It's been about 3 months since my South American adventure. Sure, some of the little details have faded away to the back of my mind and will (hopefully) one day be triggered again, but one of the things that still has remained crystal clear in my mind is my bus trip from Buenos Aires to Lima. When I close my eyes, I can go back to exact moments of that trip, and that's one of the best things about travel - having those memories and having them last for as long as possible.
Quite frankly, I had no idea what to expect going into the 72 hour trip. On the four other trips, small meals (sandwiches and crackers) were included. Assuming this was the case again, I spent my remaining Argentine pesos on three small packs of oreos and a bottle of water (of course saving some pesos for souvenirs).
I was wrong - meals were not included. Since I only had hundred dollar bills in USD, I was afraid to change any more money, fearing I wouldn't use all of the foreign currency and I would receive a terrible exchange rate. For almost three days, I lived off of about 50 oreos. At night, I would get a stuffed nose and wouldn't be able to breathe. My body HATED me. On top of that, the toilet on the bus was gross, did not flush and had no toilet paper. I think I used the restroom twice in three days. I completely tested my body's limits in every horrible way possible. I didn't brush my teeth for three days. I didn't shower for five days ( I was on a bus for 24 hours right before this trip). It's the worst feeling in the world being so dirty, but after the second day, I definitely got used to it and accepted that I both felt dirty and smelled terrible (I put on deodorant at least 4 times a day, but once you get to a certain point, deodorant just doesn't help). But I fully embraced it, and sometimes, that's all you can do.
A New Friend
I was already exhausted from my bus ride from Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires, so I really could not wait to get on the bus to Lima and rest. I chose a window seat when I bought my bus tickets (I highly recommend window seats) so I would have the window to lean against. A young Peruvian man came on the bus and sat next to me. He was studying in Buenos Aires and going home for the holidays. I quickly learned that he, nor anyone else on the bus (including the drivers), could not speak English. So he took out his phone and typed English words he knew to try to talk to me. I would then try to answer in my limited Spanish.
It was actually really awesome to have someone, in a country where I knew no one, try to communicate with me and show genuine interest in my life and getting to know me. He explained to me (in Spanish, of course) that the bus would stop for food and we would need to buy it. He would give me updates on how far away we were from Lima (he made the ride plenty of times before). When we were both awake we would chat about different things. Quickly, we became friends and my spanish improved tenfold as the trip went on since I was being reminded of all of those spanish words and phrases I learned so long ago in high school.
No Idea What Was Going On
It was bad enough that my Spanish wasn't too great, but the fact that Peruvians have thick accents did not make it any better. When we stopped, I had no idea what was going on or how long we would be stopped for. Luckily, Gino, the guy sitting next to me, would wave me over to his table where he was eating so I wouldn't be alone and could have some type of idea what was happening.
A woman sitting across from us also was extremely nice to me. She spoke very fast, though, and I barely understand a word of what she said. She was very pleasant to me and even gave me a blanket one night on the bus.
Even though I just met these people, they gave me such comfort and were like family by the end of the trip. Even the obnoxious guy in front of me yelling "pelicula" the whole time was awesome. No one knew each other when they got on the bus, but by the end everyone was so close. It was very comforting and so amazing to see. It's not everyday that you get to witness the amazing transformation from complete strangers to friendly acquaintances and friends.
Some Things You Never Forget
There's something magical about listening to music and watching the sunset from the window of a bus. It could've been the perfect opening or closing of a movie. Actually, there were a lot of those moments during the three day long ride.
I'd spend the days talking or reading and by nightfall, I'd fall asleep. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night, but I would quickly fall back asleep. Every morning, around 8am, the drivers would turn on the music. Traditional South American music was the norm and it was awesome. Many people would sing along to the songs and get a little crazy. It was amazing to witness.
