Argentina 1: Falling for Iguazú

Iguazú Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, has long been on my list of places to see so I jumped at the chance to tag along when my sister, L, was invited to speak at a conference in northern Argentina. Her boyfriend, E, wasn’t about to be left behind so the three of us found our way to the falls about four days into our trip.

Those days weren’t without excitement with a backpack left on a plane (we retrieved it), a flight connection time narrowed by delay to minutes (we sprinted), and a hotel safe jammed shut with all our important stuff inside (we liberated it after some serious sweating; well, E did, winning MVP of the trip from the start). We weathered the national election (thankfully peaceful) and enjoyed Buenos Aires thoroughly, wandering around neighborhoods and stopping in at the Recoleta Cemetary, a street market and a bookstore housed in a grandiose, old theatre.

The eating has been, shall we say, carnivorous: a steakhouse whose portions could easily have fed Bedrock, empanadas (oh the empanadas) and a chart-topping wine-paired seven-course closed-door dinner (a night of wine, food and conversation followed by a rough morning, for me at least, after seven glasses of wine).

Getting to Iguazú Falls was easy once we figured out how to match the town to the airport and accommodation. Iguazú is actually hundreds of waterfalls linked to stretch for three kilometres across the Argentina-Brazil border much like Niagara can been seen from Canada and the US, with towns and airports on both sides. We arranged for an airport transfer on the Argentine side and kept the driver, Andrés, firmly in our clutches for the next two days, subjecting him to our DuoLingo Spanish (me and L) and E’s good, but perhaps rusty Portuguese, despite the fact that Andrés spoke and understood English (I insisted we should be practicing).

Andrés shepherded us across the border for dinner in Brazil the first night to a traditional churrascaria — a sort of dim sum of meat skewers where I drastically overate in order not to hurt any one server’s feelings by turning down their meat. So chicken hearts it was, quite tasty, barbecued. Followed by rump steak, sausages (spicy and not), lamb, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, ribs with perfectly rendered fat, another meat I’ve forgotten, grilled cheese cubes, grilled pineapple, an unlimited salad and dessert bar, and the whole round all over again although by then we’d learned to insist on “solo un poco” with finger and thumb held an inch apart or more often a “no really, I couldn’t” with a laughing groan.

Meat quota reached, the next day we planned to tackle the Argentine side of the falls but immediately found that the boat ride up to them, à la Maid of the Mist for Niagara fans, was sold out for the day. After a quick re-plan with Andrés, we allotted three hours to make our way to some of the viewpoints on the Argentina side then drove over to the Brazil side where there were also boats but less people.

Faced with a choice of wet boat ride or dry, we of course chose wet. No question as it was 40 degrees Celsius and humid. The dry boat would still get wet, we were told, but the wet one would be closer to the falls. We were so hot that as we neared the dock to board, anytime anyone asked us something in Portuguese, I would yell “molhado! (wet!),” panicked that someone might stick us on the lame dry boat instead.

The boat was a medium Zodiac that sat four to a bench and was maybe seven benches long. Off we went down the Iguazú river pulling over to the side until it was our turn to run the loud, frothed-up rapids. Then we calmed for a panoramic photo op of the falls, and more falls and more falls — delicate and lacy in some places, powerful and punishing in others, and as a whole, breathtaking.

Whether it was that our boat was too small or due to jurisdictional issues from the Brazil side, instead of heading towards to the long curtain of water as expected, we turned to a nearer, narrower fall, nonetheless spectacular. We nosed up to it and as we were exclaiming over its beauty, the boat pilot drove us completely into the water flow. The excited squeals of running the rapids was nothing compared to the maniacal laughter of a boatload of people being drowned under a waterfall. Four times. It couldn’t have been more fun, like riding through a car wash in a little red wagon. There was even a natural cycle of overheated wind that blowdried our hair into a cloud of tangles on the ride back. Although an hour later I was still wringing out my sponge of a t-shirt and my shorts were drooping to mid-calf like I played professional ball.

While the Argentine side that morning had been impressive, we’d been hampered by time and a large crowd that we’d fought for railing space as we gaped at the enormous Giant’s Throat fall. On the Brazil side, we were practically alone and could pause at every lookout to soak in the wonder of it all. With less people, we also came across more wildlife: capuchin monkeys swinging tree to tree, large sleek grey and black lizards with tails long enough to look like snakes, a miniature deer the size of a medium-sized dog, and of course the ever present koati, a seeming raccoon-anteater cross that is so intent on food that we humans had had to eat lunch inside a large cage so the handful of hungry koatis clawed up against it on the outside couldn’t get at us.

But to cap it off, the final Brazil lookout was only 30m or so from that same Giant’s Throat fall we’d glimpsed under people’s armpits and around their selfie poses earlier that day. We stepped out onto a hexagonal platform mid-fall-height and stood quiet and respectful, arms out like the figurehead on a ship, getting thoroughly re-misted. Then we met up with Andrés again to head home across the border, damp and tired, in time for more meat.

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