Iguaçu Falls – another day in paradise

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Sunday morning heralded another blue sky day. No rest for the wicked as at 8.15am I was due to meet with a guide to take me along a walk on the Brazilian side of the falls. The nice thing about staying at the Hotel das Cataratas is that you are inside the national park, which means you get to wander around early in the morning and at the end of the day when all the tourists are gone. We set out for our walk and only encountered maybe four other people, all hotel guests.

The light on the falls in the morning is beautiful and the path that starts at the hotel meanders down and along the side giving a very panoramic view of the falls. While the Argentinian side gets you up close and personal, the Brazilian side is more visually attractive in my view. And of course that bonus of not having to share it with lots of tourists at the same time…

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The path leads through various viewpoints to a suspended walkway into the Garganta del Diablo and this ended up being one of the things I most enjoyed. Having put on a rain jacket myself and a rain cover for my camera I headed out into the spray right to the edge. Rainbows were everywhere and I even saw an almost perfect circular one – only the tiniest bit was missing, but it was so large that I could not capture it on my camera. They weren’t vague rainbows either, but really strong in their colours. There was only one other person on the furthest platform and we both took the spectacle in quietly. There was something really purifying about this force of nature raining down on you. It’s hard to describe without sounding a bit strange, but it was really a special moment in the day.

After the walk we headed back to the hotel and there I relaxed by the pool, followed by a snack, before heading out for the next adventure, the Poço Preto (Black Well) tour. The only other participant was Adam from Texas who was visiting for a conference. We both opted for doing the first part of the tour by bicycles (you get a choice between walking, cycling or jeep) and headed out in the shady glades with our two guides, Ulisses and Eric, who provided information about the flora and fauna we were encountering. A lot of the fauna were flying ants, which hovered in the sunny patches and had a tendency to fly into your mouth or your eyes, so I kept my sunnies firmly on, even if I didn’t quite need them in the shady woods.

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After an enjoyable ride we reached the river and while we waited for the boat to arrive, we walked to a watch tower from where you had a view of an alligator pool. Didn’t see any though, but lots of cartwheeling birds with a death wish. The boat took us upstream for a while to the Poço Preto area, which is a deep opening in the riverbed, making the water look black. From there we turned the boat around and headed downstream, seeing an alligator sunning himself and taking in the immensity of the forest here. The final part of the trip was a paddle in an inflatable canoe. We decided to share one, but did not impress our guides when we veered off course, but eventually found our way back again to where they wanted us. I swear I was steering straight to where I wanted to go!

Back at the hotel I decided to do the morning walk one more time and see the falls at sunset. This time the paths were still pretty full with day visitors, so it was a different experience, but the colours were stunning, particularly at the Garganta del Diablo area. Then it was time for a light meal in the bar an an early night, before getting up at 3.30am to get my flight back to Sao Paulo.

The incredible beauty of Iguaçu Falls

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I’ve never really sought out waterfalls; I’m more a mountain fan, but I figured that I couldn’t spend four years in Brazil without ticking Iguaçu Falls off my list and so I decided to sneak a weekend in before the madness of the World Cup descends upon me. To cut a long story short: I was blown away by the place, the size of the waterfalls and the relaxing and yet invigorating effect they have on people. Cleansing is another word I could use. If any of you are planning to visit Brazil, do not leave this off the list. It is just wonderful.

I left on Friday afternoon from Sao Paulo and arrived in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian airport that is closest in proximity. A driver was waiting for me and delivered me in 20 minutes flat at the Hotel das Cataratas. Yes, I know, extravagantly luxurious, but what a delight of a hotel and upgrading to a room with a view of the falls was completely worth every real and centavo. After dropping my bag it was time for a well-deserved caipirinha in the bar with bossa nova tunes in the background. A snack, another caipirinha and the worries of a particularly trying week were starting to wash away. Bliss.

The next morning my private tour (who knew!) started to the Argentinian side of the falls. The falls are essentially a point between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Immigration was quick and easy (as opposed to during Easter and the other long weekend when the queues took two hours, according to my guide Francisco) and soon we were in the park and on our way to the first viewpoints. The flow of the waters was a bit higher because of recent heavy rains, but would reduce over the next few days. Average flow is 1,500 cubic meters per second, which is, well, a lot and the water thunders around you everywhere. Colourful birds and butterflies flit about and the coatis, a raccoon-like animal, can also be found in various places. We did the upper trail first, which passes the Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters) Falls, the Salto Chico (the little fall), the Salto Bossetti and the Salto Adan y Eva (Adam and Eve). Beyond that the trail stopped as heavy recent rains had damaged the suspended walkway.

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We then made our way to the lower trail which starts with Salto Lanusse, followed by Salto Alvar Nuñez and then winds its way to a different viewpoint of the falls seen on the upper trail. By that stage there were also various boats heading into the spray of Salto San Martin. I was glad I didn’t choose that option. I don’t think my cameras would have liked it!

From the end of the lower trail we took a little train through the park to the start of the Garganta del Diablo suspended walk (the Devil’s Throat) which takes you to the biggest falls of all where the water rages down into the Lower Iguaçu River. On the way we saw turtles sunning themselves on rocks sticking out of the river. An alligator lying motionless in the shallows and of course lots of butterflies. The Garganta itself was difficult to photograph with spray everywhere, which meant I had to wipe the lens dry with practically every shot, but what a spectacle!

We then returned to the park headquarters and from there drove back to Foz. Francisco suggested we should see on our way back whether the helicopters were flying and it being a beautiful blue sky day they were. I had to wait a little bit before some other takers arrived and then suddenly I was being directed to the front seat in the helicopter next to the pilot for a 10-minute flight over the falls. I had made sure all the camera settings followed instructions I had read and off we lifted for an exhilarating ride over the forest and the falls. The pilot dipped and swirled and made sure we got fantastic views of the falls from above. And yes, the settings did work and I did get some very nice shots from the helicopter. I also got to see the hotel from above and take some shots of that, which was very cool.

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After all that excitement it was time to return to the hotel for a little dip in the pool before setting up for photographing the sunset over the falls. Francisco had been disappointed that we hadn’t seen a toucan during our day, but I reminded him of the Brazilian expression: “Everything will be OK in the end and if it isn’t OK yet, it means it’s not the end yet”. And indeed, at sunset the toucan made an appearance as it flew into dusk towards the trees. When you see these birds in flight it looks as if gravity is being defied. Their big beaks look like they should drag them down. Unfortunately no photo, as these birds are notoriously shy and retiring and prefer the very high tops of the trees. One shot I did get was of the fella featured above this paragraph. His movements were elegant and the ultimate of relaxed, although I’m sure he would turn lethal in seconds if he so desires. It’s one of my favourite pictures of the trip – I love the way the light features in the water and how that contrasts with his scaly and sculpted body.

In the next post I will talk about the second day on the Brazilian side.