As I stepped off the plane a dark, almost purple sky was torn apart by violent lightning and a torrential downpour began. Like thousands of others, I had come to this corner of the Brazil-Argentina border to see one of the most awe-inspiring sights on the planet, the famous Iguaçu Falls. According to a legend of the local Gaingangu Indians, the falls were formed in a fit of rage by the Serpent God Mboi, who had been promised life-long, dedicated service and worship by the beautiful maiden Naipi. But Naipi was in love with a young warrior named Taroba and on the day of her consecration to Mboi, whilst her father Chief Igobi and the local Shaman were celebrating and drinking cauim (a local drink of fermented corn) and the warriors danced, the lovers escaped in a canoe and proceeded down river, propelled by the current. On discovering their escape, the furious Mboi penetrated far into the bowels of the Earth to produce an enormous fissure that turned into a giant waterfall. Swept away by the angry waters, the canoe and the fugitives fell from a great height to disappear forever. Taroba was changed into a palm tree situated on the edge of the abyss, whilst Naipi was changed into a rock that is continually pounded by the waters of Garganta del Diablo (a giant, horseshoe-shaped cascade). To this day there are those who believe there is a grotto behind the falls, from which the vindictive Mboi eternally watches the two victims of his fury.
I spent my first day exploring the falls from the Argentinean side with its spectacular walkways and close-up views. With 275 waterfalls covering 2.7 kilometers this can honestly be called an awesome sight on a mammoth scale; and days of heavy rain causing five times the normal water flow made it even more so. I watched almost mesmerized as thousands of cubic metres of water per second sped beneath my feet, to plunge into the Rio Iguaçu below.
The next morning, I visited the Brazilian side with its famed panoramic views. According to my guide the continued torrential rain had now raised water levels to nine times the average – the highest he’d ever seen. Some of the walkways on the Argentinean side, where we’d been the day before, were now closed because the water levels were too high and they were no longer considered safe. Meanwhile, on the Brazilian side, workmen had frantically removed metal side sections on the lower walkway, to lessen resistance and the possibility of the structure being washed away. Today there was no picture postcard scene of blue skies, rainbows and verdant green undergrowth between individual cascades. In its place a grey, brooding sky watched as a deluge of brown, angry water plunged over giant basalt steps, to produce a wall of foam and mist. As I stood looking across at this panorama, I couldn’t help wondering whether the Serpent God Mboi was admiring the engorged falls with a vindictive glint in his eye!
This story was first published in ‘Viva List Latin America’ in 2007 (check out http://www.vivatravelguides.com/). ISBN: 978 0 9791264 0 0