. We also saw lots of birds, including some Toco Toucans and a little baby 9-banded Armadillo.
Then we got out at a trail and hiked into the ¨bush¨ for a couple hours. It was quite a nice hike and we saw coatis, another armadillo, some howler monkeys, a bunch of peccary, and 2 types of macaws. While we didn’t get to see a jaguar, while we were walking after the peccary, we found one that had been killed and partially eaten only a few hours earlier by a jaguar and our guide said that jaguars will stick around and watch over their kills, which meant that there was a jaguar somewhere in our midst, we just couldn’t see it.
Then, after plenty of mosquito bites we headed back for a tasty lunch and saw a spiny iguana on the way back. In the afternoon, we got on a boat and went on a boat safari where we saw lots of new types of birds and some giant river otters. At one point we reached a little hut that had a bunch of canoes and we went up a tributary for a while and then got dropped off in the canoes to paddle back down to the hut. We were in the canoes in pairs and the canoes were quite tippy. Joe and I were the only ones to not flip our canoe, and one of the pairs flipped their canoe countless numbers of times. It was a nice boat ride and we were able to paddle up to a capybara on the riverbank and get within a foot of her and she didn’t do anything. As we were pulling up to the hut, it started to rain and by the time we got on the boat and started heading back to the lodge a huge thunderstorm had started. We got soaking wet but it was amazing because it was night and quite stormy so the sky was completely dark but there was so much lightning in front of us that it lit up the sky and clouds and river, which made for quite a beatiful scene.
Our last day (Sunday), it was raining in the morning when we were supposed to go floating on inner tubes down the river so I opted out of that. Then I opted out of piranha fishing as well because I don’t fish and didn’t want to sit out in the rain, but I still had a relaxing morning packing and watching birds around the lodge. Then we driven out of the Pantanal and transfered to a little (cramped) car that took us to Bonito, a little town south of the Pantanal that was rated the number 1 ecotourism site in Brazil and one of the best in the world. It is an area with lots of perfectly clear rivers that are spring fed and filled with fish. There are also plenty of other adventurous sites to see, like waterfalls and caves.
We had a bit of a hitch in Bonito when the people at our hostel there messed up our payment part, but it got smoothed out and they were very helpful with our tour planning for our time there. That night we had a tasty pizza dinner, which was quite strange because the restaurant didnt let you serve yourself your pizza. Instead you bought a pizza and then they served you a slice and when you wanted the next one they would come and slice it off your pizza and serve it to you and so on. Very odd, but good pizza. Unfortunately, Joe also pulled his back muscle lifting his backpack into the hostel so we spent the rest of the night lazing around the hostel hoping for a fast recovery.
Monday, his back was still hurting him so we spent the morning icing it and resting. Then we rented bikes and took a slow bike ride to the Balneario Municipal, which is an area along one of the crystal clear rivers in Bonito where the river is wider and slower so they created steps into and a big grass resting area so its like a public pool but in the river. We spent the day there, swimming in the very cold water and watching macaws (and lots of other birds) fly around and eat the bird seeds sprinkled around the park.
We met a swiss couple at the balneario who happened to be staying at our hostel and mentioned that they wanted to do a certain snorkeling tour the next day and asked if we wanted to do it with them since the more people that go, the cheaper the transportation for each individual person, so we decided to do that the following day rather than the day after which had been our original plan.
In the evening we hung out with the swiss couple until pretty late and they talked about their travels, which were quite amazing as they had literally dropped everything, quit their jobs, and started traveling around South America with no end in sight and a goal to eventually end up in Alaska by the next year or maybe later.
Tuesday we headed out in the morning to Rio da Prata with the swiss couple. Rio da Prata is a tour that is supposed to be the pride and joy of Bonito where you snorkel down one of the clearest streams in the area and get to see lots and lots of fish and beautiful underwater scenery. We split the cost of an underwater camera rental with the swiss couple, which allowed me to get some photos of the tour, but they don’t quite do it justice because it was not the highest quality camera rental.
