Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happiness is...the adventure of a lifetime (part 5)

It’s been nearly a week since the last entry, let’s see if I can get you all caught up. 

Our final port day on the ship (Sunday, January 22) took us to Montevideo, Uruguay. We took a bus tour around the city which was probably the most beautiful we’ve seen so far.  All of them have had pockets of neighborhoods filled with parks and monuments and architecture that would have fit in comfortably in Europe but nowhere more so than here. We drove down tree-lined streets from square to square, past miles of beach and coastline. It had its share of graffiti-marred walls and run-down hovels but they seemed fewer and farther between than in the other cities we’ve visited. We stopped to admire the LDS temple and become captivated by the small green parrots perched on every other tree branch before reluctantly heading back to the ship.  That night was our final dinner, our final show, our final starlit sail at sea. I spent a good portion of the evening though stuck in my cabin trying to repack my suitcase which seemed to have shrunk during the voyage! But I did get in one last on-deck sunset, one last visit to hear the string quartet and my favorite jazz trio and one last (double) helping of dessert before heading off to bed.

Monday morning saw us meeting as a group in one of the showrooms waiting for them to begin the disembarkation process. The port of Buenos Aires was in chaos with 4 ships all arriving at the same time and since our travel group had nearly 200 people we simply added to the confusion.  Several hours later we were finally on busses and driving around the city which had the vibe of energy and excitement you’ll find in any large city. (I’ll tell you more about it in a bit.)

After our brief tour we made our way to the airport for a short flight to Iguazu where we got on more buses and drove through the sub-tropical rainforest area where the falls are located.  We stopped at an overlook where 2 rivers and 3 countries converge.  Standing on one bank (we were on the Argentina side) you can look across the y-shaped river to see Brazil on one side and Paraguay on the other. They’d had an extremely dry summer…until we got there; we got the joy of driving and standing in the first deluge since November! It came down in buckets causing the roads to flood in just minutes and making everything humid and soggy but just added to the adventure.

That evening we checked into our fancy-schmancy hotel and ate dinner (a fabulously-flavored Argentinian beef hamburger) in the lobby. The facilities were 5 star but the service left a lot to be desired. We waited over an hour for our food, another 45 minutes to get our check after we’d requested it and then another half an hour to get the credit card slips to sign after that. That pretty much ate up our evening and didn’t leave us time for anything else but getting to bed.

Tuesday (January 24) we got up early and loaded back on the busses for a short drive to Iguazu National Park. The rainforest area was obviously quite lush and green, especially after the previous days’ storm. There were birds and butterflies everywhere providing spots of turquoise, scarlet, gold and flame against the endless green. Even the river was green! The sky was overcast and gray and opened up to shower us with another downpour about an hour into our visit.  It made picture taking very difficult but by the end of the day we all decided the rain was preferable to the 100+ degrees we could have had. It kept things relatively cool and pleasant and kept the bugs at bay even if we were soaked to the skin the entire time.
We spent most of the day walking on metal walkways right on top of the rivers over to cliff edges and lookouts to see the miles of waterfalls. Even if it hadn’t been raining the mist from the falls would have kept us quite wet.  They were really incredible. Everywhere you looked there was another one, each one more spectacular than the last.

After the first 2 or 3 overlooks we were all feeling a bit drenched.  We gathered in a small pavilion to eat lunch and try to dry out a bit (nothing like a soggy sandwich and smooshed granola bars!) before venturing out again. By this time the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle but we all had our hair and clothes plastered against our skin and every sort of sklurping sound was made by our soaked shoes. But we’d come to see the falls and so set off on the next part of the adventure.  We loaded up into open-topped trucks to drive through the jungle to a lower section of the river where we then loaded into boats for an up-close-and-personal view of the falls from beneath.

