Sunday, 6 July 2014

Time to go home...

Writing this final post from a friends flat in London. We're 'home', but as we put all our stuff in storage and gave the keys back when we left in Oct, we don't actually have a home.

In our first 24 hours we've caught up on some things we've really missed:
Talking to friends rather than emailing
Cheese that tastes of cheese and would NEVER be squeezed out of a bottle
Only having to say things once in our own language

We'll be living out of the rucksack for a week or so more while we find our own place, and we start back at work in a few days which is going to be a huge shock.  As such we're wrapping up the blog,  downloading the last photos and chucking out some clothes that have served us well but really have no place in polite society. 

It's been incredible and we've loved it. Even the bits we didn't actively love at the time have been fantastic experiences and we don't regret a thing. 

 Blogging's a curious thing - we're never sure if it's being read by anyone but irrespective, it's going to be a useful reminder when grey skies and commuter rage blur our memories. So, until next time - Adios! 

Gayle & Chris
June 2014 

The Nearly Big Apple

Manhattan was on our itinerary to provide several things:
- a convenient stop off to get a flight back to London
- a way for me to visit and remember a city I knew fairly well 15 years ago
- a way for Gayle to make judgement on another overbuilt and overblown US city

I would say we were very successful on all accounts!

Our accommodation was quite far north in the city and not in the most salubrious of areas - we had continued with our approach of conserving cash - making the most of the resistance we've built up against general discomfort etc.  We were staying in an AirBNB apartment which was mostly nice comfortable - along with our Washington trip we were already getting used to a 'normal' level of comfort...

There were a couple of wrinkles of course - our host smoked like a chimney when she was in (luckily she had a very busy career as a chef - however this challenged her cleaning schedule), and she had two huge fluffy mancoon cats.  They were roughly twice as big and fluffy as any other normal cat - and even put me to shame with the amount of fur they could leave around the place.  House cats can be a little pongy, so an infrequently cleaned apartment with two huge indoor cats and full 70's style pedastal ashtray made a less than ideal 'atmosphere'.   

Gayle had a full-on 'must clean everything' itch - but we managed to stay busy enough so that she only took on some sweeping even though we had a good few days to explore with.  It was relatively easy to get onto the Underground Trains - so we covered quite a lot of ground.  Some of our highlights were:

Central Park:
We spent quite a while wondering and sitting in the park - it's very much the city's antidote to it's very built up and busy ways.  Although there has been a slight sense of shame sitting over us while we watch the locals keeping themselves in trim - we were just going to restaurants and buying M&Ms as usual.

Liberty & Ellis Island
Fantastic views of Manhattan, the statue and area - along with much factual museum fare to drink - albeit a bit wordy.  One US visitor summed up the whole problem with the Immigration Museum... "there's just too much reading!".  Inspired, I often hope they will take a museum and  summarise it into cartoon form, or maybe a comic book. 

The Guggenheim & Musuem of Modern Art:
Even though I can appreciate different types of art and I definitely don't subscribe to 'I know what I likes...' or 'a 3 year old could have done that...' - believe me it's still really bizarre that I write this instead of Gayle.  Art musuems and clothes shops have the same effect on me - I yawn like a walrus every 43 seconds and my feet feel like someone is trying to nail them to the floor from underneath.  There is fun to be had though - I was particularly amused by a man who walked off in audible disgust after seeing ITALIAN THING which was effectively six very incorrect and very large simple addition sums - I just hope he didn't go upstairs to see the random ten empty slide carousels projecting nothing repeatedly onto several parts of a room...  ("Grrrrrrrrr").

The Village & Around
This consisted of walking around the streets, 'High Line' park and achingly worthy / fashionable / expensive artisan food and trinkets in Chelsea Market.  

Ground Zero
During 9/11 I was only 70 miles away on Long Island with a few friends who met as colleagues - we were just as safe as anyone not even in the New York State or the US area - but our proximity to the area made us feel vulnerable to further attacks, closer to people who were directly impacted and also closer to some of the stories about the fallout from the horrific event.  As a result I knew my visit to the 9/11 Museum would be a difficult day - but was really worried that the whole thing would be over blown and a bit 'Team America' (@£$# - yeah!) in it's reaction.  I need not have worried about that, it was incredibly well positioned and although it was always going to provoke a lot of negative feelings in it's audience, it did a good job of avoiding divisive, subjective or sensational content.  Overall I was very impressed and very glad I went back to see this.

