Almost as soon as we got off the plane in Iguazu Falls and sat down to wait for the bus to the city, a guy approached us and started chatting to us about our trip. We continued to talk to him at the bus stop, on the bus, and then even on the way to our hostel. Cristian is from Romania, lives in Dubai, and said that he had been traveling on and off for the past 8 years. I was very skeptical of him at first and kept a very close eye on him to make sure he wasn’t trying to steal any of our stuff or something. Well, little did I know we’d end up hanging out with him for our entire stay in Iguazu Falls, and beyond..
Dave and I had booked a hostel in advance since we knew we weren’t getting in until after dark. Cristian hadn’t booked anything, so he came with us to our hostel and ended up getting a room for a night. He bought us each a beer and we made plans to meet first thing in the morning and head to the Argentinean side of the falls together.
Dave and I wanted to take a quick peek at the town and get dinner before heading to bed our first night. We took a walk around town (there wasn’t much there and everything seemed to be closed), but we found a little burger place on the street and ordered a couple of burgers (with bacon and egg) all for around $6. The burgers were great and we loved the place we found. After dinner, we found a cute ice cream place for dessert and shared a couple of scoops.
In the morning, we met Chistian for our hostel’s free breakfast at around 7:30am. We thought there would be some bread and jam, or something similar, served for breakfast, but much to our surprise and delight, we walked into the dining area to a full spread of eggs, sausage, meat, cheese, pastries, fruits, coffee, juice, and more. We talked about taking some sandwiches to-go for lunch, but Cristian convinced us that we needed to eat somewhere in town in Argentina.
Lucky for us, Cristian spoke fluent Portuguese (why they speak Portuguese in Brazil, I really don’t know), among many other languages, so he pretty much was our personal translator for the day (Dave is pretty conversant in Spanish so that should help us get around pretty much everywhere in South America, but not Brazil where they only speak Portuguese). He got us directions to the bus, helped us through customs (on both the Brazil and Argentina side), and then pretty much helped us get through our entire two-days in Iguazu.
It took about half an hour to reach the Argentinian border. First, we had to get out of the bus on the Brazil side for a stamp in our passport. Then, we got on a different bus, drove a few minutes, and got off just a few minutes later to go through customs in Argentina. Dave and I had each paid a $160 reciprocity fee (we had to pay this both in Brazil in the form of a visa, and in Argentina, just online) to enter Argentina, and we were worried that they wouldn’t ask for it since we had spent the money. But fortunately they did and so that was money well spent. We got through customs with little trouble, and then got back on the bus to the city center on the Argentina side of the falls.
We already had some Argentine Pesos (thanks, Jenna!), but Cristian was the second person to tell us that once we get back into Argentina (when we go to Mendoza and Buenos Aires), we should bring some US dollars with us, and instead of taking money out of the ATM, where we’d get around a 5 to 1 rate, we should try to exchnge our money on the street to get a much better rate of about 7,8, or even 9 to 1. We were skeptical the first time we heard this but after seeing Cristian exchange $100 US for almost $800 in Argentinian pesos (almost double the rate we’d get at an ATM) within a matter of minutes, we’ll likely be trying this ourselves once we get back to Argentina.
We met another couple from Germany on the bus, and decided that between all of us, we could get a taxi to the falls for a little cheaper than taking the bus there (24 pesos pp instead of 30). In about 20 more minutes, we were walking into the park.
Our hostel had told us that the Argentina side of the falls cost 70 pesos pp, but when we got there, it was actually 170. Much more than we thought, but clearly, we were paying it. Dave and I both thought that we would be hiking through the falls, but the way that the park was set-up, there are different trails and you follow a metal bridge along all of them, which takes you past all the waterfalls. I was instantly amazed and in awe after seeing just the first waterfall view. This one wasn’t even that easy to see (it was very foggy and misty, and you couldn’t see all the way to the bottom of the falls), but you could still see how powerful they are. I literally could not take my eyes off of it.
We spent the next 3-4 hours exploring all of the falls (this is exactly how long they told us it would take to get through the park), and one was more beautiful than the next. This, combined with the fact that we had perfect weather, and even got to see a few rainbows over the falls, made it a pretty perfect morning.
We tried to look up some statistics about the falls, and we’re pretty sure that this is the second biggest waterfall in the world (after Victoria Falls in Africa), but it’s definitely the largest curtain of water in the world.
