*** In case the Part 2 in the title didn’t give it away, this is a continuation of that one thing I started writing that one time. Click here for part 1.
The next day we went to the Iguazu National Park. We had to wake up pretty early and everyone was grumpy and sleepy, but eventually the Intercambio Córdoba guys were able to herd us into the buses. On the way, they had a tour guide give us a bit of history about Iguazú and the rules that we would have to follow (they also sold us disposable plastic ponchos). Everything was in Spanish and I was able to more or less understand everything, but there was always someone in the group who could translate if need be. I should point out, I never came across a professional interpreter during any of my travels in Argentina. English is just common enough that, no matter where I went, there was always someone around who knew at least some English. I was always curious as to what these trips were like for the travelers who didn’t know any Spanish at all. Everything was pretty straightforward, but I wondered if they got as much out of it as the bilinguals did.
We were told to bring swimsuits, hiking shoes, an extra pair of clothes, and a camera. They also warned us that we were going on a boat that would take us under the falls, which meant that we would get completely soaked. I didn’t have a camera. I used my phone for all of my pictures, and I was afraid to take it with me on the river. I had also severely underpacked for this trip, so I decided to leave my phone and the extra clothes behind at the hostel.
This was a mistake.
In order to get to the falls, we had to walk a path through the jungle into the mountains, and then climb down to the river for the boat ride. The path that we took was absolutely beautiful, and the tour guide would stop every now and then to give us information and let us take pictures. I was left out because I didn’t have anything to take pictures with, but fortunately I was able to copy pictures from other, better-prepared people on the trip. All the pictures that you see in this post were taken by my friends (except one).
The path was easy to follow. The part closest to the entrance was similar to a sidewalk, but it gradually became a metal walkway that snaked around rocks and trees and carried us out to the river.
Since we were a group of 90 tourists, the going was slow and it was crowded the whole time, but the view made it all worthwhile. It took maybe about an hour to walk from the entrance down to the boats on the river, but we could see the river during most of the trek. The parts closest to the river were shrouded in mist, and the parts that weren’t were covered in plant life.
There were also these funny little animals called coatís, which are pretty much really violent raccoons with long snouts.
The tour guide warned us that they are extremely intelligent and will sometimes ambush tourists and run off with their bags if they smell food inside. There were always at least a few coatís scurrying along the path as we walked. They were completely unafraid; they were constantly chasing each other across the path and running between people’s legs. At first I thought the way they gamboled along the path was adorable, but then I realized that they were biting and ripping each other apart with their sharp little claws. At one point I saw a group of them jump onto a table in the food court and start fighting for the tourist’s food, right there in the middle of lunch. Coatís might be cute, but holy fuck, those things are violent. There are signs all over the place warning tourists not to feed or touch these animals, complete with lovely illustrations of tourists getting attacked.
Which reminded me of that one scene from the Lost World: Jurassic Park.
There were huge boats waiting for us when we got to the river. Most of us already had our ponchos on because of the mist, and the people running the boat just laughed at us. We were given life jackets and heavy, waterproof bags that would go under our seats. I felt extremely stupid as I watched the other travelers store their shoes, cameras, phones, and extra clothes in these bags. Here’s a tip, kids: when the people in charge of your travel arrangements tell you to bring extra clothes, do it. More on this later.
The boat ride was incredible. We rode along the river, taking in the sights and zipping in between the waterfalls. The lush green mountains rose high above us and the air was filled with mist and the roar of the rushing water. That by itself was a lot of fun, but that was just the first part. After taking us back and forth along the river, they then took us under the waterfall.
The edge of the falls is dotted with tons of small islands and protrusions of rock that split it into a series of smaller waterfalls, the shortest of which is roughly 200 feet high (which is taller than Niagara Falls, by the way). The boat went right up to where the waterfall met the river beneath. At this range, everything was shrouded in mist and we could feel the boat rocking back and forth in the water. The tour guide probably said something important while we sat there, but the noise from the waterfall was so loud that we could barely hear him talking. They let us look up at the massive waterfall in front of us one last time, and then went in.
