About Claire

Writer. Editor. Start-up cat wrangler. Chicagoan.

Literal Awesomeness: Iguazu Falls

[No one gets to go on an adventure of a lifetime and not tell about it on Go Go Go. Especially not when you’re the former editor-in-chief of said blog. A warm welcome back to Claire, who does her best to describe the indescribable. We miss you, Claire!]

I don’t remember the first time I saw a picture of Iguazu Falls. It was probably on one of those Hundred Places to See Before You Die shows that I tend to nap in front of while visiting my parents for the holidays. But I remember very clearly the first time I saw them in person, first from the plane, circling over twice in rocky air so both sides could get a good view, and then from every conceivable angle of trails and boats as we explored the park for the next two days.

It’s a hard thing to explain, actually seeing a place in person that you’ve dreamed of going to for more than a decade. It’s damn near impossible to explain the literal awesomeness of a massive, mighty force of nature like that. But Brooke has requested that I try.

Iguazu Falls rushes through the corner of South America where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. They are some of the widest, tallest, and most powerful falls in the world, and certainly one of the most visually stunning, erupting from a lush jungle and curving in a huge broken horseshoe formation lined with well-tended trails.

This is a highly touristed national park, so don’t expect a rugged or solitary adventure. It’s two parks, really, although the great trails and views are mainly on the Argentine side, with the Brazilian side requiring a separate visa (this is a relatively new development and one we didn’t know about until it was too late, thus resulting in one annoyed cabbie and two disappointed tourists) to get a wide vista of the whole falls. On the Argentine side, there’s a wide variety of hikes and activities to choose from. I’d recommend doing the tour that includes the boat trip down the river and right under the falls, soaking passengers Maid-of-the-Mist style. It’s a fun adrenaline rush, and you get views you can’t see from land. Any other tour, though, including the rides through the jungle, aren’t really worth the extra cost. You won’t see any animals with a rumbling truck carting you around, and the tour guides are adequate but nothing special.

Plan to take two days to see the park. If you save your ticket from Day 1, you can pay half price on Day 2 (check back with the ticket desk before you leave the park on Day 1). It’s a huge place, all of the trails are worth walking, and you don’t want to rush yourself. You’re going to want to just stand in the majesty of these falls for a long time. With two days, you can easily explore everything without overextending yourself.

And overextending is easy to do. While the trails aren’t steep and they’re all well-maintained, this is a humid tropical area, and the heat can get intense. Bring a hat and gallons of sunscreen and water to keep yourself safe, and plan to get to the park right when it opens so you can avoid the worst heat of the day. I definitely overdid it on the first day, when the temperature was about 95 with not a single cloud to interrupt the sun, and I wound up feeling headache-y and queasy for the rest of the afternoon.

Also, remember that this is a rainforest. It rains here, a lot! And that’s actually fantastic. Don’t be scared of it. Bring a poncho and go anyway. It rained on our second day, and it meant that a) the park was less crowded b) it was less hot, which added together meant c) there were more animals to see. Because, again, this is such a highly touristed area, there’s not a ton in the way of animal sightings, but on Day 2 we saw two caimans, a river turtle, a flock of gorgeous blue birds, two vultures, and several families of coatis. (Watch out for these guys–they’re basically tropical raccoons, which is to say, vicious thieves. But super cute!)

You’ll notice that nowhere in this story do I really describe seeing the falls themselves. And that’s because I can’t. I’m a decent writer, but here, words fail me. They were, truly, indescribable. I was overwhelmed with their beauty and power. All I can say is, Go. Or if waterfalls aren’t your thing, figure out what place seems amazing in pictures and go see that. Trust me: the pictures never do it justice.

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The Only Advice You Need: Go (With Your Gut)

Please check out this article from xojane about traveling alone, and a frightening and potentially dangerous thing that happened to a lady-person, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–read all the way to the end where writer and traveler Carmen Brito sums up what is really the only travel advice you need.

“Be cautious, and go with your gut if something seems wrong, but don’t be afraid to be in unfamiliar territory. I wish this wasn’t the world we live in, but it is, and it can be truly incredible if you go out and explore it. The rest of my trip was amazing. One person tried to harm me, but dozens of others were kind and generous.”

