Here in Seattle where I live, we’re used to rain, but sometimes when there is a current of warm air that starts near Japan and flows east across the Pacific bearing lots of moisture, we get an especially heavy rain that lasts over several days. We call this kind of winter rain storm a “Pineapple Express.” I was enjoying the Pineapple Express from the new room in our house, a room that used to be a porch until we enclosed it with big windows on three sides and a glass roof. With water coming at me from all sides and overhead, I was basking in the sensation of being surrounded by water while staying perfectly dry, when I was reminded of the waterfalls I have seen.
We have a lovely waterfall near Seattle, Snoqualmie Falls, which I have visited often, and another very beautiful falls that I visit about once every summer, Bridal Veil Falls, which is east of the city in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, a short hike off a major highway, US 2. On Interstate 90, east of Seattle, there is a state park, Olallie, also called Twin Falls State Park, which has two beautiful falls reached through an easy hike through evergreen forest. Something about falling water is mesmerizing. I could watch it for hours. I try to follow one drop down the length of the falls–of course I lose it in the main body of water. I guess you could say I really love waterfalls!
So it was a great treat to learn that a trip we were going to take to South America in 2004 would include a trip to Iguassu Falls. I had heard of Iguassu Falls as an almost legendary place, on the Iguassu River where the borders of Argentina and Brazil come together. The Falls are 237 feet high and over 2 miles wide! Can you imagine that? I couldn’t. On November 1, 2004 I wrote in my journal, “I can’t even begin to describe them–they are massive, noisy, magnificent, chocolate colored with frothy white foam–great clouds of mist rising.” On our first afternoon we walked along the “upper circuit” with a guide, then rested in our room writing postcards. At dusk Don and I went back and walked the upper circuit by ourselves. It was “spooky and amazing and wonderful.” Next day, my journal says, was “the greatest day!” In the morning we took an inflatable boat right up to the base of falls. Because the river was too high to walk to the boat landing, we were taken in trucks on a jungle ride, with a little lecture on the surrounding plants each way. We had to walk down a long stairway to the boat. Of course we wore life jackets, and we got drenched. When the boat landed, our guide handed each of us a souvenir towel.
Back at our hotel, we quickly changed into dry clothes and out to the bus to cross from Argentina to Brazil. Immigration was a big hassle. The Brazilians photographed and finger printed each one of us individually. Finally we had lunch and then a walk down to the top of the falls on the Brazilian side. Last stop, the helipad, where we each had a ten-minute ride in a helicopter making great big swoops over the falls. What a fantastic day!
When we learned that our safari trip to southern Africa in 2009 would include Victoria Falls, we expected the same mass of waters. Victoria Falls,
which lie between Zimbabwe and Zambia, are about a mile wide, 256 feet high at the right bank to 355 feet at the center, and the mist that comes up from them can be seen for miles. Unfortunately, where the Iguassu River had been very high, the Zambesi River was very low. All the countries we visited–Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania–were suffering terrible drought. Instead of one great mass of water, we saw a series of narrow falls stretching over the exposed rock. On the day of our arrival, we drove to Victoria Falls National Park to walk along the bank above the river, stopping at several observation points to take pictures, and trying to imagine what the falls would be like in a wet year. The next day, we had a choice of activities: lion viewing, elephant viewing, or helicopter over the falls. Don and I were the only two in our group to opt for the helicopter. In spite of the low water, I wrote in my journal, “What a spectacular flight!” The helicopter had a bubble that enclosed us all. I sat in front with the pilot. I had to put my feet on two pedals, and when I looked down I could see past my feet to the ground below. We didn’t swoop up to the falls as we had done at Iguassu, probably because the channel was too narrow, but still it was a thrilling ride.
When we left Zimbabwe, I said to Don, “Now that I have seen Iguassu Falls and Victoria Falls, I should see Niagara Falls.” I didn’t think that I would have the opportunity soon, but our daughter was planning a long bicycle tour in the summer of 2010, and we were invited to join her to drive the sag wagon for part of the way. We chose the segment at the end of her trip, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, and home across the northern United States. There are actually two waterfalls at Niagara Falls. Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side are 186 feet high and 2100 feet wide at their widest point; the American Falls are 193 feet high and about 1100 feet wide. Together the falls are magnificent. We visited both sides, and took advantage of most of the touristic opportunities available, although I didn’t take the helicopter trip this time. I should have kept a journal for this trip; I didn’t, but after I came home I wrote a day by day description of the whole thing.
We had bought “adventure passes,” so we could visit all the major attractions on the Canadian side in one day. It rained hard all that day, but that didn’t stop us.
We took the boat, Maid of the Mists, right up to the base of the falls, and spent a long time there. Actually there are many “Maids,” coming and going from both sides of the river. We had to stand in line in the rain about twenty minutes to get down to where they were passing out yellow plastic ponchos. We were first on the boat and ran up to the front so we had the best view, and there was lots and lots of spray and water and rain coming down on us, but we were already all wet and it was very hot so we didn’t mind . From the Maid we went on to the Journey Beyond the Falls, where they gave us blue ponchos, which we put on over our yellow ones, so now we were green.
The Journey is a very old attraction, a series of man-made tunnels that lead to platforms almost level with the river and under the falls. Did you know that 20% of the world’s fresh water passes over these falls? And that much of it is used to generate electricity, though you would never guess it, just looking at them. It rained all that day, while we visited the other attractions that our passes allowed, and we had dinner looking out over the falls.
The next day, when we had to leave, the sun came out. We rushed down to the railings that keep tourists from falling over the edge–one quick look, and we had to go on our way.