“Dr. Livingstone I presume?”, words uttered by Henry Stanley (1841 – 1904) when he met David Livingstone (1813 – 1873) in 1871 somewhere in “dark” Africa. Livingstone was a missionary and explorer, who after a long life in Africa was off the radar for six years and Stanley was sent to find him by the New York Herald. I remember this story well, it was told by my father when I was still very young. Those stories of explorers were presented as examples of heroism, inspirations for life. En passant it was mentioned by my father that Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls, and equally en passant that together with the Niagara Falls these were the greatest waterfalls in the world.

These five phrases are so full of pitfalls that I hesitate to say more about them. Let me start with Livingstone. I really wonder what made him worthy of that superhero status. The very activities of explorer and missionary are extremely questionable, and on top of that it has been shown that he was totally incompetent in both. In our primary school books we learnt the Batavians (early inhabitants of the Netherlands) had good and bad qualities. Among the good qualities it was mentioned that they were heroic in warfare (bad qualities: they gambled with their wives as stakes and drank lots of beer). Heroism is still so amazingly prevalent in war movies. What Stanley did to go and find the old bugger is at best curious. And the quote mentioned above is undoubtedly fabricated. That those waterfalls are still called Victoria Falls (Lozi: Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders”; Tonga: Shungu Namutitima, “Boiling Water”) is pure colonialism. Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared in 2009 that the name of the Angel Falls (after Jim Angel who “discovered them”) should return to its indigenous name, Kerepakupai Merú. The ‘greatest’ falls. A colleague taught me to never use that word under any circumstance. Invariably, with all sorts of phenomena, events or even people, the word greatest crops up. The greatest violin player of the twentieth century. The greatest painter of the renaissance. The greatest warrior ever (Djengiz Khan who slaughtered 40 million). Ok, the highest mountain is Everest. And actually the highest waterfall is Kerepakupai Merú mentioned before. Mountains are generally measured by height, but waterfalls are defined in at least three dimensions: width, height and flow rate (water throughput). The latter can be measured as average annual throughput or maximum throughput.

In the linked gallery (see bottom of this page) I’m showing images from the Iguaçu (Portuguese, Brazilian side) or Iguazu (Spanish, Argentinian side) falls. In the stories my father told me I had never heard of Iguaçu falls, I think he hadn’t either, I suppose because the Anglo-American information machine only knew Niagara and Victoria. We’re all living in America, Rammstein sang, although by 2049 we’re all going to be living in China. l haven’t seen those two, but Iguaçu was overwhelming. So much so that I returned just two years after the first visit. And if you want to compare Iguaçu with the other two here are some statistics:

Victoria, Niagara and Iguazu comparison

Height in meters108 m51 m64–82 m
Width in meters1,708 m1,203 m2,700 m
Flow rate unitsm3/sm3/sm3/s
Mean annual flow rate1,0882,4071,746
Highest recorded flow12,8006,80045,700

Iguaçu falls is a compound structure, in total there are 275 separate drops. When there is strong flow some smaller drops may join together reducing the total number. There are some nice overviews made with drones, and you might also enjoy James Bond escaping from Jaws in Moonraker. Most of the falls are on the Argentinian side, but you see them better from the Brazilian side. The most impressive of all is the devil’s throat (garganta do diabo).

We stayed at the Belmond hotel. It is the only hotel inside the National Park which is utterly amazing, even crazy, because the Park is open from 9 am to 4 pm, which means you have the falls for yourself in the early morning and at sunset. The hotel is extremely comfortable and priced accordingly. Food at the gourmet restaurant is good, the second, buffet type restaurant, so-so. For lunch you could go to the snackbars near the bus station, but you will probably get an indigestion. Better bring some crackers and spreads. We happened to be there during full moon, and again, being inside the park means you can see the falls lit by the moon. The clouds of water droplets produce wonderful silvery rainbows. I couldn’t get a decent picture, there are some photos on the internet of that phenomenon but I don’t find any of them satisfactory. More generally it is impossible to convey anything of the experience of being near the falls. When I went to visit Ustad Vilayat Khan, the greatest 😁 instrumentalist of the twentieth century, in his residence in the Himalaya, he said “when you look down the mountain you feel strong, when you look up you feel small”. I have had three types of experiences of the power of nature: high waves, high mountains and storms. When waves are much higher than the boat you’re in and you get lifted up and thrown down with that huge wall of water in front of you it is terrifying. Mountains are different, they don’t generally move very much, but their sheer enormousness is awe inspiring. We don’t have those typhoons in the Netherlands, but on one occasion I was crossing the Atlantic in a 747 with a high speed gale causing such turbulence that the huge airplane seemed a pingpong ball being shuttled back and forth in an olympic match. That flight wasn’t very pleasant.

The experience of an enormous waterfall was new for me. The massive amounts of water are devastating, the roar is deafening, you get dizzy with the seething water and drenched in the water fumes. Fortunately, the Belmond sells excellent plastic coats at a very reasonable price. Taking photos is a hazard unless you bring an underwater camera case. The pictures in the gallery were taken with three cameras, the Olympus Stylus, Canon 100D and Olympus Pen-F. You will notice some images have quite a bit of noise. This is mainly the result of cutting through the water droplet mist in post processing. I don’t mind it, do you?

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