Little Italy
A way to spend a magnificent amount of money on good Italian meal

As we set off for our convenient flight at 5am - I was certainly glad that I had a catch up with New York, and Gayle agreed that the city has loads to offer - however the whole place is a 'bit small'.  A frequent made criticism of New York.   Onto the airport then....

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Oh Say Can You See....

After a few days in Tulum, Mexico, visiting some Mayan ruins (by far the least impressive of our travels but it served well to break up the flights between Cuba and US), we headed to Washington DC.

As avid fans of The West Wing and House of Cards we've been looking forward to running around the corridors of power talking very fast and being devastatingly cutting with every wry line but it was not to be.  Despite best efforts (our friend Whit had applied on our behalf to his congressman to get access to the White House), and maybe due to our recent time in leftie countries (Nicaragua, Ecuador, Columbia and of course, Cuba) Team Obama voted against our request. Instead we had to settle for seeing things from the outside only, but given the beautiful weather, and the impressiveness of the facades we didn't feel too hard done by. 

We rented a room in a fantastic apartment on Capitol Hill and spent 4 days walking miles around museums and monuments. The Smithsonian museums were impressive in range, and value - Kew Gardens should take note of how the Botanical gardens run here- although the American History museum was a bit random. It ranged from the ruby slippers and an iPod with some whimsical nonsense written for half wits, through to an intensive history of wars. I mentioned it went from being inane to impressive to an American friend who aptly replied 'well, that's America'. 

As our average time is 4hrs p/museum we had some long long days interspersed with people watching on the mall. The 'suns out guns out' chin up contest, the anti-gay marriage loon with his home made sandwich board and the conspiracy theorist campervan that drove up and down warning us all of the dangers of the US government all made for good entertainment betwixt exhibitions. 

On day 4 we met up with friends we'd made on our Galapagos trip and they took us (via a tour of the Supreme Court- very impressive place visually) to their house in Arlington for a few days of home comforts. 
'Sorry about the room' they said, showing us to an entire floor complete with bathroom, gym equipment and a washing machine big enough to fit everything we own in.  When Trish asked if we wanted fabric softener it bought it home how big the gap between normal living and backpacking has been. We'd be delighted with fabric softener - anything beyond beating our clothes with sticks in a river is a bonus! 

Smelling a lot nicer, rested and fed with home made cooking we spent a further day retailing and exploring the JFK centre. Retailing was half-arsed as the day was very hot and the vastness of choice in the shops was all a bit overwhelming. We bought some basics and headed over to the theatre for the most boring tour a venue has ever offered.  Whit and Trish joined us as a volunteer worthy of Little Brittain took us up to (but not in) 5 theatres. Basically it was a tour of lobbies with a lot of JFK worship.  We did get to see the city from the rooftop though which was impressive - complete with the hole in the Pentagon from 9/11.

Following another lovely meal, this time joined by Mike and Sal (more Galapagos folks), it was time to wave goodbye to DC - an incredibly good looking city we really enjoyed. Even if Obama wouldn't let us in his house.  

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Viva Cuba!

After a brief glimpse of the Yankee Imperialists at Miami airport we transferred to the equally Yankee destination of Cancun, Mexico (horrid - plastic fantastic full of US holiday makers complaining that everything's in Spanish) then boarded our Cubana flight to Havana. Our plane was made in the 1980s and smelt of old shoes. The interior has been spruced up with some emulsion paint - a trick we later saw used on many car exteriors too. Needs must and all that. 

Havana is very accessible and easy to navigate. There are people desperate to sell you anything - cigars, tours, food, company- but they're easy enough to get rid of and it doesn't feel like a stressful capital at all.  We spent most of our time in the old city brushing up on history at the Revolution museum, learning the difference between the Castro brothers and enjoying the vast amount of anti-West sentiment. There's so much it starts to feel like a Communist theme park where the rides are tatty old Ladas transporting you from the Viva Cuba zone to the Anti-Imperialist Yankee cretin zone, with a short stop at the Ernest Hemingway bar (any bar he ever allegedly drank in which means a subsequent price hike of 300%). 

