Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Iguacu – Nature’s Monument to the Mystery of Latin America

In a way, no South American Travel Blog would be complete without an Iguacu entry. Like Machu Picchu, the giant falls have become both an integral part of Latin America, as well as an iconic representation of the type of beauty so often found within the continent. I think everyone finds something in Iguacu. However, it all depends on the individual, and whether they experience a life altering realization, a subtle understanding of nature, or even just a quiet peace of mind, people both lose and find themselves in this jungle waterfall wonderland. Over the years, I have traveled to Iguacu a number of times for both business and pleasure and am always amazed. And amid bromeliads, vines, orchids and a kaleidoscope of brightly colored butterflies, the mighty falls never fail to impress me with their reckless beauty.

The name Iguacu derives from Guarani and translates as “Great Water”. It’s a very apt description to say the very least. According to local tradition I am told that the falls were created when a Guarani god fell in love with a beautiful young girl in the area and decided to make her his wife. Listless in this regard however, the young girl took off with her lover in a boat and headed downstream. The god’s wrath was apparently terrible, and in order to avenge himself he broke the river Iguacu and created the falls which sent the young girl and her lover to a watery grave. It seems like a rather elaborate way to extract revenge – I agree – but when looking out over the falls and appreciating their sheer immensity it’s easy to gauge how annoyed the deity must have been. All I can say is that she really must have been unbelievably attractive to evoke such a wonder.

The falls themselves consist of 270 separate cascades that stretch in white veiled patches for over 2.7 kilometers with vivid green jungle sprouting spectacularly between the waterfall segments wherever it can. The Garganta do Diabo or Devil’s Throat is perhaps the most impressive of all the falls and with a U bend shape, it stretches for over 700 meters. The fall marks the division between Brazil and Argentina and is best seen from the Brazilian side, but best experienced from the Argentina side as you’re much closer to the actual falls. A raised platform on the Argentine side leads one out over the river for almost a kilometer right up to the very edge of the Devil’s Throat. The lookout point is so close to the falls that you can almost touch the billowing clouds of mist that rise up from the depths and obscure the view of Brazil across the river. Its rather magical standing right there and feeling both the immensity and power of the river as it falls right by you.

I enjoy Iguacu from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides – both have their merits, and it is generally recommendable to spend time on either side in order to get a better feel for the falls. Both the Brazilian and Argentine side offer a number of different activities, with everything from jungle walks and abseiling, to adventure rafting and helicopter rides available. The Macuco Safari offered on the Brazilian side involves a spectacular hike and drive through the surrounding forest down to the river where you board a large outboard motor speed boat and make your way up river to the falls. The drivers – all fully professional – skillfully maneuver the boat directly under the falling water in what can only be described as a heart stopping yet life changing experience. It changes ones perspective and I loved it. The Helicopter flights are also very worthwhile – the view from a thousand feet above the falls is utterly unbelievable and the pilots are skilled at taking the choppers as close as possible to the falling water.

From a regional point of view, the falls lie between Brazil and Argentina; while another of the area’s famous sites – the great Itaipu Dam – lies between Paraguay and Brazil. The Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant is the largest of its kind in the world. It’s well worth seeing for no other reason than the sheer size of the dam is mind boggling. I am very pro hydroelectric power as it’s a great way to generate clean energy – and while the dam itself looks like a bit of a concrete abrasion on what is probably one of the most beautiful parts of Latin America – one needs to take into account the fact that the plant supplies Brazil with close to 25% of its power needs, and Paraguay with almost 97%. That is a lot of clean energy. The dam is rated at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World – and with enough concrete to build 210 giant football stadiums, and enough steel to build 380 Eiffel Towers; it is hardly any wonder why.

Three settlements in three different countries converge around Iguacu and give the area a distinctive feel and vibe. While you’re on the Brazilian side you feel very much as though you are in Brazil. The same holds true for the Argentine and Paraguayan sides, and this is strange as one could almost argue that the three settlements are so close to one another that they practically make up the same city. Brazilian Foz de Iguacu is the largest, and within the lively city it is easy to find samba, capirinhas, and colorful attitudes. The Argentine side is home to Puerto de Iguassu – a tranquil, safe, cheap, and much smaller town where you can eat a great Argentine Parilla (Barbeque). The Paraguayan settlement is a trade free zone called Ciudade del Este and is a haven for counterfeit watches and knock-off computers – it’s a bustling town, rougher than the Brazilian and Argentine sides, but a great place to go if you’re looking for a good deal. All three towns are connected by bridges and separated by border control posts giving them a feeling of both unification and detachment from one another. Most tourists choose to stay on either the Argentine or Brazilian side – visiting the other side for a day.

Regardless of what there is to see and do in and around the falls, it is the falls themselves that remain very much the central attraction to the area. I’ve heard it said that Iguacu is at once both mind numbingly large, and jaw dropping beautiful. I guess Iguacu will always remain one of those places where you just can’t seem to fully appreciate its immensity and beauty. There is simply too much to see there. The falls – I feel – are just way too big and way too beautiful to ever really be understood and respected in the way that they deserve to be. For the most part all we can do is visit, gain what we can personally from seeing one of natures most spectacular sites, and then leave knowing that there are still places on earth that remain a mystery.

Keep on Traveling




Nadine said...

Terrific pictures Bart; I've only ever been to Kaiteur and Orindeuk
falls in Guyana, and even though Kaiteur is the largest single drop
falls in the world, judging by your photos it is not nearly as
impressive as the Iguacu Falls.

prim said...

The good picture. I know you that you always travel in many place. I have a web blog as you have it. This is my web blog http://www.funpicnic.blogspot.com Enjoying with your travelling.

Racquel said...

Wow! I wanna go there! the photos of the falls you posted are really inviting! =)

guada said...

i went to iguacu twice, and it's not enough! i wanna go again!

nice pics!

Shawn said...

These are beautiful pictures. I also have some too, plus information about very cheap hotels in london.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you Bart for a superb acount of your visits to the Iguaca Falls
and also for the wonderful photos!

This is how, before I came to live in Canada, I had always imagined
Niagara Falls would be. When I first saw them I was devastated;
skyscrapers and thousands of tourists and very busy roads surround
them of course; I had seen more dramatic waterfalls in Africa from
whence I had come.

The Icuaca Falls look magical and I can easily imagine that they are
spiritual for some. I believe as humans we relate to such powerful
water on an almost primal level.

You have inspired me to see this magnificent site/sight before I
die.....thank you!

Maggie, Canada.

Marcella said...

This is a fascinating post! It could not have been expressed better.

paul said...

just lovin the pics and the great photogrpahic angles. may i know what camera are you using?


Bart de Graaf said...

Thanks Paul

I really appreciate it. I've been using an Olympus Evolt 500 which is a good DSLR - its light, easy to use, and the casing and separate lenses are not too expensive. I've been thinking about upgrading to a Nikon though. The panoramic of Iguazu was actually stitched together from a series of 5 or 6 separate photos.

Nahebi said...

Excellent photography skills. The pictures are great. I have not been to Iguacu, will consider it my next trip.

Bilim ve Teknoloji Haberleri said...

Thank you