Misiones Improbable


From Buenos Aires we headed north to the humid, subtropical climate of Misiones and its Iguazú Falls, where sunshine and warmth are virtually guaranteed throughout the year. It rained for the next seven days.

Its wet up north

This was not too much of a problem for our first stop in Posadas, the state capital. We had decided to make our way slowly up to Iguazú stopping at places on the way. There was never going to be much to do in Posadas but we were happy to chill out after the excesses of Buenos Aires.

We were also tired from our overnight bus ride and after stowing our backpacks in a cheap hotel we headed into town. As we did so the clouds darkened and the spitting sky looked as if it might open the floodgates. Without too much thought we saw a sign for an Italian restaurant offering a three-course lunch for about €6. The dark clouds ushered us inside.

It turned out to be the best Italian meal we had in Argentina. According to wikipedia up to 25 million Argentines have some degree of Italian descent which accounts for up to 60 per cent of the population. And they are serious to the point of embellishment about their food (one Porteño girl I knew in Paris insisted that Chicken Milanesa originated in Buenos Aires rather than Milan!).

But we had yet to taste any Italian cooking that rivalled our gastronomic experiences in Rome and Tuscany. That is until we stumbled into Cavas on Bolívar, one of the main streets in Posadas town centre.

Lightly fried breaded mozzarella was followed by fluffy gnocchi bolognese and finished off with a fine flan con dulce de leche. It was one of those meals you wanted to do again the moment it finishes. And it made our stop in Posadas worthwhile even though the rest of the day was spent in our room squinting at a tiny TV (not ideal for the champions league semi final) and listening to the rain hammer down on our plastic roof.


The next morning we headed two hours north to San Ignacio, which is the site of one of the most famous Jesuit Missions in South America. Anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning film The Mission will be aware of the story of these places and it made it all the more interesting for me as we walked around the crumbling ruins and listened to our guide explain the history of an unlikely partnership between the Jesuit missionaries and the indigenous Guaranies.

This fruitful coexistence continued peacefully until the Spaniards came along to destroy everything, just as they had done with the Incas in Peru and most other civilisations in South America (the British did the same almost everywhere else).

Ruins (by Spain)

After the tour we headed back to the hostel where we met fellow travellers from Switzerland, Italy, Poland and France. We immediately clicked with the four of them, who had only just met each other themselves. That night our mini united nations headed back to the ruins for a light show, something we were told we mustn’t miss during our stay.

I must admit that I was expecting disappointment, perhaps something akin to Blackpool illuminations circa 1982. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The show had been installed only four months ago and it featured a telling of the story of the mission using a variety of projectors shining through a fine spray of water to create ghostly images. The finale featured a depiction of the last battle between the missionaries/guaranies and the Spanish army with the projection spanning the entire football-pitch length of the mission’s walls.

Projections in the mist

After this, we got to experience a second fine Italian meal of our trip up north as our fellow Italian traveller decided he would cook pasta for our mini UN group. Of course this was joined by much wine and numerous beers and a fun time was had by all.

The next day the rain was relentless so we sat in our hostel’s large lounge and chatted some more with our new friends. But our journey had to go on and our friends were heading in the other direction so we left them watching The Mission (de rigeur for travellers to this region) and headed to Iguazú.

We checked into our large but depressingly shabby hostel room and had a quiet night in preparation for a long day at the Iguazú Falls. Unfortunately the neighbouring bar had other ideas and threw an extremely loud party until 4am.

The next morning we headed out bleary eyed and grumpy but ready to hit the falls hard. But we were told that the incessant rain had closed much of the Argentina side of the falls due to flooding and high river levels. This was the first time we had heard of a waterfall being closed due to… water!

So we headed to the Brazilian side instead. There aren’t as many trails and viewing platforms on the Brazilian side but you do get an amazing view of the entire landscape of huge waterfalls. The spray and mist from these falls was everywhere and in combination with the rain from above there was water up, down and all around.

Water water everywhere

Iguazú literally means Big (guazú) Water (i) in Guarani and i have certainly never seen a waterfall more impressively thunderous and voluble. Despite the bad weather and long journeys this sight alone made our trip to the north worthwhile.

Bigwater, Brazil

Wet but happy

Tired and wet we decided to treat ourselves to the expensive buffet offered at the tourist restaurant at the end of the falls. It would have been unaffordable had we not negotiated a 40 per cent discount (it’s amazing how many seemingly set prices are negotiable when you’re travelling). And we made the most of it revisiting the buffet bar at least five times each (much to the amusement of the ladies on the adjacent table) and ensuring we wouldn’t have to spend money on food for the rest of the day.

Why have one dessert when you can have four!

That night we swapped rooms hoping to get some peaceful slumber. But Iguazú’s local yoof had other ideas and used the ‘quiet’ street outside our window as their personal drag racing track. It sounded like The Fast and the Furious, only using beat-up 1980s gas-guzzling pick-up trucks rather than tricked out sports cars.

After four hours of interrupted sleep we got ready for our day on the Argentine side of the falls. But it was bad news again, as not only were some of the viewing platforms closed but the viewing boats were not running as the tides were too high. Foiled by water again.

We spent the rest of the day grumpy with each other and not even a good steak could clear the dark clouds from our thoughts, and especially not the skies. But our moods were brightened that evening with another fine Italian meal (at least we were on a roll with Italian food).

Once again our sleep suffered as the Jesuit/Guaraní Vin Diesels ripped it up on our street. And once again we were given bad news in the morning as we were told that the boats and the best viewing platform were shut. This was our last day in the north so we headed to the falls anyway.

It was still an extremely impressive sight and wholly worth the visit, although I’m sure it is even more impressive with a blue sky backdrop. Our moods were also lifted by the site of an aging hippy taking photos and videos of his 20-year-old girlfriend in what can only be described as soft-porn poses. Wearing just a see through boob tube and bikini bottoms she would sashay as close to the waterfall as the platform would allow and then turn dripping wet with her best sultry pose for the camera. And all this to the amazement of the gathering crowd.

Waterfall porn

We left the Iguazú Falls happy to have seen the most impressive waterfalls in the world but sad at what we might have seen on a sunny day.

But I was determined to make amends for our disappointment. I marched up to the park ranger and demanded our money back (I wasn’t at all angry but I certainly pretended to be). He spoke not one word of English which I think worked in my favour. There are signs everywhere saying no refunds will be offered once you go inside the park. But I’m pretty sure he thought that I was complaining before having entered and he proceeded to give us all our money back. It was a welcome ray of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy week.

Where does all the water come from?

The dot with waving arms is indeed Manna


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