Where the word ´water-FALL´ takes on a whole new meaning...
30.09.2012 - 03.10.2012 18 °C
I really love the overnight, long-distance busses here. Just like the overnight ski trains in Europe, you hit the sack and - if you sleep well - next thing you know you're in a brand new place hundreds and hundreds of miles further. And these busses are so comfortable, you usually CAN sleep well, even if there is a screaming infant (as was the case here) on board. Thank God for ear plugs! We awoke at dawn to a completely different landscape - lush, green and tropical with palm trees all around growing out of the most incredibly rich and vibrant red earth. The closest thing I´ve ever seen to the colour was in the heart of Georgia, and even that pales in comparison. Everything was shrouded in a mysterious, early-morning mist which - thank goodness - quickly started to dissolve into clear-looking skies. The weather forecast for the area had been getting worse over the previous days, and this day looked to be the last dry one for some time. You really want sun when visiting something like Iguazu Falls, so we were determined to make the most of every minute. We arrived at the bus station at 08:00, took a cab to the hostel, dumped our backpacks, and grabbed one of the earliest busses heading out to the falls.
They're located right at the Argentinia and Brazil border, where a number of rivers come together from a variety of different directions. There they converge and spill over at a huge, roughly horseshoe-shaped canyon that covers almost two miles in length and in places is twice as deep as Niagra Falls. You can visit the falls in both countries, and each gives you completely different views and experiences - Argentenia for how close you get to the individual falls and Brazil for the biggest overview you get of them all. We planned to do both.
On arriving, we got a map at the visitor's centre and oriented ourselves as to how we would go about exploring. On the Argentina side, there are three different routes - an upper boardwalk trail that takes you over the top of the falls to about 1/3 of the way along the "horseshoe" as it bends towards the Brazilian side, a lower one that runs along the bottom of a big gully at the very beginning of the Argentinian side, and a train that takes you out to the very top of the horseshoe bend, where you walk along a one-mile boardwalk to get to "Devil's Throat" - the most stupendous area of falling water. After hearing that the light at the latter was best in the afternoon, we decided to do everything in that order, and set off along the Upper Trail.
I'd read up on the place beforehand, studied maps and seen photos, but nothing - nothing - can prepare you for the reality of Iguazu Falls. Even when you see them, it seems they almost can´t be real - as if they are something from another, better, more paradise-like planet. For those who have seen the movie "Avatar" - remember how gobsmacked everyone was by the first glimpse they got of the Misty Mountains? It was just like that, and I would not be surprised if James Cameron hadn't been here and gotten inspiration from Iguaza. Ditto Roger Dean and his famous album cover for Yes.
We wandered along the upper trail with our mouths open. Although it was rather busy (this is one place I WOULD have been delighted to have all to ourselves) we managed to pace ourselves in between the tour groups, and had relative tranquility in which to soak up the amazing sight of approximately 275 (count 'em - someone apparently has - from the multiple modest sprays to massive Devil's Throat) waterfalls thundering down as far as they eye can see, with toucans and parrots flying overhead in the fine, constant spray of the mist they send up. As you walk along, you constantly encounter coaties (pronounced co-AH-tees), playful creatures about the size of a small dog that look like a cross between an adorable fox and a large squirrel. They are not shy of people at all, and run right by your feet, or along the boardwalk hand right next to you!
Upper trail awesomeness
By the time we got back to the central area where the (circular) upper and lower trails meet, I was dazed - and starving! We hadn't had a decent breakfast, so decided to share a sandwich and potato chips at a snack bar there before starting on the lower trail. There were even more coaties gambolling around there, and lots of signs by the outdoor tables warning you to watch your food, as they might try to snatch it. So when I came out with my cling-wrapped salami and cheese sandwich, cup of coke and tube of Pringles (gah, fake potato chips - I know - but Gerard REALLY wanted chips and those were all they had) I was anticipating some cute begging - but NOT the Vicious Attack of the Ravenous Zombie Coaties that took place!!!
It started innocently enough. As I made my way to the table with our tray, a group quickly started gathering around. As I placed the tray down and picked up the Pringles to hand to Gerard, I thought (obviously way too much Disney in my life), "Oh, I need to get my camera out and take pictures of this cute, hopeful ring of little animals around us", and at that very second a huge coati LEAPT up halfway across the table, and started scrabbling at the sandwich trying to drag it off the table! Without thinking, I whirled the Pringles tube and whacked him over the head with it. That threw him for a loop, but he still managed to drag the saran wrap and top layer of the sandwich bread with him when he went down.
