New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wee vacation to tropical locales... well at least humid ones...

Well this has been a long time in the drafting but finally ready to post!
After a great season on board the Sea Explorer I wanted to see a few sights (and unthaw a bit) before heading home.  First the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento: in Uruguay but founded by Portuguese traders interested in getting illicit cargo in and out of Buenos Aires.

It's been well preserved and is an easy ferry ride across from Buenos Aires so away I went.  It's a gorgeous sweet town, the historic area anyway, and I enjoyed a few days of tranquility wandering the cobbled lanes, enjoying the arcades of huge plain trees lining the streets, and taking in the sunsets from the waterside esplanade with locals and tourists alike.  

alas, only one wine glass was used in the course of the evening...

And I had the most amazing meal of fresh caught grilled fish and real green salad... happiness.

I was also planning the rest of my trip, figuring out how to get to a remote/isolated beach area around the point if Uruguay called Cabo Polonio, and then up to Iguazu Falls.  I'd wanted to go overland and see the environment change from the coast to the jungle but the time I had didn't allow it I. The end i decided during a rushed two hour layover in the Montevideo bus terminal  (where I also did some great shopping for a silicone mate and found some amazing hazelnut dark chocolate!) to fly up to Iguazu from Buenos Aires,  requiring booking a ferry back to BA as well as the flight.  It all happened well in time, even including a nice conversation with the tourism information folks (and thanks to them actually as I connected to their WiFi for free)  one of whom had a son living in Houston so we chatted about that for a bit.  It's so nice to speak enough Spanish to have conversations with folks whether just casual and in passing or more meaningful ones.  A real treat.

So then it was on to Cabo Polonio,   which is variously billed as having no services, being a hippy drop out enclave,  being a wild and untouched place of freedom and unconnectedness. .. all of which of course peaked my interest.   Perhaps even more so because the first I heard of it was from a fellow who looked like a small Harry Potter, complete with prep school attire including khaki trousers, white button down, and tie with little schnausers on it! He was helping me sort out some visa issues when we came into port at the end of last ship season.  Sort of like a little Jewish minder stepping out for the first time on the ground among dirty-clothed people instead of in an air conditioned room on an upper floor of some civilized concrete office building... he schlepped me on foot around the port, and as we had a lot of walking between offices to do I wanted to have a bit of conversation... might as well pass the time amicably and see what this specimen of humanity had to offer.

I'm not sure if it was before or after him telling me he preferred Argentine women as they are more refined, whereas Uruguayan women are cruder, they swear, and don't care as much about how they look-- and this coming from a guy who about made it up to my shoulder and looked 14!-- but I at some point I asked him what I should see if I had time.  Not sure if I said in the area or Argentina as a whole... but his prime recommendation was a place called Cabo Polonio. I asked what is it and why and he said it was a beach, a wild place.  His family had a house there.  You had to travel in a 4wd vehicle over some dunes to get there.

I was intrigued.

And once i did a little looking for the place, i became even more intrigued.  What did a rich prep school, entirely unsuited to the shipping industry at least the on the ground dealing with real people, kind of kid-- what business did he and "his kind" have at a wild remote place that didn't have electricity or running water?!
Ha!  What judgements we make.

I finally made my way there after a five hour bus ride from Montevideo,  arriving well past dark at an isolated building which served as the link between the connected world and the coast.  At first impression, it felt empty and decidedly unready to offer any useful service to the few scruffy folks who had got off the bus at this its last stop-- other than perhaps a dark grassy mosquito choked corner where I could cower until life returned on the morrow with the sun.  However,  noticing the lights were on in the building and better yet a person behind the glass in the building I went to ask about whether it was possible at that hour to move anywhere beyond where we had gotten ourselves to, since it seemed the other travelers had even less idea than I about what was supposed to happen next to achieve this mysterious grail called Cabo Polonio. And apparently they didn't speak Spanish either.  

Within moments all was right at the edge of the world, and things turned out to be a bit more infrastructurized than I'd first appreciated,  as i proceeded to buy a ticket at a granite-countered office window for the transport service that would leave in 15 minutes to the coast.  Obviously the local scene was well in tune with connecting with the regional bus schedule, and everything was proceeding to the regular plan, we just had to catch up or perhaps more rightly ratchet-down to the tranquilo pace of the world we were transitioning to.

