Monday, 15 December 2008, Paranaguá, Brazil
For some time now I have been expressing to friends and family that we are getting a little tired, and beginning to look forward to going home. I have been feeling that I was losing my enthusiasm for the journey, and sensed that Juergen was somewhat as well. But the week we have just spent in and around the National Park of Iguazú has changed that dramatically! I have once again felt the joy and excitement brought by seeing and experiencing nature’s remarkable work. Once again, I stood on the brink of a vast ‘hole in the ground’ and there were tears in my eyes as I contemplated the absolute wonder of what I was encountering with all my senses. I am so glad that we made it to the Iguazu Falls and experienced them from both sides.
Iguazu Falls are on the border between Argentina and Brazil, near to Paraguay. We arrived in Brazil from Paraguay on Saturday, and rested at the Paudimar campground on Sunday because we had no desire to share the falls with the weekend crowds. On Sunday evening we met Darlene and John, some fellow travellers from Brisbane, who confirmed our supposition. (They had to wait in a queue for over an hour to just get their ticket and board a bus for the short trip from the visitor’s centre to the walking path.) It was fun to share travelling stories with this couple, who were a pleasant reminder of home.
On Monday we headed for the Brazilian side of the falls. We found the whole setup to be very well organised, except for the tout trying to sell us a boat trip who held us up as if he were giving out information. Because of this interruption, we missed the information counter which would have provided us with a map of where we were actually going - we picked one up on our way out at the end of the day, but didn’t really miss it during our visit. A shuttle bus dropped us off at the start of the waterfalls path, where you walk downwards for almost all of the way, and then take a lift up again at the end - very civilised, I must say! Our first glimpse of the falls was awe-inspiring, and it just got better from there, as we walked around yet another bend to be greeted by yet another view. Walking the waterfalls path is almost like watching a movie. The falls are mostly on the other side of the river (Argentina) and, from the path on the Brazilian side, it is just one amazing vista after another. I have been looking forward to seeing these falls since long before this trip was even planned, and I was definitely not disappointed. I kept remembering what I had read in our guide book: when Eleanor Roosevelt saw these falls she said "Poor Niagara", and I understood her sentiments exactly. If there is a more impressive waterfall in the world, then I really want to add it to my must-see list. The falls just seem to go on and on and on, each view totally impressive in its own right.
Although it wasn’t planned, we had a few days to absorb this experience before moving on to visit the Argentinean side. I woke up on Tuesday morning with a case of ‘Delhi belly’, and we weren’t even in India! And it got worse as the day wore on. By evening I was getting seriously dehydrated. Juergen spent some time finding out about a hospital, and also found a young German who could speak some Portuguese to come with us, and we went by Taxi to see what could be done. The doctor’s verdict was a viral intestinal infection - I stayed in the hospital for a couple of hours on a re-hydrating drip, and was then sent home with a long list of medicine to take for the next 3 days, and orders to rest, drink a lot and eat if I felt like it. So, instead of visiting the Argentinean side of the falls on Wednesday as planned, we arrived in Argentina on Thursday afternoon, and visited them on Friday.
On that side, there are a number of different ways to experience the falls. We chose carefully because I still wasn’t physically 100%. When the train dropped us at the Cataratas Station, 10 minutes from the visitors centre, we decided against walking the upper circuit, which is a catwalk along the top of the falls and mostly in full sun, and headed straight down the lower circuit. This walk takes you through the forest, where there are a number of small falls, feeding into the system, and also gives you closer views of the main falls. The roar of the water is in your ears from the beginning. The absolute highlight of this walk is the waterfall near the end. There is a catwalk that takes you right out until you feel like you can reach out and touch the water - the spray certainly reaches out and touches you! It was quite a warm day, so a little dampness was a welcome relief. And the fresh smell of ozone, that one finds in places such as this, is very energising - I could feel myself getting better just standing there.
From the lower circuit we went back to the station and caught the train again to what was the absolute highlight of this experience, and sits very close to the top of our list of highlights for this trip. I’m writing of the Garganta del Diablo. You have to walk for around 15 minutes from the train station, along a catwalk that crosses the river which feeds the falls, and then you arrive. The power and splendour of the mighty waterfall at this place is overwhelming. Both of us found ourselves standing there and reacting in a very emotional manner to what we were experiencing - because it was so much more than just seeing.