For all we enjoyed Havana it did feel touristy so we were glad to get a bus east to Playa Giron, famous for the Bay of Pigs invasion, to see what real Cuba looks like.  Our first casa owner had phoned ahead and booked us into her friends casa here (no street name as there is only one street, just ask for Casa Mario and Esmerelda) so we listened to Mario's advice for the area and hit the beach where the battle started. 
The tiny museum reinforced the David and Goliath-esque message - tiny little Cuba overthrew the Yankee invaders, took them captive and billed the USA $52m worth of damages.  OK, in this telling David had been fully equipped for the task by the USSR, but still it's the only time, apparently, that the US have paid out to such demands in order to get their citizens back and Cuba is still very pleased about it.  

The next day we went snorkelling to see a US ship sunk in the battle. Much fuss is made about this sight but having swam out to it (losing 2 earrings and my snorkel mask to a freak wave in the process) it's safe to say Belize's Blue Hole is under no threat of losing it's top spot. 

From there to Cienfuegos, the Paris of Cuba. The moniker is based on it having a French architect and a small arch called the Arch de Triumphe but the similarity begins and ends there. A bit run down, steaming hot and at least 5 bicitaxis per visitor we felt like we'd seen the delights in one afternoon.  Mention should be given to Cuba's waterfall in it's national park here.

 Our hosts (wonderfully kind, friendly people but had only been out of their city twice hence perceived the rest of Cuba to hold dangers on a par with a Brazilian favela) could not enthuse enough about it so off we went.  

Perhaps it was because we'd recently seen Iguazu but we weren't massively impressed by the single drop waterfall (we're laughing at how crap it is rather than with awe. A fellow visitor from Ireland pointed out the waterfall in Galway is twice the size). Or the 12 minute 'hike' to get to it.  Our taxi driver was astounded we were back in the carpark so quickly and insisted we had another look at it from a different spot.  Like the sunken boat snorkelling, it's a case of celebrating what you've got but we quickly realised that Cuba wasn't going to stand out for its geographical highlights.

Onto to Trinidad next with its beautiful old cobbled streets, ramshackle colourful houses and a much stronger African influence than we'd seen so far.  

People here are laid back to the point of sloth. It's so hot by day no-one moves much but at nighttime the plazas fill with dancers, smokers, drinkers and gossipers.  Music is everywhere and the locals have no issue with tourists joining in their soirĂ©es.  There's not much to see or do in Trinidad except have some rum and absorb the surroundings. Which we did, for 4 days. 

Feast to famine, we went to Camaguay next. Cuba's boom town where people are considerably wealthier (not sure how), better dressed and conservative. Boring little town really. We got the bus down to Santiago the next morning. 

We'd heard mixed reviews of Santiago de Cuba - closer to Haiti than Havana, traffic pollution abound, and humidity like we'd never experienced, some people hate it, others enjoy it's difference to the more polished touristy bits of the island.  We liked it but one day was sufficient to walk ourselves around the sights. We had a young Aussie with us for this city and in retrospect he may have regretted saying he didn't know much about the political history of Cuba.  Nothing 2 hours in (yet another) Revolution Museum wouldn't fix.  Some of the bloodiest battles took place in and around Santiago so we found it fascinating to complete the history lessons in the place where the rebels won. Not so sure about Harley but he was too polite to moan. 

The longest single bus journey you can do in Cuba is 13 hours so we felt obliged to do it. Overnight we travelled to Varadero-  home of the country's best beaches but also for the strip of mega-hotels European package holidayers head for. 
The beaches are stunning - 23km of white sand, warm, bright blue water and very little in the way of seaweed or life, but the formulaic tourist trappings are boring and with knowledge of the average salary and living conditions it didn't sit comfortably with us to stick around for long.