We started the tour by changing into half-wetsuits, the kind where your legs are half exposed, and hiking 45 minutes through some jungle to the beginning of the stream. There we got in the water, checked to make sure our mask and snorkel worked fine, and began our snorkeling trip downstream. It was SO BEAUTIFUL. There were tons of fish, the water was incredibly blue and clear, and it wasn’t even too cold. We even looked up and saw some monkeys and coatis at one point. There were also these tiny fish that are the kind that people put in tanks in spas to eat the dead skin off their feet. So they would swarm your face and peck at your lips to eat the dead skin off your lips. It actually kindof hurt but they were pretty cute and friendly little fish. At one point we reached the actual springs which were really cool because they were like an underwater sand volcano which was very pretty. While we were checked out the springs, the little fish went up to my knee and started eating the remainder of my scab from when I fell in the Galapagos, which was acually kindof helpful in a way.
Then after a long ways, the little creek hit the major river and we swam down the river until the first platform where we got out because the big river was less clear and 10 degrees celcius colder. Then we walked a tiny bit until the jeep and went back to the ranch house where joe bought the lunch there and I ate the snacks that we brought with us.
We sat in the sun for a long while and chitchatted with our swiss friends while watching parrots, parakeets, and hummingbirds around the ranch before heading back to hostel.
Once we got back we rested for about an hour before walking down to a big building where we had to do our rappelling training for the following days tour. We were quickly taught how to rappel and abseil, were fitted for wetsuits, and given a bunch of information for our upcoming tour.
Wednesday we woke up super early and met up with our british friend from the Pantanal, who was doing the same rappelling tour as us, and were whisked away to Abismo Anhumas, a big cave that has a very beautiful lake at the bottom of it. The lake is super clear, like the rest of the water in Bonito, and is quite deep at one end (80 meters) but the other end has spectacular underwater cave formations like large underwater stalacmites that you can swim around. To get to the lake, we rappelled through a hole at the top 72 meters until a floating platform. The rappelling down part was quite easy and not terribly scary because you felt more in control. You pass by a lot of huge stalactites as you go down too which was quite cool. Then we waited at the bottom while 2 other pairs of people rappelled down.
After that we took a tour around the lake in a little dinghy and got to see all of the different formations within the cave. I took lots of photos, but again they don’t do the cave justice because it was so dark and my camera was having some problems with its flash.
Then we got back to the floating platform and changed into full length wetsuits and hopped into the lake. We started in the deep (and very dark) part, which was a tad bit scary and it was so cold but there were these really cute fish that had glow in the dark eyes and they were super friendly and you could grab them and touch them and they wouldn’t put up a fight at all. Then we snorkeled all around the lake and swam around hugee underwater pillars and huge underwater stalacmites. It was all super beautiful and the water was so blue and so clear.
Then it was back into our climbing clothes to begin the long climb up. We were the second pair so we had to wait for a while while the first pair to climb up, then we were roped in and began the long abseil to the top. Its not necessarily climbing, but its where you push your hands and feet up at the same time and then the lever on your hands clamps down and you pull up, so it still takes a bit of work and while 72 meters doesn’t seem terribly far when you’re going down, its actually quite far. It was a little bit terrifying actually because the rope is stretchy so you kindof bounce a bit each time you pull yourself up and bouncing when theres nothing but rope and air between you and a cave floor/lake very far away from you is not the most secure feeling thing. I was quite glad when we finally reached the top, but I was also exhilerated. It was amazing and not the sort of thing I usually do on vacation.
Then we headed back to our hostel, did some errands, I skyped my parents, and then went straight to sleep.
