The Lost Girls
Three Friends, Four Continents, One Detour Around the World
By Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner
Copyright © 2011 Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner
All right reserved.
We were surrounded on all sides by an immense curtain
of white water. The cascades heaved over a sheer cliff,
carving jade green pools in the jungle floor of Iguazú National
Park, and drowned out every sound save one: the pounding of
our hiking boots as they tore across the metal viewing platform
at the base of the falls.
Holly, our resident sprinter, led the charge toward the exit,
with Amanda and me sliding right after her. As updrafts of mist
swirled around our feet, we skidded across the final footbridge
and shot up a steep staircase, our labored breathing and laughter
echoing against the basalt rock walls. Slowing slightly to wipe
the spray from my face, I glanced down at my watch. We had
less than ten minutes to make it to the top, or we might be
stranded in Brazil all night.
According to the ranger (who'd raced over seconds earlier to
see why on earth the three crazy American girls were still casually
snapping photos when the park was about to close), there
was only one more shuttle bus leaving that evening. So unless
we'd brought camping gear or a wad of extra cash to bribe the
Brazilian border officials, we'd better be on it. Sure, it would've
been helpful if our taxi driver had mentioned the one hour
time difference between the Argentinean and Brazilian sides of
Iguazú (or Iguaçu) when he semi-illegally transported us across
the border, but hey, where's the fun in that?
We probably should have taken this impending travel
disaster a little more seriously. But considering that we'd all but
signed over our firstborn kids to our bosses in order to take this
little adventure in the first place, we weren't going to let a little
thing like a potential immigration scandal bring us down.
In fact, our escape from New York City a week earlier had
felt like nothing short of a prison break. When Amanda and
I had first told our friends and coworkers that we were planning
to take ten days offin a rowin order to backpack
around Argentina, we were met with some seriously arched
"Wow, I didn't even take more than a week off when I got
married," one acquaintance remarked. "Better hope they don't
fill your jobs before you get back."
Only Holly, another assistant editor who worked with
Amanda at a women's magazine, seemed to share our enthusiastic
attitude about escaping the freezing winter and the endless
projects tethering us to our desks. Even though Holly and I had
met just a few times and couldn't be sure that we'd get along
for a single day on the road, let alone ten, she'd asked only two
questions before anteing up the money for a ticket: "Which
airline are we flying, and when do we leave?" For my part, I was
thrilled to have a new coconspirator in my quest to find a more
authentic "real world" than the one we were about to leave
behind in Manhattan.
After moving to the city nearly four years earlier to take a
job at a national television network, I had been dropped into a
world of claustrophobic apartments, exorbitant rents, fourteen-
hour workdays, mandatory media events, and gospel preachers
Jen Iguazú Falls, Argentina/Brazil Nearly Two Years Earlier
predicting doomsday on the subways. I quickly learned that the
city had spawned a new kind of Darwinian struggle: only the
most career-driven and socially adaptable would survive. In order
to cope with the pressure, people generally took one of two
paths: the first lined with Xanax, therapists, and cigarettes, and
the second with Bikram yoga, feng shui, and green tea.
My personal survival method? Escape. Even now, dripping
with sweat and frantically racing to make it across country lines,
I felt that familiar burst of exhilaration that flooded me every
time I booked an international flight or added a new stamp to
And though it had been a challenge to get on the road in the
first place, Holly, Amanda, and I had done our best to squeeze
every ounce of life from our holiday. We'd arrived a week earlier
in the "Big Apple" of South America, cosmopolitan Buenos
Aires, and filled our time wandering its cobblestone alleys,
savoring sumptuous lomo steak dinners, stuffing our bags with
street market finds, and exhausting ourselves at late-night tango
dancing sessions that lasted until the night sky was slivered with
Although our love affair with the passionate culture and
sultry vibe of B.A. had only just begun, the three of us were ready
to drop even farther away from city life. It was time to head
for the jungle. After a two-hour flight on LAN Peru, our small
plane touched down in the frontier town of Puerto Iguazú and
it was good-bye strappy tango sandals, hello hiking boots.