Then it was time to go, climbing up a metal ladder into the back of a big rig cargo truck transporter with bench seats lined out behind the cab, for a half an hour trip over the dunes in the dark, listening to the motor grind its slow way through the two track 'road' in the loose sand, peeking thru the tarp awning at the terrain lit up by the headlights (tall trees, dark thick forest, patchy grass and shrubs covering dunes, stars glittering overhead, orion standing on his head )...

And then a slightly better track, a few dim lights, a relative crush of silhouettes of structures, a fire with many people standing around it, hooting party-like in front of a house or hostel... and the truck stopped and we were "there".  As I was looking for solitude I was hoping the place I had booked into wasn't the one we'd passed with the fire... sure enough when I asked the driver for Cabo Polonia Hostel he pointed down a dark lane and said yeah better to go down to the beach and it's down to the left.  So I headed into the darkness saying my thanks, then starting to wonder as there seemed to be nothing in the way of human presence as I walked along... and then!  A dim glimmer of light and I thought well at least I can find a porch to sleep on for the night... but lo and behold it was my hostel, tucked into the dunes, right on the beachfront, with exactly the right amount of beach rusticness and good folks to make for a perfect stay.  And when I woke up...

It was so good.  Took some wonderful walks along the wild beach, finding cool bones and all sorts of shells,

exploring the dunes, encountering a trio of guardian burrowing owls which deterred me from walking further inland along a track which then lead to discovering some isolated stumpy pine trees which had some cool lichens growing on them... all was in serendipitous order there for sure!

And had some great mind time, getting stuck into into Ursula K. LeGuin's EarthSea series and cogitating on what I want to get up to in the future... chatting with fellow travelers about the turns and travails of life... sun and cloud and rain and the sharp gutteral chortling of sea lions carried on the wind from the nearby colony, spotting a traveling orca offshore, gazing at four pairs of gliding hovering cruising frigate birds known as a portent of a storm, catching sight of the local endangered species the Darwin's sapito (little frog) both as a hostel porch resident as well as ambling along the sand in a more remote part of the dunes away from the human settlement--striking in its black color with thin orange streaks and red underbelly... Just a neat place.  For this nature as well as the human presence.  

The bus "terminal"area was a little hippy chaos of rambling brightly painted ramshackle buildings tightly packed together sporting hammocks, artesanías for sale, and variously dreaded-out and baggy-panted- wearing souls.  It was a bit too tight and archetypal for me so I was very thankful my temporary home was situated on the edge of this scene.  It had actually been the first hostel in the area and the rest had built up over the past 10-15 years on the back of its success and the growing interest in the place. 
of course i didn't take a picture of the hippy village, but this is the front wall of the almacen (grocery store), the nicest part of the hippy vibe, aside from my hostel which was just "beach floatsum chill" vibe, not really hippy dippy :)

On a walk around the point and to see the sea lion colony, 

More than tide pools, with starfish, anemones, and various distinguishable macro-algae amongst the great squishy reams of rather pungently rotting algae, I discovered the other 'face' of the place... on the small hill that sports the historic and still functioning lighthouse there is what feels almost like a Greek village, a sprinkling of small whitewashed buildings and tidy green grass with footpaths through it all... no fences no cars or driveways... lots of character but with a more monochrome orderly foundation,  contrasting with the riot of life and shape and color down in hippy town.  Both intriguing and endearing in their own ways.

So then.  The ricos on the hill and the get-what-they-cans down below.  A normal social order.  A really interesting place where everyone goes to enjoy the solitude and simplicity... though of course it all is becoming a bit adulterated now that the external world has really begun to encroach with electricity/generators, WiFi , better cell coverage, and an increase in Air B&B type rentals... but one still has to choose to avail oneself of those comforts so all is not lost.  So many parallels to life in Terlingua/south Brewster county it was very interesting.

