Interestingly enough, the first thing that happened after I arrived in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest was that it started to rain. A lot. Hence, the widely used term “rainforest”. It was raining so hard the people in the streets hurried up the road while a continuous gush of rainwater was hurrying down it. I had just walked into town for some bread and milk, and was now completely trapped in this deluge. Since I was stuck in a small shopping mall which sported a barber, and my hair had become increasingly obstinate of late, I put the time to good use and had my haircut.
Describing my desired hairstyle, in any given language, is not a task I relish particularly, since I can never quite make up my mind about what I actually want. Today, this job was made even more difficult by the fact the barber barely spoke at all. Various mumbles and grunts emanated from the barber as I indicated with intricate sign language I wanted short back and sides whilst leaving a slightly longer tuft of hair on top to cover up the thinning bits. This didn’t make a lot of sense to anyone in the salon. Several girls had also now gathered around me to try and work out what the hell I wanted. Surely, it couldn’t be so difficult to comprehend the sign language of a man sitting on a barber’s chair with a plastic bib fastened around his neck making I-want-15-mm-here motions? Photos and old fashion magazines were consulted, and I eventually stopped the search at a picture of George Clooney, being the closest available approximation to what I wanted, as all the other people appeared to be Brazilian transvestite reality TV hosts on steroids. “I want to look just like that”, I said sarcastically, pointing to the picture of Clooney to the thunderous laughter of the entire shop. Somehow they understood that one perfectly. My hair was cut, after a while the rain had receded (a bit like my hairline) and I was soon able to continue on my way, freshly styled.
Later, the weather was clear and hot again as I searched for a local bus to take me to the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu, for a day trip to Iguaçu Falls, one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls. It was possible to see this from both sides of the ravine that had been carved by the Iguaçu river, and I was taking the most direct route to see the world famous cascades from the Brazilian side. It had been unmistakable the minute I entered this town that the Iguaçuenses depend on tourism for a large portion of their income, and the welcome centre of the Iguaçu National Park clearly reflects this. A large gleaming edifice marked my arrival in the brand new information building which provided the visitor with a large well-organised display about the local flora and fauna, some very clean facilities and, for some strange reason, a condom vending machine. As it wasn’t that kind of a day trip, I stuck to purchasing an entrance ticket and walked over to the park’s transport service.
The visitors were shuttled through the centre quickly and efficiently, probably in the hopes no one would grumble and complain about the outrageous entry ticket price (it’s a waterfall, not a VIP ticket to an all-you-can-eat-buffet at the Playboy mansion) and just get on with having some fun. The park shuttle bus transported us to the forest’s interior, and suddenly I could see the large vapour cloud hanging above the dense foliage in the distance, signalling there was A HUGE WATERFALL over there. The first stop was at the start of a short hiking trail which ran along the Iguaçu River (everything is called Iguaçu here, a naming convention which I fully endorse since it means you only have to remember a single name for all natural points of interest in the whole area). The rumble and hiss of the falling water grew louder as I walked along the track towards the vapour. Iguaçu Butterflies and Iguaçu Lizards fluttered and crawled aside as I stampeded past and there was heavy musty dampness to the Iguaçu vegetation which made the wooden path slippery. Another hundred metres or so, and at last I would see the grand panoramic view of the Iguaçu Falls.
Whenever I’m about to be in a situation when I am privileged enough to be able to cast my eyes over a vista of immense natural beauty, or gaze upon a grand historical sight which marks some of mankind’s most astonishing achievements through the various chapters of history, I revel in the anticipation of an imminently approaching HCM. Coming to see one of the best UNESCO sights in this part of the world was of course the reason why I had come to this country in the first place. A chance to marvel at a unique wonder of nature’s creation, an almost unspoilt environmental portrait the likes of which I had not seen before. I rounded the next part of the hiking trail, and there before me was the glorious view of the Iguaçu Falls, three times the size of Niagra Falls, completely visible from the vantage point on the high tree-free viewing platform. The much anticipated HCM. The “Holy Crap! Moment.”
It was a thing of beauty indeed. I instantly forgot about my initial misgivings about the dangers of being in Brazil and gawked with sheer delight at the cascades. I leant on the wooden fence of the lookout and enjoyed the moment as I gazed over the large gorge, the gigantic wall of tumbling whiteness and ferocious river of wild water below. T the arduous flight to get to Brazil had been worth the effort already, and there would be much more to come.