Well, we arrived in Brazil with no complications until we got to the Argentina border where we learned that we had not paid the $160 per person reciprocity fee over the internet in advance, so we were denied entry. Some friends who had traveled here told us we could pay the fee at the border, but that option ended a few years ago. By the way, the reason for the reciprocity fee is because Argentina decided that since their citizens have to pay a fee to enter the United States, then Americans have to pay a fee to enter Argentina. In other words, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, except these geese didn't have a clue and were left high and dry.
Our very inexperienced taxi driver, who spoke no English, tried to help us, but it became obvious he had never driven anyone to Argentina before. Finally, someone we met at the border who spoke some English explained that we needed to pay the fee via the Internet and get a printed copy to show the officials at the border. Not knowing if this was a good place to go or not, we stopped at the first hotel we saw on the road, where the clerk acted nonchalant, as if this happens all the time. He didn't even charge us. Ok, so with the papers in hand, we returned to the border and were finally given entry.
Thirty kilometers down the road when we arrived at the gate of the Sheraton Hotel, we learned that we needed to go back and buy an entry into the National Park, since the hotel is located inside Iguazu National Park. Back we went and bought the entry ticket for another $20 each. And now back to the hotel. FINALLY! And of course the price of the cab ride went up considerably, and the ATM machine at park headquarters ATE Bruce's ATM card (and I didn't bring mine). Oh well, a good story. So now I can say we went from Brazil to Argentina, back to Brazil, and back to Argentina in one hour!
The Sheraton Hotel is beautifully situated with a view of the Falls, and the rooms are ok. But for $400 a night, I would have liked a clock radio or a TV that worked. And maybe more bottled water. The food was tasteless, but we'd already been warned about that on TripAdvisor. Plus they gave us a totally unfair exchange rate, even lower than the bank. Geez!
Iguazu Falls are gorgeous, beyond gorgeous. We spent one and a half days walking every trail possible in two countries, no less and viewing the Falls from every possible angle and direction. Since we had BrazilIan visas, we also took a cab to the Brazilian side yesterday and WOW!! Even better than Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Africa. From Brazil you can see ALL the falls at one time, but my wide angle lens just isn't wide enough, I guess. Spectacular! Both Argentina and Brazil have done a fabulous job in making views of the Falls accessible for just about everyone.
THURSDAY, APRIL 3rd
This morning we said good bye to Iguazu Falls and flew an hour and a half to the Northwest region of Argentina called Salta, where we will tour around for the next twelve days. Most Americans have never heard of this place, so let me say that this lofty, dry, and tough high plateau sits beneath the mighty Andes mountains. It has a reputation for its Spanish colonial architecture, gaucho (cowboy) life, vineyards that easily compete with Mendoza, Andean culture, and beautiful national parks for hiking and birding. We first learned about this area when we were in Patagonia a few years ago and always kept it in the back of our minds as a great place to visit.
Most of the arrangements were made with a local tour operator that friends of ours recommended. We met him this afternoon to go over some of the details of our itinerary, since we will be driving ourselves in a rented car. All of our hotel reservations are made, but we wanted our local contact to help fill in the blanks of a fairly sketchy route. Before meeting him this afternoon, we bumped into two American couples just concluding a similar trip by car, and they warned us of a few bad roads and the fact that they had three flat tires in the middle of nowhere. Our local contact assured us that we should not have any problems since all of the roads we will be driving, with the exception of a 40 km stretch of dirt, will be paved, but when we pick up our car tomorrow, we will examine our tires with a magnifying glass.
Our next adventure had to do with exchanging money, which we viewed as a bonanza since recently the Argentine peso suffered weakness, and we were told that we could buy pesos at a significantly better rate on the street. If we were to obtain pesos from an ATM machine or use a credit card for purchases, we would be paying the official government rate of eight pesos to the dollar, so we brought several hundred dollars in cash to pay for ten to twelve days of expenses, other than hotels and the car rental which we paid for in advance. With our crisp one hundred dollar bills, we bought pesos from a man on the street (literally on the street) at 10.5 to the Dollar, a 31% better exchange rate than we would have gotten if we hadn't known about the black market. I have to say that it was easier to do this here with our local contact's help than it was to do a black market exchange in Mali, West Africa, where we had to find a big guy driving a black Mercedes on a dirt road outside of town.
The Adventure continues...........
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