Ireland is often described as having 40 shades of green, its usually not until you go away from the place and then come back that you see this. On the bus from Belfast to Dublin airport for my trip to Canada and the US it was a good chance to take the time to look around me. Often Im just driving down the road and dont get to see the scenery rushing past. Im going to be seeing a lot of scenery rushing past over the next couple of weeks.
As I write Im sitting in Saskatoon, Canada. Home of the land of the living skies and they arent kidding. It does feel odd to not really see any hills and see cloud formations over prairies into the distance.
Its been a long journey so far, Belfast to Dublin, overnight in Dublin airport, then off to Toronto, couple of days in Toronto then off to Saskatoon.
Thing is though it doesnt really feel weird/different at all, it all feels pretty normal, another day, another city. Ive never been to Canada before but felt as if I had, Ive a few Canadian friends through my association with the Belfast Ice Hockey team and through working for a Canadian company for 4 years in a previous life.
So far its been the friendly welcoming country that everyone has said it would be.
I started in Dublin and got the chance to look at the new airport terminal as I was staying in the grounds of the airport for an early flight to Toronto. The new building is impressive but I got the overwhelming feeling that there were a lot of one way tickets being bought. A lot of young people at the airport with very heavy bags and a lot of tearful goodbyes. Looks like the old days of emigration have returned.
I was flying out with Air Canada and have to say I was impressed with the service on the flight, even though at one point the captain pointed out a Delta airlines flight only 1000 feet below us! Canadian customs wasnt as big a pain as their US equivalents and it was then on to the hotel via a bus with power connections and free wifi – whats that all aboot?
I was a bit concerned about the hotel in all honesty, Id booked it in advance via priceline and of course the day after Id booked and paid for it with no refunds allowed, two reviews came up which called it a dump, smack in the middle of the red light district. Charming! At least it would allow for interesting photos.
I neednt have worried as I somehow managed to get a suite, which I didnt know about until I got into the room and wondered where the hell the bed was – oh that would be down the corridor.
Quick shower and out and down to Yonge Dundas Square to have a look around. It did seem odd that the city tour busses started their last route at 4:50pm and there was no night version so be warned if you are only there for a day! The ticket is valid for 7 days but not a lot of use to me with only one full day in Toronto and then on to Niagara Falls. Did I mention I would be going over Niagara Falls in a helicopter? Ah minor point.
I’ll not go into too much detail about the trip, I’ll leave that to the photos when I eventually get home and eventually get the thousands of images edited and uploaded, I’ve just a few proofs done and uploaded here.
Toronto is a great city as you would expect, very welcoming. Id recommend the open top bus tour and the harbour tour but the weather I had was rubbish, more like Belfast than Toronto so do be warned. I didnt get the photos I had planned but then again what I had planned on a 36 hour schedule was probably unrealistic anyway. Certainly the blisters on my feet and the sunburn from an overcast day will testify to that.
Im not going to say Niagara Falls was a disappointment, it just wasnt that big a deal. I did the day tour which stopped very briefly at a winery and allowed me to purchase a couple of bottles of the famous ice wine and then little more than a drive through of Niagara on the Lake (which lets be honest is more than enough).
I was looking forward to the Maid of the Mist trip but had been tempered by comments from a few Canadians I met at Iguazu Falls in Argentina. Id been under Iguazu in a fast rib and when I say I got soaked there I got soaked right through to the shorts despite wearing waterproofs. Niagara was a bit tame in comparison.
Of course I still havent got over getting into a helicopter and just taking off so that was again a high point of the trip so far. Weather wasnt particularly great but the photos still arent bad at all.
Friends do say that trouble follows me everywhere so the flight from Toronto to Saskatoon was scheduled for the first day of the Air Canada strike so up early to see if I could get my flight at all! Got checked in ok and even got some photos of the strikers!
It was then on to Saskatoon and staying with my friends Stephen and Tera Maguire. Theres been a lot of catching up and just chilling out, but mostly eating! Tomorrow we depart on a 3 day drive from Saskatoon Canada to Nashville USA. Its a punishing schedule but should be yet another one of those trips of a lifetime.
Oh and I have to mention Tim Hortons, no particular reason but anyone who has been to Canada will know what I mean…
Will try to keep the blog ongoing as the trip progresses…
I made a point when I first started this blog that I would never use it to talk about photo gear or equipment except to perhaps swear really loudly at something that didnt work the way I wanted it to. I have no intention of going against this idea except to say that I do briefly touch on it.