Back to Havana to complete our loop of the island. We had a final night in the old city listening to music, drinking rum and pondering yet again the pro's and cons of communism then caught a different (unless they'd just painted it black since the flight out) but equally smelly plane back to Mexico.  

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Cuba: Vas bien Fidel?

Having added Cuba into our plan a month ago, we had done no research, had no guidebooks etc. so turned up fairly ignorant of what it'd be like.  Reviews online tend to be focused on 2 week holidays where people don't stray far from the all-inc mega-hotels so we arrived in Havana with our first two nights booked and a rough plan of the circuit we wanted to do. 

We of course knew Cuba is a communist country but didn't know how this would manifest itself in 21st Century living/travelling. On arrival it felt fairly typical for Central America but after a few weeks here the differences are apparent. Normal route blogs to follow shortly but here's some of the things we found in every town/city that give reason to feel love and frustration at Cuba. Often at the same same time. 

There is no internet.  What fresh hell is this?
There is one telephony system (state owned), and while some affluent houses have access to restricted internet access (state controlled and monitored) the vast majority don't. And there is no such thing as wifi outside of 5* hotels where it costs around $8 an hour and goes at the speed of old-world dial up.
Aside from keeping in touch with people, the biggest challenge this presents is how to find accommodation, travel info etc.  To balance out the need for digital intel however is the fact that things don't really change in Cuba so the bus timetable has been the same for 10 yrs - you just have to ask someone.
The downside to this is if you ask the wrong person they'll lie to you in order to try and make money (''there's only one bus a day and it's gone but my friend has a very cheap taxi'') and the red tape in Cuba is bonkers so what's true for a local might not apply for a tourist- type of bus, time of departure, ability to buy a ticket in advance and the currency you pay in are different if you're not a national so the best of advice is often wrong. 

Outside of the beach resorts there are either state run hotels (expensive, soulless) or Casa Particulars - peoples spare rooms.  Once your children have left home (you're only allowed a house to meet your needs so no-one gets spare room until this point), enterprising Cubans can apply for a license to offer B&B.   They get a sign to hang on the wall and you can knock on the door and ask for a bed on pretty much any street in any town. 

The casa's we stayed in ranged from 1 spare room in a pensioners apartment where we were clucked over, to a colonial mansion with 5 rooms to rent and steady flow of other tourists to talk to.  
All are cheap and are of a high standard- Cuba is a land of 'make do and mend'- they're very house-proud and entrepreneurial so keeping guests happy with clean bathrooms, big breakfasts and a fridge full of beer is good business sense. 
For us it gave a good insight into how people really live - while they don't talk too openly about their lives as they don't know who's listening, it showed us a side of Cuba we couldn't have accessed otherwise.   It also gave us some great home cooked meals as respite from foraging in the streets.

Communism means everyone gets the same education up until the age of national service. After that you can become a worker, or continue education and chose a qualification deemed useful to the country. As a result (if the stats are to be believed), Cuba has a 98% literacy achievement and a very low ratio of patients to doctors/dentists/teachers. Education and healthcare are deemed as big success stories. A doctor earns the same as a shop worker or a road cleaner- around $20 CUCs a month after tax (although housing and basic food allowance don't come out of this). 

After the revolution (1960) Castro passed one of many new laws that said if you rented a house today, tomorrow you owned it. Great for tenants, bad for landlords. Since then everyone has had their own property but can't buy or sell -they can only trade them. 
Food and fuel rations are equal for all and people queue in the government shops to get their basics weighed out each week. Trading between neighbours is common and as a result people are always wandering in and out of each other's houses borrowing and lending making it very hard to tell who actually lives where. 

Private commerce exists but is heavily controlled by the state - if you grow your own veg, you can only sell at a higher price than rations are valued at and are limited to the amount of land you can farm.  It's very usual to hear people each morning wheeling a barrow up the streets shouting their wares for sale.

Restaurants are either state owned - cheap, bland, strip lighting, very soviet- or private  paladors.  Like the casa's they're people's houses who will set the table in their hall/front room and tell you what they've got in. To run a Palador you need a license ($150 a month) and have to give 10% of all revenue to the state.  You can only have a max of 12 seats and your advertised prices must be higher than the state restaurants. 
Like the Casa's, Paladors are a great source of income provided you can cover your costs (license fees are fixed regardless of trade throughput) so when tourist volumes are low, competition verges on desperate. 

