A week ago I returned from a trip to Argentina. I’d never traveled to South America before, and since it was the only continent (not counting Antarctica) I had yet to visit, I was excited. Even though I know South America has far more to see and experience, Iguazú Falls will remain the highlight of my trip — a profound spiritual experience.
On landing in Buenos Aires we took a shuttle to the other airport and flew directly to Iguazú. In planning the trip we’d learned there was a moonrise trek every full moon to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic section of the falls, and we managed to get tickets our party of ten. After a briefing by a park ranger we took a little train to the beginning of the walkway across branches of the river. The moon rose, and after a kilometer or so we came to the lip of the falls. I have no photos, but it was spectacular. We stood dripping and awe-stricken in the jungle night, and I’m glad we did it. But the following morning I realized how little we had actually seen.
Nothing prepared me for the sheer size of the cataract. A million gallons a second, I was told. 275 distinct waterfalls across almost three kilometers, the brochure said. Identified in 2011 as one of the planet’s seven wonders of nature, a plaque said. Data became meaningless. It was overwhelming. Over the next day and a half, I evolved through three ways of experiencing what it was.
As I hiked the trails and catwalks, I gradually adapted to the magnitude of the spectacle. The falls became a kind of New-Age Inspiration. To my amazement and profound embarrassment I caught myself thinking psychobabble banalities and projecting them onto the natural beauty surrounding me. “Even this tiny rivulet is part of the massive river.” “We spent thousands of dollars to be here, but this tiny orchid lives here for free.” As I said, embarrassing. When a sophomoric slogan with Biblical overlays, “bloom where you’re planted,” came spewing out of my old ministerial subconscious, I had to turn away from the water in shame. Fortunately, that one also broke the spell which had me believing I was in charge of what my experience meant.
I abandoned my desire to project petty human “lessons” onto whatever this immense force of nature was doing. I finally stopped taking pictures to simply stand still and be open. It seemed to be roaring at me to listen. So I did. It became my teacher. I can’t put what it taught me into words, but I did feel its message enter my body, which shivered and swayed to receive it. It changed me. That is its enduring gift to me.