Sunday 14 April 2013

Big Water

“Boing, boing, BOING, BOI-ING.”  The sound reverberated through the dense rainforest. “What the hell is that?” I asked Dan, scanning the trees.  Through the twisting vines, we could just make out a black Capuchin monkey, perched on a branch, smacking something iridescent green against the wood. A creature, arms outstretched, fingers splayed, as if signalling for help. “Oh Jesus,” I gasped, “It’s a monkey killing a frog!”

This is not the culprit - but one of his friends


We watched, horrified, transfixed. The fiendish monkey was relentless, pounding the frog until it boing-ed no more. Then he stuffed the reptile into his mouth, ripped out its innards with his teeth, and feasted. I looked away. We’d come to see waterfalls - but the subtropical rainforest of Iguazu National Park was dishing up a whole lot more wildlife than we bargained for.  Huge ants and spiders, exotic birds, raccoon-like coatis badgering tourists – it teemed with life.

Huge ant 

Earlier that morning, on a hiking trail, we’d heard a rumbling, throaty cough reverberate around the jungle, inches from our path. Branches cracked. Birds fled in every direction. Dan and I stopped dead and stared at each other. In my hand, I was holding a pamphlet we’d been given on  arrival, a picture of a jaguar leering from it, warning what to do if we encountered a Big Cat. “Keep calm. DO NOT RUN (their instinct is to chase)” it read. We did not run, but we walked away extremely quickly. Definitely a jaguar. Definitely.

But whatever unexpected wildlife we encountered at Iguazu, nothing compared to the falls themselves. The first sight, even from a distance, actually made me gasp. The setting was like something conjured up by the cinematographers of Disney’s “Up.” An impossibly beautiful panorama of jagged cliffs topped by lush jungle, broken by a series of thundering falls and dozens of smaller streams cascading like silver ribbons into the wide river below. The image was framed by tall palm trees, bromeliads and orchids, with circling hawks casting shadows on the forest below.  Unforgettable.

The local Guarani people called it as they saw it – Iguazu means “Big Water”, with 275 falls within 2.5 kilometres. It’s hard to comprehend until you get there, but the falls were enough to entrance us for two full days. Each angle provided a totally different experience. The panoramic views on the Brazilian side were magic, but the real buzz was on the Argentinian side, where you could get up close, let the powerful spray jab your face like needles, and hear the falls roar as they slammed into rocks far below.  We lost half an hour trying to trace individual beads of water as they fell over the top like molten silver, and plunged to the bottom. My favourite vista was from the upper walkway, where the falls slid away beneath your feet.

We cruised out in a speedboat for the must-do drenching, where we were enveloped in torrents of water. Feeling the falls pounding down on your head was a unique way to appreciate their power.

The best moment though, was reaching the “Garganta del Diablo” – the Devil’s Throat – at the end of the day. We followed a long walkway out across the broad river for more than a kilometre to the crescent-shaped falls, which are 700m long. The name couldn’t be more apt – gallons of water are swallowed by an immense cavity, where the force of the water hitting the bottom 80 metres below is so great the mist it generates rises back to the top. It is one of the most phenomenal natural sights I’ve ever seen, and we were there just in time to see a rainbow cast its light across the cascades. If you haven’t been – put this on your must-do list. Incredible.

A final thought goes out to Aerolineas Argentina, the country’s much maligned national airline (with a Skytrax rating of only 40%.). But I won’t have a bad word said about them.  Sure, we arrived at Puerto Iguazu half an hour late – but that was because the pilot surprised us with a fly-over of the falls. He completed a full circle – giving everyone on our side of the plane an incredible first glimpse of what was to come. (Though Dan claims he couldn’t see anything because my head was in the way as I took photos… woops… sorry babe. Here they are for your enjoyment!)

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