Thursday, August 9, 2012

In which I go to Iguassu falls

The bus to the falls was filled with tourists. Two German couples hopped on board. One girl was wearing short shorts and a bikini top. Her skin -- I could see almost all of it -- was covered with quarter-sized mosquito bite welts.

A swarthy man sat across from me and stared. He tried to start a conversation: “¿Usted es alemán?” he asked. Are you German?

I shook my head and looked steadfastly out the window, which wasn’t easy because that put the sun right in my face. He sighed heavily and tried to look soulfully into my eyes. (I learned I have a knack for attracting Latin men. Bus drivers and men without teeth, especially, seem to find me attractive. A toothless bus driver -- forget it. It’s a curse.)

I continued to avoid him and jumped off the bus with relief when we arrived at the Iguassú Falls park entrance. But I wasn’t safe. He cut in front of me in the line to pay the entrance fee. He pointed at his money, then at himself, then at me, showing -- I think -- that he would pay my admission fee. I shook my head.

“No!” I said loudly. “I pay for myself!”

He insisted, and the attendant, thinking we must be having some kind of lovers’ tiff -- the kind you have when you don’t have a language in common -- took his money and gave him two tickets. Visions of him following me forever flashed through my mind and I snatched one ticket out of his hand and threw some Brazilian coins into it in exchange. I gave him a dirty look and climbed back onto the bus. I guess he got the idea, because he moved to a different seat.

Iguassú Falls
I walked down the trail to the Falls. The big tour buses hadn’t arrived yet and I spotted hardly any other visitors. The trail was wooded and cool, marred only by the refreshment stand tucked discreetly halfway down where I was able for the first time in several days to find diet Coke. (OK. So I helped perpetuate the stand by buying something from it. But I was thirsty!)

Jewel-colored butterflies darted out of the leaves and alit gently on the wooden rail of the stairs. As I got closer, I could hear the crash of the water. The Falls are enormous. The water churns and throws up mist where it crashes into the pools and makes double rainbows. I walked onto the wooden walkway over the water. The day was burning hot, but the water sprayed over the walkway, casting a cool net of diamonds. The sound of the water blocked all other noise.

A few tourists videotaped. What a fascinating souvenir to show your friends: ten minutes of water falling. Not nearly as interesting as my dozens of photographs of the Falls.

I began talking to a couple who had been on my bus. They were Israeli and lived on a kibbutz, although they’d spent a few years in the Caribbean, where Michael had been a toothbrush salesman. His earnings, though, went to the kibbutz. They were friendly and chatty and wrote down their address for the next time I visited Israel.

I had to ditch them, though, because I’d spotted a promising-looking man (in shorts, so I knew he was a fellow traveler, although I would never wear shorts in Latin America) sitting by himself on the deck, writing in a notebook. He could be my Mr. Right! And what a great meet story that would be: “You tell it.”

“No honey, you tell it better!” he would say adoringly.

“OK, OK. I was backpacking alone through South America and had stopped just for a day at Iguassú Falls in Brazil. There, bathed in the mist of the Falls, I saw him: tall, dark and handsome. Across the walkway our eyes met...We fell at the Falls!”

I liked the way it sounded.

I wandered over and stood at the rail next to him and tried to look soulful and wistful as I gazed at the water. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him, waiting for some sign of interest, only I couldn’t really see because the mist of the backsplash was fogging up my sunglasses. I realized that squinting at him -- which was what I would have to do if I removed my sunglasses because I’m pretty darn nearsighted -- might not have the sexy effect I would wish. By the time I’d cleaned my glasses and moved to a drier spot, he’d left. Rats.