Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Argentina, Iguazu to Mendoza a long and sometimes winding road..

(Katheryna at Iguazu waterfalls)

Well, Iguazu turned out to be very nice, if a bit touristy. It is kind of funny that all in all we have managed to stay out of the tourists path. Even when we are in touristy areas we are usually out of season and so we don't get the feeling of being in a "Tourist" area. Anyway, apparently Iguazu doesn't really have an off season, just a low season, which this was. Nevertheless, to us it seemed like a lot of tourist.

("The House of Bottles", Iguazu, AR)

The park it self is a few kilometers out of town, and when we got there there were tour buses galore, at the ticket booth, long lines. Somehow the whole thing reminded me of Disneyland. The entrance consists of souvenir shop(s), and info stand and a ticket booth, as well as the usual necessities (a snack bar and toilets). Once inside there is more of the same, with some tour operators thrown in. You can also do river rafting, boat tours below the falls, jungle tours and more, so if you didn't book anything in town, you can do it here.

(Katheryna enjoying some adventure tourism!)

In order to get to the falls you can take a narrow gauge train or walk a km or so to the start of the "lower trail" or "upper trail". In addition the train continues on to "The Throat" at the far side of the falls right in front of the Brazilian border. There is also some "Jungle" trails in the park for those so inclined. Because of the long lines at the train we chose to walk.

(La Garganta, Iguazu, AR)

The "Lower Trail" takes you along some of smaller waterfalls, and in places has some spectacular views of the river below, and the "Throat" further up the river. Then you come around a corner an you have a spectacular panorama of all the major falls. This is when you really get a feel for the size and width of Iguazu. The Island of St. Martin is right in front of you, to the left in the back, the "Throat", and to the right, a whole line of falls, with the major one just to the right of the island. I particularly liked the smaller falls covering around 700 meters of cliffside to the right of the island. Some of the pictures attached will give you an idea of the whole thing.
The upper trail takes you along the top of these secondary falls, and a free boat ride will take you to the island. From the island you get a very close-up look at the falls from various angles and is well worth it. (yes, you have to stand in line for the boat ride, but at least it is free). On the beach at the island young people take advantage of the hot day and go swimming or sun-bathing in the water.

At the end of the day, we had walked quite a bit and so decided to take in the jungle walk and the "Throat" on the following day. As a bonus, if you chose to return for a second day, the ticket is half priced. The second day we started by walking to the "Throat", again to avoid the long lines at the train. The "Throat" turns out to be a walk across the river which feeds the falls, and you get to see some of the wildlife, in our case we caught a small alligator sunning himself, as well as lots colorful birds. At the "Throat" there were a lot of people and a lot of guys with step ladders who for a tip will take a picture of you from an advantageous position. The view is spectacular and very wet. You are right in front of where all the water goes over the horseshoe shaped falls, and the mist will soak you in seconds. One of the spectacles here are the birds which live in the cliffs along the falls, darting here and there through the mist.

We ended the day by walking the jungle trail on the other side of the park, which comes out at a waterfall along the river down from the "Throat". As this is a pretty long walk, and it had started to rain, so there weren't a lot of people on the trail. Luckily for us, the rain stopped, and we got to see a number of animals, including a monkey and a nutria like animal, whose name I forget. The small waterfall and the little pool at the end weren't really all that special, but a nice place to relax and have a picnic.

After Iguazu, we continued on towards Mendoza. We stopped for a day near Iguazu to check out a mine, which Katheryna wanted to visit. Unfortunately she was pretty disappointed, as it turned out to not be much more than an excuse for you to buy rocks and souvenirs. The following day we stopped at a small village which is a popular fishing destination, and here we had a spectacular campside right at the edge of the river Parana, very memorable.

(Rio Parana, AR)

On our way to Corrientes we stopped for gas and were approached by a family who wanted to take our picture. We got to talking, after which we knew where the campground was in Resistencia (Corrientes didn't have one), and had someone to help me change the front wheel bearings which I had planned on getting done in Corrientes! So off to Resistencia it was. Resistencia is across the river from Corrientes and although smaller turned out to be much more interesting. Amongst other things it is the capital of sculptures in Argentina. Every year they have a contest with sculptors from all over the world. The results of which can be seen all around town, and at the museum where they have the competition. Both the government and private citizens join in the fun. The government putting up sculptures at intersections and plazas, individuals putting them in front of their houses, and business putting them in front of their buildings. An example is the local Carrefour, which has two sculptures in front of its entrance, as well as a few more inside the shopping complex.

(Carlos Hortt & Family, Resistencia, AR)

We ended up making some really great friends here, starting with Carlos Hortt, and his whole family, who pretty much adopted us. As well as a number of other people whom we met here. Carlos turns out to be a former successful rally racer from the area. He even spent a year in Japan working for a Japanese F1 motor manufacturer. He has a nice workshop where amongst other things he restores cars and does all manner of mechanical work.

(Bike Rally, Resistencia, AR)

There was a motorcycle rally the weekend after we got here, and we were invited to stay and join the fun. As Katheryna has never had the pleasure so we decided to stay. Motorcycle rallies are basically an excuse to show your bike, enjoy some camaraderie with old and new friends, music, food, drink and entertainment, and this was no different. A very relaxing if loud gathering. My bike was very popular and everyone who saw it basically said the same; they wish they could do the same thing!! We participated in a convoy to Corrientes which had around 150 bikes. We were also awarded a "Special Mention" award for our participation.

We spent many a dinner with Carlos and his family which gave us a chance to sample some specialties of the area (and Argentina), the standard asado of course, and once we had an excellent Sabalo, grilled slowly over coals. Yum, yum.. It was difficult leaving, but we eventually got back on the road.

The ride to Mendoza was un-eventful, but for a couple of interesting communities which we passed through. First was Hasenkampf, which we saw on the map and decided to ride through to have a look. It turned out to be a community of grain and dairy farms, founde by two German brothers, but otherwise pretty much a standard farming community. While we were in the central plaza we were greeted by an elderly gentleman, who used to be a local doctor before he retired. He regaled us with many stories of how the town came to be and of course the current political problems, something everyone likes to talk about, ending by inviting us to an asado, which we politely declined.

(Laguna de Mar Chiquita, AR)

Next was San Jeronimo Norte, which turns out to be another farming community founded by a group of Swiss immigrants. We just missed the 150 year anniversary party which they had had the previous week. All over the town there are Swiss flags on all the buildings, and what drew our notice was how clean it was, just like home! We had stopped for a short break at a roadside restaurant, where the owners were astounded to find out we were Swiss. The called the local community center and informed them of our presence. We stopped by and were given a welcome pack, including a plaque, some stickers, and information on the community!! Too bad we missed the party!

(Just outside Parque National El Condorito, near Cordoba, AR)

The ride since leaving Missiones has been pretty monotonous, wide open country, farms as far as the eye could see. But just west of Cordoba things changed. We were getting into the mountains, and what a ride it was. From Lago San Roque to Villa Dolores, going through the Condorito national park, was one of the best roads we have ridden in Argentina. Almost as scenic as the south of Argentina, but with a well maintained road, which really makes a difference on such a loaded bike as ours.
From Villa Dolores to Mendoza, it is basically desert so there was not much more than a very straight and long road...

(Back in Mendoza, and Carlos Desgens making some final adjustments on the bike)

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