Last week I took a quick flight across the water to Liverpool for a couple of days and due to security restrictions and overall general paranoia, flying isnt the pleasure it used to be. So for a trip lasting 48 hours I wanted to travel as light as possible to keep within restrictive hand luggage restrictions. Im not exactly a tight arse but for 48 hours I dont want to spend 4 of that in check in queues and waiting at the baggage carousel.
Back in the day when I used to travel regularly I could turn up at an airport with bag 15 mins before the flight and just walk on. Even recently Ive taken a couple of 48-72 hour trips to the likes of Rome, Berlin, Krakow just for the purpose of taking photos, but in the last year or two it has just become a chore. I obviously dont have the dedication to queue in line to be the first irish suicide bomber! Besides which they still allow alcohol sales airside – isnt that flammable?
Anyway back to the hand luggage problem, for this trip I would be just using my Canon G9 and my tablet computer. Notice I said tablet computer (advent vega if you must know) rather than ipad. Not that Ive anything against the overpriced, under specced, restricted piece of male jewellry, I just want something that does everything I want it to and not what someone else says I need and not to bother about all that other stuff I dont really need as they know best.
There are always ongoing debates in photography about quality of equipment and how you dont need to spend a fortune on equipment to get good photos. I always tell my students that this is the case, with a large caveat. Its not necessary to have good equipment to get good photos but it is necessary to have good equipment to get consistently and repeatedly good photos.
Dont get me wrong I love my G9, Ive an underwater housing for it and its got me photos I normally wouldnt get but it is incredibly limited. People get tied up in the number of megapixels debate that camera companies bandy about like boys getting into a pissing up the wall contest (or something a lot less polite) without actually discussing the quality of those pixels.
Of course the overpowering argument is that why should I spend in excess of 50 thousand on equipment for a photography business when I could just buy a 500 quid compact and be done with it.
Come to think of it, why am I?
The advantage of using something like a G9 is that it generally doesnt attract the attention of the thought police, put on my rucksack, add trainers to a 40 year old(ish) man and and anorak and you can happily snap away looking like a complete loser. Change that to 10 grands worth of camera body and lens and its a short cut to a body cavity search.
Of course the converse argument is that with the high end kit people push their kids in front of the camera, with everything else they shy the kids away from the weird looking man.
Id given myself a brief of documenting the journey and trying to use the camera with the limitations it has. Namely that its crap. Ok thats being unfair, the photos would have limited editorial use, they couldnt be used in low light conditions as the quality would be too poor to pass any agencies quality control and the total frame would have to be used as resolution is small as it is. Going back to the quality of pixels argument the dynamic range of the small cameras is very poor, what that means is that it doesnt handle both bright light and darkness in the same photo too well. Well it does but instead of being able to sell the pictures, I would just call them ‘art’ and add to the vast majority of my art collection and the ‘if this sells I’ll buy my friends a pint’. One such image is one I took in a bluebell glade in a woodland. I was walking down the hill and went on my arse and skidded the whole way down. Of course reaction was to hold the camera in the air and inadvertently fire off 9 frames a second for the whole journey. So I picked one ‘abstract’ and put it up for sale. I owe several people pints if it ever sells.
A couple of current affairs issues were apparent, there were a number of people with big bags and one way tickets, signs of the recession here in Ireland and Ireland continuing with its greatest export, its people.
Then the usual of taking your water off you and then getting you to buy overpriced water airside which is a complete pain someone like me who is advised to take aspirin tablets to fly due to previous injuries and help avoid dvt. Security measure or profit making – hmmm maybe Bin Laden has shares in bottled water companies.
The journey was reasonably uneventful and quite painless thanks to the pre boarding cards so the blog represents a little storyboard of the up, down, turnaround come back trip.
From a technical point of view, the camera performed well but thats within very strict guidelines and limitations. If it was possible for me to sell 50 grands worth of camera equipment and just get away with a couple of compacts, then from a business perspective I would.
Of course thats not to say that images produced from compacts wont and dont sell, I’ve sold some compact images for reasonable prices but never for a double page spread or advertising use. I could argue that if the photo was really important then I wouldnt take it with a compact so how do I expect them to sell, or put another way, everything finds its price point.