Zooming along the bottom of the canyons past birds of all shapes, sizes and colors, around rocky ledges and past fall after fall was quite a different perspective than what we’d seen from above and across the canyons earlier in the day.  But the best was yet to come.  Our driver took us to a small horseshoe-shaped area with falls on all sides of us.  You could hardly see for the spray and mist that was coming from all around, but that wasn’t enough. We drove closer and closer until we were actually under the falls.  It was like being on the jungle ride at Disneyland except that the water didn’t stop when we got to it. Imagine a 75 foot high shower with the power of a fire hose pointed at the top of your head and you’ve just about got it. I’m pretty sure I swallowed enough water to give me a host of diseases to last a lifetime but it was amazing. And once wasn’t enough.  After we’d backed up a bit and gotten re-oriented again we convinced our driver to take us under once more. And then a third time. Man, I thought I’d been wet before. I had no idea. It was exhilarating and thrilling and extremely fun!

I was sitting next to one of the tour guides and he mentioned that perhaps that was what it was like for Shackleton and his men (and any other of the early sailors and explorers) on the open sea; the boat rocking like mad, waves and water crashing over the sides, especially during a storm, being soaked to the skin and disoriented as to any directions.  Of course we were only a few minutes’ drive from our fancy hotel and dry clothes, the water was nearly bathtub warm not frigid and our experience lasted about 10 minutes not 7 days, but still there were similarities.  It gave me an even greater appreciation for those men and their stories. What incredible survivors.

After hopping off the boat we had to trek our way up rock steps to the top of the canyon again and then back along dirt trails to the park entrance. It had stopped raining by then so I was able to get a few more photos (though my fingers were pruney and the rest of me was so wet I had nowhere to dry my hands before extracting the camera from the ziplock bag it had been ensconced in most of the day…I was sure I would ruin the thing!) And then it was back to our busses and the hotel. I peeled off my wet things and got right into a swimsuit to finish the pruning process in the three massive heated pools and hot tub while my roommate availed herself of the shower and bathroom facilities.  When I finally felt I was dry enough I put the raincoat back on and joined a couple friends to take a cab into town for dinner. We thought we were going to a bbq place to try some of the local chorizo (Argentine grilled beef) but things got a bit lost in translation and we ended up in a regular restaurant.  We were a bit disappointed  at first but the food was fantastic so it all worked out even if we did have a few close calls with the power going out (did I mention it was raining?!) and some uncertainties with ordering in a foreign language. It was a great meal to end a great day.

Wednesday morning we had a fabulous breakfast (I’m not usually a breakfast person but for some reason my body adjusts when I’m on vacation, I’m going to miss the massive buffet breakfasts every day!) before loading back on the busses to get to the airport for our flight back to Buenos Aires. There is something to be said for American efficiencies.  We are definitely not perfect but at least when something is a regulation it stays consistent and there is order and organization for the most part. I’m amazed that entire civilizations don’t collapse with the amount of inconsistencies and incompetency there is everywhere else. We had a couple that left early in morning to get a flight back in order to get to a hospital for possible food poisoning. Well, the airline put them on the first flight of the day but didn’t have any record of them actually being on the flight.  So, when the second flight came up (which half our group was supposed to be on, my half was booked on the 3rd flight which the couple was originally scheduled to be on) no one could find this couple.  The airline, concerned that she wouldn’t get to the hospital in time held the flight for over 3 hours (tell me how much sense that makes) so they could locate them. Meanwhile they’d made it to Buenos Aires, the hospital and finally to the hotel where our tour guides finally located them before the airlines decided to get things rolling again.  We spent the entire day at the airport and made it to Buenos Aires in time to check-in and get changed before we had to leave for our evening show.  It was a bit of a disappointing day as we had all hoped to get to a bbq place for dinner that night (no, I never did get the bbq.) L

We attended a fabulous tango show based on the life of Evita that night.  Using video, photos and radio broadcasts there was a running history on a large screen next to the stage. And then on stage they had people acting out her story. There were a few singers that acted as narrators but mostly it wordless with the dancers doing all the work. They used the tango as the base dance but it was interesting to see how much they could vary it. Usually you think of it being a very sexual, sensual dance but they did some that were playful, sad, militant and violent. It was awesome watching their skill, feet and legs flying and twirling in all directions. I want to know how many times people get kicked before they perfect it!

