In this journal…
did I mention waterfalls?
Bus arrived in Salta’s terminal just as the light started disappearing from the horizon. I got myself a taxi and headed towards my hostel. Taxi here was quite affordable so I decided it was a good choice. I checked in, and headed towards a vegetarian restaurant that one of the hostel roommates recommended. It was simply fabulous. The chocolate drink with vegetable stew simply filled me up with happiness, without any of the fat!
I dosed off to my happy place after I got back to the hostel. It was a long day, and I still dreamed of the beautiful Iruya… I woke up to the sunny day that Salta is known for, and decided to take the day easy. I had exactly half a day to sort my things out, so I asked the hostel receptionist where I could change money. Changing money was not easy in Argentina. The official rate was pegging 16 Pesos to a dollar, yet the black market rate was at 18 pesos. There was barely any exchanging bureaus, and ATM’s spit out money with official exchange rates, which makes you lose 10% on your money. In order to change money, one has to approach professional exchangers at sides of the streets, and being a first-timer in Salta, I had to ask. The receptionist paused for a while, and said: oh okay I will get someone. He called a dude, and he showed up in front of my face within minutes. I was exchanging a 100USD bill, which made him more excited than I was! After verifying my Benjamin, he disappeared before I could count my money, but alas it was a fun experience!
Plaza 9 de Julio, Salta
I ventured into the heart of the city, a plaza called 9 de Julio. Just like every other Latino city, it is consisted of the grand cathedral and a big garden/open space in front of it. This northwestern city seemed to be much more laid back than I expected. By 11 a.m., I could see flocks of people drinking coffee in the plaza, blocking the sun rays with their hands. There were many folks walking up and down the area, which consisted of only pedestrian walk streets. Numerous vendors lined the streets, and some shops had huge microphones blasting sale advertisements.
cathedral of Salta
The most famous museum of Salta is MAAM, Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña/Alpine Mountain Archaeology Museum. The museum is world famous for its exquisite collection of Andean culture, especially the 3 most famous Andean mummies in the whole world. The Children of Llullaillaco are three children, El Niño, La Doncella, and la niña del rayo offered as sacrifices by Incas over 500 years ago at the formidable peak of Llullaillaco (6739m/22100ft), and were only discovered in 1999. I eventually came face to face with the child El Niño in the museum, as each of these three kids were rotated every 6 months. Only 1 is exhibited at a time. The skin, the clothes, and the hair were all perfectly preserved, as if he was just in a deep slumber. Being 30cm away from a mummified child that felt very much alive can change your life, trust me.
Queen of the Mountain
I could not take pictures inside the museum, but I was allowed to record the side exhibition called Queen of the Mountain. She was also sacrificed on a tall mountain by the Incas. After many years of being sold to collectors, she finally returned home.
I did not have much time, and I had to head to the local airport in Salta for my flight. I had not taken a single flight after I landed in Bolivia, and I was quite excited as I stepped into the tiny airport. Unlike Bolivia, Argentina has a relatively full coverage of air traffic, and even Salta has quite a few choices to pick from. LATAM and Aerolinas Argentinas both fly to Buenos Aires frequently, and I was on the only non-Buenos Aires flight that afternoon: my destination was the Argentinean city of Puerto Iguazú.
The flight calmly touched down after 3 hours of vehement turbulence. I picked up my backpack and shared a shuttle with some fellow travelers into town. The highways here have animal crossings almost every single kilometer, and I saw an anteater in the darkness, or at least that was what I suspected. I got into my hostel, passed out from the fatigue and woke up to a thunderous morning downpour. I wanted to wait it out, and I waited until afternoon. There was no point going to the world-class waterfalls anymore, and I simply walked around the tiny town looking for inspiration for life. I wandered all the way to the border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. It is called Tres Fronteras, literally “three frontiers”.
As you can see in the above photo, the right side is Brazil; the left side is Paraguay, and where I stood is Argentina. The river from which the Iguazú Falls is formed divides the three countries, along with their respective cities on the border: Foz do Iguaçu for Brazil, Puerto Iguazu for Argentina and Cuidad del Este for Paraguay. Frequent shuttle buses run among the three cities every 15 minutes, and I almost decided to go to Cuidad del Este for the night if it was not a bit notorious for being dangerous. I watched the sunset at the border as the giant flame orb in the sky slowly sank into the lush jungle. The park was filled with locals playing football and couples kissing, and I promptly gave up my spot for even more locals pouring in after work.
sunset at Tres Fronteras
As I walked back to the city, I could not help but realize the entire place revolves around tourism, and that truly had boosted life quality for everyone here. Unlike the past 2 weeks in Bolivia and Quebrada, I was finally seeing modern houses for the locals as well as just FUCKING TREES! I could not believe how much I missed the trees.
