One of the most famous, accessible, cheap and most memorable sights in Hong Kong is the star ferry journey across the harbour. As I mentioned in my last blog post the journey isnt as long as I remember it due to the land reclamation in the harbour. Some locals joke that in a few years you will be able to walk to the island without getting your feet wet!
IF you have a couple of hours only in Hong Kong make sure you take the trip. If you have more than a day make sure you take it at night as well. Check out the seats as they are all reversible and you just move the back depending on which direction you are moving in. Also keep an eye out for the moving gangplank when boarding, particularly in a heavy swell and sometimes the night crossing can be a bit hairy in one of the most congested areas of sea on the planet!
After the food excesses of the previous couple of days it turned out to be a McDonalds day. As much as I dont eat this stuff, well almost ever, out where my hotel was the cafes and restaurants didnt open until 10am (another reason for lying in) and McDonalds was open from 7am. 10am is all well and good in the summer months but when it gets dark at 4:30-5pm and you need to get photos taken then time really is money. So using my octopus card I just went in pointed to a breakfast menu and stood and waited. Normally Im very anal about research but how far wrong can you go?
Well ok you get this…
When I first took the lid off I thought WTF? Someone has accidently dumped my egg, burger pasta and cheese into a bowl of hot water. Then I thought hold on check around and see what other people get. Yes the same thing. Odd. As usual I ended up wearing some of it and realised I’d better go on a diet when I get home because I dont stain the top of my trousers any more I stain half way down my shirt (you can work that out yourself!
I had a few things on my must see list from previous trips and one of those was to see people do Tai Chi in the parks. In the previous trips I’d failed to see any purely because it seems to be mostly done at 7am and well, lets be honest I only see 7am if Im coming home or if the house was catching fire. So rather than the mass numbers you see in all the guidebooks (usually old looking photos – does it happen any more?) I happened to catch a few folk in one garden in central.
Down at the Star Ferry terminal the previous there had been loads of police knocking about with cordoned off areas. Nothing unusual there I just assumed it was a queue for some famous person signing or queue for a ticket launch or some other thing. I found out today when I saw the length of it that it was the queue for the launch of the iPhone 4GS. When I say queue I mean over 3000 people queued up. Yes three thousand! I was at the opening of the apple store in Belfast and I think there was one sad loser who queued all night and felt a right prat because number 2 in the queue didnt show up to 6am. There were perhaps about 150 people total, if that? Now all the mac evangelists I know are quite sad people. Its a cult or religion rather than a piece of over styled average technology but come on. At what point did people turn up and queue for 3 days think ‘maybe they only have 2000 in stock?’. Maybe they had more. Very sad indeed, get a life folks its a bloody phone and not a very good phone at that! The reason why the police were there was that scuffles had broken out at the front because people had been paid over 1000 pounds to stand at the front of the queue for other people. Now I can understand queueing up for 3 days and nights for a grand, I would be tempted myself but paying the grand? plus the price of the phone? Come on. Still it didnt stop me exploiting the situation and wiring in a few photos to a news agency.
One other thing on the list to see was the noonday gun down in Causeway Bay. A hangover from the British occupation where this cannon would be fired on the shoreline every day at noon by the Jardines company. It had apparently stopped for a couple of years but was going today. Give it another 6 months and it wont be anywhere near the sea which will be odd having this row of Cannons on a pier a few hundred yards inland. Access to the gun is limited to the half hour after the gun is fired and access to the gun area is a bit convoluted, down through the basement of a hotel. One of those times you ask for help or directions and are led down stairs, down a corridor, past heating ducts into the darkness when every ounce of sense you have is screaming at you to get the f**k out of Dodge and you laugh at the stupidity of such people in daft horror or zombie movies. Well I followed a couple of women down so I thought if they started disappearing one by one it was time to leg it.
The whole firing the cannon ceremony was typically British lots of spit and polish and loads of old colonialism thrown in for good measure but ultimately pointless. Still it keeps the tourists happy.