Various stock sites sell images for a dollar or whatever the equivalent is, in the vast majority of cases the photographs are taken with cheap equipment and thats not knocking them, everything has a value and a price point but its unlikely to produce long term growth except for a chosen few mass producers. At the minute the UK editorial market (newspapers by and large) are paying a pittance for photos, so using compacts for this type of work seems to go along with the price point.
My issue is when other agencies sell images that take years of experience to produce, are researched well and are shot on high end equipment sell them for pennies regardless. There is a lesson to be learned there though, over the last 4 weeks I have been taking some photos with minimal setup (although still using high end camera and lens) to see how they get on with other agents in the uk market.
Not exactly a great plan of action but an interesting experiment in trying to tailor production costs for the price points. It will be interesting to see if on a per unit basis how they compare with the higher end production cost photos.
Speaking of experiments, I had planned a number of ‘Top Gear’ style photo challenges for last year which Ive moved back to this year, one of which was a travel from easterly point to westerly point in Ulster in one day (dawn to dusk around midsummers day) and take photos of each county inbetween along with sunrise and sunset (hopefully). The Top Gear show last night did the reverse in England, driving from west to east from dusk til dawn….
…watch this space.
Well not quite but if it wasnt so bloody cold I might have.
Its been almost two weeks since I embarked on what would be a reasonably long journey home. I left after I was scheduled to leave and got home at the same time as I should have, but did it feel like a long journey.
Firstly the outbound flight from Buenos Aires was delayed as expected. Washington was snowed in so my much anticipated visit to the Smithsonian museum was cancelled. Slightly gutted but having waited in the queue for check in for two hours Id have paid everything I owned for a teleport system.
So two hours waiting, we know the flight isnt leaving, we are through ‘security’ and standing in line, of course they decide to stop check-in right as muggins gets to the front of the queue. So two hours of waiting for them to officially tell us we were going to Chicago even though we’ve known it for hours. With an hour left to wait I received the email from United Airlines telling me the flight that should have left an hour ago was delayed. Well no shit sherlock.
At this point United did appear to be the worst airline I’ve ever flown with, they could have just checked us all in, given us our seats and sorted it out later. No. Of course they did a re-check-in which seemed to me stupid as about 1/4 the passengers had already got their seats and boarding cards and were waiting at the gate. Again I would have assumed that it would cause chaos to reassign those seats to the next 1/4 of passengers. They didnt and it did. I did mention that everything in South America seemed to result in a discussion that would normally last about 30 secs at home before someone said ‘look just sit the f**k down’.
Even the first class passengers and the 17 levels of segregation that United apply to passengers above cattle class had to stand and wait as well. Sometimes theres a lot to be said for Ryanairs, every man for themselves policy.
The flight the day before was delayed and so this one was packed. Now I’ll have to admit, being a single bloke on a 14 hour flight you do hold out hope of some nice looking woman taking the empty seat beside you. If she could speak english and was looking a part exchange on an EU passport then all the better.
Dont be stupid.
Now, in the last couple of days there was the case where a larger than life film actor/director was asked to leave a United airlines flight because he should really have booked two tickets. Well normally Id have sympathy but now Im thinking of asking for a refund on the 40% of my seat that I didnt actually use on the flight due to the overspill of the passenger beside me.
So after 6 hours awake I went to the stewardesses and asked if there were any spare seats or could I just sleep on the floor in the kitchen. Their reply of ‘you must be joking’ wasnt exactly what I wanted to hear.
I did think about my reply carefully from quips like ‘if I was joking I would have said, a man walks into a bar with a duck on his head’ to ‘can I have some clean water as I’d like to wash my body before we all meet my maker’ to just taking her overly made up face and smashing it into the still warm plate of microwave airline meals beside her.
No matter what I said would probably end up in the plane diverting to some central american airport with my heathrow ticket being exchanged for one to Guantanamo Bay.
Back to my half seat I went and resigned myself to elbowing my fellow passenger in the ribs and kicking him in the ankles when he tried to play footsie. Im sure he wonders where all his bruises have come from.
Travelling through the US is a nightmare. Im not going to do it again if I can humanly avoid it. Ive mentioned the one carry on bag and the queues for immigration even though you are going nowhere near US soil. If I have to go through the US again it will be from Dublin where I can clear US immigration in Dublin. Another hour queueing for immigration, then waiting for my bag and taking it through customs only to drop it off a further 100 yards later for it to go to Belfast.
