Monday, 6 December 2010

Cataratas de Iguazu

When first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt first encountered the waterfalls at Iguazu, it’s claimed that she said “poor Niagara!”. Either that was a gut reaction, or she was a consummate diplomat and the perfect guest.

One for dreaming with
 How you measure and how you rank waterfalls: all the high-profile contenders can make a claim to superiority. Angel is the highest drop, Victoria the widest curtain, Niagara the greatest flow, Iguazu the best view; you get the point. What Iguazu does have is class, it’s a showoff, flaunting it’s displays to best effect. A performance in the round. The 275 waterfalls or saltos are arrayed all around you in a canyon over 700 metres in length. As you make your way along the boardwalks each new group of saltos are introduced to you, enticing you further in to the show. Ever pulling you to the crux, to the climactic end. These early players are curtain falls of beauty, but it’s when you eventualy reach right down into the Garganta del Diablo, down the Devil’s Throat, that the utter raw power of nature is exposed. 300,000 gallons every second cascades over the edge, falling into a maelstrom of chaos, tumult and turbulence.
As the visiting Kiwi observed “nice falls, but where’s the bungee jump?”. There isn’t one, but if you require a bit of adrenal junketing, you could join the small inflatable that’s crossing above the falls. They can’t actually see anything, it must all be in the mind and the maintenance of the outboard engine. Gravity has a tendency to be fairly predictable

Whilst the cataracts are the lead players, there‘s a supporting cast of actors. The cloud forest of air plants festooned along branches, bromeliads, ferns and orchids creating a forest on every tree. The swifts and swallows plunging into the clouds of spray, feeding on the invertebrates that get washed down river and out into the abyss. The spiralling vultures that are riding the updrafts like vortexes of litter. The plumes of vapour, squalls and showers that spiral out of the canyon, billowing high into the clear blue sky. The butterflies, each species segregated apart, feeding on mineral and salt deposits and at water puddles. They support the spectacle, but I wonder how many in the audience see them.

Spectators are part of the action
For myself, the spectators are all part of the action. Cameras are everywhere, everyone has one, it’s almost as if it’s a mandatory requirement to view the display in major part through either an eyepiece or by way of a screen. I‘m just as guilty. It‘s a Pavlovian response, new salto , must photograph. Take another, I‘ll not get back here ever again. Take a hundred, surely one will be good. I only need one. The light at the Gargantua del Diabolo , refracting off the tumult of broken water is so bright that even heavily stopped down photos are burnt out. At no point can a normal camera lens take in the whole view. That’s the beauty of the place, it’s best viewed in short extracts from low down. Those up in the helicopters, those on the whistle stop tour of the “seven new wonders of the world in seven days tour” only get the overview, the synopsis; we get the same , at no extra cost, from the diorama in the visitor centre. Down on the river level you get the detail and the nuances, so just put the camera away, just stop and look, just stare, just wonder at a truly awesome sight.