Thursday we ran some more errands and then got on a bus to Dourados, a town south of Bonito. In Dourados we transfered to another bus which we took overnight to Foz do Iguacu, the city on the Brazillian side of the Iguassu waterfalls. I slept super well on the bus so I woke up in Foz on Friday feeling pretty refreshed but Joe didn’t sleep much on the bus at all so he was exhausted but we got there with a full day so we took advantage of it instead of finding a hostel right away. First we took a bus into the center of town where we found a money exchange place and changed a ton of Reals into US dollars because to go to Argentina, you’re supposed to bring dollars. Then we took a bus to Parque Nacional do Iguacu, the Brazillian side of Iguassu waterfalls. We put our luggage in luggage lockers and hopped on the provided bus until the Cataratas trail (waterfall trail). We began the trail in quite a lot of fog and when we reached the first viewpoint, it was so foggy that you could just barely make out the falls. I was a bit disappointed, but you could still hear the waterfalls so I knew they were there. There were also coatis everywhere, which behave like extremely tame raccoons and like to steal your stuff, especially your food, and at one point when I bent down to photograph a coati, a different one jumped onto me, trying to get into my backpack and wouldn’t get off.
Then we continued down the trail and the fog started to lift and wow, those waterfalls are impressive. After the first part of the trail, the rest of it is right along the edge of the cliffs so you can see different huge waterfalls the whole time. It was almost a 2 km hike, so you can imagine that it is a LOT of waterfalls.
Then at the end of the trail you get to a part where you can go on a walkway way out right at the bottom of the major falls at the Devil’s Throat. It had started to drizzle at the point, so the rain combined with the huge amount of spray coming off all of the falls meant that I pretty much just got completely soaked, despite wearing a raincoat. Still though it was incredibly beautiful.
Then we took an elevator to the top of Devil’s Throat falls where you can see how big they are and see lots of the other falls too.
It was amazing and incredibly beautiful and breath-taking. Then we had lunch (while being pestered by more coatis) and took the little bus back to the visitors center where we got our luggage and headed back into the city. There we transfered to a bus that took us to Brazilian immigrations. It was incredibly confusing because of how unbelievably relaxed it was. The bus wasn’t even stopped leaving Brazil, it just stopped to let us out to get our exit stamps, but no one else got off the bus. Then there were so few people around and we eventually found a small little office where we quickly were given our exit stamps and then we had to wait 45 minutes for the next bus to pass by. We got on this bus until the Argentinian border where everyone got off the bus except the bus driver, and yet again I was amazing by the lack of tightness in the border security since again, there was no one forcing the bus to stop or forcing people to get off the bus. We got our entrance stamps within minutes, got through their almost non-existant security even faster, and got back on our bus, which thankfully waited for us this time. Then we took the bus into downtown Puerto Iguazu where we found an internet cafe where we looked up hostels. We found a very wonderful hostel not too far away that had beautiful little bungalow-type rooms for incredibly cheap surrounding some beautiful gardens. The hostel ended up being so amazing, so we settled in and then went shopping… for Pesos. The way to exchange money in Argentina is to do it on the black market because the currency here is so weak that it could be worth nothing any day. Thus, everyone in Argentina wants to store away dollars since they are more stable so they are worth more. So even if the official rate is 8 pesos per dollar, the blue dollar rate is much better. In Buenos Aires, which is further away from the border, you can get around 12 to 13 pesos per dollar, but on the border the rate isn’t quite as good since people can just cross over and get Reals very easily. After shopping around, we found the best rate at 10.5 pesos per dollar so we changed a little bit of money and then found a lavanderia and a cute restaurant called Terra, which we clearly had to eat at. The food was tasty, everyone in the town was incredibly nice, and we decided to extend our hostel reservation because it was just such an amazing and cute little place with plants everywhere and cheap prices for us.
Saturday we were supposed to go to the Argentinian side of the falls but we woke up to a huge thunderstorm and pouring rain so we decided to delay that trip for a day and just hang out around town. It was very relaxing and we got a few errands out of the way and I found a book to read in the hostel’s book exchange.
Sunday we decided that even though it was raining, we should go to the Argentinian side of the falls so that we could leave the following day for Buenos Aires. So we headed out around late morning and got to the park with the rain soaking us. I bought one of those plastic tarp poncho things, which kindof helped a tiny bit but I still got pretty wet, plus I had to pay for the more expensive one inside the park because since it was Sunday there was no one selling them for cheap outside the park. Unfortunately 2 of the 4 sightseeing trails at the park were closed because the water level was so abnormally high, but oh well.. that leaves something to come back for. We went on the upper circuit trail first which crosses over the upper parts of a lot of the waterfalls. It was so stunning since you are right up close to all of the falls that you cross over.
