rainbows and big water

We spent Thursday and Friday in absolute awe of the volume of water running over the massive cliffs and waterways that make up Iguazu Falls. It is a spectacular exhibition of uncontained beauty and power, at the very northern tip of Argentina on the border with Brazil. Iguazu (pronounced ee-gua-su) comes from the Guarani people who originally inhabited the area: i=water, guaza=big; they weren’t exaggerating, this is indeed big water.

The first European to see and describe this magnificent series of falls was Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1542. As more Europeans moved into the area, the Jesuits set up missions and reportedly worked to understand and “protect” the Indigenous population, although their goal was to Christianize them and turn them into good workers (obviously not an unproblematic relationship). But when the Jesuits were kicked out of the territory by the Spanish Crown in 1767, the native populations were then subject to the same abuse and exploitation that other native groups faced throughout the Americas, including slave-traders (for more about this, see the movie “The Mission” with Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, with one very dramatic scene filmed here at the falls). It wasn’t until 1890, well after Argentina gained independence from Spain, that tourists started coming into the area to see the falls. At one time it was possible to get on a boat at the top of the falls, but when a boatload of tourists went over the falls sometime in the 1930s that practice was brought to an abrupt halt.

A series of walkways to the top and bottom of the falls was constructed in 1948, and then reconstructed in the 1990s after the area was declared a UNESCO world natural heritage site and the park was “re-opened” with a short railway, numerous walkways to the top and bottom of the various falls, boat launches, and, wisely well away from the falls themselves, concession stands and souvenir shops. The falls are made up of about 275 distinct waterfalls, along a 2700-metre long series of cliffs arranged mostly in a semi-circle, with drops ranging from a few metres to over 80 metres (Devil’s Throat, sort of on its own around the corner from the rest, forms the border between Argentina and Brazil). Everytime we turned a corner, more waterfalls and rainbows!

There were many busloads of tourists in the park on the first day we were there, but the park is so big we didn’t really notice them. On the second day there were far fewer people and we had some trails and viewpoints to ourselves – and could hear and see more birds; along one stretch of quite trail we spotted monkeys swinging from tree to tree. We had plenty of warmth and sunny skies both days.

Admission to the park, about $30 for the first day, half price if you return the next day which we did, includes access to all the trails and viewpoints, the train, and a boat ride across to Isle San Martin for a great view of the falls. Visitors can also purchase tickets for additional adventures, so we opted for the aventura nautical – a zodiac boat ride into the canyon below La Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), and into the water cascading down Salto San Martin (San Martin Falls). This was a great highlight for us – getting completely drenched by the tonnes of water pouring on our heads as the boat quickly shot into and back out of the rapidly falling water. It was so much water we could hardly breathe for a moment, but pure joy just the same, an experience we won’t soon forget. The video below shows another group of tourists going into the falls the way we did.

We took the boat ride to Isla San Martin on our second day. After landing on a small sandy beach we climbed 175 steps to the peak in order to get a new view of the waterfalls on either side — and more rainbows everywhere we looked.

In addition to the monkeys, we saw lots of coatis, armadillos, and birds, including the pretty purple-blue velvet Urraca Comun, appropriately known in English as the Plush-Crested Jay, pictured below.

We had the day off today in Puerto Iguazu, and walked for about an hour to arrive at the junction of two rivers and three countries: the point wher the Iguazi River flows into the Parana River and the meeting of three borders: Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Later we relaxed poolside at our hostel and then went out for our last dinner in Argentina. Tomorrow we hop a bus into Paraguay for four days in Asuncion, and then we catch a flight to Cusco via Lima. Machu-Picchu and the Sacred Valley await!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S4TVWa9cOs&feature=youtube_gdata

1 thought on “rainbows and big water

  1. Your unknown bird:

    The Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo is a medium-sized bird with gray-brown upperparts and a whitish gray chin and breast abutted by chestnut on the abdomen and undertail coverts. The lizard-cuckoo has a slightly decurved bill and bright red skin surrounds the eye. A long black and white tail makes up more than one-half of the total body length (Wetmore 1927).

    http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/image/image_gallery?uuid=93de1114-9e56-4be0-954f-4dcf6d4bc76f&groupId=11003&t=1286460288350

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