To be honest though it was a relief to see it, and to see it intact. There were rumours about stuff being nicked from bags in Buenos Aires airport. When checking through security there I was asked what was in my checkin bag, I was specifically asked if there were any camcorders, digital cameras and anything else worth nicking, sorry above 50 USD. When I said yes, there was a big sticker put on my bag. I dont think it said ‘ransack through here’ but it may as well have. One of the joys of travelling with an old beaten up bag with only one wheel and one other trick I learned years ago. Three days before you are due to come home, soak some of your dirty clothes. t-shirt and trousers is enough. Put them in a plastic bag and leave them in the heat. When you go to leave, put it at the top of your bag and cut it open before quickly closing the bag. If anyone opens that bag, smells that and still rifles through it looking for valuables, they are more than welcome to the contents.
By the time I got to my destination gate I had no idea who I was, where I was, where I was going and quite frankly I didnt really care. Having been to Chicago a couple of times before I just wanted to lie down somewhere but needed something to eat. If you are in Chicago they have their own brewery called Goose Island and they do a nice Christmas Ale. This wasnt christmas but I thought Id try the local brew anyway. Of course I got funny looks at 9:30am asking for a beer but hey I’d no idea what time it was.
I splurged on the 50 dollars it cost to get access to the frequent flyer lounge as quite frankly it was a bargain. Lovely soft seats, free net access, tv, papers etc etc. Free soft drinks, well not like UK free, but US free served by a barman which attracts the obligatory 1 dollar tip. Now Im not against tipping barstaff but hey if you are travelling to another country and I know the US people find that strange you dont necessarily carry US money. Particularly when you dont think you are going to spend much time there. Besides which in the UK you have fridges with cans of stuff and dont need 4 bar staff to change the TV station for you.
I just want to go home.
To cut another long story short, soon enough I was home, in my own house and I realise how quiet it is where I live. Silence.
I remember moving here from Belfast City and spending the first couple of weeks waking up because it was ‘too quiet’. When things went quiet in the area of the city I lived it generally meant it was going to get real loud real quick.
So Ive had a few emails from people asking me to go through what gear I use, how I used it etc etc etc. To be perfectly honest I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than talk photo gear and Im sure most peoples eyes would glaze over as well. I’ll leave the photo talk to photo forums but heres a few things that did make my life a lot easier whilst travelling.
Noise cancelling headphones – absolutely superb. I baulked at the price of these things just to use on planes etc but they really are worth their weight in gold. Apart from using them on planes, ferries, in airports etc they are useful in noisy hotel rooms, disconnect them, turn on the noise cancelling and go to sleep.
Wee small plastic bottles less than 60ml. You dont really realise how difficult air travel has become until you try to book a flight with hand luggage only where the destination is full of mosquitos and 40C+ You cant buy that small a bottle of sun cream so the ability to pack some into smaller bottles to pack in hand luggage and avoid a one way rendition flight is understated. I do wonder why they persist with this rubbish as lets be honest if I wanted to take a plane down, I’d buy a bottle of vodka and a lighter in duty free and then see if the aircrew thought I was joking.
Besides which if they’d applied the air safety laws that were in force on September 11th, the hijackers would never have got on the planes in the first place. When you have a load of people on a watch list, you just dont let them get on a plane. Back here during the troubles you couldnt go 100 yards in the car without some military patrol appearing from somewhere.
Maybe if security spent less time robbing us all of our purchased in the security zone bottles of water and duty free which by its nature had to be purchased airside, and actually out chasing ‘terrorists’ then wed all travel a lot easier with less hassle.
Im ranting again but seriously, who gives the UK border protection jobsworths the right to photograph me then stick a sticker right across the front of the harp on my irish passport. It might only just be a sticker but that harp can get you out of trouble quicker than you can say ‘no inglaterra’. Yes it does wash off but thats not the point, Im going to tell the minister for foreign affairs, after all the passport is his property still.
My smartphone, ok I couldnt make any actual calls with it for some reason to do with no reciprocal arrangements with some networks, but the ability to use wifi to check email, carry pdf maps etc etc. Its not an iphone so the battery lasts about a week and if Id had the wit to bring a headphone adaptor I could have used it to play my mp3s and could have left the ipod at home.
The ipod nano itself is again worth its weight in gold. I’ve the ministry of sound chill out sessions just for travelling, put the headphones in, get into bed, press play…. …and I’ve never heard the end of that album.
A microfibre travel towel. Small, light, very absorbent, for places like the waterfalls and easy to carry. It was a tip from a good friend of mine who travelled a lot.
