Border-hopping to see the 'Big Water'

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Saturday, February 18, 2006

From a pretty, crystal-clear stream winding its way placidly among the trees, to a thundering mass of murky river-water crashing headlong down a cliff...

After our up-close snorkeling experience in Bonito, we headed south-east to get a look at the Iguassu Falls (Iguassu means "big water" in the local language) which straddles the border between Brazil and Argentina.

And what a journey to get there! At 5.30am on Wednesday morning 15 February, we boarded a bus to Dourados, where we changed onto another bus to Cacivel, and finally to Foz do Iguašu, the town on the Brazilian side. We arrived after midnight - a journey of over 20 hours. Phew! Exhausted, we checked into a cheap pousada by the bus station, which, judging by their advertised hourly rate, doubled up as a whore house. Who cares, we just needed to sleep.

At about noon the next day, Thursday, we took the local bus to the Brazilian Iguašu national park. We'd heard that the best panoramic views are to be enjoyed from the Brazilian side. We walked the footpath through lovely lush rainforest to the viewpoint, an immense thundering sound growing louder as we approached, and...

POW!!! You cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sight of the falls. The 245 individual waterfalls crash down a 3km wide, half-moon shaped gulley into the swirling river down below, and a permanent veil of spray envelopes the larger ones. The river and the falls themselves are fringed by lush green rainforest.

We walked along the footpath (located on the opposite bank of the river to the falls) and took in the spectacle from several viewpoints. The last stop was a viewing platform below the horse-shoe shaped Garganta del Diablo (The Devil┤s Throat), the largest and most dramatic of the falls. At the height of the rainy season (i.e. now), around 13.6 million litres of water pour down the Devil's Throat every second! Needless to say the viewing platform was crowded, everyone getting soaked with spray and jostling for the best photo spot.

The walking trail is fairly short, and apart from the views of the falls, there┤s not much else to visit in the national park, so we only spent about two and a half hours there. In the mid-afternoon we caught another local bus to the border with Argentina - our plan was to see the falls from the Argentine side too, which, we┤d heard, had an interesting national park.

We hopped off the bus at the Brazilian border post to have ourselves stamped out... weren┤t too sure whether this was necessary (we┤d heard some folk say that exit stamps are not needed for short visits over the border), but did it just to be safe. The bus drove on without us. So, after immigration, we hooked up with a British couple we┤d just met, and the four of us decided to walk across to the Argentine side... a nice stroll on the bridge over the river, how far can it be?

Well, it turned out to be a good few kilometres from the border post to the bridge, so by the time we arrived at the Argentine side, the four of us were thoroughly exhausted after an hour┤s hike in the roasting afternoon sun. Having cleared immigration, we managed to hop onto another local bus to the town of Puerto Iguazu.

A stroll around town revealed a serious shortage of budget accommodation, so the four of us eventually settled for a quadruple room at a quiet, motel-style residencial. We ended up staying here for two nights with Rich and Katy, and took advantage of the pretty garden - we had a barbeque both nights, with super Argentine steak, butternuts and tatties roasted in foil, cold beer. Ahhh, it made such a nice change cooking for ourselves! Rich and Katy were great company (unfortunately we never got a pic of them!).

On Friday morning we headed out of town by local bus to the Argentine Iguazu national park. The place was certainly worth spending a full day at - a network of trails and catwalks allows one to explore the forest, to walk right above the waterfalls and look down into them (the falls themselves are located on this side). There are many spectacular viewpoints, so one gets to see many individual waterfalls and experience the whole from interesting angles.

In the afternoon we took the small ferry across to a little beach on Isla San Martin, and had a nice refreshing swim in the river. After a hike back up the gorge, we took the little train (ferry and train are included in the entrance ticket) to the Devil┤s Throat viewpoint about 3km away. From the little station, one walks about one km along a catwalk over the Iguassu river.

Surprisingly, the wide river is very calm and tranquil here, with no hint of what┤s to come. Then suddenly... whoosh, CRASH!!! It disappears down what looks like an enormous hole, enveloped in a veil of spray. The viewing platform here on the Argentine side sits right above the Devil┤s Throat waterfall, a real up-close view of the most dramatic water-feature I┤ve ever seen. Its thunderous sound is deafening, and the violence of millions of litres of crashing water is offset by the sight of delicate rainbows shimmering in the spray. WOW. Just stunning.

After a very rewarding and full day exploring the Argentine side of the falls, we returned to our quad room at about 7pm and settled down for another braai with Rich and Katy. The following morning, on Saturday, we went our separate ways. The two of us made our way back to Foz in Brazil, from where we caught a bus to Rio de Janeiro at noon... oh joy, another 23 hour bus ride!
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