Published: July 3rd 2011June 30th 2011
It has been the plan for some time to skip quickly through Brazil. There are notions of another trip that would give greater respect and time to the world's 5th largest nation. Such a trip might, or might not, swing through the Caribbean, have a look at Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam, then take in a World Cup game or two and have a better look at Brazil, perhaps duck over to Malvinas/Falklands and even have a bit of a poke about in Antarctica with a little hiking in Torres del Paine to round things out. This time there were just two items on the agenda: check out Iguacu Falls and then get ourselves smartly over to Sao Paulo to catch planes. So we have certainly not given Brazil anything more than a glance.
After 6 months of Spanish speaking countries it was a little jolt to hit Portuguese at the border near Corumba. Adam had this theory that his interpreter duties were over as we walked across the border. The first burst of rapid Portuguese convinced us all that he still had a much better chance of understanding than any of us. Our first trick was to do an excellent
job of confusing the taxi driver who we picked up at the frontier. Between us I think we informed him that we had only Bolivianos and needed to change these to reals so that we could pay him. Quite reasonably, he took this to mean that he needed to find a money changer or miss out on a fare. Unfortunately, unlike most borders we have crossed recently, the Brazilian side of the border has no money changers hanging about. It transpired that our driver couldn't find a person who could change the relatively few Bolivianos we had left. When we finally twigged, we told him not to worry about finding a money changer and take us to a Cash Point/ATM/Banco Automatico/Cajero/Banco Electronica. He had no idea what we are gibbering on about. They are called none of the above. No, here they are called 'Caxia' or 'Caxia Electronica'. Obvious really. The first two didn't work but the third did and we were solvent again. A happy taxi driver is always a good thing.
A new language wasn't the only shock. We had moved from the cheapest country in South America to the most expensive and that caused a moment's
pause. There is always that period while you come to grips with the new currency but, as we laboriously divided and multiplied numbers, we quickly came to the conclusion that this country has a sting to it. Almost as if we were suddenly back home. You do tend to receive value for money though. The bus from Corumba to Campo Grande was expensive but a very smooth and a good ride and a good driver.
It could almost have been a trip through the more productive areas of the SE of Australia. Prosperous and well ordered farms and estancias, a lot of cattle grazing on increasingly good looking land, pretty good roads. For most of the time there was a lot of water around but, gradually, there was less surface water and the land started to look more fertile.
Campo Grande is about 7 hours in a quick bus from Corumba. Our preferred hotel was said to be near the bus terminal. Turned out to be near the 'old' bus terminal. The old terminal is about 6 km from the new bus terminal – which is very nice and modern. The old terminal is in a pretty dodgy
area of town. Lots of pretty (or not, as the case may be) ladies around along with the types of blokes who generally only emerge after dark. Our hotel was OK though and the nearby 'churrascaria' provided an excellent feed for a reasonable, if still Brazilian, price.
The deal in the churrascarias we patronised is that they have various meat, either cooked or slow cooking, a good range of vegetables, pasta etc and a very good range of salads. You can either go 'self-serve' or have something cooked. I think you could go back as often as you wanted. Good price and clearly a very popular local choice.
I'm not completely convinced that we would have dropped in on Campo Grande if it wasn't on the way somewhere. A nice enough place and certainly livable but without anything special that would attract mobs of visitors. We had a long walk - slightly longer due to a minor navigation issue that had us walking for an hour in completely the wrong direction. It transpired during the day that we had happened on a public holiday – celebrating Corpus Christi as far as we could tell – with impressive displays
Pantanal in the distance
The blue bit past the swimming pool
down the centre of the main street for about 2 kilometres.
From Campo Grande to Fos do Iguacu it was to be our last overnight bus for South America. Again, we gulped when we heard the price, and even ducked off to check the price of air fares. The bus was cheaper and easier to organise though so we did it. A comfortable bus. There is even a chance that I am getting used to these things, heaven forbid. Out of Campo Grande at about 6.00pm and into Fos do Iguassu at 10.00am or thereabouts.
In Argentina all of the advice was that Iguassu Falls are better viewed from the Argentinian side of the river. Some people, generally Paraguayans I must say, will tell you that it is better to see them from Paraguay. Others say that Brazil gives the better view. We decided to have a look from Brazil and Argentina. Because we need a visa for Brazil and not for Argentina we decided to enter Brazil, have a look from that side and then head over to Argentina and have a look from there. Paraguay also needs a visa and that was a bridge too far
Getting ready for Corpus Christi celebrations
Campo Grande. The different parishes created artworks from sawdust and paint or from bottletops along the main street
for us. The border crossing back and forward is a nuisance. There isn't, unfortunately, a nice convenient bridge such as exists between Zambia and Zimbabwe adjacent to Victoria Falls but you can't have everything.
My Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya) inspired expectations required a developing roar with a cloud of spray rising hundreds of metres into the air as we closed in on the Falls on the public bus - a taxi from town was quoted at 120 Reals, the bus was 2.40 Reals each for the same ride. Not a lot of spray and no roar but perhaps it is a fair way from the entry and have to walk a bit? Not really. At first glance it seemed to me that Victoria has the contest for the most spectacular falls in the world pretty well covered. But first impressions are not always correct.
From the Brazilian side you can see a reasonable part of the Falls and you can get close enough to one part to become very wet. It is more spectacular than I thought at first but, if I only had seen Iguasu from Brazil, I would be reporting now that Victoria is better.
is a more dispersed falls than Victoria which, even though it is a little under 2 kms wide, seems a little small in comparison to Iguasu. But you don't have the massive fall of water in one relatively confined area at Iguasu even though it the flow rate is greater with 1.3 million litres per second rather than the mere 1 million coming over Victoria. But Iguasu is much, much larger than Victoria. Water is coming over in many places over nearly 3 kilometres of the cliff face. Both fall into a jungle but Iguasu comes over in about 300 different cascades. The stream that feeds Iguasu is kilometres wide. Relatively shallow in parts but very wide.
The Argentinians tell you that it will take at least 6 hours to view the falls from their side. We can confirm that. It could have taken us much longer but we were in a non-paying mood and would not pay for the extra bits – like taking a boat under the falls or doing the great adventure walk. Sounded OK but not good enough to justify the amount requested. The non-paying walks were very good. Easy with excellent access for everyone.
One walkway took us out to the top of one of the major falls. Others took around the bottom of most of the Argentinian side of the falls. Overall, some excellent views of a beautiful area.
So, I will provisionally give to Iguacu the title of the best falls we have visited so far. A close run thing though. Victoria is still right up there. I think we need to see them both at the flood to really make an assessment.
We will eventually see Niagara so, for the moment, we will leave the result as provisional. And, after that, we have Venezuela to get a look at the Angel Falls reputed to be the highest in the world.
With any luck we will put this post up in the Sao Paulo Airport. We leave tonight for Mexico City and then, after a 3.30 hour delay on to LAX. Adam and Klaire are off to London and then Europe. They leave tomorrow. So we will turn up next in the USA, provided that we are let in. A post wrapping up South America will float up in due course.
Unusually for us, we now have a
reasonably detailed itinerary for the USA. It is rough, provisional and may be unlikely to be followed closely, but you never know. Essentially, we will go north from LA, hit Seattle and go east till we are in the region of the Great Lakes and then hook north-ish, into eastern Canada for a bit of a look, then south through the east of the US, through the South and then back to the West again.
There are more photos below