Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Lure of Niagara & Iguazu Falls: Two Natural Wonders of the Word

Holding a memory of something beautiful in the past and savoring its pleasure rather than aching over its loss has been my secret strategy in managing the transition from one country to another. Learning to find pleasure in the present moment is another. These two principles function not only in the interpersonal realm, but also in the unlikely area of natural wonders.

Cataractically speaking, I have traded a bi-national emerald for a bi-national pool of dulce de leche! Perhaps an odd way of putting it, but it feels great to still live relatively close to one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

For years it was my not-so-secret joy to stop at Niagara Falls as often as possible on my trips between Syracuse and Toronto for the Unitarian Universalist cause. It may be called a “forgotten natural wonder” by some [1], and sure, most of my friends could not be bribed into foregoing the speedy bypass, but the lure of the thundering falls always snagged me if I had the wheel!

In glorious springs, touristy summers, blazing falls, and even rock-hard cold winter, I would park by Table Rock, cross the street, picking up the pace as I walked, and then stop only when I reached the barrier, where I would remain transfixed by Horseshoe Falls, sometimes enshrouded in mist or frost, other times elegantly adorned in rainbows. Surely this was worth an extra 15 or 20 minutes in a four-hour trip!

So strong was the Falls lure that, before moving to Argentina, I drove to Niagara to good-bye to the Falls, considering myself not so much a resident of New York State or even the United States, but of the Great Lakes and Adirondacks bio-region. The liquid image of streaming, frothy liquid emerald etched itself in my memory along with the irreal blue of Skaneateles Lake and the icy transparency of Nine Mile Creek. That the Falls also connects two countries that I love, Canada and the United States, is no small part of its attraction.

Now I live close to another cataract, perhaps not so famous as Niagara, but over 200 times bigger! It’s Iguazu Falls, and like Niagara, forms part of a bi-national frontier. Situated on the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is over two kilometers wide, with as many as 300 separate falls on our side, depending on the river flow, with a huge horseshoe-shaped falls on the other. The roar and the mist can be seen from over 10 kilometers away!

My second visit was on Christmas Day 2006, surely one of the least visited moments of this amazing panorama. While thousands of tourists visit Iguazu annually, on this lovely summer day we were able to enjoy considerable solitude and great photo opportunities, with just touch of misty rain right as our tour boat neared some of the misty latte-hued cascades. Our “Adventure Tours” also included a "jungle safari" and an eerily quiet boat ride, in which our guide oarsman threading our way through a labyrinth of island channels, bringing orchids and even an alligator up close and personal.

Roberto, who visited the falls as a teen when access was only by boat, commented on the changes, yet we all admired the continuing focus on enjoying the natural beauty of the falls and the wonder of the tropical forest filled with monkeys, parrots, lush verdure, and a humid mysterious ambiance.

You won’t find a honeymoon haven on the Argentine side, thoughtfully protected by its status as a national park. Alas, there is a very ugly, outrageously expensive, yet highly recommended hotel right in the park which I’ve never been able to afford. We always manage to do well at one of the surprisingly well appointed tourist hotel-with-cabin establishments (try the Orquideas Palace Hotel) on the main access road.

Just be sure to make it to this Natural Wonder of the World before Madame Tussaud and Ripley stake a claim on the place! With luck, they’ll choose to locate on the Brazil side!



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