The upshot of all of this is that Casa's are as likely to be run by Drs who are only needed 2 days a week as they don't have that many patients, as pensioners, as 40-something aspiring hoteliers who's first born has just left home.  Taxi drivers are often degree educated but can make more money driving (fares that don't go on the meter are profit) than teaching. Everyone turns their hand to everything to earn an extra few dollars as disposable income is the only thing that buys any differences to life.  Especially if those extra notes are in CUCs (tourist money) and not national pesos which are worth 1/25 of a CUC. 

That said, the shops have nothing much to buy once you get your extra income. Import rules mean there's very little thats not Cuban produced to buy.  Shops have most of their stock in the window display and when you walk in, it's a till on an old wooden counter and not much else. A plain shirt costs the same as a months wage, a twin tub costs a years income.  

Contrary to the Disney version of Cuba the resorts showcase, people don't drive old American muscle cars unless they're taxiing tourists around. Instead the majority of cars are Ladas with very little other than an engine and a wheel in them. We got taxis that broke down every 15 miles (but were promptly fixed by the driver), that had no seat padding, no door or window handles, and had been painted with emulsion to hold it all together. In the land of the blind and all that though - to own a car is in itself a big investment and people drive whatever they can with pride. 

Neighbourhood watch. 
When Castro and his gang overthrew the despot Batiste (always referred to as 'the despot' Just as any American is referred to as the 'Imperialist Yankee'!), all good citizens became a member of the CDR. This group made everyone the eyes and ears of the Leader, informing on neighbours failing to comply with the new regime, grassing on people having suspicious activity around them etc. This group still exists today and while most Cubans wouldn't dream of keeping tabs on their neighbours, people who don't join find it difficult to get their ration card or to access their bank accounts. As such while Cubans are very friendly, they are still guarded about what they say to who. Particularly foreigners as association with non-nationals caused a lot of disappearances over the years. We would love to have asked people a thousand questions about life here but our language inability, and awareness of the problems that could cause meant we didn't.  Nor could we google any info, or read any books about society because while we're here, we can only access what the government wants us to access. 

Viva la revolucion
55 years have passed since the rebels won their war but the amount of pro-Revolution material makes it feel like it was a year ago.  Every rock face has a painting of one of the erstwhile commanders, hoardings that would advertise diet coke back home, shout a message of victory from a uniformed Fidel, houses have paintings of the flag on their walls, of Che, of 'the Cuban 5' (3 are still currently held by the USA) - it's everywhere you look. 

Instead of the scouts/guides kids here go to Youth Communist groups and learn marching and why the west is wrong. 
The museums are of course partisan in their views but we were still surprised to learn that the CIA were responsible for Dengue Fever, swine flu, and a hurricane in the 80s. They also broadcast over 100 channels of anti-Cuban radio but no-one hears them because Cuban intelligence, always one step ahead of the Imperialist Yankees, block them all. 

Despite all of what would feel like an Orwellian regime of oppression to us, people here are largely very upbeat. Music is a massive part of society and no-one wastes any time in busting a few moves wherever, whenever. Rum is drunk in huge quantities and being a nationally brewed drink is in abundance for very little cost.  Cigars likewise are smoked liberally by all. In each city we've visited there have been numerous bars that host live music and dance every night til the early hours. Maybe communism is much more bearable when you live in the Caribbean? 

Freedom from the trappings of consumerism means all people are equal, no-one goes hungry, and the state looks after young and old alike. 
The inability to access books, music, films that haven't been state approved and to talk and travel freely means a lot of people are increasingly unhappy. Raul Castro is making some big changes in his final few years as leader, undoubtedly to pacify the demand for an overhaul, but Cuba in the next 5 years will be fascinating to watch. 

Overall a challenge to back pack around, a challenge to our political sensibilities but such an enjoyable hospitable country it was made a lot lot easier. We left very glad we've seen in now, but also very glad to be part of the democratic, consumerist, imperialist West.  


