Iguazu Falls

Most Americans are famililar with Niagara Falls on the border of the US and Canada, but have you ever heard of the Iguazu Falls?
Iguazu Falls, or Foz do Iguaçu as it is known in Brazil, is on the border of Argentina and Brazil and close to Paraguay. Similar to Niagara, it seems humongous waterfalls are a good place to make an international border. This is also true for Victoria Falls in Africa, though I have not yet been.
When we arrived to Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinean side of the falls, it was raining hard. I can not remember ever seeing rain that hard for that long. It literally poured all day to the point that even rain gear was ineffective. I guess it was our welcome to the jungle. Despite the rain, we were able to meet up with our German friend, Leonie, who we WWOOFed with in Argentina. The timing worked out so that after she finished her time on the farm, she was headed to the falls during the same week that we were.
The day after we arrived, we caught one of the first buses to the famous cataratas from the main bus terminal in Puerto Iguazu and arrived just before the national park opened its gates for the day. The Iguazu Falls are impressive and easily accessible, in fact, they can be viewed two ways. They can be accessed from the Argentinean side via Puerto Iguazu, or the Brazilian side via the town of Foz do Iguaçu. On the Brazilian side, visitors are offered an overview of the falls whereas on the Argentinean side, there are kilometers of boardwalks that give you different angles of the falls. Iguazu is actually made up of many smaller waterfalls, but the largest and most famous is called the Garganta del Diablo (translated: Devil’s Throat).
We decided it was best to go see the Garganta del Diablo first before the park got overly crowded. The sheer amount of water going over the falls was mesmerizing. We stared at the millions of gallons per second tumbling over the falls for about 40 minutes. I think I can agree with Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Poor Niagara!” after seeing this monstrosity.
We stayed in the park for a total of about 6 hours until we walked all the boardwalks we could find. The boardwalks are divided into the upper and lower decks so that visitors can walk above and below the falls. My favorite spot was the outlook on the lower deck where you could get the closest (read: wettest) to the spray from the falls.
I wish my pictures could do Iguazu justice, but until you visit this “must see” in South America, they will have to do. Enjoy!

Tips for Iguazu:

  1. Bring rain gear and a waterproof camera
  2. Be careful when walking. The walkways can be slippery.
  3. Sometimes the trails and island close so check when you enter.
  4. Be careful of the coatises and monkeys. Do not feed them and keep an eye on your belongings.
  5. The first train to the Garganta del Diablo won’t leave until about 8:15am so there is no need to arrive before then.

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Bonus: Just for curiosity’s sake, let’s compare the 4 “largest” waterfalls of the world: Angel Falls, Victoria Falls, Iguazu Falls, & Niagara Falls.

  • Angel Falls in Venezuala, is the tallest by height.
  • Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of falling water by height and width.
  • Iguazu Falls is the longest (by width) waterfalls (275 waterfalls).
  • Niagara Falls has the highest average yearly waterflow.

What Is WWOOFing Anyway?

We recently posted about our first WWOOFing experience in Argentina, so we thought it might be appropriate to follow up with what WWOOFing actually is and how you can participate.

What It Is

WWOOF, which stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is actually a global organization as its name states. Well, not completely global yet, but found in many countries around the world, WWOOF is a type of work exchange program and a unique form of alternative travel. In South America alone, WWOOF opportunities can be found in Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. But what exactly are these opportunities? They include any type of work on organic farms that you can imagine, ranging from demanding physical labor, to cleaning, to helping create organic food products, and others.

How It Works

Organic farms within each country sign up as WWOOF host farms. This signifies that they would like to accept volunteers to help them with various tasks in exchange for room and board. Each farm puts up a description of the type of work and hours they require, along with other relevant information, such as host descriptions, specific farm rules, dietary habits, etc. Anything the hosts feel the WWOOFer (aka volunteer) would need to know to feel comfortable signing up to work on the farm.

The volunteer in turn, signs up with the country specific WWOOF site by turning in contact details and paying the membership fee online. For WWOOF Argentina this was $36 USD a person for a one year membership. After paying the membership fee, each WWOOFer is given a member ID and access to the contact information of all the member farms within their country. The WWOOFer then has the chance to contact whichever farms they like to find out if places are available during the time they would like to come.