Thursday morning I was up early re-packing yet again for the final trip home. I enjoyed yet another gigantic breakfast buffet and then made my way out into the city by about 8 to walk around and take some photos before we had to load up on the busses again. As I mentioned before, it has a vibrant energy like any big city, people always on the go in a hurry to be important places and do important things.  I shared my walk with many a business person and passed many a homeless person, the ugly juxtapositions of any large metropolitan area. I marveled at the varying styles of architecture, the vast size and the hustle and bustle.  I spent a few minutes in a beautiful Catholic church, basking in the silence and solitude before heading back out into the crush and chaos of morning rush hour.  I walked past the giant obelisk, fountains and monuments galore, a spectacular theatre, and did some shopping in the pedestrian district on Florida Street before heading back to the Marriott on the edge of San Martin Plaza to meet up with the rest of the group.
Again we were herded onto busses for the last leg of our adventure. We visited May Square (each S American city has a main town square with the three most important buildings; the bank, the church, and the town hall) where the Pink House is located (the former Presidential Palace) and protests take place on a continual basis, including one that day consisting of a group of angry drummers and swat team standing by. In their last revolution in the 80s more than 300,000 people went missing and there’s a monument built to them there as well.

We visited several of the local neighborhoods (like the Burroughs in NYC) including Puerto Madero which was originally a port city but has since been refurbished into a high-end residential area. Palermo is the 2nd most expensive neighborhood, full of huge houses that now function as embassies. La Boca, specifically the area of Caminito, is like its own little world.  The buildings are all painted bright, multi-colors and are currently stuffed to the gills with shops, restaurants, art galleries, bars and the like.  Our next stop was the cemetery in Recoleta where Evita’s grave is located.  It reminded me so much of the cemeteries in New Orleans, mazes of thousands of above-ground crypts and mausoleums in various states of disrepair. I found myself in an alleyway on the opposite side of our group wandering in the quiet wondering about the lives of the people interred in these tombs.  Some of them had glass doors so you could look in and see the caskets, many of which were covered in thick cobwebs or crumbling and decaying.  It would be a spectacularly creepy place at night, or heck, even in the daylight if you were all by yourself!

Our final stop was at the temple which is under renovation and then it was back to the airport. 

In my next life I’m going to be a super inventor who figures out the trick for teleporting.  The worst part of traveling is the actual traveling, getting from place to place. Hours and hours spent waiting in line or waiting for vehicles or just sitting doing nothing in those vehicles, think of all the things we could be doing instead! And then there’s the lack of sleep and jet lag issues. Between the various time changes and travel time and what not it feels like we’ve been going for days but total time is probably less than 24 hours (it’s too much for me to actually figure out at this point, sorry!)  We left Buenos Aires Thursday evening, flew through to Lima and then on to Los Angeles finally arriving in Salt Lake Friday afternoon. I have no idea what time my body thinks it is but it’s definitely time for sleep!

Iguazu Falls

The Pink House-Buenos Aires

La Boca neighborhood-Buenos Aires


  1. I'm glad you had a fun and safe trip. Thanks so much for sharing. Isn't Montevideo awesome. I love the temple there. The mission home is just around the corner. I wish I could have been with you for that part. I could have showed you where I lived and worked. South America is awesome. But as you say in your next post. There's no place like home. We need to get together and you can fill me in on all your travels.

  2. It really was amazing. I had no idea what to expect as all of my anticipation was for the Antarctica portion, not the S America part. But I was pleasantly surprised!
    I probably won't get home again this year...when are you coming to DC?! (jk, more important question, when is the new arrival due?)

  3. I can't believe it is so late, I'm finally reading about your trip and it has captivated me. Such beautiful pictures-such amazing sites-and such beautiful words to describe them.