Foz de Iguacu, Brazil
11/06/12 – 16/06/12 – Foz De Iguazu to Puerto Iguassu
Towns and Accommodation
Arriving anywhere at night can be a little unsettling, with the underlying factor simply being unfamiliarity. Whether you can be sure the location is safe, whether you can navigate properly, whether you can just jump in a taxi if you need to. It’s also a little disorientating and I find myself trying to imagine what things might look like in daylight. We arrived lateish into Foz De Iguazu on the Brazilian side, after having followed the Iguazu river from from near where it starts in Curitiba. It was then easy enough to navigate the foggy nighttime streets to the Iguazu Guesthouse. We’d been reasonably lucky with our choices of accommodation, but inevitably we’d stumbled upon a hostel with an echoey bar out the back and no noise curfew.
So we didn’t sleep much; even with earplugs we could still hear the washy screams and yells of drunken Australians and maybe some Brits in there too. We’d been using a combination of sites, tripadvisor.com, booking.com and hostelworld.com who all provide review and booking services but we’d lucked out on this one. The next night we’d meet the Aussies who were nice enough but just a little bonkers. According to them all Australians are crazy.. except us.. who had our ‘lids on at the moment’. It’d be another 6am finish for them that night as well.
One of the great experiences we had on the Brazilian side was at the recommendation from our hostel manager of visiting a 20 riel (10 bucks ) all-you-can-eat Churrasco grill at ‘Gaucho’ restaurant some 2 blocks away. They had a nice enough salad/desert bar but the beauty was in the giant skewers of meat doing the rounds and carved off at your plate by a fine Brazilian man with a shiny blade. And there was all sorts of delights. Something black looking a bit like small steaks on a skewer comes around.. the carver says something proudly in Portuguese.. Frango! I say to Rebecca.. he said Frango.. that’s chicken.. Doesn’t look like chicken..I turn to the carver, standing there with this stoic face and puffed out chest..‘Si!’. He cuts me off 5 or so of these things, and I dig right in.. they’re flavored with yummy herbs and spices but it’s a rich, gamey meat and most definitely an organ of some sorts by the taste of it. Chicken hearts. It was chicken hearts.
But the theme of the evening was generally along those lines, I ate a shitload of meat, and not all of it I could identify. Rebecca stuck with the grilled pineapple and the obvious ‘frango’ fillets and shot me a few disgusted glances and I tuckered into the indiscernible. Regardless it was incredible value for the mouth-watering quality.
Itaipu dam is the second biggest attraction at Foz Du Iguazu, which sits on the border of Brazil and Paraguay and is the biggest power generating dam in operation, IN THE WORLD. The bus just kind of drops you at the border and it’s not immediately obvious which way to go. Had we not been re-directed by some odd-looking Paraguayan man, we could have been arrested for attempting to enter Paraguay without a visa. We could be locked up somewhere, and you wouldn’t be reading this. So a big thanks goes out to that odd-looking Paraguayan man.
Look the whole experience comes a pretty distant second to the Falls, which I’ll cover shortly. It’s an absolutely amazing feat of engineering, don’t get me wrong; as I’m one of those guys that likes technology and putting stuff together, I can really appreciate it.. but we were ushered into the wrong auditorium so that whole corporate video with the nature scenes and kids laughing and playing in water was completely lost on us, in fact I spent most of my time frowning at school kids for not paying attention.. at least they had a choice.
We got onto a double-decker panoramic tour bus for the next part of the tour which would take us around the outside and outskirts of the dam. As we weren’t wearing pants and shoes, we weren’t allowed inside the facility. Something about hairy legs .. Lucky us though, the only 2 English speaking people on the bus, so the poor tour guide had to bash out the transcript in 3 languages. The plant produces power for the entire Paraguayan nation, and a good part of Brazil as well. In fact, when they had a power-outage in 2009, all of Paraguay was without power for 15 minutes and Rio for more than 2 hours.
We were driven across the top of the dam from the rivers side, which is broad and far enough to present as an ocean, past the amazing turbines that process the incoming water and then off to the other side of the dam where the processed water is released down a sliding wall to the river. There was an applause from the audience at the end, particularly from the enthusiastic Japanese couple, and I wondered for a moment; had they not only missed the auditorium bit, but the tour-guide bit as well? What were they applauding for?
After we’d experienced both the falls, a local bird-park with massive variety of endangered Amazonian birds and insects and the dam, we crossed into Argentina; using local methods of course, because we’re crazy like that. Border crossings are always a bit dubious, particularly land borders because you don’t know what kind of tricks immigration officers get up to. Sometimes there’s bribes, sometimes there’s bag inspections and sometimes they might try and nab you for something stupid like simply bringing in a bag of lollies.. but we didn’t get that at the Brazilian side, just a bunch of pimply kids with braces on their teeth, slapped into uniforms. They stamped our passports and waved us through.