Glancing down at my own shoes, now filthy from the day's
trek, I was amazed that I was still able to run, much less sprint
up the final flight of stairs. As we finally broke out of the deep
shade of the rain forest and onto the main road, we spotted the
bus fifty yards ahead, packed to the brim with passengers. In a
scene befitting a screwball silver screen comedy, the bus started
to pull away at the exact moment we arrived. Holly, who by now
I'd learned ran marathons for fun, fired up her legs and dashed
even faster, waving a tanned arm above her head as Amanda
and I screamed for the bus to stop. Thank the jungle gods that
we'd popped out into the open when we had, because the driver
somehow noticed us in the rearview mirror and chugged to a
stop. Gasping for breath and dripping wet, we stumbled aboard
and were met by a busload of cheering tourists, all clapping
for our frenetic victory. Collapsing into the only empty seats,
Amanda, Holly, and I passed around the one bottle of water we
had left between us, laughing and congratulating ourselves on
yet another skin-of-our-teeth arrival.
As I chugged another gulp of water and caught my breath,
I realized that I felt happier and more grounded than I had in
months. Suddenly the thought of returning home in a few days
sent a ripple of dread through my body. Unlike Amanda and
Holly, who'd been desperate for a reprieve from their chaotic,
cutthroat magazine jobs, I had recently scored an exciting new
position as a marketing coordinator for a music television channel
that I was eager to resume.
For once in my adult life, my career and living situation were
actually on track, humming right alongbut things with my
relationship weren't going so smoothly. In fact, I was bracing
myself for a potential train wreck.
After I had dated my boyfriend, Brian, for almost three
years, the confidence to shout off the rooftops "Hallelujah! He's
the One!" still eluded me. Though many empathetic souls re-
minded me that I was still young, a growing number of onlookers
had begun to pounce on my uncertainty. "Shit or get off
the pot," they'd say, invoking the single phrase I loathed more
than any other. I mean, maybe I was just comfortable staying in
a seated position longer than other people. Can't a girl simply
enjoy the feel of cool porcelain without being judged?
While my romance with Brian hadn't followed the traditional
cinematic structureboy sees girl, they lock eyes, share
a passionate embrace, and fall head over heels in loveit had
grown out of something stronger: a true friendship. We'd met
at a business lunch halfway through my "freshman year" in
New York. Network television sales assistant meets advertising
clientan industry cliché that always made us laugh. Soon
we grew from casual acquaintances to after-work happy hour
buddies to true confidants who organized late-afternoon photo
shoots in Central Park, signed up for salsa lessons, and dined in
cute garden cafés on Restaurant Row.
Before we knew it, we were a serious couple. And as the
months turned into years, we never had a moment's pause
about progressing naturally from one level to the next.
Becoming Exclusive. Meeting the Parents. Planning Vacations.
Discussing Living Together. I was one of the lucky ones,
shattering the Manhattan urban myth that it was impossible to
find a sweet, gainfully employed city guy who wasn't afraid to
But within the past few months, we'd hit the proverbial
relationship wall. We had no real reason to break up, but also no
real catalyst moving us forward. I knew that Brian and I would
have to face the question of our future eventually, but at twenty-
six (for another precious few months, anyway), I was more than
content to take the safe roadpresent bus ride excluded. As we
neared the park exit, the driver slammed into a pothole, sending
me and my wandering thoughts sliding off the bench and into
Fortunately, the travel deities, it seemed, had decided to cut
us yet another break: in the parking lot, we spotted the same
snoring taxi driver who'd originally transported us across the
border using a series of dusty back roads and convinced him to
do the exact same thing in reverse. A few por favors, 20 Argentine
pesos (about $7), and we were on our way.
