It was an evening flight and as the aircraft careened to the left, and following the collective gasps of my fellow passengers, I looked out of the window to view the gently flowing Rio Iguacu far below that eventually fell over a cliff to form the gorgeous waterfall. The city lights of Foz and on Argentina side blinked mischievously. Formed into a UNESCO world natural heritage site in 1986; the debate goes on as to which nation gives the visitor the most spectacular views. Brazilians claim they have the longest and widest views, Argentina claims they have the wildest views, and Paraguay claims they have the views to beat all views, when viewed jointly from the other two countries. Brazil and Argentina have so much of nature to attract tourists who arrive in hoards each year, I fail to understand why would they even take up this issue with their tiny puny neighbor, I mean, for Paraguay Iguacu might be the only claim to natural fame, so let them say what they say.
The immigration fellow spoke chaste English and greeted me cordially as he stamped my passport; on the other side a young comely girl stood, smiling at me with some intent. We were headed for the same International Youth Hostel (Paudimar) barely 10 min from the airport. We checked in at the hostel and the rest of the evening went in a tizzy meeting with other visitors at the place, some already veterans having been to Iguacu in the morning, while others, like me, full of anticipation for the morrow. Next morning I headed for Iguacu riding a local bus till the Bird Park. I dislike zoos but had heard good things about this park and it turned out to be a delightful experience, which included holding a giant Macau in my hand and a Tucan landing on my temple. From there a short walk brought me to the Iguacu ticket counter. And I realized that Brazilians, beneath all smile and glory could also be as crafty as the Indians. The ticket rates varied like diurnal tides under full moon, with locals paying pittance and poor tourists like me almost a day’s wage. But I hadn’t come this far to be beaten down by a price tag, so I bought the ridiculously priced ticket and found my way to the bus. The place buzzed with tourists from literally every corner of the world. It was a dull grey day totally overcast. Smiling fellows were selling plastic overalls everywhere, promising that it will be the wettest experience of our lives. I had my goretex jacket on and refused to fall prey to such gimmick – only if I knew any better.
The road was lined with thick forest, which isn’t surprising since we were into the largest Atlantic rainforest catchment in South America. Soon enough the bus dropped us at the beginning of the 1200 m long trail that allowed visitors to see the falls from close quarters. The air was cold and moist and no sooner had I reached the path, a pair of quatis lunged for my hands, where I held my cap. These furry animals might look cute and innocent but quatis are as devilish as our monkeys at snatching food from people’s hand. The bite and lick can cause serious virus infections. The first view I got wasn’t so exciting, or perhaps I was hoping something way bigger. But as the path winded through forests offering jaw-dropping glimpses of the falls, the atmosphere started filling up with its stentorian presence and droplets of water that fell like continuous drizzle. I tightened my jacket closer, keeping the camera inside.
Finally I reached the viewing platform from where I could only see a thick curtain of brownish mist completely obliterating anything beyond 100 ft from the eyes. Out there somewhere was the famous ‘Devil’s Throat’ the large 90 m drop hole where the water suddenly disappeared and reappeared with a deafening uproar. I followed few of the more intrepid tourists down the iron footpath that took us right in the middle of two drops and I felt walking through a biting blizzard with water drops size of bumble bees hitting my face like shrapnel, drenching me to the bones. I couldn’t have been wetter even if I had jumped into the water pools below. I stopped laughing at the ridiculously dressed tourists and wondered if the bus would allow me entry on my way back. Straining my eyes to stay open I gazed down below my feet and realized that if anyone fell from here, would be blown into smithereens within seconds. Everyone around me either screamed, kissed, hugged, or jumped in extreme jubilation, while I stood mute taking it all in and I had to confess that despite filled to the throat with tourists, Iguacu did have an inescapable charm since nature couldn’t be grander in its sheer scale or raw power. I had to acknowledge that it was one of the most magnificent waterfalls I had ever seen in the world; this despite having been to Victoria, Angel and Niagara to name a few.
On the way out, still dripping like an open faucet I picked up the tourist booklet and noticed right at the end that it actually urged people to view the falls from the Argentina side as well, quote: in order to contemplate the full splendor of the Iguacu Falls, visit the Iguazu National Park in Argentina. Unquote.
While people rushed towards food or toilet depending upon their inclination and need for the hour, I contemplated how Iguacu became Iguazu across the border and if ever India and Pakistan would breed such cross tourism culture where each promoted the other to the visitors.