I bought the bus ticket to the waterfalls, and struggled to sleep in my bed. I had the entire dorm room to myself, and I was really, really lonely. I always thought I could meet someone in the hostel to go to the falls together, but I guess I am destined to be alone. Another thunderstorm arrived, throwing countless rain drops onto the window, as if it wanted to knock its way in. I watched one lightning pierce the sky, and then another…
I took an early bus to the Iguazu National Park area, and purchased my ticket, only to rush inside because I wanted to avoid the crowds. The entire park felt more like a theme park than a national park, likely due to the huge crowd it attracts. It had walkways up and down, as well as a train line connecting the entrance to the first set of falls, and the final set of waterfalls called Garganta del Diablo/Devil’s Throat. On the first walkway that I wanted to do, called Circuito Inferior/minor circuit, I immediately encountered a coati walking down the handrails. They are basically raccoons of south america, equally cute as well as annoying.
even monkey me no like, y?
After the coati left, a monkey came onto the handrail. I had never seen a monkey so close in the wild, and I was so into taking the picture that he almost stole my entire bag of empanadas that I prepared for lunch. This circuit may be called inferior because it is lower, but actually it has a much better view of the waterfalls because you go right beside the waterfalls. The first set of viewpoints proved me right.
a world wonder: Iguazú Falls
Despite the fact that I am trying really hard to keep the number of pictures for the same thing to a minimum, there are just too many spectacular pictures, so I apologize in advance for spamming pictures, but I wish I am heavier in my fingertips so I could write more for this journal.
a lizard wandering the woods
Iguazu Falls is the largest waterfall system in the world, pouring down 1756 cubic meters of water every second into the narrow gorge below a towering cliff. The entire stretch of the waterfall is more than 2.7km/1.7 miles long! The enormous waterfall is so strong that the entire system retreats 3mm every year simply due to the strong caving from the crashing force.
a smaller fall on the side
I finally finished another small objective I had for the year of 2016. I wanted to compare Victoria Falls to Iguazu Falls. It was a hard one, but I decided to give the winner to Iguazu. Not that Victoria Falls is not impressive, but Iguazu is just way too powerful. Victoria Falls has a very nice viewing surface, while Iguazu gave me almost every single possible angle to look at a waterfall. Additionally, Iguazu Falls’ setting in the middle of the jungle also helps it get a lot of extra scores.
isn’t this the definition of beauty?
After finishing with the inferior circuit, I hopped onto the Circuito Superior/superior circuit slightly above the other one. By this time, the place started to get crowded. I had an amazing view of the waterfall nonetheless, and there was nothing else that I could have wanted more.
looking down to the falls
Call me girly, but I am a very sentimental person. Having been practically by myself ever since I could remember, I found mother nature usually my best companion. She never fails to show me incredibly wonderful things whenever I am feeling down. From nests of ants following a kilometer-long path (come on, you were curious about ants when you were little as well, I bet) right by my school to the awe-instilling Mt. Everest itself, from the crashing waves in Seychelles to the fierce lions munching on a buffalo in Africa, and now, Iguazu falls was right in front of my eyes…
Whenever I feel like I am alone, or left out, I take a walk to the nearest nature I can find. Because I know mother nature will always be there to comfort me, with her soothing voice of the song birds, to her majestic showcase of strength via millions of natural wonders… I felt like even when I lost everyone in my life, I would still find her there, ready to embrace me in her arms… Who says travelling is not lonely? I have been walking by myself since god-knows how long, and I am glad that there are moments like this that consoles my slightly worn heart.
a bird perched right ahead of me
The view down the falls gives me vertigo when I saw a tree branch and imagined myself being that said branch, and I could hear myself screaming as I fall down just like in the stereotypical Indiana Jones movies.
a glimpse at the Brazilian side
a tree lizard
There was more than just waterfalls here. A group of eagles circled around the waterfall constantly, maybe they were enjoying the sunny day just like I was! There were also jaguars, anteaters, tapirs and toucans. And base on my observations, I want to believe there were more monkeys than humans in the park.