One of the most amazing moments was when I woke up the second morning. The night before we were just traveling through the Argentina countryside. When I woke up to the loud South American music at 8am, the Andes were looming big all around us. It was exactly what you would expect from a South American road trip. It was unforgettable waking up to that - I couldn't believe it was my life. And that is something I would've 100% missed out on if I chose to fly to Lima. All morning, the Andes surrounded us. For some reason, it reminded me of the Motorcycle Diaries - I felt like it could've easily been a scene in the movie I once watched in my high school spanish class!
With the help of my spanish speaking friends on the bus, I was able to get through the Chilean Border Patrol without an issue. Surprise, surprise, no one at Border Patrol spoke English either! They also had thick accents!
The next morning, I woke up to the Chilean desert. It was like this for hours - pure nothingness. But I still thought it was awesome! Very different from any deserts I've seen before! And the change in scenery was nice!
The last morning, I woke up and was greeted with the Chilean coast. I watched the waves crash on the shore as we continued our trip. At this point, both my phone and camera died. But I still remember what it looked like - it was a gloomy morning and we passed by small villages along the coastline. There were a few people who dotted the beach that morning.
I was just amazed at how different everything was each morning. It was crazy!
When we finally passed through the Peruvian Border Patrol, the guys sitting in the front seat of the bus (it was a double decker bus) hung up a Peruvian flag that covered the whole window. National pride was evident in this gesture and it didn't surprise me when everyone started clapping and again started singing. It was, again, incredible and something I will never forget.
By the last day, everyone was anxious to get off the bus and get on with their lives. Originally a complete outsider, I got off the bus feeling like I fit in and earned the right to be on the bus and have the amazing experience I had interacting with everyone.
Sitting on the same bus for three days straight physically sucked. But those three days will be days I will forever remember and arguably will be some of my most memorable days traveling solo. Sure, it's awesome going to see cool landmarks at touristy destinations, but after a while, those memories just fade into pictures, pictures you can easily find on google. But you can't google an experience. And the three days spent on a bus with complete strangers in a foreign country was an experience and it made me realize that it truly is more about the journey than the destination. So often we try to get places as fast as we can, flying over countries we might never have the chance to see, all to save time. But I had the time, the time to take a bus. And I don't regret a single bit of it.
This post doesn't even begin to do justice to the experience I had, but I hope it was able to show that something you think is just trivial can turn out to be something much, much more, even life changing. On paper, it was just a bus trip. It was a way to save money. I had absolutely no expectations going into the trip. It wasn't something I needed to have any expectations of, but regardless, it completely surpassed any inkling of an expectation I might have subconsciously had.
I hope everyone can have an experience like this at least once, because it is something that can change you and affect you for the rest of your life.
And with that, I leave you with this:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
― Mark Twain
No one is "too good" to spend three days on a bus in a foreign country. THAT is narrow-mindedness.
Pictures from the Journey!
I meant to get these posts out sooner, but I've been studying for an actuarial exam. Priorities!
It was an interesting feeling getting back on a bus to leave Puerto Madryn. It was a city I had my doubts about when I arrived, but I was pleasantly surprised and wished I could have stayed a bit longer. It's not that there was a whole lot to do in Puerto Madryn, other than see the wildlife, but I guess my love for nature wanted to keep me there a little longer. At the same time, I was excited for the next leg of my journey - Iguazu Falls!
Puerto Iguazu was a lot more commercialized than Puerto Madryn. There also seemed to be a lot more people and travelers out and about. Since Iguazu Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, it made sense that there would be a lot more tourists in the area than there were in Puerto Madryn.
I arrived to Puerto Iguazu in the morning around 9am. Since I was only there for one night, I planned to go see the falls that afternoon and then spend the majority of the next day there. I stayed at Marco Polo Inn which was really cheap and convenient as it was located right across from the bus station. They were very helpful and helped me change money (although the rate was definitely better in Buenos Aires), told me how to get a bus to the falls, and were really just friendly all around. Since I arrived before check-in, they took my bag and locked it in their storage so I didn't have to bring it to the falls. They also allowed me to sit and charge my phone and camera for a while before I left. I definitely recommend the place!