‘Memory’ AA batteries. I was very sceptical about the use of these type of batteries. Basically they discharge slowly and keep their charge longer. Its not until you are travelling until you realise that the ability to keep charge for a couple of days is a godsend. No need to bring chargers for a quick trip with light or possible usage.
Ive mentioned the plastic carrier bag tricks before, to keeping the camera dry, putting all your creams and lotions in in your main baggage in case one goes pop and wrecks all the clothes in your bag, to putting on your hands and feet to avoid leaving footprints… …sorry meant to say to avoid your feet and hands getting soaked…
Pencils. Its like the old joke, NASA spent 1 million dollars developing a pen that would write in space, the Russians just used pencils.
The netbook I left at home. I have since found out that the hard drive failure in my macbook is a ‘known problem’. Known in that it was known by mac and theyve sat on it for 3-4 years. They issued an advisory note and extended warranty last week, a month too late for me. If I’d known the hard drive was likely to fail, I’d have had it changed before I left. Dont get me started on the ipad.
Only one last thing to do (other than edit the photos from the trip) and its to retire the passport. Its my 2nd full Irish passport and the first one was a four continenter. This one has been to all 5 continents and I think it deserves a break from travelling…… …although theres some cheap flight emails on the go at the minute…
6:30am alarm call this morning. Thats two days in a row, one more for the record.
Lots of sweet pastries for breakfast and as much coffee as my bladder would take and it was off to the bus station. At this point I have to say the internet is a marvellous tool for travelling. The cost of a taxi to the park is about 70 pesos, which lets be honest is about 13 quid, not a lot in real money. Problem is Ive been living like a local and have got used to local travel. So 5 pesos from the local bus station to the park, along with the rest of the plebs.
Its 8am by the time we reach the park, just as it opens and already its 32C. Will top 40 by the time I leave the park. As for humidity, well I´ll get on to that later
The one advantage the local bus has is that it bypasses the main park gate and even at 8am there was a very long queue of tour busses, private cars and taxis waiting to get in. Yet another reason to go the cheap way.
Just a short queue to get the tickets and I was in the park. Later that evening a lot of the tourists in the hotel were complaining about being stiffed as foreigners. The price for locals was about 15 pesos or so and for foreigners 85. Thats about 14 or 15 quid. Like seriously folks, if you didnt think the park was worth that, then there is something wrong with your head.
Anyway Id bought the grand adventure ticket in the hotel after some not so hard selling by the people in the hotel. Its a 4×4 truck ride through the jungle/rainforest followed by a boat ride up to the falls. A lot of people on the net forums said the 4×4 bit wasnt worth the money and to skip it but Im glad I didnt.
I had to exchange my voucher for a ticket and one of the reps said I would be better going on the first tour of the morning. Now I did think this was a bit of a tourist trap as Id already paid and they probably didnt want the later people arriving to only full tours but sure what else was I doing and besides which it wasnt going to get any cooler so why not.
Im so glad I did, even though I and the others who had agreed felt like complete tools all 8 of us sitting in this massive flatbed military truck. When we got to the queue for those arriving in the park and buying tickets we filled another 4 trucks. I had been told about the animals, butterflies, spiders and all that but hearing about it and seeing it are completely different things. Ive never seen as many, different coloured, strange looking butterflies in my life and that includes visits to butterfly houses. Forgive the inability to recite the types but to me there were loads of big yellow ones, strange looking iridescent blue ones, bright red ones and the woman sitting next to me on the truck had a small green leaf fall on her and when she went to brush it off it flew away. Some big brown leaves also flew away. Amazing to see.
The guide told us about this big spider which had spun webs across our trail, all bright golden thread. By that I mean there were loads of them, just not one man sized spider working through the night. Although travelling down the path in the early morning light if youd told me it was one big man sized spider Id have believed you. Yet another good reason for being the first truck through in the morning.
These spiders webs are so strong they can catch small birds in flight and lizards. A few minutes later I had my head pulled back by the treads of one and was spitting out yellow web thread. I wasnt the only one. It was like pulling fishing line or thread off your face, it didnt break just came off in long threads. I did think about keeping some to bring home but I can just imagine US and UK customs allowing that one.
After a while we reached the river and it was a long walk down steps to the boats, nothing particularly interesting about that except for the depth markers by the side of the steps long before we could see the boats. Id seen these the day before on the way down to the three frontier crossing point and they started from 40 metres depth downwards. I think the river level at both was about 15 metres. Thats a lot of flooding.