an American harpy eagle
I think this part is a good place to briefly summarize what I had been through in this journey. After Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia and North America, I finally got around to South America, intending to finish all 7 continents in this world in 2016. My goal was keep heading south until I reach Antarctica. I started in La Paz, Bolivia, and had a blast risking my life down the most dangerous road in the world; then Salar de Uyuni and the furthest corners of Bolivia kept reminding me how amazing it is to be in this world; I crossed into Argentina’s Quebrada de Humahuaca, and found a tiny town to settle my mind; and now I am here, in another UNESCO World Heritage Site called Iguazu Falls. I think I am lucky, just a tad bit too lucky as if I was secretly blessed by 1000 Irishmen.
the view from down below
I crossed deserts, traversed mountains, waded white beaches, galloped grasslands. I licked a wall made of salt; I danced with Masai in rural tribes; I touched the paint in the original Snow White’s Castle in Germany; and then I went into the newest Snow White Castle in China; I chewed on strange whale meat, giving it a thumbs down; I also tried an impala burger, giving it a thumbs up. And in less than a month, I would be in Antarctica, looking at penguins waddle their ways up an iceberg. Can you imagine that? All these in one year! Sounds insane, man!
rainbow, waterfall, blue blue sky…
Enough gawking at my endeavors. After finishing the superior circuit, normally people would take the train to the furthest station 2km away to visit the Devil’s Throat. It is the biggest single waterfall in the entire system, deserving its gnarly name. I, however, am no normal fella. I decided to walk to the other side, and I followed the train track south.
It was not a terrible walk, and the sunlight was slightly dented by the thick forest. I found a huge flock of butterflies congregating near the track, and when I walked by, hundreds of them started flying around me like a giant tornado of butterflies! I felt like a Disney princess transforming into my flower dress.
I cannot believe this is a butter-fly!
I realized they were on the ground looking for minerals and salt to sustain their daily life. Thus I could take them and let them do so on my hand since I had not washed my hand the whole day while I was parkouring in the jungle, so my digits were basically a salt mine from all the dirt. I held one on my hands for the entire half-hour walk to the Devil’s Throat, even during my short lunch picnic break. (remember those empanadas?)
now this is a happy Young
Garganta del Diablo is no joke when it comes to power and force. The walk from the train station to the end of the platform was very long, and the river spread out so vastly that I thought I was walking on a lake. Finally, after another good five minutes of walking on water, the enormous cataract decided to show its true fury.
Garganta del Diablo/Devil’s Throat
The crashing sound made communications completely impossible, and unnecessary. The fact that there could be so much water pouring into a tiny valley is just mind-blowing. I stood there, with nothing in my head. The sheer force washed out any thoughts I had remaining. I was in shock. I was in shock for a long, long time.
looking into oblivion
The water here was supposedly green, but ever since humans decided Amazon was a good place to get wood, the deforestation turned the water a muddy brown. Ever since the loss of soil began 30 years ago, the water had not been green for one day longer.
a great dusky swift
A lot of tiny birds flew like little shots of lightnings in the thick mist created by the waterfalls. They are the great dusky swift, a kind of bird so adventurous that they rest on the cliffs beneath the waterfalls. So they sometimes fly right in front of your eyes, and disappear completely within the water. They had since become the symbol of the National Park.
After I snapped back to reality, I decided it was time to leave. It was late already, and I had spent a whole day in the National Park. I returned to town, had a nice dinner as if I was dating myself, and rewarded myself with an ice cream! The Argentines fantasize about dulce de leche every day, so I attracted quite a lot of evil looks when I walked around licking my ice cream topped with that heavenly sugar sauce.
a good day always ends with an ice cream!
The next morning, I was shaken awake by a fierce thunder. I got under way to the airport, and thankfully the thunderstorm did not delay my flight too much. A quick hop took me to the capital of the country, Buenos Aires. A shining city dazzling light reflected from Rio de la Plata, BA is likely what everyone thinks of when people mention South America. I had experienced quite a lot of Argentina, but this time, it is time for the big guy.
Welcome, to the southern Paris.
I stepped outside the terminal, and I saw the glimmering bay of Rio de la Plata right in front of me. I took a bus to the central area, since this city airport locals refer to as Aeroparque was simply 20 minutes away from downtown. I was the only passenger on this slightly worn out bus, and I was told by the driver that this was the place that I should get off, so I hopped off the bus right into the middle of a celebration.
dance dance dance!!!