 Then it was time to leave.  Relaxing at the beach, listening to the surf, watching the waves endlessly fall and crash, taking shelter during the rain and curling up even more cozily with a book... these are things I can do for many many days so it was hard to pull myself away.  But I had reservations in place and some other moving water to go and experience.  So off I went.  Back to civilization.

bye bye quirky cabo polonia hostel...

And so!

A brief night in a horrible hostel bed, an uneventful ferry ride, and a plane flight later and I found myself transported to the steamy jungle of northeast Argentina/southern Brasil.  I firmly put away the scarf, hat, and multiple layers I'd been wearing at the beach and desperately searched for my flip flops tank top and skirt once arriving at my hostel in Puerto Iguazu (which was called Nomads, a lovely little place, but again I failed to take the seemingly mundane pics of hostel/people... but here's a shot of an overlook of Brazil, in front, in Paraguay, off to the left... junction of three countries and two rivers!)

My plan for this Iguassu Falls leg of the journey was to visit both sides of the falls (as the border between Brasil and Argentina is at the middle of the Rio Iguassu and thus in the middle of the falls and for the "full viewing experience" it is recommended that the visitor partake of both country's perspectives.  Thus I had arrived with two days free to sort out the administrative details of getting a Brazilian visa... which include offering up the required multiple pieces of paperwork, proof of financial solvency (bank statement) and onward ticket out of the country, photos of the correct background color and size, oh yes and $150 for the privilege-- just as the USA requires from Brazilian citizens for their USA visa.  Thanks, políticos for allowing us to play your games for you. 

It was all in order... except, as the nice gentleman at the Brazilian consulate informed me, in slow, repeated Portuguese,  that I was lacking the appropriate page in my passport for a visa.  Apparently the one blank page at the back of my passport which I had been actively saving for this purpose was not a visa page,  it was only allowed for entry/exit stamps or whatever else one might get in their passport, but decidedly and emphatically not a visa.  I could, however, he continued to inform me, go to the embassy in Buenos Aires and get extra pages put in my passport.... ah, but I have just *come* from Buenos Aires...

So fun.

And so, holding in tears of frustration (I had skipped a trip to Iguassu last year due to visa complications and so had ramped up my timings and preparation this year for the *real* visit... or so I had thought!), I walked down the steps of the consulate and went back to my hostel to commiserate with the friendly staffer behind the desk. 

Last year I had done a bit of reading about the potential to cross the border without a visa but it seemed a bit to unsure.  But after having been, rather easily and unnoticed and at the time unplanned, an undocumented visitor to a touristy corner of Bolivia, I thought perhaps it might be worth asking a local about the chances in this corner of the southlands.   And so in chatting with a super helpful young man found that yes indeed there was an easy way to avoid Brasil immigration by taking a local bus connection rather than a direct bus to the cataratas as they're known in the area. 

And that was that!  Besides such an easy work around (and saving a ton of cash!),  I had myself an amazing day in Brasil, having started out unaware of what was in store other than the prospect of seeing a lot of water falling some distance downwards surrounded by lots of greenery and trees.  I eventually ended up on a munucipal bus ending up at the entrance to the Brazilian park, where everyone boards a shuttle bus that takes visitors into the park and to the eventual trailhead that starts everyone on the one path to see the falls. The first amazingness was the butterflies.... even from the open air bus I could see them flitting everywhere through the forest!

this guy had an almost irridescent purple back and bright lime green tounge in addition to orange highlights on the antennae tips!

So many!  In the air, on the ground, even lighting on arms backs shoulders heads.  So neat to see.  These pictures don't hardly do them justice... hard to get them in focus let alone sitting still...  And the thick jungle.  As I came to appreciate in the days to come, it is so wet and humid, everything is in some state of rotting and decay... mold and fungi and stuff growing on all surfaces, even the leaves of living trees.

Once started on the one path leading visitors along the viewing trail there were a succession of overlooks where you could see more and more and more of the falls laid out in front of you.
this is near the start of the path, and looking back I could see the hotel on the Argentine side... where I would stay in a couple of days... read on!

proof that I was actually there!

looking up towards the 'garganta' or throat at the most upstream end of the falls...