Benefits

Often member farms require at least one week of stay, some like volunteers to stay up to six months, which means WWOOFing can be an excellent form of alternative travel for those with more than one week of vacation time. It is also a great way to cut travel costs by offering a little of your time in exchange for two of the largest travel costs, food and lodging. In fact, setting aside the minimal membership fee, WWOOFing can be a way to travel for free if you are already in the area of the farm where you would like to stay. What’s more is that WWOOFing also exists in the US, meaning you don’t have to buy an expensive flight out of the country to enjoy some time relaxing in the country.

Another benefit for the WWOOFer is that WWOOFing can be an amazing way to learn the local culture of the city, state, or country you are traveling in, because most often you are living right alongside the owners of the farm, sharing meals and conversation. At many farms, if not all, you can and should learn about sustainable and ecologically friendly farming practices that you can continue to use one you finish your trip. There are also a myriad of specialized skills one can acquire through WWOOFing, such as how to construct things, how to make local food, learn the language of the country you are in, and much more. Each experience is different and everyone gets something different out of it. And don´t worry, not all farms are owned by “peace and love hippie types” (although you can definitely find that if you desire). There are plenty of WWOOFing members who are simply interested in learning about other cultures and sharing their own in the process.

How To Participate

Whether you are interested in forestry, wine making, cheese processing, alternative energy, growing and making chocolate, working with animals, carpentry, or anything else you can think of, there is probably a WWOOFing farm waiting to host you. Go ahead! Give it a try. Head on over to www.WWOOf.net to get your member number.

Volunteer in Argentina – Our First WWOOF Experience

After making our way back up towards Buenos Aires for the third time on our trip, we had the opportunity to WWOOF on an organic dairy farm in a suburb of the capital city called General Rodriguez. I assume that most tourists never visit the small town of General Rodriguez; Maybe they visit the famous basilica where the Pope might say mass in nearby Lujan, but never General Rodriguez. For us, our time here turned out to be one of the highlights of our time in Argentina.
After email correspondence with our hosts, we followed directions to meet them at their friend’s store in town. Then Patricia, one of the hosts, picked us up in her car and drove us out of town. We had no idea what to expect since this was our first WWOOFing experience. We continued down the road out of town until we eventually turned onto a gravel road and later onto what can only be described as a mud road. We took this all the way until we reached our new home for the next two weeks: Granja Italó.
When we arrived, Patricia showed us our “casita” (little house) where we would be sleeping, and then we went to meet her husband, Alfredo. Patricia & Alfredo were extremely welcoming and were amazing hosts over the next 14 days teaching us the routine of farm life in Argentina.
During our stay, our days would commence around 7:45am every day and Anna and I would help Alfredo and Patricia with their daily tasks on the farm. At the very beginning of every morning, Alfredo would milk the 5 cows producing milk using the milking machine. He walked us through the process, explaining every step of the way. After the cows were milked, Alfredo would then deliver the unprocessed milk to Patricia who would then proceed to turn it into anything from cheese to yogurt to drinkable milk to dulce de leche. It was amazing to see the handbuilt machines that she used and to learn all biology, chemistry, and physics involved in what I thought would have been a simple process. For us, it was really neat to witness the behind-the-scenes of products typically bought at the grocery store. Eating the freshly produced dairy products later was the best part though!
Besides working with the milk, we also planted 14 trees, weeded the vegetable garden, sowed seeds in the field, fertilized the farm, cut the grass, removed an old cement foundation with a sledgehammer, and built a fence using recycled wood. The two weeks we were there flew by, but it also seemed like we were there for a much longer time because of all the things we accomplished. On top of all the farm work we did, we also improved our Spanish, learned the way of life of one Argentinian farm family, learned to make ñoquis (gnocchi) by hand, and shared many laughs.
I honestly believe that this was the best, first WWOOFing experience we could have had. Our hosts were exceptionally welcoming, patient, and friendly. We learned a lot, accomplished a lot, ate a lot, and made new friends along the way. This amazing experience made our two weeks in lesser known General Rodriguez truly special.

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Trekking in El Chalten & Mount Fitz Roy

Imagine going to sleep to the sound of a howling wind whistling across the jagged, snowcapped, and cloud-covered mountains while you huddle inside your sleeping bag fully clothed- jacket, hat, mittens, the works. Then it begins to rain. Its okay though because you have already brushed your teeth and gone to the bathroom so there is no need for you to get up until the morning. You just hope it stops raining by then.