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Rio. Big City, big Birthday, big Jesus

We should preface this blog with the sentiment 'I'm sure it's different at Carnival but...' 

We'd deliberately bought forward our week in Rio to get further away from the arrival of football fans (wise decision given the prices were due to increase 300%), and had considered chopping it down to 48hrs and dashing off to Isla Grande for the remainder of our Brazil stay but we decided that was only guaranteed paradise if the weather was brilliant - and it hadn't been of late. 

We stayed in Santa Teresa, a bohemian artsy area (for which read the graffiti is of a slightly  better standard than the rest of the city) at the top of a steep hill, affording us a great view over the sprawling city. At night it looked lovely - bright lights of the city, less bright lights of the favelas, the marecana stadium (referred to unwittingly as the Macarena by me several times -I just can't care about football), and of course big Jesus watching. He's always watching.  By day it was just another sprawling mass of dishevelled buildings that had once seen much better days, tumble down hillside houses (like favelas but slightly less corrugated iron), and buses freewheeling down, or teararsing up the very steep hill. 

Because it was my birthday we'd booked ourselves into accommodation far nicer than our normal fare and were really pleased when we were shown into our huge room with king size bed, dressing area, massive bathroom (twin basins and a walk in shower you could fit 10 people in.probably). The place had a pool, a bar, a gym, and it turned out, the most aggressive manageress you could ever meet.   If we wanted breakfast if was $350 US more - that was double the price we were paying for 6 days!  If we wanted to stay in the hotel any time after our checkout (including leaving our luggage in storage) it was another $40 US. There was to be no noise after midnight. Apart from on the nights she invited her friends around to play ragga, drink the bar dry (not hard - it only had one type of beer, coke and water), and practice their dance hall moves.  Wierd, weird place and I pity the people who will be paying top whack to stay there during the World Cup.  A cathartic trip advisor review though. 

Anyway, back to Rio. The city failed to snare us with it's charms. It's not unpleasant, just not striking for anything in particular. It has mountains, forests, beaches and slums - 10/10 for diversity but it just didn't feel cohesive or especially friendly. 

The much famed beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are nice enough - they feel very American with their concreted promenade and highway running alongside the beach front, overlooked by swanky hotels and apartment blocks. And the globally travelling art exhibition of bears that started life in Berlin in 2006 - each country decorated their own and they all hold hands across the world. Nice innit. 

The anticipated beautiful people were elsewhere when we visited.  People of all colours, shapes, sizes and ages just doing their own thing. Like on any beach. 
Plenty of volleyball, rollerblading, skateboarding etc. but no swimming as the rip-tides'll kill you.   

Big Jesus (Christ the Redeemer if we must) is as you'd expect. Or as you might, not as we had - we'd misread the guide book and thought his arm span was 78m. Turns out it's 7.8m. Suspect we're in a minority to have turned up and done a disappointed 'oh. Is that it?'.  

Thankfully there was a constant stream of religious exhibitionists there to entertain us (out clapping, out praising, out-hand-in-the-airing the person next to them) so it was a good morning out. 

Rio is massive. It took us about 90 minutes to get from our hotel to the beach front. 90 minutes of crazy bus sports for a bargain price of $3 Rs wherever you wanted to go.  Getting there -child's play. There was a bus stop at the end of the road and provided you didn't mind waiting an undetermined amount of time one of 2 buses would eventually slow down enough to let you on, push you through the turnstile (2 weeks on I still have multiple bruises from this) then swing you through the streets of Rio until you flung yourself out the door. 
Coming back though was a competitive sport. The bus stop stretched around 100m and catered for 50+ buses. Hundreds of people would gather, doing calf stretches and lunges, in anticipation of their bus turning the corner at 50mph.  When it did you had to 
A) run out into the road waving your arms to signify your interest
B) preempt where it might stop (other buses decreasing it's options significantly)
C) give chase, pushing women and children behind you
D) pay $3Rs, smash legs through turnstile, wedge yourself next to a stranger and enjoy the next 90 sweaty minutes home. 