It's not just one waterfall it's chunks and spurts and huge and medium and small spillways. .. a chaos of water all along a kilometer or so of a flat, table -like fault/chasm/canyon that the river has eroded over time.  Most of the falls are actually on the Argentine side of the divide so you get the best panoramic view of the whole situation from the Brasil side.  And it just got better and better as I walked along the path, moving slowly to enjoy the lulls between tourist bus disgorgements.  Spectacles like this don't involve much solitude but if one is mindful you can find some bits of peace amidst the tourist crush.

The best part was at the end where there was a boardwalk out on across a small, flat plateau between two tiers of waterfalls... 

where you had to walk through the water-wind-driven spray from the upper fall out to a platform that went just slightly beyond the tipping point of the lower fall so you could look over and down at the water changing from flowing, to falling, to gravity driven towards the maelstrom below... and on a beautiful sunny day complete with rainbow arcs and sparkling water droplets and fluttering flashing butterflies buoyed by the winds free of boardwalks and platforms to ride the currents of the aerial world we humans will never truly know.

Even closer... looking up into the 'garganta del diablo', the devil's throat, which is the head of the falls, the most up-stream spot where the river breaks over the fault in a tight u-shaped spot so it's just a maelstrom of water and spray... stay tuned for photos of that up close and personal!

I had heard that to "do" the Brasil side would take two hours tops... but I spent maybe that long just on that platform over the falls, watching the water,  the shapes the forms the colors. .. and the people.  Everyone was so happy!  Big smiles, bright eyes... having to walk through the blustery mist and being at the precipice of something so alive, so inexorable... it really affected people in such a beautiful way... I actually didn't fully appreciate this until visiting the Argentine side, but at the time in the moment it was still obvious and engaging and very enjoyable.

I'm not a very good taker of pictures with people in them... and in retrospect I wish I had tried to capture the radiance of happy delightful energy from all the folks I saw this day... that and the amazing fashion choices that people had made!

To exit you had to go up an observation tower type thing 

which gave another fantastic view of the falls 

From the middle of the observation tower... so much spray!

and as i stood gazing st the sheets of water pouring over the edge I saw the craziest thing... there were birds flying down in a sort of dive bomb arc and flying right into the waterfall!  I couldn't believe what I was seeing but it happened a few times... then I looked up and saw a group of birds swirling together,  with sickle shaped wings, they reminded me of swifts or swallows, so beautiful in the late day sun riding the thermals,  or perhaps they were feeding on a hatch of something... and then all as one, maybe a group of 20 or 30, they swooped down in a dive and shot straight into the falls... all together!  An amazing sight.

from the very top!

As I learned later they are the vencejos, the emblem of Iguassu park, dusky headed swifts-- unique to the waterfalls of the area, and they do actually live behind the falls on little outcrops of rock.  They apparently don't actually dive through the water but still somehow make their way between the drops so to speak to cling onto the rock behind.  There must be some good YouTube videos that show this so check it out. It was amazing.

And then it was time to tear myself away to see if crossing back into Argentina would be as easy as coming across to Brasil... and it was.  Back at the hostel I took a celebratory dip in the pool to refresh myself then cooked up another vat of rice and lentils that had become my subsistence food over the past two weeks and all was well.

Next up was my treat to myself, staying at the fancy hotel inside the Argentine park side of things. 

 It was a splurge to be sure, but to be able to go up to the rooftop terrace for sunrise 

and discover as the light rose that three toucans had roosted in a tree just in front of where I had been standing and I looked down on them as they flew off into the jungle to begin their day... pretty cool.  And then to spend some moments inside the park watching the day fade, black vultures jockeying for roosting positions on palm trees and vencejos divebomb into the falls, all with no human company (since I was apparently the only one taking advantage of the fact that the hotel is situated away from the main entrance of the park so that once the park staff is gone the only thing between hotel guests and entering the park facility is a nice sign on the side of the path heading into the park stating that the national park requests that hotel guests not enter the park between 6pm and 8am)... that peace and quiet was well worth it.  

I even got a massage and spa treatment (promotional discount!) after which I took my hot tea and bathrobe outside to the garden, to the consternation of the attendant... it was hot and steamy outside and most sane folks stay inside in those conditions but dang it I'd gotten cold during the massage and the moist warmth of the out-of-doors enveloped me in its welcoming arms.  How's that for a desert girl defrosting from Antarctica.  Ha!

cheers Iguassu!

