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    NewsLatin AmericaSaltos de Mocona, the hidden jewel of the Argentine missionary jungle

    Saltos de Mocona, the hidden jewel of the Argentine missionary jungle

    In a lost spot in the Argentine province of Misiones, 1,200 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, at the end of a long paved road, there is a place called El Soberbio. Like any town with aspirations for progress, it has a traffic light. It might not be there, because El Soberbio is a quiet place on the banks of the Uruguay River, with red dirt streets, low houses and children running along the sidewalks. Since it is enough to cross the river to reach Brazil, many of its inhabitants speak in a Spanish mixed with Portuguese that gives an air of collective unreality to sounds, food and customs. We are in the heart of the Parana jungle, or what is left of it, and only three hours by road south of the Iguazu falls. The tourist knows those roaring falls, trademark of international tourism in Argentina. But most are unaware that in El Soberbio there is a hidden gem that is worth discovering: the Mocona waterfalls.

    The Mocona waterfalls are a unique geological anomaly of its kind. A fault that runs along the Uruguay River has created balconies up to 15 meters high and three kilometers long. The traveler sails through them from below, following the water that collapses parallel to the channel. The aroma and sounds of the jungle are mixed in an unforgettable experience that, it is worth noting, is so wild its details. If it has rained a lot, the river will grow until it covers the falls and where there were roaring waterfalls, only placid waters will be seen. That is the cost of facing the virgin forest. But do not despair, because in El Soberbio there is much more than waterfalls.

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    Hikers during a visit to the Yaboti Biosphere Reserve, in El Soberbio, (Misiones).

    This missionary town is the son of the timber industry. Many Brazilian settlers of German origin chose the area to develop their business. There was a surplus of raw material and the Uruguay River served as a cheap means of transportation. The town grew, but not too much. Today it has a few thousand inhabitants who live from the cultivation of tobacco, citronella and yerba mate and who seek a new development opportunity in tourism. Those who choose to visit it will see a project in full growth that has the challenge of not dying of success. The charm of the place is, precisely, that buses loaded with tourists do not arrive and the large hotel chains are concentrated in the Iguazu falls. But that is not why there is a lack of infrastructure.

    The jungle is in constant tension with progress. That is why the challenge for local authorities is to guarantee sustainable tourism, as explained by Victor Motta, director of the development model: “Double-decker buses do not enter here and we do not have five-star hotels. There are even no buses that run along Route 2 to Los Saltos”. Along the way there is a private reserve of about 40 hectares called Yasi-Yatere, the work of Leo Rangel Olivera, a Uruguayan who grows more than 300 types of fruits and other edible plants. Machete in hand, Rangel cuts the fruits, still dripping, so that the tourist can taste them with his hands. He has even tried coffee, rescuing from oblivion plants that a visionary brought back in the middle of the last century without much luck. “We dream of a farm site that coexists with the jungle,” he says. “When you uproot the forest, organic matter runs out. After a few years, the land becomes sterile and is only good for livestock, which is why we work with a permanent agriculture model”, he explains.

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    Leo Rangel cuts a fruit in the Yasi-Yatere reserve, which he owns.
    Leo Rangel cuts a fruit in the Yasi-Yatere reserve, which he owns.

    To visit the Rangel Olivera reserve, it is advisable to stay at the lodge The Mocona Mission, with bubble rooms overlooking the river that immerse the visitor in the humid and starry night. Excursions depart from there in the Unimog, an all-terrain military transport that plows through old dirt roads through the undergrowth. The guide Gloria Gomez will patiently show what remains of the Parana Atlantic Forest, decimated on the Brazilian side by agribusiness. In El Soberbio she walks among paradises, pindos palms, cedars and incense, before the gaze of dozens of toucans. Gomez will then tell the story of the Pombero, a protector of the forest who “emits sounds from the mountains, in that silence that is not silence.” “My grandmother used to tell me that the Pombero was going to take care of me, and she would leave him tobacco and cane as a thank you,” she says.

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    If you walk another 20 kilometers towards the falls, you will arrive at the Mocona Virgin Lodge, 14 rooms connected by wooden walkways that are lost among the trees. During the day you can go zip-lining, kayaking on the river and hiking. At night the electricity goes out and the sky bursts with stars.

    Iguazu, the guaranteed show

    A wooden walkway to tour the Iguazu Falls, on the side of the Argentine province of Misiones.
    A wooden walkway to tour the Iguazu Falls, on the side of the Argentine province of Misiones.Claudia Beretta Archive / Mondadori Portfolio / Getty Images

    After visiting the Mocona waterfalls, it is inevitable to go through Iguazu. The most impressive waterfalls in South America are greeted with multiple walkways that go into the falls and allow you to see the famous Devil’s Throat from above (the walkway is closed for works until March 2023). If the Iguazu river is swollen, the noise is thunderous. Falls of up to 80 meters high along 2,700 meters form an overwhelming spectacle. It is recommended to have an immersive (or almost submerged) experience with La Gran Aventura, a land excursion that goes into the jungle and ends with a navigation under the San Martin waterfall, after passing through the island where a sequence of the movie was filmed The mission.

    The Iguazu Falls seen from the Gran Melia Iguazu hotel,
    The Iguazu Falls seen from the Gran Melia Iguazu hotel,CARLA PARAIZO

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