I’ve never been hit in the face with a fire hose, but I imagine it feels a lot like getting hit in the face by an 800 mile-long river. The boat backed up and went into the waterfall again and again while we all screamed. I remember trying to squint my eyes, only to have them ripped open by the sheer force of the water. I was actually afraid that my contact lenses would get swept away, but somehow they managed to stay on my eyeballs.
In retrospect, looking straight up from the bottom of a 200 ft. waterfall might not have been the brightest idea.
After that, the boat brought us back to the edge of the river. I had hoped my plastic poncho would keep at least some of me dry, but it actually did the opposite; water had gotten trapped inside and I had to wait until I was off the boat to take it off because I had my life vest on over it.
The hike away from the river was unpleasant. We were all drenched and it was humid and the going was slow because there were 90 people on path, so it took a very long time to get to the restrooms to change. As mentioned before, I didn’t have a change of clothes, but I still wanted to use the restroom to wring out my clothes so at least I wouldn’t be sopping wet.
The longer I walked, the more miserable I felt. My shirt was heavy with water and clinging to my skin. Even though it was warm and humid, I started to feel cold. To make matters worse, water was running down my legs and pooling in my shoes, the only thing I had managed to keep dry. My shorts actually would have dried on their own rather quickly, but the water from my shirt was soaking everything else. The path away from the river was so narrow and crowded that a lot of the men in the group were stopping on the side to change, which clogged up the path and made the going even slower. A lot of guys just pulled off their shirts while they were walking.
After about ten minutes of feeling frustrated and miserable, I began to weigh my options. Should I stay miserable and wet for the next hour while I politely waited for the bathroom, or just get it over with now even though I was surrounded by rowdy college boys?
While I contemplated this, I learned something very important: soaking wet clothes chafe like HELL.
So, feeling extremely self-conscious, I stepped off the path and wrung out my shirt, determinedly trying to project a confidence that I really didn’t feel, as if I always take my clothes off in front of 90 people like it ain’t no thing.
I half expected there to be whistles and cat-calls and other crap like that, but if anyone noticed that I was half naked out in the open, they kept it to themselves. I’ll always be grateful for this.
After I had wrung out what looked like half the Iguazu River, the going was much less miserable. My clothes were still damp and it was humid, but at least I didn’t have water running down my legs while I hiked back up the mountain.
If you, dear reader, plan on taking the river ride in Iguazu, I suggest you wear swim trunks and a shirt that dries quickly. A cotton shirt will try really hard to drown you.
After a lunch break we began the second part of the tour: the Devil’s Throat, or la Garganta del Diablo. This is where most of the water from the river falls from a narrow U-shaped chasm. This part of the river is closer to the Brazilian side of the falls, so we took a short train ride to get there.
From the train, we had to walk across a high metal walkway that had been set up over the river. This meant about twenty minutes of walking directly over the river. In some parts the path was shaded by some impressively stubborn plants that grow on the rocks and small islands in the middle of the river, but most of the walkway was out in the open. It was here that it began to dawn on me just how huge the Iguazu really is. From the middle of walkway the river just seemed to stretch on forever. I couldn’t see either bank.
I heard the Devil’s Throat before I saw it. All along the walkway I heard the sound of rushing water, but I tuned it out after a while and it kind of faded into the background. As I got closer to the Devil’s Throat, that rushing sound became a deafening roar. If I wanted to talk to someone, I basically had to yell in their ear for them to hear me.
The walkway led right up to the edge of the falls, where it formed a sort of balcony that put us almost level with the river. Everything more than a few feet away was shrouded in a roiling white mist that came up from the water that was being whipped in all directions by the force of the river against the rocks in the chasm.
I remember leaning out over the edge of the balcony and looking straight down, and it was terrifying. The mist was so dense that I couldn’t see the bottom. I could follow the falling water with my eyes for just a short distance, and then it would be swallowed up in the mist.
It looked like the river was falling off the edge of the world.
I don’t remember how long we stayed there, but it felt like a really long time. No one seemed to want to stop looking at it. I think we were all in awe of the sheer force of all that water. It was very humbling.
Sadly, no one was brave enough to take pictures here because of how wet everything got. If you want to see some really awesome pictures of Iguazu and learn some stuff, check out this article.
So remember, kids: Bring extra clothes, a water-proof camera, and don’t get robbed by angry raccoon monsters.