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Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, Argentina

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Of all of the current hot spots to visit in South America, Buenos Aires is certainly the most popular and arguably the most sizzling. Filled with sultry tango dancers, decadent parrillas (steak houses), and savvy well-dressed locals, Buenos Aires is now the place to see and be seen on the South American travel circuit. Argentina’s capital is an energetic, nocturnal city where dinner is rarely served before 10:30 p.m., and people don’t even think about heading out to the clubs until at least 2:30 a.m.

Since Argentina’s economic crash in 2001, Buenos Aires has become one of the most affordable world-class cities anywhere. However, as with anything that seems too good to be true, the cat’s been out of the bag for quite some time and Buenos Aires’ once rock-bottom prices have steadily been rising over the past 6 years. Like several places in eastern Europe, the constant influx of travelers to this city has inevitably led to an increase in prices. Although still cheap by international standards, it seems the legend of the “five dollar filet-mignon” is now a thing of the past, now costing about $7.50 these days.

After only an hour-long ferry ride from Colonia, Uruguay, Eric and I saw before us the sprawling skyline of Buenos Aires. Upon seeing it, we looked giddily at each other and began planning how we would spend the next week. Our expectations for this town were high and we hoped it might end up in the same league as Rio de Janiero and Panama City. Our cab ride from the ferry terminal gave us a good taste of Buenos Aires’ seemingly endless spread of broad boulevards and towering buildings.

We spent our first two days exploring central Buenos Aires and the busy area located along Avenida de Mayo and Avenida 9 de Julio. We immediately indulged in our first of what ended up being several meals at a true Argentinian parrilla (steak house). Although the quality of the beef was obvious and the price was right, we quickly learned that Argentinians cook their steaks considerably more than we do in America. Although we learned the correct terminology for ordering our steaks rare (jugoso, in Spanish), we found they always came out somewhere around medium +. By the time we left Buenos Aires, we had eaten at least 8 steaks each but, I must sadly report, at least 6 of the 8 were overcooked. This dining experience proved to be a bit frustrating and with each consecutive time we’d order one, we tried to emphasize more and more exactly how rare we wanted it. “Rojo (red), “jugoso” (juicy) and “poco hecho, por favor,” we would plead.

On our third day in Buenos Aires, Eric’s girlfriend Rori arrived, and I moved from the hotel we were staying at to a popular youth hostel nearby. I ended up spending the next three nights at the uber-popular Hostel Milhouse. Of all of the youth hostels I’ve stayed at in the world, I can safely say Milhouse is the biggest party hostel of them all. A typical night at Milhouse starts around 11:00 pm with people having drinks and talking before they head out to the clubs around 3:00 am. The night usually ends around 8:00 the next morning, when everybody finally makes it back to the hostel and crashes for the duration of the day before getting up and doing it all over again.

Sleeping in a dorm room at Milhouse felt like living amidst a den of vampires. During daylight hours, the darkened dorm room would be full of people trying to catch up on sleep, while at night the entire room would usually be empty until the wee hours of the morning. Partying is an all-consuming activity in Argentina, the likes of which I’ve seen in few other places.

I met a lot of other travelers at Milhouse. There was an incredible mix of people from all over the world. I ended up hanging out and going clubbing with a group that included travelers from Ireland, France, Brazil, and England. I even met two different lone travelers who were days away from finishing year-long trips. We had a great time dancing and drinking until sunrise.

Rori, Eric and I spent our days exploring the different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, including Palermo, Recoleta, Balvenera and San Telmo. Each district had its own flavor, but San Telmo I found to be my favorite. San Telmo is a very old, classy neighborhood that is full of curio-shops and antique stores. It also has leafy plazas and cobbled streets that help create a very tranquil and charming environment.

On our fifth day in Buenos Aires my good buddy, Mitch, arrived from Phoenix, Arizona. The night before, I had been out partying all night and hadn’t gotten home until 6:00 a.m. By the time he arrived in town, around 11:00 a.m., I was still a wreck and he was tired from his flight, so we ended up spending most of the rest of the day in bed.

In addition to a lack of sleep, I was suffering from a wicked cold I had recently come down with. I’m sure this made for a slow start to Mitch’s trip; however, by the third day, we were back at Milhouse, and Mitch was getting a taste of what the party and youth hostel scene is like in South America. During the day Mitch and I visited Buenos Aires’ famous soccer stadium in La Boca as well as its beautiful cemetery Cementerio de La Recoleta where Eva Peron is buried.

