The next morning the alarm went off at 6am with the intention of seeing the sunrise over the falls. I wasn’t having any of it and stayed in bed, but Sam, bless her, got up and dressed and went out to the hotel tower to watch the sunrise and the waterfalls.
When we got up the second time we wanted to get out and about early, to do the first guided walking trail in the park. But we got up later than we meant to, rushed our tasty breakfast, hastily booked the wrong tour via the hotel concierge and ran to and from the hotel room a few times. Suffice to say, the morning didn’t go smoothly. But it all sorted itself out and we made it to the Trilha Poço Preto, the walk we wanted to do, with another couple from Chicago.
You can get a jeep or cycle the 9km trail, but we decided to walk it, with the hope of seeing more wildlife. We were accompanied by a young brazilian guide that spoke good English. We took note of the dangerous insects, spiders and snakes before leaving (I secretly hoped to spot one, preferably from a safe distance), covered ourselves in bug spray, loaded up on water and headed into the jungle.
We trekked along a dirt path. Certain plants were tagged with ribbons, marked for scientific use, and our guide excellently explained the flora and fauna we came across. From the beetle that saws through branches, to assorted berries on route - sniffing and squeezing to help identify them. He pointed out animal trails through the trees and identified the bird calls we could hear. The thick throaty call of a Toucan excited us, but we couldn’t spot him in the trees.
The butterflies here were bigger and more beautiful than ever, and there were hundreds of them, including the huge owl butterfly with it’s bright blue inside wing. Great ants wandered around beneath our feet, and large spiders lay in wait for their prey.
The day was warming, and we constantly reapplied the bug spray. We stopped at the sound of a strange squawking, and above us a pair of peculiar birds with huge tail wings were hopping about the treetop, as if they were cats. Our guide explained they had the nickname, “soul of the cat”, and in English they’re known as a squirrel cuckoo. We stood for minutes, necks arched, looking up, mesmerised by their strange jumps and calls.
We pressed onwards, and about half way along our guide heard the sounds of monkeys, and in the distance we saw something jump from tree to tree. Then, without knowing it, a family of capuchin monkeys passed over us, swinging from branch to branch with their long arms, one, and then another, and another, and then a mother with baby clinging onto her back.
Onwards we trekked, 5km, then 7km, then 8km, and picking up the pace to get to the boat. Our guide always happy to answer our questions or point out interesting things, from the great dangling roots of trees, to strangling vines, to protected palms, palmito, burrows in the ground made by birds (and the dirt on nearby branches), the non-native orange tree and efforts to protect the forest and the wild papaya.
In between nature we talked about life in Chicago versus England or Brazil, the oddities of language, the history of the park and other travels. All the while on the lookout for something new and exciting in the trees.
After three hours we reached the boat and probably the scariest loo I’ve ever used; filled with large spiders and bees. We strapped into huge orange life jackets and clambered onto the speedboat. Up and down the Iguaçu river we sped, the river wide and shallow, sometimes only a metre deep.
There was some commotion at the front of the boat and we all clambered to see what was going on. On the riverbank a six foot alligator was perched, covered in butterflies. We moved the boat for a closer look, and he slithered back into the river and away.
Next up, tandem kayaking, in the same river as the alligator. As a man that can’t really swim I’ve never canoed or kayaked before, so this proved interesting. Leg over the boat, and shuffle down into the yellow kayak, frightening all the scary looking spiders in there. Push off, and we’re away, heading downstream. Now what?
Sam tried to steer from the rear, and keep us going straight, but we just kept spinning around, narrowly missing felled trees. Only the water’s current kept us going in the right direction. I’d say this tested our marriage, any longer and we might have come to blows with the oars. Exhilarating all the same. If left to ourselves we would be at the bottom of the waterfall, but the boat came to ‘rescue’ us, and our little kayak adventure was over.
Rather than walking the 3km back, arms and legs now thoroughly exhausted, we jeeped it. On the jeep we passed through a huge swarm of yellow butterflies, they flocked around us and then they were in the distance, a perfect picture, ingrained in our memories, but none of us fast enough with the camera.
Back at the hotel we spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool, with a coconut cocktail and mango juice, and some burgers for dinner (avoiding the pricier dinner menus by getting the poolside food).
Not wanting to break tradition, and to make the most of the surroundings, we went back down to see the waterfalls that evening, for a second perfect sunset. This time we took the tripod and tried capturing some long exposure shots.
The grounds were setting up for the “X-games” the next day, so on the way down we took pictures of Coatis with a group of famous skateboarders. To add to our wildlife list we saw two Agouti rodents (like giant rats but without tails) scavenging for food. Despite the skateboarders on their way back up the trail was quiet, and down by Garganta do Diablo we had the incredible falls to ourselves again. This time we came in swimwear and fully embraced the water. Despite doing it for the second time, it was as amazing as ever, and we stayed until darkness capturing photos and drying off in the warm evening.
Walking back through the jungle in the pitch black is pretty scary. We had a wind up blue LED torch which was about as useful as a lighter. I shined it in the forests to the left and right, hoping not to catch the reflection of any cat’s eyes, I’d love to see a Jaguar, Puma or Ocelot, but now would not be the best time.
As we neared the hotel the blue fireflies came out, and we quietly watched them flit about in the night sky. One came quite close to us and we heard the rumbling noise of a giant insect fly past; it slowly dawned on me that these cute bright lights were massive flying beetles. I shined the light on one; a giant blue light at a giant blue beetle. Of course insects are attracted to the light, and the blue lights started heading in our direction. “Uhhh, run?” … “Run!”
Back at the hotel we had some work to do. This was our last night at Hotel Cataratas and we hadn’t yet planned the rest of the holiday, tomorrow night was unknown. We knew we still wanted to see the Argentinian side of the park and that we had to get to Paraty somehow. Two hours and a couple of beers later and we were fighting over plans in the 24 hour business centre. Sunday flights were all too expensive, going to Argentina for a night was complicated, long distance buses arrived at the wrong times and we needed somewhere to stay. Eventually a plan of action materialised; we’d stay at our hotel another night (another night of luxury can’t be bad!), and on Sunday we’d bus it overnight to Sao Paulo and then on to Paraty. Sorted.
We celebrated our efforts in the piano room with a couple of caipirinhas, until the bar closed.