Fall un­der the spell of Iguazu


Llanelli Star - - Getaway -

IMAG­INE wak­ing up be­low a cur­tain of wa­ter­falls, so thun­der­ous they could drown out even the fiercest cav­alry charge.

It was a re­al­ity for Span­ish vagabond Guillermo Lar­regui, who ar­rived at Iguazu Falls with his be­long­ings in a wheel­bar­row, and built a tem­po­rary scrap metal home next to the rag­ing cataract.

He’d trav­elled more than 22,000km across Ar­gentina, but chose to stay put in the jun­gles of Mi­siones, and died in the shadow of the falls in 1964.

Of course, to­day it would be tricky to get that close to Iguazu’s nat­u­ral won­der; even en­ter­ing the na­tional park out of hours is im­pos­si­ble.

Or, it has been un­til now. Ear­lier this year, an am­bi­tious bou­tique ad­ven­ture ho­tel opened in the 600-hectare buf­fer zone sur­round­ing the park, a 20-minute drive from the en­trance gates.

Tak­ing 10 years to plan and build, the 14-lodge prop­erty promised to show vis­i­tors a dif­fer­ent side to the falls, ex­plor­ing the land­scape and cul­ture con­nected to the tourist at­trac­tion, which can at­tract up to 28,000 vis­i­tors per day.

Cru­cially, Awasi Iguazu also se­cured re­stricted early-morn­ing ac­cess to the park for bird­watch­ing tours, giv­ing guests the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the sounds and sights Lar­regui might have en­joyed. And I got the chance to dis­cover it all too...

Tap­ping their bills, tou­cans rus­tle in the branches above me, rum­mag­ing through the jungle for their break­fast in a bleary ear­ly­morn­ing state.

Even with­out open­ing my eyes, I can de­tect the sweet smell of fresh wood, lo­cally sourced and used to con­struct my vast lodge at Awasi Iguazu.

De­signed with the in­ten­tion of bring­ing the out­side in, rooms are dec­o­rated with botan­i­cal il­lus­tra­tions, large win­dows spilling onto pri­vate pool ter­races and walk­ways em­braced by the emerald arms of the At­lantic rain­for­est.

Awasi’s point of dif­fer­ence, how­ever, comes into play out­side these four walls. Unique in South Amer­ica, they op­er­ate a pri­vate guide sys­tem, and Maria, my eyes and ears of the jungle, crafts a be­spoke itin­er­ary with the use of our own pri­vate ve­hi­cle.

The falls are un­doubt­edly the main at­trac­tion in this re­gion. Curv­ing 2.7km across Ar­gentina and Brazil, 250 cataracts spill over the Parana Plateau, al­though that num­ber can vary depending on the rains.

The first white man to ‘dis­cover’ Iguazu (mean­ing ‘big wa­ter’ in na­tive lan­guage Guarani) was Span­ish ex­plorer Al­var Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541.

The Span­ish crown later gave the land to the Ayarra­garay fam­ily and it was only de­clared a na­tional park in 1934. Tourism de­vel­oped slowly, al­though im­proved in­fra­struc­ture in 2000 saw an in­flux of vis­i­tors which con­tin­ues – al­most at an un­man­age­able rate – to grow.

“Here, you don’t just see the falls, you feel them,” in­sists Maria, ex­tolling the virtues of ex­plor­ing the Ar­gen­tinian side of the falls rather than the Brazil­ian seg­ment – an area iron­i­cally three times as big but with far fewer walk­ways.

That sen­sory over­load is cer­tainly true at the Devil’s Throat, where an el­e­vated plat­form pokes into the jaws of the largest and most fu­ri­ous cataract.

I’m drenched by spray car­ried on ar­bi­trary gusts of wind, and deaf­ened by a roar that stretches for eter­nity. Yel­low but­ter­flies per­form dare­devil spi­rals through the mist, and great dusty swifts deftly skim their wings across the cur­tains as if strum­ming a harp.

By mid-morn­ing, crowds have de­scended on the park, shat­ter­ing na­ture’s peace with their con­stant chat­ter and snap­ping of selfie sticks.

Sens­ing my need for soli­tude, Maria takes me to the Yacu-i

Re­serve, a pro­tected for­est area par­tially man­aged by the lodge, reached by a two-hour drive along Na­tional Road 101 fol­lowed by a rough track carved into the burn­ing-red earth.

We’re greeted by Mr Kelm, a tall, spindly farmer who’s lived here so long his own body ap­pears to be com­pet­ing with the tow­er­ing rose­wood trees. He’s kindly floated two plas­tic kayaks, which we use to pad­dle along a trib­u­tary of the Iguazu river.

A lat­tice­work of silky webs stretches from one bank to the next – tes­ta­ment to the strength of a golden orb spi­der’s spin­nerets and the fact so few peo­ple glide along these wa­ters. Sur­prised by our pres­ence, tin­gasu (or squir­rel cuck­oos) scurry into the high canopy, cu­ri­ously watch­ing these two-legged crea­tures who rarely pass their way.

Peo­ple have been part of the Iguazu ecosys­tem for cen­turies, long be­fore Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors ploughed across the prov­ince. The orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants were the Gu­rani, an indige­nous group now spread across Ar­gentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Neigh­bour­ing Awasi, the com­mu­nity of Jasy Bora (Pretty Moon) has an agree­ment with the lodge to take guests on short tours of their vil­lage.

Bare­foot chil­dren scam­per play­fully be­tween mud brick houses, while a shaman dec­o­rated with feath­ers strings up gar­lands of dried yerba mate around a cer­e­mo­nial ground.

My guide is Ser­gio, a 21-year-old fa­ther-of-two dressed in Nike train­ers and a foot­ball shirt. De­spite the mod­ern at­tire, this shy young man is still guided by his an­ces­tors: Time is judged ac­cord­ing to the flow­er­ing of na­tive plants and hap­pi­ness is mea­sured by the size of the for­est and con­nec­tion to na­ture.

At one time, Gu­rani ter­ri­to­ries would have spread undis­turbed for miles, but with roads now knock­ing at their door­ways, I sus­pect chal­leng­ing times lie ahead.

Yet Ser­gio can only think about the present; in the Guarani mind­set, past and fu­ture sim­ply don’t ex­ist.

“They call us the man who speaks a lot but says very lit­tle,” whis­pers Maria, push­ing past coils of an­cient ferns and tip-toe­ing over pro­ces­sions of meaty black ants.

In con­trast, Ser­gio’s ex­pres­sion says it all. Gaz­ing up at a roof of in­ter­laced leaves cast­ing danc­ing spot­lights of sun­shine on the iron-rich soil, he doesn’t ut­ter a word. He only smiles.

One of the lodges at Awasi Iguazu

The stun­ning land­scape of Iguazu Falls The din­ing ter­race at Awasi Iguazu Awasi guide Maria in the Yacu-i Re­serve Kayak­ing in the Yacu-i Re­serve

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