A big part of visiting Iguassu is the thing that the falls can be viewed from two sides, and from within two different countries.  Due to border crossing necessities and the accompanying logistical details, it sets up an oft asked question, whether it is "worth it" to see both sides.  If you only see the falls from one side, you won't be disappointed by any stretch.  But having visited both sides of the falls, they were certainly different experiences and I'm glad I was able to do both.  But I think especially glad I went to the Brasil side.  I felt more a part of the water, the falls, and the invigorating joy of everyone around me that came with the spray, the unreal nature of standing *over* such a huge (but quite a small portion of the whole, actually) amount of cascading, wild water... it was interesting but walking the upper boardwalks on the Argentine side, even the one that was at the edge of the main 'throat' of the falls... it felt quite tame, quite removed.

boardwalk to the Argentine 'garganta del diablo' overlook, the closest to the most falling water, period.

mist rising from the spray of the falls being carried up by convective currents

getting closer...


  I'm not sure exactly why this was-- perhaps the incredible vortex created by the plunge of the water drew all the air and wind out into the chasm of the river and so sucked the life, so to speak, out of that vantage point?  Maybe it was because it was an overcast day in Argentina, while the sun was shining when I was in Brasil?  Don't know why, just know how it felt.  

However, the Argentine side was not at all a bust, the views and experience were just different.  You can get quite close to a lot of the water, and have more of an appreciation for the jungle and native vegetation

One overlook...

looking down on the boardwalk below where one happy gentleman was saluting the falls

and this is taken from where the aforementoned fellow was having his appreciatory moment with mother nature

and this... as I sat on a bench in front of huge boulder waiting for the platform to open up enough to go and see the falls up close (above picture), I happened to turn around and look at the rock just behind my head for lichens and such... and there happened to be clinging this mother spider, about as broad across with legs as my open hand, fingers extended... pretty impressive.  She was chill and just hung out so I did too... and then later as I returned and sat a bit away I was amused by the proximity of this wonderful example of wild nature so close to various human heads, young and old, male and female.  No one that I noticed started yelping and swiping and smacking... so I can only hope her chillins have grown up to inhabit other lovely rock niches overlooking human heads, all their own.

Went on a great jungle hike on the Arg. side which just added to my wet-forest-environment appreciation, as well as to my mosquito bite collection.  I came away with two visits to this Macundo trail, with sightings of innumerable butterflies, a couple of troops of monkeys, lots and lots of pictures of lichens...

one of the many kinds of bamboo in the area
love me my lichens

I'm familiar with this pink one already, having seen it in Savannah, GA!  Or at least it's very close cousin... need to finally get my copy of Lichens of the World to suss it out...  :)

the one successful macro shot of this very active and very cool fly on a metal catwalk bannister, nice peeling paint substrate for background interest!

oh lichens how I adore thee...

and some big cat tracks that were made just a bit earlier in the morning than I was there... pretty cool to know we were utilizing the same route, at least for a time.  And then it was time to return to Puerto Iguassu, for a final day to get reorganized and catch my flight back to Buenos Aires.  

Once back in BA, I visited with friends again, saw some great street art, 

checked out some cool cafes and antique shops in San Telmo... 

Kentucky pizza, not a KFC mistake, but named for perhaps a connection to a race track in the area... Kentucky Derby... why not?

had to add this photo from a path through the rose garden... the city has such great parks!

antique and fiambres (coldcuts, bulk sales, etc) market architechture.  love.

and then after thoroughly enjoying the city again... apparently I needed just one more adventure as my passport went missing (likely was stolen) from my bag.  No definitive story, but regardless of how it happened, it was gone, and I'd discovered this about 24 hours before I was supposed to fly out, a Saturday.  And of course being the weekend, the embassy was closed.  Which meant no new passport until at least Monday.  Which meant I'd miss my flight.  !!!

