January 22, 2020, Iguassu Falls National Park, Argentina
The movie “The Mission” opens with a dramatic scene where a Jesuit missionary priest is tied to a cross by angry Guarani people and sent down a towering waterfall. That fall is Iguassu. A few minutes later a (in film time not real time) another Jesuit climbs to the top of the falls and plays a haunting melody on his oboe and begins to win over the Guarani to create, for a short while, successful farming and crafts communities, protected by the falls, from others coming up the river. This actually happened, although over a longer time period than the movie depicts. Some of these communities lasted over 100 years before a treaty ending the war of Spanish Succession in the mid-1700s ceded part of the land from Paraguay to Brazil. Brazilian slave traders came in, burned the villages and carted many of the Guarani off to very short lives in slavery. The Jesuits consented to this because they thought it was necessary to save their order from persecution back in Iberia.
The role of the falls in the movie, and the haunting soundtrack from the film colored my expectations. The film gave me the feeling of what the falls could be about, the wonder, beauty and yes, the terror.
I enjoyed the Argentine side more than the Brazilian. One reason was the weather. It was raining when we took our hikes on the Argentine side, which dropped the temperature 20 degrees from the day before. On the Argentine side I was soaked to the skin rather than soaked from the skin. The rain kept down the crowds but the Argentine National park handles the crowds better. There are more trails along the falls that you can take spreading out the crowd. The catwalks are wider and access to one of the most important trails, “The Devil’s Throat” which is kind of a horseshow falls, is through a little 3,600-meter-long narrow-gauge train. Tickets are time controlled so the Argentines can limit the number of people on the trail and catwalks over the falls at any one time. The experience Devil’s Throat experience was almost, but fortunately not quite immersive. The sound was thunderous. The cool spray cool on my face and arms. My waterproof camera has shots with lots of water spots on the lens. The lack of contrast, the blending of the mist and rain, the river and sky made photography difficult.
Different folks opted to handle the weather in different ways. Some were wrapped in rain gear or covered in plastic ponchos. Others, like us, decided that since we were going to get wet no matter what, wore t shirts, shorts and sandals and welcomed the wet. The middle group had umbrellas, which made no sense. When you got to the edge of the falls you got wet from the rain above and from the heavy spray rising from the falls (you can see the plume for miles). Umbrellas helped with the rain but actually captured the rising spray under the umbrella where it condensed and rained on the folks from inside the umbrella.
We took the “superior” trail for a couple of miles and saw different birds, my favorite a toucan, which, when it flies, looks terribly nose heavy, but when perched is beautiful. I also saw a spider’s web suspended over a falls. The trail zig zags along the top of the line of falls with bridges over the rivulets before they drop off into the canyon. There are catwalks that dead end over some of the falls. When the canyons cut into the basalt you look across at falls on the other side. You can see falls framed by the rainforest or by their own spray. Neither pictures nor words can express the experience, it engages all the senses. In a way you can even taste the falls.
At the end of the trail we got our timed train tickets and waited for about an hour under a shed with picnic tables and a snack bar. We were surrounded by coaties, a mammal widespread in South and Central America. Some make their way through Mexico to Texas where they’re called “hog nosed coons.” According to Wikipedia some folks them as pets and they can be litter trained. They hang around the snack bars at Iguassu hoping to grab some food. We heard a loud shriek as a child lost her hotdog. They swarm over the picnic tables. One set of tables is in a cage if you don’t want to deal with the Coaties. It’s kind of funny watching people in cages, the animals looking in. When the little train empties bands of Coaties swarm on board as kind of a cleanup crew.
The train takes you to a kilometer-long grail to a catwalk suspended over the Devil’s Throat, a section of horseshoe falls. The water thunders, the spray rises. You’re sure to get soaked even on the sunniest day.