Monday, July 22, 2013

Peru-Brazil 2013 – Day 34 – The cataracts

The day is cold and dreary, but this did not slow us down. We had to drive 20 km to the entrance of the park, where you park for the day. The entrance is not cheap (50 reais, plus 15 reais of the parking), but once you are inside you can use the shuttle anytime you want. Also, there are some additional attractions (bicycling, parachuting, kayaking, etc.), but you have to pay additional fees for them.

Anyway, we took the bus to the third stop, where the trail to the cataracts starts. Just as we were getting under way it started to rain. Annie was already clad in her rain suit, and additionally pulled out a poncho, while yours truly had zero protection against the elements. I bought a cheap poncho as soon as I could, but by that time I was already “damp” and had to live with it for the rest of the day.

There are no words with which I can describe the cataracts, so you will have to wait until I show you the photographs. Enough to say that I had never seen such a beautiful spectacle (and I have seen quite a few in the past), and that the site is rightfully considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Rio Iguaçú breaks into more than 200 waterfalls as it precipitates itself at the edge of a basaltic plateau, so no matter which way you look there is always a marvelous sight to behold.

The path culminates in a walkway that extends almost to the middle of the river, so for a moment you seem to be suspended right between the upper and middle waterfalls. The water rushes under your feet, and plunges down, down, down as the void almost drags you with it. Of course you get totally drenched while you imagine being a part of the torrent, and sooner or later you have to come back to reality and head for the drier shore (dry being a relative condition, because by then we were in the middle of a tropical downpour).

We had brought stuff for lunch, and were lucky enough to find a cafeteria where we could sit out of the rain, eat our sandwiches, and buy two cups of chocolate. It tasted sooo good!

For the afternoon we thought we would like to go for a hike through the jungle, but to our surprise found there were none! The trail to the cataracts was the only “free” trail. To use the other three that exist in the park you had to pay, and I am not sure at all you can actually walk on them without a guide. Apparently the park administration is paranoid about tourists getting lost or being attacked by a jaguar, so they don’t let one to just roam around.

Rather put down by this development I proposed to Annie taking a power boat excursion, from downstream all the way to the base of the falls. She automatically said no, but I could see by the glint in her eye that she was certainly intrigued. Even though she has bowed to not let me push you into crazy trips anymore, she kept going round the issue until, in a moment of weakness, she went for it. That is my BA Annie!

First we took a tram ride through a couple of kilometers of jungle, where we learned to identify the palmito palm. Did you know it takes 10 years for a palm to grow to the point where one kilo of palm hearth (palmito) can be extracted? Alas, the palm is now a threatened species because of the gourmet market for this delicacy.

Finally we got to the dock, where we were informed we would get completely soaked, so it was better to leave our valuables in a locker (foolish me, I left the camera there, so I don’t have hard evidence of the adventure to follow). We wrapped ourselves in our ponchos as best we could, donned a life vest, and boarded a rather large inflatable boat (seating capacity for 20 people) with two enormous outboard engines. And then we flew upstream! I have been in rapids going downstream, but with the power of the outboard engines we could actually climb through the holes and standing waves of the rapids! Annie was in pig heaven, smiling as wide as she could, and throwing caution to the winds. As we approached the base of the cataracts the boatman circled a couple of times to allow smart people to take pictures (while dodos who had left their cameras behind got to salivate with envy), and then plunged straight into the waterfalls with all the power of his engines! He didn’t get all the way there, because the force of the water was more powerful than the motors, but hovered right under the waterfall. Annie was wild with joy, wet as a mouse, and asked for an encore time and time again. In total we must have tried to plunge under the waterfall three or four times. Wet to the bone we finally turned around, and had another wild ride flying down the huge waves of the rapids. My Honey was ecstatic!

The tale has now been told. We shivered all the way to the car, where we finally thawed enough to talk excitedly about the experience. BA Annie gave it her highest praise when she said “I wouldn’t mind coming to Iguaçú again.”

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