Week 6: Three Countries, a Dam and the most amazing Waterfalls

I’m waiting for the last overnight bus of this trip. It will take us from Puerto Iguazú to Buenos Aires. But not before another hour and so I have the time to tell you about the last couple of days. Since we left the Granja El Roble towards the Paraguayan-Brazilian-Argentinian border we have visited two sights that connect the three countries. The Itaipú-dam, a joint-venture of Paraguay and Brazil and the Iguazú cataracts between Brazil and Argentina. Our first stop: Cuidad del Este, Paraguay.

The Itaipú-dam

We slept in a crappy hotel near the bus-terminal of the Paraguayan border-town and started early to visit the second-biggest hydroelectric dam in the world (only the Chinese have a bigger one). It took 13 years and 40.000 workers to build, flooded cataracts bigger than the ones inIguazú and, when I remember Peter telling us that one square kilometre of Paraguayan forest contains as many different trees as the whole of Europe, must have drowned more than just another spectacular sight. According to our guide-book there where also a couple of indigenous peoples who had to be relocated.

On the other hand the 197m high and 7.7km long dam supplies 90 per cent of the Paraguayan and 20 per cent of the Brazilian energy needs. Half of the 20 turbines are owned by each country, but Paraguay only needs one, so they can sell the energy of then nine others to Brazil.

You can see the picture has two sides, clean energy never comes completely without costs. At least there seem to be honest attempts by both countries to minimize the damages (nature reserves and programs). For me it’s very hard to judge.

When we arrived at the dam, we immediately got bad news. It was closed. Because of swine flu. Great, but nothing to do about it. We got ready to leave again. Already out of the door the woman ran after us. Somehow she had convinced her bosses to let us in. Together with a tourist from Chile we got special-visitor-passes and went on our own private tour. Good thing we hadn’t checked anything in advance.

A car drove us to different view-points, unfortunately the gates were closed and we didn’t get spectacular water-masses crashing down. But we saw the turbines, the lake and crossed the huge wall. As only half of the complex is in each country I also set my first foot on Brazilian grounds. Without being bothered by any border-control. We got a lot of (Spanish) information, partly translated for me by Flora and then saw a little propaganda video (in English). They highlighted one side without even touching the other… not really surprising, is it?

After taking the bus back to Cuidad del Este we started to cross to Argentina from where we wanted to visit both sides of the Iguazú cataracts. Therefore we had to go through Brazil, fortunately without any border-controls. Ciudad del Este is a weird little town. Starting from the Brazilian border a single road leads towards it, filled with hundreds of little huts offering clothes, toys and tons of electronics. A cheap market for Brazilians. For tourists not really interesting.

We didn’t manage to get a bus, so we shared a taxi with two Argentinians (who came there for shopping) after we got our exit-stamp. It dropped us off at the Argentinian border where we got our entry-stamp and two buses later we arrived at Hostel Inn, 5km outside of Puerto Iguazú. The beginning of a series of border-crossings.

Brazilian Iguaçu

Another early morning we started our Odyssey to Iguaçu in Brazil. A bus to the center of Puerto Iguazú, a bus to the Argentinian border post, exit-stamp, a bus to the Brazilian border post, entry-stamp, a bus to the centre of Foz de Iguaçu, a bus to the park. That was the plan. Sounds ridiculous? It is!

We made it to the centre of Puerto Iguazú where we waited and waited until Flora got frustrated and stopped a taxi (I would probable still be there waiting). Dropped of at the border we got our stamp and walked from Argentina to Brazil. Close to the end of the 20min walk a bus past us. Too bad, but who cares. We got our entry-stamp and, not even pretending to wait for a bus, shared a taxi with four French tourists. The German-speaking driver (who claimed to speak a little bit French, Spanish, Russian, Italian and Chinese) brought us right to the entry of the park. Finally we were there.

Well, not really, another bus was waiting for us inside the park. Another 15min-bus-ride later we were really there and got our first glimpse of the cataracts. And of the first of many coatis. I actually stepped on one of those, it wasn’t on purpose, I swear!

