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Iguazu Falls: Waterfall Wonderland

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 as follows:
  • 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 toucans/parrots/peacocks
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.

(All Argentina)
Unfair Waterfall Scene 1
Unfair Scene 2
Bands of Roving Coatamundi
Is this real?
. .