The Iguazu Falls
Days 293-295 (May 17-19, 2017):
Seeing the Iguazu Falls has been on the top of my bucket list for years. In fact, when we first began planning this trip it was one of my top three sites I had to see while we were travelling. I was very excited to finally get a chance to see it. Well, it didn’t quite start out the way I expected. First, the logistics of it are somewhat difficult. The Iguazu Falls are not really near any larger cities in Argentina. They are on the northern border which is shared with Brazil. And let me tell you, Argentina is one of those countries that is a lot bigger than it looks on a map. In fact, it was going to take us over 13 hours in the car to drive there. We opted to rent a car because the prices of bus transport there was actually very expensive. It was actually much cheaper for the five of us to squeeze in a rental than to each pay to take the bus. It was also supposed to save us some time.
Driving in Argentina is okay. The roads are of decent quality and well-marked. The issue we ran into was with the checkpoints. There are many police checkpoints you may be asked to stop at when driving in the country. And, while these are normally no big deal and the police are usually fine, there are a group of them on the road to the falls that are notoriously corrupt. We were lucky enough to run into them. When we were first flagged down, we pulled over, produced all the papers required, and attempted to use our knowledge of Spanish to make everything go more smoothly. They indicated that we were not driving with our headlights on, which is required at ALL times in Argentina. We agreed that we were not and were willing to take a ticket for such an offense if they deemed it necessary. They asked Joey to step out of the car and go with them to their police trailer. Adam tagged along since Joey wasn’t very good at Spanish and we did not think it wise to let someone go with them alone. Well, what transpired was nothing dangerous, just disappointing. The police told Adam and Joey that we were to be fined over $200 U.S. for the violation. They were then given an option; they could either take the ticket and pay it within 48 hours at a bank in Cordoba (our next destination after seeing the falls), or we could pay them in cash and they would reduce the fine to just over $100 U.S. We had read about this kind of thing happening to other travelers, and told them to just give us the ticket. They were very unhappy with our decision, warning us of how difficult it would be to pay the fine in Cordoba and how if we did not do it on time, we could be detained and prevented from leaving the country. We told them again to give us the ticket, and they grudgingly did. We later called our rental car company to tell them about the incident, and they told us promptly that we had done the right thing. In fact, the ticket they issued was likely not even legal or even entered into the system at all, as the fine for such a violation was limited to around $25 U.S., not the over $200 amount they told us. They were simply trying to get some money out of us. So, for the rest of our driving time, whenever we were flagged down, we pretended to know no Spanish at all. Being “unable” to communicate with them, the police were usually frustrated enough to send us on our ay quickly.
After that little bit of excitement, the rest of our journey to the falls was a breeze, albeit a long one. We stayed in a nearby town overnight, determined to get to the falls early the next morning and be able to maximize our time there. In the morning, we were greeted with torrential rains. We threw on our rain coats, excepted the fact that we would likely come back soaked, and soldiered on. Upon entering, we learned there were several different trails you could take to get different viewpoints of the falls (this, I believe, made it superior to seeing it on the Brazil side, which only has one viewpoint). From our first glimpse, the Iguazu Falls did not disappoint. They are massive – the largest waterfall in the world by volume. And their lush tropical jungle setting made it all the more astounding. Extensive logging happening upriver has unfortunately turned the water a muddy brown color, but the power and scale of the falls is still an incredibly beautiful sight to behold.
We walked all of the trails, beating out the couple of large tour groups who arrived a few hours later. The trails allowed us to see several different vantage points including in front of the island, overtop of the side, and even out into the large, powerful center. Unfortunately, they were not offering boat rides up to the bottom of the falls because of the weather, but we felt we got to see it well enough. Not to mention the weather was actually helpful at keeping away some of the crowds. My favorite part was taking the train to the trail that crosses the river and takes you to the top of the heart of the falls. Standing there, you got drenched, but you could really feel the power of the water. It almost rattled your chest the way a big drum does. We got some amazing pictures from that spot.
Another interesting sight at the falls is their wildlife. Iguazu Falls is also particularly well-known for these raccoon-like mammals called Coatis. Coatis are devilish little creatures, known for their intelligence and speed. At Iguazu, they are infamous for their ability to steal food. They can actually also be quite dangerous at times, as the ones near the falls are very brazen and desensitized to humans. I guarantee you that if you go, you will see several of them on the walkways, around the trains, and possibly digging through your belongings when you aren’t looking. They have very long claws (for digging) and sharp teeth that make them a formidable foe. However, we did not have much issue with them aside from having to chase them away from our lunch a couple of times. And the little ones can actually be kind of adorable.
So, our time at the falls left us soaked to the bone, but still in awe of the beauty of our planet. It was yet another sight that reminded me of why I travel. As we changed and got back into the car, we were headed to Cordoba and Mendoza to see another side of Argentina.