Northern Argentina and the Iguazú Falls

Catching one of the very few passenger trains to still run in South America, requires some pre booking as it only runs four times a week. Two trains going north and the other two south.

Sadly we were travelling the wrong day to catch the train from Uyuni to the border town of Tupiza. Instead we opted for the early 6:30am bus, that was advertised to take 6 hours straight to the border.

What the old lady didn’t tell us when we booked it, that we would waste over an hour waiting in town no less than 2 hours away. She also fibbed about how frequent the buses run from the border into Argentina. Another 4 hour wait!!!

It turns out that you have to change busses at Tupiza and get a little shuttle bus for another 2 hours, take a taxi from the bus station to the border crossing and then get a stamp and walk across, to catch a 10 hour bus to Salta. Always so simple…

Salta is the first large city in Argentina from the border and a good place to spend a day or two to take it easy. There is a more western influence here, the population is much less indigenous compared to Bolivia.

Also the first city in South America where there appears to be a Highway Code. The city is one big grid system, with traffic lights only at the big junctions. Drivers quite happily give way to each other, it all terribly civilised.

My original itinerary would have taken me South to Rosario and then back North to the Iguazú Falls. Which would have taken days and days. Instead I found out you could go direct from Salta, or via Corrientes for a nights stop over.

Gaining back a few days, I decided that it would be nice to see another city. The thought of 22 hours travelling again was not something I wanted to do again so soon.

Corrientes is a beautiful city built in the banks of the Paraná River, old colonial buildings adorn the main squares in the centre, with a large shopping district to the East , while bars and restaurants follow the river line for quite some way.

Corrientes is known for its heat and humidity in summer months of January and February. It is also host to Argentina’s biggest carnival, where people from all around the country descend on the city for a week of parties.

Our first night we had planned to get drunk and go to a club. We actually ended up playing drinking games in the room and doing what all kids did today. Send snapchat messages of our antics. There was some hard slapping of the face and all manner of fooling around.

A normal Friday evening in Corrientes is sat with your friends on the banks of the river, with your cool box stuffed with drinks and food. While music plays out of the back of your car parked right next to you. Often competing with the car and group just a few meters away.

Toilet breaks are a short walk to the side of the river and the local shop does roaring trade in keeping the cool box full of booze. Curfew I am told is at 5am.

We decided to continue partying through to the early hours of morning and go straight to the bus station for the 7am departure to Puerto Iguazú. This did not make me the most cheery of travelling companions thats for sure.

Arriving into Puerto Iguazú after about 7 hours of sleeping and watching Suits on Netflix. I was excited to have finally made it. The town itself is pretty small and is obviously catered towards the tourists that come and visit. We stayed at the Nomads Hostel Iguazú which was a stones throw from the bus station. (250AR/£6.5 per night)

Trying to avoid the expensive mass market offering for dinner we consult trip advisor and head for Gela Guela to try out a local dish. A mound of fried beef on a plate with, chips and a variety of dipping sauces.

The following day was a leisurely start with a slightly improved hostel breakfast than the usual stale bread pancake you get. There was a real bread roll and even a cake.

It’s a short walk to the bus station to get the bus to the falls. The bus is pretty regular and easy to find and costs 150AR/£3.90. 30 minutes later and we have arrived. Tickets for adults are 500AR/£13.17, but there is the choice to take the guided tour that includes a boat to the bottom of falls for 900AR/£23.70.

We opt for the normal entry and the 4 to 5 hour walk around the three different routes that are available to see all of the falls. Since arriving in Iguazú the weather has been at best, moist. Wishing for the sun to shine, we had to contend with the clouds and humidity.

The first walk takes us along the perimeter of the river, and give us a view of the falls that just gets bigger and bigger the further we walk round.

We take every opportunity to stop for the photos and the need to cool down, I’ve not known humidity like it. Thankfully we get quite close to the bottom of one end of the falls and feel the spray cover us and cool us down.

Next we climb up the steps to a platform that crosses above the gushing water so we are now walking above the falls. We see for the first time the expanse of the massive Iguazú River that feeds these magnificent falls. It was enormous and went on for ever.

Following the footbridge across the river towards the mouth of the falls, the clouds were getting darker and rolling in quickly. Arriving at the main platform, the sight of the gigantic river just fall off the cliff into a hole as wide as the Canary Wharf Tower is tall, is mind blowing.

Having got wet by the spray, the clouds decided to pour rain down that was so heavy every last little part of my body and clothing was soaked through. It was a fun end to a fantastic day.

Baños, Cuenca and the South of Ecuador

Back being a solo traveller having said good bye to Laura I head to Banôs. We said we would meet up further down the route.

Thanks to a couple of blogs I learned there are two options to get to Baños from Latacunga. Either a taxi to the main highway and flag down the Baños bus from Quito or take one of the many buses to Ambato. Then take a short taxi to the North bus terminal and get a bus from there to Baños.

I chose the latter and got lucky, as I got to Ambato and said Baños, I was put on a bus to Coca from the same station that went via Baños. The bus left in 5 minutes so I had to hot foot it to the terminal. Total journey was 7 hours costing less than $10

Arriving into Baños at 9pm, I decided to make the 15 minute walk on foot with my bags. What I didn’t account for was it all being up hill. I was booked into hostel ‘La Casa del Molino Blanco’, I think only because of the breakfast that was included. It certainly wasn’t for the atmosphere or Friendly staff.

I should have asked Holly, Dan , Lana and Ana where they had booked, as they too were all in Baños for a few days. Like so many of us doing the same route through South America.

Baños is a well visited town on the gringo travel circuit due to its adventure sports, hot thermal spring baths and the active volcano ‘Tungurahua‘. Oh and of course ‘La Casa del Árbol’ for that Instagram picture.

