Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Christmas 2008 and New Year in Brazil

After his previous trip in August, it seem that Malcolm just cannot stay away from Soth America. Here is his report:

My son Philip and I, joined my son Simon and his wife, to visit her folks in Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil. We also had two “activity” objectives: visiting the Iguazu waterfalls and canyoning in the Serra do Mar hills, some 200km north east of Porto Alegre.

Although visiting the Falls is not a mountaineering activity, it is worth reporting on because the falls are the world’s second biggest, after Victoria Falls (and peak water flow is almost 2½ x that of Niagara), and are particularly interesting because the waterfall system, up to 80m high, consists of about 270 cataracts, some quite small, along 2.7km of the Iguazu river. There are many islands that split this length. The largest fall, the Devil’s Throat, is U-shaped, 150m wide and 700m long, and it is at the border of Brazil and Argentina. Brazil has only one viewing path, while Argentina has several, with spectacular viewing platforms right next to the falls. You have to be there to appreciate the immensity of these falls, the power and roar of the water as you stand, secure, next to or above it, gazing in awe at the spray and rainbow as the water plunges into the depths, and the river beyond flows rapidly and deep. The canopy of the surrounding dense sub-tropical forest adds mystery.

Our canyoning trip occurred after Christmas. The first day’s walk followed one of the big canyons up stream and back down it, criss-crossing it more than 15 times in each direction. Wearing boots for ankle support and rucksacks with dry liners, we waded through the stream, thigh deep over slippery boulders in the morning but, tiring later, achieving full immersion several times. Who cares? The water was warm. Hazards included snakes, marked by 3 cairns and a stick, and spiders sunning themselves on dry rocks. The tops of the canyon were limestone but wherever there were ledges and slopes forest took over.

On the second day we 4 Brentfords, the guide and his brother went in a 4-wheel pick-up truck to the top of an unmade road, and worked our way down along a sort of path through the forest, wearing protective gloves against spiky tree bark, stinging plants and hairy caterpillars, and took care not to trip over lianas and roots.

When we reached a stream we donned wet suits, helmets and harnesses, and followed the stream over boulders, through pools, and over 11 waterfalls, where the guide had fixed bolts or used secure trees for abseiling, the falls varying in height between 10m and 40m. There were two ropes used, one a caving rope.

I found the swirl of the water quite disorientating at times, the rock was slippery and, despite trying to keep one’s body square to the rock, we all had the occasional slip. A safety rope wasn’t necessary and usually the first person down held on to the bottom of the rope in case it needed tautening should one slip.

After an exhilarating adrenalin-assisted day, admiring the flora, avoiding the spiders (no snakes here) but not the mosquitoes, we found an amazing spread of food and drink laid out for as at the local Café Rural and, after peeling off wet clothing, tucked into it.