Saturday, November 15, 2008

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Hi, all - I'm back from 3-1/2 weeks (Oct. 17 through November 10th) of traveling in Argentina, with the final two days spent in Uruguay. Iguazu Falls, in Argentina, was the first place that we headed.

Rebecca (wife of a high school buddy), Ed (high school era and travel buddy), and I met at the airport in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas:
and then flew down to Buenos Aires, got a taxi from the international airport to the domestic airport and got on the first plane out to Iguazu Falls. These falls are absolutely spectacular. I've had people send me power point slides of these falls, and I've seen websites of friends who'd gone before me, so I already knew that I'd be in for a treat, but being there just makes it all so much more real, and, well, so much more spectacular. We'd reserved two days to actually visit the falls, and I'm glad that we did, as one day would just not have been enough for us.

The falls:

The first day we wanted to get a little exercise, so we chose to start out with a hike to one of the smaller falls. The hike turned out to be longer than expected (3km just isn't that far, but it sure felt as it if were!), but we amused ourselves with the plants, birds, and butterflies (many, many) that we saw along the way. Here is a montage of some of the many different types of butterflies that we saw:
We then took a little park train and went to what was supposed to be the most spectacular part of the falls, and therefore suggested to be saved for the last. The book warned us that we should expect to get soaked. This being spring, down there, it was actually quite warm, so getting wet wouldn't be a problem, and we decided to go see that fall, next. The train let off at a path that was at least 1/2 mile from the platforms looking over the falls. The path was mostly an elevated walkway with a metal grating that allowed one to look down at the wide, wide river running below the walkway. We saw, first an anteater, and then hawks and cormorants on the way.

This picture is to give you just some idea of the walkway to the falls - we're already almost there, having gone at least 2/3rds of the way, already, all the way walking over smooth, shallow, river. You can just make out the tops of some of the falls in the distance, and the mist from others:

When we got to the overlook platform, there were tons of people. We joined the crowd. We got soaked as the spray from the falls was whipped back up and around us by the wind. We looked into "the Devil's Throat" and were absolutely entranced by the amount of water, the speed of the water, the roar of the water, the long drop of water, and, the spray. This was a very Niagra-looking/feeling waterfall. And like Niagra, where another country is on the other side of the river, here, Brazil was on the other side. We kept watching the waterfalls, and eventually, would be the only people around! The next trainload would come, and for a while, we'd be surrounded by many others, until they moved on, and then would once again, be some of the few standing around. We stayed for hours, partly because we tried to get in a "your magazine was at Iguazu Falls" picture with a local newspaper near Ed's place. We never succeeded in getting that picture - the winds were just too unpredictable, causing drenching actions very often. We took a ton of photos, none of which can possibly capture the feeling, the sound, the experience. We saw swallows diving under some of the waterfalls into their nests behind the waterfalls! This was a very, very, very captivating sight, indeed.

Here is one that attempts to show what I think of as the mouth of the falls (The Mouth of the Devil's Throat, if you will. . .):
The above was just off to my right on the big platform. Moving the camera farther to the left, I could see all of these falls raining down from Brazil:
And then looking off to my left, at the other falls falling down from the Argentinian side of the river, there were these - see if you can see the birds just about to dive into the waterfalls to get to their nests:
The falls produced so much spray that it was rarely possible to see down to the river, below, since the water was coming from all sides and just pouring into this narrow little canyon. The roar was intense!

When we'd finally decided to depart the falls, leaving the rainbows, roar, and wet, behind, we were absolutely drenched. The sun came out to warm us, and by the time we got back to the train, we were dry!

We'd had a pretty full day so decided to just head back. While others were in the rest room, I was looking out at the green grass, and noticed some animals scurrying about. We asked and were told that they were guinea pigs. Some were almost a foot long, so they seemed a little different than the ones that we have in the US:
We had our tickets stamped on the way out so that the following day, we could get in at 1/2 price.

The following day, as we packed to get ready for our second and final day at the park, we reviewed the material for the falls and determined that it would be a "dry" day. That is, the part of the falls that we were going to visit wouldn't be sending mist all over us, and the wind wouldn't be whipping it against us - we were going to be just too far away from this other set of falls. We returned to the park (the bus ride in from the town was about 1/2 hour) and bought our 1/2 price tickets. Right after getting in, Ed noticed a park ranger standing around, and decided to go and talk to her, telling her that he, too, worked for the park service, but in the US. She told him that he didn't have to pay, then - Argentina extends a "professional courtesy" to park employees from other countries to enter their parks, free. However, he had paid. She brought us back out of the park to go into an office where there were some other park officials, and introduced Ed and Rebecca and me to the others there. I thought that we were just having a chat, but what was really going on was that she was trying to make up for Ed having paid for two days. They asked us if we'd taken the boat, yet. We hadn't. They told us that we should first go to the interpretive center, and then meet someone at 10am at a specific location. We went to the interpretive center, and there the people gave Ed a whole bunch of brochures and a couple posters (which he then left with them for safe keeping while we toured the park), and then went to the appointed spot. The ranger, Nancy, had arranged that the 3 of us should get a courtesy tour of the jungle by truck and the falls by boat by the vendor! Ed was in shock. In the US, not only do his friends who visit him have to pay to visit the National Historic Site where he works, but he has to pay to visit any other national park. And here, a park employee was able to get a park employee of another country, and his two friends, a free tour by a vendor working in the park!!!

On the jungle tour, the tour guide kept asking if anyone had questions. We realized that this was our opportunity to get all the questions we'd been accumulating from the previous day, answered. Even though there are plenty of animals in the jungle, we saw none of them on this particular tour. The next step was the boat ride. We were given life vests and drybags to place our shoes and anything that we were carrying, including cameras. They told us that we'd be able to take pictures until a certain time, and then they'd tell us to put it into the drybag and close it up. Oh, so we might get some spray. Maybe it wouldn't be such a dry day, after all. . . We sped up the river from down river of all of the falls. The river itself was fast-flowing, and we had a rapid or two to negotiate - the standing waves were high, so it gave some of the crew quite a thrill (and we rafters got a thrill, too, since they were impressive waves!). They drove us to some picturesque sight, gave us some time to take pictures, and then told us to put cameras into the dry bags. They then took us to the base of some of the falls so that we could experience the force of the falls. We experienced it, alright! We got mostly drenched. They then took us to the base of another fall. It appeared as though we were going to go right under the actual fall, but really, they only took us near to it, yet the spray was so intense that it thoroughly soaked us. Everyone on the boat was excited about the experience and called for them to do it one more time, so the guy turned around and dove back for the falls. We know that they do this multiple times a day, but it sure feels as though one time, they might just get it a little wrong, and the boat would be capsized in a moment. However, nothing untoward happened to us, but I definitely hung on for dear life, and was THOROUGHLY soaked by the time we'd done it, again, if not before. . . Looking at other boats doing the same thing, I saw them disappear in the mist at the base of the falls.

This was the view:
The mist at the base of the left-most falls is where the boat would disappear into, and then come racing back out.

Here is a more distant view of the above waterfalls, plus more of the surrounding falls:
The big white fall upper center of the picture are the falls that we went under in the boat. The falls to the far left of the picture are the falls coming down off the Brazilian side of the river in the place that we were, the previous day (fifth picture from the top of this article).

Some birds (2nd is a Turkey Vulture):

And more wildlife:

I hope that this gives you some sense of the enormity of the whole thing. It was truly, truly impressive. And in addition to the falls, we didn't see such a variety of butterflies anywhere else, and this was the only place that we saw the anteater and the fairly large reptile pictured above, whose name I've forgotten.

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