With Arms Wide Open

Poor Niagra
18th March 2018

There was no chance of sleeping in late this morning with a 6:20am alarm set on two phones ready for our 8am pick-up.

Half asleep we shuffled to breakfast where they had put on a good spread to be fair. Plenty of fresh fruits like watermelon, papaya, peeled whole oranges. Then there were the cooked breakfast items. Julie had a thick strong tasting sausage with toasted sourdough bread which she raved about, whilst I had scrambled egg topped with a spicy tomato sauce.

With room for more I then filled my boots with sweet things like Pastel de Belem, a delicious custard tart from the North East of Brazil that looked like the more familiar Portuguese version but without the flaky pastry. Then there was Cueca Vilada which they had translated as “underwear tuner”. They were a dense little donut pieces, like short churros bullets and were very sweet. And finally, Bolo de Jaranja, a lovely moist orange sponge cake that wasn’t very orangey but was very nice.

As full as gluttonous pigs we returned to our room to get our stuff and returned to the lobby for 8am where Chader was waiting for us.

We walked to his car. “I’m not allowed to park it outside the door” he apologised.

A short distance from the hotel we passed a few tourist attractions such as Dreamland wax museum with a Valley of the Dinosaur attached. There was also an Icebar there!  The thought of stepping into a -15C bar for a drink sounded appealing.

It took less than 10 minutes for the 8km drive to the border crossing where we parked up. Chader took our passports to the office and dealt with the formalities whilst we stayed in the car. He returned with our passports stamped with our exit from Brazil.

We still had a mile to drive to reach the Ponte Tancredo Neves which spanned the Rio Iguaçu into Argentina.

Technically the border was halfway across the river and this was symbolised by the changing of the colours painted along the bridge from the yellow and green of Brazil to the blue and white of Argentina.

Also, at this point, we looked to the right, and about another mile away was the point where Paraguay met Argentina and Brazil.

As on the Brazilian side we drove for about a mile before we reached the Argentinian border crossing. This time we queued for a little bit. “I always choose the wrong one!” said Chader bemoaning the fact that we were in the slower queue, but we were only four or five cars away, so it wasn’t bad. “Some days the queue stretches back a very long way” he added.

Within ten minutes we had our passports stamped with Welcome to Argentina and we were driving through the Iguazú National Park. The spelling of Iguaçu had changed as we moved from Portuguese to Spanish.

We reached the entrance to the National Park. Chadler dropped us off because the car park was some distance away, and even at 8:30am it was warm in the sun.  When he returned he bought the entry tickets and we followed him through the turnstiles. It cost AR$350 for foreigners to enter.

The first thing we did was to get orientated by looking at the park’s map. There was a little train that shuttled visitors from the entrance to the starting point for many trails, but we decided to walk there. It was only a 15-minute walk along the Green Trail, much quicker than waiting for the next train.

We walked through a wooded area where we heard a rustling in the bushes. Out popped this cute looking animal called a coati. It was a distant cousin to the racoon but with a long almost aardvark-like snout.

A little further along we saw much more of them. The collective term is a band of coatis and they would probably be females and juveniles as the adult male tends to live solitarily. They had been attracted to the path by the contents of someone’s bag. “They can smell food” explained Chadler.

They certainly could! 

Their super sensitive noses were twitching like crazy. It didn’t take them long before they located the booty and surrounded this woman. There must have been half a dozen of them and they were getting increasingly frantic. They were climbing all over each other to reach the bag until one made it. Half in, half out, it rummaged around looking for the sandwiches. Chadler stepped in and came to the rescue, shooing them off with his umbrella. He’d seen it all before, a thousand times.

“You have to be careful“ he said “they can bite.”

They could also carry rabies. One very important reason not to get bitten.

We moved on quickly before it got ugly.

As we crossed a marsh Chadler stopped to see if he could spot any caymans, the South American equivalent of a crocodile. “I have seen some this close to the path” he said.

We quickened our pace. I bite off one of them would be even less desirable.

We crossed the train tracks and reached a small station called Estacion Cataratas. It was very busy here as a crowd were waiting for the next train. It wasn’t due for 10 minutes. He went off to get tickets for us. I don’t know if they were included in the entrance fee or not. Perhaps it was just a method of controlling numbers.

