Our month in Buenos Aires went by in the blink of an eye and we left the city this week with several things left undone. But leaving things undiscovered means there is always a good reason to return, and with that pleasant prospect in mind, we set off a few days ago for Puerto Iguazu in Missiones province, gateway to the Iguazu Falls.
Like all good flashpackers, we declined the 21-hour bus ride and decided to fly to Iguazu. Most domestic flights depart from Jorge Newbery Airport on the edge of Buenos Aires, 20 minutes in a taxi from Palermo.
The one-hour flight with LAN was remarkable in that everything was very good, completely shattering my illusions of what domestic air travel in South America would be like.
The flight left on time, the seats were spacious and comfy and a little snack box with cheesy nibbles, alfajores and a sweet berry biscuit from local brand Havana was more than expected on a short flight.
Quite how I managed to circumnavigate South America by bus in 2003/4 is mystery I put down to the frivolity of youth.
Puerto Iguazu is a frontier town that shares borders with Brazil and Paraguay. At the confluence of the Iguazu and Parana rivers, the closest points of each country are just a few hundred metres apart on opposing sides of the rivers.
Twenty kilometres upstream from the triple frontier is the reason this corner of Argentina is one of the most visited outside of Buenos Aires: Iguazu Falls, or Las Cataratas as they are known on the Brazillian side of the border.
The Iguazu Falls are without equal in the world of aquatic awesomeness. Some 275 individual waterfalls follow the bends and crevices in the river canyon, forming a curtain of water that stretches for more than two kilometres.
At the head of the series of falls is the ‘Garganta del Diablo’ – the Devil's Throat – a vast, horseshoe shaped cataract whose thunderous waters fill the invisible hollow with an impenetrable mist, so you can only imagine the frothy chaos below.
Clouds of spray rise up from the void and drift across the deceptively placid waters at the top of the falls, like smoke from an underground fire.
Swallows make their homes in the walls of the cliffs behind plumes of water, and they can be seen darting in and out of the rock-face.
Below, dozens more waterfalls follow the river as it drops further down into calmer waters flanked by high canyon walls. Many have names – San Martin, Dos Hermanas, Chico and Los Tres Mosqueteros, to name a few – and it's possible, while staring open-mouthed, to pick out different characteristics of each.
The falls should ideally be viewed from both sides of the border. The Brazilian side offers a more panoramic view of the entire spectacle, with a 1.2km trail leading from the bottom of the falls all the way up to the edge of the Devil's Throat.
On the Argentine side, two distinct boardwalks bring visitors up close to the falls. The upper trail allows you to view several waterfalls from above, with a series of lookout points that inspire moments of profound awe at the natural world that will have you holding on tightly to your other half.
The lower trail brings you close the bottom of other falls, including the boiling cauldron of San Martin, which gives you a good soaking.
All manner of tropical flora and fauna abound in the dense vegetation that lines the boardwalks. Toucans with bright orange beaks flit through the trees, and skittish lizards scurry into the underbrush. Capuchin monkeys can sometimes be seen along the Macuco Trail – a 3.5km path through the jungle to another fall – but we don't see any during the sweaty hike.
But the favourite animal in the park must be the coati. These fearless, scavenging mammals look like a cross between a badger and a raccoon, with pointed snouts, powerful hind legs that allow them to stand upright, and big bushy tails in black and brown stripes.
Troops of coatis can be found all over the park, usually near food, but sometime you come across a group lounging in the branches of trees. Their furry coats and curious characters make coatis a friendly looking bunch, but be warned, they bite.
Still on the Argentine side, a train takes visitors on a wide arc around the falls, to a kilometre-long boardwalk, stretching out over the Devil's Throat. Standing above the rushing cataract, it's impossible not to shudder at the thought of going headlong over the edge and down into oblivion.
The quintessential Iguazu experience – available on either side of the border – is a speedboat ride to the base of the falls. We took a ride on the Brazilian side of the border, where we stayed at the Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas – the only hotel within the gates of the park on the Brazilian side.
Among the perks of staying in this wonderful 1958 hotel is the fact that outside the official park opening hours (from 8-5) guests are the only people inside the park, which means they can stroll along the promenade without battling with coach loads of other tourists.
Reaching the speedboats – semi-rigid zodiacs packed with two massive engines – required a short ride through the tropical forest in an open-top electric jeep, then a short walk through the forest.
As we set off on the latter portion of the journey, the light below the forest canopy quickly faded to near black and a tropical downpour of biblical proportions began, soaking everything and everyone to the bone. It was brilliant.
By the time we reached the boats we might as well have swum up the river, such was our state of soaking. There followed a high-speed journey up-river, through swirling eddies and frothy water, to the base of Los Tres Mosqueteros, where the captain of our trusty ship proceeded to plough the vessel straight into the maelstrom.
There were probably cries of glee from the 22 passengers on board, but they were lost in the roar of the water that crashed down upon us, as we went in for a second soaking.
Iguazu remains for me one of the most awesome – in the literal sense of the word – natural wonders on the planet. Revisiting it served only to remind me of what I learned 11 years ago: that in the face of the raw power and beauty of nature, man seems terribly insignificant.