As we got to the boats we were advised to put our belongings in big waterproof bags. I came prepared, my camera backpack has an allweather cover and Id put everything in it. My camera is a pro range one and waterproof and sealed (no Im not setting myself up for a fall, it really is). Now you can buy all sorts of attachments for cameras that you can put round them to make them waterproof, housings, see through windows, etc. My weapon of choice is a supermarket carrier bag. Put a hole at the closed end, push your lens through, sellotape it to the lens hood, and the open end is your access to your controls. It just doesnt work with water, but Ive also used it in the sahara for sand protection. Besides which, how wet could it get?
Lifejackets on, fully seated, although what good were lifejackets going to do as the boat was surrounded by cayman, we took off, and I mean took off. This is the point where I wish my bloody mac hadnt died and I could at least put a whole load of photos to add – I´ll put them up later when I get home.
We sped up to the falls and you hear them before you see them. Theres something primaeval and inherently wrong about humans speeding towards this type of noise. Probably since the dawn of time we have learned to stay the hell away!
I dont have the words to describe the feelings of first seeing the waterfalls from up close. A speeding motorboat isnt the place you notice people going quiet but all talk did stop and every one of us just looked with our mouths open. The word Awesome is overused in the english language but if there ever was a dictionary definition of the word it would include ´see going under the Iguazu waterfalls in a boat´.
We got soaked, we didnt care. We got soaked again, we cared even less.
Up under the Falls, spray hitting you, sun shining, speeding around. Not a care in the world.
The guides then told us to put our stuff in the waterproof bags as this was the point of no return.
Yes, no, really, we are going _under_ the waterfalls. Up until now we had only just skirted round them.
The luggage was stowed, we were told to sit down and they opened the engines up.
Now the night before I had done the old travellers trick of getting showered then putting on my dirty t-shirt and shorts and getting showered again, this time with them on to wash them. I thought that was pretty much about as wet as you cold get. Wrong.
We disappeared in the worlds biggest shower. The sound was deafening, you couldnt see a thing the water was hitting your eyeballs with so much force, wiping away and holding my hand over my eyes you could just occasionally get glimpses of blue sky. You couldnt see the person in front of you the back of whose seat you were gripping for dear life. Screaming seemed the natural thing to do As did laughing.
If ever there was a case of all sound and no picture, this was it.
We came back out of it and everyone was telling whoever would listen about their experience. Of course they were all exactly the same but we just had to tell _someone_ after all I was 10 years old again.
People started to unpack their cameras again but we were told that that was only one of the smaller falls, the big one would be next. I can honestly say I have never been as wet in my life. Even if I sat in the bath with all my clothes on, it still wouldnt seem like I was as wet as I got beneath the big Falls. The plastic supermarket bag did its job and I even tried taking pictures of the water falling on me, if only to give one eye respite from the pounding water. Never again will I pay any attention to a shower gel commercial that says ´fresh´or ´natural´ They have absolutely no idea.
I take it thats what they mean by 100% humidity then!
By the time we got to shore I realised I was out of breath and my heart was racing, we had been the first of the morning and didnt get the chance to see the other boats behind us disappear into the waterfalls and I do mean disappear. Even seeing it I dont think would have prepared us for what happened.
The whole ´grand adventure´was 200 pesos, I hate to use the word cost as it wasnt a cost, it was a life experience and those things dont cost money. Just under 70 quid. For those of you going, or going on day trips to Iguazu, spend the money, insist on your tour bus waiting. If you dont, you will regret it.
Dripping with water and shaking from the adrenaline rush I made my way back up the lower path to the first coffee shop. You could see the smiles and elation in everyones face, you could see the people walking past us all completely soaked smiling, wondering what the hell they had let themselves in for.
I sat down with a coffee and ordered empanadas. They didnt have any empanadas yet as it wasnt lunchtime so I had 2 pieces of cheesebread. Dont have the cheesebread, I will say nothing more.
Sitting in an air conditioned coffee shop with an ever increasing pool of water on the floor, I did look like Id just pissed myself again but this time I was in company. People walking past staring, wondering what lay in store for them down the path!
Its only then I started to notice the wildlife, big lizards nearby and large raccoon type animals that travelled round in families. The signs said not to feed the wildlife but when the wildlife babies distracted people long enough for the wildlife parents to unzip rucksacks and hunt around in them, its hard not too. Butterflies everywhere.