The whole sight didn’t take too much time, the great view was only disturbed by the masses of tourists everywhere. Why do they have to be everywhere I go?? Bastards. Some the more stupid ones tried to touch the coatis and my favourite one was a middle-aged woman who went crazy over a butterfly (!) that came to close to her spoiled ice-cream eating and screaming little daughter. To protect the maybe six-year-old brat that lunatic actually wanted to smash the insect.

The cataracts are amazing, great, beautiful, impressing, … Everything and nothing has been said elsewhere. I won’t even try to describe them by words, nor will the pictures do them justice. You will have to go there and see for yourself. Sorry for that.

The way back to the hostel in Argentina went better. Two buses to the Brazilian border, exit-stamp, hitch-hiking to the Argentinian side, entry-stamp and two more buses to the hostel. We got off a stop early to visit Arequipa, a kind of museum that doesn’t really display anything. It was more a wooden Zen-garden. 1000-year-old tree-trunks housed the bileteria, a huge replica of an old Indian trap (I’m talking about 15m high and 30m in diameter) consisted of I don’t remember how many different wood-types, a little pond was surrounded by artesanal -craft-shops and a little hut sold mate-flavoured ice-cream. I bought some stuff for some people at home (who is reading this?) and we returned to the hostel.

Argentinian Iguazú

The next day we didn’t have to cross any borders but just take a bus to the 10km away Iguazú park. That was simple enough, even for us.

There were four things we had planned, actually for two days. Walking the circuit inferior and take a boat to the Isla San Martin, walking the circuit superior, taking the train to the Garganta Diabolo and a little three hour jungle-path.

We started with the circuit inferior. Completely alone for most of the time we walked the path underneath this gigantic waterfalls. My favourite was the Salto Bossetti , you can walk almost into it on a wooden footbridge. The sound of the crashing water was deafening, the air around you full of water and while I signed Flora to take a picture my pants got completely soaked. She took ages to press that button.

Isla San Martin was closed because of the low-water-level (I wonder how everything looks if the water level is normal or even high) and so we decided to to through the whole program on one day. The circuit superior was next and we saw everything from a different perspective. And together with masses of tourists, who had already caught up with us. The same expected us in the train and on the one kilometer walk to the Garganta Diabolo. Wooden bridges over the upper Rio Iguazú led us to this incredible sight. It looks like a hole, open to only one side , in the middle of the river. Noise, water crashing down, fog coming up, sometimes turning into upward-rain and forcing tourists to flee (the best time to get into a good position), and little birds diving through all this. If it wasn’t for the tourists I could have stood there all day long.

We walked from the Garganta Diabolo to the jungle-walk, and had a lunch break on the way at an old hotel that is now the first aid station. Eating our sandwiches we watched two little coatis in their most private hour, beautiful birds and huge ants carrying even bigger leaves. The jungle-walk afterwards was nice, not the best time to see animals though. Quiet and peaceful, another waterfall at its end, butterflies, more coatis and a huge mud-colored toad. All in all great because almost no tourists.

After a short visit in the little museum of the park we left Iguazú for good, the second ‘big’ tourist attraction of my journey and the last station before going back to Buenos Aires.

I’m sitting in the bus now and it’s a weird feeling. On one side there a lots of things I want to see there and some people I really want to meet again before going home. On the other side it’s the place where everything ends, from where I’m going back to Vienna. I guess I have to make some pleasant memories to Buenos Aires anyway, you might remember the last ones aren’t too good. I also think about being back in Austria in less than a week (bus-travel gives you a lot of time to think). I will understand everyone, pay much more money for everything, won’t have to worry about were to go and were to stay. But I also won’t experience new things and meet new people every day. And there is so much I couldn’t see here. The glaciers in Patagonia and Tierre del Fuego, the Nazca-lines in Peru and the missions in Paraguay and Argentina. Six weeks is never enough, but that’s something I knew before.

This last bus is also the most comfortable of all. Blankets and pillows, food, drinks and even champagne, but it’s still not the one I want to sit in, for it’s the one that takes me one step closer to leaving South America.

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