Iguassu Falls

November 24

We fly from Rio de Janeiro to Iguassu Falls (Ee-gwa-zoo). Iguassu Falls is more of an area than a particular geographic feature. It includes parts of three countries. But how can anyone describe Iguassu Falls? We spent a day and a half viewing, exploring, and photographing around, above, near, and under this modern natural world wonder. This is where the Iguassu River falls vertically into a horseshoe shaped gorge just where the countries of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay merge. The river, at the falls, is the border between Brazil and Argentina. The total sinuous length of the falls is 1.7 miles and it is comprised of 275 identifiable cataracts about 270 feet high but most of the total discharge is at the uppermost part of the horseshoe called the Devils Throat. First, we hiked and viewed from the Brazil side. Water seems to be everywhere you look… except, most is in the form of broad, foamy, white curtains of water. A plunging white spray that drifts like a column of smoke. Deep down in the gorge, one realizes that all of these white curtains somehow coalesce and are converted into a pale, green river channel. We walked onto a viewing platform. Every angle and every view improved over the last. This time, the viewing was obscured because we were engulfed in a plume of spray. Everything was coated by the misty spray. Are eyeglasses really a magnet for anything in air, especially anything moist?

On day two, from the Argentina side, we made three separate approaches to view the falls from different perspectives. The surface level hike was relatively level walking and this gave a sense of the placid river water above the precipice and the seemingly instantaneous conversion from potential energy to kinetic energy. The edge of the falls was an abrupt change from horizontal water to vertically moving water.

The middle trail was a bit more strenuous and it positioned the viewer –not a surprise – to get an up close and personal perspective of the falls and hear its great roar. The power was immense.

The lower falls trail delivered the viewer to the river’s edge below the falls. It included many downhill pitches and stair steps. Unfortunately, of course, in a couple of cases, we had to do some uphill pitches so we could get back to a lower elevation again. Abruptly, we encountered busy crew who fitted us with life jackets and handed us a dry bag for our valuables. We piled onto a big pontoon boat and shoved off for a river eye view of the Devils Throat. Immediately, we were powering into a falls! The boat captain swung the stern so we took a solid broadside drenching. In the approach, the spray intensified but in seconds, we were pounded by heavy pellet like drops of water. Hard. Another falls. And another. About six in all. We had a very good look - and feel – at the power of falling water!

Aside from the magnificence of the falls, two things caught my attention. We spotted in the river, from the walkway, some catfish. Quite large, dark black catfish. I noticed that these fish swam gently and, often, quite close to the surface of the water. In another channel, we found another black catfish. This one was smaller and broader and quite stationary, close to the bottom of the faster moving water. I thought that these were two species offering a fun lesson in how fish adapt and change body shape for the conditions. The smaller fish used the hydraulic dynamics of the moving water to press its body onto the stream bottom and therefore, expend less energy to maintain its position.

You have probably heard of the chimney swift. The dusky swift of Iguassu Falls is a bird a bit smaller and more trim than a robin adapted to take advantage of all this moving water. It is the vertically moving veil of water that is important. These creatures simply plunge through the wall of foam to build nests and raise young behind that protective wall. It is mesmerizing to watch these dark birds reel and turn in the air and simply disappear into the whiteness.