Even paradise has a dark side

By Mike Fox

It starts as small streams, continues into roaring rapids and opens up into broad rivers until it combines with water from all over to create what could best be described as God’s Playground. A menagerie of blue and green popping out of the jungle mists lends it all an almost prehistoric air. Flocks of toucans circle above the site.

The cataracts at Iguazu have been described as one of the seven wonders of the natural world. It is a combination of over 200 waterfalls pulsing 3,000 liters of water per second over its cliffs, in the utterly picturesque setting of the Argentine-Brazilian jungle.

The hike around the waterfalls on the Argentine side starts with a light walk through the jungle to witness the roots of the massive currents that Eleanor Roosevelt was known to have said dwarf Niagara Falls. Suddenly, the jungle canopy parts to reveal the stunning view of a furious – yet beautiful – force of nature set in a deep river valley.

The site is the utter panoply of brilliance and spectacle. From the pulsating waters at the top, to the white frothy destructive force of foam at the waterfall’s base, to the dense thicket of jungle that surrounds all, it is an assault on vision.

Never before have I truly felt the sensation of being in the midst of the exotic and the great. Watching rainbows break out over the many falls with the sun sinking through the sky, I got a feeling that the wide world out there could be seen and could be reached. If I could make it here, if I could see this magnificent place with my own eyes, anything could be within grasp.

Iguazu is in a region known as the tri-frontier, a place where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Equal in its fame for its natural beauty is the notoriousness of the zone. Ciudad del Este, on the Paraguayan side, is infamous as one of the smuggling havens of the world. A good deal of Paraguayan-made drugs escape through the area’s lax border control. Additionally, the terrorist bombers behind several anti-Israel bombings in Buenos Aires were known to have reached the country through the region. Simply put, depending on the day, the border rules can be so lax, that people can drive uninterrupted into each of the three countries.

Puerto Iguazu, on the Argentine side, has the feel of a true border town. Nightclubs and bars fill with people from all three countries and tourists from many more, giving the feeling of a rough globalization.

A few hours down the road lies the ruins of an earlier vision of cultural diffusion. The ruins of the Jesuit Mission of San Ignacio Mini poke out of a jungle situated in another rough-feeling border town. Back in the 1700s, Jesuit Missionaries arrived from Europe to share their vision of culture and civilization with the Guarani natives of the tri-frontier area.

For a while, they succeeded in constructing cities of sandstone and ceramic out of the forest, blending elements of the native culture and the imported European one. Over time, foreign politics began to exercise their force on those in the area, and the light of education brought to the area began to fade.

Thinking about the absolute beauty of the place I’ve just passed through, the romantic and inspiring splendor of nature at its most furious and finest, I hope that the outside world doesn’t destroy something beautiful here again.

Mike Fox is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]