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Iguazu: The Eternal Falls

Posted by Ashley Atkinson-Leon on 9th Mar 2016

Iguazu consists of a park, split between Argentina and Brazil, that boasts some of the biggest waterfalls in the world. Even when I was consulting with a fellow creative writer, we were just at a loss of words to explain their glory and enormity. Pictures don't do the place justice.

Iguazu is the Guaraní word for "big water." According to Wikipedia: “Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful aborigine named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In rage, the god sliced the river creating the waterfalls, condemning the lovers to an eternal fall.” It was designated a World Heritage Site in the 1980s, but unfortunately thanks to deforestation, less than 6% of the original top soil remains.

Before our group (consisting of international students studying abroad in Buenos Aires), arrived at Iguazu, we took a 14-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to see San Ignacio Mini, the ruins of the first Jesuit settlers in the region in the 15th century, located in the Misiones province. It was neat to see how much they built on their complex in such a short amount of time, including a church, government building, monastery, and some living quarters. There is also a museum that details how the Guaraní lived and worked there with the Jesuits until it was destroyed in the 1800s.

Next we traveled to an estancia (like a ranch) where we relaxed for most of the day. The owners of the estancia had a yerba mate tea plantation. They showed us some of their crops, and learned that it had been in their family for 3 generations. Some of the people in my program swam in the pool while others laid out in the hammocks in the warm sun.

When it was time to eat lunch, I ate some of the most scrumptious beef I have ever had in my life. Every bite was more tender and flavorful than the last, and I only wish I could have eaten more. We were also treated to hand-picked bananas and guava, and of course, to mate tea (served both hot and cold with real dried leaves).

That night we arrived at Hotel St. George, and the expansive buffet included, among other things, French chocolate mousse and American apple pie. As you might imagine, these are not very common in Argentina, and they hit just the right spot. The hotel offers comfortable accommodations as well as an outdoor swimming pool, sauna, hot tub, restaurant, and more. You can also get a massage as well as visits from small lizards crawling along the hotel walls!

As a side note, you’ll find vendors selling their wares on the streets all over this area. Often we saw mothers with their young children sitting on blankets with hand-carved wooden animals like armadillos and birds. While it can be heartbreaking to see the kind of poverty they live in, I’d encourage you to approach them and buy something unique over the more conventional items you’ll find in the hotel gift shop.

The next day we traveled to the actual Iguazu Park and while it was already POURING by the time we arrived, we had no idea how bad it would get. (They do have a small shop that sells ponchos, but I’d recommend something that’ll provide real protection, whether it’s raining or not.) Next to the shop is a small museum illustrating how the Guaraní natives used to live in this region and what kind of animals could be found there.

You can take boats and kayaks to get very close to the waterfalls (and even helicopters from the Brazilian side), but walking through the park is definitely an adventure all on its own.

On our way through the park, we saw a toucan, parrot, vulture, small as well as huge lizards (one of which was flicking its impressively long tongue), a multitude of butterflies, and coatis. There were also apparently jaguars, monkeys, and alligators there too, but we didn't see them.

We managed to get to the Devil's Throat, which is a U-shaped waterfall that measures an enormous 269 × 492 × 2,297ft, but not after holding onto the railings for our lives and being pelted with rain that felt like hail. The wind was so strong that they shut down the park, but we had already taken the trains to the center of the park, and since those were no longer running either, we were stranded.

We were all in a sort of survival mode, trying to make the best of a bad situation, and after a while, it felt like we were simply a part of the wind, rain, and waterfalls. We eventually managed to find a small restaurant within the park serving lunch and were visited by some cute coatis who tried to take a few bites of our food! 

If you plan on bringing your camera, cell phone, or any other sensitive technology, you’ll definitely want to put them in a waterproof bag. A lot of electronics claim that they’re waterproof now, but it’s easy to put everything inside and then carry it around your shoulder for the rest of the day so you don’t have to worry that you’ll leave the park with ruined electronics (plus, electronics are extremely expensive in Argentina due to import taxes).

The next day consisted of much better weather and we saw waterfalls that looked like falling dulce de leche. My favorite was the Two Sisters Waterfalls. Additionally, after traveling down several wooden walkways, you can stand in a designated spot almost directly beneath one of the waterfalls. Although you can’t see much when you're underneath it because the water is pouring over your eyes, it is definitely an exquisite experience feeling its immense power. The cold, rushing waters of the Eternal Falls are something you'll never forget.