We were sad to be departing Paraty, our adopted home for the previous four nights and a place we will remember for a long time to come. I suppose it is better to leave a place and feel a sense of sadness at the departure than linger too long and leave feeling fed up, but Paraty felt like one of those places where our stay would never reach such a limit. Beaches, beauty and atmosphere, the town had it all in abundance. But, on we continue ever deeper into the heart of South America. In many ways, we are on the home stretch of our journey but the end feels nowhere near, a point on some future horizon which has yet to come into focus. Amy and I spoke a few days ago about the fact that when we do eventually return to England, we feel we will be ready to do so, to start the next chapter of our lives together. For now however, we settle ourselves with this wonderful part of the world.
When planning any trip in South America, Iguacu Falls unavoidably enters the discussion. It is simply a place that one has to visit,
a gravitational black hole in the centre of the continent whose allure even the most ardent off-the-beaten-path traveller can do little to resist. We did however, weigh up our options. We knew that if we headed for the falls, it would bring about the end of our time in Brazil, a country we had fallen hard for in such a short period of time. We had also contemplated a visit to Florianopolis, a coastal city with beautiful beaches in its own right along Brazil’s south east cost, but doing so would mean it would make more sense to continue into Uruguay from there and ultimately, miss the falls altogether. In the end, we made the decision to not miss one of nature’s wonders and headed for the Brazilian-Argentine-Paraguayan boarder, at which these waterfalls can be found, with a subtle mental threat to God knows what that they better live up to the hype and expectation!
After the bliss of a simple four hour journey which took us from Rio to Paraty, we were afforded no such fortune this time around. A seven hour bus ride to Sao Paulo was followed by a fifteen hour bus to Foz
do Iguacu, our base for Iguacu Falls some 22km out of the town centre. The journey from Sao Paolo involved an overnight bus, so it wasn’t all bad save for two things: first that Amy seems to have developed (amongst her rap sheet of ailments) travel sickness, which decided to kick-in around hour two of twenty two! And, secondly, that our toilet adjacent seats gave the locals a peculiar need to ask me, even if I was asleep, if anyone was in the bathroom, as if I were some perfume toting toilet attendant! Other than that, it was a good trip!
After arriving in Foz do Iguacu, we made our way to our accommodation, the very friendly and helpful Hostel Bambu. After checking in, we immediately ventured a few blocks away to a large supermarket (of course!), where we went a little giddy at the cleanliness, organisation and options in the store; like painful memories of an ex-partner, it seems India is still having its effect! We stocked up on enough goods to last the entirety of our stay to cook back at the hostel’s large kitchen. To travel on a budget in Brazil, you almost have
to cook for most meals and whilst I do like to eat out, it’s actually refreshing to be able to cook together again, something we haven’t really done since South Korea (Southeast Asia being particularly cheap on the restaurant front!).
Following a comfortable night’s sleep, we delved into the inclusive breakfast provided by the hostel. Thankfully, after the cheese toastie hiatus in Paraty, we were particularly happy to see the grill, bread and cheese laid out and make no mistake, we took full advantage! Whilst diving into my third toastie, my mind wandered back to our first stay in Yangon, back in Burma, where the promised free breakfast was an exciting two rounds of plain bread (not toasted), a weak pot of (recycled?) green tea and some rather horrendous tasting jam. We’re clearly living the high life now, I thought, smiling to myself like some deranged imbecile with a cheese fetish!
Finally, we headed out for the falls, the reason for being in this uneventful boarder town. A 20 minute bus ride took us to the entrance to the national park itself and what we found waiting there for us was perhaps the longest
queue I have ever seen...or should I say two of the longest queues, one for an entrance ticket and a second for a park bus which would take you all the way to the falls. Not wanting to waste much of the day and the good weather standing in line, we decided to explore the bird park across the road, which came with its own hefty entrance fee.
I must say however that, despite the price, the park is well worth the visit. Granted, it does not replace the experience of being able to see these animals in their wild habitats but the chance to get up close with brightly coloured Toucans, amongst other things, was a fun experience. All said, it took about two hours for us to walk all around the park, where we passed parrots and macaws, each displaying their own fantastic array of colour and character; sleeping Flamingos precariously balanced on a single stick-thin leg; wonderfully tiny humming birds, which whizzed past our ears in a blinding flash of colour and whose wings are barely discernible moving at such frenzied speeds. And of course, the Toucans...
Amy and I recalled
how we had each produced rainforest projects back in Primary school and I confessed a lifelong intrigue with these fantastic birds. So, it was with welcoming spirit that I allowed one particularly inquisitive Toucan to come very close to me, where I could see it in all its beautiful detail...that is before it attempted to hack my elbow of with its distinctive beak, repeatedly snapping at my arm in an unprovoked attack!
After the fun with the Toucans, we proceeded further into the bird park, which it appeared did not just house birds! Snakes, spiders, crocodiles, iguanas and turtles each hold court with the public together with a particularly odd looking marmot. After seeing all on offer, we decided to call it a day and try our luck with the falls again the following morning.
Back at our hostel, we had already made friends with a recently married couple from New Zealand and England respectively, who unfortunately were moving in the opposite direction on their journey (well, honeymoon actually – congratulations guys!). Further, we made the acquaintances of a well travelled Chinese woman named Yin, a native of Shanghai who, like ourselves, had decided
after extensive study that a career in Law was not for her and had since decided to hit the road. She was however at a crossroads of sorts at Foz do Iguacu, since with her Chinese passport, it was extremely difficult to obtain visas for all countries in South America; indeed, for her Brazilian visa alone, she needed credit card checks, criminal background checks and a whole host of other documentation, a process she would need to repeat in obtaining permission to cross into any other countries. She told us she had hoped to visit Machu Picchu in Peru before returning to China but whilst she has been in South America, various rule changes have occurred, the consequences of which are that she can only apply for a Peruvian visa back in China! Hearing her predicament made me realise in many ways how we have it so easy travelling under a British passport, and how fortunate!
We awoke the next morning with some amount of determination that we would get to see the famous falls of Iguacu, and so set out early to beat the coach arrivals of tourists that would be sure to come with the
good weather later in the day. Turning a familiar corner to the national park entrance, we found our path queue-less, virtually empty in fact. We paid our entrance and hopped onto a bus which took us all the way to the falls themselves.
Set in a 55,000 hectare national park which plays host to over 400 bird species and 2000 plant species, the setting is spectacular. So too is the sight and sound of 275 waterfalls thundering 80m down into the Rio Iguacu, creating countless rainbows as they fall. From sight and sound to feeling, the rumble of the water as we approached the Gargantua del Diablo (the ‘Devil’s Throat’) could be felt deep in our chests! To say that Iguacu Falls are beautiful would be an understatement. Here I will simply let the images speak for themselves...
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