Norton Ink

Argentina 2002

26 de Agosto 2002

Today is the day that my sister gets here and I am very excited. Teresa and I just got back from shopping only to find that she had called while we were gone. I hope she will call back. However it is good to know that she is in Buenos Aires and everything is ok. It also happens to be the week that Cecilia and Sergio are going on vacation so their daughters will be staying here, as well. This is going to be one full house! My room has 4 twin beds in it and last night the girls and I shared the room. They saw my curling iron and asked if they could use it. Absolutely! Then they asked me how to use it. So I demonstrated, plug this in, push this button, wait for the blinking light……… No, no, no, they didn’t know how to use it in their HAIR! Imagine! I think I might leave it here for them.

My last weekend with Teresa was amazing, after about 6 weeks of talking about it, we finally got up to Iguazu Falls. Teresa and I drove up, leaving Celso and Matias on their own for the weekend. It took about 4 hours to get there, somehow I expected it to be a lot more, so it was a nice surprise. First, we drove up to Tres Fronteras, an area where rivers meet and you can see Paraguay and Brazil while standing in Argentina. Then we took a quick driving trip through Iguazu, a dusty, tourist town. Finally, we headed to Iguazu Falls, it was 4pm when we got there and they were closing up, so we went in and signed up for the tour of the falls by full moon. We deliberately planned this trip to coincide with the full moon as Teresa had heard that it was amazing.

Because it was just us ladies, solo, we made jokes the whole trip about being “Las Chicas Superpoderosas” which is what they call the Powerpuff Girls here and it means, “the superpowerful girls.” Which in a way was fitting. Every time we passed a car on the road we hooted and hollered and generally had a great time driving.

At Tres Fronteras there was a stand of artesanial crafts and I found a rain stick for 20 pesos. I have always wanted one of these!!!! It is a piece of hollow wood (tree branch?) that when dried out has all these little ??? seeds, or residue (Kevin heard it was dead cockroaches but I am disinclined to believe that story) and when you tip the stick downwards all the little things inside drop down to the bottom, making a noise like rain.

After that we went to check into our hotel, only to find that they hadn’t received our reservations that we made via the web! So we went on down the road, each hotel had one room for Friday night, but nothing for Saturday. So we settled on the last hotel we went to, “Latino” and it was a basic cheap hotel, shower, toilet, two twin beds and a tv. But for 60 pesos a night (less than $20) it was just fine. It also turned out that dinner and breakfast were included. We both took a quick siesta and then did a little window shopping. After a nice dinner at the hotel, we still had 30 minutes to kill before we drove back to the falls. So we went up to the room, I stepped out on the little balcony and the full moon was out, there were stars everywhere. So we just took our chairs out to the patio and sat and watched the full moon, with very little talking. It was a really nice moment, a good sign for the rest of the weekend. For the rest of the trip, every time we drove past all the hotels that didn’t have room for us, we thumbed our noses at them, in true Chicas Super Poderosas form.

We signed up for the later tour, 10p, and got there about 9:45, I thought it was going to be about 30 people, with a tour guide. There were TONS of people, probably more than 200! As for guides, they put us all on these 2 passenger trains (something akin to a train that you might find at Disney but maybe a little more rustic) and left us to our own devices. The falls are actually a good 30 minute train ride from the entrance so I was glad we weren’t on foot. As soon as we got off the train we all started the walk to “La garganta del diablo” (Devil’s Throat). This is what is considered to be the most spectacular view of the falls, it is an area where all this water meets before plunging down into the abyss. To get there you have to walk 1,000 meters on metal ramps that they have built out to the falls (i.e. on top of the water), all of this in the light of the moon. It was breathtakingly beautiful. To the side of the metal ramps you could see the remains of the old wooden ramps they used to use. Instead of the train they used to put you on a boat and you drove to the ladder of the wooden ramp. I have to say the old ramp looked pretty darn scary!!! I was glad we had the train and the metal, hooray for modern technology!

I did a little research about the falls after the trip, a waterfall is a place where, well, water falls. You can see what the falls are like at this site If there are several waterfalls all conjoined (I think there is a certain amount that they need to be but I don’t know what) then they are called “cataracts.” They only gave 3 examples of what cataracts are, Angel Falls (the world’s largest), Niagara and Iguazu. I haven’t ever been to Niagara so I can’t really compare but what I saw blew me away. The moon was so bright that everything was lit up, it was like walking in silver. La garganta del Diablo is gigantic and there is so much water rushing through there, and it falls for so long, I just don’t have the words to describe how thrilling and amazing I felt to get to see such a sight. It was so romantic and everyone had someone that they were kissing, it made me miss Kevin. I made a promise that we would return there, together, maybe for an anniversary and see Iguazu by moonlight. There were several different views, each with their own special beauty, so in all I think we must have been out there for an hour. A lot of people wore rain gear so I was a little concerned about my jeans and t-shirt but there wasn’t any wind and I didn’t get the slightest bit wet.

