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waterfalls, wine, shopping

Staring down the throat of the devil in the light of the full moon may sound like you are entering the gates of hell, but only if the guard rail breaks. That’s the experience I had recently at one of South America’s most spectacular locations, Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall on the continent. Some 2.7 kilometers long, bordering Argentina and Brazil, it’s eighty meters high and dumps an average of 1,700 to 5,000 cubic meters/sec. over its side. As we peered over the edge of the abyss in the moonlight, our guide explained it was significantly more due to recent heavy rains. Night tours are only conducted during a full moon and I was lucky enough to be there for one. The walk on the sturdy steel and concrete pathway traversed an expansive superhighway of the turbulent brown Iguaza River that was swallowed by Garganta del Diablo (The Devils Throat), the highlight of the falls.

It roared and rumbled louder and louder as we approached, spewing a cloud of steam and mist a hundred meters into the night sky. Delicate flowers grew from small patches of vegetation clinging to the edge of the world as kamikaze moths fluttered down to their demise into a swirling Dante’s aquatic hell. It was breathtakingly beautiful. When American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt saw these falls she was quoted to have said, “Poor Niagra.” Iguaza is much larger than Niagra and only second in size to Africa’s Victoria Falls.

During the day it was a less ominous, but an even more majestic vista to behold. Originally formed on a basalt plateau where lava flow cooled, Iguazu is an indigenous Tupi-Guarani Indian word for ‘Great Waters.’ Indian legend explains how a jealous serpent god collapsed the river, hence creating the falls, to prevent two lovers from fleeing. This sub-tropical jungle national park is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to more than 400 bird species, such as the red-breasted toucan, some 80 mammals including endangered jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, as well as more than 2,000 identified plant species, in particular Argentina’s national flower that's found on the Coral Tree. The common Coati, a large relative of the raccoon, thrives on human attention here by stealing food and raiding trashcans. An incredible array of butterflies flew about, often landing on my skin.

The falls are very close the triple frontier of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the Iguazu and Parana Rivers converge. The frontier bustled with various contraband smugglers taking advantage of lax border crossings. There were also rumors of rampant organized crime and even Al-Qaeda terrorist cells operating in the area, though there has never been firm evidence of this. The Argentinean and Brazilian borders were relatively orderly, yet Paraguay’s side felt like the Wild West. Paraguay’s border city, Ciudad del Este, is a tax free haven. Money hungry street vendors milled around shanty town markets of pirated CDs, DVDs, fake watches, sunglasses, designer labels and cheap electronic goods. Crossing the ‘Friendship Bridge’ between Paraguay and Brazil was a bit hairy. Loitering pick pockets avoided the military police who carried submachine guns as smugglers nervously lowered packages over the edge with ropes to small boats below. It paid to keep your wits about you, as crime and scams were rife. Make sure that if you buy anything here, that you get what you pay for. For example, I met an unfortunate tourist who thought he purchased a new camera, but actually just got the packaging with a rock inside.

The biggest sins the average tourist commits here however, so close to the mouth of the Devil, is a bit of duty-free shopping and gorging on the world famous, and cheap as chips, Argentinean beef, cheeses and wines. There was a amazing selection of affordable restaurants in the Argentinean frontier city of Puerto Iguazu, where the economy is principally geared around tourism. Even the gas station sold wines, the most expensive being a fantastic 2006 Merlot for just seven pesos. With an excellent bus service that frequently crossed the borders and entered the park, it was possible to see Iguazu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides, go shopping in Paraguay and eat my fill of excellent food in three days without damaging the budget too much

Further Information

Travel tips:

The Triple Frontiers is a gateway to much of South America, a good stop off point, and worth a look. If you have the money, there is a helicopter ride over the falls. Also, you can take a motorized raft to the base of the falls.

Must see/do at this place:

Obviously go to the falls, but also take advantage of the fine dining in Argentina and the duty-free shopping.

You should avoid here:

Watch out for shopping scams in Paraguay.

Other helpful information:

Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Mothers of the Disappeared, Lake Crossing into Chile, Welsh Tea In Patagonia, Buenos Aires Closed-Door Restaurants, Tolhuin, Tierra del Fuego, Bariloche to Puerto Varas, San Telmo, Astor Piazzolla: The Man Who Changed Tango, Malbec Wine and My Cow Boy Fantasy and the Last Vestiges of Frontier Life.

By Aaron Smith
A jetset vagabond world traveler, ex actor musician with a degree in Environmental Science, now living in Brazil teaching English. I have just...
26 Jul 2011

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