Legend has it that a deity fell in love with a beautiful woman named Naipai who in turn fell in love with a mortal man by the name of Taroba. Together Naipai and Taroba fled in his canoe, which infuriated the God and drove him mad with jealousy and rage. Impassioned, the God deeply sliced the river creating waterfalls where the ill-fated lovers would be condemned to falling for eternity–this is the story of Iguazú.
Resting on the border of Brazil and Argentina, the Iguazú falls are a sight to behold. Both massive, powerful and at once humbling, the falls form a “J” shape with the most impressive of the views set on the Brazilian side at the “Devil’s Throat.” When planning my trip to Buenos Aires, I had flirted with the idea of taking a detour to either Iguazú or Patagonia during my 10-day travel assignment. While Patagonia proved too far, expensive and time consuming for this trip, Iguazú was only a short flight away from Argentina’s capital.
On my second day in Buenos Aires (and having made no moves towards planning my Iguazú getaway) I couldn’t help but notice as an Italian-looking man sat in my hostel’s common area scrolling through an array of waterfall photos. Not one for subtlety, I picked up a book from the case behind him and peaked over his shoulder curiously as he flipped through image after image of vibrant rainbows dancing across rushing water.
Knowing it to be Iguazú, I leaned in and struck up conversation soon learning that he had just returned from Iguazú that very morning and was on the tail end of his adventure in South America. His multi-country trip had taken him from the wonders of Peru and Machu Picchu to the salt flats of Bolivia to the beaches of Brazil for the World Cup; but of all he’d seen and all he’d done it was Iguazú that had left a lasting impression. He could hardly contain his smile as he recounted details of visiting the falls and navigating the jungle trails–all the while encouraging me to book my ticket and go see it for myself. As Fitzgerald put it, if personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about this fella and the way his memories of the falls brought fire to his eyes.
Perhaps it was his photos or perhaps it was the palpable passion that dripped off his every word but after speaking to my new found friend the idea to visit Iguazú jumped right off the pages of my journal and turned itself into a reality. Armed with an itinerary, recommended hostel and list of things to see (all compliments of that serendipitous encounter) I woke up two days later, booked a flight for the very same day and found myself landing in Iguazú that evening. With nothing but a (poorly packed) backpack in hand, I made my way to Mango Chill Hostel–following in the footsteps of my Italian friend–and was eventually greeted with a “welcome cerveza,” good conversation and valuable advice on how to make the most of my short visit to the falls.
The next morning I woke up early, inhaled some scrambled eggs and flan, bought lunch at a local bakery for the day and caught a bus to the Iguazú National Park. My Italian friend had recommended I hike both the upper and lower trails, which would give me two amazing perspectives of the falls. Although I had heard about the falls, had looked at countless images of their splendor and had listened intently to stories from other travelers, nothing compared to the sheer magnitude of standing in front of this natural wonder. The sound of rushing water drowned out any thoughts and greeted me before the trees parted and revealed the view. I stared in amazement as the morning sunlight broke upon the water, creating rainbows in all directions, as trees swayed lazily overhead and as flocks of birds danced in the air to an inaudible tune. I felt silly just taking pictures of these iconic waterfalls, as if I should pay homage to them through song or dance rather than blatant stares.
Even now as I recount the details of that short visit, I can’t help but smile at that fortuitous hostel encounter back in Buenos Aires and wonder if I would have ever booked that flight had it not been for the encouragement of a stranger. Iguazú not only gave me a breathtaking view but in hiking the Macuco trail I found the strength and self-discovery I had flown to Argentina for and had embraced solo traveling for. The day left me feeling alive and invigorated–not even caring as I headed straight from the park to the airport still wet from an impromptu boat trip underneath the falls.
As I sit somewhere in Midtown Manhattan writing this, I can still close my eyes and hear that roaring water sending any doubts and fears scattering before it, demanding I simply live and enjoy the moment. If life is in fact made up of moments we seize or let slip, then I know that heeding the advice of a stranger and flying to Iguazú was one of the better choices I’ve made.