Falling for Iguazu

Monday, July 05, 2010

Paraguay glowed pink out my window as the sun was setting on my stay in Argentina. I was on a bus for the final stop in the Spanish speaking countries and my final border crossing before flying home. The destination was one of the main reasons I was in South America to begin with: Iguazu Falls. They lie on the border of Argentina and Brazil, an impressive middleman between the two South American superpowers much as Niagara separates Canada and the United States in North America. But while Niagara has a reputation for a soft romantic setting, Iguazu is all Latin: dramatic, passionate, and beautiful. I’m getting ahead of myself. I arrived a little after dark in Puerto Iguazu, a surprisingly decent little town on the Argentina side of things. The surprise is because it could be so much more over-developed and ruined entirely but it remains small and easily navigable aside from a few traffic circles with three too many spurs. The Marcopolo hostel had been recommended to me, but their prices were ridiculous: 60/night! So I turned my back and walked to another Che Legarto which had the benefit of having some friends I’d met in other travels: Neil and Ruth whom I met in Panama. Although I hadn’t loved the Che Legarto in Montevideo, this one was a pleasant find, reasonably priced at 35 and best of all had excellent meals included for only 15. Or maybe the best of all was that I was in a dorm room with three friendly girls that I hung out with that night. Either way, it was a great place to stay.

Dinner that night, and I think every night at this hostel, was an altogether delicious combination of vegetables, pastas, and meats. Grilled steaks, delicious chicken, chimmichurri beef, would normally be highlights, but I was so starved for greenery that I filled up my first plate with all salads and veggies. The second plate was meats. And the third course was, actually, three bottles of wine split between myself and the girls. I left to chat with Neil and Ruth for a bit then invited them back to our table and the five of us hit the town for a pretty fun night out. The next morning came a bit early but I was on a bus with Neil and Ruth (everybody else left that day) for the Argentina side of Iguazu. Now I guess it’s finally time to get into all that flowery but inept description of Iguazu. Well, I won’t. Stunning, awesome, incredible, magnificent, jaw-dropping, unbelievable, these are all my favourite words to describe beautiful things. My Spanish vocabulary has other words, but they too are insufficient. When you enter you walk through a jungle path. Butterflies are everywhere and quite happy to land on you until the next patch of flowers comes along. Birds, perhaps as a result, are everywhere too. When I saw a toucan just walking towards the falls I knew it was going to be a good day.

But you never hear about the nature around the falls even though it is clearly an impressive and very alive ecosystem. The reason is because the falls themselves are so superlative that anything else seems pale in comparison. I suspect that if the Spanish conquistadors had found El Dorado waiting to be plundered at the foot of the falls they might have been too distracted by the beauty around them to remember it. Certainly there are hints that El Dorado could exist there, if Leprechauns are to be believed: there are rainbows everywhere. It is my belief that all the rainbows in all the world actually do end here, although I suspect there are more rainbows on display at an given moment in Iguazu than all the rest of the world put together. Another interesting tidbit that I’d like to research further is that apparently Paraguay had a waterfall that was even more impressive (I fail to imagine a way that this could be possible) than Iguazu but when they built what is now the world’s second largest dam they submerged the whole thing. Now that’s about the saddest thing I’ve heard although at least it does power all of Paraguay and 25% of Brazil. Anyway, Iguazu has not been flooded over in our search for power and in fact has been surprisingly undeveloped and left as a natural park which separates it quite nicely from Niagara falls casinos and hotels and Buffalos spoiling the view.

On the Argentina side you can walk above several of the falls, take a train to the Devil’s throat to witness the sheer volume of water and resulting mist, and also go below the falls not to mention take a boat to an island and hike to some great viewpoints. This is Disneyland for nature lovers. There are something like 270 waterfalls in this one confined area stretching in all directions and as far as (and further than) you can see all at once. They cascade along cliffs fringed in greenery halfway down, pool, and then cascade the other half just as beautifully. Rocks and tropical trees frame your view and, well, I’m gushing again, but that’s what the falls do to you: they leave you a giggling, giddy, jabbering mess, albeit one smiling and swaying as you float through the park. After the Argentina side, we came back and had another in-hostel dinner with a couple bottles of wine – my last cheap wine on this trip, I’m sure – and called it an early night. I was seriously considering staying another day in this hostel and in Argentina because of the price and that I had run myself ragged in addition to needing to get caught up on all this blog stuff and the 350 photos I had taken that day (which, to be fair, include multiple takes of 12-photo panoramas). But I didn’t stay.

