A ter­ri­fy­ing, ma­jes­tic won­der

The power of Iguazu Falls, the world’s big­gest,

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE -

IF you have a bucket list, a visit to the spec­tac­u­lar Iguazu Falls on the Brazil-Ar­gentina-Paraguay bor­der ought to be on it.

Named one of the New Seven Won­ders of Na­ture in 2011, this in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful wa­ter­falls is so spec­tac­u­lar you’ll be trans­ported into a sus­pended state of awe from the mo­ment you set eyes on it.

You’ll never see any­thing like it any­where else in the world. Yes, it’s big­ger and more im­pres­sive than Ni­a­gara Falls and Vic­to­ria Falls.

When Eleanor Roo­sevelt vis­ited Iguazu in the 1940s, she ex­claimed: “Poor Ni­a­gara!” since Ni­a­gara Falls is at least a third shorter. And though Vic­to­ria Falls in Africa is still called the big­gest “cur­tain of wa­ter” in the world, the falls at Iguazu is longer and wider, stretch­ing a daunt­ing 2.7 kilo­me­tres and spilling over the Parana Plateau with more than 275 sep­a­rate cataracts, all cas­cad­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously to cre­ate a scene so pic­turesque and dra­matic you have to pinch your­self to re­al­ize it is not a sur­real movie spe­cial ef­fect.

The drop of each falls varies be­tween 60 and 82 me­tres and the to­tal num­ber of falls in­creases when there are heavy rains and the river floods.

There is noth­ing that can pre­pare you for the sheer force, power and dra­matic im­pact of th­ese falls; they truly are unique phe­nom­ena, a ma­jes­tic spec­ta­cle.

The vol­ume of wa­ter crash­ing over the edges is mind-bog­gling to the point of evok­ing a nat­u­ral fear and sense of alarm at the mer­ci­less force and deadly dan­ger of it all.

When I was there with a group, the Iguazu River was swollen from re­peated heavy rains.

There was twice as much wa­ter flow­ing as nor­mal, with the re­sult that more than a mil­lion gal­lons a sec­ond were pour­ing in a seam­less, nev­erend­ing tor­rent over the edges of the plateau and ham­mer­ing with thun­der­ing and bru­tal power into the val­ley be­low.

The name of the falls is spelled three ways: Iguaçu, if you are on the Brazil­ian side, Iguazu is the Ar­gen­tine way of spelling it, and Iguassu is the English form.

The first Euro­pean to dis­cover the falls was Span­ish pi­o­neer Al­var Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, who named it Holy Mary Wa­ter­falls.

In the 1930s, Brazil and Ar­gentina rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of the falls and cre­ated na­tional parks to pro­tect it. The parks have since been de­clared a World Nat­u­ral Her­itage site by UNESCO.

I was stay­ing on the Brazil­ian side, but got used to call­ing the falls Iguazu. You will find more than 70 per cent of the falls is lo­cated on the Ar­gentina side. We were stay­ing at the fab­u­lous five-star re­sort, Ho­tel das Cataratas, the only ho­tel in Iguazu Na­tional Park. The re­sort is lo­cated mere steps from the main falls.

Thus, it was nat­u­ral for us to first ex­plore the falls from the Brazil­ian side. A se­ries of steps lead down to view­ing plat­forms built next to the pound­ing wa­ter. The chance to stand so close to the force­ful tor­rents rush­ing past you and the deaf­en­ing sound of the wa­ter crash­ing down is an un­for­get­table, breath­tak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The flow of wa­ter put me into a hyp­notic, al­most Zen-like trance, where the vast and never-end­ing flow of mil­lions of gal­lons of wa­ter a minute re­quired me to ex­pand my imag­i­na­tion and con­cept of lim­i­ta­tions.

The trail on the Brazil­ian side even­tu­ally leads to a nar­row metal bridge-walk­way that has been built out into the cen­tre of the rapids, where churn­ing white wa­ter crashes and dashes over rocks, send­ing up clouds of drench­ing spray. I felt afraid as I stepped gin­gerly out onto this walk­way with cer­tain death rush­ing within touch­ing dis­tance all around me. Young peo­ple were treat­ing the whole ex­pe­ri­ence as a fair­ground ride and lov­ing the thrill of get­ting soaked to the skin by show­ers of waves splash­ing over rocks.