You could walk this route. It was however quite far to the end of this trail so letting the steam train take the strain was a good idea.

“I could only get tickets for the train after” said Chadler. That would have delayed us by half an hour, so he used his charm to by-pass the queue and get us on the next train out of there. We weren’t sat together but that was fine.

Chadler was a very friendly and chatty guy. When we said we from Wales he told us that the steam engine they use here was made in Ross-on-Wye. Technically that’s over the border in England but the River Wye is predominantly in Wales, even forming the border as it runs down the Wye Valley to the Severn estuary. But Ross-on-Wye is definitely in England!  It even said so on the small plaque on the engine from Alan Keef Ltd.

We chugged our way slowly along the tracks on the ecological propane fuelled engine, following the banks of the river. Some people were walking along the tracks. In this heat and humidity, it would have been a killer.

The end of the line, Estacion Garganta, arrived after about 10 minutes. From here we had to walk. Where we were going it was the only option.

The Iguazu falls stretches out 2.7km as the water tumbles over the edge into a gorge. The most dramatic point of this called the Union Falls but is far better known as The Devil’s Throat, the bit where the river first plunges into the chasm.

To get there we had to walk over water for about a kilometre. The river here had spread out into a large expanse, so aluminium and concrete bridges were built from one tiny islet to another. We were caught in the single file march of people flowing off the train shuffling along the walkway.

Along the way we saw catfish swim beneath us and a Chelidae turtle basking in the sun on the rocks below.

The closer we got we noticed spray billowing like smoke rising-up beyond the next island. We were getting closer and the anticipation was mounting.

We crossed the last island and there it was, a huge sink hole down which the entire river disappeared into. It was a such a phenomenal sight. We could hear the rumbling and feel the spray in the air. We still had some 100m to go to reach the end of the walkway.

We reached the balcony that over looked the drop, literally on the edge. It was so immense it took the breath away. It was like nowhere else on earth. The phenomenal power of the water pouring into the abyss over this horseshoe edge was extraordinary.

A photograph couldn’t do it justice. All the superlatives in the English language seemed inadequate. We stood speechless, utterly mesmerised by the sheer wonder of it all.

To try and capture the thunderous noise of thousands of gallons of water per second falling off the edge of a cliff we took a few videos. It was simply overwhelming.

The name Iguazu comes from the Tupi-Guarani language of the tribe who used to call here home. The “Ig” means water and the “uasu” means big, so it literally means “big water”.

Big it certainly was. There was so much spray we couldn’t see the bottom of the waterfalls, 82 metres below. We could hardly see across to the other side, the Brazilian side. Everywhere we looked there was so much water cascading over into the void like a watery Grand Canyon.

Only by looking down river could we make out the water below as it continued its journey, onwards to join the Paraná River, separating Argentina, Brazil and not forgetting Paraguay.

Despite arriving with a crowd it didn’t feel too busy. There was always room at the edge. Most people didn’t stay too long. We must have spent a good twenty minutes here. We were in no rush to leave despite getting wetter by the minute. The amount of spray actually produced a rainbow right where we were standing. I could almost reach out and touch it.

Reluctantly we tore ourselves away, met up with Chadler, who was making good use of his umbrella, and slowly made our way back towards the train station.

Earlier, on the way to the Devil’s Throat I saw someone stop to take a photo of something in the bushes, but we didn’t have time to stop. We were ushered along with the flow, eager to get to the destination. Now, on the way back we had plenty of time. Somehow, I remembered the exact spot and I stopped to have a closer look at what drew her attention. It turned out to be a very large juicy caterpillar on a branch.

I have to admit that the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly fascinates me.

We caught the train back to the central station, this time we got to sit together.

From there we had a choice of two trails, the “paseo superior” or “paseo inferior”. They translated as Upper Circuit or the Lower Circuit. We took the superior upper trail not because it sounded better than the inferior one but because it was much shorter, plus ot was all on one level, with no steps to climb.