There were, however, too many people, and because we all headed out there at the same time, everyone was jockeying for space. So as we walked back to the train Teresa and I decided that we would come back first thing the next morning and see the falls in the daylight, without all the people. There was a little store near the train and they were giving out juice or this drink called caipireña that had caña (liquor de cane), lime juice, sugar and ice, whew it was strong and slightly bitter from the peel of the lime, but good, the perfect nightcap. It was just a small sample, so we slept like angels but didn’t feel horrid the next day. I had to ask Celso how to spell that drink and he also told me that it is a very typical Brazilian drink. It is similar to the Cuban drink Mosquito (yeah yeah yeah the restaurants in the USA call it Mojito) but that is made with rum and it also has mint. A drink made famous to the world by Ernest Hemingway.

We didn’t get back to the hotel until almost 1 am and we set the wake up call for 645a OUCH! I am just not a big fan of less than 8 hours of sleep. Still the day dawned hot and early and we got up and got a move on. Iguazu is much farther north in Misiones (and it is in the malaria warning area) so it is in a more tropical zone. Therefore, I covered myself adequately with “OFF” and then a liberal dose of 45 sunscreen. It was going to be a scorcher, so I wore shorts, a short-sleeved shirt and sandals. I thought the night before that I had seen one of the most beautiful views of the world, until I saw it in the morning by daylight. With the sun, you could see everything, all of the water, how far it fell, all of the spray that comes back up, it was AMAZING. Because it was morning and the spray was so strong there were thousands of little birds flying in and out of the spray. Iguazu Falls are immense, and I ended up taking more than a roll of photos in this one area alone.

I said once before that the dirt here is full of iron and therefore very red. Well, the water after rainfalls is also extremely red. I have seen several postcards of the falls with red/brown water. It looks so much like polluted water it is hard to tell yourself that it really is just the dirt!!!! Luckily, there hadn’t been any real rain for a week or so and the water was perfectly green and clear. Because there was way more wind that morning we got soaked by the spray, I had to keep wiping the lens of my camera. Still it was going to be a hot day and I was glad of the water.

There were two other hikes, so we headed back and started in on those. These were views of the rest of the cataratas (cataracts) and there are TONS of them. The hikes weren’t difficult but they were long (another 1,100 meters for each one) and one of the hikes had a lot of stairs. After about 5 hours of breath-taking beauty and 3 rolls of film later, we were exhausted! It was possible to take a boat out close to the falls and get completely soaking wet, but because it would have been bad for the camera and I didn’t think it would be that much more amazing, we didn’t do it.

We left the park around 1 pm, stopping at one of the tourist shops along the way so I could buy an overpriced fishing hat that said “Iguazu.” You should have seen the look on Teresa’s face when the lady at the shop told us that it was 35 pesos! She whispered to me that there were other shops in the park if I wanted to go look for a better price. I am pretty sure they are all owned by the same outfit so I happily bought the hat where we found it, but I could tell that Teresa didn’t exactly approve. Probably a good thing that I didn’t buy one of the sleeveless, polar fleece zip-ups for 55 pesos. It was too warm that day to even contemplate something that hot.

Well even with sunscreen I managed to burn myself to a nice little crispy shade of red (you can see the area on my arm where I missed with the cream). I guess all that water at la garganta del Diablo didn’t help after all! Still I hate to imagine what I would have looked like without it. For Winter, I have to say that I am not feeling the lack of sun, or heat. For the last week it has been around 90 every day. The car was a little fire all its own when we got to it, so we opened up the doors and let it cool off a little. Then we headed home. Teresa doesn’t like to drive in the dark so we only stopped twice, once for gas and once for lunch. We got home by 6:15 pm, what a DAY, I was whipped.

Celso thought we were going to be gone until Sunday, so he was very surprised to see us. When I told him about our adventures he was pissed that we didn’t stay and extra day and try to find a hotel. Also, on the way there is a spot that has a mine with a lot of natural stones (llike amethyst for example) Teresa suggested that we stop and see it, if I wanted. Well I am not exactly the biggest fan of mines, and it was after out day long trek at the cataratas and I just wanted to go home. You should have seen the expression on Celso’s face when I told him we didn’t go in because I didn’t want to. He threatened to put me on a bus the next day back to this place. I guess he thought that maybe for my last real day with the family that I was wasting it. Still it kind of ticked me off. I had to go to my room and cool down for a bit. Celso was also in a pissy mood. At dinner Teresa and I had to joke and make fun of him for an hour before he finally got in a good mood. Teresa thanked me for my help in this area and I told her it was a gift.

