#8 Argentina, March 12, 2005

Dear Everybody,

Yes, who I caught a glimpse of and thought was a gaucho was! In the Corrientes bus depot I spotted another and again in another small town bus depot, there were two more. These Pampas cowboys wear a broad brimmed black hat, held on with a string under their lower lip, a bandana around their neck, and a multicolored woven belt around their waist which is overlapped by a very elaborate leather belt with a very fancy buckle. Their pants and shirts were sort of ordinary and their shoes were canvas crepe soled (?). Those can’t be their riding/working shoes—maybe their ‘going to town’ shoes? Later from the bus window I saw three more of them riding horses.

Another half day of riding a bus from Corrientes to Posadas—still flat, flat pampas until near Posadas, then it finally became rolling hills. The next day a quick one hour bus ride to San Ignacio to see the ruins of a Jesuit mission called San Ignacio Mini. It covers a huge area; the church alone was 250′ by 80′—that’s close to a football field in size! The Jesuits set up 30 missions in this area to coopt Indian labor for agriculture. They were very successful from their start in 1607 until 1767 when they became victims of their own success. Because of envy and jealousy by secular Spaniards and others, they were expelled from the area. There is still beautiful Guarani Indian carving to be seen at the site.

The next morning in front of the church I caught the 8:30 bus to Iguazu. It was definitely the milk run and took forever. I had to stand for the first half hour but then lots of people got off and I got a seat. We must have stopped 60 to 80 times. The towns are much closer together here, and we would stop five or six times in each town—practically door to door service! We also picked up and let off many people on the highway. It took nearly six hours.

Puerto Iguazu is heavily touristed as you would expect. I got a nice room in the Hosteria Los Helechos that even had a tiny pool—good for a cool-off as the weather was HOT, HOT.

Thursday I took the public bus to the ‘cataracts’ (as they call the falls) and then walked forever to see them from various viewpoints. They’re GIGANTIC and quite spread out. I would say that they are like about ten Niagara Falls and they’re higher, too. They have built nice catwalk networks so that one can walk and look and photograph all day long. Of course that involves lots of walking up and down steps, too. I took the free launch to San Martin Island which has more walks that call for more photos. Finally around 2:00 I took the public bus back to town, and nearly collapsed with exhaustion.

The falls are so beautiful and dramatic and they say this is the low water part of the year. In their springtime they are even more spectacular. It’s certainly something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, but the Moreno Glacier in southern Patagonia still holds the position of ‘highlight of the trip’ so far anyway.

Friday I went back to the falls and had a nice conversation (trashing Bush) on the bus with Jane of New York. We also ran into each other later in the day. This day I took the free little train to the top of the Gargante del Diablo (devil). This was the most awesome sight yet, and the catwalk was built right to the edge of the precipice for superlative viewing. This is the biggest cataract of all and has a horseshoe shape. The noise alone gave me goose pimples.

Then I walked down, down again to San Martin Island, this time with a ticket for a speedboat ride ‘under’ the falls. Was that ever fun! Of course we got completely soaked but they had given us a sturdy plastic bag in which to protect our shoes and cameras after we initially took some pictures. The ride was also quite thrilling, going very fast and curving this way and that. It is amazing how near the falls they go—the water felt very good as we got totally drenched. While I had protected my shoes and camera, I didn’t think about stuff in pockets and money belt and that all got drenched too, including my passport. Shame on Togo for printing their visas with blue, water-soluble ink. What a mess that page is, and the next, too. But no serious harm done—it was so hot that when I got back to the hotel everything dried in no time with the overhead fan going.

Jane from New York invited me to go on an excursion to see some ‘mines of precious rocks’ as she had hired a car and driver. We saw the geodes ‘in situ’ in the basaltic rocks—kind of weird but interesting. Jane bought several specimens—pretty heavy to take home—my first thought always as a backpacker.

Then the driver took us to La Aripuca which was an amazing place. Otto, whom I met, has made his life work preserving old trees that farmers have cut down to clear land for farming. Otto has made buildings and ‘wood art’ furniture out of these huge trees in a park-like setting. There was lots of furniture made out of cedar roots.

Both of these site visits turned out to be more interesting than I expected. Sometimes with low expectations while traveling, interesting things pop up that one doesn’t anticipate, or that don’t sound that great ahead of time.

Jane and I had dinner together and also traded books. When I backpack, I only bring two books with me because of extra weight so I find it important to be able to trade, which I usually am able to do.

Now this morning in Puerto Iguazu it is pouring rain as I type this. I have a flight in a couple of hours to Cordoba from which I will bus north again towards Argentina’s northwest area.

Thanks to all of you that have emailed me—it’s always nice to hear from you.


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