Throughout the park, there were also tons of Ciyote coming up to us all day. These are like raccoons, but with a diffferent nose, and they are more friendly. At one point, one of them jumped out of the trees and scared the crap out of Cristian. It was pretty funny!
Once we had seen all of the falls, we got back on the bus to the Argentinean city center. We didn’t find much there (similar to on the Brazil side), but after walking around for a little while, we did find a very cute market, and sat down for a plate of charcuterie (meat, cheese, olives), a few empanadas, and more than a few beers. It was such a fun and perfect lunch, all of which Cristian paid for because we had run out of our Argentinian money and didn’t want to take out more money before going back (to Mendoza and Buenos Aires) in a couple of weeks.
Finally, at around 5pm, we started to make our way back to our hostel on the Brazil side. Once we got back (after going through customs twice again), Dave and I wanted an hour or two to shower, relax, and try to call our parents. We arranged to meet Cristian again at 7:30 for drinks and then maybe a late dinner.
As I mentioned, there wasn’t much to the town on the Brazil side, but we did find a place with some huge beer towers and got one for the three of us to share. Cristian had eaten some more empanadas earlier when Dave and I went back to our room, but the two of us were still hungry for dinner. So, we went to another cute little burger place on the street. This time, Cristian ordered for us, and got us two double burgers, also with bacon and egg, but this time, they had ham on them too. They were good, but the double burger and ham situation were a little much for us!
On our second day in Iguazu, we met Cristian for breakfast again. This time, I made some sandwiches to take with us for lunch. I had tried to be really sneaky about it, but then Dave came down and wanted to inspect our sandwich situation and one of the women working in the dining area saw that we had taken food and started to yell at us. We ended up having to pay 10 reales ($4) for the food that we took, which wasn’t a big deal and frankly well worth it.
On day 2, our plan was to explore the Brazil side of the falls. This side was much smaller (it only took about an hour or two to get through, rather than 3 or 4 like the day before), but the views of the falls were still amazing. From the Brazil side, you have a better view of the falls as a whole and you’re really able to tell just how massive they are. The weather wasn’t as nice as it had been the previous day, but we still had a great time.
After we were done, we took the bus back to the city and found a buffet, complete with rice, beans, tons of meats, and a bunch of other things for lunch. We wanted to eat a big lunch before getting on our overnight bus later that day (we were saving our sandwiches for dinner), so this was perfect.
After lunch, we explored the town a little bit more (finally, for the first time, everything in town was actually open), and then it was time for us to head to the bus station. Our hostel told us that the bus to the station was really easy to take, but after waiting for 20 minutes and not seeing a bus, we had to resort to a taxi. We got to the bus station and anxiously awaited our 18 hour ride (netiher of us have ever been on a bus for that long!).
The ride actually wasn’t bad at all. Other than the fact that the movies I had downloaded didn’t work offline (major fail by me), and for a good 5 minutes we thought we lost our bberry, we both slept very well, and it didn’t feel like we were on a bus for 18 hours at all.
We got off our bus in Florianopolis, and the first thing we did was go to buy our bus ticket to our next stop: Punta Del Este, Uruguay (supposedly the Monte Carlo of South America). We had spent a lot of time booking all of our buses online before we left and this was the only one we were unable to get. From what we saw on the schedule online, it looked like there was pretty much only one bus a week we could take to get from Flori to Montevideo, and we were worried that if we waited until the last minute, there was a possibility the bus could be sold out.
Well, we ended up having no choice but to wait, and we quikcly realized we had worried for nothing. We didn’t have any problems getting our ticket AND it ended up being $100 cheaper than we thought it would be.
Next on the agenda was figuring out how to take the bus from the center of town to where we were staying in Lagoa de Conceigo. We had to take two buses, and it took us about an hour to get there, but finally we made it and we were all settled by early afternoon.
The first thing we wanted to do was check out what we had heard was the best beach on the island, Praria Mole. The woman working at our hostel showed us a path we could take to get there, and after a 15 minute walk, we were there. When we started walking, it was bright, sunny, and hot outside. Pretty much the second we stepped on the beach, the weather started to turn. All of the sudden, it was gray, cloudy, and pretty chilly. We were walking onto the beach and every single other person was leaving. Oh well, we still wanted to check it out.
