Richard C, our Outside the Square ‘facilitator’, is very nervous today as his past experience of Aerolinéas has not been good. If we are not on time, we will not get to the Brazil side of the falls. Fortunately the airline has had a make-over and is prompt with new planes and plenty of leg-room.
We are whisked over the border by two taxis, stopping first to drop off our bags at the hotel in Iguazu City. It’s all very efficient on the Brazilian side and everything can be paid for by VISA.
A bus takes us up the road to the beginning of the walk. It’s quite short, descending slowly passing multiple falls which make up this vast spectacle. Iguazu rivals both Victoria and Niagara and as we walk the drama increases and we get really up close and look up in awe at the thundering water and swirling mists. Finally I get to the Devil’s Throat where I walk out to get soaking wet by the spray and mist. It’s warm enough so that I can dry out quickly.
There are warnings asking us not to engage with the wild life. Apparently there are Cougars and monkeys – not seen but I do spot a large lizard and hosts of yellow butterflies which cluster around damp mud to gather moisture and salt.
A small butterfly with a white spiral on black wings alights on Dr Mike to gather his sweat (it’s hot here) and there are birds singing above in the trees. The main danger is from the Coati, a Racoon – type animal which specialises in stealing food off tourists.
They hang around the cafes along the path-way. The falls are at their most dramatic at the Devil’s throat and then there’s a lift to take you to the top where I stop for an ice cream and coffee. Some of the guys want to do the helicopter ride so while the do that, I photograph a rainbow pond which sits modestly at the park entrance reflecting and projecting subtle colours by contrast to the busy rush of falls water. The taxis return as arranged and whisk us effortlessly back to Argentina all passports stamped and correct. Our Hotel is run by an Italian family and has an excellent restaurant, which saves us venturing out tonight. Many Italians, Germans and Poles have immigrated to Argentina creating a diversity of people and culture.
We’re getting to know these taxi guys who arrive to take us to the Argentinean side of the falls. Richard C advises that we should start with the lower loop walk where we can look up at the cascading water. It’s more extensive than the Brazilian side, which is concentrated and dramatic. It is however essential to do both to get the complete picture.
The lower walk in the morning has the advantage of being relatively deserted by other tourists. There’s a boat trip you can take to San Martin Island for a close up view of the falls and another which goes up the Devil’s throat drenching the passengers. I’m, as usual running out of cash and don’t think I have time to do these excursions. In spite of preparing for wetness by purchasing a plastic poncho yesterday, I’ve gone off the idea of a wet boat ride. I’ve temporarily lost track of the rest of the group and decide that we will all meet up at points along the way. The ubiquitous Coati are desperate for breakfast and are bold enough to harass the few people around at the café stops.
The upper walk winds around the top of the falls. Walkways cross the Iguazu River, stepping between islands and rocks over the flooding water, moving relentlessly towards the edge.
I spot huge Koi Carp who must know that there is a precipice nearby which they would not survive. Birds fly through the mist and water to feed behind the water curtain. There are viewing platforms extending to the edges of each fall so I can experience the plunging water and spray close up. It’s more crowded here with scores of Argentineans on holiday with sprinkling of foreigners. I take the train for the final walk, which extends right across the river for a kilometre ending in a small viewing platform crowded with people all trying to look at or be photographed by the dramatic Devil’s Throat. There are professional photographers, taking up room so that visitors can be snapped and pay for the print. The photographers have competition from the forest of selfie sticks which threaten not only to spoil everyone’s view and poke out our eyes, but to make the professionals redundant. I wonder how many of these images will ever be seen and will the bored viewers ever say –‘ Yes dear, I know you were there. I think there would be a better view of the falls if you weren’t blocking out most of them.’
I have to be patient and take my turn to shoot the falls. An Asian woman next to me is filming with her phone, panning slowly across in my direction and coming into shot. Not content, she slowly pans back again and I wait until she is out of vision. I encounter some of our group on the way back. They are part of a trickle coming out to the platform, and I realise that the crowds arrive in pulses according to the trains which deliver us to the area. So, the train capacity limits the numbers and my friends report that the platform was almost deserted when they got there. The walks take less time that we thought and some of us are able to catch a shuttle bus back to Iguazu City.
It really is time to change more US dollars, having failed in Buenos Aries. I’ve got two new-looking $100 notes I swapped with Richard (Hotel bills can be paid with the older notes) and as a precaution, I take all of my US currency. The Banks in this city, I’ve been told are both ATM’s. The case against using these is that on top of the % + £1 for each withdrawal, the banks here charge an extra $9NZ and have a limit of 2000 pesos ($200nz or £100). I eventually find the ‘Cambio’ and there’s a short queue of one. I’m asked to present my passport and the cash is inspected. I’ve handed over two $100s – one has a cut on the side and is rejected, so I present five $20’s, which seem to be OK. No, one of these has a cut on the side so I withdraw the 20’s and replace them with two $50’s. They are fine – phew. Next up, there are two forms to fill out with name and signature and passport number. The teller gabbles away putting crosses at various points on the papers. As he has my passport I leave that blank for the moment. He’s amazed that I don’t know my passport number off by heart. Why would I clutter up my brain, already burdened with pin numbers and passwords, with that information? It turns out that I’ve put the name and signatures in the wrong places (not being able to read Spanish) so I get to do the forms again. Still it’s the best rate so far so worth all the fuss. Later we eat at a restaurant which offers local river fish. The dishes are very inventive and sauces tasty but don’t quite manage to disguise the muddy state of river fish. The rivers are mostly muddy here so the fish are what they eat – worth the try though.