KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We booked our hotel for four nights so that we would have three full days to see the Iguazu Falls and the surrounding jungle. We had read that there are tours that visitors can take to explore the jungle canopy, even sliding along zip lines high above the forest floor. I kept thinking that this was a place for us to try a zip line, I’ve done it once outside of Edmonton but Anil has never been on one. However, we were so wasted from our bus journey, that we just lazed around the hotel for the whole of the first full day there. We had plans to meet up with good friends from Toronto and we wanted to be in good shape when we saw them. They were staying at the Iguazu Sheraton, located within the park itself, while we were in the town, about twenty kilometers from the falls.
I should tell you a little about our friends Judy and Chris Escott. I first met Judy, and then Chris, in 1971 when we arrived for an orientation program in Ontario before heading off as volunteers with CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas). Judy and I had just graduated from university and as it turned out, we had both studied Home Economics. Chris was an engineer, interested in building roads and bridges. Over the years, we have had the incredible experience of running into each other in the strangest of places. We keep in touch through emails and updates at least one per year.
I had written to Judy and Chris after learning they were new grandparents and it was via my email that they learned we were travelling in Argentina. Chris wrote to tell us that they were coming to Argentina for their annual spring get-away with Chris’ brother and his wife. The incredible coincidence was that we would all be at Iguazu Falls at the same time. We planned to meet up, but I have this strange feeling that even if we hadn’t known of our simultaneous vacation at the Falls, we would have encountered each other while walking along one of the park trails. That would have been in perfect keeping with our past coincidental meetings.
Judy and Debbie came to see us at the hotel while the ‘boys’ were out birding. They are both avid ‘birders’ and they plan their travels around the opportunity to add new species to their ‘life list’. It was great to see Judy again, and we were shocked when we realized that it had been almost seven years since we had last seen each other. It was even longer since we saw Chris. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the intervening years seemed to evaporate as we sat talking over dinner. Judy brought along her iPhone and was able to share photos of her two grandsons, born in 2008 within 11 days of each other. What a very proud grandmother!
The Escotts had spent the two previous days at the Falls so they were able to advise us on the best way to explore the park and which viewpoints we must take in. Judy also told us that the train that takes visitors to see the Devil’s Throat section of the Falls runs every half hour and that walking along the small dirt road beside the tracks is a much better way to get around without being herded along with the tour groups. This was exactly the kind of advice we were interested in getting. We asked if they had taken a ride on the boat that gets to the foot of the falls and they told us they hadn’t. We’d ridden on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls so felt we wouldn’t do it either.
Well rested after a lazy day at the hotel and a great evening with the Escotts, we headed off to the Falls, leaving early to try and beat the tour buses to the park entrance. We arrived before 9:00 am and headed first to the Superior Trail in order to see the Falls from above before venturing down the dozens and dozens of stairs to see the Falls from a different vantage point. There were very few visitors that early and it felt like we had the park almost to ourselves. That was until a family of about twenty individuals sauntered out of the forest and along the elevated platform. These were the coatis, a raccoon-like animal that has learned to search for food in the waste bins that line the trails. We had been warned to be wary of these moochers, as they are wild animals, and bite if offered food.
We spent the better part of the day walking all the trails to see the massive Falls from every vantage point possible. By mid-morning we started seeing large groups of tourists arriving and so we headed down to the level of the river below the falls and took a small boat across to San Martin Island and another series of viewpoints. There were tons of stairs on the island so naturally, there were fewer tourists there. The sun was shining brightly now and we began to feel the heat and humidity. We didn’t mind though, because the combination of great weather and blue skies presented us with a huge rainbow when we made it to the highest viewpoint on San Martin Island.
Now it was time to make the decision to ride up the falls in a speedboat or to forego the experience. We were tired of the stairs; we were hot and sticky and we knew we would never be back to such a remote place again. We decided to go for the boat trip. We were warned that we would get wet but were pleased that they provided everyone with waterproof bags for our backpacks, purses and cameras. We piled into the boat and headed up the river. Just before we moved in close to the incredible spray coming off the falls, we were told to put our cameras away. Anil was pretty sure that if he rolled up his trousers and put the rubber bag on his lap, he would avoid the bulk of the water and stay relatively dry.
