– Eleanor Roosevelt, upon seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time
There are few things in life worth a twenty hour bus ride. Despite the comedy of errors that accompanied me there, Iguazu Falls is definitely one of them.
I decided to book my trip to Iguazu from the travel agency* desk within my hostel in Buenos Aires, which was probably my first big mistake. I should have taken a cue from the consistent apathy of the hostel employees that something was destined to go wrong. They were all in their mid-twenties, presumably college graduates, judging by the “this work is clearly below me” expressions written on their faces. Slow service and sarcastic responses were doled out recreationally to pass the time. Despite my reservations, I went ahead and booked the trip with one lump payment: my bus ride, transfer to the next hostel, a bed for two nights, and a tour of the park.
I left angry-misplaced-yuppie-ville and boarded a surprisingly luxurious bus at Retiro Station. The double-decker was nearly empty (which shocked my inner economist/operations manager, given that this was one of four buses leaving that evening for Iguazu). Thoughts of optimization quickly faded when I was served a hot meal, a glass of wine, and a cheesy Lifetime Christmas movie with Spanish subtitles.
I woke up the next morning in the jungle well-rested, well-fed, and stunned by how much the landscape had changed overnight. Farmland and gauchos had been replaced with glistening rainforest and flightless birds that reminded me of Kevin from Up. But when I arrived at the bus station, my transfer was nowhere to be found. I hailed a cab and begrudgingly paid my way to the hostel. There, I was told that my name was not in “the system” (a term I’ve come to loathe in any country), and I was therefore not registered with the hostel or the tour company, meaning: no transfer, no bed, and no tour of the park.
In all-American fashion, I spent the next four hours frantically trying to contact the tour company and hostel that had failed to complete my registration (but had succeeded in taking my payment) to set things straight and assert my God-given right to complain to someone in Customer Service until I ran out of breath. It was then that I learned that in Argentina, the customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is more often lying or confused. After yelling (both verbally and in very animated email text) in Spanglish to no avail, I gave up and shelled out the money… again.
After meeting up with two friends I’d made in Bolivia (who were coincidentally experiencing problems with the same tour agency), we decided to embrace a positive attitude and turn this collective frown upside down. We were in Iguazu, one of the natural wonders of the world, and we were not about to let this bad-service-debacle ruin our day! (Plus, the hostel had two bars and a pool; it was hard to be in a bad mood).
Whether it was through the power of deliberate positivity or the sheer beauty of Iguazu, we had a wonderful time at the falls the next day. Instead of having to follow a guide around the park, we made our own schedule and walked at our own pace. We leisurely took photos, ate ice cream, and took a boat ride into the base of the falls that left us drenched and laughing hysterically.
However, our troubles were not over.
We ran into the most adorable house pet of Satan around lunch time, which was some creepy combination of a raccoon, bear, fox, pig, dog, etc., and a magnet for tourist photography. Apparently the blinding cuteness of these animals overpowered the large tri-lingual signs stating “DO NOT FEED THE COATIS! THEY BITE!”, because tourists began tossing potato chips and french fries to the little demons. Armed with a plastic chair and a lunch tray, I fiercely defended my friends and food. But we were overtaken. A coati snuck up from behind and stole my sugar packets and a bag of potato chips, leaving me with naught but unsweetened coffee and a smushy granola bar from the bottom of my backpack.
Despite losing part of my lunch and paying more than I should have for my Iguazu Falls experience, I recommend it wholeheartedly to all travelers. The park is well-maintained, well-staffed, and easy to navigate on your own. I stuck to the Argentine side of the falls because I was too cheap to pay for a visa, but my non-American friends enjoyed the Brazilian side as well. I do recommend being cautious when selecting hostels and travel agencies and being prepared for things to go wrong at some point (this is not exclusive to Iguazu or Argentina, of course). And lastly, please don’t feed the BearPigThings.
* HI Travel, the Travel Agency and Tour Operator of Hostelling International Argentina.
** Just kidding, animal lovers. They weren’t completely horrible.