This path took us along the top of the multitude of waterfalls spilling over into the most gorgeous of gorges. The panoramic view was beautiful. It was a different experience to the Garganta del Diablo. It was less tumultuous and more sublime from this curtain of water stretching back towards the start. It’s estimated that there are at the very least 150 separate waterfalls, and that number potentially doubles when the volume of water increases.

Our trail took us through the patches of forest that lined the edge of the cataracts. It was a good opportunity to see a few animals in and around the walkway. We saw a few plush-crested jays, which were like a South American magpie.

We continued along the boardwalk, passing an angry looking coati. This one was much larger than the others we saw earlier. “It’s a male” explained Chadler. It also seemed to be breathing heavily. Its mouth open, as if it was panting to cool down, exposing its sharp teeth. They could certainly do some damage if it chose to attack.

We moved on quickly.

The first waterfalls we came to were two small, nearly identical falls called Dos Hermanas or the Two Sisters.

Not all of them had names, but the larger ones did. Such as Salto Bossetti named after a Italian botanist and explorer Carlo Bossetti who led an expedition in 1897 to “rediscover” the falls. (As if it had been lost to civilisation until then?)

“That water looks so calm” said Julie as she pointed out how the water flowed towards the edge with hardly any sign of turbulence. Not giving away a clue towards the precipice to come.

Whilst standing on the edge of his fall, we could see below the people who had chosen to walk the Lesser Circuit enjoying a face to face encounter with the Bossetti waterfall.

We crossed many other waterfalls, like Salto Adan y Eva, Salto Gpque Bernarde Mendez, to name a few, on our way towards the second largest waterfall in terms of water flow, where the waters of Salto Mbigua and Salto San Martin join forces and are forced through a narrow pass.

Once again there was a thunderous roar as the forceful power of water took centre stage.

We continued to the end of the walkway. This time however, there wasn’t a balcony with a heart-stopping view over the edge into the abyss.

From the edge we could see small rafts in the water sailing around the island of San Martin towards the base of waterfall.

Apparently, the lower circuit ended up at the water’s edge where in good weather you could also ferry across onto the island and continue the trail for some great views of the series of waterfalls along this section, namely Salto San Martin and Salto Escondido.

As we began the return leg Chadler mentioned that every so often there are extremely high water levels that floods these paths. We could see the remnants of a previous structure that got washed away in 1992. Whenever conditions get anywhere near dangerous they close the park down which happened as recent as 2014.

He was a guide back then and he could remember the water coming up to less than a metre from the walkway. Then it got worse.

All this talk of being washed away made Julie feel a little nervous.

We picked up the pace and walked back to the Estacion Cataratas along a boardwalk though the small forested islets.

The butterfly population here was incredible. There was such a diversity. Every time we would see another butterfly it would be a different variety. There were so many of them fluttering about, and so many different sizes and colours. “There are over 200 species” said Chadler. I’m sure he just plucked a figure off the top of his head, but it sounded plausible.

“They call this one the number 88 butterfly because of its pattern looks like the number” said Chadler in another fact that sounded like he just made it up.

As we walked over every creek Chadler was scouring the banks for any sign of a cayman but we didn’t see any.

In no time we were back at the start of the Upper Circuit followed by a few moments later back at the park entrance.

We drove back to the border crossing still within the National Park. The “Beware of the Animals” sign had the image of a tapir.

Now that’s a strange animal, like a weird cross between a pig and a baby rhinoceros.

There was no wildlife to be seen on the side of the road but Chadler assured us that plenty do try to cross. He told us about one occasion, a few years ago on the Brazilian side, when he saw a jaguar. You could tell that he was still moved by the experience.

We came to the border crossing. At the Argentinian side there was a three amigos memorial. I couldn’t find out anything about who they were, but their busts were set beneath the flags of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay offering a clue that they were probably instrumental in partitioning this corner of the world into its constituent parts.

The process of leaving Argentina was slower than the reverse this morning. I guess it was simply later in the day and more traffic. Having said that, it really didn’t take us too long to make it through to the other side.

Back in Brazil we asked Chadler to drop us off at the entrance to the Brazilian Iguaçu National Park. It was only about 1pm and we had plenty of time to see the falls from a different perspective.

