I was not expecting the grey skies. What happened to the picture-perfect views of every photo I ever saw of the place? Had I really come all this way just to bask in this bland greyness? Oh, how you deceived me, weather forecast!
Maybe it would get better. I, the eternal optimist, donned on a flimsy disposable rain coat and wrapped my beloved Olympus Pen mirrorless in a plastic bag. It wasn’t raining yet – and I was praying to all kinds of weather gods it wouldn’t start, either – but I had read that the humidity at the falls is so great that all electronics should be protected carefully. As unoriginal as my “hole in the bottom of a clear plastic bag to turn it into a camera bag” trick was, I was proud of myself – a regular McGyver, as you would. I hopped on the tourist bus with high hopes.
The first drops hit the windshield. That’s fine, I told myself, it’s just a little drizzle. Then it got quicker. Oh, good, if it starts pouring it’s going to be over soon, pouring rain never lasts long especially in the tropics. Too bad with the skies, though – my pictures would not turn out brilliant with such a grey canvas on the background.
When I got through the entrance gates and into the second bus that would take me to the actual site of the world-famed falls, I was still hopeful as I looked out the window and at the incessant rain moving with such force it was basically raining sideways. I checked my makeshift camera bag. Yup, all good to go. As I stepped out of the bus, I avoided getting my shoes wet. (Oh, honey, a me from three hours into the future whispered somewhere and shook her soaked head.) At this point the rain was bouncing off the asphalt and creating a mini-stream of rain going upwards. It was even scaring away the mischievous coatis, cute but vicious little animals that look like a love child of a monkey and a possum, and who like to beg food off tourists that are too dumb to read the ‘No Feeding’ signs, or alternatively rob it from those that are smart enough.
There it was – a modern wonder of the world, the biggest waterfall on the planet, gushing down billions of tonnes of water every second. I spotted it first through the bus window and felt an unhindered smile creep up on my face. What an amazing place. Now I was standing next to the fast-food counters, hopelessly staring out through the curtain of water onto the top of the waterfall. From my vantage point it was impossible to really see the water going down, but, you know, I knew it was there. Whatever if the only thing I could see was some quickly moving water like on a flooding river. I was at Iguazu Falls! What a life!
Waiting out the rain turned out to be a bad idea, because the rain was in no rush to leave at all. Collecting the last bits of my spirit for an adventure, I gathered up the hem of my rain poncho and braved the weather. This is so much fun, I thought as I held onto a hole that had already mysteriously appeared on my shoulder. I’m so glad I came, as I put my best trapeze skills to work, balancing on a precariously narrow curb on the side of the flooded path. Wouldn’t change this for the world, as I finally gave up and trudged my waterproof-to-a-certain-point boots into a puddle.
At least the platforms were relatively empty. Low season perks! Dodging selfie sticks like Neo in Matrix, I inched my way to the edge where the view was the best. Oh boy, now this was great. For a full five minutes I forgot about my rainy misery and concentrated on putting to good use everything I’d learned so far on my photography course. ISO, shutter speed, WB, S+AF, WTF, check. I guess there was more waterfall behind the first one. I couldn’t be sure; the mist blocked out most of it.
Still, it was a grand time strolling along the river where the mighty waters of the Iguazu Falls crash. Too bad the path, even in places where it was covered in sturdy metal grid, was as slippery as a Turkish oil wrestler. At the gates they’d have warnings not to get eaten by jaguars – surely they should have warned us about the slippery grids as well? Or maybe they did and I just didn’t remember because I was too focused on the jaguar thing. (To be honest, there are less cool ways to die than get eaten by a jaguar, so would I really mind too much?) I was dancing two-step by myself. Two steps, stop, look at the waterfalls, two step, stop, gosh dangit, they do look great, don’t they.
There is a walkway that snakes along a ledge of a smaller waterfall that leads to the bottom of the big one. Well, that looks like fun! Maybe I should put my camera in my bag while I walk on it… Nah, I’m sure it will be fine.
