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Day 74: The Iguaçu Falls

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The Devil's Throat, where the stately Iguaçu River becomes an inferno.
Michael Palin - BrazilThe first waterfalls we see are on the Argentine side of the river. There must be forty or fifty of them, tumbling eighty metres down the gorge wherever they can find a path through the cracked and fissured rocks. And at last, directly ahead, I can see the big falls on the Brazilian side, where the water never touches the sides and the spray from the crashing impact rises back to form a white cloud over the lip of the falls. We edge a little further forwards. Water is thundering down all around us. The river is thrashing and boiling, coming at us from all sides. The noise is relentless, and it's practically impossible now to hear each other speak.

The raw power of falling water has always mesmerized me. The way that a river can change character so instantaneously. From a languid stream full of bathing pools and fishing reaches to a hammering inferno. From a ripple to a roar. From the benign to the apocalyptic. The basin into which we're edging is named, entirely appropriately, Garganta do Diabo, the Devil's Throat. High above me I can see lines of tiny figures, emerging every now and then from the clouds of spray as they make their way up to the viewing platforms. Marina shouts and points across the river. There are the thrill-seekers who roared past us earlier, dripping wet and shrieking with ecstatic terror as their helmsman moves the boat as close to the falling torrent as he dares. I feel a touch of that hysteria as the swirling, treacherous white water flings us about. It's the kind of exhilaration you only get from being on the knife-edge between safety and chaos.

The Brazilians love nicknames. It's part of the informality that colours life here. Whether it's footballers or politicians, a jokey abbreviation of the real thing – Pelé, Lula, FHC – is a sign of endearment. It's the same with these waterfalls. They're all called something. Sometimes it's religious, Adam and Eve, San Martin, Santa Maria; sometimes they're heroes of Brazilian independence, Deodoro, Benjamin Constant; sometimes literary, Dois Mosqueteiros, Two Musketeers, and its neighbour Três Mosqueteiros. It's a sign of how proud they are to have the longest waterfalls in the world on their border. The Iguaçu Falls are the one site that every Brazilian has to visit at some time in their life.

And that's unusual. As we've travelled round I've been struck by how little curiosity the Brazilians seem to have about their own country. Many times in my journey I've wanted to share with them the beauties we've seen here. The power of the Amazon, the splendour of the rainforest, the exuberance of an African festival on the North-East coast. And more often than not my Brazilian friends nod their heads politely and ask,

'What's it like?'
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 74: The Iguaçu Falls
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: The Iguaçu Falls
  • Book page no: 312

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  • All boats
  • Day 2 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 7 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 8 
  • Pole to Pole