Vagabond Tales: Standing inside the Devil’s Throat

Eleanor Roosevelt and I have one thing in common: We both have stood inside of the Devil’s Throat.

Yes, those words came out right, and no, I haven’t been drinking.

Far less cult-like than it originally sounds, La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) comprises the most dramatic section of Iguazu Falls, a humbling series of waterfalls spanning the border of Argentina and Brazil.

Recently voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Iguazu Falls was actually able to render me speechless. Not in that clichéd “I’m a travel writer so I should say ‘speechless,’” type of way but in the sense that I went into a zone, tuned out the world, and literally refrained from speaking for a solid one to two minutes.

As I mentioned here on Gadling while hiking in Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest, I believe that waterfalls, in their innate ability to entrance us humans, are akin to being “nature’s televisions.” If this reasoning holds true, then Iguazu Falls is nature’s IMAX theater.

Mrs. Roosevelt, however, was not rendered speechless by Iguazu Falls. Stoically staving off the instinct to mentally glaze over, she instead uttered a one-liner, which has been the foundation for Iguazu marketing campaigns for decades:

“Poor Niagara!”

That’s it. Poor Niagara. And really, what else needs to be said?

Iguazu Falls is so powerful in its intensity and so overwhelming in its scope that it arguably trumps any other waterfall complex on the planet. Comprised of 275 separate and distinct walls of water, which average 210 feet in height, at one point you can stand within the Iguazu Falls amphitheater and be surround by 260 degrees of waterfalls.

Sure, there are jet boat trips to the base of the waterfalls, swimming in roped off, calmer sections and photo opportunities at every conceivable overlook, but nothing in Iguazu Falls compares with walking out onto the metal gangplank and standing in the heart of the Devil’s Throat.

When planning a visit to Iguazu Falls, nearly everyone you meet will tell you to visit the Devil’s Throat last — logistically sound advice since visiting in the morning hours will leave you staring into the sun, however, the main reasoning for doing so follows the train of thought of saving the best for last.

An explosive crescendo, if you will, and what a crescendo it is.

Even the process of getting to the Devil’s Throat is an exotic adventure. First off, you have to get on the Ecological Jungle Train, which winds its way through dense forest teeming with crocodiles, panthers and fiery-billed toucans. Will you see any of these from your perch on the train? No. But the fact that they’re out there is exciting enough for me.

After departing the jungle train the next move is to walk out onto a metal gangplank, which slinks its way over the rushing, upper Iguazu River. It is one of those grated metal walkways where you can see right through the bottom; the proximity of the river to the bottom of your feet gives a sensation of literally walking over water.

Finally, at the terminus of the walkway, after crossing the expansive stretch of river, a viewing platform precariously peers into the depths of the Devil’s Throat.

A U-shaped chasm in the Earth, 492 feet long and 262 feet high, the water of the Iguazu River rushes with such ferocity into the “throat” that it’s impossible to see the bottom through the cloud of mist and foam. Staring down into the shifting white abyss, it becomes apparent that this is where water droplets come to die.

Peering out over the crowded platform, I am casually approached by a traveler from Peru visiting the falls with his family.

“You can tocame un fóto?” he inquires, nervously blending languages in his timid request.

Por supuesto,” I agree as he hands me his oversized Nikon.

Backing up against the railing and motioning for his family to join him, I notice tears, like the falling waters beneath, begin to stream down the contours of his young daughter’s face.

This is because standing with your back to the Devil’s Throat isn’t fun. In fact, it’s terrifying. Even my wife in a wave of anxiety was only able to sneak a fleeting peek over the cliffhanging ledge.

To be fair, the construction of the platform is modern and sound, and I have zero doubts about its structural integrity. Nevertheless, there’s something about toeing the edge of a gaping cleft in the planet, which is aflame with the fury of nature that raises certain emotions in even the hardiest of travelers.

From the edge of the throat you cannot only watch rainbows emerge from the mists, but also feel the upward rush of wind in your hair. Cast your thoughts deep within the turbid foam as useless voices in your head are silenced by the sound of incessant thunder. Lazily watching a stick floating at the cusp of the river, you wonder if it has any idea of what’s in store. As many of us do while standing atop a waterfall of grandeur, you momentarily imagine what it would be like to be that stick.

Placidly floating, peacefully drifting and then, suddenly, this…

Want more stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” here