I enjoyed the thrill of being so close to a mighty waterfall for all of three seconds. Then the wind hit me. I raised my arm to protect my eyes. It seemed like I had been caught in a carwash. There was no direction where water was not coming from. Down it poured, and the wind shook it about a bit to attack you from the side, and the backsplash from the water running under the grid added a nice end touch to the masterpiece that the rain at Iguazu Falls is. I swear I was close to the falls themselves, but I can’t be quite sure – I couldn’t see anything. I promptly turned around and returned to the main path.
Further up the path I stopped to photograph a group of smaller waterfalls (seriously, I had no clue there were so many!) when I noticed something was wrong. Finland to ground control, we have a problem! None of my settings worked. I pressed the buttons over and over again, turned it on and off, and told the camera off in a very calm, threatening manner. Nothing helped. I made a base at a nearby snack shop, which in this god-awful weather was completely devoid of people, and wiped the camera down with paper napkins with the small hope it wouldn’t be completely destroyed. The snacks in my mouth tasted like sand; there was water between my toes; all hope was lost, all optimism gone, Voldemort’s forces had taken over the galaxy and left the land in eternal winter.
It was time to go home.
Soaked to the bone and the near-useless plastic wrap around my equally wet clothes I boarded the bus back to the entrance. The rain started weakening, slowly but smugly. By the time I arrived to the stop where I’d catch my bus back to the city, the horror of the previous rain storm was just a gentle drizzle. I turned back to look at the glistening hint of sunshine between parting clouds and shook an imaginary fist at it. All right, Iguazu, you beat me; but I’m not done with you.
The second day beckoned so bright that I had to squint my eyes at the sky in suspicion. Is this what you want me to believe today, huh? Are you gonna trick me into thinking it’s gonna be a beautiful day, sky? Not on my watch! So I prepared myself: instead of shorts, I put on yoga pants, and I made sure to grab an extra layer of clothes. Even after being treated in newspaper all night, my hiking boots were no fit for the job, so I donned on my dancing shoes (literally – those sneakers are the comfiest damn thing on the planet and saw me well through the Carnaval) and was on my way.
Well, of course I had to first catch a bus. And a bus to Argentina runs about every half an hour. Except that sometimes it runs whenever it wants. Whatever, after more than an hour of waiting on the stop I was on my way. Well, until the border crossing. I had forgotten my immigration slip but luckily they didn’t ask for it, I just had to hope they’d let me back into Brazil later but I was on my way. Well, first of course I needed to find a local bus that would run to the falls. Conveniently, though, all public transportation in the whole goddamn country of Argentina was on strike that day. Luckily I was able to find a couple to share a cab with and a driver that only charged a meagre sum of 50 reais per person, which at home would have got me halfway to Porto Alegre, but I. Was. On. My. Way.
After being stuck in the Portuguese loop for months, it should not come as a surprise that speaking Spanish might be a challenge. After my few feeble attempts to spew out the right language, the lady at the information desk just handed me the map and wished me a nice day in English. With just the right amount of luck, I managed to catch the train just as it’s leaving; it only runs every half an hour, so I am definitely grateful. As we’re crawling along the tracks at the speed of a more-eager-than-average grandma powerwalking, I roll up the legs of my yoga pants. The sun is shining from a spotless sky. Over the rainforest, I can see a few vultures circling the treetops. Waiting for me to drop dead from the heat caused by my dysfunctional wardrobe, no doubt.
The Argentinian side to the falls is considered even more awe-awakening than the Brazilian side. The area to explore is bigger, hence the train that runs through the major starting points for paths that lead the visitor through the tops of the waterfalls into the jungle and to the river that runs under. It’s also the more popular side for catching a boat tour, but yesterday’s free nature shower still in sore memory, I decided to save my dough and skip it.
