Happy New Year
On New Year’s Day I left Buenos Aries early. A city that loves to party, it rang in the new year in style with massive fireworks and tango ’til dawn. Some still straggled home as I headed to the airport. I was flying an hour north to the Iguazu Falls to celebrate 2014, I did not know how magnificent a celebration it would be.
The falls are on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay where the Iguazu River widens to a watery three-kilometer-wide horseshoe before plunging over 500 feet in a stunning series of falls. The number of cascades depends on the flow and time of year. There were 290 to greet me which my guide, Jose, proclaimed perfect, more water causes too much spray to see the grandeur clearly. Iguazu/Iguacu, depending on which side of the border you are on, means Great Water a name given by the Tupi-Guaranies Indians.
Tango or Samba
Many have a favorite side of the falls. I stayed in Brazil, but also spent a day viewing the falls from the Argentine side, a winning combination for me. The falls are surrounded by national parks in both countries which together form an area of old lush tropical forest. Both parks are well run with a small train and buses to transport visitors which means they remain relatively pristine.
Jose and I set out on foot from the Hotel Das Cataratas, my home for three days. A Portuguese colonial style building, it is painted a sugary pink and set on a grassy mound. Princess Diana
once stayed here. Across from the hotel we followed the steps and winding path set into the cliff high above the river. We were immediately in a microclimate where the forest is constantly bathed with spray from the falls. Soft moss and orchids hung from branches and there were clouds of brilliant butterflies. But this was just the prologue. As we rounded a corner there was a panoramic horseshoe of falls, water plunging, spray rising, the roar drowning the call of tropical birds. It was a moment far beyond a camera’s capturing capability. As we continued along the winding path each view was more amazing. Viewing platforms jutted from the cliff, click, click – sensory overload for me and the view-finder.
The Devil’s Throat
Jose let the drama unfold. I don’t remember when the roar become louder and spray heavier. But suddenly, at the end of the path, was the most incredible wall of water plunging over five hundred feet. The Devils Throat, I was completely awestruck by the force and power. A metal walkway projected over the churning roiling cauldron at the foot of the falls and I gingerly stepped onto it and became part of the action.
What a day. As I sat poolside at dinner with a quartet playing the samba this seemed one of the most memorable New Year’s Days ever.
Argentina, January 2
Day two was time to view the falls from Argentina. We drove to the National Park and boarded a small open-sided train which trundled through the jungle, home to toucans, monkeys and coatis. We had an escort of butterflies. From the end of the line are over 4 miles of trails, mostly on metal walkways. These cross the falls, parallel them, and lead to some incredible precipices where water thunders. At times the waist-high railing seemed flimsy given the force and roar of water. In places remains of old walkways which had been washed away could be seen. I hoped my trusty Nikon could do this justice. Some tried to capture the scene with an iPad secure inside a Ziplock bag.
Once again I felt part of this incredible wonder of nature, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and has been voted one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Many of the falls have names which Jose related to me. Some are flanked with banks of white flowering ginger and orchids. The sun had been intermittent but made a cameo long enough to cause a rainbow. Perfection.
The Devils Throat, Two Sisters so many of the falls had names. I had walked above them, below them and across them. I tried to capture them with my camera. On the third day I wanted to get up in the air and look down on the area, get some idea of the layout of this vast beautiful wonder. The day was clear. It was a good day for a copter. The wait was 45 minutes, but they had room for one person right away.
“Make sure you sit by the window,” Jose whispered. I did and we were airborne almost before I could angle my camera, clattering over the jungle, across the lazy S bend in the river. Over the three-kilometer wide expanse of water flowing towards the abyss. We banked and there below was the Devils Throat at the head of the falls, the horseshoe opposite the hotel which I had photographed at sunset. We turned again, more views from a bird’s perspective. Now I understood why those vultures would soar high above the water on the updrafts, and swallows nest on ledges behind the torrents of water. The birds-eye view was an unforgetable finale to my New Years celebration. I have a feeling 2014 will be a good year.
Postscript – Eleanor Roosevelt visits the falls
When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the falls she too was awestruck. According to my guide, Jose, she wrote in the visitors book “Oh, poor, poor Niagra!” A comment that no doubt all guides repeat. The Iguazu Falls are truly one of the natural wonders of the world.