Nope, the next day was a bit of a milestone. I crossed my last border on this expedition along the Pan American highway and left Spanish, which I had spent the last 8 months working on and practicing, behind. Portugese, as I recalled it from my time in Portugal some years ago, was anything but an easy language to navigate. In Portugal I’d gotten by largely on my French skills but those have waned and I was hoping it would be even easier to get by with my much better Spanish skills but this too was a lie. Certainly, what little I understand from their speech comes from my knowledge of Spanish, but speaking it is another matter altogether. The language is a mix of Spanish and French spoken with a German accent although I’m sure several ethnicities would find this description objectionable and I have not had this much of a problem with language barrier in a country since China although it’s probably accentuated by how well I was getting by in Spanish that I now can not only not have conversations with locals (unless they speak Spanish or English) but I can hardly ask the basic questions. Foz do Iguassu is the city on the Brazilian side of the falls and at 300,000 people it’s too large to have the personality of small and cute Puerto Iguazu. But you don’t really need to spend any time here, you just go in the morning, cross, spend 2-3 hours at the Brazilian side of the falls and either cross back or get a bus and continue your journey.

For those requiring a visa to enter Brazil that would rather not go through the hassle or pay the bucks ($65 for Canadians, $135 for Americans) just to see that side of the falls, at the time of writing it was quite possible though still risky to cross without ever officially ‘entering’ Brazil. On the public busses most of the people don’t even disembark to officially enter Brazil and get stamped in (you will need to for Argentina tohugh). We did so, of course, because I’m flying out of Rio, but friends of mine went in and spent the days at the falls then came back without getting stamped out of Brazil no problem. I’m not recommending it for legal reasons, but it’s quite possible from what I’ve seen. And it IS worth seeing the Brazil side, visa or no. Even though there is much less to occupy your day on the Brazil side (they should make some of the alternative paths, etc free) the views of Iguazu are more sweeping and even after a full and tiring day on the Argentina side, breath-taking. I’m often asked to choose one side and I cannot. You simply have to bite the bullet and accept that you will need two days to see the most beautiful place in the world and to pay two admissions. I would definitely do Brazil second if you can but then again I don’t know that you would be disappointed in either direction.

So, what is the Brazilian side all about? Well, in this case you ride a bus from the park entrance on a long road in where – rather disconcertingly in these countries – the driver wears a seatbelt! The most deadly roads in South America, nah, what’s the point? But here in the park where the only traffic is passing another of the shuttle busses at low speed, you must wear them. The Brazil side felt a little like a waterfall Disneyland. The bus would announce in three languages (Portugese, Spanish, English) the next stop which aside from the walk to the falls, was not included. So the Brazil side was sparse but with stations and other optional excursions that should be included but are not. Any annoyance you may feel at this – and I really didn’t – is forgotten when you first see the falls again. Aside from many sweeping views there is a platform that offers water wonderland vistas including the one that actually started me looking into South America two years ago. This was another milestone: one of the main reasons I was here was now something I would hereafter talk about in the past tense. There was a sadness to leaving the Brazil falls that didn’t just come from seeing winding down a trip: I don’t think I will see something this beautiful again in my life. But I WILL have many more adventures the first of which starts this evening as I navigate my way into the Portugese heartland and make my way by bus 18 hours to Sao Paulo.

Iguazu Falls Photos


Fira Saturn said...

I'm jealous of your adventures... have you been to Spain?

Dean said...

I don't know if it's appropriate to say thanks to that or not but I'm glad to know the blog gets looked at from time to time. :) How did you find it?

I have in fact been to Spain and if you look on the left side of the blog you can see links to all the countries I've visited. Here's the one for there:


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