Mar 24th, 2006
The recipe for tropical paradise is well established.
As we know from posters in teenaged girls' bedrooms
the world over the recipe for tropical paradise is
- 2 Cups copious tropical foliage including ferns and flowers
- 3 Waterfalls, preferably misty, plunging into rock-bordered pools
- 1 Fresh rainbow dancing across the cascade and/or the sky
- A pinch of one of the following: dolphins, unicorns, or
Iguazu's dominance in the first three are so staggering
as to earn it an exemption from animal cameos. Photos
prepare you for the rushing spectacle in the same way
that TUMS commercials prepare Superbowl viewers
for heartburn -- you know it exists, but you don't feel
Iguazu until it slams you in the gut.
The falls work their magic on the border of Southern
Brazil and Northeastern Argentina, roughly 1000
miles from either Rio or Buenos Aires.
Subdividing the Rio Parana, the waterfalls spill over
the edge of a volcanic basalt table top in 275 discrete spouts.
Unlike the rock tumbles of so many cascade cousins,
Iguazu's drama comes from its habit of blazing
headlong for the floor of the canyon,
up to 130 feet below. That, and the wonderful mist
and noise, and rainbows, rainbows everywhere.
Brazil, though never a volcanic
hotbed, owes its strange volcanic rock formations to
its divorce from Africa. During the jolly old days of Pangaea,
200 million years back, the two kissing cousins shared
the plains over which the Rio Parana flows. But,
during their dramatic split, lava welled out from the
cut and scarred the landscape. Today, 30 rivers bring
red clay sediment that builds temporary
strongholds of green pampas grass.
Today, the river also brings hordes of tourists. Like
any good independent traveler, I loathe being led
along like a trained monkey. But,
some things are worth it. Visiting both the Brazilian and
Argentine sides, clear preferences manifest: big-bang
or ambiance. The single path to the Brazilian falls
marches hundreds of geriatric tourists straight up the
Garganta del Diago
(Devil's Throat) each day.
Gathering together on a platform over minor falls and
lapped by cataract mist, you can't help but wonder if
we were to be sacrificed.
Argentina's paths wind round, over, and next to
lesser falls, and give you ample opportunity to terrify
toucans, monkeys and assorted weird little lizards.
With a Canadian in the golden hour of a 2-year
round-the-world trip, I traipsed all over the Argentine
paths, wondering what the Jesuit missionaries
who first trammeled the region would have thought.
Perhaps the best: San Martin Island, a short ferry ride
across the river, tourist-free at
10am. Sitting in the crux of a full oxbow of waterfalls,
we were surrounded by beauty best described as "unfair."
In the end, sure we were tourists, but you've got
to get the wonder while the getting's good.