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Waterfalls, Scam Artists and Evita

But is it art?

View Central and South America on brynster's travel map.

After our mostly rural introduction to Chile, we´ve proceeded to eat our way through the cities of Santiago and Buenos Aires, flown up to the astounding Iguazu Falls and are now hoping to catch a ferry tomorrow to Uruguay´s coastal cities of Colonia and Montevideo (more pictures coming when I can find a decent computer).

Restaurant menus here give you lots of options, but they´re mainly designed to show you all the tasty side dishes you can order with the different cuts of your big slab of beef. We´ve had some magnificent steak, as well as sausage and pork and prosciutto, though I imagine it´s a bit more difficult for vegans.

Although it was disorienting to wander around such a big city after touring the countryside, Santiago´s colorful street life and take on public art made for some fun walks. The scam artists, not so fun. Especially the "I´m a university professor, or student, or someone somehow affiliated with a school and I´m helping autistic children by handing out sappy poems and asking for donations" trick and the "No, really, that was a 1,000 Chilean pesos note you gave me for the cab ride and not the 10,000 note that you´re quite, quite sure you handed me" scam.

Poorer, but wiser.

At any rate, Santiago boasts a great pre-Colombian art museum featuring intricate ceramics and textiles, gold and silver figurines and a wonderfully creepy statue of a warrior wearing a full monkey skin over his own. Unexpectedly, the museum also has a fascinating exhibition on well-preserved woven hats that once identified the various communities of the country´s northern desert region.

Buenos Aires has wiled us with its own charms, including some top-notch museums and cafes. One of the best exhibitions, oddly enough, was the modern art museum´s display of photographs by New York artist David LaChapelle, including a brilliant one of transexual Amanda Lepore done up like Andy Warhol´s Liz Taylor. Here´s one from the same series. Warning: most of his other works are a bit more challenging.

We´ve been staying at some fun hotels in the city´s Palermo neighborhood, which is apparently so trendy that they briefly tried to name one section Palermo Brooklyn (no kidding). One of our favorite places, though, has been a much, much less lively district in a neighborhood called Recoleta. Specifically, it´s the Recoleta Cemetery, a fascinating necropolis of Argentina´s well-heeled set - including, of course, Evita Peron. The angel statues and crypts and mini-monuments are grand, if a bit spooky, though the dozens of friendly cats residing on the premises seem particularly well cared-for.

Earlier today, we walked through the neighborhood of San Telmo, which hosts a weekend antique fair with stalls upon stalls of old coins, dolls, swords, colored soda siphons, wooden shoe molds, lace, and just about anything else you can imagine. Interspersed with the stalls and street artists and human statues were some really good tango bands and dancers putting on shows for the crowds. A great way to spend the afternoon.

One of the best days, though, was the 24-hour side trip we took to Iguazu Falls, which straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil. The falls were, in a word, mind-bogglingly breathtaking.

OK, three words. But there´s really no way to adequately describe how the pit of your stomach drops out much more than with any roller coaster-induced case of the butterflies when you´re standing on a metal catwalk that´s taken you across a series of islands and has now ended less than five feet above a gigantic horseshoe-shaped torrent of rushing water heading straight down into an abyss that appears to be a seething mass of foam and spray and a gazillion gallons of water.

Niagra Falls is a garden hose compared to this - according to one guide, there can be up to 260 individual falls in the whole Iguazu complex depending on the amount of rainfall. A one-kilometer catwalk ends at the biggest continuous stretch of them, the horseshoe-shaped Devil´s Throat, which is very aptly named. And incredibly, hundreds of swifts are diving down into this roaring pit, where they actually live behind some of the walls of water.

After seeing the falls during the day, we took advantage of the nearly full moon and returned for a special moonlight tour. No lights, just the moon and starlight for the hike across the catwalk and out to the very edge of the falls, which seemed even more awesome as they plunged beneath us while managing to send up large billowing clouds of fine spray.

And speaking of butterflies, they first appeared on the Iguazu airport tarmac and were soon fluttering all around us, landing on us, decorating the car windshield (unfortunately unavoidable), and accompanying us virtually everywhere we went until we flew back to Buenos Aires. They included dozens of different species in seemingly every color and design, like one with brilliant orange spots on a black background and another called an Eightyeight because of the cool "88" design on its wings.

Apart from the butterflies and some interesting new bird species, we saw plenty of the raccoon-like coatamundis and a rather large crocodile in a quieter tributary of the river. We were able to visit both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of the falls and enjoyed each (Argentina for its up-close access and Brazil for the panoramic views), though we were a bit put off by Brazil´s theme park approach to the falls, and more than a little saddened by a display stating matter-of-factly that the entire region one of the most biodiverse in Brazil, has lost an estimated 97 percent of its forest cover since 1930.

Here´s fervently hoping that the remaining three percent can manage to hang on.

Posted by brynster 15:53 Archived in Argentina

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