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Published: December 10th 2008
A brief burst of activity in amongst the general lull in Buenos Aires (to be blogged separately) was a quick visit to Iguazu Falls on the border between Argentina and Brazil. The falls were one of the very few natural wonders in South America that I'd actually heard about before reading the RG, due to them being arguably the most famous natural sight on the continent. Having seen numerous photos of them, I was intrigued as to whether they would be an anti-climax or if they'd deliver.
There isn't a great deal to see or do in the area in which the falls sit other than visit the falls themselves, so I concocted a schedule that would involve me spending more time on buses getting between Buenos Aires and Puerto Iguazu and back than on actual waterfall-spotting. Part of this was also due to an expectation that the climate near the falls, which lie ~1,200km north of Buenos Aires in a jungle area, would be most unappealing hence a quick in and out would suffice. Given that time is something I have plenty of, it was a little irritating that this carefully thought-through plan didn't quite come off. I also
realised just before departing for the falls that I had missed my sister C at Iguazu by barely 48 hours - we've spent much of the last decade on different continents, yet by not consulting her tour schedule until too late I'd scuppered the chance of a rare meet-up.
The Argentinian side of the falls deserves a day in its own right, as there are several walking trails and viewpoints to be experienced, allowing close-ups of the falls as well as a chance to ramble in the jungle. I started my day with the longest of these, a level wander culminating in a feeble (by Iguazu standards) cascade that gave no hint of what it was the warm-up act for. I'd been hoping to see some wildlife on this jaunt, in particular coatis and anteaters, maybe even a toucan, but it seemed as though anything larger than a butterfly stayed out of sight. Still, the selection of butterflies was impressive, with them having no qualms in alighting on passing tourists.
Next I tackled the Upper Trail, a series of boardwalks crossing the width of the Iguazu River just metres from where it plunges over the lip of the
Bossetti waterfall, Upper Trail
falls. Though this gave me my first sighting of what I'd come here for, I'd already sensed its presence via the amazing rumble that had been in my ears before starting the trail - the sound of 270-odd separate waterfalls transporting thousands of cubic metres of water per second over drops averaging 60 metres in height. Progressing along the trail, to my right was the innocuous flow of the Iguazu River, a stretch of water notable only for its width, and to my left the creation of frothing madness as those very same waters thundered down to the basin below, to be smashed into droplets that then drifted upwards on clouds of misty spray. A photo can capture the scale of Iguazu and perhaps some of its fury, but it can never present to the viewer the sound of the falls, the incredible motion of these vast quantities of water, and the gentle kiss of the spray. The Lower Trail gave me a different perspective on the scene, in particular the best panoramic views available from within Argentina.
I then took the Ecological Jungle Train to the Garganta del Diablo trailhead. The Garganta del Diablo, or Devil's Throat, is
Devil's Throat Trail
the most imposing example at Iguazu of the power of the falls, a horseshoe cliff over which water pours with such violence that the bottom is permanently obscured by thick clouds of spray which, by way of compensation, are a perfect environment for the existence of rainbows. It's awesome, in the truest sense of the word.
The boat access-only Isla San Martin was closed due to recent rain having raised the river level too high, and I passed on the opportunity to take a drenching dinghy ride near the falls, but it was still near closing time when I finally left the park and boarded the standing room-only bus back to Puerto Iguazu.
The town of Puerto Iguazu is small and quiet, though most of the people I saw dining out were gringos and there were plenty of carved wooden toucans and other Iguazu-related memorabilia for sale in its streets. The reception guy at my hostel remarked that he much preferred Puerto Iguazu to his original home, Buenos Aires, though he lamented the double standard that meant one was expected to dress formally for church even in the 40+ degrees Centrigrade of summer, yet incest was rife. This
was news to me, as was his subsequent statement that this behaviour was entirely due to the Paraguayan influence in the region.
The following day I headed to Brazil in order to see the falls from the Brazilian side, a theoretically shorter experience due to there being much less in the way of walking trails there. Unfortunately my research had clearly not been the greatest as my expectations of journey length and border formalities were totally wrong - in particular I had to have my passport stamped in/out on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides (I'd read that the Brazilians didn't care about day-trippers), which contributed to it taking the best part of 2.5 hours to get to the start of the trail in Brazil, which was an hour longer than I'd thought. Thus I had just 45 minutes to spend before having to head back into Argentina in order to avoid missing my bus back to Buenos Aires from Puerto Iguazu. This wasn't sufficient to see the whole trail, sadly, though I did appreciate the excellent panoramic views, and the non-appearance of the international bus back to Puerto Iguazu meant I ended up having to take a taxi
instead. If you're reading this in advance of a trip to Iguazu, then take note.
There was certainly no shortage of tourists at Iguazu but, like the Perito Moreno glacier, the falls transcended the crowds and had a presence that one could hardly not be moved by. The scale and energy in such natural settings is immense and humbling. Iguazu Falls is most definitely one of Mother Nature's signature works.
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