I booked a bike for $6 for the next day, to cycle the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ to check out seven waterfalls along the route, which I was told would be down hill all the way.

This indeed turned out to be mostly true, but some of the route is along the main highway. So if your are a nervous cyclist this might not be for you.

It was great to be on a bike, as appose to on my feet. Although the slight up hill really takes it out of you at 1850m above sea level. The first 5 waterfalls weren’t that spectacular, but the valley and the river was.

I stopped a few times too look at the many zip lines that were strung along the banks of the river. Looks so much fun, but it would have to wait for another day.

Cycling into Rio Verde I come across two guys that I recognised from my bus from Quilotoa to Latacunga. Maybe because they had their tops off it made them stand out. So of course I had to stop.

Sadly one of them had a flat tyre and their bike hire company hadn’t given them a repair kit or a spare tube. I thought about offering mine – but what if it happens to me.!!!

Rio Verde was less than 500m, they would surely find a shop there to help them.

I carry on and come to the fast flowing river ‘Rio Verde’ and stop to take a picture. Two guys then asked me to take a few pictures of them. Hang on a second… I get a sense that these too are more than just friends. Gay-dar alert.

It turns out over lunch in fact Victoriano and Sebastián are a couple, and they live in Buenos Aries and were kind enough to invite me to lunch at a lovely place called Miramelindo. We then spent the rest of the afternoon together at the waterfall.

The highlight of this tour is the impressive ‘Pilon de Diablo’ or ‘Devils Cauldron’ waterfall. Walking down the steps to the base of the waterfall, the intensity and sheer power of the water hits you. You see the water cascading over the rock face and feel the full force of Mother Nature, while getting soaked by the spray.

Also high above you can walk along the wooden suspension bridges and see the fierce flowing Rio Verde disappear into a small hole in the rock and descend into the spectacular waterfall.

After a night of drinking cocktails and shots with Victoriano and Sebastián, all I could manage the next day was the short $1 bus ride up the hill to ‘La Casa del Arbol’. Entry $1.50

Surprise Surprise I bump into Holly and Dan, all little underwhelmed by what we see, we make sure we get the important shot for Instagram and play on the swings like kids. It turns out we are on the same bus to Cuenca that evening.

Sadly Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween like we do, so no excuse to dress up. Instead they celebrate ‘Day of the dead’ on the 1st November. Celebrating those that have passed, by gathering at the local cemetery, offering respect and flowers while listening to live classical music which could be heard across the whole of the town.

A nice and more positive way of remembering those that have passed.

Ten pm had arrived and it was time to get the bus to Cuenca. This would turn out to be possibly the worse 9 hrs of my life. So far..

No leg room, windows that didn’t close and that rattled with every bump – something you learn quickly in South America is that their roads suck – and a seat that barely reclined. I got no sleep what so ever.

To make it worse, the bus was overbooked so there were locals standing in the isle and they still let more on. No wonder gringos get robbed on busses in Ecuador. It’s a massive problem so always keep your bags on your lap or around feet.

Arriving into Cuenca at 4:30 am, I had to wait at the bus station for my hotel reception to open at 6:30. Yes a hotel and my own room, hurrah .. Mainly because Cuenca was fully booked due to the weekend of festivities. The red satin duvet told me this room is not meant for one.

Cuenca turned out to be my favourite city in Ecuador, with its beautiful colonial buildings and magnificent ‘Cathedral of Immaculate Conception’ or ‘New Cathedral’.

I was lucky to be in Cuenca for the weekend, as from 1st – 4th of November the city comes alive to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead’ and also celebrates its independence from Spain on the 3rd November.

The city was full of Ecuadorians from all over the country, here to experience the fantastic music, food, art and antiques festival that was sprawled along the banks of the ‘River Tomebamba’ and taking up every square and green space available.

The food festival had food from all over South America with at least 200 different tents offering a delicious delight.

The other highlight of Cuenca was, it was the first city I had visited where I could run along the banks of the River Yanucay. It was perfect for running 5km and nice way to start the day. On weekdays in the morning you can find a local Japanese resident that does Tai Chi where many other residents join in.

Conscious that I had been traveling 8 weeks now and only managed two countries, I booked a bus to Vilcabamba.

After much recommendation I booked into the ‘Hostería Izhcayluma‘ where I would meet Dan and Holly again. Thankfully Hosteria Izhcayluma ran their own bus service from Cuenca to the hostel which was $15 and takes 5 hours, two less than the public bus.

Izhcayluma was magical and exactly what I needed, a place to relax and to do free yoga each morning and an extra session in the afternoon for $5. The dorm was lovely, sleeping 6 and only $9 a night. Three beds downstairs and three more on a mezzanine above. It had real log cabin feel to it and the stone shower was enormous and a real luxury compared to most hostels.

Definitely one of my favourite hostels of the trip so far.

Taking advantage of the yoga in the morning, it was a ten minute walk past the pool to the most beautiful Shala I have practiced my downward dog. A view of the valley and mountains that surrounded us and just the sound of nature to relax you.

After a few days of relaxation and trekking the time had come for me to make plans to leave Ecuador. After two fantastic weeks it was time make my way to Peru.

From Vilcabamba it was a 45 minute $1.50 bus to Loja, and then a eight hour $10 night bus to Piura in Peru. The bus company I used was Amazonias and it was pretty good for Ecuadorean standards.

Getting off at passport control and walking across into Peru, was really simple. The whole process took 45 minutes at 4am.

From Piura it was my final 5 hour bus to my first stop in Peru – Mancora .

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be spending a few days by the sea, have sand between my toes and hot sunny weather .