The Iguazu Falls

Let me begin by telling you an ancient love story from South America…

In the distant past, the land around the Iguazú Falls belonged to the Guarani Indians. Every year, the Guarani tribe would sacrifice a beautiful virgin to M’Boi, the Serpent God, who lived in the Iguazu River. These women were bred to be sacrificed, and no one objected because the first wave of feminism was a long way off. 

There was one girl who lived and was not destined for being thrown into a river. Her name was Naipi, and she was to be married to Taruba, a great warrior from a neighbouring tribe. Which she was perfectly happy with, as it was still a much better option.

But young lovers are rarely happy in stories, and a few weeks before the marriage ceremony, when Naipi was walking near the river M’Boi saw her reflection in the water. He thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen (maybe because she wasn’t screaming/drowning) and demanded that the Guarani tribe give her to him. Because women are men’s property don’t forget. The elders of the tribe were too afraid to upset M’Boi because his father was Tupa, the Supreme God of All. So, without consulting her they arranged to have her sacrificed the day before her marriage to Taruba. Which was definitely still the preferable option for her.

Naipi was devastated, as she and Taruba were madly in love. Also, more likely because she was about to be sacrificed to a possessive God with a strange fetish for drowned women. Taruba was also unimpressed his bride was about to die, and as he was a warrior and therefore full of testosterone he vowed to rescue Naipi. The lovers made arrangements to meet at the Iguazu River and run away together. Unfortunately, M’Boi saw Naipi climbing into the canoe as it was a bad idea to meet by the river and get into a canoe when the Serpent God hangs out there. And he chased after her.

Taruba, being a warrior probably worked out a lot and managed to row as hard as he could to keep a decent distance between them and the Serpent God. This angered M’Boi, and angry gods are never nice gods, and he expanded his body to the size of the river. He slithered and squirmed about and caused the river to form new curves as he desperately tried to upturn the canoe. But Taruba persisted, so the Serpent God became so furious that he forced the earth to split.

The river spilled everywhere, and the canoe was definitely caught in that. Taruba was tossed out onto the embankment. M’Boi changed Naipi into a large rock, so she could never run away again. Taruba desperately raced to save his now rocky relationship (ohh), but M’boi pulled his hands into the earth so they became roots and transformed him into a palm tree forever just out of reach of Naipi.

The final act of M’Boi’s revenge was to separate the two lovers by a huge waterfall, forever in sight but never in reach. M’Boi is said to lurk deep in the waters of Devil’s Throat, a gurgling cliff within the river, to forever watch that the rock and the palm tree never unite. Instead, Naipi and Taruba defy the Serpent God by forming a rainbow which starts at a palm tree on the Brazilian side of the falls and reaches over to the rock of Naipi in Argentina, to show their love forever.

When I visited the Iguazu Falls myself, I wasn’t about to be sacrificed. Instead I had quite happily travelled voluntarily from the city of Curitiba, to the famous border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Which was roughly around a 9-hour car ride, but as the Iguazu Falls is a famous destination you can also fly or catch a bus there from many origins within its neighbouring countries.

The Iguazu Falls belong to the Iguazu, which translates into “big water”, River, and can be found on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. To access the falls, you must visit the Iguazu National Parks of either Argentina and Brazil. But to fully experience the awe-inspiring power of the falls, the visit would not be complete without visiting both. Regardless of which country you are based in, it is pretty easy to cross the borders with your passport, either by transport or on foot, and to even visit Paraguay where Argentinians and Brazilians go to buy cheap goods. Plus, you will get an extra stamp on your passport which is something any traveller appreciates.

My recommendation is to visit the Argentinian side first. On this side, the park is a maze of many turns and twists, of different levels, and guides you through the wildlife filled vegetation and even under some of the waterfalls. It will take up a whole day, so make sure you have comfy, sturdy shoes. Look out for monkeys leaping through the tree, and if you’re not the biggest fan of spiders keep a wary eye out for the biggest spiders I have ever seen. If my memory hasn’t exaggerated – they were definitely bigger than my head and could eat you alive… kidding. But they certainly looked nearly as big as my head and I was taking no chances by getting close. They keep their distance but are also the stuff of nightmares in an otherwise beautiful setting. The Serpent God is nothing to be feared nowadays, but spiders…urgh.

Of course, you can say hello to the Serpent God if you want. There is a path which takes you onto the river, and to a viewing platform to be so close to the Devil’s Throat you can hear it roar and the water cascades all around you. Does the Serpent God pay attention to the many visitors, many of whom are attractive women, with their lovers, whom he once would have demanded been given to him? Or is he only fixated on Naipi? After all, possessiveness and jealousy are more dangerous curses than anything a Serpent God could conjure up.

The next day, if you haven’t been worn out by trekking on the Argentinian side, do go visit the Brazilian side. It is much less tiring, and instead involves a rather pleasant walk alongside the river so you can witness the waterfalls in all their glory from a safe and dry distance. Here, the power of any god remains at a safe distance, and Mother Nature remains a seemingly calm being.

Once you have had your fill of waterfalls, there is also a Parque das Aves, or bird park to the English speaker, on the Brazilian side. Huge cages are home to the many species of bird which are local to the area, but exotic to a wide-eyed English traveller. Macaws, toucans, flamingos, eagles, and many more. You can even have your photo taken with a macaw. Butterflies also call this place their home, and if like me you have a habit of wearing floral – stay still long enough so one becomes curious about the strange new flowers on your attire.

And just for kicks, I’ve decided to include a photo of the largest single drop waterfall in England, from my homeland of Yorkshire – the Hardraw Force:

The Iguacu Falls is a much more impressive legend, no?


This article was originally posted on Exploration Online

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