I was up early. Too early. I knew Marilu was being cautious and although I tried to convince her that I didn't need to be at the airport three hours before my flight even though it was international and that is what the airlines recommend, but she was insistent. And so I was up at the butt crack of dawn to catch the collectivo to the airport, which is much more economical than taking a taxi. So I had plenty of time to kill at the airport. In fact, my airline didn't even open it's check in counters until an hour after I arrived.
Today was spent primarily in transit, flying from Santiago to BA and then BA to Puerto Iguazu, with a 3 hour layover in between. Unfortunately not really enough time to leave the airport and explore. The upside, I got to watch the Uruguay Football Team run through the terminal, trying to catch their flight home. The downside, Puerto Iguazu is the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls, so that meant a full flight and tons of other tourists, including an American high school rugby team trip. I'm actually quite shocked at how few manners I saw from those boys. Yikes!
But once I landed in Iguazu everything melted away. Suddenly, I finally felt like I was traveling. The airport and city are in the middle of the jungle so it's verdant here and the earth had a rich red tone to it. I had my taxi driver drop me off in the center of town and I went from hostel to hostel until I found something I liked. This was more like it. When I travel like this I'm not used to reservations and plans. I'm used to hopping from city to city on a whim, listening to other travelers for advice on where to go, what to do and where to stay once you're there. I like the adventure, the unknown and the ability to make a decision based on my own insight rather than what I read in the Lonely Planet.
I explored several options, one was more expensive than I wanted to pay, another felt too desolate and in one I walked in, saw three young girls outside smoking look me up and down disparagingly and then look back at each other and I realized that I didn't want to stay at the "cool" hostel where the young girls looked at me like I was OLD. Ugh. When did I get old? I settled on a hostel called "Peter Pan", very near the bus station and an easy walk to the center of town. The owner was welcoming and showed me to a private room near the pool. Perfect.
I set off to explore the town, which is small and quaint but decidedly a tourist trap. Yet the vibe here is very different from any other place I've been on this trip. Perhaps because it's a travelers town. It's more rural and feels culturally different from what I'm used to. It's impossible not to relax here. Most of the restaurants and bars here cater to the tourist trade, focusing on pizza, sandwiches and pasta. When you've been on the road for 9 months and you're living hand to mouth on the travelers budget I get it, but I only have three weeks so I want to opt for something more authentic.
I discovered a small market, just beyond the tourist center of town. Here stalls offer a variety of olives, cheeses, cured meats, wines... Apparently, it's the Brazilian section of town. After wandering through the market I grabbed a table on the street outside one of the stalls. I picked a stall with other people dining there, knowing that the locals always know best. There's no menu, and nothing to guide you so I just pointed to one of the cheese and salami platters on the table next to me and asked for one of those and some wine. That strategy worked out just fine. Soon I was sipping wine on the street and had a small plate of different cheeses, meats and olives stuffed with garlic and salami and cheese on my table. Just enough for one person. It was so good and cheap and perfect. And the best part - I was the only gringa there!