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Devil’s might at Iguacu waterfalls

“Don’t say it like it’s a bad thing” a co-traveler consoled us when we told him it was time for us to exit Brazil. Our visa for Argentina was running out and it was time for us to start putting it to use. Besides, our next destination had to live up to the standards Ilha Grande had set for us. A UNESCO heritage rating sounded like a safe bet. We decided to head to the Iguacu waterfalls.

A seven hour journey along the coast of the Sao Paulo state got us to the by now familiar bus terminal of Sao Paulo city. From here we were to take the night bus to Foz do Iguacu, the city of the Iguacu waterfalls. However, to paraphrase W.H. Davies, what is travel if all works well! The tickets for the night bus were sold out. To stay back or just head out anywhere was our first big dilemma of this trip. It was 10 PM by then and a decision had to be made.

It could be argued that it would have been better to have made reservations in advance, but we like the liberty that unplanned travels provides us. Make decisions on the go, and give serendipity a chance!

We bought tickets for the city of Curitiba. It is the capital of the Parana state, to which the Iguacu waterfalls belong. It would be interesting to know what a non-touristy, regular city in Brazil looks like.

At 5AM, Curitiba welcomed us with pangs of chilly air. At an altitude of nearly 1000 meters, it is the coldest it gets in Brazil here. We collected our bags, and ran to the food court in the bus terminal, which was blissfully warm. It took a few cups of coffee to get us back to our senses. We put these to good use by first, buying the bus tickets to Foz do Iguacu and then sending out a last minute couch request.

After depositing our bags in the cloak room, we were free to discover a city we knew nothing about. In Curitiba we saw our first clear signs that winter had arrived in full flow in the Southern hemisphere. People were dressed in coats, caps and boots. Shops were selling a variety of colourful lacy wool.

The public transport system here is supposed to be one of the best in the world. Bus stops and buses have ramps which open automatically making the buses easy to use even for the physically challenged. Spanning around 70 feet, with three compartments, they are the longest buses in the world.

Public spaces here are dominated by parks. In the crisp winter afternoon, we saw many locals come out for a run. Older people were using the open air gyms. Families were out with heir kids. These parks were all well maintained and clearly a huge part of the daily life of the Curitiba people. Here, we saw the largest number of gyms and fitness centres of any city we have been to. There was also a yoga centre! Yoga certainly seems like India’s biggest export!

Curitiba also has a 24 hour market. It is a lane of restaurants, bars, shops, chemists even the tourism office that stay open for all 24 hours. Using the free wifi here, we got to know that Walter from Foz do Iguacu had accepted our couch request. We had another home to stay in!

We had read people here were less friendly than those in Rio. Hesitantly, we asked a group of people in the park about a bus we could take to get around. They discussed about this among themselves. Then a lady who knew the bus, walked us to the bus stop, waited for the bus to come, gave instructions to the driver, told us what to tell him in Portuguese, just in case we needed to communicate, and waved us good bye only after we were safely in the bus! If this is less friendly, well, we will take less friendly!

With fond memories of an unexpected city visit, dreaming about Walter’s home and the bed we would have in there, we spent a pleasant second consecutive night in the bus.

Walter’s home brought with it the warmth of a family – his wife and their 2.5 year old daughter Mary. The bed obviously felt like heaven! Walter is an English language teacher and loves to speak the language at every chance he gets. In the mornings, he goes to the prison to teach. His wife didn’t speak much of English, we communicated through a lot of broken Portuguese (ours), broken English (hers), sign language (both) and Google translate (universal!)

It was a rainy day, so we decided to wait it out to visit the Iguacu waterfalls. That afternoon we went to the Itaipu dam. It is one of the biggest dams in the world, built over the Parana river, the largest river in South America after the Amazon. The waters of the dam are shared by Paraguay and Brazil. Through the guided tour on an open deck bus, we could see the massive dam, the Parana river – so wide we couldn’t see the other bank and the chunks of water gushing out of the dam. The area we were driving through is a bi-national territory of Brazil and Paraguay. At one point, our phones even got on a Paraguan network and showed us the Paraguan time. Sadly, due to the visa restrictions, thats the closest we could get to Paraguay.

In Foz do Iguacu, regular public buses ply between Brazil and Paraguay. There is a daily to and fro of the people from these countries. From Walter’s house, the Paraguay border was only 5 kms away. This adds another mix to the already multi-racial people of Brazil.

Clearly a much smaller city than the ones we had been to earlier in Brazil, Foz do Iguacu still had a very functional and efficient public infrastructure. Wide roads, discipline traffic, sidewalks on all major roads, parks with gyms – it was all there.

