Argentina: Iguazu Falls

After leaving El Calafate in the south in Patagonia by plane on 30th Oct we flew in to Buenos Aires where we picked up a bus several hours later to take us the same day (with an overnight on the bus yet again) to the town of Puerto Iguazu in the North Eastern Argentine province of Misiones. Situated in Iguazú National Park 20 km from Puerto Iguazú town, these falls are shared by Brazil and Argentina. You can see the distance we travelled in one day on the map below. We arrived around 19 hours later on 31st October, checked in to the bizarrely named House of Africa hostel, which later on in a heavy tropical downpour we realised leaked in water all over the floor… and went for a wander around town.
The landscape up here in the north east is completely different to Patagonia. The earth is a rich red colour and the vegetation is lush green tropical jungle, in parts it seemed incredibly similar to when I lived in Uganda. We went to an area of town where you can stand at a point looking across the Parana river (not full of flesh eating fish – I checked!) to Paraguay on the left and Brazil to the right. Both land masses only separated by a narrow stretch of river and serviced by a rickety looking launch ferrying cars and people across. We decided against going across in to either country; this point of entry in to Paraguay isn’t supposed to be very safe and to cross the river to enter Brazil means possible visa fees and exit fees to come back again. At this point we had decided against travelling in Brazil anyway due to the expense and ridiculously long bus journeys as it is such a massive country; Colombia is going to be our next port of call instead.

Saturday 1st November we headed off to see the infamous falls. As we were going on a Saturday the entry fee was 60 pesos each (approx £12) to enter the National Park, it’s about 40 pesos during the week apparently. We got on a little tourist train that runs you from one part of the falls to another in this huge site although it is also possible to walk it all if you want to spend the whole day here….but we are lazy sods and not big on trekking as most of you know!
Once off the train you walk across thousands of feet of metal walkways which actually take you over the Iguazu river so you can watch the rapid moving current sliding by underneath your feet. We went first to the Devils Throat area of the falls to view it from above; the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) is a U-shaped 82 metre high, 150 metre wide and 700 metre long (490 by 2300 feet) cliff and marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. The falls featured recently in the new Indiana Jones movie: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and also featured in several other movies over the years including The Mission (1986) and Moonraker (1979).

We stood on a viewing platform literally right above the Devil’s Throat and it was incredible; the power of the water surging over at this point is tremendous and the sound is pretty deafening. Spray would regularly shoot over the platform drenching everyone and swifts were flying and weaving through the spray inches away from the thundering waters. Due to heavy rains the falls were particularly strong and the waters were reddish brown rather than blue due to the silt being stirred up. According to statistics the water falling over Iguazu in peak flow has a surface area of about 1.3 million ft² and mist rises between 100 and 500 ft from the Devil’s Throat fall.

The waterfall system consists of 275 falls along 1.67 miles of the Iguazu River. Some of the individual falls are up to 269 feet in height, though the majority are about 64 210 ft. Two thirds of the falls are within Argentine territory.

A legend says that a big snake called “Boi” lived in the river. To calm its ferocity aborigines sacrificed a woman every year as an offering. But once a brave guarani aborigine kidnapped the woman and saved her from the traditional rite escaping through the river. Boi burst in anger, bent its body and split the river forming the cataracts separating the man and the woman.
A slightly different version says that legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful aborigine named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In rage, the god sliced the river creating the waterfalls, condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. In the Guarani language the term Iguazú means “great waters”. The falls were discovered in 1541 by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and established in 1984 as Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
There’s also quite a lot of wildlife to spot whilst walking around the falls. Below is an Argentine black and white Tegu lizard. Its life span is about fifteen to twenty years and they inhabit tropical rain forests in East and Central South America. Individuals of this species like dense foliage and forage for food, of which they consume as much as possible before going into hibernation in autumn. Apparently they also exhibit an unusually high level of intelligence among reptiles along with a high level of physical activity during the wakeful period of the year. I sat down on a wall to photograph this one and unusually for a lizard it came very close to me.

Below; two stately looking American Black Vultures, a large bird though relatively small for a vulture with a wingspan of 5 ft. It has black plumage, a featherless, grayish-black head and neck, and a short hooked beak. Lacking a syrinx—the vocal organ of birds—its only vocalisations are grunts or low hisses. I thought they looked like a couple of English judges.

Another Black and White Tegu lizard.

After some research on the web I think this is a Lagartija lizard. Music fact note: Lagartija Nick was the 9th single released by Brit goth art band Bauhaus.

Butterflies, no idea what type but there are hundreds flying around in this area. …which I thought was so beautiful and romantic until I realised when travelling on the bus up here that they were flying straight in to the windscreen in their hundreds and smashing themselves to bits in a kamikaze style death run.

A bit of a blurred photo of a South American Ring Tailed Coati.

…and a better image of one taken from the internet. We saw lots of these running around snuffling to dig out food in the thick tropical vegetation with their long snouts.
The road to Puerto Iguazu from the bus.
Travelling around in style in a bus with a giant squirrel on it, rock and roll all the way for us.

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