Speaking of the British and colonialism and all that. On my first trip to Hong Kong it was still a British Colony and I found most of the tourists were the panama hat, linen suit wearing brigade whose daily duty it was to be loud and thoroughly insult and be rude to the natives. A few were looking forward to going back to Mainland China control to get rid of the foreign oppressors. Of course now the chinese people barge into you, are loud and seem to spend the day being thoroughly rude to the natives. The American Navy were also in town and… well you get the picture. I guess most tourists seem to be the same regardless of where they come from and where they go.
Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise but it isnt as cheap as it used to be. As I mentioned in the previous post everything seems to be available on ebay for not much more and without the hassle of lugging it around, luggage weight restrictions and customs declarations but it is still fun to haggle regardless. Todays markets were the fresh food market in Yaumatei and the Jade Market. Now my first experience of a chinese fresh food market involved my first trip were we went into China for the day. The food was fresh as it was indeed, still breathing. The coach trip didnt realise that if you went around a market pointing at things they were generally fished out of their tank or cage and beheaded on the spot. 10 mins in to our 1/2 hour visit I was the only one left in the place.
It reeked of cow faeces, blood and the noise was amazing. I didnt mind the tying the goat up and slitting its throat, food has to be got somehow, what turned my stomach was the guy clearing his head, nose, throat and lungs up and spitting it into the fish tank to be completely devoured by the fish. Now I know you are probably retching now at the thought, I can still see it and will probably see it to my dying day. Thats one thing that has improved. My first two times people just decided to dump the contents of their mucal cavaties at each and every opportunity. You would never put your bag down on the floor in a tram, bus or even restaurant. To be fair to one of my previous travelling companions even my chicken dinner didnt taste the same when the crowd of builders at the next restaurant table put half the contents of their brains on the floor next to us.
Im assuming the outbreaks of SARS and bird flu hit all that on the head. Originally I thought people wearing facemasks about town were just paranoid, turns out it is a health issue but its one enforced by doctors in that if you have a cold and go in to town with millions of other people you wear a facemask to limit the chances of infecting someone else. A couple of weeks later on the London Underground I wished that rule applied here. Would probably breach our human rights…
Markets now are a lot more civilised places but the food is still fresh and some of it is still breathing. When I say food I mean things that you could possibly stick in your gub. Im assuming the more disgusting it is the more of a ‘delicacy’ it becomes. You cant say its not fresh though and remembering my first trip I remember seeing every single part of four pigs hanging up for sale in a butchers stall. When I say every single part, I mean every single part and you could tell there were a couple of male pigs in there as well. Think about it… ….but it took me a long while to eat pork sausages again.
The Jade Market is another good memory having visited it on previous trips with a couple of cheap souvenirs still around the house. As long as you realise you are probably buying cheap plastic then you cant be far wrong. Lets be honest if someone asks me for a tenner for a piece of polished jade stone and settles on a pound then the odds are its up there with my jade dragon story. If I havent already elaborated on that one before I’ll do a later blog post on the tat, sorry souvenirs I’ve bought around the world.
Ive mentioned the silk embroidery before and theres nothing like this and the range available from Hong Kong, just make sure you haggle in the night markets although places like Stanley Market shops have better quality and the prices on show are pretty much it although in bulk with cash you can get a deal.
Ive mentioned my chinese rosewood furniture before and the hollywood road is one of the places to go but a better deal was had on Queens Road East.
Unfortunately or rather fortunately the shop I bought all my stuff from had moved. To cut a long story short (would be a first) I ordered a dining room table and wooden bureau to my spec, colours, seats etc and paid the money to have it delivered half way round the world. Simple transaction and of course my mate (who also ordered some stuff) only researched how to do business in China after we came home. Oh the handing money and business cards over with two hands is polite and one is rude. Oops, now who were acting the colonialists? You dont do a deal straight away as its more polite to accept the sweets they offer, ok so I insulted the locals too, talk about family, ok yet again, and then come back the next day and do the deal. Ok you get the picture about insulting the locals.