But!  I have to say the UK agents handling travel for Polar Latitudes have been rock stars on both ends of my trip.  When I left the states, I headed to the airport in what became a freak west TX snowstorm that covered maybe 30 miles of highway between Alpine and Ft Stockton, normally taking 40 minutes to drive it took about 2 hours.  So I missed my flight out, which was an issue since I had a ship to catch which wouldn't wait for one measly staff member.  But the agent got right onto it (can't believe I had cell/data service there, but I did and it all happened via cell phone emailing by trusty copilot Daniel Chamberlin... amazing!) and rebooked me on the next flight the following day, hotel stay covered, no problem.  And the same thing happened with this return flight fiasco-- they rebooked me on the next flight, next day, and said if I didn't get my passport in time no worries they'd just put me on the next flight, just kindly let them know.  So wonderful.  

After the quick rebooked flight, getting the passport was actually the easiest part!  I ran around Buenos Aires on Sunday with a friend helping me navigate the Argentine police, getting a special report that the embassy required to issue an emergency passport (which issue I could ask for by showing up without an appointment... otherwise if it hadn't been stolen I would have needed to make an appointment on special days, of which there were none left for at least three weeks!)... 

Anyway, I went straight away on Monday morning with the right paperwork, fee and photos (taken by a man in a van with a 1970s era polaroid... think he'd been taking passport photos for travelers in need like me since the 1970s too! "no, wait to pay me, we need to be sure the photo comes out ok and you're not a vampire..."!), and then went back collected it at 3pm!

Then, the plan was to take a cab to the airport... but no one would pick me up since Amelia was waiting with me with her dog and they probably thought the dog wanted a ride too (which happens apparently, dogs in taxis!), so we went to a busier street and she stood back like we weren't together... and then it was raining, and the trip took a while, and finally there, and I was still in time for my flight... but then... I had to go to a different desk to get a special paper from Immigration services in order to check out, since I had a new passport with no entry stamp... so I did, still in time... 

but then... 

discovered TSA, our good old TSA, had actually blocked my flight reservation because there were two different passport numbers involved.  Not enough time to dodge that bullet.  So yes, missed *that* flight!  But the Aerolineas agent was so amazing, she found me a series of flights that actually got me back to the states earlier than my original itinerary, even though there was an extra flight leg stuck in there!  

And of course, I was sick during all of this... about an hour after I discovered my passport was missing my throat started hurting... which at the time I didn't pay too much attention to-- my host Amelia was throwing an asado (essentially an Argentine BBQ) and so with the wine and friends and pleas to join the fun and not stress too much about the passport since we'd take care of the stuff the next day... I did join the fun... but proceeded to feel fevery and progressively fade over the next two days (not so much sleep on the plane) so that when I got off the plane in Savannah, Georgia (to visit Mom Dad brother and his girlfriend) I was whisked straight to a doc to get meds for puss filled strep throat.  

With so much drama around this last bit of international travel, maybe I'll stay put for awhile in the states.  (?!?!)

Had a nice couple of recovery days there in Savannah, one highlight was the gift of an amazing piece of art meant to commemorate my botanical achievements (thesis and cholla research)... wow, what a way to return to "this" reality in contrast to the polar one!

And then I was off again, flew to Austin, TX where I was picked up at the airport by a best friend and her family (three kids!) in their RV rental and hitched a ride back to west Texas, 

*LOVED* getting picked up in arrivals area by an RV.  Got lots of "now, that's the way to go!" looks from fellow ride-waiters...  :)

Jonah and Olivia fresh and ready for adventure... and an 8 hour drive!

saucy momma!

first view of longhorns for the kids, James is a recovering Texan so they're in his blood whether he likes it or not.

There I got to show off my west Texas home and Big Bend National Park for a few days.  

Owen and Jonah happy breakfast eaters in the wide open desert spaces (thank goodness for shade!)

Upon bidding them a sad farewell, I finally turned to all the bags I'd dropped just inside my front door a few days prior, to undertake the real and true unpacking and reentry back into home life.  Still working on that, and planning the next escapes as well!  To start, this summer I'll be working back down in Big Bend National Park as an interpretive ranger, which I'm very happy about-- essentially a paid vacation to go "home"... getting back to the desert and working and living with old friends, folks I really like and haven't spent much time with in quite awhile.  It'll be a good summer.

Take care all and enjoy the ride!  Until next time...
:) jos

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