Even after our mad dash through the jungle, none of us
were quite ready to call it a night. By the time we'd reached
our hotellocated within the national park on the Argentinean
sideHolly had come up with a better alternative.
Her green eyes glinted, and a mischievous smile crossed her
face. "Hey, so now that we've gained an hour of time back, do
you guys want to hike over to Devil's Throat waterfall? When
I spoke with the concierge this morning, he said it doesn't take
long to get there and the view is the best one."
"I'm definitely down for that. Schmanders?" I asked, invoking
Amanda's college nickname.
"Hey, why not?" she said, sweeping her blond curls off her
neck and into a loose ponytail. "And at least we know we can't
get stranded on this side!"
After smoothing on a fresh layer of sun block (my fair skin
tends to freckle and burn even in the light of sunset), I grabbed
my day pack and we took off running down the trail.
Giddy from our day's adventure, Amanda, Holly, and I theatrically
strutted across another set of Iguazú's elevated catwalks,
following the signs to Garganta del Diablo. We passed over marshy
wetland grasses and under verdant green canopies until we finally
reached the park's main stage. Rather than staring at the thunderous,
driving force of the water from below, this time we were
perched high above the fallsat the same vantage point as the
red breasted toucans we'd seen darting through the rain forest. From
this height, we could take in the full scope of the cascades rushing
over the horseshoe cliff, thundering into a foggy abyss below, and
enveloping us in a perfectly circular ring of rainbows.
"You know, I wouldn't have cared if we'd gotten stranded in
Brazil," said Holly, stretching one of her lean legs along the railing
"I'd take this over opening mail any day of the week."
Amanda grimaced and plopped down next to me on the
bench where I'd settled near the main lookout point. "Let's not
mention work, please? I can't even think about the massive pile
of papers and e-mails waiting to eat me alive when I get back."
"Oh, c'mon, Amanda. You know you'd rather be sitting at
your desk working on that lifesaving article you're doing on . . .
what is it?" I teased her, pulling a half-eaten granola bar out of
my bag for emphasis. "The grooviest snack foods? The most
"The Skinniest New Snack Foods," she said miserably, grabbing
the bar and acting as if she might toss it over the edge.
"But I'd happily eat full-fat foods forever as long as I could do it
here. I bet they don't even have a word for 'deadline' or 'anxiety
attack' in Latin America."
"I'm with you," Holly said, coming over to sit next to us. "But
at least we managed to escape for more than a week. That's way
more than most people get away with. And even if we have to
work until midnight every night for a month, it'll be worth it."
"Yeah, I can't believe we really pulled this off. Especially
you, Hols. I mean, you hadn't even saved up for the trip like Jen
and I did."
Holly shrugged and rolled her eyes playfully. "Well, I figured
eating Luna bars for lunch every day and hiding flasks in
my purse at happy hours was worth the sacrifice."
From what I'd learned about Holly already this week, I had
a feeling she wasn't exaggerating about what she'd had to do
in order to get on the road and travel. Though I'd done my
fair share of scrimping since moving to New York, I'd thankfully
never been in debt. I'd even managed to earmark a small
portion of my modest television salary for overseas vacations.
Holly, on the other hand, had never really had extra money to
spare and had been picking up odd jobsberry picker, cosmetics
color analyst, lead paint poisoning tester, college dorm toilet
scrubber, pizza delivery girlsince she was a kid in order to stay
afloat with her expenses. Yet somehow she'd managed to visit
nearly twice the number of the countries I had, because she'd
either earned study-abroad scholarships or paid for the trips out
of her own pocket. She prioritized adventure and discovery over
stability and structureyet another reason why Amanda and I
were so excited she'd been able to join us at the last minute.
"Do we really have to go back? Can't we just set up camp and
stay?" Amanda pleaded.
"Okay, fine, it's decided," I said, rising to my feet to face the
girls. "We'll build a tree house right here and live like the Swiss
Excerpted from The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner. Excerpted by permission of Harper Paperbacks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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