Thus Spoke the Coatis

EL PARQUE NACIONAL DE IGUAZU, Argentina—El Parque Nacional de Iguazú is nestled in the northeastern tip of Argentina, topping the arm that juts out into Brazil and Paraguay like a gaucho flexing his bicep. At the heart of the park’s 672 square kilometers of subtropical rainforest booms the magnificent Iguazú Falls, a trove of ear-pounding, breath-taking waterfalls crowned by shimmering rainbows and crystal mist. One of the seven new natural wonders of the world, Iguazú is almost too beautiful to believe—certainly too beautiful for words. Eleanor Roosevelt, visiting in 1944, could allegedly only manage two: “Poor Niagara!”

But travelers beware: Devils lurk in this paradise.

After a full morning of trekking around the falls, I was hungry. I strode out of a fast-food cabin alongside the Lower Circuit with a warm bag of empanadas. I was nearing a canopied picnic table when, like fuzzy raccoon-tailed, long-snouted demons summoned by the wafting smell of carne and bread, the two coatis attacked. Jumping up with their grubby claws, they ripped open the bag in my hands, scratched my arm, and probably would have eaten me along with the empanadas if I hadn’t run away screeching hysterically.

There’s nothing like being ambushed by hungry, deceptively cute-but-really-vicious, oversized squirrel-raccoon-anteater hybrids to make you rethink life a little bit.

My travel philosophy has always been to never take pictures. I traveled to Iguazú to Experience Iguazú with a capital E—not to see it through a tiny iPhone screen. While tourists were snapping selfies for the Instagram post, I liked to think I was actually Experiencing the falls—drawing novel, life-changing insights from the magnificent views, not merely scrapbooks snapshots of them. With this approach, I usually returned from trips with a vague sense of superiority over camera-clicking tourists—but few lasting memories.

Then I Experienced the coatis, and any pride I felt at being an intellectual traveler, not a clumsy tourist, was ripped away with that bag of empanadas. I had to squat down, like all the other camera-clickers, and take a picture of those cute furry devils (from a safe distance, of course). My friends wouldn’t believe my story otherwise.

Then I realized something. I wasn’t taking a photo; I was saving a story. I would relive and retell that coati ambush every time I saw that picture. I could Experience Iguazú all over again—with friends and family who weren’t there with me—through the very medium I feared would keep me from doing so.

The best stories, of course, come from Experience, not pictures. “I went to Iguazú and took this awesome selfie” makes a lousy tale, but “I went to Iguazú and took this photo to remember the time two over-sized squirrels stole my lunch”—now that’s a story, a traveler’s Experience with a tourist’s memory.

For future trips, I’ve resolved to take photos that save Experiences without replacing them. I’ve resolved to not take selfies but to take stories. Thus spoke the coatis.

Lauren D. Spohn ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Currier House.

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