To please me, Debbie has agreed to come to Iguazu Falls. Sitting on the border of Brazil and Argentina and only a stone’s throw from Paraguay, the mighty Iguazu Falls are the most overwhelmingly magnificent in all of South America. Even Debbie was impressed and had to admit to enjoying herself immensely. For those who have been before, you know that it is an experience that will live in the memory forever brought back to life every time you spot even the smallest trickle of water falling over the smallest of drops. If you have never visited the falls, get off your backside and experience one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular creations. The falls are astounding.
The Rio Iguazu (I is Guarani for big and guazu is water) rises in the hills where we have just completed our railway journey and wanders inland receiving water from 30 rivers as it crosses the plateau before turning toward the sea, crashing over the falls, and joins the Rio Parana 20km downstream before flowing into the Río de la Plata. From a distance of 10km, the forest looks as if it is on fire as the cloud of spray reaches up to the heavens and the noise of the roar of the detonating water is constantly in the background.
Eleanor Roosevelt apparently remarked ‘poor Niagara’ when she first saw the falls (they are 4 times wider) and viewed from below, the tumbling water is majestically beautiful in its setting of begonias, orchids, ferns and palms. Toucans, flocks of parrots and caique birds and great dusky swifts dodge in and out along with myriad butterflies.
The sheer scale of the falls is the first thing that strikes. Spread across 2.5km and made up of 275 individual cascades, some very large, others only running during the wet season, 200 million litres of water each second jump off the top of the river and plunge up to 80 metres into shallow water below. The spray from the explosion of water rises above the falls, turns into cloud in which the sun creates blazing rainbows and drifts away across the sub tropical forest. Temperatures can reach 45c in the summer and, together with humidity that can reach 100%, if the spray from the falls does not give a soaking the weather will instead.
We experienced the falls from the Brazilian side first. The waters turned deep red by the volume of recent rain; we walked a man made pathway across the top of Salto Santa Maria where we could look up at the power of Salto Floriano and down to the beginning of the gorge. We only caught glimpses of the base through the spray but, looking up, it was impossible not to think that we were about to get washed away by the immense volume of water falling towards us.
On the Argentinean side, there is an even longer walkway that took us out to the very edge of Salto Union, the largest of the falls, where it plunges into the Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil). So called because the local Indians seeing the spray assumed it was smoke and thought that there can be no smoke without fire and no fire without the devil. Often, the top of the falls here are obliterated by the updraft of winds that drive the spray way into the sky and when the wind shifts slightly we get drenched. The experience is exhilarating and wonderful – who cares for a little soaking in this magical place? The main task is to keep the camera dry! It’s difficult not to feel the excitement and impatience of the little child as we cannot wait to see the next wonderful waterfall and we have to make ourselves stop and enjoy every moment.
Our guide, a young chap called William (good Brazilian name) keeps wanting to stop to point out flora and fauna as we tour the falls. I have never been less interested in either. Having moved away from one Salto, I want to get to the next in double quick time and I could not care less about cappuchino monkeys, coati (a sort of raccoon), teiu (big lizards) or any other living thing. He sometimes comes out with amusingly irrelevant information: ‘this walkway is 1,100m long and will take 15 minutes to walk’. Not today it won’t matey. Today Usain Bolt could not cover the distance quicker. I want to tape up his mouth with a plaster and only remove it when I want to know something.
One of the best viewing areas is along a path known as the Circuito Inferior (lower pathway) along which we view the falls from below. Here, it is possible to experience the power, volume and weight of water spilling off the summit of the falls. Here, also we abandon any attempt to remain dry as the stiff breezes, born of the strength of the falls, drives water into every part of our bodies. This part of the falls is called Dos Hermanas (two sisters) and the noise and anger of the river can only resemble two women arguing.
Now that we are thoroughly soaked, we got on a jet rib that took us along the river and right up close to the base of the cascades. William informs us that we will get 101% soaked. But as we are already 100% soaked who cares about an extra 1%? Driving the rib at full power against the onrushing stream, the pilot took us to the very edge of the falling river. I tried to look up to the top of the fall above us but it was impossible to keep my eyes open for more than a moment such was the denseness of the water and spray that completely enveloped the whole craft. Having idled under the falls for what seemed like an eternity, the driver backed off to allow us to breathe air again and the boat to empty of river water. Then we went back again a second and third time in case we had not fully appreciated the experience the first time.
When we finally managed to return to terra firma, we went scavenging for lunch, finding a not-too-busy place for a sandwich where we could drip dry. However, the weather had the last laugh when, just as we finished eating, the skies opened and a torrent of rain every bit as intensely wet as the waterfalls fell on us and we reached our hotel looking as if we had swum all the way from London. But we cared not a jot. It had been a wonderful, magical experience and one with which we will bore our friends (if we have any left) for years to come!
The only downside to the experience was the hotel (Sheraton). Wonderfully positioned on the Argentine side and looking straight at the falls, it looks like a building completed in the late 60s or early 70s and gone through numerous part refurbishments ever since. Thus, the bar area was plush and very comfortable but it was a fight to open any of the doors and the sliding windows only opened if I swore at them. In addition, the hotel was full of large middle aged Brits and Americans on trips with large tour operators. We tried to pretend we were Martians so as not to be associated with them. In fact the whole National Park area got really busy with visitors (day trippers and sightseers mostly) who blocked walkways, took interminable photos of each other and were generally very irritating getting in our way. How thoughtless of them. We have not come across such numbers of people outside of a city before.