From that moment on, it was a test of will and nerves. Aside from the fact that the group kept getting bigger (and, I swear to God, they got more red-eyed and drooly-mouthed by the minute), there were two other full-blown attacks on our food. The first one was quickly parried, but the second completely upset my glass of coke. We then immediately decided to move to another - more distant - table, and from there we watched how an increasingly bigger swarm of coatis moved in and, hissing and aggressively squabbling, sucked up every last drop on the table and ground like Coca-Cola vampire junkies. They may look cute, but when there is food around, those beasts are fucking SCARY!
Evil coaties showing their true colours!!!
After that, we were glad to escape to the lower trail. It goes all the way down to the river that emerges from the falls and, aside from a completely different viewpoint, also offers you the opportunity (at an exhorbitant price) for the most up-close waterfall experience you can get - a small boat that goes up each side of the horseshoefter and drives right into the foot of one of the falls on each side. I don´t think I have every so fully and completely understood the meaning of Water-FALL before! You see one from a distance and think - "Oh, isn´t that beautiful?" - but I´m starting to have a suspicion that your brain somehow interprets it as a repeat loop that´s just going round and round and round. But when it is coming down almost on top of you, there is absolutely no mistaking what is going on. That water is bloody FALLING, and with such astonishing force and quantities that it is utterly mind boggling.
Boat heading in (lower right) to get ´dipped´in the falls
Afterwards, soaked to the skin (but quickly drying off thanks to the still very warm and sunny day) we got on the train to Devil's Throat. After a 15-minute ride, we got off to find ourselves amidst some of the biggest swarms of butterflies I´ve ever seen. Was there no end to the magic of this place? No... Devil´s Throat was still waiting for us. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Iguazu some 80 years ago and stood next to Devil's Throat, she stared in silence for a few minutes, and only said, "Poor Niagra".
I second the sentiment. Not only is that particular fall the most amazing display of water at work I have ever seen, it is flanked by even more astonishing falls on either side that you can only view from this curve of the horseshoe or from the Brazilian side. Which is what we also did just two days later. We stayed an extra day in the small town of Puerto de Iguazu in Argentina to visit one of the world´s biggest hydroelectric dams. Interesting enough, but I´m afraid Iguazu Falls is a VERY hard act for any mere man-made waterworks to follow. From Puerto de Iguazu to the city of Foz do Iguacu (Brazil) it´s just an hour or so. We took a public bus that dropped us off at a kind of no-man´s land at the border where we went through the passport formalities and caught the next bus that came through going on to the city.
The bad weather was catching up with us, and it looked a little threatening the next morning, but nothing could keep us from another rendezvous with the falls. The Brazilian side WAS indeed quite different. The paths you can walk are not nearly as extensive, and you get nowhere near as close to Devil´s Throat. You need at least half a day to cover the whole place in Argentina, and Brazil only requires a couple hours. However you DO get a much better and more comprehensive overview of the whole waterfall ecosphere. You can really only comprehend it completely once you´ve been to both.
Our second viewing experience was made even more different by the weather. It started rather low and threatening, but at a certain point we got treated to a full blown downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. Very dramatic! We took shelter in a snack bar, and continued on after it abated -the sun even started coming out again!
There are very few places I have ever left so reluctantly. I know the chance is very small I will ever visit Iguazu again, and as we were slowly making our way out, I kept turning back again for another (and another) ´last´ look.
My last *sniff* glimpse..
I wrote back in August that the Inca Trail more than lived up to my expectations. Iguazu more or less shattered them, because there is simply no way anyone could imagine the reality of this. But even if this was my one and only visit, one thing will always remain. I remember how when we arrived the first day, how I puzzled over the visitor guide map, trying to figure out what was where, how all the trails fit together, and which direction we had to go to get where. But now, after crossing every slat of wood on the boardwalks, after seeing Iguazu from above and below, and every possible angle (including looking up in fearful exhilaration as the water poured down on me) they are engraved on my memory and heart. I know them, and anytime I ever see a picture again, I will smile and see myself there, knowing exactly the spot from which it was taken. From now on, Iguazu Falls will always - in a way - be ´mine´.