On a Thursday evening after a busy week of our first Argentine midterms (a perilous experience even before considering the language barrier), I left the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires for the small jungle border town of Puerto Iguazu. Iguazu, accessible by a 2-hour plane ride aboard the state-owned Aerolineas Argentinas, or an 18-hour journey on one of Argentina’s long-haul buses—it’s safe to say my group elected to fly—is a small tourist town located at the convergence of the Parana and Iguazu Rivers. At this point, where Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil meet, one of the world’s great natural wonders lies waiting at the end of jungle paths. Our 2-day stay near the National Park allowed us enough time not only to hit the usual tourist traps, but to find our own piece of this incredible natural feature. The international character of the crowd at our hostel, which included Germans, Britons, Australians, Brazilians, and Argentinians, assured us that this must be a place worth the trip from anywhere; we wouldn’t be disappointed.
When we arrived at the park, a short bus ride from Puerto Iguazu, I found myself pleasantly surprised to enter a jungle sanctuary with lemurs and brightly colored birds at every turn. The park itself was a fascinating excursion, with a scenic train guiding us through the dense forest to the falls. As you step off the train, and begin following one of the myriad trails to the falls, you soon begin to hear their low and steady roar through the undergrowth. Finally, after managing the winding course of trails lined with raccoon-like coati’s (who have an insatiable interest in humans and particularly our habit of dropping food), you emerge at the edge of the mighty falls. The drop-off of at least 10-stories, higher than even Niagara, surprised me at its untamed and raw appearance in comparison to North America’s great cascade. As mist swirls upward and jungle birds soar along the updrafts created by the water’s sheer force, you begin to appreciate what draws so many to this place so far from the typical tourist stops of Rio or BA. While standing beside the falls, gasping in awe beside people from every corner of Argentina and the world, all are made equal in appreciation of the sheer majesty unfolding around us.
Though the main falls are breathtaking, my greatest memory of Iguazu will always be my second day at the park. Instead of returning to the well-traveled tourist trails by the larger falls, we elected to take a local’s advice and take a small jungle trail to one of the side falls where a natural pool supposedly waited at its base. After hiking for around an hour and descending the many steps down the steep ravine which lines the river, we finally broke through the vegetation to find our oasis in the jungle. At the base of a small waterfall, a clear and cool pool invited us in for refuge from the nearly 100-degree heat and humidity. Along with several other adventurous visitors, we swam and took turns bearing the brunt of the small cascade. After taking in the secluded pool, we returned to town for our flight back to our busy lives in the Federal Capital, all the more grateful for having chosen the path less taken.