I can never describe the experience of the next few minutes, but suffice it to say, we didn’t go up to the Falls; we went into them. The thundering water was so intense, I could hardly breathe and the water didn’t just come down on us, it came up too! As the surging water crashed over us, it hit the floor of the boat and rushed up from below the seats. We were drenched to the skin and I still can’t figure out how on earth we weren’t all washed overboard. It was a great experience, something everyone should try, once.
Back on dry land, and that was the only thing that was dry, we struggled up the stairs in our sopping wet clothes. I was surprised to see that the pounding water had somehow taken a lot of the dye from my recently coloured hair and tinted my white shirt pink. How’s that for powerful? However, another surprise was waiting for me. When I opened by waterproof bag to retrieve my camera and backpack, I found about four inches of water in the bottom of the bag. My camera was sitting on my pack above the surface of the water, but the dampness was more than my camera could handle and the whole thing seized up. The lens wouldn’t retract after it opened and none of the other buttons would work at all. The display was a milky white; the dampness had seeped inside the camera.
This was bad enough in itself, but the worst thing was that we had saved the most dramatic part of the Falls for the last part of the day and now I didn’t have a camera to take any photos. I had high hopes that the camera would work again, after all my iPod had survived the trials and tribulations of 15,000 ft above sea level. Perhaps luck would be with me once again with the camera. Anil was more pessimistic than me, it did look pretty bad.
We carried on to see the Garganta del Diablo, or the Devil’s Throat as the horseshoe-shaped portion of the two-kilometer long falls is known. Taking Judy’s suggestion to heart, we walked along the small road beside the rail line. The night before it had rained heavily and there were several puddles of water along the road. As we walked, we began to see butterflies hovering above the puddles. As we came closer, we could see that there were dozens and dozens of different varieties of butterflies drinking water from the puddle. The strangest thing was that they seemed to line up around the edge so that they were side by side with others of the same type. How I wished I had a camera to capture their beauty.
We walked the full two and a half kilometres to the start of the trail that would take us to the very edge of the thundering water plunging over the largest section of the Falls. We were surprised to see that we would be walking along a raised platform for more than a kilometre above the slow- flowing river water. If you didn’t know that you were close to one of the most dramatic cascades in the world, you could well think that you were just walking over a wide, shallow river flowing quietly through the Argentine forest.
When at last we arrived at the viewing platform, we were treated to a spectacle difficult to describe. We were fortunate to come at a time when there was little or no wind because this meant that there was no heavy mist coming off the falls and we could stare into the abyss as long as we wanted without being blinded or soaked. People were taking photos all around me without worrying about getting their cameras wet and all I could think about was my poor little Canon tucked into my purse, locked in place, unable to help me capture a photo of this amazing spectacle. We stayed for a long time, sitting for a while in the shade and then venturing to the edge of the Falls again and again to enjoy the majesty of the view over and over.
At last, it was time to head back to our hotel. As we walked back over the long, long raised platform, we realized that we were completely dry, we never expected that our sodden clothes would dry in the humid air around the falls. When we got back to the railroad, we noticed others taking photos of the butterflies around another puddle. I spoke to a young man from the Netherlands and he agreed to email me some of his photos so that I have a memento of this special time and place.
Without a camera, we didn’t have the heart to return to the Falls for a second visit and instead we chose to relax in the town and walk the short distance to the confluence of the Rio Igauzu and the Rio Parana. It is here that the countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay all meet, not far from the point where the water thunders over one of the most incredible cascades anywhere. As we walked down the street on our way to the rivers, we ran into our bus-mates John and Vance. They had a short time to kill before their flight to Buenos Aires and they joined us for the walk. John had his camera with him and promised to send me copies of the photos that he took. I will add them to the journal, if and when he sends them. He is a dentist and must be back on the job so I imagine it will be a little time before he sends them to me.
Our tour to the Falls was an incredible experience and we were glad we made the concerted effort to get to the location by bus. Thank goodness there are great flights between the Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires because the prospect of an eighteen-hour bus ride was daunting. We booked a flight on Aerolineas Argentina’s and landed in the capital city only 90 minutes after take-off. It was such a comfortable way to travel but our journey was a little alarming because a fellow passenger had a heart attack about a half an hour after we took off and the doctors and crew on board had to perform CPR on him near the front of the plane. We don’t know if he made it. He was not responding and his wife was distraught.
We held each other’s hand as we landed, I’m a little nervous taking off and landing, but this time we vowed to continue travelling and enjoying seeing the world. The crisis this man and his wife were facing reminded us that we never know when our time would be up, and what better way to go than to be doing something you love.