However, my special gift really lies in saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, so after I said that we laughed and laughed. The night before we left for Iguazu, I had a class at the Institute with Juki the director. She had a private class with 2 ladies who work at Mazza. Mazza is the only place in town where you can exchange traveller’s checks, you can also go there and book flights and tours, and it is also, in part, a bank. Exchanging money has always been the one sore spot with me here because it is difficult. You have to stand in this one special line, where only one man works, it takes ages for each transaction, so even if there are only two people ahead of you, it will be at least 30 minutes until you get helped. When I first got here, I was a little intimidated by the language so that was also another factor. Well, more or less, the man who always helped me was this stern character in his 40s, grey speckled hair, very matter-of-fact, to tell the truth he scared the crap out of me. But each time I went, it got a little better and in fact the last time I was there he even remembered my name before seeing my passport.

So since these ladies worked there, I tried to tell them about this guy, and tell the story of how at first I thought he didn’t like me, how he scared me a little, and I hadn’t gotten to the part of where everything worked out when one of the ladies said, “but that’s my BROTHER!!!!!!” HA! Yup, she is the wife of one of the owner’s of Mazza and that is her brother. This is my real gift, and I get to use it so often. I am getting a little tired of the taste of my own foot, maybe I should pass this gift on.

So, Heather gets here tonight, I already have everyone calling her “Margarita” (the name her Spanish speaking friends gave her) as the H is not pronounced in Spanish and her name is difficult for people to pronounce. In fact my brother also has a hard-to-pronounce name in Spanish, what WERE my parents thinking???? I can’t wait to show her the town, the costanera (something like greenlake but along a river) and have her meet all my family here. I wonder how the language thing is going to work out? Then we are off to Mar Del Plata with Heather’s friends, then Mendoza!!! I can’t believe it but I have less than 2 weeks until I am home and sleeping in my own bed! I think I will end up keeping a hand on Kevin’s shoulder for about 5 days straight. I plan on leaving my computer in Buenos Aires with Heather’s friends while we are in Mendoza so this is likely one of the last times I will be sending out a journal. I am going to send one last one after I get back.

I feel so lucky and privileged to have taken this trip. There have been many times in the last weeks where I thought my speaking had improved to the maximum amount that it was going to. For instance, I thought, “well I am good now, but I probably won’t be able to understand what teenagers say (boy teens talk FAST).” Then the next day at lunch with Sergio, Cecilia and their 3 daughter’s I understand all the words that are being said (even if I don’t understand all the meanings). I know my own speaking has improved and I am definitely more grateful for some of the things that I once took for granted in the United States. I certainly have even more respect for the culture and friendliness of South America. Truly, you cannot guess a culture based on television, news and fictional stories. These people have a broader culture that most “Americans” and their families are a lot more closely knit. I haven’t ever lacked for good food, hot water, fun things to do and beautiful things to see. A whole new world is open to me because I feel comfortable and even eager to explore South America. How amazing that to most people in the United States, Spanish means Spain. Our Euro-bias doesn’t wear well.

I hate when the US news has something terrible to say about South America because then I get all sort of emails and warning about the possible danger I might be in, when it simply isn’t true. I haven’t once felt like I was in any more danger than I would be in Seattle. I try to remind myself of how Seattle was presented to the world during the WTO riots. Everyone thought Seattle was practically burning down, yet 3 blocks from the demonstrations, life when on peacefully, I even went to work. Remember, it is the job of news stations to get your attention, to SELL what they have to say. Therefore, if they find a story that is sensational, say about a truck of cows that dumped over and a riot of people came with knives to get food, they are going to sell it for all they’ve got. Because it fits the bias that we have about South Americans being uneducated savages. I guess that would also mean that Seattle is full of violent hoodlums and we should all move away. One small story does not a complete picture make.

When the truck dumped over and there was a practical riot over dead cows, the people here felt the same as the people in the United States felt, what a shame, how awful. Shameful, awful things happen everywhere in the world everyday, including in the States. However, beautiful, wonderful things happen too. Maybe the trick is to try and remain open to the beauty and skeptical of the sad, horrible things. I would prefer to think that people ARE more good than bad. I would even say that this trip bears this out. I have met the most amazing and wonderful people here. Everyone is so open and friendly. The people I live with are smart and funny, they are the same as “us”, there isn’t a “them.” Language doesn’t separate us, “We are better than they are,” is what is keeping us from getting along. Too bad it just isn’t true.

"Happiness is good health and a bad memory." - Ingrid Bergman (1917-1982)