Iguazu, The Ride

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I was saying to Kenny, “You know, it’s kind of weird, or at least interesting, that they’ve applied theme park sensibility to real-life natural landscapes…”

And then they dunked us under the waterfall and we all started screaming.

It was cold, for Brazil. Or I suppose it was cold for the foreign idea of Brazil, which all about steamy tropicalness, of snaking rivers and toucans and steam rising from boundless jungle. There is truth in that idea, probably, when it’s not winter in Brazil, and when you’re somewhere other than Iguazu Falls, which lies along Brazil’s southern border with Argentina and Paraguay. It was cold, for Brazil. It was 50. It was too cold to be dunked under a waterfall, anyway — a big waterfall. It is no simple trickle, Iguazu, where the liters of water dumped over its horseshoe-shaped edge are counted in the millions — per second. Where the water falls so hard and fast that the cliff erodes by inches in a single year and the rainbows spring up in triplicate, arching far beyond 180 degrees.

And I get the idea that you want to touch it or ride it. It is the immediate impulse when you see it — the weird desire to merge with an unstoppable natural force. Seeing Iguazu, you can sort of understand the weirdos who go over Niagara every year thinking they can survive. And maybe there are similar narratives with Iguazu — people looking for the ultimate thrill — but I don’t know them and the tour guides don’t volunteer it, if it exists. (You only think of the right questions to ask when you’re home. Or maybe that’s just me.)

We saw the waterfall up close and far away, from a helicopter and on a bridge where the spray is so strong and close that you have to wear a raincoat to keep from getting drenched. And it is not a gentle, Maid of the Mist sort of uncomfortable dampness. It is soaked-through, must-change-my-underwear-and-my-mascara-afterwards sort of inundation that requires the careful hiding of your iPhone and your leather purse. And then we took the boat ride.

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The boat departs from a dock downriver from the falls where everything seems brown and tame, the steep cliffs of Argentina rising on the opposite bank silent and empty. When they ask you to leave your shoes behind, it seems innocent and respectful — like visiting the temples in India. A thing that you do when you travel because you’re asked to do it and you want to fit in and seem savvy.

It was sunset when we departed — not a great time to go, but we’d dallied on the bridge. We sat in the front of the boat — an oversize inflatable raft with a stinky gasoline motor — thinking it would afford the best view and protect us from the water spray. But a tangle of Bolivian teenagers, traveling with their church group, crowded in front of us. They were cute, at least, and eager.

The driver headed straight for the rapids, hitting them hard, with impeccable aim, swerving to find them as they cropped up. The boat’s wobbly cargo screeched with glee and terror as if we’d hit the big hill on the world’s most excellent new log flume ride. The rocks along the shoreline made me nervous and made me wonder about insurance. Before we’d departed, our guide smiled, a twinkle in his eye and said in heavily accented English, “I will pick up the survivors at the end, OK?” Note that he didn’t actually join us.

Photo ops are a key part of the experience. The boat’s skipper wore a pool-blue rubber suit and heavy boots and carried a camera in a waterproof case. He asked us to stand and smile in front of certain points of interest, our bare feet unsteady as the boat spun and careened. On one side, the Devil’s Throat was barely visible in the distance amidst the fog and fading sun. On the other, a tall section of the Argentine falls spilled over behind us — the perfect backdrop for a photo. The kind of thing that school kids and smiling families choose out of a book at Sears to complete their portraits, to give it a specific look of picturesque otherness. At Iguazu, after your boat ride is complete, you can buy photos of yourself screaming and preening at a dockside kiosk.

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They dunked us after all the photos were taken, our hair flattened by the wind.

As the boat approached one cataract — a piece of Iguazu called the Three Musketeers for its triad of wide, even falls — we started talking about thrill rides.

Then the water dumped on our heads, heavy and relentless, and everything around us turned white and cold and I was sitting in water and submerged in it up to my ankles. They they dunked us again. And again. And one more time. The boat driver and the skipper laughed. I pulled the hood of my raincoat down over my face.

We hit the rapids again on the way back, but no one seemed as excited, or shouted as hard. Our small group folded in our ourselves, our lips blue, exchanging quiet data on the state of our underclothes — laughing, at least a little. When I stepped out on the dock, there were pine needles stuck to my legs. Despite the shouts of the men at the kiosk, we bought no photos.

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One Response to “Iguazu, The Ride”

  1. MTB Says:

    Heart this.

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