Sunday, 13 April 2008

We left our hotel at a reasonable time, no early morning, 5am departures today. We even had time to let the kids run around and play tag while we waited for our ride to the airport. It’s always a good thing to start the day with a game of tag, especially a traveling day. We arrived at the airport in Iguazu Falls, Argentina, around 1:30, just an hour and a half flight. Our bags came out right away, we found a taxi to seat five (four squished in the back), and were at the hotel by 2. Our rooms looked right out at the falls, they were impressive even from a distance, sending a huge cloud of mist billowing into the air. Clay read on the internet that the weather was not supposed to be very good, so we decided to get a quick lunch at the hotel and then try to get a couple of hikes to different falls in before nightfall.

To see our first falls up close, we hurried to a nearby train station, where we took an open-sided train to a path that led to Del Diablo, the granddaddy of them all. The falls are bordered by Argentina on one side, Brazil on the other, and they are huge. We walked along a metal, elevated path to reach the viewing platform. I was disappointed at first, I had envisioned us trekking down dirt paths, admiring the flora and fauna of the rain forest as we hiked, pushing back large palm leaves and swiping at spider webs as we made our way. This metal walkway seemed mighty sterile, our feet clanged as we followed along with the tide of tourists who exited the train. But our path was mostly above small creeks and rivers, and once we reached the falls I was grateful for the high railings that kept the boys from falling to their death. This was not meant to be a rain forest experience, it was meant to be a waterfall experience, and it certainly delivered.

The falls were huge, indescribable. They gushed so hard we couldn’t even see where they hit, they churned up huge clouds of mist that made little droplets on our hair and clothes. The metal walkway was slick from all the moisture and the kids enjoyed sliding back and forth in between admiring the falls. We got some good pictures, but nothing could really describe the incredible noise (we had to yell to hear each other) and the powerful force of that water. When I looked straight down, it made my insides turn. It seemed amazing that so much water can continue to fall at such a fantastic rate. Where does it all come from?

They sky was gray in one direction, but so far we had avoided the bad forecast. We headed back to the train, stopping to admire and take macro-close-up pictures of butterflies that fluttered all around us. We hung over the railings to examine the fish in the creeks and rivers we crossed, many bottom feeders, schools of thin silver fish, and one big fat one. After arriving back at the train station, we decided to hike the “upper circuit”, a series of trails that would lead us to lookouts above a different set of falls. The falls were beautiful, we took more pictures, trying to capture something of what we were seeing. Just as we got to the last lookout and were turning around to head back to the hotel, the drops began to fall.

They were scattered at first, big fat raindrops with lots of space in between. Then it got a little harder. And harder. At first I tried darting from tree to tree, in an attempt to stay partly dry. I soon realized this would be impossible, and broke into a run, following Clay and the kids. There is nothing like the feeling of giving up, of realizing that you are going to get entirely wet with all your clothes on. That feeling of panic, of trying to run away from something you cannot escape. By the time we reached the hotel we were 100% saturated, from our shirts to our underwear. We squeezed out our shirts and made puddles on the marble hotel floor.

I got out the camera from the backpack so I could get a picture of everyone all dripping wet, and that’s when it happened. I opened it up and saw psychedelic colors on the digital screen, like everyone had been colorized in pinks and purples, like a TV station that isn’t coming in. Then it died. Our faithful camera, that got us through eight and a half months of this trip, spluttered and went black. Clay tried to revive it with a hair dryer while I got to work on the laundry (the hotel charged $7 to launder a shirt, we flatly refused on principle) and began hanging lines all over the rooms to facilitate drying in the damp environment.

We forlornly washed clothes between our two rooms while we set the camera out to dry, perhaps it would revive itself in the morning. We went to dinner and sat next to an older couple that was drunk as a skunk. The kids sometimes ask Clay and me, when we enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, “What happens if you drink too much?” They got an eyeful and an earful at our table, the woman was loud and obnoxious, saying the US was *?!* stupid, she was American. We watched them finally topple out of the restaurant, gripping the backs of chairs for balance. I’m glad it was more disturbing than humorous, perhaps it will come back to our kids someday when they’re offered “one more drink”.

We watched the lightning flash as we finished our dinner, the restaurant has huge picture windows that look out on the waterfalls in the distance. The buffet was good and plentiful, the kids ate some vegetables to hold off the scurvy. We haven’t done a Sunday “service” in several weeks, we decided to sit down with the kids back in our room and talk about finishing the race well, we read from Philippians. We’re so close to the end of the trip, it is tempting to spend all our time talking about home and what we’ll do when we get there. And yet there is so much to still experience. What was Paul’s race, what was his finish line? He ran for righteousness, what is our finish line? What are we striving for? Do we just want to finish, or do we want to finish well?

