Monday, August 4, 2008

The Argentinian and Brazilian views of Iguazu Falls

In December 1999, I had the opportunity to practice the special blend of insecurity and trust that seems be to the hallmark of an American tourist in South America. A good example concerns our trip to the northeasterly tip of Argentina to view one of the world's greatest wonders: the immense and mighty Iguazu Falls located in the lush subtropical jungles of Brazil and Argentina.

To get to Iguazu, which is in Misiones province, we had to fly over Corrientes, a province that had just erupted into armed violence and which lies directly south of Misiones. Would we need to detour or abort the flight because of the violence in the neighboring state? My worries dissolved as we flew without hitch into Iguazu, only to resurface as we boarded the tour bus that was to take us into the jungles. From there we would be able to view the Garganta del Diablo (the Throat of the Devil): the most fearsome of the falls, forming as it does a huge concave gorge over which the Iguazu river hurls, spewing spray so high it can be seen from miles away.

The cause of this malaise was our bus driver who insisted that we give him our airline tickets. He claimed he needed them to confirm our return flights. I wondered why a bus driver would be responsible for confirming flights that wouldn't take place until the following day. I worried even more about getting them back. Refusing to yield, I clutched the precious tickets tightly. Not until another and more experienced tourist told me that this was normal procedure did I give in.

The following day, despite the fact that although all the other tourists had gotten their tickets back and ours were still missing, we decided to trust yet another stranger. When we'd decided, at the last minute, to fly to Iguazu we'd not had enough time to get visas to enter Brazil. It was only after we'd arrived in Iguazu that we discovered the Brazilian side of the falls should not be missed. The tour agency, however, refused to take us without visas. So, at the instigation of a desk clerk, we sought the help of Omar, an immense and very friendly taxi driver who said he'd try to get us in, mentioning that there would be no charge if he failed. His assurances were not reassuring. I worried more about spending Christmas in a Brazilian jail than spending money for an unsuccessful trip.

Democracy in South America is a far cry from that in the US--only two days earlier I'd marched with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose children (more than 30,000 of them in Argentina alone) had been abducted, tortured, and murdered by South American governments. The number of "disappeared" keeps growing and those responsible have never been brought to justice despite the 29 years of weekly marches these Mothers have organized.

Our Goliath had no trouble getting us across the border but the affair of our abducted tickets was not so easily settled. We arrived at the airport without them. It wasn't til just before boarding time that I spotted the bus driver nonchalantly hanging around outside the terminal. While I guarded the luggage, Bill ran outside to get him, reaching the bus just as that driver pulled away from the curb. Without asking for identification, he handed Bill the tickets and drove off. Unlike the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, our wait yielded the missing tickets but those mothers continue to wait for something incomparably more precious. I thought of them that Christmas, as I give thanks for the birth of the child whose mother also suffered that we might live free and in peace.


flit said...

oh my! I can't imagine having someone keep my tickets like that...I would have been SO stressed!

diana raabe said...

Terrifying - the missing children, that is...and some of your own experiences sound a bit frightening as well. I've heard that South America is not the easiest place in which to travel, but I'll have to look at your photos before deciding it wouldn't be worth the trouble!