After a few minutes, we started to head back (we didn’t want to get caught in the rain). We showered (and flooded the entire bathroom and entrance in our room), pregamed in our room with some wine and beer, changed, and started the 30-minute walk into town to try to find somewhere for dinner.
We got into town and were suprised to find that almost everything (except a few coffee shops) was closed. We had figured that there would be a lot happening on a Sunday night, but boy were we wrong. We still don’t quite know why, but the whole town was pretty much shut down. By the time we had walked through the town, we were tired, we decided that we’d try to find a pizza place and pick up a pie and go back to our hotel to watch a movie.
Finally, when we were almost back (and had almost lost hope), we found one lone pizza place open. The sign outside said something like “open until 4am and on Sunday’s” so I guess Sunday really isn’t a happening day in Flori. We got a large half bacon half brocolli pizza to-go. It ended up being half bacon with egg and olive, and half spinach, but by the time we got home, we were starving so we didn’t really care, and it actually was delicious.
We finished our pizza and were about to settle in to watch a movie, when we hear a knock at our door. We open it up to find our new friend Cristian standing on the other side. He had mentioned maybe hopping on a flight and meeting us in Flori, but we weren’t sure if that was happening, and even if it was, we didn’t think he’d be coming til the following day. We opened up our couch for him (our hotel room was pretty huge, complete with a pull-out bed and a full kitchen!), and we all pretty much just crashed. How in the world Cristian just hopped on a $500 flight from Iguazu Falls to Flori (while we took an overnight bus), we knew not, but we trusted him enough to at least give him the benefit of the doubt. Dave and I actually had a running joke (sort of) that he was some sort of Arabian prince because he basically said that he had been traveling on and off for the past 8 yrs (with Dubai being his home base), worked very little and could fly anywherei in the world at a moment’s notice (we asked him to take the overnight bus with us but he said he didn’t do buses).
Our plan for the next day had been to rent a moped to drive around the island. Well, now we had three people, so that combined with the fact that Cristian doesn’t know how to ride a bike, let alone a moped, pretty much squashed that idea. Instead, Dave and I ran into town in the morning to find out about renting a car. We had inquired at the airport, only to find out that to rent an automatic car (neither of us know how to drive stick) would be R$450 (or around $200). Well, now we had Cristian with us (aka stck driver extroirdinaire), so we were able to get a manual car for only R$80. For comparison, it would have been R$50 to rent a moped, so we thought this was a great deal. As an aside, before we left the States, I bought Dave a stick shift driving lesson because he told me that several times before he’d been screwed in 3rd world countries by not knowing how to drive stick. He took one lesson in NY but didn’t feel comfortable enough to rent a stick shift car. We need to figure this situation out stat going forward!
But fortunately with Cristian, we spent the day driving around the whole perimeter of the island and checking out all of the towns and beaches along the way. We were surprised by the size of Florianopolis – it was huge! It literally took us the entire day to get around the island. The weather started out nice, and then was cloudy and sunny on and off throughout the day.
By the time we started getting hungry for lunch, we were about as far North as you could get on the island. We had seen 3-4 beaches by this point, and had already decided that Prairia Mole was definitely the nicest. We were all a little confused because Florianopolis is known for its beautiful beaches, but not only were we not that impressed by most of them, most of the places we stopped only had a couple of feet of actual beach above where the tide came in. There was enough room for maybe one family to all lay out their towels horizontally, all next to each other, but not much more than that. Dave was convinced that the tide had to be higher in the winter than it is in the summer, though Cristian and I were pretty sure that the tide has to do with the time of day, not time of year.
Either way, by midd-day, we could already tell that with tons of people and everything open, this would definitely be a fun place to be in the summer, but in the winter, it’s probably not the ideal vacation spot. We stopped for another great buffet lunch (more rice, beans, meat, and salads – and Dave and I shared our first diet coke of the trip, which was amazing), before heading to the South part of the Island.
Along the way, we stopped at the “music center” of Florianopolis, where there are about 5-6 clubs all in one huge complex. We had really wanted to go to a club that night as our mutual friend Andrew who set us up told us it was the best club scene he had ever been to, but much to our disappointment, we learned that there wouldn’t be another party going on until the following Saturday 😦
We kept driving, and made our next stop in the city center, since none of us had checked that out at all when we got in to Flori. All throughout downtown (and then several other places along our way), we found these makeshift, outdoor, 24-hour gyms with tons of different machines. Dave was in heaven!
