A splash of nature's fury

A splash of nature's fury

Free fall

A splash of nature's fury

Between business meetings in Paraguay, we found time to experience one of the world’s most amazing natural wonders, the Iguacu Falls.

We flew from Asuncion’s Silvio Pettirossi International Airport to Ciudad Del Este, the ‘Dubai’ of South America, crossed the Friendship Bridge, Ponte da Amizade, by road and pulled up for an overnight stop at the tiny Brazilian frontier town of Foz do Iguacu.

Foz is an old Portuguese fishing settlement that continues life as a base to the waterfalls, and other attractions on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The region around Foz is a protected “singular, practically virgin, jungle ecosystem.” Adventure and nature lovers get thrills and chills aplenty here. For the less daring, there are jungle trails, bird-watching hikes etc.

Next morning, a coach whisked us off to the falls. “Morning light is wonderful for photographs,” said our guide. “The Iguacu Falls,” she continued, “is a series of 275 separate waterfalls, which cascade along the rim of a horse-shoe cliff on the borders of three countries, that drop vertically or flow over stepped ledges in the gorge walls.

If you listen now, you can hear its thundering roar, even though we’re many kilometres away.”

The Iguacu is often compared to the Niagara and South Africa’s Victoria falls. But Iguacu is taller and is twice as wide. In addition, the Iguacu “offers better views and walkways and its shape allows for spectacular vistas,” including a 260-degrees view of the waterfalls.

This wonder of nature was formed millions of years ago when a volcano erupted and left a gigantic crack in the earth.

An aerial view, from a helicopter, shows the opening where the rivers Iguacu and Parana meet, and a part of it plunges for three kilometres, resulting in a breathtaking natural spectacle: giant clouds of water burst like a volcanic eruption, and the mist and spray provide sustenance to nearby forests.

To enjoy this never ending drama, visitors from Argentina take the Tren Ecologico de la Selva, a Rainforest Ecological open train fuelled by natural gas, and arrive directly at the upper and lower trails.

Besides the train, there are footbridges and walkways including the kilometre-long Paseo Garganta del Diablo trail that leads visitors to “the biggest and most frightening of the cataracts,” the Devil’s Throat.

Here, the water pours in from three sides, at an incredible rate of 6.1 million litres a second, into an unknown depth.

There is a 100-foot cloud of spray overhead...and a rainbow! The point is reached by a pier that takes visitors to the middle of the falls. As they gasp in amazement and wonder at the top, overlooking the biggest part of the falls, the excitement becomes feverish. There is the rumbling, deafening roar of water plummeting forcefully over the cliffs, a white blanket of mist, and gusty winds all around.

The Brazilian side offers a “complete and unique frontal perspective.” Said our guide, “This is because, of the 19 major waterfalls, only three are located in Brazil. So, you get to see more!” She led us down a long boarded walkway along the canyon with an extension.

Trees and greenery were festooned with lichens, ferns and nests of songbirds. The bird song mingled with the sound of rushing water. Swifts wheeled and dove into the water and to nest sites behind the walls of water. Multicoloured butterflies flitted overhead, and strange little geckos scampered on hearing human footfall, not to mention the eerie roaring calls of unseen howler monkeys.

For an adrenalin rush, there are inflatable powerboats that “skim the rapids,” and dart underneath the watery fury. Strapped on with life jackets, a guide and a prayer, visitors speed on — braving the water’s intense force, with stinging chilly sprays striking the face. After the adventure, we took off our transparent plastic raincoats, and saw a bird with a large colourful bill. It was a toucan. There are many of them in the forests nearby, sharing space with other exotic wildlife — jaguar, Capuchin monkey, Coati etc.

Not too long ago, the indigenous people of the area, the Guarani, lived here in great numbers, hugging nature. The word ‘Iguacu’ comes from their lexicon, meaning ‘great water’. Legend has it that a god had wished to marry a beautiful virgin, Naipí. The girl however had her heart set on a mortal. On hearing of the god’s intention, she sped away in a canoe with her lover.

Angered by this, the god sliced the river in front of her boat, leading to the water plummeting abruptly over a great height, ending their hopes.

Such legends are a staple of the locals. To this day, Guarani drums venerate the beauty of the land, even though, with each passing day, such sounds are hard to come by — a process that started once the white man entered their innocent world. The first European to set foot in the Guarani world was in 1541.

The Spanish explorer, Alvar Nuney Cabeza de Vaca, had actually come to “re-establish the settlement of Buenos Aires.” But following native trails in Asuncion, far inland of the River Paraguay, he happened on the stunning Iguaçu Falls. The award-winning Roland Joffe movie The Mission (1986) recounts de Vaca’s epic journey and his amazement at the natural wonder — the ‘great water’.

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