Big capital cities are usually a good place to start a trip in a new country. They’ve got international airports for your arrival, national museums to learn about the history and culture of the country, as well as restaurants, bars, and nightlife to help you power through your jet lag. But in many places, the real treats of the region are a bit further away. For the start of my trip in Argentina, this included short visits to both Iguazú Falls at the border with Brazil and an overnight stay in Colonia, Uruguay; both just a short trip away from Buenos Aires, easily accessible for all the porteños that live there.
Let’s start with Iguazú Falls.
There is a lot of water at the falls.
I mean a lot of water.
Like the 1.7 million cubic liters per second kind of ‘a lot’.
Personally, I haven’t been to Niagara Falls (even though it’s about 7000 km closer to my house) but it’s difficult to imagine anything as powerful as what I saw in Iguazú. “Poor Niagra!” was apparently Eleanor Roosevelt´s initial reaction according to a Wikipedia article I scanned.
(OK OK, apparently I have been to Niagra Falls when I was a teenager and didn’t keep a journal but maybe its lack of an impression on me highlights the veracity of Eleanor’s quote)
And the visit to the national park did not just include the stunning rush of water seen at Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat, captured in the video above). My hours of walking along trails and up and down stairs led me to countless different falls, many with permanent rainbows springing from them. The fact that Iguazú holds the largest waterfall system in the world becomes pretty obvious after just a few minutes of walking around. Oh and plenty of coatis walking around the park. Just keep your sandwich close and don’t be afraid to shoo them away.
The town around Iguazú didn’t have much to offer in the way as it seems to be built up around the tourists coming to visit the falls as well as the point of Tres Fronteras (Three Borders) where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay all meet. Although it was a beautiful view from our Argentine side, Brazil clearly seemed to be having a bigger party.
The locally owned restaurant, La Rueda, was also a highlight of the town. It was so good that I went back for a second night. Night number one featured some delicious Argentine steak and on the second night, we sampled bacu and smoked surubi, two fish that we spotted swimming around the falls earlier that day.
After returning back to Buenos Aires, another escape plan from the city was organized. We, a small group representing Canada, New Zealand, and the US, formulated plans for an overnight stay in Colonia del Sacremento, Uruguay and during an evening soiree of Campari and Orange (a drink that quickly became my go to cocktail in Buenos Aires).
The visit to Colonia was only one night and two (almost) full days but it felt like enough. Colonia is a sleepy little island town save for the fact that it is not on any more of an island than is Buenos Aires; a fact that did not stop us from blaming ‘island time’ for any of the closed businesses or pace of service.
Our apartment was a short walk away from the ferry dock along cobblestone streets that seemed to serve as speed bumps to keep us from covering too much of the town too quickly. After so many nights of eating out in Buenos Aires and now being in possession of a house with a parrilla and sea view, we capitalized on the opportunity to cook for ourselves. Our asado was like nothing any Argentine or Uruguayan would make (far too many vegetables featured) but we were pretty satisfied.
On day two we rented some bikes in order to find a famous pencil museum. And believe me, when I heard about it online, I thought I misread that too. Colonia del Sacremento, Uruguay is home to the largest pencil collection in the world. Partly fueled by irony, partly by a desire to bike off the calories from our asado, and partly with a sincere and genuine interest in pencils, we set off on our bikes towards the museum.
Unfortunately, about a third of the way towards the pencils, my bike failed me. Loose bolts on the left pedals couldn’t keep all the necessary parts in place. When I couldn’t fix it with fingers, I used the opportunity as a chance to practice my Spanish by asking for help at the houses where we had stopped; unfortunately, I couldn’t think of the word for ‘Allen wrench’ so after a few minutes of explaining around in simpler words, we were led past the barking dogs and into a friendly local’s garage to look for tools. Sadly, even after the husband and his fishing friends came back to the house, we didn’t find the tool we were looking for and so our pencil dreams were broken. Snapped? Dulled? It was a quiet bike ride back to Colonia while I tried to think of the right pun.
Thankfully, I had picked the right group to travel with. Neither boredom nor greedy bicycle vendors with crappy bikes could stop us from enjoying the beautiful day. A climb up the lighthouse and the highest point in Colonia seemed like an appropriate last thing to do in this island town that wasn’t on an island.
Oh, and visiting the best coffee shops of Colonia took us only about 2 and half hours with the star being the very accurately named ‘Colonia Sandwich Coffee Shop’. Now back to Buenos Aires for a much larger selection of coffee, bars, but probably not pencils.
A final parting thought to remind you, dear reader, that what I write in my blog is only one tiny dimension of my travels. With this trip to Uruguay in particular, I am lucky enough to have a separate account of it from my New Zealand friend of fellow blogger, Tim. Find his account of the trip here. He was drinking coffee while I was taking a photo of mine in the picture above.