After a refreshing swim in the circular pool at the Sheraton, we decided to take a walk down to the see Iguazu Falls up close. Iguazu Falls National Park is on the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. The falls are part of the Iguazu River originating in Brazil. There are 275 waterfalls, spanning a little over a mile and a half, that make up the system of waterfalls that separate the upper Iguazu from the lower Iguazu River. In 2006, the falls dried up for a time due to drought, but I have read that they are back at full force again, as they were in 2004 when we visited.
Behind the hotel, there was a well-marked, paved path down to the entrance to the falls. Along the way, there were signs showing a stick figure of a man on the path, with snakes on either side of him, threatening to strike at any second. From what I could gather, the signs said something like "Stay on the path or you will be eaten by snakes!" I wouldn't let Alexander put even a baby toe off the path, and we hurried on to the entrance to the park.
Along the path to the falls, we encounter a giant iguana and a coati, a mammal that looks like a cross between a raccoon, a monkey and an aardvark. I suppose it was the product of some weird jungle hybridization or an evolutionary joke.
The walk was about a kilometer, but it seemed like it took forever, particularly for Frank. Alexander would be happily walking along, then suddenly decide he'd had enough of this walking thing and go on strike. Frank would be the dutiful dad, and pick him up and carry him on his shoulders. I was the dutiful sherpa, carrying our various backpacks, camera gear and accoutrements.
We walked down the path and past an abandoned building that had been part of the old hotel. In a circular clearing, a few craftspeople had set out blankets with beautifully woven bags, little jaguars and toucans carved out of wood, flutes, and other native crafts. Before he end of our stay, we bought several bags and wallets for Christmas gifts for family members, and a couple of carving for Alexander. A woman was sitting with the bags and weaving new ones as we browsed. It wasn't the typical "Made in China" souvenir stand we were used to, and I think we bought more than we should have because everything seemed so original and unique.
At the park entrance, we bought tickets to ride the small train, called the Ecological Jungle Train, out to the falls. Alexander loved this, since he loved trains probably more than he loved his mom and dad at this point in his life. That day, he insisted on wearing his rubber rain boots with bug faces painted on the toes, which seemed to charm the other tourists. Alexander was very well-behaved on the train, sitting patiently, sipping juice and enjoying the ride.
The train ride took us out through some dense jungle to a series of metal bridges and catwalks out to the falls. It was a hot, sunny day, and along the way, there were benches strategically placed in shady spots, so we could stop and rest if we needed to. We brought along juice boxes and bottled water, since all the guides warned that the heat and dehydration could be a problem.
After we got off the train, we hiked about a mile and were almost at the falls, when Alexander decided he could not go any further and just stopped dead in his tracks. I was happily snapping pictures and looked up to see him standing and staring straight ahead. At this point, he insisted on being carried the rest of the way.
Frank and I carried him a bit, but when he heard the loud rushing water sounds, he insisted on being let down. We made it to the viewing platform, which stands at the precipice of the Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo). It was crowded with tourists taking pictures, and one guy was precariously placed on a ladder, trying to take pictures above the heads of the crowds.
It's hard to describe exactly the feeling that you get standing above the magnificence of something like Iguazu Falls. Millions of tons of rushing water below your feet, the thunderous roar of the water cascading hundreds of feet down into an abyss, is awesome and powerful and frightful at the same time. You stand with your mouth agape, looking with awe, but at the same time wanting to run away quickly in case the flimsy platform you're standing on suddenly gets washed away in a torrent of water and mud. It was much like looking into the mouth of an active volcano on Hawaii, fear mixed with awe and wonder at how such a beautiful thing could exist in the world.
It's always funny to me how children react to things like this. You can never quite predict what excite or scare them. When I asked Alexander what he thought of the falls, he said, "It's NOISY!"
He looked a little frightened and upset much of the time, and didn't like getting wet when the wind shifted and the spray from the falls hit us full-on. I thought the water was a refreshingly cool mist, to counteract the hot, steamy walk out. Most of the women viewing the falls were in bikini tops, so I felt a little overdressed for the occasion.
Just as we were standing on the precipice, looking into the wall of water falling below and in front of us, I noticed a rainbow forming at the base of the falls, curving up toward the top and down again. It was a grand and glorious sight. Alexander perked up at the sight of this, and giving us the biggest grin he could must, he said, "Look, Mama! A rainbow!"