My birthday!  Our friends Sam and Nicole who we'd met in Boliva, then subsequently in Chile and Argentina, were in Santa Teresa too so on my birthday we all met up and drank too much fizzy wine and avoided the topic of how old I am.  Was a great way to spend the big event as it was a bit odd being so far from friends and family on a day you'd normally spend with them. Also, Sam and Nic being Drs, prescribed me a fantastic birthday present of diazepam which made the next 24hrs of travelling a breeze! 

So not that whelmed with Rio, we said goodbye for this trip to Sam & Nicole. They headed homebound to New Zealand and we headed north to Miami, Mexico then Cuba asking big(ish) Jeezus to make sure all our connections worked out ok....

Iguazu Falls

After our Uruguayan gripping rollercoaster adventure (really need someone to follow through with the promise of a sarcasm punctuation system) we headed back to Buenos Aires to base ourselves closer to the centre of the city and soak up a couple of days of liveliness to compensate for Uruguay.

An art museum, couple of pizzas, good catch up with new friends Sam & Nicole (actually the 3rd country we'd seen them in due to a close similarity in South American travel plans), a few beers and a incident involving a drunk local ineffectually throwing a rubbish bin at a transsexual - then we were ready for water fall fun.  Step up Iguazu, home of waterfalls that apparently make Niagra look like a leaky tap...

We saw the falls from both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides, both afford spectacular views - Brazil being mostly from a greater distance with magnificent tableaus, and Argentina's side more varied walkways and the opportunity to get much closer to the falls, spray and ways to avoid staying dry.

The falls themselves stretch for a few kilometres in a horseshoe shape - one of the Argentinian routes took us on a slippy metal walkway for 1km to the centre called 'Devil's Throat'.  Here the falls were so close and violent that in places we stood in a constant shower laughing our heads off as we tried to keep cameras dry and take photos when all we could see was a huge amount of spray. 

We headed back to the more sedate walkways, on these walkways it's very normal to come across Coati which are very similar to Raccoons.  They walk along the walkway handrails with great skill, some are nervous and will speed up to a run as you pass them, but some will stop to sniff you or your belongings, I assume because some people have produced goodies with high sugar content which must be like coati crack.  Gayle saw one stop to take note of an elderly Argentine woman, who immediately took offence, and ignoring the signs about wildlife welfare and the dangers of rabies, decided to just sharply smack it on it's head Like an errant child.

On the Brazilian side we saw one actually trying to open a girls handbag to get some sweet wrappers, while she did a small panicky dance while trying to bat the intrepid would-be thief to the floor.  When she succeeded she was then surrounded by another 10.  It seems there is a small war taking place between tourists and coati - my money's on the more savvy coatis. 

On the Argentinian side we had wanted to start with a boat trip at the bottom, then do the sights bottom to top.  Our plans had to be reversed as the staff had all had a party the night before so we were told they were in no fit state to take responsibility for our safety in the boat tour until the early afternoon.  Not ideal, but probably the better approach then driving and ferrying people around while steaming.

So we strolled around the remaining walkways somewhat agog, taking dozens of slightly different views that we now have no clue how to organise into a manageable number, then we had a bite and started our jungle / speedboat tour.  The jungle bus tour was a bit tame, and had very little wildlife or information that your average person who has been travelling be-jungled areas for 8 months wouldn't already know.  

The boat trip was a bit more entertaining.  When we boarded some of the group changed into swim wear, which was our first clue to what lay ahead.  Belongings and shoes were quickly stowed into the dry-bags, then we were ferried to the foot of the falls where after a couple of photo ops we were told to get the cameras safely stowed too before we were driven directly into the spray right next to the falls.  We were getting completely soaked, I could hardly open my eyes because of contact lenses, and we were right next to impressive but obviously lethal amounts of water barrelling towards us.  Everyone had the appropriate response which is to laugh uncontrollably at the absurdness of the situation before being taken back to land to be left there like very wet and confused semi-drowned rats.  We liked that bit.

Because of our afore mentioned inverted itinerary for the day we travelled back in our bedraggled state, then more relaxing with beers and food. The next day we travelled to the Brazilian side for the more sedate tour, and then the day after that our plans took us to the airport for a little jaunt to Rio de Janeiro...