It would have been so wrong to have just got back to the hotel and sat by the pool. Chadler’s work was done for the day or at least with us.

Before we bought our tickets, we enjoyed a strawberry cheesecake from a café at the entrance. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast but having filled our boots neither of us were that hungry.

The tickets here cost us R$63.6 each – that was broken down into R$52 for the entrance fee, R$10 for the bus ride to the falls and R$1.60 towards an Iguaçu Fund. That was about £28 for the both of us.

The shuttle buses were brightly decorated with various animals and frequent. We didn’t have to wait at all before hopping on one. They were one of those bendy buses, with two carriages and a flexible middle section. They also had double decker varieties. They were hybrid electric-diesel powered and therefore better for the environment. We weren’t going especially fast, but it had nothing to do with lack of horsepower, there was a speed limit imposed to minimise the risk of hitting any animals, which apparently has worked in reducing the roadkill.

The first two stops were to service Poço Preto, Macuco Safari from which boat trips and other excursions set off. We were getting off at the third stop, by the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.

It was a beautiful colonial style building that looked centuries old despite only being built in the 1950s. It’s the only hotel within the national park and as a result its guests have access to the waterfalls after hours. The park closes at 6pm.

I’m sure to be here when the crowds have gone, and the sun sets would be a priceless experience. Although I know exactly the price. It would have cost us an extra thousand pounds to stay for two nights. We decided against the extravagance.

The bus continued a further half a mile to Porto Canoas at the end of the line whilst we took the panoramic trail that started right outside the hotel.

From the very beginning we were treated to a magnificent view of the full grandeur of the Iguaçu Falls. We recognised those we had seen up close and personal on the Upper trail, from Salto Bossetti on the right to Salto San Martin to the left.

The scenery just got better. There was a double cascade as the water flowed over the ridge flooding a plateau below before spilling over the cliff’s edge. It was a spectacular sight.

According to the story Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed “Poor Niagra” when she first saw Iguaçu Falls. It truly was an awesome sight.

Eighty percent of the waterfalls are in Argentina. The countries are rivals in every way possible and claiming which side of the falls is best is no exception. Iguaçu or Iguazu?

They say that Argentina may provide the show, but Brazil enjoys the view. That was certainly true.

We stopped halfway for some refreshments. Julie went for a coke zero but I went all local and opted for the Coco Verde. I wasn’t expecting much as any coconut water we’ve tried at home has been a bit tasteless.

This however was light and fresh with a little sweetness. It came freshly opened and still in its green unripen nut. I really enjoyed the taste and the experience.

We moved on, walking along the boardwalk stopping at regular intervals to admire the falls from ever changing angles.

It wasn’t long before we could see The Devil’s Throat once more. Again, it was shrouded in mist such was the volume of water being thrown into one place.

We came to a fork in the road with one path going up towards Porto Canoas visitors centre and the other down to the water to a walkway on stilts that took you as far as it dared into the middle of gorge.

To get there we walked down a concrete structure, which had an elevator back up to Porto Canoas, and a souvenir shop. It was built incredibly close to the first Brazilian waterfall. Just when you thought Iguacu couldn’t impress you anymore, you then stand literally metres away from the base of a stunning cascade.

Onwards and downwards we continued to the walkway that took us over the water to catch a glimpse of the Devil’s Throat from a Brazilian perspective.  There was a lot of spray here and it got wetter the nearer to the end we walked. We didn’t mind getting soaked, in fact it was quite refreshing. Although with all the moisture my flip-flops turned into slip-slops as I found it difficult to walk in them. I was slip sliding all over the place.

It wasn’t that busy at the platform jutting out over one of the falls, but I suppose the getting to the corner for the best view was everybody’s idea so there was a bit of a wait, but it was worth it. This is where the immense power met with the breath-taking views as we looked upstream towards the Devil’s Throat. The scene completed by an ever present rainbow.

Not wanting to hog my position in the corner for too long I moved away after a couple of minutes to let those patiently waiting behind me to have their turn. Julie had stayed back to avoid the crowd. “You have to have a look” I said, and we returned to have another moment at the edge.

