17-22 Oct 2013. The Iguazu River forms the border between Brazil and Argentina. In the south of Brazil, and in the north of Argentina, the river rushes towards a huge chasm in the land, up to eighty metres deep and several kilometres long, and comes crashing down into it. Half the volume of water thunders over at the end of the gorge, known as the Devil’s Throat, while the other half spreads out along the length of the gorge, forming waterfall after waterfall along both sides.

I first went to Iguazu in 1978 as part of a four-month overland journey through South America. I spent only one day there, on the Brazilian side. One of my strongest memories is of a boat ride across the river above the falls, aware that if the little outboard motor in the little dinghy failed we were dead. It didn’t. We stopped at an island in the middle and watched the water thunder down all around us. I also remember the magnificent endless vista of the falls. I’d never seen anything like it. Indeed there is no comparison in the world; there are higher falls, and falls with perhaps greater water volume, but none like Iguazu that spreads itself out and goes on and on and on down either side of a long canyon. The other thing I remembered about Iguazu all these years is the butterflies. The butterflies! So many. Every different size, shape, colour and pattern you could ever imagine. Landing on you frequently. Walking in a cloud of butterflies.

I remember sitting around on the lawn with a few of my travelling buddies. Without anyone noticing one of them gently picked up a butterfly with folded wings and put it in his mouth. I don’t remember how he got our attention but it seems suddenly we were all looking at him and he opened his mouth and out flew a butterfly! Screams of laughter, surprise and delight! Can you imagine? Sitting chatting with friends and you look at one of them and he opens his mouth and out comes a butterfly?

I’d told Don so much about Iguazu, and the butterflies. I was afraid time and pollution and climate change and encroaching development and tourism would have led to the disappearance of the butterflies.

I’d never been to the Argentinian side of the falls and Don had never been at all so it was a new adventure for both of us. Four days of heaven, if only to be back in tropical warmth again. On the Argentinian side there’s a walkway over the river above the falls all the way out to the Devil’s Throat. As far as I could see there are no longer any boats coming from Brazil across the top of the falls, but the river is so very wide that it is highly possible that what we could see from the Devil’s Throat footbridge is no-where near where I took that boat ride all those years ago.

My photos and Don’s 20 second video of the Devil’s Throat. Truly a spectacular example of pictures saying more than a thousand words ever could.

We saw toucans! On the first day we hiked up to the Devil’s Throat. I heard a strange noise in the bush and stopped, looked around in the trees, and there was a toucan. They are such extraordinary creatures. We’d seen pictures of course, and probably a real one in a zoo or bird sanctuary somewhere sometime, and I believe there are plenty to be seen in the bird sanctuary at Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazil side, but to see one in the wild! They are such magical creatures, almost mythical. It’s hard to believe such a thing exists. The next day we came down from the Devil’s Throat by boat in the quiet waters off to the side of the falls, through thick jungle, and saw another. We were told it was very rare to see them in the heat of the day and we’d been lucky enough to see one two days in a row. I think they are the only bird with a beak almost as big as it’s body. So comical. Don said that it’s so odd looking that if it hadn’t flown away he would have thought it was stuffed.

Of course we saw many other birds. I couldn’t find the name of the yellow one above, but I did find the name of the ubiquitous plush crested jays seen below.

The branches of this palm tree were just about pulled vertical by the weight of the many many nests in each branch. They must be very communal birds as all the nests seemed to be in one tree. Red rumped caciques. Unfortunately their red rumps are only visible during flight.

And we saw cormorants everywhere, sunning themselves and drying their wings.

Wildlife abounds. We saw monkeys, many lizards of all sizes up to about two feet long, a tortoise, an alligator, and the ubiquitous coatis. There is a large forest and park right next to downtown Vancouver called Stanley Park. The forest is full of raccoons. They have learned that if they hang around the food stands and restaurants they will get easy food. They are known as masked bandits, and although they sure look cute you don’t want to mess with those claws. The coatis? Just the same. Which is not surprising since they too are members of the racoon family. According to wiki they are also known as . . . . wait for it . . . . . Brazilian aardvarks, Mexican tejón or moncún, hog-nosed coons, pizotes, Panamanian gatosolos, crackoons, and snookum bears!

This man has dinner.

I never knew tortoises had fangs!

Wild orchids.

Oh, and butterflies. Did I mention butterflies? Everywhere!

See that boat there? The one in the middle right of the picture. We sat in that boat right up the front and headed straight into that huge wall of spray from the falls. Holy Mary Mother-of-God what an experience! We knew we’d get wet, and were wearing only swimsuits, but wet is not the word. Drenched! Saturated! Soaked! Deluged! We went into it twice. It was like heading into a torrent. More than a torrent. So much water coming at me I couldn’t breathe, and had to turn my face away, and for a second thought “I could drown here”. All of us screaming with excitement. And me laughing so hard I thought I’d choke. It was a laugh that came from the gut, from the very core, and filled the entire body before escaping through the mouth as a roar, a veritable volcano of a laugh that went on and on. In a good way. In the best way. A laugh of the Universe. What was so funny? The sheer ridiculous absurdity of what we were doing! – sitting in an open boat in our swimsuits heading straight into a waterfall. And the fact that we chose to do it.

I’ll end this post with some of the beautiful vistas of the falls taken during our days of wandering the many pathways along the side of the canyon, some going so close to the water you could get drenched all over again if you wanted to.

The cloud on the horizon on the left side of the picture above is the spray from the Devil’s Throat. We could see it from the air, as our plane came in, long before we could see the river and the falls.

Next post: a short side trip to Piriapolis and Colonia in Uruguay.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.