After that, we continued South. The entire drive (about an hour to an hour and a half) was along the coastline, which was beautiful. To us, it seemed as though the North had more resorts, the South was more residential and less touristy, and the middle, where we were staying, had the biggest town, the best view, and was more “backpackerish,” which is right in our sweet spot. After our drive, we were very satisfied with where we had decided to stay. It turned out to be the perfect location.
Before heading back to our hostel, we made one last stop at Praria Mole, so that Cristian could check it out. Then, we picked up another bottle of wine (and by bottle of wine, I mean 2-liter bottle), had a few drinks in our room, and then since we had eaten a late lunch and weren’t quite hungry for dinner, we went to the pool hall across the street from our hotel to get a few games in. Of course, I didn’t really stand a chance, but it was still a fun and different way to start our evening.
When we finished with pool, we were starting to get a little hungry. We drove into town to check out our dinner options, but then ended up at a little sandwich shop right by our hostel. Dave and I shared a filet mingnon sandwich and a sausage sandwich. Both were huge and great! Cristian doesn’t eat bread (we don’t get it either), so he got basically one of our sandwiches, but on a platter.
After dinner, we were all stuffed and ready for bed. We woke up in the morning, showered, packed up and were ready to hit the road. We loaded all of our luggage in our car, went to the supermarket next to our hostel to pick up some food for breakfast and for our bus ride, and then went back to the car to head into town.
Cristian got in the driver seat, turned the key, and… nothing. He tried again and again, but the battery wasn’t working. We thought we were going to have to leave our car there and go into town just to return the keys. We were starting to freak out a little (we had to be at our bus in a couple hours), but finally, after giving the battery just one more try, we finally got it to start. Thank god!!
We made it to the bus station in plenty of time and said our goodbyes to Cristian. He told us he might meet us in India (he’s always wanted to visit the Taj Mahal; surpising he hasn’t been there since he’s been to over 70 countries), and if not there, definitely in Bangkok since SE Asia is his favorite part of the world (another affirmation of our decision to move there). After spending the past 4 or so days with him, we had all gotten pretty close. The whole time though, as discussed above, something didn’t quite add up about his story. When we asked him what he did for money, he always kind of changed the subject without giving us an answer. Hence why we started calling him “prince” because we decided that the only viable explanation was that he was a prince and just had an unlimited amount of money for traveling. We thought it was like that movie with Julia Stiles where the prince goes to college and acts like a regular person, then halfway through the movie, he tells Julia that he’s a prince and of course, she’s shocked! Well, we thought Cristian had to be a prince and it was just a matter of time before he told us he was sharing his royal fortune with us.
Well, when him and Dave were returning the car (they dropped me at the bus station with all our stuff), he finally told Dave his whole story. I’ll keep it under wraps for now as for whatever reason he doesn’t like people to know his story, but suffice to say, much to my disappointment, he’s not a prince:(. On a brighter note though, now everything makes sense and adds up. In fact, after he told Dave his real story, we can’t believe we didn’t figure it out for ourselves. Phew! It would have been a huge bummer if he was a robber or something because Dave and I both really like him and hope to travel more with him soon! Plus, he lives in Dubai which Dave and I have always wanted to visit so now we’ll 100% hit him up in Dubai, and we assume we’ll see him before then in India and/or Thailand.
Now, I’m writing from our 2nd 20 hour bus ride (we still have 2 more after this, plus another 8 hour bus ride). Right now, we’re heading to Porto Allegre. We have a two hour layover there, and then will board another bus to Punta Del Este. We left at 12:45 today and will arrive at 7;30 tomorrow morning. Everyone thinks were crazy for taking all of these long bus rides, but we’ve both kind of been enjoying them. Not only are the buses extremely comfortable, it also gives us some time to relax and reflect on everything happening on our trip. When we’re driving during the day, we also get to see a ton of whatever country we’re in. Today, we’re riding through Brazil and the ride has been beautiful. There’s so much land here, it’s filled with mountains, tons of greenery, colorful houses, lots of animals roaming around (mostly cows, bulls, and horses – Missy, if you’re reading this, I know you think I saw herds of cows every morning out my window in Ohio, but so not the case:), and lots of lagoons, ocean views, and more. It’s been really nice!
Now, watching a nice sunset out the bus window and onto my 4th new country this week, Uruguay!