How could we have been so stupid. There we were on the side of the road in Argentina, Argentina, hitch-hiking towards Iguazu Falls with a few pesos and some small note US dollars in our pockets. Nobody was stopping. Even the bus cost more than we were carrying. Our car was parked illegally on the other side of the border, it might as well had been back in Brazil. One of the best days ever was circling the drain.
We’d woken up in a great mood. Our hostel was tucked away down a jungle covered path, shaded by fruit trees and palms. Capybaras foraged on the edges of the property and the trees shook with monkeys. Originally we’d left this little paradise on foot, walking a short way to the entrance of the Brazilian side of Foz de Iguaçu.
We were impressed by the unusually efficient line for tickets, followed by a ready fleet of buses that shuttled visitors to the falls. The trail we walked to see the main attraction was well cared for and was thick with coatis, raccoon like creatures with long snouts and pointy teeth. A good number of tourists rushed passed the “do not feed the wildlife” sign in order to have themselves photographed feeding the wildlife.
It was still early in the day and the crowds that would come to see the world’s most amazing waterfall were only just waking up when the first puff of mist wafted towards us through the trees. There was at first a distant roar, monotonous as silence. Then at the first viewpoint, a taste of what was to come: dozens of blinding white flumes pouring over steps of jungle covered cliffs. Circling overhead were a score of birds, large and small, eagles and vultures, tucans with long fruitloop beaks.
Below, the river reconstituted in a churning froth and set about again on its way to the sea. As if this weren’t picturesque enough, the mist caught the early sunlight and bent it into a colorful bow, gracefully framing the scene.
We tore ourselves away from the vista, as beautiful as any we’d ever seen, and walked towards the main attraction, the Devil’s Throat, the main body of the falls. In a photographer’s phenomena I’ve dubbed, “The Penguin Effect” it was difficult not to stop and document every inch along the way. Microfalls jetted out everywhere from the sides of the valley. The mist became denser as we hiked closer to the source of the thrumming roar. As we approached the Devil’s Throat, a dew developed on our skin and clothes mixing with the sweat of an already steaming hot day, forming more little falls in a salty mockery of our surroundings.
The great falls loomed over us. We stripped to our swimsuits and put the cameras in watertight bags we hadn’t used since Antarctica. We walked out on a wandering little pier that jutted across a mesa beneath the roaring deluge. After the pier the water dropped again, another hundred feet so that we had a view of the top and bottom of the torrent. The mist from the upper falls washed over us in lacy blankets, the wind create by a huge displacement of water pushing with a surprising force. The currents whirled and created the updrafts on which the eagles glided above. A 360° rainbow filled the valley below in a hazy full circle – the only time I’ve witnessed this leprechaun-baffling phenomena.
The Brazilian side of the Devil’s Throat pounded the river mercilessly. Across from the jetty on which we stood was the Argentinian half, another collection of roiling flumes. Word had it that the Argentinian side was even more spectacular, and because of its position on the other side of the Iguassu River, should be visited in the afternoon.
Well. It was hard to believe that anything could be more spectacular than the scene we were immersed in, so we decided then and there to see.
Most guidebooks recommend several days at the falls, time to see both sides, relax, visit the giant mega-dam upriver. We were on a tight schedule though, as usual, and made a spontaneous decision of questionable wisdom to return to our hostel, grab the car and a fistful of pesos and head to Argentina for the afternoon.
Such is the beauty of Foz de Iguaçu that it inspires acts of great foolishness.
We stood in a small shadow next to a rough old stucco bus stop. I hailed another set of passing cars but none stopped. Finally we gave up, took stock of all of our money and offered the next cab to pass ten US Dollars to take us to the falls. This was about half the going rate, but we knew Argentinians love dollars, and sure enough he accepted. It is also possible that we looked especially pathetic, stranded there by the side of the highway getting slow roasted by the afternoon sun.
The cab driver asked how we were going to get into the park of we didn’t have any pesos for the cashiers only took cash. We could see he was angling to pry more dollars out of us, but we also wondered how we’d get in. He was right, unlike the meticulously run Brazilian side, the Argentinians were running a cash only business. I was held at the gate as collateral while Magda sprinted through the scorching sun to the only working cash machine that was inside of the park.
The Argentina side of Iguazu (Cataratas del Iguazú) falls were indeed fantastic. Once Magda returned from the cash machine and we were restored to the monied class, we were able to see the park before it closed and pay for a cab back to the border. After some haggling it turned out to be cheaper than the bus.
For a few hours Magda felt relieved to be in a Spanish speaking country again where we could actually figure out what was going on – when possible to do so. As the park started to close, we returned to the station for the little train that accessed the far reaches of the park. We arrived at five minutes to six o’clock, as we’d been instructed, to take the last train back to the entrance of the park. Despite being five minutes early, we arrived as the train was chugging away from station. We asked a young park employee what the deal was, if there’d be another train, and he said no, this was the last. We asked why it didn’t leave at six like it was supposed to, like the posted schedule said it would. He looked at us like we were slow, then looked at his watch.
“It’s five to six” he said. “You’ll have to walk, the park is closing.”
When we finally staggered back across the border and retrieved our car, we were only too happy to come back to Brazil even if we couldn’t understand what anyone was telling us.