Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Iguazu Falls

 Because we have to be ready for pick-up by 7:25 am (by far the most precise time given on this trip), we have to be at the hotel restaurant when it opens at 7am. So, I set my alarm for 6am and didn’t get a good night’s sleep because I was afraid of not hearing it. I remember checking it at 1 am, 3:20 am, 4:40 am, and 5:59 am. Pretty much every 80 minutes. And our air conditioning was cranked up, so the blankets felt realy good and made getting out of bed even more challenging. We made it to breakfast a few minutes early. The stereo was playing Talking Head’s “Road to Nowhere”, Abba’s “Momma Mia”, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Along with getting my ‘80’s fix, I had 3 glasses of iced mate and a cup of coffee.

This is where we're going today: Iguazu Falls!
Upstairs in the lobby, we were waiting for our guide to show up at 7:25. She was late, but it was okay because of the entertainment provided by another guest. She was in her late20’s or early 30’s, overweight and wearing one of the least flattering zebra pattern camisole tops I’ve ever seen. She was also Hispanic, but didn’t speak and Spanish so we were able to overhear that she didn’t want to go to the falls today. Because it was raining. She even went so far as to ask if it was raining on the Brazilian side. Which, I suppose makes complete sense if you have no understanding of weather, rain, geography, or waterfalls. If you don’t want to get wet, don’t go to a place with 70% humidity that also has the type of geologic formations which cause water to fall down and turn into a spray or mist.  Especially one the size of Iguazu.
Water, water, everywhere
Our guide, Julia, found us and we were lucky enough to be in the same tour group as the woman at the hotel. But we were on the same tour as two Germans we’d flown in with as well. Julia did her best to keep everyone together, but that meant being very slow. The first path we took was the Upper Circuit. Our viewing platform was made from the same perforated metal that the kilometer-long walkway to it was built from. Apparently, it’s replacing the concrete walkway that washed away in a 1992 flood. I think that the new idea is to let water flow through the grating instead of around it.
The Upper Circuit path
The Devil's Throat
There is a serious amount of water flowing into the “Devil’s throat”. There is also a cool breeze blowing as we approach the edge. Down below us, we can see the black silhouettes of the swifts that are a symbol of the park. They’re darting in and out of the mist whenever a cloud of white water rises up and blasts us with a warm spray. Then the cool breeze passes over us, after which more warm mist, etc. The winds felt like they were up to 20-30 mph. The water’s smooth and black until it reached the vertical brown rock face that’s covered with lush green bushes and plants that lived of the airy white spray that was created as the water was channeled through stone parapets. The bottom of the falls were obscured by clouds of silvery mist.

We reboarded the tourist train to travel to the stop where an hour earlier, Julia had all of us in the tour disembark the train because she thought she’d left two people behind… and turned out to have been in the last car, which allowed us to reboard and visit the first waterfall. Julia started talking about the local plants, but the group was moving too slowly so we followed the Germans’ lead and broke away on the way to the lower circuit. The other tour groups have now arrived at the park and clogged it up with stupid people. The worst are the middle-aged to elderly women who insist on smoking right in the middle of an otherwise scenic view. The trick we’ve found for the avoiding the tour groups is to keep inside the 10-15 minute intervals where there aren’t any people around.

Caught in the wave of tour groups

The lower circuit gives a good view of the falls without looking down on them.  Every so often, we pass by a hole in the rocks that must be 50-60 feet deep and totally empty. One small waterfall (there are dozens or more) looks like it’s hung with white and green striped curtains; the less airy the water, the clearer and greener it is. It was getting to be around lunch time, so we figured that it was a good time to take the boat ride up to the falls while the tour groups ate. There were two options: A 12-minute ride or a longer ride accompanied with a 4x4 drive through the jungle. Since it’s been raining off and on all morning, the idea of mudding didn’t sound all that great.



Our boat went up to the middle of the Devil’s Throat, but not far enough to feel surrounded. You can see people on the Brazilian side, and I don’t know if they can take the boat any further because of border control issues. The boat is under-powered and struggling to keep even with a spot on the shoreline.  The captain whipped the boat around like a top and we drifted down the river a bit. Our guide is the most suavely-dressed riverman I’ve seen. His coordinated yellow life vest is matched to his polar fleece under the gunmetal gray drysuit that matches his mirrored sunglasses. His hair is slicked back and the small band-aid on the left side of his forehead looks like it’s an accessory for that ‘tough and ready’ touch to his polished façade.
On the boat and into the mist!
We drive headlong into the next set of falls, the whole world becomes a wet whiteness that soaks and blinds us like a thousand fire hoses set wide open. The cascade sounds just like rolling thunder right now. The only way to keep my eyelids from getting ripped off by the force of the downpour is to close them and blink them open. All I see are red lifevests and the yellow slicker of the cameraman in the bow…everything else is white. It’s like a cartoon where the background was never drawn.

The Isla San Martin
We return to the steep rock staircase across from the falls, where we climbed out thoroughly soaked through all of our clothes. I’m very glad at this point I’m wearing all synthetic or quick-dry clothing. We immediately board another boat over to Isla San Martin, which sits between the falls. So that there is no doubt, the flag of Argentina is flying high above the beach as we land. A heart-pumping series of wet stone stairs winds its way up the island, so that we are on the middle level of the waterfalls. The falls from the upper level are a ways away, but they flow towards us to rejoin each other just before falling over the edge mere feet away from us. There’s an Australian lady taking a photo of her daughter’s Care Bear next to the falls. So I did the same with RRR.

See more of RRR's Travels: #travelRRR
On the backside of the island path, we saw some birds with dark blue-black heads and golden bodies. I think they’re jays, but ‘custom-painted’. Also, off the island and before the boat trip, we saw some wild coatis, which look like a raccoon-opossum hybrid. They were walking down the handrails of the pathway and who knows where their little paws have been.
Coatis on the railing!

We left the island and walked back through the park, stopping for soda and cookies. It’s 2:30 and that’s all we’ve eaten today. Rather than take the train, we walked the Sendero Verde (Green Path) back to the information center. I bought a T-shirt for $6 USD. I feel kind of silly weaing it right now, since the rest of my clothes are still soaked. Our tour bus dropped us back at the hotel where we hung up our clothes to dry and went out for dinner.

Taking a different route than last time, we walked through the non-tourist streets in search of food. We saw a white dog covered in red earth laying next to a pristinely cleaned Siamese cat whose intense blue eyes followed us down the sidewalk. We ate dinner at an outdoor restaurant with ambient music similar to the stuff Enigma puts out. I had a spicy beef shish kabob in the Guarini style, some appetizers, another caipiriña, and a dessert of flaky layers and dulche de leche with an Argentinean cappuccino. By the time we finished dinner, we couldn’t move for half an hour. We did a little shopping, then walked back to the hotel while dodging locals selling jewelry displays on blankets spread across the sidewalk. I had to pass them again on my quick trip to the maxi kiosk to get some bottled water and more pomelo soda.

My clothes are still drying out, scattered across the room on hangars mounted to any ledge I could find that would hold them. We’ve been hearing interesting music here. Shakira, in English (what’s up with that?) and “The girl from Ipanema” in Spanish. Our air conditioning is blasting because it has no metal control knobs,  only the metal stamps that they sit on. If we want it turned off or on, we have to call down to the front desk and they will send in someone fix it. I’m not sure why they won’t let us do it ourselves. The German tourists that were at the Boca Game we went to have confirmed that we did actually see  Maradona in the stadium /blog/ at the game yesterday.

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