Then we looped back around and went on the lower trail which follows many of the same waterfalls as the upper trail but is at the bottom of those same falls instead of above. Midway through this trail the sun came out and the sky turned such a bright blue and then there was a really incredible full-arch rainbow in front of the falls that you can see from the lower trail. With the mist from the waterfalls, the rainforest-y vegetation, and the incredible-ness of iguazu’s waterfalls, it was quite magical and just so so beautiful.
At the end of the lower trail, there is a walkway that almost goes right out under one of the massive falls. I stepped out onto the walkway for just a second and was immediately drenched and all the other tourists were running out onto the walkway to get photos on it and returned as if they’d jumped in a pool. It was really impressive though, seeing so much force up close.
Then we headed back into town, got our bus tickets to Buenos Aires the following day, and went to this super cute cafe in town and had excellent hot drinks, salad, and baked goods. The guys who worked there were super nice and gave us coupons for free coffees at their brand new Buenos Aires location which was cool.
Monday it was time to check out of our hostel. Then we decided to walk to the place where you can see Brazil and Paraguay across the river. On the walk we decided to go the scenic route, right along the river but when we got to the bottom of the road, we realized that we couldn’t go any further along the scenic side of the loop because the water level was so high that the river had completely flooded that entire stretch of the road and the entire town along the road next to the river was completely underwater. You could even see the top of the streetlight a little ways out from the riverbank. So we turned back around and headed the long way to the lookout point. It wasn’t a terribly exciting view, but I guess how many times can you say that you can see 3 countries from one spot..
Then we turned around, got some empanadas and hauled our stuff onto our long distance bus to Buenos Aires. Boy was it a weird bus ride. We were immediately served a tray of snacks upon leaving Puerto Iguazu and then every single hour we were brought hard candies. Then before dinner they brought us each 2 fingers of whiskey in a classy plastic glass. Then with dinner (lackluster food), they brought us cold beer. And then after dinner they brought around champagne. Kindof odd on a moving vehicle, but just shows how different it is from the US. Unfortunately I did not sleep well throughout the night, due to my knees feeling super crampy and a child who cried all night long.
We got to Buenos Aires the following morning around 10, and stumbled onto the streets with no idea where we were. We asked around and eventually were able to walk about 15 blocks until Avenida Florida where we shopped around until we found the best deal on Argentinian Pesos. We spent a while changing money while I went through every single peso checking to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. Counterfeit money is extremely common here due to the terrible inflation and huge black market for currency exchanges, so I read tons of articles on how to spot a fake bill and now I consider myself quite the expert. Thankfully we didn’t get a single fake bill from the guy we chose to buy our pesos from, and we got a pretty good deal so that was good to get out of the way. Then we had to ask around again to figure out where our hostel was, and it took another 20 blocks to walk there. But eventually we got there and settled in. Its a super cute hostel with a nice rooftop terrace.
We went grocery shopping which was fun because it was cheap and they had excellent variety, and then got a really tasty dinner at a very authentic japanese restaurant.
Today we woke up and after lazing around in the morning, walked a bit until we found the subway. It was a super easy subway to navigate so we took it up to the ritzy neighborhood of Recoleta. We walked through the pouring rain in that neighborhood to the Fine Arts Museum which was awesome and free and looked at some pretty paintings for awhile. They had a small but nice collection which included some Degas and Monet along with lots of European artists and Argentinian artists. Then we wandered around some more while I shoe-watched. Basically, I have discovered that Argentines have THE BEST shoes I have ever seen. Imagine the coolest and hippest person in the US and the shoes they would wear and then imagine every single person in Argentina wearing some version of those shoes. Shoes are one of my favorite things, and when they are crazy and unique I get so excited, so I just stared at peoples shoes for a while and it made me incredibly happy. Then we made it back to the hostel and I finally got around to posting this post :)