It was almost as if the forces of nature itself had gone together to make up for the previous conditions to arrange one perfect day. I snapped away with my camera, thankfully saved by a bulging bag of rice (luckily this time more easily obtained than that time in India), ogling at the rainbows forming in the tiny droplets that seem to hang in the air between the falls. A tiny hummingbird landed on a flower right in front of me. For the first time, I was starting to enjoy my time at the falls.
It is exactly the right time to visit as well. Early April in Brazil is the model of any shoulder season; hot but not excruciatingly boiling, and you get to see all the famous sights without the maddening crowd. The walkway snaking its way on the top of the waterfalls is often divided into sections, like those fences used for driving cattle in the right direction in good order. I can only imagine the mayhem that the place would be in high season, and I’m sure the ill-timed transport strike has also discouraged a few hopeful souls from visiting.
After exploring the tops of the waterfalls, it was time to head to the end of the line – Devil’s Throat. I’m rather sure the name is not unique to Iguazu. The walk to the top of the main waterfall was long and provided way too much leisure time to crack jokes about that one TLC song that always comes up when water cascading downhill is in question. The river seemed to stretch into all eternity. In the middle, tenacious little islands that are barely more than roots tangled together have made their home. In between swim giant catfish and families of turtles. After about twenty minutes of walking, I finally arrived; behind the bend, the Argentinian sun printed on white and baby blue waved me hello.
I wrote this one story when I was younger. In it, the protagonist reflects on her life that she deems worthless and says she dreams of the feeling she believes people feel when they sit on the edge of Grand Canyon. I have never, personally, been to Grand Canyon, so I could only imagine what a character of my own creation was talking about, but strangely that one crude passage popped into my head as I meandered to the edge of the platform.
Because suddenly I knew.
It was as if the sheer force of the water could just sweep me off my steady feet and carry me away. It was a power I had never witnessed in my life; hundreds of thousands of tonnes of water rushing, speeding, gushing to the edge just to jump to the eternity waiting under the cliff. The sound of it taunted me, teased me. I slowly let my eyes wander through the whole scenario, from the wild waters to the vertical rainbow diving into the splashback until I reached the other end and started counting the waterfalls on the opposite side. They stood there with great posture and the humble arrogance of a being that knows of its own wondrousness. The sunlight met my eye where the waterfalls ended, and I felt all and everything at the same time.
There were no words left to say that could envelope the marvel in front of me; no picture that could capture the breathless beating of my heart as it started to flap and flitter. It was like falling in sudden, crazy love; it was like falling, in general, with my feet planted on the ground and the world growing in size around me until I was but a tiny speck on its never-caring side. Against the waterfall I was nothing. I don’t think there have been many moments of my life when I had been happier.
I stood there in silence, lost in time and space until I couldn’t anymore. The sun was setting; just like Cinderella, I had to leave the world of magic behind, but instead of the last chime of the midnight bell, I was racing the last train to the entrance. I turned to steal one last look before I left. The water continued rolling down, and I continued on my way.
On the train back my heart was quiet. I felt dizzy and at peace at the same time. I wanted to talk and be quiet. There was a story brewing somewhere under my restless chest, I could feel it, but it wasn’t coming out yet, not quite yet. I needed to feel the flavour of this memory a little bit longer.
In the end I missed out on the bird park that everyone kept telling me to go to. My camera, possibly my most valued possession and my armour against social awkwardness, was ruined by another humid passage through the splash of a waterfall. (I ended up luckily getting it repaired in Rio by a sweet old man who was as kind as can be as he told me off for the many scrapes on my unprotected camera.) My shoes were wet and my rain poncho ripped, and although I don’t reckon it had anything to do with it, the food I had been eating for the past few days had been terrible. Iguazu Falls broke my camera, my spirit and, with its beauty, my heart – and it was so worth it.
Thanks for reading – and welcome back! As I’m revigorating the blog, this type of narrative pieces are what I’d like to do more. What do you think? And have you ever visited the Iguazu Falls or would you like to?