We hugged and stared out in awe at the tremendous sight in front of us. It blew us away. If we went home tomorrow it would have been worth the journey.

We were now getting proper hungry, so we returned to the concrete structure and waited for the next elevator to arrive. Once again, we stood right next to the huge flow of water crashing down only metres away. Incredible.

The elevator arrived, and it was pretty much a see-through cage, like Willy Wonka’s glass elevator. It was ideal to enjoy the wonderful panorama as you were lifted above the falls. Not so brilliant if you were afraid of heights. Julie had to close her eyes to avert a mild panic attack.

Once we got out of the it didn’t get any easier. The floor was in the form of a mesh, as strong as the two-inch steel it was made of, but you could see through it! We got out of there as quick as we could before Julie hit the deck and started crawling.

We walked up to the cluster of souvenir shops, cafés and buffet restaurant which had good reviews. My aversion to buffets took over and we shied away, choosing instead the two fast food outlets.

A had a Baguette Vegetariano which was a cheese & tomato baguette from one place and Julie had some fried chicken from another. They served Chopp beer which I believe meant draught beer. It was cold and refreshing so that was all that mattered.

Whilst I was munching away I had a coatis sniffing around my table, literally weaving its way between my legs. As cute as they looked I wasn’t going to feed one. I know how it works. Feed one and all of a sudden, you’ve got the whole damn band wanting a piece of your pie.

They also had quite graphic “do not feed the animals” posters illustrating how vicious they could get if you meet a particularly frenzied one. I wasn’t inclined to put my rabies vaccination to the test, so I shooed it away by making some hissing noises.

I needn’t have worried as there was a member of staff with a tin can on the end of a broomstick which he rattled along the floor. The noise certainly got all the coatis scarpering away.

After we had eaten we caught the next bus back to the park entrance and then walked back to our hotel. It took us about 10 minutes which wasn’t long but without any shade the heat was quite oppressive. It felt so nice walking into our air-conditioned lobby, it felt even better stepping into our 18C chilled bedroom!

We stayed in the room for a while basking in the cool air before popping out to the pool.

We marked our territory with our Welsh flag towels and ordered a caipirinha each.

It was a lot busier around the pool today, certainly more children, which wasn’t conducive to relaxing with all that splashing and screaming.

I went for a walk around the grounds and found a football pitch. Now you know you’re in Brazil when your hotel has a football pitch! They only had the goals, the “pitch” hadn’t been marked out with chalk lines and it really was a poor playing surface.The grass was the coarse spongey type.

I did think about getting a ball from reception and practice my free-kicks, but I was sweating enough just walking around the place. I thought the better of it and returned to my cocktail by the pool.

As the sun began to set we headed inside. We got ourselves dressed for dinner. Tonight, we opted for the buffet option with a set price of R$68 each.

There were plenty of non-meat dishes for me to choose from. I was encouraged that each dish had its own serving spoon and the meat dishes were quite separate.

I began with a plate full of fresh salads with a great dollop of garlic sauce in the middle of it. I followed that with a bowlful of penne pasta in garlic butter. I found it to be a little bland so I pimped it up by adding some of that delicious garlic sauce and a sprinkling of the breadcrumb like cassava flour.

Julie had a wide selection of meats. Once again, she found the beef to be chewy but the pork in BBQ sauce was worth a second helping.

We also enjoyed a bottle of a Brazilian sparkling wine called Terranova which was reasonably priced at R$74.

I rounded the evening up with a trio of desserts, pineapple in syrup, a pudim similar to a crème brule and a slice of banana pie.

When we were ready to leave there wasn’t a member of staff to be seen. They all disappeared. It felt like they were hiding from us when we were waiting to sign our bill. In the end we gave up and left without signing.

On the way back to our room we said goodbye to San Martin then burst out laughing when we noticed his rather disapproving expression. We hadn’t noticed before how pursed his lips were. He certainly didn’t look happy.

We hushed ourselves and carried on down the hallway as quiet as possible.

It was only early but it made sense for us to get to sleep. Not only were we tired after a long day we also had a 4am pick-up in the morning for our flight to Manaus.

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