Uwern Jong makes a bucket-list journey to the majestic cascades of Iguazú, Argentina.
An auspicious occasion brought me here and helped me check something off my life bucket list. My visit marked the 82nd birthday of when Iguazú Falls and its surrounding land was given its National Park status. We’re here to celebrate – no cakes or candles though, but plenty of amazing surprises, the best of which was being able to witness and feel nature’s power, up close and personal. My obsession with Iguazú stemmed from a couple of other life milestones. I first learnt about the place as a teenager, in Mr. Goff’s ‘Religious Education’ classes. The clearly atheist form-teacher made us watch movies that vaguely touched on religion (Monty Python’s The Life of Brian for example, which led to a weekly debate on blasphemy that lasted an entire semester). The movie that captured my imagination, not so much in its storyline, but more in its setting, was the Palme d’Or-winning The Mission starring Jeremy Irons. It opens with a scene where the local tribespeople, not keen on being converted to Christianity, tie a priest to a cross and send him down the falls.
The second memorable life moment involving this natural wonder was just as I was coming out. Acclaimed Chinese filmmaker, Wong Kar Wai made the gay film, Happy Together, where the mighty falls act as a metaphor for the protagonists’ ailing relationship.
Our guide Hector has been walking awestruck travellers through the park almost daily for 20 years. He tells us that it is the largest waterfall system in the world, its name in the local, Guarani tongue meaning ‘big water’. It is bigger and taller than the more famous North American falls at Niagara – so much so, that when Eleanor Roosevelt visited, she sighed and said, “Poor Niagara.”
Over 3,000 people from all over the world visit the park each day – sadly, by midmorning it’s crowded – so it was lucky that we had started our walk as soon as the gates opened. Our half-day, private walking tour took us to three specific view-points – the first, La Garganta del Diablo. Nothing quite prepared us for it as we ambled idly through the Atlantic Rainforest, admiring the calmness of its rivers, birds, fish, butterflies and sun-basking turtles along the way. We then heard a gentle rumble that got louder with each step before the spectacle appeared before us – the ‘Devil’s Throat’ – sending Argentina and Brazil dramatically into hell.
Next, we skirted along the upper circuit, my favourite walk of the day – a panoramic view of a series of magnificent cascades – Chico, Ramírez, Bosetti, Adán y Eva, Bernabé Méndez and Mbiguá waterfalls. It ends at the edge of the San Martin Waterfall with an awe-inspiring view of the entire park. Sadly, by now the crowds had started to throng and the moments of personal appreciation became more infrequent, but it was no less magical.
The last and final walk took us through the forest again to where Dos Hermanas, Chico and the Ramírez waterfalls break – same falls, different perspective. The birthday celebration ends in a ritualistic baptism, at the base of the Bosetti Waterfall where we came seriously close to where it crashes into the river, rendering us seriously wet – but not as wet as I got, back at the pool of my hotel in the afternoon, away from the madding crowds.