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Planes, Planes, and Planes

August 3, 2013

I have a strong constitution, in general, and a high tolerance for inconvenience, but the past 36 hours pushed me almost over the edge.  Admittedly, planning my most taxing travel day at the end of a four-week journey may not have been my wisest move, but still.

I left Torres del Paine at 7am yesterday. Though some guests had arrived the night before, none were going on morning excursions, so I was particularly moved to see many of the guides and gauchos there to give me hugs and see me off. Christian loaded my backpacks in the van and we began the four-hour drive south. I’ve seem more spectacular sunrises this month than I have in the past 5 years or more, but I still made Christian stop along the way so I could grab some shots of one last one (turns out the one I would see from the Buenos Aires airport was pretty great too). Eventually, when he knew a great sight was approaching, Christian would pantomime taking a photo, so I’d be ready, and then slow the car to nearly stopped. I used up a battery on my final images of the park and the drive.

At Punte Arenas, Christian, who I’d just met that morning, gave me one final hug and I was off.  The trip from Punte Arenas to Santiago was uneventful and easy, but I knew what lie ahead. I landed about 7, and my flight to Buenos Aires wasn’t until 2:30 am. Yup. AM. I’d been advised against trying to shoot into  town for dinner and after some pleading and puppy-dog eyes, the check in attendants took my big bag and I headed to the gate for bag quiche, good beer, and several hours of Game of Thrones which I’d downloaded specifically for this day (OMG – why didn’t anyone tell me about this show!)

It was a long haul, and I didn’t sleep at all despite great efforts (I’m not a good public sleeper), but 2:30 cam and we were Argentina-bound. By six I was wheeling my luggage through the BA airport and trying with all my might not to give voice to the lyrics from Buenos Aires rolling through my head. A couple times I couldn’t help myself – Stand back, Buenos Aires, you don’t what you’re gonna get in me! Just a little touch of star quality!

THe trick became the next flight – 9:20 to Puerto Iguazu Falls, but it was from a different airport. It really was the equivalent of flying into Kennedy and out again from LaGuardia, but until I was on, then off, the shuttle between them, I was crossing my finger, and had moved on to the Rainbow Tour in my head – Let’s hear it for the rainbow tour, its been an incredible success. Or not.

And finally, more than 24 hours from leaving Explora, I was on the final leg of my journey. I’d be met in Puerto Iguazu by a driver. I may even have slept a bit on the plane. He was right there, holding a sign with my name on it as I exited the airport and the first words out of his mouth were “I have bad news.”

My Monday flight back to Buenos Aires, scheduled to give me maximum time at the falls as well as relaxation time, had been cancelled and I could either take a late flight on Monday, missing my connection to Santiago that evening or a very early one leaving me again with a long layover. I couldn’t stop the tears and I let them come, but then gathered my senses, consulted with a counter attendant and got myself back to BA and then on a much earlier flight to Santiago, so what would have been a rushed tour of BA and a rushed one of Santiago actually left me with quality time in the Chilean capital. Don’t cry for me Argentina, I’ll be back to see your capital another time.

That sorted, we headed to the hotel. This afternoon was going to be rest and a walk downtown for me, but with one less day, I signed up to see the Iguazu jungle. I have now given it sufficient research and jungles are not for me. They are hot and buggy and the flora is not what the New England forests provide, but rather harsh and lacking beauty for me (I”m sure there are many or disagree with me). Should I find myself musing over another trip and I mention there’s a jungle involved, please remind me I don’t like them.

We hiked a bit, I was the only American among visitors from Buenos Aires, so as instructions and cautions were yelled out in spanish, I just hoped for the best. At a cliff site, we donned harness and repelled down.  I rock climbed once in New Hampshire, but I liked the down and I did again. It was less than a minute to the bottom, but great fun and though we felt very brave, completely safe.

We headed deeper into the woods and were warned to no longer take photos. The Argentine army patrolled these grounds and did not allow photography. Indeed everywhere there were dark-eyed, olive-skinned men in fatigues and tight green t-shirts which showed impressive abs, clutching very large rifles.

Next up was the zip line. A three-part course, that we were warned, only allowed you to change your mind about taking it on the first part. If you decided to try and hated it, there was no going back. I’ve never done a zip line, but I like going fast, don’t have a fear of heights, and will try pretty much anything. You move quickly over the trees, from one platform to the next, with a quick movement to slow down so as not to crash into the rest stations. It was fun, but not something I need to do again.

And with that the forest tour, such as it was, was complete. The residents of the park are all tribesmen who have lived there for centuries. We stopped at a local farm selling handicrafts, and while I was tempted by a blow gun, I left empty-handed.

Tomorrow is the day! I will see Iguazu. I have wanted to go to Niagara Falls for a decade or more and still haven’t made it. That’s a big part of why I went to the inconvenience of getting here. I”m told its like ten Niagara Falls. I just need the one and I can’t wait!

But first – SLEEP.

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