Iguacu Falls form the world's widest water show

January 15, 1995|By Nina Tassi | Nina Tassi,Special to The Sun

It was high-anxiety time in the plane taking us from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Iguacu Falls. Dense fog and heavy rain prevented it from landing at one scheduled stop. But as the flight approached the village of Iguacu Falls, the fog thinned and the pilot was able to put down. Our plane landed a few miles from the world's widest waterfalls, which plunge in hundreds of leaps along the borders of Brazil and Argentina near Paraguay.

Although dark clouds gave the jungle town an eerie glow, the rain had stopped. Tall banana and palm trees glistened with bright green foliage. We heard that golf ball-sized hail had torn holes in the tin roofs of hundreds of houses in the town.

That evening, glad we had indulged in a luxury hotel, we enjoyed Brazilian-style eating (platter-sized T-bones and such). A trio of Paraguayan tenors sang romantic serenades as they strummed on harps and guitar by candlelight.

The next day we awoke to a brilliant sun which remained for our three-day stay.

JTC Our guide took us on a 20-minute ride to Iguacu Falls National Park, a 175,000-acre rain forest that nourishes more than 2,000 species of plants. We drove miles through thick jungle dotted with orange trees and orchids and many-hued parrots, but got no glimpse of the waterfalls.

The clearing where we disembarked was pleasantly uncommercial. We were met by a wide, rustic stairway of stone carved along one side of this viewing path. Far below, the Iguacu River churned and roared. Across the river were the mighty falls, still hidden from view.

On the other side of the path, the ground rose; large rocks jut through the trees.

Stone stairs took us on a curving downward course.

The first view astonished. We rounded a bend, and there they were! Through a break in the trees, far in the distance was a magnificent mountain range of waterfalls, extending across the horizon as far as the eye could see.

The Indian name of Iguacu, meaning great waters, is apt. The Tupi-Guarani and Paraguas tribes used the falls as a holy burial place for thousands of years before a Spaniard -- Don Alvar Nunes -- happened upon them in 1541.

These widest falls in the world leap and plunge along an escarpment of about three miles. For an hour while we were there, the falls, ranging in height from 100 to 250 feet, offered an ever-changing spectacle.

As we descended, each curve revealed a new sight -- high singular leaps of turbulent caramel-colored water, then tier after tier of lower falls rolled into churning white waters, then again a line of wide white falls separated by patches of dense jungle.

A Brazilian woman told us she had never seen the falls rage so furiously; the swollen brown waters were a product of the recent storm. The roar of the cascades got louder, finally deafening. The thin mist turned into a drenching spray and we realized the falls were closer. They were laid out in a broad arc that seemed to be swinging near us as we approached the end of the path.

We encountered a catwalk stretched directly over the falls where the waters seemed to meet the sky and push against it. We went out gingerly over the thrashing waters. The roar beneath us was thunderous. The spray soaked us head to foot, making pointless the yellow hooded ponchos offered for rent.

My husband --ed out to the farthest lookout point, eyes squinched up, camera-crazy, and I hoped he wouldn't be washed over the rail in his zeal to get a good shot. Fortunately he wasn't.

Later in the afternoon, as we lounged around the hotel pool and sipped luscious fruit drinks made from mango, papaya and guava, we asked each other how the Argentine side of Iguacu Falls could possibly be better.

But it was. The next morning, after a gargantuan Brazilian breakfast with a dizzying choice of breads, fruits, pastries, cheeses and meats, we caught a bus across the street from our hotel. When we passed over the Ponte Internacional that connects Brazil to Argentina, the lazy muddy river below gave no hint of the splendors ahead.

In less than an hour, we arrived at the Argentine park, which had the ambience of a luxurious resort. People from many nations were strolling on a wide expanse of landscaped lawn, accented with lovely flowering trees and shrubs; others were relaxing at the hacienda-style restaurant with outdoor cafe or inspecting the exhibits at the natural history museum.

Two viewing paths awaited us. We started with the lower one, the Passeios Inferiores, which offered a one-mile tour of the falls from below them. We found ourselves in a new and surprising state of intimacy with Iguacu, walking beside one of the tributaries of the Iguacu River, at the same level.

The river gallops along, brown and turbulent, yet quiet, its sound muffled by the lush greenery around us -- tall palm and banana trees with man-sized leaves.

As the deep, moist, rain-forest floor cushioned our feet, we came upon smaller waterfalls that flowed gently into pools with wooden bridges spanning them. Birds of vivid plumage flew about us.

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