BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
“I always take a week extra during the holidays and go on vacation,” Ara said during a conversation at a party. “This year I want to go to Argentina.” Suddenly my ears pricked up. Visions of tango dancers and late night steak dinners floated through my head.
South America has been my travel goal for a number of years but somehow I end up in other locales. So when Ara called a few days later to see if I would be interested in traveling to Argentina, I agreed without hesitation.
In the midst of a hectic work schedule and preparation for the year-end holidays, we were planning a summer vacation: Iguazu Falls in the far north, ringing in the New Year in Uruguay, then to the far south to see the Perito Moreno glacier on the border with Chile, and finally to Buenos Aires. The itinerary was ambitious but neither one of us wanted to eliminate a single destination.
We landed in Buenos Aires and quickly switched airports for the local flight to Iguazu Falls. As the car pulled up to the entrance of the hotel, my eye automatically went to the row of flag poles and their colorful displays. A habit ingrained through years of living in foreign lands, I instinctively looked for the distinctive tri-color flag of all Armenians. “Don’t be silly,” I silently chided myself for engaging in such a clichéd activity in this remote corner of the world.
One of the most spectacular sights in Argentina and around the world, the waterfalls at Iguazu are considered a national treasure and are located in the uppermost corner of Argentina on a border shared with Paraguay and Brazil.
The hotel, the only one located in the national part, overlooked the falls almost a half mile away. The spray from El Diablo (The Devil) rose like a bulbous cloud high into the sky, a testament to the force of the water that tumbled over the edge. And the sound. I’d been warned about the sound emanating from the falls but it was an entirely different sort of ‘knowing’ once I actually heard it.
As exhausted and tired as Ara and I were from our 24 hours of travel, the lure of exploring the amazing phenomena proved too great and we opted to make our way towards the lower falls. “Water,” “wet,” and “drenched” are the only words that apply to this tourist destination. We saw the first thoroughly drenched tourist before we saw the actual falls.
“Oh,” Ara said. “I don’t think I want to get wet. Let’s avoid that.” I readily agreed.
We along with the many others there followed the path down the side of the cliff, like a trail of marching multi colored ants and suddenly the roar of the water preceded the spray of water. The promontory jutted deep over the water and ended a few two hundred yards from the waterfall. We got wet and there was nothing to be done. We were face to face with the forces of nature; and this was only a small section of it.
We continued further down the side of the cliff towards the boats anchored at the bottom. They were to take us right up to El Diablo where full and vibrant rainbows are a common sight on a sunny day. All throughout our walk the path was strews with butterflies which became denser as we made our way through the foliage of the forest. Iguazu National Park is famous for its four hundred species of butterflies who feed on the salt in the soil; this need for salt also meant that they were attracted to the people hiking through the trails in the heat and the humidity. The colorful creatures where everywhere and often landed on our shirts, hats, arms, legs and fingertips. Quaint at first, it soon became annoying once the novelty wore off but the phrase “rainbows and butterflies” would not quit swirling through my mind.
The next day, after another arduous day of hiking and exploring the upper reaches of the falls, I found myself in the elevator in the company of a hotel employee. His polite attempt at conversation and my halting response in broken Spanish led to the inevitable question “Where are you from?”
“Los Angeles,” I responded and being so well trained quickly added “But I’m Armenian.”
Instead of the look of confusion usually elicited by this response, Raul’s reaction was of comfortable comprehension.
“The owner of the hotel is Armenian,” he said. “We fly the Armenian flag when he is here.”
“I looked for the flag when I arrived but I didn’t see it.”
“Mr. Berberian is not here now,” he said. “We don’t want it to get old and faded so it’s there only when he is visiting.”
“But I am here,” I responded. “You never know when an Armenian will be in the hotel. You should fly it all the time.” He was amused by the suggestion and laughed at the idea of it. “Oh, well,” I though to myself, “at least I tried.”
The next morning was our last in the magical, butterfly laden forest. Heading down towards breakfast, the large picture windows on the way faced the front of the hotel. A casual sidelong glance towards the view of the lush foliage was interrupted by the sight of the flag poles. I stopped in my tracks.
“Ara,” I called out. He had walked ahead of me and was almost at the staircase when I called his name. He stopped and looked back at me questioningly. “Come back,” I said, waving him over and pointing out the window.
There it was – the familiar red, blue and orange stripes hanging from the flag pole on the far right of the row of symbols of other sovereignties, now faded from the unrelenting sun.
Giddy with excitement we raced down the stairs and out the front doors to take photographs of this comforting symbol of our identity that was proudly displayed, in our honor, deep in the tropical forest of Argentina.