It turned into a good discussion about what kinds of goals we can set for ourselves, what really matters and what doesn’t, peppered with a few random questions from Benji. Sometimes his brain is on a different plane, he’s thinking about how Noah could fit all those animals on his ark and that he didn’t need to load up any fish, while discussions swirl around him. I have to think his six-year-old mind is taking it all in, and somewhere in the folds of his brain are tucked conversations that may be above him now, but will someday guide his future thinking.


Monday, 14 April 2008

We slept late, a real luxury. When we finally woke up around 8 I opened up the curtains wide to see blue sky on the horizon, it looked like the rain was gone. We tried the camera, it made a funny little sickly noise when we opened it up, the screen was still black. Someone dropped the camera back at who knows where and it has a little dent along the seam. Clay thinks the water got in there. We were sick when we thought we would have no more pictures of Iguazu, we still had lots of falls to see and hiking to do and experiences to encounter.

We set out, sans camera. We saw some more amazing falls, it is possible this is the most beautiful place we’ve been so far. It’s a toss-up between Iguazu Falls and the Moroccan desert, they were both amazing. At one point, we looked down to see rainbows in the mist of the falls, a perfect blue sky above. “Ack! I can’t believe we don’t have our camera!” I cried, Alayna shushed me. I guess I was a little loud.

We came across six coatis, animals that look a little like anteaters. They snuffled at the dead leaves and in the dirt at the base of trees with their long, flexible noses, searching for a tasty tidbit. Some of them climbed a tree with ease. They made a high-pitched squeaky sound, like one of the dogs’ squeaky toys, and we watched them for at least ten minutes, leaning over the railings of the metal walkway. Nobody else walked by and we had them all to ourselves.

Alayna’s senses were on high alert, she discovered all sorts of interesting spiders and ants along the way, but her best find was a big, brown stick bug. We watched him for ages, he was a cautious guy and as he made his way down the thin metal railing, he felt for each foothold, tested each step by waving his leg in the air before placing it down. It was the strangest looking creature, his head was shaped like a cone and his eyes were on either side of his head, he looked very serious. At one point he turned around and stared face to face with Alayna, her chin resting on the railing. What an amazing picture it would have been, their profiles regarding each other, I almost cried.

We stopped to linger at one of the most spectacular look-outs as we made our way to the shuttle boat that took us across to St. Martin Island across from the falls. Once on the island, we climbed hundreds of steps to reach the peak, where we had spectacular views. I counted over a hundred waterfalls, all streaming down. Some gushed, others were more docile, making a transparent curtain of water revealing lush green plants growing behind. We hiked around the island, finding another spot where we looked through a frame of rock to see El Diablo in the distance, it was called Ventana. “Window” in Spanish. Bit by little bit, we’re learning a little more Spanish, Clay is miles ahead of the rest of us. Above us giant buzzards reeled restlessly, waiting for something to die.

After hiking, we settled on the small beach on the island and gathered pretty stones. Alayna found a miniature geode with a tiny cache of crystals in the middle, I found a good “holding rock” that I rubbed with my fingers. It had a pretty green streak of color in it, and I imagined myself rubbing the rock until it was polished shiny, keeping it in my pocket, taking a bit of Iguazu Falls with me wherever I go. We took the water taxi back across and boarded a different boat for a “grand adventure” we’d paid for. An hour long excursion that would take us near the falls by boat, then up some rapids, then on a jeep ride through the forest.

We were all wearing swim suits, and it’s a good thing. The boat driver was a maniac, he steered us straight towards a waterfall, we were in the middle of all that billowing cloud of mist but it no longer felt billowing or cloudish, it felt violently, splashy wet. We all got soaked and screamed and laughed and then screamed some more as he headed for the rapids. They were really pretty tame, other than the unexpected plunge we took that sent a funnel of water directly into my ear. It’s nice and clean now. The driver did donuts in a calm spot, tilting the boat so far over I was sure it would capsize. More screaming, lots of fun.

After the boat ride we dripped and dribbled our way up lots of steps to board a giant jeep with a platform up top where we rode with several other passengers. We drove down a dirt road through the jungle, nothing as exciting as our safari rides or the jungle experiences we’ll have in Ecuador, but a great way to dry our dripping clothes. After disembarking, we decided we were hungry. After all, it was 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We feasted on granola bars and French fries, a good little snack before dinner, which we had three hours later. We checked our camera before we went to bed, it gave a few feeble bleeps but the screen was still black or grainy. We are sure, it is dead.

Our plan is to purchase another one tomorrow. We’ll fly to Bolivia, stopping in Buenos Aires where we have a four hour layover and a rendezvous with Peter, who will be driving us to the international airport across town after arriving at the domestic airport. Clay is doing some research, we may have to pay a lot more, but there’s no way we could travel through the rest of South America without a camera. It would kill us. I said goodnight to the falls before pulling the curtain closed that night, I will miss that beautiful view.