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On the morning of September 5th, Mitch, Eric, Rori and myself took an hour and a half flight to Iguazu Falls in northern Argentina. Although there is plenty to see and do in Buenos Aires, I was more than ready to leave when the time came. My cold and the debilitating effects of so much partying had taken its toll on me. It seemed, to me at least, the good air of Buenos Aires had turned a bit stagnant.

Luckily, a true breath of fresh air awaited us in Puerto Iguazu. Coming from the chilly climate of Buenos Aires to the sunny, balmy climate of Puerto Iguazu, felt like arriving in Hawaii. Although the weather in Buenos Aires was considerably better than it had been in Uruguay, it was nowhere nearly as nice as it was in Puerto Iguazu. Eric and I were again baffled a bit at this dramatic change in weather. It seems the weather in South America is a very patchy subject in the winter. There are plenty of micro-climates here, and you can easily travel from a place with weather in the 50’s to a place in the 90’s without necessarily going north toward the equator. I still can’t explain why a place like Florianopolis, Brazil, would have cold beaches, while Iguazu Falls (at roughly the same latitude) has weather in the 90’s.

This change in weather was a very welcome surprise, and it seemed to relax and brighten all four of us. We immediately checked into a highly recommended youth hostel called Hostel Inn. The facilities at the hostel were incredible and included a huge swimming pool, free breakfast, pool tables, wi-fi, and plenty of great common areas to hang out and meet other travelers. Like Milhouse in Buenos Aires, Hostel Inn proved to be where all of the in-crowd hangs out. We were surprised to see that even Mitch’s twin brother showed up to use the internet (pictured below).

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On our second day in Puerto Iguazu we went to visit the stunning series of waterfalls at Parque National Iguazu. Located at the convergence of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, the Iguazu area is a very special corner of the world. There are national parks on both the Brazilian and Argentinian side that provide different views of the falls as well as the spectacular natural setting they inhabit. We ended up visiting the Argentinian side of the falls, and it proved to be a very memorable day.

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The waterfalls at Iguazu National Park are powerful and picturesque, set in an environment that is replete with rainbows and butterflies. The entire setting is so perfectly beautiful you would think you were looking at a Hallmark card or an inspirational poster at the dentist’s office. The infrastructure at the park was very developed, and throngs of tourists could easily navigate an elaborate series of catwalks that spread to every corner of the park. There was even a tiny train, the type of which you might find at a zoo or amusement park, that shuttled people around to different areas of the park.

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Visiting the falls was great, but the train and all of the catwalks made me feel like I was on a ride at Disneyland. I personally preferred the untouched setting of Angel Falls in Venezuela more. Angel Falls felt truly remote, and just getting there was an adventure in itself. Iguazu Falls is so easy to get to I think it may even be wheelchair accessible.

The highlight of our visit to the falls was standing on top of Devil’s Throat. Devil’s Throat is the largest and most powerful of all the falls in the Iguazu area. Standing on the catwalk and looking over the edge of Devil’s Throat felt like looking off the end of the world. The powerful rushing water was quite a site, and the deafening sound of the falls added to the exhilaration of the experience.

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On our third day in Puerto Iguazu, we took a short ferry across the Rio Parana to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Although a visa is required to visit Paraguay, it is possible to make a day trip without having to purchase one. We caught the ferry on an area of the river where you are able to see all three bordering countries at once. It was terrific to be standing in Paraguay, seeing Brazil on one side of the river and Argentina on the other.

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Our visit to Paraguay was a short one and we mostly spent our time walking around Ciudad del Este, visiting its copious amounts of electronic shops. Ciudad del Este is a buzzing border town that is comparable to Tijuana, Mexico. Hordes of people from both Argentina and Brazil travel to this town to buy cheap, tax-free electronics that they then take back to their respective countries to sell.

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Today we flew back to Buenos Aires, and Rori will be flying back to America tonight. Mitch will be traveling with us for another week before he heads back to Arizona. Tomorrow we will be making our way to Che Guavara’s hometown, Rosario. From there we will be crossing Argentina before entering our final destination, Chile.

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