The bow of the big raft lurched high in the air over another oncoming wave, then abruptly smashed back down. Then again, and again. Up and down. Water splashed on board. Passengers were tossed about, but they loved it, shrieking with delight.
All around us were the great waterfalls, tons of water avalanching down into the river where the raft bobbed. This was the “Gran Aventura” ride on the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls which border both Argentina and Brazil, but can also be seen from Paraguay.
The real adventure was yet to come as the raft got nearer and nearer to the torrents of water. Soon everyone was completely soaked. The helmsman was determined to give us our money’s worth. He steered closer and closer, adding an element of fear to the thrilling ride. Shrieks turned to screams. It was better than anything you’d find in an amusement park.
My friend Isabel and I spent three days in the Argentinean town of Puerto Iguazú near the Falls. The boat ride was a highlight of our Falls visit which began with a train ride through the jungle. The train deposited us at a trail where we followed a guide who led us through the dense tropical environment. Soon we heard a roar in the distance. It grew louder as we approached the magnificent sight, thunderous, powerful surges of water. We proceeded onto a walkway which took us to the edge of the falls which cascade as far as 200 feet below. Shifting winds blew sprays of water in every direction. Rainbows danced in the mist. Birds dove above. Everyone was taking pictures of the falls, and of each other with the falls in the background.
This is no Niagara, but some 275 waterfalls shaped by 120 million years of geological history. That’s the amazing part—not just one big falls, but falls everywhere. Our walk on the Upper Circuit took us past several falls with viewing stands along the edges. The Lower Circuit walk leads below yet other falls. Some wide and open. Others long and narrow and surrounded by vegetation. It’s all overwhelming.
Our guide Margarita, who got married at the falls named “Margarita,” provided us with interesting facts about the Falls and the surrounding jungle. The latter shelters 2,000 different kinds of plants, 200 species of trees, 85 species of orchids, five different kinds of bamboo, 450 bird species, 80 kinds of mammals including the jaguar and 2,000 different insects including 250 kinds of butterflies. The birds that fly around the Falls are swifts. They have clawed feet which prevent them from landing. They hang off rocks and eat insects in the spray. And, “they copulate in the air.”
Every year two to three people commit suicide at the Falls, Margarita said, and they are always women.
Our package tour also included an excursion to Brazil to see the Falls from that country. The views there are said to offer a greater panorama. Alas, I was not told that as an American I would need a visa to go to Brazil. Cost would have been about $150, plus a long wait in a line at the Brazilian consulate in the town of Iguazu. I decided, mainly for financial reasons, to pass. Isabel, who is Irish, did not need a visa. She went to Brazil and said it was stunning.
Our hotel on the outskirts of Iguazú was almost next door to a wildlife refuge, the Güiráoga Center where rescued animals live in a natural habitat. We boarded an open truck into the jungle, then followed a guide to large enclosures where different animals lived. It’s illegal in Argentina to keep wild animals as pets. Many of the animal residents were taken from homes where they had been pets. Others were hit by cars or had been injured by hunters. The goal is to re-introduce all to the wild, but some, such as a black-fronted Piping guan, a large bird which lost one eye to a sling-shot, cannot be fully rehabilitated and will stay at the center.
We especially enjoyed watching, and trying to photograph, the Brown Capuchin monkeys. We were shocked at some of the tragic stories about the animals. A Toucan had been found inside a suitcase, along with 17 other of the colorful big-beaked birds, in the cargo hold of a plane at the airport in Buenos Aries. This is the only one that survived. Then there was the coati which was recovering from food poisoning. Coatis (similar to raccoons) hang out at the food stands and restaurants at the Falls. They are very tame and engaging. Tourists, even though they are told not to, feed the animals.
See more photos of the Falls under “photo album” center column. And, feel free to comment on this blog. Click on “comments” below.