I didnt review my pictures, I´ll save that for when I get home as I was still in the ´did I just do that´stage.
When I booked the hotel I did have the choice of the Sheraton which is in the park itself but at over 450 quid for two nights just a little bit beyond paying for that extra. I went round to take a look and it is a nice enough hotel but not that much. If I had only one night it would be a no brainer, you get earlier and later access to the park as you are onsite and you can sit with a beer and look at the falls as the moon comes up. OK thats got to be worth an extra 100 quid just for the bragging rights alone.
So on to the trails along the upper part of the falls then the devils throat path in the early afternoon when it was very hot so as not to be as busy. Id hate to see it if it was busy!
I was trying not to think of the rest of the day as downhill after the boatride but there was the temptation to just skip stuff and go back and lie down and recover.
I skipped most of the lower trail as its a lot of steps and the leg probably wouldnt take it. The upper path was quite short and you could either walk to the devils throat or get the train. Let me think about that one.
My 2 litres of water I brought with me was gone in 4 hours, add to that the probably litre I drank under the Falls and it still wasnt enough. It was now around the 40C mark. Id been at this temperature in the Sahara but it didnt feel anywhere near as hot. The walk along the metal walkway out to the Devils throat was scary stuff as you could see the torrents below you rushing past. In the slower sections you could see the fish below, turtles, all sorts of strange things. Birds with BLUE and I dont mean blue, wings, and more butterflies.
I knew I was going to be toasted on the way out, it was windy and there were enough baseball caps going over the falls to say that any hat wouldnt stay on for long.
A couple of hundred yards away from the end you pass over this island with two large palm trees that look like a gateway and when you pass it you hear that roar again, you see the mist and hear the screaming. This is no downturn to the day.
As you get closer the wind changes periodically and you see nothing but you hear everything,more all sound and no picture. The sensible people are in their swimming costumes, Im now as wet as I was in the shower again.
Ive lived in Northern Ireland all my life and one of the regular soundbites for the last 40 years has been ´we are standing on the edge of the abyss´ Well let me tell you boys, you have no fecking idea!
Looking down you couldnt see the bottom, the noise was tremendous, the spray hitting you, just nothing but pure, natural, raw, energy. The devils throat indeed.
Now I could have just taken a few pics and cleared off but it was mesmerising, also fascinating to watch was other peoples reactions, probably just as dumbstruck as Id been. That and just a little bit scared. Did I mention the noise? Bravery award had to go to the onsite photographers who were standing on their stepladders set on a metal frame stuck on metal posts above the garantua del diablo. You couldnt pay me enough to stand on the ladder, never mind shout at people and try to get photos in those conditions.
So that was it, time to call it a day and head back to the hotel. It had been a very good day indeed.
Back at the hotel I tried to explain it as many countless other tourists have tried. The desk staff were smiling the smile of having seen it time and time again and the ´we told you so´ look. They asked if it had been worth it and I said if Id flown Belfast to London to Washington to Buenos Aires to Iguazu, taken just the boat ride and was about to go back the same way, that would have been worth it alone.
I thought Id splurge on dinner in the hotels restaurant. I asked for recommendations from the waiter and he recommended the local fish pulled out of the Iguazu river. I then asked the hotel owner who asked if I liked fish and I told him about years of trout fishing and sea fishing eating really fresh fish, so he said not to have the fish and go for the steak instead! The local fish some people were raving about is just a type of catfish. I have to say the steak was a superb option.
The restaurant was full with a tour group from Australia, mostly women so of course I offered my services to do their group photo. After a bit of shouting and herding the photos were done and my steak was almost ready. One of the women came up to me and asked was I from Belfast and I said I was. She said she used to live in Belfast when she was younger before emigrating to Australia and her family still lived there.
In Glengormley, just across from the Northcott centre, do you know it?
Know it? I live off the Hightown Road less than 5 mins away!
All too soon it was time to go to bed as it was another 6:30 am start to go to the Brazil side of the Falls before going home. The late english language movie was Black Hawk Down.
Maybe I wont take that helicopter ride over the Falls after all….
6:30am quick three Ss (someone emailed to say I wouldnt be brave enough to put a reference to the 3Ss in my blog) and then it was off to Brazil.
The hotel arranged a taxi driver to take me across the border, sort out formalities, take me to the park, wait there the 2-3 hours it takes to do the Brazilian side then back again.
