Iguazu Falls, a cloudy paradise

I was disappointed – but not at all surprised – to wake up Sunday morning to an overcast sky. I’d spent the previous day at Marcopolo Inn (the hostel near Iguazu) lounging in the sun by the pool and reading a book. Of course, the day I was set to see the falls it was cool and cloudy. Regardless, I threw on some shorts and a T-shirt and hopped in the van as we rolled on over to Iguazu.

We paid the park fee, $100AR ($25 US), and headed straight to the most famous section of the falls, Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat. Our guide, Julio, explained in English how to get there, and then joined the rest of our Spanish-speaking group. I understood bits and pieces of his Spanish instructions, but was grateful for the English translation, because no one wants to mistakenly walk off of a cliff or something. The only other English-speaking traveler was a short Irish man whose walk can only be described as sprightly. He had a bounce in his step and I wondered if he was harboring a pot of gold back at his hostel. His demeanor constantly shifted from friendly to totally closed off, so I kept to myself and walked out toward the falls. The walk itself feels risky, and as I ventured out, half-certain that the walkway would collapse and send me down into a bubbly death, I wondered what it must have been like for the people who first came upon the falls.

walking the plank

You walk for about five-ten solid minutes before you start hearing something loud and before you even see the falls, you can spot an ominous mist rising up over the trees. It’s a pretty cool set-up for some falls that are quite phenomenal.

cue ominous cello playing

there are better pictures, don’t worry

It was impossible to stand by the falls without getting wet; every few seconds, a torrent of mist blew up from the bottom, soaking lots of gleeful tourists. After seeing the Devil’s Throat, we headed off to the upper circuit, which provides a view of the other falls (Iguazu is HUGE and there are plenty more than this one fall).

i really was there!

I attempted a panoramic:

After exploring on foot for a while, Julio encouraged all of us to take a boat under the falls for a decent price. I suspected it might be a tourist trap, but our whole group went, and probably Julio just wanted some time off to sip mate or something. It wasn’t all that impressive, though it was fun. We hopped in some open jungle bus thing and rode down to the river via a jungle trail. At first, it was an exciting mixture of off-roading and toucan-spotting, but then we stopped for about ten minutes at a palm tree while our guide told us about heart of palm in both English and Spanish. It’s pretty interesting when it comes to the means of obtaining heart of palm, but you know the trip isn’t going to be that spectacular when the highlight is a notably tall palm tree.

We all clambered into the boats with raincoats and heavy duty bags to keep our stuff dry, and then the boat took off. Julio had said it would take us to two of the smaller falls and then up the river toward the Devil’s Throat. My sense of direction – especially here – is relatively pathetic, but I’m positive we did not embark on this route. Instead, we got nice and close to the falls, took a few pictures, and then were instructed to put our cameras away as the boat captain steered us underneath the falls. It was cool to see the waterfall from beneath it, because you can see the water more closely behind the mist. He then brought us under again and again, due mainly to the crowd shouting something about wanting to get wet. For a few minutes, I thought I was on that Congo Rapids ride at Six Flags, but you pay far less to get into Six Flags than I had for this adventure. When we emerged from the falls, I figured we’d head off to the Devil’s Throat, but instead, we pulled up against the shore and got out. I did get some cool views of the falls head-on, though.

After this, our guide sent me off with these three Spanish travelers who had been on my flight the previous morning. It worked out well, because Cristina spoke pretty good English and we ended up having a parilla buffet together afterwards. Her sister, Ana, claimed to speak English poorly, but the more she spoke, the better she sounded. It’s always an experience traveling with people who speak different languages. Everyone is trying to practice the language they’re learning, and brains are frying when it comes to switching from one language to the other. A combination of gestures and appeals for help characterize what I call “What am I saying?” a game where me or whoever is speaking to me has to try and guess the word the other person is thinking. You can gesture or try to describe what you’re thinking, and everyone bonds over the correct answer and the person who discovers it feels pretty good.

At the airport later, the Aerolineas Argentina worker informed me that my flight was delayed and, already expecting this, I sauntered off to the upstairs snack bar. Ana, Cristina, and the guy Ana was traveling with followed me in (we were on the same flight) so we shared some beers and talked about the elections. Ana, who’s been living in BA for a while now, said that it is obligatory (her English is clearly not bad at all) for Argentines to vote, and they are basically fined if they don’t do so and blacklisted. There were some people at their hostel in Iguazu who were scrambling around trying to send in documentation that they were away and to find a place downtown to vote.

Our flight finally came, and I strolled in after midnight. I still think it’s great how awesome travelers are and how frequently you meet people. I think that’s one of the best parts of traveling, and the most pleasantly surprising. Unless you’re getting mugged by someone, which is surprising, but never pleasant.

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