When I left my Habitat team in Buenos Aires, I thought that it was goodbye for good, or at least until we meet again someday in the United States. When discussing travel plans for after the build, it didn't seem that anyone else had plans that overlapped with mine. So when I saw one of the women from my team after I walked into the Iguazu Falls National Park, we were both taken a back. It was funny in a way - it had only been about 5 days since we last saw each other, but we both just stared as if we weren't certain we knew each other. It was crazy, but awesome! It went along with the whole concept surrounding our build - everything happens for a reason and what's meant to be will be. If I had been on one bus earlier or one bus later, we never would've seen each other. Especially after my incident in Buenos Aires, I was SO happy to see a friendly face! But seriously though, what a SMALL world! The odds of us running into each other like that were incredibly slim, but it happened! We ended up getting together that night for dinner and shared our stories from the days prior, it was so unexpected and so nice!
Iguazu Falls Wildlife!
If you're a nature lover, you need to get to Iguazu Falls at some stage in your life. It was just breathtaking. The falls were beautiful, but I was also surrounded by new animals I've never seen before, including tons of lizards and coatis. These animals, although interesting, were nothing compared to the millions of beautiful butterflies! Purple, blue, yellow, red, you name it - there were butterflies of all sorts of colors! It was magical to be surrounded by so many of them. The best part was that you could just be walking or sitting and you'd have one or two land on you.
I'll never forget getting on the train in the park to go to Devil's Throat. The entire trip, butterflies were flying next to us. It was unforgettable and perfect. Countless numbers flew by and crowded around the puddles on the dirt road that ran next to the train tracks. From what I was told, the reason why there are so many near the falls is because of all of the salt!
Iguazu Falls were breathtaking. If you're in South America, this is a must. I could've easily spent a couple more days here to hike the longer trails and have more time to just take it all in.
I did the Lower Circuit, Upper Circuit and Devil's Throat the first afternoon I spent at the falls. The weather was perfect and sunny, so there wasn't too much mist and there were rainbows everywhere!
The next day I planned on doing the longer trails and going to the island, but when I woke up, it was pouring rain, so I didn't end up going back to the falls until later in the morning. Since I didn't have much time, I just walked the Upper Circuit again and went to Devil's Throat. It was definitely nicer the day before - all of the rain made it a lot more misty and the visibility was a lot less than it was before!
Devil's Throat - Garganta Del Diablo
Devil's Throat was definitely a highlight. It was amazing being at the top of the falls, hearing and seeing the water rush down below. It was so loud and every so often the mist would come up and soak everyone. If you're traveling to Iguazu Falls, MAKE SURE you bring a ziploc bag to put your phone and camera in. If I didn't have my camera in a bag, it would've been ruined. Also, I suggest bringing an extra pair of clothes - if you go to Devil's Throat you will definitely get wet!
Pictures don't do Devil's Throat justice - it's a place you really need to see for yourself to get the full effect. It's a place you'll always remember. The first day I went, there was a huge rainbow spanning below the viewing platform, with birds flying in and out of the mist. That's something you can see in very few places and it was incredible! I can still hear the roaring sound of the water beneath me.
Check out more pics from Devil's Throat below!
Upper and Lower Circuits - Paseo Superior y Paseo Inferio
The upper trail definitely had better views of all of the falls, but I saw a lot of wildlife on the lower trail. Both trails were definitely worth walking! On the lower circuit, you are able to walk along a platform almost right up to the base of one of the waterfalls. It was a great way to cool off after all of the walking in the sun!
More pics below!
If you're into nature, animals and walking, Iguazu Falls is really the place to visit! It's also not too expensive if you stay at a hostel in Puerto Iguazu and just go to the park! If you plan on going two days in a row, make sure to get your ticket stamped at the end of the first day because you will get in the second day half-off!
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