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The final chapter: exploring the beauty of Las Cataratas del Iguazú

There are only a few things on my official bucket list, and up next to riding in a hot air balloon, seeing Las Cataratas del Iguazú was there at the top.

I remember looking at photos of the waterfalls for the first time in a National Geographic Travel special issue, but they felt as out-of-reach as views from satellites in outer space. When I started planning to study abroad in Argentina a few years later, though, I began to hope I might actually see them in person.

So, thanks to a little help from my generous parents (I promise I’ll pay you back), I got to spend the last weekend of my semester in Argentina in Iguazú. Here are five thoughts that went through my head when I finally saw those waterfalls:

1. Wow.

Okay, so at first, I really had no words. I was just in awe. When you’re looking down from the top of the waterfalls, you can’t even see the bottom because of how far down it goes and how high up the mist sprays. I heard someone describe the visit as a spiritual experience, and it really was. You just can’t look at something that naturally beautiful without feeling transcendental or thinking about something philosophical. 

2. There’s no way Pocahontas would have survived that jump.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Pocahontas the whole time I was at the falls and that iconic scene where she sings about the river bend and wonders what her future holds. About halfway through the song while she’s paddling down the river, she really takes on that big waterfall in her little canoe like it’s nothing. I kept picturing her going down one of the waterfalls at Iguazú, and I just can’t see her making it to the bottom in one piece, let alone making a seamless transition back to paddling her canoe over the rapids like she does in the movie. Maybe that’s why they haven’t made a live action Pocahontas yet—no stunt double can live up to that white-water talent.

3. Why do we so often name natural wonders after the devil?

I feel like there are a lot of big, impressive natural wonders named after the devil, like every rock formation ever. The border between Brazil and Argentina runs through the middle of La Garganta del Diablo, or The Devil’s Throat in English, which is a narrow chasm with falls plunging more than 300 feet.

 I guess it makes the places seem more dramatic when you name them after a powerful evil, like “The Devil’s Throat” sounds more impressive than “Cherub Falls.” If these waterfalls were in Narnia, though, they would definitely be named after Aslan, not the White Witch.

4. I’m the worst.

There are several species of butterflies attracted to the small ponds surrounding the Iguazú River, and this is what I thought when I accidentally stepped on one of them. It was so sad.

5. Actually, maybe Pocahontas had the right idea.

I went on a study away trip a couple of summers ago to San Francisco with Alex Olson’s Honors 251 class, and while there, a few of us went out one foggy morning to ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge. Before we left, Dr. Olson warned us against some sort of urban legend he had heard that apparently people who walk across the bridge report having a sudden, inexplicable urge to jump off if they look over the edge.

I never felt the desire to jump into San Francisco Bay on that bike ride, but, as I was standing at the top of The Devil’s Throat, I really wanted to know what it looked like from the bottom. Every so often the mist would clear enough to see the water at the base of the falls, and it really looked magical down there. Pretty good water pressure too, I bet, compared to what I’ve been getting from the hostel shower heads.

No Disney princess had quite the natural oasis for a home as did Pocahontas. Canoeing and swimming under waterfalls and rainbows and singing about painting the wind seems like a good life to me. At least, before the white men came and ruined everything.

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The final chapter: exploring the beauty of Las Cataratas del Iguazú