25th March 2000: Asunción to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil (day 248 overall)
Another 18 hour journey by coach – this time all the way to Montevideo in Uruguay to Asunción in Paraguay. We arrived in the Paraguayan capital at 7am having crossed the border sometime in the early hours of the morning. The probably sleepy border guard had dated our passport entry stamps as the 26th March which was still 17 hours away so we hadn’t officially entered yet! We only wanted to spend a few hours in Asunción so we put our bags into short term storage at the bus station and took a local bus into the centre.
Mark led the guided tour by reading from our Lonely Planet and trying to decipher the tiny map – but it was quickly evident that our LP was scraping the barrel when it came to suggesting things to see. The city had a few dirty buildings claiming to be culturally important but we felt the most interesting one was the Presidential Palace. Up until the end of the Stroessner’s 35 year dictatorship in 1989, a person could be shot for even walking near the palace. We took our photos and moved on under the eye of some guards nearby.
We debated our next step over a good friend egg breakfast and unanimously decided not to try and explore the interior of Paraguay but rather head east to the aptly named Ciudad del Este from where we could reach the world-famous Iguaçu Falls (Foz do Iguaçu). Back to the bus station, we retrieved our bags from storage and jumped on another bus for the 5 hour journey. Our trusty Lonely Planet indicated that prices would be cheaper if we continued just beyond Ciudad del Este to cross the river and border to Brazil. The bus driver agreed to take us across the border for free and our passports were stamped correctly this time with the 25th March meaning we officially left Paraguay the day before we arrived.
Finally, we had arrived back in Brazil – the first country on our trip around South America, and where we began all those months ago. Our hotel was $6 for a good room and buffet breakfast which was the cheapest we’d had since leaving Bolivia two months ago. The southern countries of this continent were beautiful but significantly more expensive than the rest. For dinner, we stuffed ourselves on an ‘all you can eat’ buffet for only $3 before rolling into bed!
26th March 2000: Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil (day 249 overall)
With a buffet breakfast to begin the day and after the meal last night, we were well stuffed to begin our tour. We had met a guy who after much hassle and negotiation agreed to take us to the Brazilian side of the falls first, then to the Argentinean side and finally to the Itaipu Dam all for $12. We explained we also needed money from a Brazilian bank and he said no problem to that either so we jumped in the car and set off.
We were feeling lucky he spoke good English to be able to help arrange all this, but we should have learned by now never to completely trust people since before we realised where we were, he had straight over the border to Argentina. We argued since we had wanted to see the Brazilian side first and it also turned out he had no intention of going to the dam. We debated just walking away but eventually we agreed to lower the price to $10 but it left us annoyed.
After having stopped at an Argentinian bank to get Peso’s (since he’d bypassed the bank in Brazil), we set out to the park. $5 entry, $4 for the viewing platform and $15 for a boat ride up the gorge – let no-one say we skimped! The national park was beautiful – a rich forest surrounding a beautifully clear wide river which flower peacefully towards a steaming cauldron where it then plunged over the first of a series of waterfalls (i.e.: the ‘Foz do Iguaçu‘) and down to the rocks about 70 meters below.
Foz do Iguaçu is one of the largest waterfall systems in the world spread over a 3 kilometre length of where the Upper Iguaçu river leaves the high Paraná Plateau and drops about 80-90 meters into the Devil’s Canyon (a very pretty gorge) and start of the Lower Iguaçu river. There are major waterfalls like the Devil’s Throat but there are also hundreds of smaller falls spread along the sides of the gorge. The river also marks the border between Argentina and Brazil and part of the falls are also in Paraguay so it is a slightly complex area to navigate!
A wooden walkway suspended just a few feet above the Upper Iguaçu river allowed us to traverse between the little rocky islands and towards the falls until we were standing directly above the Devil’s Throat waterfall. Here the gorge was narrow, and a huge volume of water plunged over the top from three sides before then escaping violently further down and through the only exit. It was amazing to see and to add to the view, many rainbows formed arches over different parts of the falls as there was a watery mist rising from ‘the throat’ to fill the air around us and begin to soak through our clothes. We took a few pictures which was difficult with all the mist and headed on.
Jono and Matt opted for a $15 wildlife boat ride whilst Irinia, Mark and I explored the upper river a bit more. We were walking through the forest along the shore of the river when we saw a large crocodile in the shallows just a few feet below. It was about 3 meters long and it quickly devoured some meat scraps we obtained from a nearby restaurant. We spent a little while up close just watching the crocodile before heading back to meet the others.