The next morning it was time to see the star of our visit – the Iguacu waterfalls. These waterfalls straddle the Brazil and Argentina border, over the Iguacu river. This river, unlike the Parana which flows north-south, flows east-west.

We reached the Iguacu national park by a public bus and were greeted by a multi lingual guide. He explained how we could go about visiting the waterfalls, where the walking paths and the view points were. You buy your entry ticket to the park, if you want to do any additional boat/ walking tours, you can choose them here as well. One very popular tour is a boat tour which takes you right under the section of the waterfalls called three musketeers. The videos they show are very thrilling, but the tour was way out of our budget and we decided to stick to seeing the waterfalls from a distance. An open air bus then dropped us to the start of the trail.

Our first view was a panorama of waterfalls. Wow, this is cool, we thought. But we had read the Igucu waterfalls were massive, three times the size of the Niagara waterfalls. Where was all of that? With questioning looks we walked further ahead. All along the walk, waterfalls followed us. At one point, we could see the boats in the water, and people with life jackets sitting inside the boats. In front of them, were a series of 3 waterfalls plundering down. These we realised were the 3 musketeers that the boats take you under.

We could now see people watching the waterfalls from across the river. That was the Argentine side of the waterfalls. Such a peaceful existence of the borders, with a smooth coming and going, sounded a little surprising. “Oh that’s the neighbouring country Argentina! We will be going there tomorrow” sounded like a reality from another world!

There was a huge vantage point ahead, with everyone posing for selfie and group photos. This was another broad waterfall, almost as wide as the 3 musketeers put together and one tier above the 3 musketeers. So the Iguacu waterfalls were not only wide spread but also at different levels.

We thought this was the end of the trail, but people were moving ahead so we too continued. We now saw these wild creatures called quatis, who live in the forest all along the Iguacu waterfalls. A little bigger than mongoose, the constant exposure to people has made them quite bold. They often approach people and swiftly snatch the food off them. Visitors are warned to strictly not feed the quatis, because as friendly as they might seem, they are in reality, wild rodents and their bites can cause severe bleeding.

A little ahead, we suddenly started seeing raincoat-clad people. It had been a cloudy day with the sun nowhere in sight. But it hadn’t rained all morning. These raincoats surprised us quite a bit.

Until we looked ahead – all we saw was white space. And a narrow platform leading to this white space. We too wore our rain jackets at the beginning of this final platform. Each step took us closer to this white space. Each step also made us wetter. By the time we got to the end of this walking platform, we were drenched.

We now couldn’t take our eyes off the white space. This, we realised was the Devil’s throat – the pièce de résistance of the Iguacu watefalls, what made it one of the wonders of the world, what attracted tourists from all over the world to come, see and marvel.

The water of the Iguacu river plunges down a wide, but not too deep ravine, causing this gigantic splash of water, which is the “white space” we were seeing in front. This final fall is known as Devil’s throat! The splash is so massive, that from this side of the waterfall, you couldn’t really see the mouth – where the water plunges down from.

As we stood on the platform, admiring the enormity of this “water structure”, as if to welcome and greet us, the clouds cleared and the sun shone bright. When light passes through drops of water, it splits into its colour components, we learn in school. When this happens in the sky its called a rainbow. But when you see these rainbows formed over a gigantic waterfall, its called sheer bliss. Seeing the many rainbows form over the water splashing from the Devil’s throat, some of them almost 360 degrees, it was our moment of magic at the Iguacu waterfalls.

We now couldn’t wait to see the Argentine side of these Iguacu waterfalls. Just one tiny formality – overland crossing into Argentina was left to be done!

With butterfies in the stomach, we woke up the next day. As instructed by Walter, took the Rio Uruguay bus. The driver dropped us off at the Policia Federal border post. The immigration officer stamped our passports with the exit stamp, took back the entry form we had been given on our entry in Brazil, and that’s it. We were suddenly in “no man’s land”. Out of one country and officially not yet in another. We waited for the next bus to take us over the border. A bridge over the Iguacu river separates Brazil from Argentina. In around 10 minutes, we were at the other end of the bridge. Here the bus stopped and everybody got off to get their passports stamped. Again the Argentine officials had a look at our visas, stamped an entry, and that’s it! We were in Argentina. Our first ever overland border crossing was smoother than butter! The only difference from here and Brazil so far, was a Gracias instead of Obrigada.

The town here is called Puerto Iguazu and the waterfalls are known as Iguazu instead of Iguacu. The next day we headed to the Iguazu waterfalls.

Here, a train took us from the entrance to the start of the trails. There is lots to do on this side of the Iguazu waterfalls, and we highly recommend reaching there at opening time, to walk through all the trails.

