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26/01 Sunday 11:00AM

18 hours to iguazu falls

images and text . Sarah Brown .

I feel pretty good after my 18-hour ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Crucero del Norte Bienvenidos bus was what I imagine first-class air travel to be, only a lot cheaper.  My legs were stretched to full length and the food was hot and served with warm bread rolls and cold beverages. When I was awake I was entertained and when I was asleep I was comfortable. It was a perfect journey.

Twenty years ago I was a university student and I used to spend Friday nights at a café called Iguazu, in a trendy suburb of Auckland. It took a few visits before I realised it was named after waterfalls in South America. Since then I have been obsessed with visiting them.

It’s obvious now the cafe was nothing like the town Puerto Iguazu. It was all new, flashy with shiny surfaces and contemporary metallic furniture. This town is rundown, small and slow moving. Everything is a dusty red clay colour with splashes of green, pink and purple. The metal roofs are rusty and beaten up. The storefronts are cluttered with goods that look like they have 10 years of dust and dirt on them. The shopkeepers are settled comfortably in their window seats watching the world pass. Today’s view brings them a few tourists and many locals returning home for the weekend.



The streets of Puerto Iguazu

I usually like to walk everywhere but I'm tired and the Esturion Hotel is a little out of town, so I get a taxi. As we drive through an elaborate archway formed by plants and tropical red, yellow and orange flowers, I see tennis courts, a swimming pool and sweet intimate gardens with mini sculptures. It’s especially pretty in the early morning light and I’m happy I spent a little more money on luxuries. Okay, I spent a lot more money than what the local hostel cost. But it looks like it’s worth it.

 
Esturion Hotel                                                                                  Train to the falls

The doorman offers to take my plastic shopping bags. I am travelling light this weekend and all I could find to pack my belongings in were bags from the Disco (not to be mistaken with a disco, this Disco is not a disco but a supermarket. The first time someone offered to take me there, I actually thought I was going for a dance!). I decline the offer and clutch my weekend clothes close to me, in a bag lady type way. If I had chosen somewhere cheaper to stay, I could have spent the money saved, on buying a proper overnight bag. Oh well.
 
It's morning and there is a line of people checking out. My room isn't ready yet so I relax in the lobby area. It’s all very Zen, there are sand gardens, running water, soothing music and a number of double beds on the balcony for the guests to relax, read a book or have an afternoon nap. The beds look inviting and I'm tempted to lie down now, but know if I do, I will be out for the count.

I try my Spanish out on the hotel staff asking for directions, times and costs of getting to the UNESCO Iguazu Park. I'm surprised by my ability to communicate and understand. The lessons are finally paying off. With my confidence totally boosted I head out to the bus.
 
It leaves from outside my hotel and stops often along the way. A mix of foreigners and locals get on and I hear conversations in many languages. I recognise bits and pieces from those I have tried unsuccessfully to learn over the years, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. I concentrate on the Spanish and eavesdrop on people's lives. I find myself smiling at how much I understand.  When we reach the falls 20 kilometers later, I have to tear myself away from an Argentine couple arguing.

"I don't need to remember that I gave you the key. I ALWAYS give you the key. You know that."

"I'm telling you, you didn't give me the key today. Yesterday and the day before and before that, yes. But TODAY no key."

"If I didn't give you the key then what did I do with it?"

"I don’t know. That is what I am asking you, where is it? Check your pockets. This is why you should carry a bag.”

“If I had a bag then I would be a woman. Men don’t carry bags.”

“But they do lose keys!”

Good point, love. I think to myself. Good point. I leave the couple standing back to back in angry silence and edge my way into the park. This is one of those times I’m glad I’m travelling alone.

Armed with a map I settle on the train.  The ride through the park is open to the elements; there are no walls or doors. After the bus it's energizing to breathe in the fresh, damp air and to look at the various tones of green in the surrounding lush jungle.

The train only goes halfway and for the other half I walk on a planked pathway to Garganta del Diablo, The Devil’s Throat. On the two-way path, I maneuver through a sea of umbrellas, raincoats, plastic bag dresses, and soaked people heading in the opposite direction.  I feel inadequately dressed wearing my travelling uniform of flip-flops, yoga pants and a t-shirt.


The Devil's Throat

After about 100 metres I wish for different shoes; all my concentration is on the walkway and not slipping. I’m looking so hard at my feet I hardly notice my surroundings and the slow rhythmic rumble coming towards me. I turn to the right and see the water flowing faster than it was when I first started walking. It’s not until The Devil’s Throat is directly in front of me that I realise the rumble has turned to a roar and the water is surging at a colossal speed down an 80 metre-drop. The spray from the falls blurs my eyes. My hair, clothes and camera are soaked from the thousands of droplets falling all around me.

I stand still for what seems like hours. I am lost in the thunderous noise and blur of the water as it pounds down the falls. Its power is phenomenal and every sound I hear is amplified. My senses are heightened and working overtime. The drumming is deafening. The cool splashes of water are prickles soaking my sweaty skin. My whole body is vibrating and alive. I love how despite the craziness and accumulation of action happening around me, I feel calmness in my body and my breath. I inhale slowly and deeply taking droplets of crisp, fresh water into my mouth and nose.


Iguazu Falls

On my 18-hour journey here, I did not for one second imagine Iguazu Falls would be this incredible. But they are.

The falls are divided between Argentina and Brazil. There are around 270 scattered in a horseshoe shape between the two countries. I choose to follow the upper and lower circuits on the Argentine side. I see The Devil’s Throat from a little further back and I think I am looking at the most beautiful view until I take another step or turn the corner. I can’t stop taking photos and videos; I think each new photo will be the best. The greens of the jungle, the blues of the sky and the whites of the water look so vibrant and alive through the lens; they fill the viewfinder with a perfect composition every time.


Iguazu Falls

From the upper circuit I strain my eyes trying to see where the falls end. They just seem to go on forever. I overhear a guide say the falls are 150 metres wide. No wonder I can't see the end, even with my glasses I would be hard pushed to see that far. I can see people in boats near the foot of the falls. The screams from the boat passengers are not audible over the roar of the water. I know they are screaming though from their gestures and actions. I guess they are going to St. Martins, a nearby island with nature walks.

I head down to the lower circuit walking slowly and carefully, as the stairs are slippery and steep in places. The view from the bottom up is nearly as impressive as the other way round. I feel like the water is coming right at me. The mist soaks through my clothes as I stand, staring dumbly skyward. My neck begins to ache before I realize I’m in an awkward and painful position, but it seems worth it. I stay like that a while longer.

After five hours I need a towel to dry off and a bed on a balcony. I decide to return tomorrow to do more walks on the Argentine side or to take a boat to the Brazilian side. I figure I will just follow the water.

Here's Ten Interesting Facts about the Iguazu Falls. For more information about the park, the falls and Puerto Iguazu check out the national park's official site

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