Thursday, 1 January 2009, Santa Teresa National Park, Uruguay
We spent my birthday in Paraguay, Christmas in Brazil and just made it into Uruguay yesterday in time to spend New Year's Eve in yet another country. We are moving fairly quickly at the moment but, as mentioned before, Tierra del Fuego beckons! Despite this, we spent almost a month in the southern 3 states of Brazil, and left with a great impression of the country and its people. The language has been very difficult, as Portuguese sounds in no way familiar to us. We did find that if we spoke Spanish, most people would understand what we wanted, but then we couldn't understand their reply. However, they are generally very helpful, and will go out of their way to get you where you want to be. Quite often we came across people who spoke some English, and they were always quick to offer assistance if we looked like we needed it. And then there is the German! In some areas we discovered third, fourth and even fifth generation Brazilians whose ancestors migrated from Germany. They still speak German at home and in their community, and very often attend German schools. After so much time the language has evolved somewhat, and even Juergen found some of them difficult to understand, but it added another possibility for communication which proved to be very useful.
After a week around the Iguazu Falls, we drove east through Paraná very quickly, from Foz do Iguaçu to Curitiba and on to Paranaguá. It is around 750 km and we stopped along the way for one night in a petrol station, where the only disturbance was a truck needing the services of the 24 hour borracharia (tyre repair shop), which was perhaps 50 metres from where we were parked. We were also woken early by the sound of a rooster who appeared to have had his voice box damaged during a previous strangulation attempt. Our original plan was to find the campground on the outskirts of Curitiba, and then spend a day or two exploring this city, which is reportedly quite beautiful. When we had spent a couple of hours trying to unsuccessfully locate the campground, we decided to continue to Paranagua, on the coast.
The attraction for us in this coastal area was the very large Murumbi National Park, which we also experienced difficulty in locating. Finding it presented us with one example after another of the helpfulness of the local people. In Paranaguá, the nearest major centre, we found an unattended tourist information desk at the bus station. Someone materialised to give us a map of the town and to send us to the main tourist office which was marked on same. On arrival at the main tourist office we were greeted with a sign directing us to the counter at the bus station, because the main office was permanently shut. With that avenue closed to us, we drove out of town on the highway back towards Curitiba. We stopped at the first police post (there are plenty of them along the main highways in Brazil, usually with an interesting display of motor vehicles that have been involved in accidents) and asked them if they knew where the entrance to the Park was. As luck would have it, one of them spoke some English, and before long was making calls to find out for us. In the end, he put me on to the telephone to talk to another person, who spoke excellent English and gave me clear instructions to get to Morretes, and the suggestion to ask for directions again there.
On arrival in Morretes, we drove to the railway station with the intention of checking at the tourist information. Before we could go inside, a young man approached us to chat (read: practice his English) and offered information. It turned out that he had studied to work in the tourist industry. He gave us a booklet covering the whole coastal area of Paraná and a suggestion for a campground near the National Park entrance. We stayed in that spot for lunch and afterwards met another local, who also spoke very good English, sitting on a bench in the park. He added to the information we already had, and made a call to a friend who could speak German and works as a guide in the area. At the time of the call he was on a bus on the way back from Paranaguá but if we would wait around 45 minutes, he would come and meet us when he arrived. True to his word, he drove up and offered whatever help and information he could. He was actually very knowledgeable about the whole area. We then drove the short distance to Porto de Cima, where the entrance of the Park is and, with the help of another local, found the campground we were recommended.
Unfortunately, just after we arrived and set ourselves up for the night, with the intention of going into the Park the next morning, it began to rain. We had been warned by the German speaker that if there was a lot of rain, it would be very difficult to walk any of the paths, because the creek crossings become river crossings very quickly. The rain really set in that night and continued into the next morning. After all the helpful people we had met along the way, it seemed we were not going to be able to go walking in this particular Park. But the campground was really nice and the owners (of Japanese heritage) were so friendly, we decided to stay one more night and see if the rain eased any. It was still raining the next morning, so we completely abandoned any idea of visiting the Park, and drove the Estrada do Graçiosa instead. This road is an alternate route to the main highway between Curitiba and Paranaguá, and is very scenic. It served to give us a small taste of the Park we were missing, with beautiful rainforest (with the emphasis on rain), lots of banana plants and some enormous trees, including massive 'rubber' trees - the ones people sometimes grow in pots as indoor plants. I was most surprised by the blooming hydrangeas along the side of the road here - they apparently grow wild in this area. I guess they have to be a native somewhere - but more of this flower later.
We also visited Morretes again, and the town of Antonina, before leaving this area and heading south along the coast. Both of them retain some very attractive colonial buildings, and Morretes is one of the most apealling towns we have seen recently. I must explain that at this time it was getting close to Christmas and we were hoping to find somewhere relatively peaceful to spend the time. But we did find some interesting things along the way. In Caiobá we discovered a mini Gold Coast, with many tallish buildings and a very long, white beach. The interesting thing about this place was that the vast majority of these tall buildings were completely tiled on the outside. This produced some interesting effects - some attractive and some definitely not - and I do wonder if it is just fashion or if there a practical purpose. We also experienced a heretofore unknown gastronomic delight. The Brazilians are famous for their buffets, where you fill your plate and put it on a scale at the end and pay by weight. Well, in Caiobá we discovered an ice-cream buffet - help yourself to as many flavours plus toppings and as much as you think you can eat and then pay at the end. Not necessarily the cheapest way to go, but all round a great experience. For the rest of our time in Brazil I kept looking out for another of these. I saw them from time to time, but never when I was really in the mood for ice-cream. Wouldn't I love to see one of these in the main street of Byron Bay.
A short, but very pleasant, ferry trip across the Baia de Guaratuba, where the river of the same name flows into the ocean, and we were headed further south and into the next state - Santa Catarina. Our interest here was centred on Blumenau, an area of German settlement which prompted thoughts of German-style bread and cake, and maybe a hint of some culture as well. What we found when we drove inland, was a huge city which was almost impossible to negotiate in our truck. When we eventually found a car park near the centre and went for a walk, we found expensive shops inside typical German 'Fachwerk' (half-timbered) buildings. The traffic was totally chaotic, and at times dangerous. We were on our way back towards the coast within a couple of hours of our arrival, but due to the traffic jams everywhere, we probably spent twice that long in the area. Some of the chaos can be blamed on the fact that the area around Blumenau was hit with terrible storms, floods and landslides back in November. There is still plenty of evidence to be seen, but the city appears to be well and truly back on its feet.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !