Day two actually starts with us arriving to the sleepy tourist town of Foz do Iguacu (or Iguassu as the locals want it reverted.) The airport is packed with three airplanes of people at midnight. Our baggage arrives – always the first major hurdle – and we easily hop into a cab headed toward town. We’ve arrived, twenty four hours later, at our primary destination: Iguacu Falls.
Iguacu Falls is neither the highest, nor widest, nor highest flow rate, nor largest water-sheet, but it is to many waterfall collectors the most beautiful and amazing in the world. It’s been nominated for the ‘7 New natural wonders’. We have high expectations.
After sleeping in pretty late – owing partly to the +3 timezone and partly to general lack of good sleep the night before – we grab a sugary but bountiful breakfast buffet on our way out. “The bus is much more cheaper” says the receptionist, “and the bus terminal is very close, take one-two-zero.”
It is indeed cheap, about a dollar for the one-way ride, but there are very few seats and it takes an hour to wind through the city, back to the airport, and finally to the park. But it’s still day one and the excitement of travel keeps us buoyant.
The guidebooks (trip advisor and Lonely Planet) are a little difficult to understand, but in fact the park on the BBrazilianside is quite easy. You stand in a ridiculously long line, pay twenty bucks a person, board a packed bus and walk along the crowded trail to see the falls.
There are rumors of rafting, abseiling, ‘safari’ and boating activities, but they were difficult to track down in advance. No one answered any of my emails. I get my answer pretty quickly from a ‘guide’ that is really a tour selling agent, who says the falls experienced a massive flood six months ago and all the activity infrastructure on the river was demolished.
Massive right? Compare that to our pics and you can get a sense of the volume of water. He seems to be pushing the ‘safari’ to the upper river for $45 a person, but in my skeptical, contrarian way, I choose the lower river boat ride hoping to get up close to the falls.
Iguazu falls are not easy to appreciate in pictures. It’s a large area that has multiple main falls, and thousands of smaller ones. And it doesn’t make any of the top waterfall lists by size, although it is huge in dimension. But it’s just amazing in scope. The walkway, though crowded, is about a mile and you keep seeing new vistas and new falls.
Lily and Emma love it, as do I, although the crowds are difficult. We encounter crowds when travelling on Christmas or Easter – our typical times because of school vacations. Rome on Easter? We did it. New Year’s in Rio? Up next.
As we walk, the girls and I discuss where they will go when they do their around the world year. Trish was too sick to discuss it with them directly, but in her final days, we came up with a plan to use her life insurance for the girls. She and I agreed it would fund their college first, and if money is left over they would get a wedding, a big tattoo, and an around the world trip.
Emma wants to go everywhere, but really wants to take friends, so she has an elaborate plan to meet up with various high-school friends in places she thinks they will like. It’s sweet to see the social myopia of a fourteen year old, who can’t imagine how much her friendships will change between now and the end of college. (We all agree they will get their ticket after they graduate.)
Lily, interestingly, is pushing for a U.S. road-trip, about which I honestly have mixed feelings. Trish and I value farther and deeper travel, but honestly there is a ton to see and experience in the U.S. too.
We were never proud that our girls put their feet in the red sea before the mid-Atlantic. And Lily has always preferred safety and comfort on these trips. Though she is a trooper, she is the youngest and has arguably been pushed the hardest. (in the picture on the right, she was worried and annoyed that I would miss the bus while taking her picture.)
If you get the boat ride, you can skip the long line, which is easily worth the money. We are late already and want to get a good amount of time in at the falls.
The ride includes a ‘safari’ which is really pathetic. They stop twice and describe a few trees. But it doesn’t matter, it’s all just pretense ahead of the real activity, the high speed boat ride into the falls.
The boat is big, with two HUGE outboard motors that are right behind us and make talking impossible. The river is completely washed out and rocks line the edge where they tumbled during the flooding. The sides of this river canyon are 100 feet high, and were completely submerged during the flood.
We don’t get as close to the Devil’s Throat, the major falls of the Iguazu complex, but they add a thrill component with high speed turns and finally a complete dunking in one of the smaller falls. (the one on the left.) We laugh and smile and laugh more.
The tropical climate eliminates any need for drying off, and the motor boat wind feels good as we complete the tour with another short bus ride and a long walk down the Iguazu trail.
Iguazu means in the original language – wait for it….. “Big Water”, which is accurate if not imaginative. The legend is that a jealous deity doomed his wanted mortal wife and her lover to death as they tried to escape him by slicing the river. The deepest part is called Devil’s Throat and I can find no record of anyone surviving a descent over the falls.
It’s pretty amazing, especially that they have built a walkway that goes right in to the center of the V-shaped falls. You are surrounded by falls on all sides, and can appreciate the beauty – albeit with many hundred other people squishing you to the rails.
At the end of the long trail, there is a small visitor center with a gift shop, ice cream and weirdly, a jewelry store. The park is covered in Quatis or Coati’s in Costa Rica – relatives of the raccoon and equally smart and fierce. Emma gets up close to a few of them, but doesn’t feed them, as signs all over the park warn.
We get off in the middle of town and find a sushi place that it pretty good – even for vegetarians. We’re starving and haven’t eaten lunch. Afterward we grab ice cream at McDonald’s and I explain the Economist ‘Purchasing Power Parity’ charts using BigMacs as the base.
It actually says that Brazil Real (pronounced hey-ai) is pretty overvalued relative to the dollar, although we still don’t find it incredibly expensive – but not cheap either. Day one complete! Where will Iguazu go on our global top spots list?