It seemed to be a celebration of some sorts, and the entire main street was shut down. People dressed in different kinds of local attires danced to the same beat, and everyone seemed to be having an awesome time. I am not sure if it is a regular weekend fling here simply because South Americans are full of festivities and happiness, or I was incredibly lucky. I want to believe it was the former.
look at this small one!
I walked 15 blocks to my hostel along the parade, and settled in the hostel Sophie, my Parisian contact, once lived and worked in. (You can find my travels with her in EuroHop2016, Round’aWorld 2016, and where we met in Costa Rica 2015[journal planned].) I walked around a while and waited for my local contact in Buenos Aires, Leonardo. He is a short but robust fella I met back in school. I joined him to watch him practice football for the night, and enjoyed a meal of pizza with his friends.
Buenos Aires public transit lanes in downtown
The next morning was a sunny one, and I joined the crowds to attend the weekly Sunday San Telmo flea market right beside my hostel. The shops were just setting up, and the amazing items being displayed already intrigued me greatly. Items ranging from priceless antiques to handmade bags lined the narrow street, which was closed off to thru traffic completely on Sundays.
San Telmo Flea Market
The area for the market was e.n.o.r.m.o.u.s. I walked for a straight hour south and could not see its end. Every street that the market crosses formed a branched off “side market”, making the area almost impossible to traverse in one single day. By noon, there was no more space to even rest one’s feet. People clogged the market like Black Friday in Walmart.
I met with Leonardo once again, and I had the pleasure to meet his family, including his mother Pina, sister and lovely grandmother. He showed me around his grandmother’s house, and we had an amazing lunch together, celebrating his grandma’s birthday. Leonardo seemed to be very close with his family, and everyone was so warm to me that I felt it was more of a home to me than my actual one.
I was starving when Leo’s grandma put on the parilla. Oh boy it was absolutely the best thing that has ever happened to me ever since I got here! Parilla is the Argentine way of barbecue, and couple that with the delicious juicy Argentine steaks, you got yourself a treat of a lifetime. Sausages, vegetables, chicken breasts, and others also happily jumped onto the barbeque rack, which the house has one built right in!
I think Leonardo’s grandma had reached the status of Alina’s grandma in my heart
After stuffing myself with more barbecue than I really, really should have, I was taken on a stretcher, and taken back downtown by Leonardo. It was an amazing experience, and I have to say that the stereotypical saying of Argentinean steak is no joke. I can testify with my 10-pound weight gain!
on the way back, facing the famous Obelisco
For the afternoon, I was mostly in a food-induced coma, and pretty much was debilitated from doing anything other than moaning on my bed. I took off for some more food when I woke up around 8pm with a slightly empty stomach. I found an awesome middle-eastern canteen with beautifully crafted draft beer, and I downed myself even more food, and finally, some alcohol. I passed out the moment my head made contact with the pillow, and dreamed of pure happiness. (i.e. an ocean of puppies)
word salad of the day: falafel shawarma heaven beer
I prepared myself a bit better the next day, and started an adventure on my own. I needed to prove to Leonardo that I could survive without him in this beautiful city! I walked all the way north, passed dozens and dozens of blocks, reaching Plaza de Mayo for a picnic lunch. This is the heart of Buenos Aires and Argentina, and some may argue this is the heart of the entire South American continent as well, simply because the biggest financial center surrounded this plaza. The Presidential Palace called Casa Rosada stood right in the middle, and its iconic red bled into the blue sky.
There were a lot of barricades set up by the police here, and even more protesting banners hanged around. I guess the recent collapse of Argentine economy and the quick change of political leaders were probably the ones to blame. There were also trucks of heavily armored police patrolling the area, which put a little bit of sincerity in this rather lighthearted city center.
Plaza de Mayo, with its Monumento al General Manuel Belgrano
I walked past CBD after my short break. and reached the next plaza called Plaza San Martin. A tall monument stood on the other side of the park, and this park appeared much more relaxed and tranquil: locals walked under the shaded trees with their puppies, who only seemed to care about the numerous pigeons dipping their heads into the bread crumbs scattered all over the walkways, and if you trace the bread crumbs, you will find an old men tossing them onto the ground as if it was his daily duty to feed those hunger-stroke winged beasts of fury.
