We finally reached the falls after the 18-hour bus ride. I slept a large portion of the way, and otherwise got a good amount of reading done, so it wasn’t so bad. We are staying at the Sheraton in the national park, overlooking the Argentine side of the falls. It’s the only hotel actually in the falls park and, allegedly, the best place if you are only staying a couple of days and want to jam through all there is to do. I don’t feel like they have built a new Sheraton anywhere in the last 30 years or so, but this one was relatively well-kept. We checked in, and despite the perpetual overcast (it’s rainy season in May and June), you can tell from the lobby of the hotel how beautiful the falls are/will be. We headed straight for a vista on the northern point of the park, Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat, an adorable and subtle little name for the largest conglomeration of falls in the area accessible by tram ride. It was quite breathtaking once we actually got out there. I don’t want to get too technical on this blog, but let’s just say that there is a great deal of water run off, falling precipitously. Apparently, these falls pour about five times the amount of water that Niagara does and, all together, are second only to Victoria Falls in southern Africa in scope.
The only problem, as ever, were the goddamn tourists, other tourists that is (I am actually a pleasure to be around). I really don’t much like human beings as a rule, they are vile, indecent creatures, but big-scale tourism seemingly crystallizes those attributes of mankind that I despise the most. The modern tourist combines a dangerous mix of the most childish and intellectually superficial curiosity, a sense of disproportionate propriety borne out from the heavy expense of time, money and energy to be wherever they are, an utter lack of humanity that comes somewhat naturally from the ability (mentally) to abdicate personal responsibility to the crowd, and some obscure feeling that the natural karmic consequences of being a douche will fall through the cracks of international translation, like a rounding error in the exchange rates, creating the rude elbowy middle-aged adult equivalent of the otherwise demure college girl that hooks up with like 12 dudes in Cancun. Most of them have no respect for themselves and certainly none for my personal space, their hot collective breath, their jerky and unpredictable movements and jutting limbs, and their monster cameras and enough assorted unnecessary equipment to put Ansel Adams to shame, invade and soak up every inch of otherwise available space on the trails and viewing spots. Children and old people seem to be the worst, indicating some inverted lifespan parabola of awareness of the existence of other sentient entities. Relatively new mothers are also terrible, partly by absorbing the indiscretion of their devil children (which like the wrathful flailing in Dante’s River Styx grope and rend at my lower regions) and partly because of a strange neurological disorder that makes them believe that some majestic purity of their child-rearing gives them existential priority over the infecund and provides them mandate to snowplow their strollers through crowds, battering and bouncing off of the unswollen ankles and feet of those meaningless people outside of their nuclear family/army daring to be in their path. It’s low season this time of year, but the crowds were huge and rambunctious nonetheless, ironically fearful of marginal amounts of water spray and stopping every couple of inches to take pictures virtually identical to the last picture they just took. It was very difficult in these circumstances not to agree with Mark Twain that it was “such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.”
I spent a great deal of time sidling up to (slightly nudging) hapless women and children perched precariously on railings over the falls, not with any design to harm them, of course, but to create the perfect situation for my Superman II-esque rescue attempt. I always wanted to save some poor schmoe from his untimely demise at a public attraction, not for the sake of heroism really, but for anecdotal story dominance years later, and so I could perhaps parlay it into a string of paid appearances and Oprah interviews like that one elderly pilot gentleman that somehow became famous for crashing his plane into the Hudson River. Of course, it’s quite possible that once they fell in, I would lose nerve and stand idly by with everyone else, but that was a risk they were probably willing to take. Unfortunately, no one fell, and Arual the Party-Pooper, all self-obsessed with her inability to swim and unnatural fear of sharp jutting rocks, refused to take one for the team. Typical, it’s always about her.
We also got a chance to go on a wild boat ride under the falls, and do a little ecological tourism. I should be clear about something, I am not a wildlife guy. Nabokov was creepily into zoology and, in fact, a noted and talented lepidopterist. Each of Rousseau and Voltaire felt deep affection for plant-life and gardening. I fancy myself a retarded modern disciple, ideologically speaking, of these people, and I know it makes me a philistine in some sense, but I honestly just don’t care that much for animals, plant-life or really nature in the broader sense. I don’t have anything against it/them per se, it’s just not my thing and, like God in Laplace’s solar system, we do perfectly fine without each other. In terms of places that I never ever want to go, I rank zoos just below the rapiest parts of a maximum-security prison and just above an in-person Dan Brown literary seminar. I have little or no desire really to see a zebra eat branches from a tree, either in captivity or the wild, I don’t get worked up by how much an elephant can defecate (it makes intuitive sense to me that it would be a lot), and I don’t care much whether a particular rare bird has an allegedly rare colorful tail, that’s nice for the bird. It’s just the way I am built (a city girl I suppose), and unless some tree monkey is shaking up tasty dry martinis for everyone, I sure as hell do not want to stomach shimmy my way into a crowd of binoculared idiots to catch a distant glimpse of one. Still, being the good sport that I am, we wandered around through the rainforests and took note of a few of the egomaniacal little beasts (the wildlife I mean). We saw large beaked toucans, other birds that might as well have been macaws, weird giant rodents that seemed marsupial in some way (not in any factual way, but in the sense that I have a very vague and detached notion of roughly what a marsupial is, stored in a back cranny of my mind where I toss irrelevant information like baseball stats, animal and plant names, Arual’s birthday, etc.), some German teenagers, etc. We even took a few pictures.