So it would take six weeks to make and six weeks to ship in a container. It was only when we got home and arguably sobered up that we realised we’d just paid a couple of grand to a stranger in a small shop halfway round the world and did we really expect the stuff to be delivered on time. Well I can tell you it wasnt delivered on time, it came a week early. Despite the jokes from people at home it backed up all the advice we had been given before going that chinese people do business with trust and honour and I had hoped to call into the same shop and thank the owner or more likely their son or heir for the great service we received from them.
I was listening to the radio the other day when they were discussing the British Governments plan to boost tourism to the UK. The presenter was from Belfast and he said that we have lovely countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, areas of special scientific interest and you are positively falling over ancient and modern heritage. Yet the tourists want to see the areas of the troubles, where so and so was shot, which areas were blown up etc etc.
To emphasise the point I have an image published in the current edition of the Sunday Times travel magazine special on Ireland. Is it a photo of the sun rising over Belfast, No. Is it a photo of the sun setting on the Giants causeway, No. Is it the food, the people, any number of ancient monuments, castles, valleys, countryside… No. Its a photo of a loyalist wall mural.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and associated city organisations spend a fortune promoting ‘Luxury Belfast’ or come and get engaged in Northern Ireland. Im from here and I didnt get engaged in Northern Ireland. All this is dreamed up by marketing gurus and people getting ‘on message.’ Im sure there are focus groups and people just wanting junkets in the luxury hotels around Belfast. They spend a fortune producing glitzy ads try to attract different demographics whilst ignoring the vast majority of things going on here and what the local people are actually trying to promote.
Im all for marketing and having a message, I preach it to clients often enough but somewhere when promoting tourism you should have people who have actually travelled, and not just a fortnight in Ibiza, Blackpool or Portrush.
Ive travelled on all 5 continents, Ive flown from bucket seat 3rd World airlines where landing was usually considered optional to First Class inter continental British Airways. Ive stayed in all ranges from the ‘Places to stay – top end’ to campsites and youth hostels with fresh blood on the walls. Ive sat on dirty ground eating food from street vendors to silver service personal waiter service in what looked liked a remnant of old collonialism (with the price to match). Ive enjoyed watching puppet street theatre in Prague to candlelit opera in the Tsars summer palace in Moscow.
All a slightly exaggerated way of saying, Ive got about a bit.
In every single place, in every single language, every single person has asked me about ‘the war’.
Thats what Belfast is known for. Whether we like it or not, thats what we should be selling. You cant go to Berlin and not go to the Wall, you cant go to Cyprus and not overlook no mans land, Krakow and not go to Auschwitz. Maybe its because Im from here but I go to every conflict area and hole in the hedge when travelling.
It pishes down here most of the time so I do feel like I should be prosecuted under the trades description act for some of my photos so sell people what they are going to get.
As for the luxury end of the market, I dont know who does their research but when Ive booked luxury Ive done it from home, Ive been picked up at the airport, looked after until Ive went home. Not once have I went from my youth hostel or campsite and picked up a luxury brochure by accident when looking for my best fry in Belfast deal and decided to go to the Merchant or Four Square on the strength of it. Madness.
Last week I went for a walk along the Lagan at night to do some photos, it was a poor night photographically and in the 2 hours I was out I spotted 4 lost looking tourists, wandering around looking, well lost. Any other city in the world with a riverside similar to ours would have a bit of life, street entertainment, stalls, people walking up and down and you could get a fecking cup of coffee after 9pm!
Maybe thats all the tourists we have on a wet thursday night in August in Belfast, maybe they are all at the Giants Causeway, lapping up the Luxury hotels, popping the question down in Fermanagh or helping the locals beat the living shit out of each other in Ardoyne. Maybe they dont want to walk along a still river at night, soak up the maritime heritage, buy a cuppa and a a bit of tat that will sit on the foreign equivalent of a fireplace for years to say ‘Ive been to Belfast’.
I once drove 17 hours straight to get a signed piece of paper to say Id crossed the arctic circle. I was in Bergen with a few mates and it rains there 360 days a year (bit like here) so after 3 days of rain we hired a car and drove north at speed. Thats what tourists do.
