After an easy twenty-six hour bus ride from Rio de Janeiro, I arrived in Foz do Iguacu, Brasil. I say easy, because I managed to sleep almost the entire way. People say travel teaches you things, and this part of the trip taught me that I can sleep the same hours in a day as a sloth. That may not always be an admirable skill, but for a backpacker in South America it’s a small miracle.
Upon arriving in the dusty and small-scale industrial city, we went straight to the hotel of a friend and dropped our large backpacks. It was just around lunchtime, and my friend said it was plenty of time to see the falls that day. Within minutes of making the decision, a motorcycle taxi swung by, our friend shoved a few bills in the driver’s hand and I was zooming past little houses on the back of a bike with a stranger.
Read more: Iguazu Falls: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go
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When you enter the National Park, it feels a bit like a Disneyland safari. You buy your tickets, you line up, and they put you on an open-air double-decker bus that drives you through the jungle of the park to the falls. Pasty tourists in safari hats wrangle their kids and selfie sticks are asked to remain inside the vehicle. But something about hearing people around you speaking French, Russian, German, and a million other languages we never heard in other parts of Brazil makes you realize the international draw of the Iguazu Falls.
Right when we got off the bus, we saw these raccoon-type animals everywhere. We couldn’t see the waterfalls yet, but the show had begun. Coatis, they’re called, and “show” only begins to describe it. They have long lost their boundaries with humans, and if you so much as have an escaped tic-tac rolling around at the bottom of your backpack, they will smell it and they will pursue it. As they did with, for example, and older woman next to me who brought an apple in her purse and instantly had about 4 climbing up her legs and into her large tote bag
When you’re done being distracted by the coatis, you’ll quickly see what the main event is all about. I turned around and was basically slapped in the face by an incredible, INCREDIBLE view of the waterfalls. The long row of rushing water seemed to go on infinitely. Someone should have probably given me a real slap because I was taking photos of these glorified rodents for ages, with no idea that one of the views of my lifetime was just waiting for me 180 degrees away.
Eleanor Roosevelt apparently said, when she first saw them, “Poor Niagara!”. A student of mine told me they made her believe in God. I’ll need to reflect later to come up with my all-encompassing statement, but for now…wow.
They just seemed so giant. Being on the Brazil side, you get the wide panoramic view and it’s an impressive angle, to say the least. But the best part is that the trail that runs parallel to the falls on the Argentinian side keeps seeming to end, yet you walk a tad further and find an entire new array of falls. You have to see it to believe it, but each photo you see (unless from a helicopter), is only showing a section, never more than a fourth of the entirety. Because you simply can’t see all of it at once, they’re just too big.
Many people say the difference between the two sides is that the Brazilian offers the panoramic view, but the Argentinian let’s you get closest. So I had believed I wouldn’t be getting too close. Until, again, I turned a corner and came upon the “Devil’s Throat” and all of my previous assumptions were proven wrong.
A long wooden bridge sticks out, at the base of one series of falls and boldly on top of the the next set. The heavy spray showers the bridge, with tourists in bright yellow ponchos dotting the path.
I went in, sans plastic bag like a few other rebels, and reveled in walking through rainbows and the mist. When you get out to the main point, where the most water collides, it’s actually a bit mind-blowing to watch the gallons flow down in seconds. Standing above the rush is truly impressive. And it makes you realize that the world is just way too crazy on its own, it’s a wonder we waste time on anything man-made.
As with everywhere I go, I loved watching other people be amazed by it. It wasn’t too crowded, but there were so many kinds of people taking in totally different things from this experience. Some kids just seemed to think they were at a water park and were loving getting drenched by the Falls. There were a few older couples holding hands and staring out at the view, and in my mind I’ve already filled in all their love stories of how they’ve waited their lives to come here together. I saw one mother-daughter duo in which the daughter couldn’t stop asking her mom to take photos in every angle possible, but whenever she would stop her mom would go back to taking close-up photos of these exotic butterflies in front of the view. I made friends with a young couple from Tokyo who were always at the same point in the path as me, who were so modest about hogging the prime photo-taking spots that they would run to the edge, smile and post for half a second, and run-off apologizing to the next group, who would undoubtedly take their sweet time with 50+ poses in the same spot.
I walked off the bridge wet, happy and seeing the checking off of “Iguazu Falls” in my mental bucket list. Seeing photos of a place for so long and finally seeing the images you’ve since memorized come to life- It’s the perfect mix of accomplishment, joy, and surreal bliss to be living the moment you dreamed of, rode a bus for twenty-six hours to, and lived.
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