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The spectacular Iguazu Falls

The mighty Iguazu Falls sit abreast the border of Brazil and Argentina and only a stone’s throw from Paraguay, are the most overwhelmingly magnificent in all of South America. If you have never visited the falls, get off your backside and experience one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular creations. The falls are astounding.

The Rio Iguazu (I is Guarani for big and guazu is water) rises in the hills of Brazil and wanders inland receiving water from 30 rivers as it crosses the plateau before turning toward the sea, crashing over the falls, and joins the Rio Parana 20km downstream before flowing into the Río de la Plata. From a distance of 10km, the forest looks as if it is on fire as the cloud of spray reaches up to the heavens and the noise of the roar of the detonating water is constantly in the background.

Eleanor Roosevelt apparently remarked ‘poor Niagara’ when she first saw the falls (they are 4 times wider) and viewed from below, the tumbling water is majestically beautiful in its setting of begonias, orchids, ferns and palms. Toucans, flocks of parrots and caique birds and great dusky swifts dodge in and out along with myriad butterflies.

The sheer scale of the falls is the first thing that strikes. Spread across 2.5km and made up of 275 individual cascades, some very large, others only running during the wet season, 200 million litres of water each second jump off the top of the river and plunge up to 80 metres into shallow water below. The spray from the explosion of water rises above the falls, turns into cloud in which the sun creates blazing rainbows and drifts away across the sub tropical forest. Temperatures can reach 45c in the summer and, together with humidity that can reach 100%, if the spray from the falls does not give a soaking the weather will instead.

You can experience the falls from the Brazilian or the Argentinian side. On the Brazilian side the waters turned deep red by the volume of rain; you walk along a manmade pathway across the top of Salto Santa Maria to look up at the power of Salto Floriano and down to the beginning of the gorge. On the Argentinean side, there is an even longer walkway that goes out to the very edge of Salto Union, the largest of the falls, where it plunges into the Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil). So called because the local Indians seeing the spray assumed it was smoke and thought that there can be no smoke without fire and no fire without the devil. Often, the top of the falls here are obliterated by the updraft of winds that drive the spray way into the sky and when the wind shifts slightly you get drenched.

One of the best viewing areas is along a path known as the Circuito Inferior (lower pathway) along which you view the falls from below. Here, it is possible to experience the power, volume and weight of water spilling off the summit of the falls. Here, you also abandon any attempt to remain dry as the stiff breezes, born of the strength of the falls, drives water into every part of your body. This part of the falls is called Dos Hermanas (two sisters) and the noise and anger of the river can only resemble two women arguing.

The experience is exhilarating and wonderful – the main task will be to keep the camera dry!

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