We headed straight for the Devil’s throat walkway. They national park here has done a brilliant job of letting people access the waterfalls without damaging the forest. They have built a long – 1.6 km long pedestrian bridge over the river. It was raining heavily that day and this meant we were walking with water above us, below us, in front of us and all around us! This long walk through the wide and deep Iguazu river was exciting.

The Brazilian side had given us a taste of the Devil’s throat and we couldn’t wait to see it from the Argentine side. What would we like better, we wondered – the Brazilian or the Argentinian side of the Iguazu waterfalls!

The walkway ended right at the throat! We saw a completely different side of the Devil’s throat here. The actual waterfall, which was all hidden in the splash the previous day, now lay right in front of us! We have never ever seen so much water right there in front of us. It was gallons and gallons of water plundering down endlessly. It was almost bizarre, the sheer magnanimity of the force that lay in front of us! The power of nature was being unleashed right in front of us, all that there was for us to do was stand and stare in awe. We are not sure the goosebumps we got were from the cold or the sight in front of us!

They have official photographers here and one of them recognised we were from India. But their next question was, where do you stay in USA! When we said no, we stayed in India, they were quite shocked. They said they had seen many Indian tourists here, but most of them were settled in the USA. A round of questions about how far India was, how many people did we have and the like followed. They were happy to pose for us when we asked if we could take their pictures, and playfully asked us what our charge was! We also replied, that just on that day was a special offer, it was all for free!

There are two more trails Upper and Lower circuits which take to you the mouth of the other “smaller” waterfalls. We walked through these trails as well and could see the falls of varying sizes and heights from every angle possible.

There is a point here called the 3 Frontiers point. It is a point where the 3 countries, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet. The Parana and the Iguacu rivers separate these countries. You can easily see flag posts of the other 2 countries from wherever you are. We visited the 3 Frontiers point in Argentina, and again felt pangs of jealousy seeing the camaraderie the South American nations shared with each other.

A devilish journey had led us to the Devil’s throat at Iguacu/Iguazu waterfalls, a UNESCO world heritage site. The devil of new discoveries had now truly engulfed us. What would this devil unleash? We couldn’t wait to find out!

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You will enjoy these stories from our travels in Brazil:

Sao Paulo, Brazil and the beginning

“Which way to the airport express?” Blank stares, shrugs and then the response ” Aah, Inglés!” Lots of sign language, pointing directions, followed by a thumbs up, a smile and us replying ” Obrigada!” Invariably, there is a dismissive wave of the hand saying, ” Na Da!” Thus began our trip to Brazil.

Ilha Grande: Paradise on an island

How do you combine blue, green and white and make the most beautiful thing ever? Of course, by making the island of Ilha Grande! We decided to head to Ilha Grande for our next stop. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is part of the area called “Costa Verde” meaning the “Green coast”.

Rio de Janeiro: Warm even in the rains

Rio de Janeiro, the city of the sun and the sand welcomed us with heavy rains! But there is so much this city has to offer, that rains weren’t a dampener at all. This is a quick snapshot of what we did in the rainy yet marvellous Rio de Janeiro.

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18 thoughts on “Devil’s might at Iguacu waterfalls”

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  5. Pingback: Cool Iguacu images

  6. Excellent analysis of such charismatic places. The way you elaborate the whole description is just fantastic. Tremendous Job Sandeepachetan.

  7. After your first article in Maharashtra Times first time visited your blog . Now on Sunday ( alternate) first thing I read is your article. Last Sunday was most exciting as I met Sandeepa’s mother and father at Ganapatiutsav in our building in Vashi. It was pleasant surprise. It was really exciting to know about your adventure first hand from proud mother and father. Wish you all the best and looking forward to read about new places .

    1. Hello Sir, we hope you are enjoying reading our series in Maharashtra Times as well as our travel stories and photos here. Thank you so much for your wishes and comments. It means a lot to us. Encouragement like this is what keeps us going 🙂

  8. Chetan: Indeed a “picturesque” travel blog on “Igazu Falls” – you have brilliantly described the waterfalls and associated travel experience like your bus travel, stay and nice facilities such as public parks , wide roads available in smaller towns like Curtiba. South America is little less travelled continent from India. You have brilliantly combined the text description with pictures, making the experience “live” for reader.

  9. Greetings Chetan
    It was fun to read your blog about your travels in Brazil. Especially the incident of missing the bus to Iguacu falls and settling for on the spot tickets to Curitiba city was excellent. Good advice for travellers on the go.

    1. Thank you, Rekha! We can’t comment about traveling with kids, but have read from a lot of travel bloggers who travel with kids that it’s a lot of fun and a great earning experience 🙂

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