It was a shame that Jono and Matt missed the crocodile because it turned out they didn’t see much on the boat. Back together, we descended on a hot walk through the jungle until we arrived at another large section of the falls which were just as splendid as the first. We were at the bottom of the falls by now looking up and could get within a few meters of the water falling from above. Here we jumped into a small but powerful speedboat which took us up the canyon and under some of the waterfalls which was great fun. We of course got thoroughly soaked so headed off to one of the small beaches for a swim whilst our clothes dried out. Iguaçu falls truly deserves its title as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and one of the most amazing sights we’d seen in South America.
On the way back on our slow meander to the car, Irinia and I met an elderly American couple and the lady was suffering from heat exhaustion. The man asked if he could buy my water bottle but of course I insisted he take it for free. We offered to help take them to the top but they preferred to remain for a while, so we wished them better and carried on. We cooled off in a cafe at the top of the gorge and a while later the couple appeared who had come to find us. They kindly bought us a couple of beers and we chatted for a while more – it was good to see the lady looking a lot better!
That evening, we headed out for another buffet – this time a $5 pizza buffet. The pizzas were tasty and was piled on our plates in all varieties until we could eat no more! For dessert, they offered us more pizzas covered in chocolate, bananas and other fruit which finished off the meal wonderfully.
27th March 2000: Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil (day 250 overall)
There was thought of going to see the Itaipu Dam which is the largest dam in the world, but then the thought crossed out minds that it was just a dam – but bigger – so we scrapped that idea. Instead, we enjoyed a slow breakfast, slowly filling ourselves to last out the day and then headed off to complete various admin tasks we all needed to do.
My task was to get cash, and this was always complicated since finding an ATM machine that accepted our cards was never easy. To make matters worse – the machines were invariably inside the bank buildings and in order to get into those, I had to pass through metal detecting revolving doors. On one such occasion today, I was carrying my large rucksack with pretty much everything I own inside and tried to get through the revolving door and into the bank. It was a squeeze but then the zips or something metal set off the detector alarm and the revolving door immediately froze halfway around jamming me within. The only way was to retreat back outside to where a bored guard was waiting. He indicated an envelope sized slot to place metal items but of course my bag wouldn’t fit through that. The guard then suggested I just leave my bag on the street outside which I had to refuse feeling pretty confident it wouldn’t be there when I returned. We had much discussion where I ended up emptying most of my bag and its smelly contents in front of him to prove I wasn’t a wannabe bank robber. At this, he turned and got his supervisor who after further discussion eventually let me and my bag into the bank. Suffice to say I was hopping mad when the bank’s ATM machine also didn’t accept my card and I left empty handed.
Eventually, I managed to find an HSBC bank where my card did work and I had some cash with which we could once again buy something to eat! Irinia had had a similar frustrating morning and eventually found her bank had blocked her card so together, we went to cheer ourselves up with a coffee and ice-cream (my treat since I was the only one with cash!) before we headed off to the travel agent to check on flights. We briefly considered a flight back to Rio de Janiero but they were expensive and we wanted to finish the ‘grand circle’ by bus as far as possible.
Next, we headed to an internet cafe to check for email and send a few updates but this was scuppered when the entire town suffered a power cut. We left the internet cafe thinking the day wasn’t going exactly great and then it began to poor with rain with thunder and lightning to add to our dark mood! By the time we got back to the hotel, we were soaked so had to change before heading off to the bus station with the others.
Tickets to Brazil’s coastal city of Florinopolis secured, we sat down to grab a bite before the long journey. From the menu, we all ordered Americanos thinking this was a quick burger but it turned out to be the name of some local meal that took ages to cook so we could only grab a few mouthfuls before having to board the bus.
The bus was already underway when Matt declared he was feeling a little queasy and after another hour, his queasiness turned into him spewing from both ends at the same time. Luckily this bus did have a small toilet on board. Irinia then succumbed to the same very quickly and they took their turns with the toilet. Just as I was feeling sorry for them, I started retching and had to join the toilet rotation. A few minutes later Mark also felt unwell and since there was now a continuous queue for the toilet, threw up into a paper bag which he then launched out of the window. All of us were in bad shape except for Jono who just slept soundly. Irinia and Matt had the worst of it and Mark was very up and down whilst for me, I was only feeling dizzy and vomiting. All through the night, the toilet rotation continued and I’m sure we kept the other passengers awake with our continual trips to the toilet or by the puking and other noises and subsequent nasty smells as a result.
The terrible journey from Iguacu to Florinapolis took about 16 hours and we knew we were due to arrive about 8am. Finally, as we were finally beginning to surface from our night’s torments, the light of dawn appeared and we knew could soon be off this bus.