Chasing waterfalls. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
If you have never seen ‘Iguazu face’ you have been sorely missing out. Difficult to describe, it is a little like a cross between pure, wide-eyed, childish glee and the expression that bad actors make when faced with a slimy monster in a low-budget horror film. But under a waterfall. The problem is that the subject is so deliriously giddy that his/her face is about to crack from smiling. He/she wants to drink in the scene but Iguazu Falls is thundering down on top of him/her filling his/her mouth with water and forcing his/her eyes closed. In response he/she uses his/her fingers to prise his/her eyes open but what are four fingers against the might of Iguazu?
Iguazu face is the face you make when you sign up for the speedboat ride that drives you right under the falls. Four times. It is the face you make when you are wringing wet in the only clothes you brought along for the day. The face you make just before you say “Hey guys, remember that time we were IN Iguazu Falls?” Iguazu face is the happiest, most carefree face in the world.
For those that have never seen the mighty giant here are the stats. Iguazu Falls is actually 275 waterfalls spread over a distance of 2.7km. The highest point drops a full 82 metres – 29m more than Niagara at its highest point. At one point, visitors are surrounded by 260 degrees of cataracts. On the Argentina side of the falls there are three different paths which get up close to different sections of the waterfall. It is also possible to visit the island beside the falls from here, kayak, trek and, as I mentioned before, to take a boat trip into the waterfalls.
The biggest, most memorable cataract is Devil’s Throat, a deep U-shape hollow where water thunders over the edge and visitors standing on the viewing platform at the top are deafened by the noise, soaked by the spray and utterly entranced by the power of nature. As it hurls over the precipice, the river looks more like a mountain-top avalance than a waterfall and the resulting spray makes it hard to see anything more than a thick white mist and the occasional fearless sparrow that swoops in and out of the cloud. All in all I think the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt summed it up best when she made her first visit and exclaimed “Poor Niagara!”
Iguazu Falls was full of surprises too. We had expected it to be beautiful, mesmorising and eardrum-bursting. What we hadn’t expected was the themepark excitement, the animals and the extreme drenching. The most surprising thing about our trip though, was that the most memorable part wasn’t even related to falling water.
Foresaking the free train that shuttles tourists from viewpoint to viewpoint we decided to walk out to Devil’s Throat via a narrow little path that is squeezed in beside the river and the train tracks. As it turns out, this wasn’t a popular choice so we had the place to ourselves. Well, kind of. Around 300m into our 2km walk we realised that we had company when a huge yellow cloud fluttered towards us. Hundreds and hundreds of butterflies – mostly yellow but also red, black, orange and blue – formed a thick stream in the air, engulfing us. As they passed they carelessly bumped into us, beating gently against our faces, arms and chest before continuing on their route. For the next 40 minutes we met waves and waves of them and by the time we reached Devil’s Throat we were well and truly tousled – butterflies entwined in our hair, clinging onto our clothes and leaving tiny wet patches between our fingers.
Butterflies weren’t the only wildlife we spotted in Iguazu though. There were also huge iguanas, snakes, monkeys and South American coatis – funny little animals who look like a cross between a racoon, a possum and an anteater with a long nose and an even longer ringed tail. Not in the least bit shy the animals zig-zagged their way across the busy trails, monkeys chattering and coatis fishing half-finished packets of biscuits out of bins before staff members shooed them away. Strange and possibly cruel as it all was, having so much wildlife present reminded us that we were actually in a National Park – a park that is home to Jaguars no less. Best stick to the trails then.
Much like Niagara the Iguazu Falls is on a frontier. In this case it stradles three borders – Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay although the latter’s claim is negligible. To get the best out of a trip it is best to visit both sides. The Brazil side gives the best views of Devil’s Throat because it is far away enough that visitors can see more than mist and white crashing water. Thus it is the Brazil side that appears on all the postcards. That said, the Brazil side is currently just one viewing platform whereas Argentina is so much more. Or so I hear. In truth the day we wanted to do the Brazil side of the falls it was overcast and the admission price felt extortionate after the big day out we had bought for the same price only yesterday so we gave it a miss, a decision we have since regretted. So I guess it will have to be up to you to figure out which you prefer – Brazil or Argentina, who wins? You decide.
There are more pictures from Iguazu Falls available in the gallery