There is a bal­cony viewpoint of the big­gest wa­ter­fall, known as Devil’s Throat. Here, I stood and watched the falls try in vain to quench what was clearly an un­quench­able thirst.

The word Iguazu means “big wa­ter,” but there is another story that is more po­etic. In it, a god wanted to marry a beau­ti­ful girl called Naipi, but Naipi had other plans and took off in a ca­noe with her lover. The god was so an­gry, he sliced the river in two and cre­ated the falls, im­mor­tal­iz­ing the lovers in the tum­bling wa­ter.

To see the falls from the Ar­gentina side, I had to pay a $75 “rec­i­proc­ity fee.” I won­dered if it was worth it; af­ter all, the falls did look amaz­ing from the Brazil­ian side. But I am so glad I did pay the fee and crossed over the Tan­credo Neves Bridge into Ar­gentina be­cause I got to see and ex­pe­ri­ence the falls in an even more dra­matic, up-close way.

First, a 650-me­tre up­per trail takes you up along a ridge where you get a panoramic view of the cur­tain of mul­ti­ple falls across from San Martin Is­land.

I have no idea why they even al­low peo­ple to get so close to what is a ter­ri­fy­ingly pow­er­ful and deadly force of na­ture with vast, unimag­in­able mil­lions of gal­lons thun­der­ing over cliffs. You walk within mere feet of the falls and can stand and watch as the wa­ter power churns in vi­o­lent whirlpools be­fore plung­ing into the abyss.

Iguazu is a place I be­lieve can only be ex­pe­ri­enced to un­der­stand its true scale and power. The tremen­dous en­ergy pow­er­ing up in great clouds of white spray was pal­pa­ble and im­mensely in­vig­o­rat­ing.

Af­ter hours of walk­ing, watch­ing and gasp­ing in de­lighted dis­be­lief at the beauty of it all, I re­turned with my group to the start. But lit­tle did I know my adrenalin would soon be ris­ing yet again when we took a boat ride on the Iguazu River it­self and came within touch­ing dis­tance of the men­ac­ing falls them­selves.

Wrapped in ridicu­lous plas­tic rain­coats (as if they would work), we set off by boat. Some young peo­ple came wear­ing swim­suits. I guess they knew just how wet we were go­ing to get.

The boat, with a twin set of su­per­pow­er­ful mo­tors, set off at great speed into the white wa­ter and we bounced wildly over swirling whirlpools and white waves.

I looked out and saw noth­ing but killer cur­rents whip­ping and thrash­ing around us and I again was left speech­less, only this time with dread fu­elled by the darker side of my imag­i­na­tion.

Within a few min­utes, we ar­rived at a thun­der­ing cur­tain of wa­ter, im­mense but still a baby com­pared to Devil’s Throat.

The boat came to a stop, paused briefly, and then the en­gine roared into gear and we dashed for­ward up to the cas­cade.

I felt the heavy, pound­ing wa­ter all around us and sharp, pelt­ing spray on my face, and for a sec­ond I could see noth­ing but flashes of white­wa­ter as it splashed over the side of the boat and into my lap.

Then, in a flash, we were out and back bounc­ing on the rough, churn­ing wa­ter, alive and breath­ing and a short dis­tance from the wa­ter­fall.

I felt relief at hav­ing sur­vived, but just as I be­gan to re­lax my grip on the han­dle in front of me, the boat swerved and pow­ered back up to the wa­ter­fall. We had the pre­vi­ous heart­stop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence re­peated... again and again.

One time, we all agreed, the driver was show­ing off a lit­tle to the other boat own­ers on the wa­ter and took us very close to the crash­ing wa­ter, and it was even louder and more ter­ri­fy­ing.

Should you do the boat ride? I would have been con­tent with view­ing the falls, but I know very few peo­ple who go to Iguazu with­out do­ing the boat ride, too.

You could also take a he­li­copter ride over the falls. Some peo­ple I was with did this. It was a 15-minute ride and they all re­turned with rave re­views.

Iguazu is an ex­pe­ri­ence wor­thy of any bucket list. It is one of the world’s true nat­u­ral won­ders, with a beauty that will stir your soul.

NOR­BERTO DUARTE / GETTYIMAGES

A tourist walks on a foot­bridge near the Iguazu Falls on the Brazil­ian side

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