When you wake you`re delighted! It has stopped raining and the wind has stopped as well. So you unzip your sleeping bag only to find that it is snowing: snowing and the mountains are still obscured by the strangest clouds you have ever seen, but, at the moment, its too cold to stop and take pictures of those marvelous formations of rock and cloud anyway. You and your crew need to pack up the frozen tent and get on your way to your next campsite. So you do, and after hiking through a beautiful, fluffy snowfall, you are rewarded with the sun again, a magnificent ancient forest to hike through and later a view of one of the most famous mountain ranges in all of South America – the Fitz Roy Range.

If you haven’t guessed it already, this is kind of how our trekking in the north end of Argentina´s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares went. We took a bus from El Calafate to El Chalten, in search of some multi-day wilderness adventures. The town of El Chalten is located within the boundaries of the National Park and thus, our bus stopped at the park office so the passengers could get a safety talk as well as maps, and information about the treks in Argentina’s trekking capital.

Mount Fitz Roy is the major draw for the visitors to the town. It is perhaps Patagonia’s second most famous mountain range and it is only several hours away from the trailhead (it can also be seen looming over the pueblo). We began a three day, two day hike the same day we arrived in El Chalten and needed just over 3 hours to hike to our first campsite. Most of the hiking that we did in Los Glaciares National Park was the same difficulty level as a Saturday afternoon walk through a forest preserve in Illinois. The trails were also marked just as well as a forest preserve`s might be, and the number of people on the trails was about the same. In fact, we probably did not even need a map other than to tell us how long the distances were between campsites. The only major differences were the landscape and the unpredictable weather for which Patagonia is famous.

Although there are many different paths to see Mount Fitz Roy, some which need registration, some which require a guide, and most that only require a few hours, what we ended up doing was a hike on our first day to Campamento Poincenot, passing Laguna Capri, a great mirador of the Fitz Roy Range where we stopped for a lunch break. This first day we saw the famous Fitz Roy Mountain for just a few minutes before it was shrouded in a foreboding accumulation of clouds unlike any I had ever seen before. At night, the wind howled through the Poincenot campsite at the base of the trail up to a closer and more impressive lookout of Fitz Roy. In the morning, the weather was great while we climbed to Laguana de Los Tres and had fun taking pictures, but the mountain range was again quickly covered by the ominous clouds that swirled around it, so we hurried back down the mountainside to pack up our tent and continue on to Campamento De Agostini. This campsite was much better sheltered from the wind, and was at the base of the lookout to another of the famous mountains in the park, Cerro Torre.  Unfortunately, however, the clouds never left the area, and the cold and snow started to set in so we headed through the Patagonian steppe and forested mountainsides before returning to El Chalten to spend the night in a hostel we had reserved in advance.

Despite being Argentina’s trekking capital, we were suprised with the hiking in the area. Though the mountain range was magnificent, the hiking was not as rewarding as we wanted. Too many people, too short of trails, too few of options. Because of this, we took off on a different trail the next day to Laguna Toro, a much less hiked trail than those we had done in the previous days. This trail took us through ancient forests, marshy wetlands, more Patagonian steppe, and descended into a wide open river valley where we encountered the laguna and a very windy pass (Paso de Viento). The campsite was located in a little mountain cove, where we were protected from the strong winds just around the corner. That evening though, we had fun playing in the winds of the Paso and scrambling the mountains on the other side to get a glimpse of the glacier on top.  The following day we returned to El Chalten by the same trail and were rewarded with a sunny, almost windless day. On this beautiful trail, there were much fewer people, less trail markers, and more of the kind of hiking we were looking for.

A word on El Chalten: the town is located within the national park limits, where residents need to follow the same rules as campers, regarding washing near the rivers and streams in order to guarantee that they remain drinkable for future hikers. There are also problems with stray dogs hunting the endangered Huemul deer, so it is necessary to make sure that no dogs tag along on any of the trails outside of town. Inside the park all of the campsites are free and basic. This means that what you carry in, you must carry out, including and especially trash. All buses entering El Chalten stop first at the park´s information office before continuing to the bus terminal to insure that all tourists know the rules of the park before they head out on the trails.

