Thursday, May 6, 2010

Iguazu Falls; or, I can see Brazil from my hotel!

When the rain first came Monday afternoon, I could only hear the occasional splash of a large droplet upon a broad leaf in the canopy overhead, while I remained dry on the trail below. It was extraordinary to stand there, alone on the trail under the trees of the Mesopotamian rainforest, listening only to the birds and the “splosh!... splosh!“ of the rain. And then quite unexpectedly, came the deluge as the canopy gave way. It was as if someone had pulled the plug on a full bathtub, and I was now standing directly under the drain.

Soaked, and still perhaps a kilometre from the hotel, I had no option but to make a run for it - that’s when I happened upon an abandoned park ranger’s facility with an overhanging porch farther down the trail, where several other drenched hikers were already seeking refuge. And so we stood around, this mix and match crew of foreigners, not really making conversation, but standing comfortably with each other, sharing the experience and the moment, waiting for the rain to abate.

This three-day trip to Iguazu was my only significant side trip from Buenos Aires. I had intended to also go into Uruguay (just an hour by ferry across the river), but a combination of my misplaying the May Day long weekend, and my continuing enjoyment of BA’s fine neighbourhoods, led me to abandon those plans. But I could not come all this way and not take a trip to see Iguazu Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world.

Iguazu Falls lies at the far northern tip of Argentina, in Missiones province, where the country meets Paraguay and Brazil in one of the most dangerous, and most scenic, places on Earth. Dangerous because it is a haven for drug and gun smugglers and organized criminals seeking to move trafficked contraband across national borders with impunity; scenic because of a spectacular break in the rainforest created by the two branches of the Iguazu River coming together at a precipice that stretches for over three kilometres, and which comprises more than 250 individual waterfalls all running together in a torrent of water. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so. The national park is actually a cooperative project of Brazil and Argentina, and it straddles the border.

When coming to the park, there are basically two options; Argentina, or Brazil. If you’re on an Argentina-based trip like me, crossing over into Brazil for the day to see their view of the falls will cost you about $140 in a country entry fee, plus whatever the cost is for the tour package you’re on. For about 3 hours and one trail. I declined the opportunity. There are only two hotels in the park itself; the Sheraton on the Argentine side, and the Tropical des Cataratas in Brazil. They lie across the Iguazu River from one another and are perhaps 400 m apart. To say they are expensive and exploit their monopoly would be an understatement.

Your only other option is to stay in one of the many hotels in the town of Puerto Iguazu, about a 15 minute taxi ride away, and shuttle back and forth each day by cab or bus. I wasn’t entirely sure of the logistics of this operation, so I chose to suck it up and stay at the Sheraton and be able to walk right out into the park after breakfast. When the park opened at 8 am. The great advantage to this plan was, for about an hour each morning, the hotel guests had the place to themselves, as the tour buses didn’t tend to arrive until after 9. The downside, of course, was the cost. I’m not generally comfortable with places where I know the money I am spending for a night’s stay is probably as much as the chambermaid earns in a month. Or, for that matter, that anglicizes all of the waiters’ names so the largely American and European guests can, presumably, remember them easier. After all, Guillermo and Pedro are so much more difficult to retain than William and Peter.

Anyway, politics aside, I splurged on two nights at the Sheraton, with a falls view room. Here's the view from my balcony, with the morning mist rising off the falls:


Just out of frame to the left of this photo is the Brazilian hotel. That break in the trees on the left? That's the river valley, the dividing line between the countries.

In the park, there’s a system of elevated hiking trails, very well-maintained, and a eco-train that hauls you from major stop to major stop in case you get tired of all the walking around.


It is currently the rainy season, which means there's even more water in the rivers than usual. It is quite spectacular.



Argentines have what can only be described as a different sense of public safety than Canadians do. I highly doubt we would ever get away with building this sort of observation platform overhanging the rushing torrents of water, cantilevered to the point of inducing vertigo.



A number of fellow travellers, hearing I am from Canada, asked me how this compared to Niagara Falls. Let me be clear - these falls are beyond compare. Whereas Niagara has prostituted itself into basically becoming Las Vegas with a waterfall, all cheap casinos and wax museums, Iguazu has largely maintained a pristine natural state. And it is glorious to see. The park is full of wildlife, from birds like this Plush crested jay, the "urraca comun":


and the social flycatcher:


To the raccoon/badger cross, the coatimundi (the size of a Labrador retriever when full-grown):


Extraordinary butterflies:


flowers, like this bird of paradise:

and iguanas:

After the rain I was caught in finally stopped, the sun came out and brought with it the rainbows. Truly a magical day.


1 comment:

Carla said...
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