Puerto Iguazu, Argentina: Gazing at the Edge of the World

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A blast of chilly air slapped me refreshingly in the face as I pushed open the door to the four bed bunk hostel. I was in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, a small border town on the confluence of the Parana and Iguazu rivers. The late February jungle air hung dense, and I had practically swum through the unpaved streets of the town center after departing the bus station. It had been maybe a twenty hour ride from Buenos Aires, and I was tired, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, and stretched thin. Puerto Iguazu was the final remote destination on my journey inward, and from this point I would turn around and return to Bogota, 4213 miles away. It was also the first and only location where I would bask in the glow of air conditioning.

Puerto Iguazu Hostel (1)
Poolside at the El Guembe Hostel.

My bus from Buenos Aires had been over night, and it was around noon when I arrived in Puerto Iguazu. After a nap and some SteriPEN sanitized water, my hungry became my primary need. I ventured through the town center, seeing the usual tourist shops selling braided bracelets, freezer magnets, and snow globes of Caucasian-featured figurines holding surf boards.  As the gateway town to Iguazu Falls National Park, Puerto Iguazu has developed most of its economic infrastructure around tourism.

Critter
A critter is hungry for whatever mix of nuts and dried fruit I am eating from a plastic bag.

I followed a trail away from the upscale cafes serving steak and fried yucca root and passed modern hotels with valet parking and airport shuttles, to a spot where I sat and watched the muddy water of two rivers swirling into ripples and waves. From this point, I saw three nations: Argentina where I stood, Paraguay across the water on the left bank, and Brazil across on the right. I didn’t have a VISA for either of those countries, so I was unable to cross political borders. This was the farthest edge of my journey.

Waterfalls happen to be one of my favorite features, right up there with gorges. Waterfalls symbolize the process of release, of letting go. They are the continuous flow of life and energy. They remind us that no moment in time is the same as the one before it, which means that each breath, each heartbeat, each blink is a space of awakening into a new experience.

Waterfalls also produce an abundance of what are called “negative ions.” Negative ions are healthy for our bodies, contrary to what it might seem. Ions have an electrical charge that is either positive or negative. Positively charged ions have lost one or more electrons, and negatively charged ions are oxygen atoms with a large number of highly negatively charged electrons. These two types of ions are fundamentally different in their sub-atomic structure, and negatively charged ions can be found in natural areas, such as on beaches, near waterfalls, and in the forest after a lightening storm. While in Puerto Iguazu, I definitely had to see the falls at the Iguazu Falls National Park.

The park is a protected area with a sister park called Iguazu National Park, located in Brazil. Although a total of 275 falls roll through the heart of this Paranaense Rainforest making it the largest waterfall system in the world, the most monumental is the Devil’s Throat Falls, where the water tumbles 80 meters into a deep canyon, its voice deep and deafening. The falls are one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, and were dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Falls
Visitors appreciate one of the many waterfall systems in Iguazu Falls National Park.

Filled to the brim with negatively charged ions, it was time for the long haul back to Bogota. I had no idea how much more adventure was ahead of me. Over the next three weeks, the bus I was riding would break down in the Atacama Desert; the ATM in Tacna, Peru, would eat my backup bank card; agents at the border of Ecuador and Peru would attempt to forcibly “offer” me a vaccine for an unfamiliar, mosquito born virus; and I would share empanadas and Aguilar with an Ecuadorian family while the highway through Colombia was closed for a labor rights demonstration. That’s human existence, right? When we think we are facing the edge, we creep closer to see a new path.

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