Sell them the war tours, sell them the murals, its what we have thats unique in the world. When we have them here sell them Belfast waterfront, Bangor, Newry, Armagh, Derry, Omagh, Fermanagh. Give them the option of going on a tour to the ancient monuments, christian heritage, world heritage sites, inland waterways, surfing holidays, walking holidays, boating holidays, whiskey and drink tours, etc etc, you might even sell the odd engagement ring or persuade people to upgrade hotel for one night. Who knows they may even come back after we have sold them a poncho with the giants causeway on the back of it.
As for the waterfront, well there is a recession on but when the titanic quarter is built, and it is already showing signs of life with luxury car makers moving in, then it will be a thoroughfare and with people will come the need for stalls, street entertainment, nightlife etc.
Possibly one of the worlds future ‘best kept secrets’…
Until then, keep selling the troubles, whilst people here still remember what it was.
…well lough really.
As Ive mentioned before Ive recently bought a boat. Ive always wanted a boat, primarily to go sea fishing in so this year I got the opportunity and went for it. The boat itself is almost as old as me but with a bit of elbow grease, some rewiring and tinkering about with the engine Ive a quite usable speedboat….
…well if it didnt bloody rain all the time I might have, so next week its going in to get a custom all over cover fitted. Maybe then I’ll get to take it out more than 4 times in 6 weeks.
The last good opportunity to take the boat out was on the 12th July when my fellow countrymen made a liar out of me with my last posts. Good to see that recreational rioting is getting full media recognition and maybe it will be Northern Irelands gold medal sport in the 2012 olympics.
Having bought the boat and spent a couple of weeks redoing wiring, replacing all the safety gear, polishing and cleaning the boat up Ive been taking a pragmatic approach to taking the boat out on the water. My nephews enthusiasm to see its maiden voyage cross one of the most dangerous stretches of water on this island to Rathlin Island has had to be tempered though. A couple of hours out on Lough Neagh will suffice. Having said that though the first day I took it out I did enough miles to go to Scotland and back and realised that Lough Neagh is more like an inland sea than a peaceful lough. Its the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles and that doesnt say much when you are reading it but out in the middle when the wind picks up you realise what that actually means.
The Lough was said to be formed when Irish Giant Finn McCool took a dislike to his Scottish Giant neighbour and scooped out a large load of soil and stones and threw it at the theiving git as he made off home. Finn missed by a large margin and the large lump of soil landed in the Irish sea and became the Isle of Man. Always a better story than the actual geological history of the lough.
Its hard to get tourist information about the lough itself and Ive recently found out that is because it is owned by the Shaftesbury family. Apparently back in the dim and distant past some English King gave it to another English lord and it has been passed down through their family. Most of the people here thought it was owned by the State including northern Ireland water who take about 40% of the countries freshwater supply from the lough and thats thrown a spanner in the works for privatisation. Hence all the islands are private as Shaftesbury estates own the lake bed and some of the surrounds. One of the islands, Coney Island was purchased and then donated to the National Trust and now Craigavon Council.
So you can get loads of information on the bike circuit of the lough, the canoe trail but very little else about the inside of the lough.
The Lough itself has a lot of interesting features including Coney Island and Rams island with its round tower. Theres also an old World War 2 torpedo testing station which is now crumbling and a nature reserve full of nesting terns and other birds. Seemed a reasonable enough place to test torpedos from the nearby factory in antrim. Just load them up and let them fly across the lough!
Theres a couple of marinas as well, mainly Ballyronan and Kinnego marina and the Shaftesbury connection is probably the reason why a body of water that large is so under utilised compared to other lakes in other countries, certainly the Fermanagh Lakelands have more tourist facilities and information in a much smaller area.
More photo trips will follow now that Ive started to get the handle on this powerboating lark and will start to risk more than a floating compact in an underwater housing
I have to say though that although the idea for the boat was to go sea fishing and to give different photographic perspectives to local landmarks from the sea/water, the idea of just going out into the lough and sitting when the sun shines is definitely appealing.
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