This is the best advice for any person of any gender, whether alone or with a group, going anywhere in the world or, for that matter, staying home. The world is a real place where the occasional bad and scary thing can happen. But usually, mostly, the world is a real place where amazing and beautiful and surprising and funny things happen. So be wise, be cautious. But don’t be scared. There’s too much world out there to be scared of it.

With that final bit of advice, I’m off to Argentina. And this, I’m sad to say, will be my last trip as editor-in-chief around these parts. Life is getting to be extremely life-y, and I can’t make the time to be as involved in Go Go Go as I want to be. I leave you in the capable hands of Brooke and Laura, who will do us all proud.

Thanks, all. Happy travels!

Moving: The Worst Type of “Go”-ing

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I have, a couple of times in my life, met people who loved moving. They did it every year. Never did they renew a lease or settle in to a space. The idea of purchasing property never entered their minds. They always wanted to be on to the next.

Those people are insane.

Much as I love to travel, I also love having a safe, comfortable home to return to. I see a good space, whether apartment or condo, make a decision very quickly whether it is right for me or not, and then I nest. I don’t have a lot of stuff, but I like the stuff I have, in the arrangements I have it, and I especially love the comfort that comes with being able to walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water in the dark half-awake without hitting any walls or breaking a glass.

However. There is this dude I want to shack up with. He is too smart to want to live in my neighborhood (although, as loyal readers know, I have a great affection for it). So moving must be done, after a solid four and a half year run of not-moving.

It’s happening fairly quickly, because we found an amazing apartment that we had to snag fast, just a couple miles away, in the heart of the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. Which means that in the space of about a week, movers must be scheduled, sorting and cleaning must be done, boxes gathered, dishes packed, etc. My house is completely upside-down at the moment. Every bag that I’ve ever taken anywhere in the world–the huge backpack that I lived out of for two months in Europe, the tiny overnight bag that I toss in the overhead compartment for weekends in New York–is stuffed full of every possession that I’m not just throwing out because I can’t face carting it down the stairs, down the street, and up the stairs again.

I love almost all forms of going places, but not this particular one. It’s stressful in the logistical details and the physical work, but it’s also stressful in the emotional sense, if one must admit to having feelings. I’m excited for a new adventure, but it’s also hard to leave the place that, as I’ve said before, is the first place that’s truly felt like my home. But going to new places and doing new things is what we’re all about here. Because you never know which new place is going to wind up being your favorite.

How to: Go Out in the Cold

Holy bananas it’s cold out there. Literally every single Chicago-adjacent-living person I know has agreed that this is the worst winter that has ever had to be endured. A lot of the response to this has been for us to just not leave our homes ever. But sometimes, going out is unavoidable. Here’s how I manage it.

1) Under-layer: Sweater tights and knee socks on the bottom, undershirt on the top. Plus obviously all the other things I usually wear under my clothes that you don’t need to read about on the Internet.

2) Regular layer: This is commonly known as “Just your regular clothes; don’t go around naked, dummy.” Important factors to consider are that I’m wearing tights under my jeans, so my skinniest jeans don’t work, and I want my top to involve some warm sweatery thing, because while my office looks cool with its huge bank of windows, that actually just means it’s really cold all the time. (This is why we all got snuggies as Christmas presents this year.)

3) Outer layer: Snow boots. I adore mine, from Baretrap. They’re incredibly warm and comfortable (and cute, if I do say so myself), and they’re reasonably waterproof, although if you go ankle-deep into a puddle, you’re sort of out of luck no matter what. Coat, of course. I can’t bring myself to buy one of the ginormous sleeping-bag coats that many Chicago women swear by, including our own art director, but I do have a nice warm wool coat with a huge hood to keep the wind off. My gloves are cheapie convertible glove-mitten combos from Target, but it means I can use my El pass, keys, and phone without taking off my mittens, and they also have long-ish sleeves tucked under my sweater sleeves so my wrists don’t get cold. I also have a silly but warm fur-lined trapper hat, ear flaps down, of course, and brim pulled down over my forehead. And then I wrap a big Irish wool scarf under my coat and pull it up over my nose. So I have just my eyes exposed.

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Cute, no? Well, maybe not. But I am warm. And while I did have some frost on my eyelashes by the time I got to the El today, I did not lose a limb, and I did not whine *that* much. And I consider that a victory against the elements.

