Straddling the border between Argentina & Brazil lies the world wonder, Iguazu Falls. The falls, stretching an area of approximately 2 km in length, are often considered one of the most awe inspiring sights on the entire planet - and they truly are. It was a jaw dropping, visceral experience, and the power and majesty of the falls will live forever ingrained in my memory. According to Guarani tradition, the falls originated when an Indian warrior, named Caroba, incurred the wrath of a forest god by escaping downriver in a canoe with a young girl, Naipur, with whom the god was infatuated. Enraged by this, the god caused the riverbed to collapse in front of the lovers, producing a line of precipitous falls over which Naipur fell and, at their base, turned into a rock. Caroba survived as a tree overlooking the rock.
My first objective was to secure a Brazilian visa;
Both sides of the falls provide unique experiences. The Argentine side is larger, and provides superior views of the falls themselves and an awesome view looking down upon La Garganta del Diablo (the Devil's Throat), an amazingly powerful and concentrated torrent of water which plunges down into murky abyss. The Brazilian side has equally awe inspiring views of the falls and provides a head on view of the Devil's Throat. The ultimate way to view the falls, however, is by helicopter - which can only be done from the Brazilian side, however, was definitely the highlight of the experience.
As I had planned 6 days in Puerto Igauzu, I needed to find other things to do. One day I traveled 4 hours by bus to the town of San Ignacio to see some of the most impressive Jesuit Mission ruins in the Misiones region. For a century and a half from 1609, one of the world's greatest social experiments was carried out in the jungles of South America by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Locating themselves in incredibly remote areas, priests set up reducciones (missions), where they established communities of Guarani whom they evangelized and educated, while at the same time protecting them from slavery and the evil influences of colonial society. It was a utopian ideal that flourished and led Voltaire to describe it as a "triumph of humanity which seems to expiate the cruelties of the first conquerors." They were quite interesting and in relatively good state.
I also headed back into Brazil for a second day and visited the Itaipu Dam, which is considered one of the modern wonders of the world and until recently was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world - now overcome by the dam built in China across the Yangtze River). Located on the Parana River, straddles the border of Brazil & Paraguay. The dam was a controversial project, as it plunged Brazil way into debt and necessitated large-scale destruction of rainforest and the displacement of 10,000 people. But in the end, it cleanly supplies nearly all of Paraguay's energy needs and 20% of Brazil's. The dam is really quite impressive, coming in at approximately 8 km long and 200 m high.
From Puerto Igauzu I flew to Buenos Aires, where I have been for the past 3 days. Though sadly, today is my last day ;-( as tonight I fly back home. Buenos Aires is an impressively beautiful city for a city as large as it is. Mix together a beautiful European city (such as Paris) with attractive residents (known locally as porteños), gourmet cuisine, awesome shopping, a frenzied nightlight and top-drawer activities (such as Tango Shows & Polo), and you get Buenos Aires. It is an elegant, seductive place with a ragged edge, laced with old-world languor and yet full of contemporary attitude. Buenos Aires is somehow strangely familiar, but unlike any other city in the world I have visited. The first day I took a hop on, hop off bus; a great way to see the major sites of the city. The second day I spent quite a bit of the day looking for boxes to transport my collection of wine back. In the end I purchased 8 bottles of wine; though, after rereviewing the US government website on importing alcohol. Although the federal government allows me to bring in more than 1 liter; i just have top pay duty on it -- at 3% the price paid. I have estimated the cost of the 8 bottles at $140; so that means a duty tax of $4,20. HOWEVER, I am also subject to the state laws of the point of entry. Of all places, I am entering the country at Washington Dulles, located in the "lovely" state of Virginia. Somehow, Virginia allows the importing of 1 gallon (who in the world measures alcohol in gallons?) to be imported. Converting liters to gallons this equals approximately 4 liters. Even though Minnesota allows 2 cases ;-(... Here's hoping the customs officers are feeling nice.
My last night in Buenos Aires was also my most memorable on two accounts. First, it wouldn't be a visit to Buenos Aires without taking in a Tango Show. So off I went. While at the show I sat down next to a seemingly nice couple and started chatting. We talked about various things, such as what they were doing in Buenos Aires, how long they were/are here and where they have gone. Then came the part where I always ask where people are from, our conversation went something like this.
Me: So, where are you guys from?
Dillons: North, Central US.
Me: Yes, which part.
Me: Yes, which part
Dillons: The Minneapolis area, in St. Paul.
Me: Yes, I live in St. Paul too.
Dillons: Yes, we live on Irvine Ave, the hill between Summit & Grand ave.
Me: This is just too weird, I live in Grand Ave between ---- and ----.
I meet at least one person from Minnesota, but to meet someone who lives just down the street from me was just plain weird.
Another great trip has come to an end. Now to begin planing where I will go next. I have setup a poll where I am asking people where they think I should go. Feel free to visit and cast your vote. Destination will be announced February 1st.