Because the local bus driver didn’t wait for us, we marched on over to the bus stop on the other side of the Brazilian border to catch the next bus through to Argentina immigration. It took a while, about an hour actually. We flagged down just about every other bus, showed them our tickets, they thumb-motioned to something behind them.. until eventually we were allowed on. Argentinian customs were a bit more professional, were a bit more experienced and x-rayed our luggage. The bus driver waited for us as well so we got a nice trip straight through to Puerto Iguassu bus terminal.
Scenery changed almost instantly. Particularly notable is that bright red, clay soil of the Argentinian side. There’s also this ‘gaucho’ thing happening which I had read a bit about. Everything’s kind of western. There’s these hand written signs on wooden boards in bright colors in this old-time font and outlined in black. The streets are dusty red, there’s lone hounds wandering around and every now and then you get this old bloke with a massive belt buckle, magnificent boots and a black leather hat wandering through the town like he’s walking to a show-down.
The Garden Stone Hostel was great, we had this great little room at the front of the house with wooden floors, and beautiful floor to ceiling windows that opened up to let the breeze (but not mosquitoes.. ) in. It was the sort of place you could chill up the back of the garden near the kitchen and pool and just chat to fellow travelers; we threw back a few great bottles of Argentinian Malbec and cooked some pasta. It was a really great time. And just down the road a bit you can find the Tres Frontiers, a convergence of the rivers where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentine meet; not unlike the Golden Triangle in South East Asia.
It’s a bit of an odd place in the world, the falls, wedged across Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay down the stream. It has different aspects depending on which side of the river/country you’re standing in. The falls feature in the 1986 movie ‘The Mission’ as well as more recently in the 4th Indiana Jones incarnation (yeah.. I forgot about it too) . Each side offers a different
experience, Brazilian can only account for 20% ownership of the falls so they can offer a panoramic experience whilst the Argentinian side boasts to get you right up in it all.
If you can imagine the falls from the top as a J shaped formation we were dropped at the start of that straight bit of a kilometer of so trail that traces the falls up to the circular ‘Garganta del Diablo’ or Devils throat. The Brazilians 20% of the falls is mostly centered around the Garanta del Diablo so the trail we started on, is elevated up on the Brazilian side of the river and continues all the way to the middle of the bottom of the J. There’s a number of places along the paved trail that jut out from the bank, allowing you to get the full panoramic experience of the falls.
Our first vista is downstream from the Garanta del Diablo, which we couldn’t even see at that point, looking across at a beautiful cascading array of water. There’s a number of falls that poke through rock and jungle along a line at the top to form this white curtain of water down to second, third and more levels down to the river. Some falls plunging down only one fall of water to the river below, spraying 100 feet in the air and accompanied with this earth-shaking rumble.
As we approach the hook in the J, and walk out over the river to view the falls from the middle, the sound amplifies to this un-natural depth and the sheer magnitude of the Devils Throat becomes apparent. It’s really a ‘wow’ moment, and is punctuated on the Argentinian side, which places you on a platform right at the top of the falls. At that point you can see all the water from the river seemingly collapse into this white mist. The panoramic shots and the nice walk-out section of the Devils Throat is really about all the Brazil side has to offer but in my opinion is mandatory viewing because although the Argentinian side gets you up and in there, you never really get that broad, J shape perspective of the falls that you do from viewing from the other bank.
As there’s far more to cover on the Argentinians side, there’s this Disney World type train that ferries you from the entrance through lower and upper section walkways to the Devils Throat and back again.Though not overly discernible from the Brazilian side, the Argentines have built a huge amount of walkways into and alongside the upper and lower sections of the falls, this allows you to get amazing perspectives alongside some of the falls and it really shows you the up close power of the falls as they cascade over and around you.
They also run a variety of different tours; we experienced a right-up-close moment by boarding a high-powered boat, putting all our stuff into dry-sacks and wearing our fandango waterproof jackets. The boat takes you to the crashing waters of the falls, right under from where the water tips the edge at 70 or so meters. They drive you right into the spray and through the chopped up water. It’s impossible to keep your eyes open. It would be like staring through a bucket of water to the face. But it’s a great experience in getting an idea of just how powerful these falls are.
The Argentine side is also a much busier and has greater environmental impact given how close and how many people are traversing the walkways. Often you feel like you’re just following the hordes of Italian tour groups with their funny green hats with bobble pom-poms on them. And you have those countless moments of people elbowing their camera into your shot. But if you really try you can pick a moment of transition between groups, grab a bench and sit up right up and close to the falls and just have a moment with them. There’s all this chatter about positive ionisation around the falls, but there is just something about a) that magnitude, breadth and power that has all occurred naturally and b) being somewhere so different.
So you leave the experience exhausted and drained but completely enchanted. We’re now getting used to the idea that some of the warmer weather we’re experiencing will become cooler as we venture south toward Buenos Aires, and eventually into the Andes. So in a sense we say goodbye to not only one of the worlds natural wonders but the comforts of the sub-tropical heat.