On Being Uncool

I know you guys are going to be super surprised to hear this, but I often feel very uncool. I know, someone admitting to her own strangeness and anxiety on the internet! It’s a brand new thing.

Anyway, for this upcoming trip to Buenos Aires, an undoubtedly cool city, I’m a little worried. There are a couple of things that I want to do that I feel like I might not be cool enough for.

1) Checking out one of their no-longer-underground puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, where chefs host pop-up-style prix-fixe dinners in their own homes or other unusual spaces. I assume that everyone who attends these dinners will speak at least three languages, dress in clothes by designers who I’ve never heard of, and will be literal fashion models. I will probably just spill soup on myself and leave still hungry.

2) Dancing tango. Oof. I cannot dance. At. All. I took one tango lesson one time from a friend’s girlfriend, and I wound up confusing which leg I was moving at any given time. I also have less of a sense of rhythm than most toddlers. Also: I assume that the same literal fashion models in beautiful clothes will follow us from dinner to milonga. Yes, I know that there are tango classes and dances that are specifically for uncool tourists like me, but going to one of those would be admitting that I’m one of those awful uncool people. And I just don’t wanna.

Being uncool won’t stop me from doing these things, but they will make me feel all wonky before, during, and after. And that wonkiness will then become part of the experience, too.

How to: Make a Boring Trip Fun

On Saturday, Mike and I had to drive to literally the middle of nowhere. He had to meet someone he works with to hand off a hard drive, and they decided to meet at a gas station off the highway halfway between their houses. I went with, because I had nothing else to do on a cold Saturday morning.

But of course, a drive to a gas station off the highway in Summit, Illinois, is not exciting in either the journey or the destination.

Unless… you pretend that you’re in a spy thriller.

Now it’s possible that this won’t work for every boring trip. Maybe if you’re just going to your second cousin’s dry wedding, it won’t help. But we were carrying a hard drive (which might have had government secrets on it instead of some video of a dude golfing) to a discreet location to meet a shadowy (read: not at all shadowy) contact. So there was much talk about code words (“The falcon has the football”) and also gangster/spy-guy nicknames for both of us.

This became extra important when we got to the gas station and waited, in the parking lot in the snow, for about half an hour. Everyone else in that gas station parking lot appeared to be there to meet a man about something or other. One couple was possibly selling the car they arrived in. They were definitely doing something that involved signing some paperwork with another couple. Another woman was there to hand over her daughter to what we were assuming was her grandmother and not just a white slaver. Everyone was just waiting in cars for something to happen. Watching. And waiting.

We waited in vain, in the end. Our contact never showed. But still, we had a little bit of fun with it, even if we never got to pass the football.

 

Girls, Going!

You all know we’re fans of Going around here, just in the general sense, anywhere and anyway you might like to Go. You know, also, that we who run this joint are Girls, specifically in the sense of being females of few responsibilities, not in the sense of being children nor the subjects of an HBO show. You know, finally, that we like things with the initials GGG. (Yes, that too.) So, of course, now that we know they exist, we are fans of Go! Girl Guides.

I was tipped off to these guides by a great little interview over at The Hairpin (of which we are also fans) with the founder of Go! Girl Guides, Kelly Lewis. She explains how she got her start traveling, how she decided to write travel books (it came to her in a dream, which is insane and also perfect), and some of her best advice for women travelers (including my own personal favorite, “For the Love Of God, Don’t Get Drunk”).

Go! only has a few guidebooks out so far–not surprising for a young and small company–but their blog is well-updated with interesting tidbits from all over the world. Want to learn how to tell someone to buzz off in Greek? Wondering about birth control options while you’re on the road? Go! Girl blog has the info you crave.

As part of her mission to get more women traveling, Lewis is starting the Women’s Travel Fest this year. It’s March 8 in New York, if you’re so inclined. I think every human should take as many opportunities to travel as possible, but it does feel true-ish that women do so less than men, because they’re more afraid, more vulnerable, more Type A, less wealthy or spendthrifty, or whatnot. So spending a day and a website focusing just on encouraging women to get out into the world more is a noble effort.

Lady readers, thoughts? (Dude readers, your thoughts are also acceptable.) Does gender-specific travel advice make sense to you?