This did sound excessive but I had to be back at the airport at 2:30 and to be honest after a day in the sun, air con failure during the night I had a bit of heatstroke and the longer I was in air conditioning the better!
When we got to the border I saw all the tourists being taken off coaches and the cheap busses, get into line and then go through immigration one at a time, on both sides of the border. The border isnt back to back but theres rather a duty free buffer zone and a great big bridge across the river so two queues.
Apart from a small wait until the Samba band stopped playing and the boys on the sandy beach finished their game of football it was straightforward. Ok I made that bit up but it was in my head crossing the border.
The hotel got it spot on again and the taxi driver sorted it all out and in half an hour I was at the gates to the park. He walked me to the door, saw I got in ok then arranged to meet me in 3 hours at the gate. Real good service.
The Brazilian park is a fraction of the size of the Argentinian one so it only really has one walk and its a 2 hr maximum one allowing for stops and rest points and all that sort of thing. It was interesting to see the Falls from this side as it gave a more panoramic view and particularly with the likes of the Sheraton hotel, put it all in context. I still think the best view is from down in the water but walking along the opposite cliff would again be spectacular if you hadnt done the other side.
The cliff path descends to a spectacular walkway which goes right out under the falls and it was time for a soaking again. It was here you could makeout most of the devils throat whereas on the Argentinian side you only really got to see the top of it. Soaked through again but still laughing it was the first time Id ever seen a circular rainbow, you are at the mid stage of that particular group of falls with one behind and one below so the spray is coming at you from all angles including up!
The photos will do the talking for this side! It was still an awesome experience and Im glad I did both sides, seems a bit of a shame if you have the time not to do both.
I made my way back to the entrance and was still an hour short of my alloted time so I found myself wandering round to the helicopter place right in front of the entrance. I had toyed with the idea of doing this then against due to the whole ecological effects but there is only one operator allowed and they only have one helicopter. Its not like when I did it in the Grand Canyon where it was like a scene from a Vietnam movie with the number of helicopters shuttling around.
The taxi driver was parked outside and he wanted to know if I was going back to the hotel but I said helicopter! Now far be it from me to say that they are on some sort of kickback but he virtually led me by the hand into the office and stood by my side entering all the discussions even though the guy there was very fluent in english. I asked for how long I would have to wait and I was told about a half hour which just about tied in with my return time. As always there was a loud, conversation in Spanish and as soon as the visa machine spat out my receipt I was handed a set of earplugs and told to get to the helicopter. Within 90 seconds I was off the ground and away.
I love helicopter travel, I´ve had about 4 or 5 flights now, all over places like Disneyworld, the Grand Canyon etc etc and its another one of those 10 year old boy incidents. Id always wanted to fly in a bell jet ranger as well and had never flew in one and now I was. I had the rear window seat with the window open so the lens was stuck out quite a few times. I know all flying is three dimensional but theres nothing like a helicopter or light aircraft flight to make you feel all of those three dimensions, its a weird feeling and something I would recommend to anyone, anywhere never mind with the jungle, the rainforest and above all those falls below us.
We didnt get too close to the Falls, for obvious reasons but it really did make the experience complete for me. Ive now seen them from all sides, below, above and inside as well. Another case of getting off and telling everyone who was with me, did you see this, that, did you feel it when it banked over etc etc.
Ive spent more time being 10 in the last 2 days than I did when I was 10.
Back to the hotel and only time left for lunch with that Argentinian special – pizza. Well its Pizza but not as we know it. On my first night here we had pizza. Well it was a cheese and tomato sauce pizza with a few olives thrown in. Thats mozarella man. Was the reply when I asked if they had forgotten to order toppings. So bear that in mind, pizza here is just a base pizza. So I made sure this one had pineapple and ham and sweetcorn and other stuff and very nice it was too.
The rest of the time was spent heading to and waiting at the airport, reasonably uneventful flight but in complete contrast to the flight out. As we made our final approach to BA all you could see as far as the eye could see in all directions were buildings. The closer to the airport it was all apartment blocks and high rises. Whilst not on the same scale as the approach to the old Hong Kng Kai Tak airport it did remind me slightly of that. 2 hour flight from a rainforest environment to an urban jungle.
That was it, no doubt by far and away the highlight of the trip, almost half the budget of the entire month long was spent in 3 days in Iguazu.
And do you know what? It was a bargain.
To see the photos from the Argentina Trip, click here