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El Calafate & Perito Moreno Glacier

Patagonia is the home of the world’s third largest ice field (Antarctica is #1, Greenland is # 2). This means there are many miles of ice and tons of glaciers in the area, but few can match the jaw-dropping ability of the Perito Moreno Glacier which is located 2 hours outside of El Calafate in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. If any glacier was made to be a tourist attraction, Perito Moreno is the one. First, imagine a 35 kilometers long tongue of ice that is 60 meters tall spilling out into a lake. Next, imagine all of it coming closer to the edge of a perfectly placed peninsula that juts out in the middle of the lake towards the glacier. After that, place metal boardwalks all along the front of the peninsula so that tourists from all over the world can snap photos of this wonder. Though it does not move very fast, this massive glacier is as mobile as a glacier can be. That’s right, glaciers move. In fact, the Perito Moreno glacier moves about 2 meters per day. All this movement and the sheer weight of the ice (glacier snow is much denser and therefore heavier than regular snow) combine to create a truly fantastic spectacle. After hearing so much about this beast, we had to see it for ourselves.

Since visiting the Perito Moreno glacier outside of El Calafate (not to be confused with the town called Perito Moreno), I feel that visiting this behemoth of a glacier is a must for anyone on a Patagonian adventure. It was really cool to stand on the boardwalks and stare at this gigantic piece of ice for hours. You are close enough to it to take really good pictures, but far enough away so that you feel safe from the falling ice. The coolest part about going to see this glacier, however, is (hopefully) watching enormous pieces of ice calve off into the lake below. It is not only the visuals of truck-sized chunks of glacier ice falling into the water, but the accompanying sounds that come from the cracking and shifting of the glacier that makes it quite impressive to see and worth every cent spent on getting there.

Though not always guaranteed, we were fortunate enough to be there just as the tip of the iceberg… I mean glacier broke off creating huge waves that disrupted the tranquility of the lake. Check out the video I took!

Let me remind you that you just watched the equivalent of a 20-story tall building falling into the water. It was pretty cool to see it live. Several other pieces fell during the time we were there, but this one was by far the most significant. I took pictures until my camera battery ran out just before we had to leave. After we returned to El Calafate on our scheduled bus, we talked to some other people staying in the same campground as us that said they did not see any large blocks of glacier fall off. This made us feel even more lucky that we saw what you just watched in the video embedded above. Surely, visiting Glaciar Perito Moreno will be one of my highlights of Patagonia.

And while we are talking about highlights of Patagonia, let me tell you about the feast we enjoyed in El Calafate. Our campground, Camping Ovejero, is actually a campground, a hostel, and a restaurant. Every night starting at 7pm, the restaurant opens its typical Argentine barbeque called a parrilla. Just as I feel it would be wrong to visit Patagonia without visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier, I also feel a trip to Argentina would not be complete without partaking in a parilla. For anyone familiar with the Spanish language, you should know that the double-L (like the one found in parrilla) normally makes the same sound as a “y” in English, but in Argentina, the “ll” sounds like a “j”. So, we are at this parilla (pronounced par-ee-ja) at the restaurant associated with our campground and it is an all-you-can-eat for the equivalent of about $12 US dollars. I am in heaven! We even splurged on a bottle of Argentinian Malbec to go with our appetizers of garlic bread and lamb tongue and the rest of our meal. After about 2 hours, we had eaten our fill of all-you-can-eat salad bar, chorizo, blood sausage, and chicken, but we especially enjoyed the patagonian lamb that had been slow cooking over an open fire for hours. Once we finished one plate of meat, the waiters would bring out another plate overflowing with meat. At the end of the meal, we had for sure eaten more than our money’s worth and I was a happy man, that is, until I got up from the table and had difficulty walking back to the tent because I was so full. Oops!

Tips for El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier:

  • El Calafate is a fairly large town (pop. 22,000) and has many of the things that smaller villages do not have. i.e. a proper supermarket, gas station, chocolate shops, airlines offices
  • Definitely check out one of El Calafate’s newest attractions, the Glaciarium Museo del Hielo Patagónico, a well thought out museum that explains everything you want to know about glaciers, but emphasizes the ones in Patagonia. They also have a “Glaciobar“. There is a free shuttle too.
  • Make sure to visit all of the different observation decks when at the glacier because each offers a different view from different angles or distances. Closer is not always better.

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