May 3 - 4 - Buenos Aires
So our flight came in at 3 in the morning, but an inadequate amount of customs officers ensured that we didn`t get out of the airport until after 6 a.m. Then the bus into town took an hour and a half, so when we finally landed in town, we gratefully fell into the first hotel room we could find and slept the rest of the morning. I didn`t really want to wake up again, but that afternoon we took a walking tour of the city, visiting a few spots that I recognized from the movie Evita, including the Casa Rosada. I think I was humming the songs to myself as we walked, and imagining Che waltzing beside me.
Buenos Aires is across a huge river, really a bay, from Uruguay, called the Rio De La Plata...yup, I hear Madonna screaming that, too. Anyway, the city itself is really big, and our small tour around it couldn`t hope to do it justice. Especially since a chunk of the afternoon was spent getting to and from the bus station, where we realized just how big the country of Argentina really is. Our next destination was the massive waterfalls of Iguazu, which are tucked up into the east corner of the country, and require an 18 hour non-stop bus ride to reach them from the city. The ticket agent promised us our seats would be comfortable, and so we reluctantly agreed to the long drive.
For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered some more around the city, visiting the cemetery where everyone famous is buried. Really, it is more of a giant mausoleum resembling a miniature city. Each family crypt had walls, windows, doors, and sometimes even a basement to give them extra room. The place was so crowded that there was no green space like you might imagine a cemetery should have. Weaving through the never ending rows of crypts were narrow walkways, and through the windows we could look in and see individual coffins sitting in the dust of years. Huge tour groups were squeezing their way through the alleyways, and we followed on to help us find Evita Peron`s grave, noticeably more famous since the movie came out, I´m sure.
On the main wide boulevard in downtown Buenos Aires, there was a monument that looks strikingly like the Washington Monument in D.C., albeit much smaller. Walking streets branched out from the main thoroughfare, and they were lined with all sorts of shopping possibilities. Argentina was turning out to be one of the most expensive countries we would visit, and the plethora of shops reminded us that this was an emerging country, ready to escape its third-world status. We did notice that although the grocery stores were huge and well-stocked, there was almost no imported goods available. There must be a high import tax or something. Argentina seems to make up for it by producing everything that it needs and wants to sell. I guess that`s not all bad...except that we noticed that it was hard to find out-of-season fruits and vegetables, to give one example.
May 5 - Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay
The next afternoon we made it to the bus station again to catch our bus. A gleaming double decker awaited us, and we took our upper front seats and literally sank into the extra-wide roominess of them. Wow. The seats leaned way back, the footrests came up, and we relaxed in comfort. Along the ride we were served hot meals, wine and soft drinks, and movies played on the screens in the ceiling. In short, it was a great ride. The roads were wide, flat, and straight, for the most part, and the driver never took a corner fast enough to throw us around. I mentally compared the ride to our last Guatemala chicken bus where I was literally gripping the rails to not slide off the seat onto the floor, and laughed. We never stopped but for 5 minutes the entire night, and by early morning we arrived with at least a little more sleep than I had ever expected to get on a bus.
Iguazu Falls wass totally amazing. We arrived there as quick as we could throw our luggage into yet another hotel room and take the short ride out to the park. The River Iguazu marks the border of Brazil and Argentina, and also Paraguay just a few miles downriver. The falls themselves are 2.7 kilometers wide, broken into several clumps of waterfalls, and trails branch off to see all of them. By sheer volume of water and width of the falls, Iguazu is the largest waterfall in the world, and more than twice as high as Niagara Falls in NY. We spent all day wandering around the walking trails, chasing colorful butterflies and sighting lots of birds. It was the dry season, so not all the falls were actually flowing at capacity, but the main fall never stops. Known as the Garganta del Diablo, the thunderous roar of the water and the mist rising over it let us know we were getting close. To get out there, we took a toy train ride around a river bend, then walked a kilometer out over the river on a suspended metal walkway. Overlooking the falls, the mist kept us cooled off in the cloudless sunny day, and the pool at the bottom was almost lost in the haze.
May 6 - 23 hour bus ride to Salta
Well, the next morning, and this is becoming a refrain, we boarded another double decker bus, this time for a 23 hour ride up to Salta in the northern end of the country. We had agreed to the long ride with out too much worry based on how comfortable the last bus was. Not a great idea in retrospect. This company tried to cram a few more passengers into the available space, and our seats were no longer the plush sleeping kind, but more like a normal bus or airplane seat. We groaned in unison, and tried to imagine sitting like this for 23 hours. But, somehow we did survive it, me mostly by reading a book the entire night. It was almost a full moon, and outside the huge windows, I watched the countryside for hours. The road was perfectly straight and flat, and the huge plains of cattle fields flowed as flat as a pancake for hours on end. After an entire night of flatness, the next morning we finally climbed into the foothills of the Andes to arrive in Salta.
May 7 - 8 - Salta, Argentina
After 40 hours of buses in just a few days, we were ready to stop and catch our breath for a second. Salta turned out to be a perfect place for that. The town was big enough to have lots of shopping, yet small enough to walk around. The pedestrian streets near the main plaza sort of reminded us of Saarbrucken, for those of you who have spent some time in Germany. I felt like getting a little exercise, so I convinced Rob to climb over 1000 steps up to an overlook (instead of taking the tram), and it was a beautiful sunny day with great views. But we got a little freaked out by all of the spiders...every tree over the path up the steps seemed to have its own colony of huge spiders. Autumn in South America comes in May, so the leaves on the trees were turning yellow and falling off. The crisp air promised more chilly nights as we move higher in the mountains.
May 9 - Bus and train travel up to and across the Argentina - Bolivia border
After recovering in Salta, it was another 7 hour ride up to the Bolivian border. But this time we had the very front seat in the upper level of the bus, and it was an amazing ride. We climbed high into the plains of the Andes, and passed lots of desert scenery, cactus, and llamas. By the time we reached the border towns, we could see nothing but red dust and scrub desert. Once across the border in Villazon, we had a long uphill walk to the train station, and the almost 12,000 feet of elevation made our backpacks feel like a ton of bricks! The train ride was another couple of hours, through more amazing desert scenery, to arrive in Tupiza at sunset. Along the way, we saw mostly desolate scenery, a few scattered houses, and the odd shepard out in the middle of nowhere with a group of llamas. I stuck my head out the window for a while, until we had to close them to keep the dust out.