Iguacu, Sao Paolo and HOME!!!
09.03.2016 - 15.03.2016 26 °C
Reunited, the three of us bussed to Iguacu - but it wasn't the luckiest start... unfortunately Peter's phone fell out of his pocket and was left on the bus, never to be seen again.
We found a place to stay and went in search of another atm and some supplies for lunch the next day. Overnight there was a terrific thunder and lightning storm which continued for the entire next day so we decided to delay our visit to the Argentina side of the Iguacu falls. In the rain, we took our packed lunch (and our passports) across the border to Brazil to see the Itiapu Dam which is between Brazil and Paraguay. Everyone on the bus got their passports stamped to leave Argentina. We were then one of a few who got off to check into Brazil... And then our bus drove away!!! Apparently signing into the Brazilian migration is completely optional and it took approximately thirty seconds as no-one else was there apart from us and the four bored-looking border personnel, no pun intended. Unfortunately our bus company only had one bus per hour so we had to wait a full hour before another one came along and picked us up.
Eventually we made it to the dam and signed in, a little late as we hadn't expected to spend an entire hour extra waiting at the border. I had some trouble as my shorts didn't cover my knees as required by the safety regulations. Fortunately the friendly ladies lent me a ginormous pair of pants, and a nice Brazilian guy on our tour lent me his belt! We were finally kitted up and good to go.
Disclaimer: this is coming from an engineer's perspective so not everyone might find this as interesting as I did.
I loved the dam tour!!! The dam was built from 1975-1984 and was a joint project between Brazil and Paraguay. It was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world until the Three Gorges Dam in China was built (and is still the second biggest). The entire dam is over 7km long and it provides about 80% of Paraguay's electricity and 17% of Brazil's. The scale of everything was mind-boggling and the heavy rain that day created one positive - the lake was almost full so they had opened the spillway (i.e. bypass), which only happens occasionally as they can't make electricity from the water which goes down the spillway. The power of the water gushing down was phenomenal, when the gates are fully open the capacity is FOUR times the normal flow over the Iguacu falls. Anyway, the tour was great and I really enjoyed it, although I'm not sure the boys matched my enthusiasm levels.
On our way back we once again ran into trouble as we figured we had to sign out of Brazil but once again were the only ones who got off the bus so we had to wait for the next bus, but fortunately David's big smile and top quality Spanish chat won us a free ride with an empty bus from a different company. That evening we walked to the Argentinean lookout over the "three borders" - a junction in the river which separates Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.
The next day the weather was MUCH better, a bit cloudy but no rain. We went straight for the famous 'devil's throat' waterfalls in the Argentinean Iguacu park, which had a phenomenal amount of water rushing over it, almost too much as we could hardly see the other side through the water vapour rising from the falls.
After viewing the devil's throat - the most vigorous of the falls - we walked around the park for views underneath and above the rest of the falls. From the Argentinean side we had a very close up view of the majority of the extensive falls. The park was huge, and there were some cute coetzees which had got a bit too tame around the tourist lunch spots.
That evening we ate empanadas for the umpteenth time as we knew they would be much harder to find in Brazil.
The next day we again visited Brazil - this time to see the more panoramic views from this side of the falls. This felt a whole lot more like a tour, with a bus taking you to a viewpoint and then everybody walking the main trail along the falls. The views were probably more spectacular than the Argentina side, being further away let you see more of the falls at the same time but you couldn't get anywhere near as close. We only stayed for a few hours but still really enjoyed it.
That afternoon we said goodbye to Peter who was flying out from Buenos Aires and jumped on a 17 hour bus to our last stop, Sao Paulo. We splashed out and got the full reclining seats which made for a really nice journey and we were relatively refreshed the next morning when we arrived in Sao Paulo. We found our accommodation and a fantastic cafe right outside where we ended up having breakfast every morning we were in the city. They had some fantastic freshly ground coffee grown locally. The language in Brazil was actually quite challenging - we had thought that we could just use Spanish but it was a bit more difficult than that. We generally tried speaking in Spanish which most people could understand but we felt a bit bad coming to a country with just the bare essentials of the language after being able to speak the local language for so long.
We visited a craft market which had some beautiful items - antique jewelry, record players, old cameras etc. The price difference was very noticeable, Brazil was considerably more expensive even compared to Argentina. We found an amazing vegan restaurant in the area and ate ourselves silly - we hadn't had so much fresh vegetables and salad in a long time. After that we visited the Havaiana store which had an absolutely amazing selection of jandals and bought some to bring home.
The next day was a Sunday so we decided to go for a walk along Paulista Avenue, one of the main streets in Sao Paulo which is closed to traffic on Sundays to let people exercise. It turns out that a anti-government protest with more than half a million people was going on at the moment. The atmosphere was actually really relaxed, with a lot of families out for the day and everyone on the same side - very few people will disagree with a protest against government corruption which is costing the country billions of dollars a year at a time when their economy is already shrinking. We didn't stick around too long - I hate crowds and it was pretty difficult to walk anywhere in among all the people. Unfortunately, because of the protests all the museums we had planned to visit were closed. We did meet a reporter and managed to get featured in the LA Times though!!!
That afternoon we headed to the Japanese part of town as Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population of any city outside Japan! We tried the Brazilian cocktails caipirinhas which were super strong - one each was definitely enough for the afternoon. We ate a chinese noodle stir fry for dinner which was super tasty, we have actually missed the asian food which is so readily available back home.
On our last day of our holiday we did our own walking tour of the CBD. This included a number of churches, a cathedral, and a beautiful opera house. An unexpected bonus was our visit the stock exchange, which included a free tour in english about the history of the Sao Paulo markets, a mini museum, and a 3d video (with glasses) on how the stock market works!!! Probably nothing worth going too far out of your way to see but when we arrived with no expectations whatsoever it turned out to be fantastic.
We then climbed one of the tall buildings for a view of the city. It is absolutely enormous, with giant skyscrapers stretching way into the distance. We met a local guy and a friend of his and tagged along with them to the municipal markets. The markets were much more calm and organised than elsewhere, and we sampled some interesting berries and fruits - my favourite was the custard apple which was absolutely delicious. We had a leisurely dinner and then headed to the airport. Everything went smoothly and we arrived a cool 5 hours before our flight was due to leave.
Our flights home were via Dubai which, while long, were uneventful and we were glad to see mum and Peter at the airport when we arrived safe and sound back on New Zealand soil!!! We really enjoyed Brazil and are keen to go back and see more of it. It was very multi-cultural and vibrant, although poverty was evident.