Saturday, July 23, 2011

Foz do Iguaçu - Brazil

Stepping off the bus in this small Brazilian town, our first mission was to secure somewhere to stay for the next couple of nights so we walked around Foz do Iguaçu looking for hostels.  Our goal here was to see the Brazilian side of the renowned Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls (or Iguazu falls if you are talking about it in Argentina) and also look into commuting to the Argentine side of these same epic falls before heading on to Paraguay, both borders being in spitting distance from this town.  The weather was surprisingly hot and humid by comparison to our last stop of Porto Allegre and it was amazing to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt again.  There were plenty of mid to low end hotels and hostels about the town but most of them were out of our price range when considering that we weren’t here to see the town, it was merely a hub from where we could hop on a bus to the waterfalls.  We found Hostel Iguazu, a highly rated and brand new hostel for the right price and decided to make it our base.  There was a cheap and convenient supermarket buffet nearby where you could pile up your plate and what you pay depends on how much it weighs up irrespective of whether it is full of steak or spuds.  From the hostel we planned our visits for the following days.

The famous waterfalls are on the border of three countries, those being Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay yet the first two offer the best, although different, perspectives.  The falls from the Brazilian side are possible to experience in half a day and this trip wouldn’t involve any border crossings.  We therefore decided to make this trip the next day followed by a visit to a nearby bird park for any remaining time in the afternoon.  That evening we made the most of the hostel’s free pool table and karaoke machine with a couple of Brazilians which was good fun but we couldn’t be up too late owing to the early start the next day.
Map depicting Foz do Iguaçu and Iguassu Falls

After breakfast our first task involved finding the right bus to get us to the Brazilian side of the falls.  The hostel had given us plenty of good information so we were able to find the stop without any problems, the bus itself had ‘Foz do Iguazu’ written on it so no real troubles there either.  The journey took about forty minutes of bumpy hard footed bus driving until we arrived at the entrance to the falls, a very large and modern gateway with many tourists wandering around.  We paid the entrance fee to the park and hopped on the internal bus to take us from the entrance to the falls themselves.  There was a very grand and pink hotel inside the park which must have cost a few quid to stay in, our bus stopped opposite in order to let us off at the start of the trail. 

Immediately there were exotic birds in the trees making themselves heard and they were fun to watch as we let the rest of the passengers on the bus get ahead of us so as not to compete on every photo, it really was very busy!  The path then opened to a magnificent panoramic vista of the falls which were quite simply incredible.  The sun was shining down over the entire landscape and really brought out the contrasting greens, blues and the white spray rising up from the crashing water below.  In true Homer Simpson style, we were immediately distracted by a fluffy raccoon as were many other tourists as we all proceeded to ignore nature’s wonder in front of us and start taking snaps of the funny nosed critters begging for food all around us.  
A friendly bird greeting us at the waterfalls

Kate at the falls

What a spectacular wonder of nature... Oh look a raccoon!!

All along the path were different viewpoints from where we could stop and gather various perspectives of the falls and regard how the new location and angle of light hitting the water made a difference to the appearance of the entire landscape.  It was not long until we saw our first rainbow glinting amongst the spray. 

It also became apparent that the raccoons weren’t going anywhere, especially after I made the innocent mistake of feeding one a bit of leftover bread from my sandwich which it appeared to snaffle before it even left my hand.  I sent another piece of bread down the path but it had quickly chased after it and gobbled it down and was hot on my heals again just as we managed to slip ourselves in amongst the crowd and to safety.  Instead it proceeded to steal some crisps from a terrified little girl before her father swatted it away again.  After all, they say that you don't have to be faster than the shark just faster than the person you're with.  We continued to see this family getting harassed by the critters throughout the day.  This probably had something to do with the kids always eating and being closer to ground level than the rest of us.  

The last stop on the trail enabled you to head out onto a gangway and get amongst the falls and it was from here that you could really sense its scale and power.  It was exquisite to feel surrounded by the torrents of water as we elbowed our way amongst the tourists towards the end of the platform, all the while being covered in very welcome cooling spray.   This made for a different perspective of this amazing sight and after a little bit of patience for others to take their photographs, we were then able to capture images ourselves even if we couldn’t capture the humbling feeling that the thundering avalanche of water imposes when you are actually there.  The highlight of this viewpoint was a rainbow that stretched from the top of the falls all the way round to the bottom in a near perfect circle, absolutely divine.

The gangway to get closer to the falls
Kate sheltering from the spray
Photograph taken from the gangway
Me on the gangway at the falls
Great view from a viewpoint above the falls

Some jolly raccoon watching later, it was time to leave the falls and make our way out and across the road to the well known bird park.  In the sweltering heat we paid our entrance and walked in amongst the mediocre-sized cages housing all manner of parrots and exotic species of bird.  My bird identification is in need of some work, but there were lots of different types of flightless birds and flamingos knocking around as we progressed through the park.  Soon we were at a point where we had the option to enter an open enclosure where the birds could fly freely around your head and be enjoyed by all.  They were flapping around above us or perched on the handrail.  Some of the birds seemed very used to people and would let you get close or sometimes approach you!  On one occasion, either a very friendly or hostile toucan (I’m still not sure which) saw me perched on the bannister and decided to hop along towards me and have a few little pecks on my arm.  It didn’t hurt and everyone around us found it terribly funny.  Perhaps he was being territorial and wanted me off his rail or perhaps it was just his way of saying hello.  Either way I liked him, he had spunk.  Towards the end of the park route was a butterfly enclosure which also contained some fascinating humming birds.  They would wiz past your head with the sound from their pulsating wings making you feel funny as they went to feed on the sugar solution bottles hung throughout the enclosure.

Me and my toucan buddy/nemesis

Toucan play at that game...

Humming bird going to feed

The waterfalls from the Brazilian side had been an amazing experience and we were eager to now see the Argentine side tomorrow.  Today offered a panoramic view of the whole spectacle and really makes you appreciate the size and scale of the wonder.  The bird park was worth a visit although I wouldn’t say that it was ethical enough to warrant more than that, it plainly serves as a good way to spend the other half of the day having seen the falls.  I like to think that I bonded with my new toucan buddy but what can I say, I’ve never been good when it comes to understanding the birds. 

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