Plaza San Martin
Passing through this park, and after another few turns, I finally reached the final destination for the day. Sorry to disappoint, but it is neither a famous museum nor a renowned building. It was definitely somewhere you will not expect: it was a cemetery called Cemeterio de la Recoleta. The enormous cemetery is extremely similar to the one I explored in Paris called Cimetière du Père-Lachaise just a month ago. Towering structures had become the norm in the graveyard, and the influential families all compete to have the most majestic gravestones, or I may call them, gravehouses.
Cemeterio de la Recoleta
The entire cemetery felt just like Père-Lachaise, and the gloomy day seemed to echo the mood people usually come here have. A cat came to my feet, and nagged me by circling around my feet. I only had a little bit of empanadas with me, but I decided to give all of these to him instead. Being a stray in a graveyard, he must have some magical powers. I secretly wished for a girlfriend to him just in case he is actually a wizard trapped in a cat’s body.
The most visited grave in the cemetery is not one of a singer like the counterpart in Paris though. It was the grave of the famous suffragette Eva Perón. She was the first lady of Argentina during the late 1940s, and she led a lot of the working class people to fight for rights during her time as the first lady. She also succeeded in giving the women in Argentina the right to vote. Later she led a party of her own to bid for presidency, only to let her crippling health issues stop her. She died quickly after, at the age of just 33, and her beloved nickname, Evita, is still mentioned by every Argentine now.
Finishing my visit to Evita’s final resting place, I slowly walked back to my hostel. I waited for Leonardo to pick me up, and he did not tell me where we were going this time. “You will see.” He repeatedly replied this to me after I repeatedly questioned him. I was finally brought to a building reading “Armenian Coalition in Argentina”, and as we entered the building, I was as confused as I am in a math class. What the hell were we going to an Armenian organization’s basement for? (I still really want to visit Yerevan though!) The moment I entered the basement, my question was immediately answered.
You have not been to Argentina if you have not attended a tango session! I met with Leo’s family, who had already been there for a while, and sat down for dinner, facing dozens of students learning how to dance. This kind of place is called a milonga. There are hundreds of these in Buenos Aires alone, and I have heard of them ever since I knew tango existed. However, this was the first time I heard they offer food as well, but I guess it is not a widespread tradition, since we were the only people sitting there for food. Everyone else was eyeing for a partner while holding a glass of wine at the bar, which made our situation quite awkward. But hey, I get to see what the Argentineans do in their spare time: dancing with the sexiest movements until midnight!
dinner at milonga!
The dancing session went in different ways. In free dancing time, you can pick partners you like and just wing it, and during instructions, the instructor would let the girls switch to the next guy like a conveyor belt so everyone gets to practice. It was a very very beautiful kind of dance when you get to see the instructors dance it out, but when the younger couples practiced, you would sometimes see girls lying on the floor with all 4 pointing up. This is how the Argentine communicate, socialize, familiarize, date, and everything else. This is what true Argentine life is. I thanked Leonardo and his family, and returned to my hostel. “What a strangely fun day!” I said to myself, before passing out in my comfy bed.
dance moves of tango
I woke up very early the next day, and a taxi took me to the ferry dock right next to Plaza San Martin. I had my big bag stored in the hostel, and I was about to take a 4 day detour to another country: Uruguay. It had been quite an adventure in Argentina, I would say, especially in the mummified highland capital Salta, as well as the jaw-dropping Iguazu. The sheer force of water pouring down a cliff probably carved a mark into my heart, and I will never be able to even start to forget. The greenery, the animals, the birds, the butterflies, and the people, all seemed to be living a life off the waterfalls, all thanks to mother nature’s blissful bequeath. Buenos Aires and its hip flea markets, unbelievable parillas, shake-it-up milongas, and the tranquil cemetery, all proved to me that it deserved its name of Paris in the South. I will be forever grateful to Leonardo and his family for treating me like one of their own, and Young never forgets all the greatest moments. Ah Argentina, if you are a beauty, then you must be a passionate yet delicate one!
I waited patiently at the terminal, biding my time for a speed boat to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, across from the river. It was a cold morning with overcast skies, yet I was ready to embark on my 3rd country in this trip. I have another great friend of mine waiting on the other side of this river, and I was more than happy to embark on this tiny detour. Antarctica, even you have to wait for him!
dammit! I am FALLing for it again!