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Mar del Plata and Iguazu

 

We returned to a very sleepy, winter-time Mar del Plata. Most of the Yacht Club Argentino's dock space was empty. However, our friends Malcolm and Joan Dickson had arrived from the South, having done some winter cruising in the Beagle Channel. Their boat, Sarau, was looking as beautiful as ever and attracting admiring crowds of Argentinians every weekend.

Among their new friends were Herman and Cristina Moro, a delightful Argentinian/American couple, who were interested in our cruising life-style. In fact, Herman revealed to us over lunch that he had just bought a boat, a hurricane damaged Hunter 43, sitting ashore in the Abacos, Bahamas. Herman spoke enthusiastically of the project of getting the boat back into cruising trim, though we wondered at the time whether this might be a pretty big and expensive task. In the meantime, Vicky and Joan hatched a plot to use to full advantage the time we had remaining before our flight to England. With Herman's kind assistance, we were soon booked on a trip to see the Iguazu Falls, which sit at the border between Argentina and Brazil, as well as being close to Paraguay. The Falls are the largest (by volume and width) in the world, dwarfing Niagara. We had originally considered doing this trip by bus, the longer and cheaper way. However, with the limitations of time, we opted for flying from Mar del Plata with a connection at Buenos Aires.

Having left Mar del Plata in the early hours of the morning of 31 August, we arrived at our hotel, the Orquidea at lunch time and set off immediately to explore the town. It was not impressive. The only excitement was a picket of local high school students protesting at some action of the school's Principal. Naturally, Tom's sympathy was with the Principal. Though our hotel was one of the less expensive options, it was set in attractively landscaped grounds, the staff were very helpful and the rooms were comfortable. Given the unimpressive choice of restaurants in the town we were glad that we had pre-paid for the buffet dinner at the hotel, which turned out to be excellent value.

 

Though we do not normally like organised tours, it would have been difficult and much less interesting to try to visit the Falls without a guide. Ours was well organised and informative. The Falls are within a large national park. By the time you reach the Falls themselves you have traveled by bus, a small scale tourist train and foot. The hiking is all on well constructed boardwalks and bridges which span the subsidiary streams and swampy areas near the Falls. Though the river on which the Falls lie is the boarder between Argentina and Brazil at this point, most of the actual falls lie within Argentina, as they comprise a huge complex of cascades rather then one or two huge cataracts.

 The first long walkway led somewhat ominously past the remains of its earlier version, destroyed by massive floods. Though we were told that the rivers were currently high, they were not at these flood levels. We wound our way across the boardwalks catching occasional distant glimpses of toucans among the trees, bright under gray skies. It seemed for a time that it all would be a bit anticlimactic, though the roar of the falls grew louder. We turned a corner to see a cloud of spray drifting continuously upward from the source of a vastly increased roar. When you reach the final viewing platform, perched over the lip of the fall, conversation becomes impossible - and photography difficult as the clouds of spray drift up on the winds stirred from the bottom. This huge, crescent-shaped section of the falls is called the Devil's Throat. The Devil earns his keep when it comes to naming South America's more striking geographical features. From the viewing point at the top it is impossible to see down into the basin because of the spray. However, amidst the drifting clouds what you do see are hundreds of swifts darting not just among the drifting curtains of spray, but actually through the walls of water. Apparently they actually nest in the cliffs behind the cataracts.

 There is a colossal sense of power projected from the huge masses of water pouring down the falls. You only have to have been caught once in a big breaking wave to know the force within a few tons of falling water. Yet here there are thousands of tons falling every second. Here, of course, Bill Bryson would give you several lines of statistics to reinforce his description. We were more absorbed in the impression and sense of the hugeness of the falls. This sense of power as well as the beauty and variety of the falling, cascading water is further reinforced as you walk further along the boardwalks past and even over a score of other smaller cataracts. Some glisten smoothly over a straight line of rock others break, tumbling in a mass of jumbled water past and over outcrops, sometimes covered with lavishly green trees. Occasionally we reached viewpoints, where we stared at these cataracts, seemingly only for a moment or two, only to find that we had been there far longer, mesmerised by both vision and sound.

 

The Falls and the park within which they lie are a major tourist site, attracting thousands of visitor every day. Nevertheless, the park is also a major natural habitat for all kinds of animals and birds. There are warnings posted about jaguars, pumas and snakes, though these would be a very rare sight along the regular tourist paths. However, there were some beautiful tropical birds, some of them well habituated to humans, as were the raccoon-like cotia, whose primary activity appeared to be raiding the rubbish bins.

 

Our hike to the falls was followed by a truck ride through the jungle during which an excellent guide gave us some sense of the ecology of the rain forest through which we passed. However, the highlight of the day was a ride in a large rib, powered by two huge 200 HP outboards. We were fortunate to begin this ride down-river from the falls, so that we also experienced the excitement of surging through the rapids which tumble over boulders scattered on the river bed. Having handled small craft in rough conditions we could appreciate the consummate skill of the marinero who piloted the boat. He not only wove unerringly though the hazards, but even tantalized the tourists aboard by hesitating through some of the rougher patches. However, this was nothing compared to his approach to bottom of the falls themselves. For several minutes we lay off, far enough from the foot of the falls to give appropriate photo ops, then he plunged forward into the steaming spray, backing and filling close to the rocks and to the falling water itself. It was quite exciting. The marinero's skill was underlined by the plunging antics of the boat, which, when combined with the deluging spray thoroughly soaked everyone aboard. Fortunately, we had come prepared with wet-gear, but most of the tourists aboard had only flimsy ponchos and were thoroughly, but laughingly drenched.

 

 

 

 

The next day, in bright sunshine we headed to the Brazilian side of the falls to get a generally more distant but also more panoramic view. The cost of this was to spend most of the day in a bus or at the Brazilian border checkpoint. However, the photo ops probably made the trip worthwhile.

 

By mid-afternoon of the same day we were back at the airport to catch our flight back to Buenos Aires and thence to Mar del Plata. Unfortunately, delays and cancelations brought us back to MdP about four hours later than we expected. Nevertheless we had had a literally awesome time.

 

 

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