It doesn’t take long for the novelty of a South American overnight bus to wear off. For us, it was right about the time that while sat on a broken down bus on the side of a motorway in 36°C heat, a group of teenage Swedish backpackers cracked open some champagne and started singing ABBA songs. This was our first foray onto the roads of Brazil and right then, all we wanted was to be back on Argentine tarmac, for our 18 hour overnighter back across the border had been a delight. Huge 160° reclining seats, on board films, complimentary miniature bottles of Malbec and a hot supper of Pollo y Pampas el Mashio (Chicken and mashed spuds) saw us enjoying a good nights kip in massively comfortable surroundings and even, dare I say it, looking forward to more similar journeys. But now here we were in the sweltering heat while Bjorn and his blonde haired chums belted out ‘Dancing Queen’. Yeah, the novelty had definitely worn off.
Something for which the novelty never tends to wear off from however, is waterfalls. Have you ever met someone that doesn’t love a good waterfall? In the same way that the flames of a fire will captivate a man for hours, there’s a definite aura around waterfalls that’ll draw in even the hardest of souls and have them grinning like an idiot, entranced. There’s even been scientific studies done which suggest they emit positive energy or something, meaning no matter how miserable you might be, a waterfall will cheer you up. So with that in mind, if you’re ever feeling a bit down in the dumps, come to Iguazu.
Upon seeing the Iguazu Falls for the first time, the then First Lady of America Eleanor Roosevelt exclaimed “Poor Niagara!”. Poor Niagara indeed. Higher than its American-Canadian counterparts and over twice as long, the Iguazu Falls are monstrous. With a name derived from the languages of the local indigenous Tapu and Guarani tribes, ‘y’ (water) and ‘uasu’ (big), they consist of around 275 waterfalls stretching for around 2.5KM across the borders of two countries. Faced with these facts alone this was not shaping up to be the most straightforward of sightseeing tours, but like most visitors we did it in three ways. One day for the Argentine side, another day for the Brazilian side, and in amongst those we would fit in a quick trip on the river in between – alas I don’t know who the river belongs to so we’ll call that Brargentina for now, which if I’m honest sounds like a bloody great country.
The main point of note about the Argentine side is that you get wet. Whether it be from the far reaching viewing platform above ‘The Devil’s Throat’ – an 82 metre high horseshoe where the falls are at their most ferocious – or any of the many other trails or viewing points, the majority are positioned in such a way that you’ll get absolutely drenched in spray, which in the searing heat is no bad thing. Over 80% of the falls are on this side of the border, which means as well as a good soaking you get an idea of the full force and might of them from up close. Bettering this however, was the view from The Democratic Republic of Bragentina. We were only on the river for 15 minutes but it’s not a 15 minutes we’ll forget in a hurry. After a quick whizz up and down the river for some photo opportunities, the crew of the boat slung on some deep sea diver type suits and casually reversed us underneath one of the waterfalls. In an experience which probably inspired those lovely chaps at Guantanamo Bay, we then proceeded to spend some time enjoying a good waterboarding. Can’t speak, can’t breath, you can only gasp and flail your limbs around blindly as the falling water pretty much consumes you. Basically like taking a shower when you’re drunk.
The next day we took in our third view of the falls by way of a border crossing into Brazil. As border crossings in South America go this is probably about as safe and straightforward as it gets, nonetheless I’d like to hope not every bus driver will clear off as soon as you leave the bus for a quick entry stamp from immigration. As mentioned previously the vast majority of the Iguazu Falls are on the Argentine side, so while little of the ‘getting wet’ experience is found here what it does make for instead is some quite astonishing panoramic views across the river. A series of walkways along and above the river bank enable you to see the waterfalls in all their widespread and majestic splendour and even after two days there we were still finding ourselves gazing at them with mouths wide open, they really are just astounding. It seems Mrs Roosevelt knew a good thing when she saw one.
It’s not just the borders of Argentina and Brazil that can be found in this neck of the woods, but Paraguay as well. While not directly on the falls themselves the Paraguayan city of Ciudad feel Este and its infamous black market is just a mere bridge crossing away, and with it by all accounts is an area of absolute lawlessness. As well as the black market, the area has links to Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and is home to the most influential base of terrorist group Hezbollah outside of Lebanon, all comfortable in their surroundings due to a lack of antiterrorism laws. The area here is know as ‘Tres Fronteras’ (Three Frontiers) and call me dull and unadventurous if you like, but we gave the Paraguayan side of it a miss, opting to have a look from the safety of Argentine soil. With the three countries split by a T-junction on the river below, it’s not the most exciting place in the world but worth seeing regardless and it’s also an area that may soon be changing it’s name to ‘Quattro Fronteras’, if I have my way. My quickly developing Kingdom of Brargentinauay will no doubt soon be recognised, and with it will come my new bill of laws that I’m drafting as we speak.
The first of which is a total ban on all ABBA songs.