The Argentinean side was even more exciting than the Brazilian side, and I am almost certain that we did them in the right order. On the Brazilian side you get wonderful vistas which give you an overall impression of their magnitude, and then on the Argentinean side you have the opportunity of getting ‘up close and personal’. Instead of just seeing them, you also hear them, smell them and feel them - even taste them. The sensations are incredible.
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We left feeling tired but, at the same time, revitalised. Crossing back to Brazil passed without a fuss, and we returned to the campground at Paudimar. On Saturday morning we decided to visit the Foz Tropicana Bird Park, before leaving the area and travelling east toward the Atlantic Ocean. This park is right opposite the entrance to the falls, and was set up by a fellow by the name of Dennis Croukamp. It is a remarkable park because all the birds are given more than enough space to live in and extra care is taken to make sure their environment suits their needs. For example, according to information provided at the park, flamingos feel most secure if they are part of a very large flock. To facilitate this in the park, they have built part of the enclosure out of mirrors so that the birds will be more comfortable. There are also several aviaries which simulate the environment from which the birds originate, and these are so large that visitors can walk through them, seeing the birds as close as possible and without wire mesh in between. We even saw several birds who were building nests, so I guess that is a clear indication of how comfortable they are in their surroundings. We saw some amazing birds from the South American continent, with a few from other places as well. This included the Cassowary, which we have both been lucky enough to see in Northern Australia. It was very tempting to just get on with the rest of our journey that morning, but we had heard the park was good and we are both pleased we didn’t miss it.
Although we are feeling a little time pressure, since we want to reach Ushuaia by February at the latest, we left the Iguazu area feeling more positive about the journey ahead than either of us had been feeling for some time. So, if you are reading this, and contemplating a visit to this amazing continent, put Iguazu on the must-see list and set aside enough time to see everything.
Before arriving in Iguazu, we spent 3 weeks in Paraguay, 2 of them as the guests of Opa, Sandra and Klaus. These wonderful people live in Aregua, which is a small town outside of Asunción, situated on the edge of Lake Ypacarai. Maja and Inga had met Klaus on-line and he had invited us to all come and visit. Opa, Sandra’s father, welcomed us into his garden and into his home, and did everything he could to make us as comfortable as possible. We had a few things to manage while we were there, like getting our visas for Brazil, visiting the dentist yet again, and replacing our tyre which had blown on the road to Clorinda. Sandra and Klaus made telephone calls and organised it so that these things were managed in much less time than it would have taken us alone, in a city we didn’t know. Sandra, who is Paraguayan and hence a native Spanish speaker, came with us to the Brazilian Consulate and wrote the accompanying letter they required from us. This was necessary because we are driving our own car, and she talked to them and found out exactly what they wanted before she wrote it. We would barely have been able to manage this in Spanish - it certainly would have taken us much longer.
Klaus gave us free use of his internet connection, which meant that we could easily make contact with those at home. This was particularly nice for me, since I celebrated my birthday whilst there. Having my little nieces singing Happy Birthday to me over Skype and on camera brought tears to my eyes, but also brought me that bit closer to them. It also meant that Juergen could spend time setting up our new Overlander Forum, which had been no more than an idea up until that time.
In between all of this we spent time sharing stories, playing lots of cards, eating in a local German restaurant, buying bread and other German goodies at a couple of shops in Asunción (Chaco Mennonite Co-Op - where all the attendants confused us by speaking German - and Casa Rica), seeing some of the sights in Asunción and Aregua. It also gave us an opportunity to relax and recharge, and feel just a little bit ordinary again. We even went to the movies on my birthday, which is something we have done a total of about 3 times since embarking on this adventure. But all too soon the 2 weeks were over and we were on the road again - sad to say goodbye to our new friends, and to leave Maja and Inga (who have slowed down to do some things in order to expedite their bid to migrate to Oz), but also excited at the prospect of new roads to travel, not knowing where they will lead us.
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