Sunday, July 20, 2008

There are butterflies at the edge of the world

Before Magellan sailed round the world, daring seamen believed the world was flat; that they might fall off the edge into a great abyss of nothingness if they ventured too far. This weekend I thought for a moment that I could be standing at the edge of the world, but I was not navigating the high seas or staring at inaccurate maps. I went to Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu means “big water” in Guarani, which is the language of a native tribe in northern Argentina. The Guarani inhabited the region of Iguazu long before Eleanor Roosevelt went on a much-publicized trip to South America and allegedly took one look at the falls before declaring, “Poor Niagara.” After this weekend, I can see Mrs. Roosevelt had a point.

We spent three days in Iguazu, staying at the popular ‘Hostel-Inn.’ Our hostel was a few minutes outside of town, and the first thing that struck me while driving down the road were the strips of rusty earth smudging the edge of the highway and the verdant margins of forest spilling generously over the deep red. Our hostel was large, commercialized, damp, and as per usual with hostels, brimming with interesting people. There were a lot of Dutch, Belgian and English people staying there, with a handful of Israelis thrown in. We were there for the 4th of July weekend, and celebrated by toasting America’s royal creaming of the British with a bunch of rowdy Londoners while drinking Brazilian liquor. Probably the most unconventional 4th I’ve had so far, but still fun despite the fact that I wanted to track down some sparklers and whip up some strawberry shortcake.

Our first day there we decided to explore the town. I was perfectly happy to walk around looking at the gorgeous scenery and drinking in the thick air. Those who know me well know I have a weakness for water, trees, and anything earthy-crunchy. If it’s possible for one to OD on nature, it would happen in Iguazu. Our trek through town took us out to a lookout where visitors can see the border between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. Top 5, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Lush, tree-embroidered slopes fell down to an oversized river that stretched out for miles before us. I could have stayed for hours just looking at it, but everyone else in the group wanted to move on.

The second day was our waterfall day. We entered the park and got on a small train which took us to our first trail of the day. The park is shared by visitors, birds, coatamundis (which look like anteaters and raccoons mixed together), and thousands and thousands of butterflies. It seemed that every five minutes we stopped to admire a new display of yellow, orange, turquoise or purple. The trail to the waterfall takes trekkers through the jungle and then over a series of bridges. The river is huge and broken up by small islands. We walked on the metal bridges while murky water flowed several meters below us, hopscotching over islands on our way. Suddenly without warning, the trail stopped. We could see a huge wall of steam billowing above us and hear what sounded like a highway. We walked forward to a railing and looked down at the river simply falling off the edge of the earth. Clouds of bright yellow butterflies floated around us and refracted sunlight bore more than one giant rainbow above the water. There are definitely rainbows at Niagara, but the butterflies, tropical forest and sheer size of the river set the falls apart for me.

Our last day there we decided to visit an aviary and a hummingbird garden, both of which were peaceful and beautiful. We almost didn’t get a bus back to Buenos Aires, because we didn’t think we needed to book a ticket in advance. Luckily there was one bus company with seats still available, and we were able to book seats for a reasonable hour that night. We began to panic for a moment, but in retrospect I probably wouldn’t have minded had we had to spend one more day in Iguazu.