Brazil 1: Foz do Iguacu

Soooooo, going into Brazil was fun. The front of our bus, at Gate 8′ said Foz do Iguacu and some place in Paraguay, as the same bus goes all the way into Paraguay via Foz do Iguacu in Brazil. So we boarded at 11am, said “dos boletas para Foz do Iguacu” and paid 20 pesos (£1.20) each. About 20/30 minutes in we reached the Argentinian border, not that the driver announced it but fortunately almost everyone got out the bus to stamp out of Argentina – those going to Brazil just for the day, and I believe if even Paraguay for the day, did not have to stamp out as they would be returning, but they did need to get off the bus. Anyway, stamping out was quick and easy and we were back on the bus 10 minutes later, crossing over the bridge into Brazil shortly after. The bus stopped along the side of the road at one point but no one boarded and the bus driver didn’t say anything – not even in Spanish. 

So we continued along, my google maps showing us going further and further into Foz do Iguacu and me feeling slightly confused as to why we hadn’t stopped at immigration just yet. I tried to ask fellow passengers in broken Spanish about stamping in yet they assured us it was still to come and stay put. But as we continued further north I asked again, stressing about stamping into Brazil, to which they replied we didn’t need to. Didn’t need to? We didn’t need an immigration stamp to be in Brazil?! But aren’t you going into Paraguay?? NO! We’re staying in Brazil! We want to be in Foz do Iguacu! Turns out we had completely missed the stop for getting off to stamp into Brazil (remember that one along the side of the road? Yep, that was border control – apparently the driver didn’t feel like telling us this) and we were about to cross the border into PARAGUAY with those going directly there and not stopping in Brazil, which they had just presumed we were also doing. Fortunately a fellow passenger spoke some English and got off the bus with us just before the border; he advised not getting off before this point now as it was “dangerous” – that old chestnut – and would be harder to get a bus from there. Once off the bus just before the border into Paraguay, he helped us find the bus going back the other way, where we paid 4 Brazilian real (£1) to go back to the Brazilian border. Again he didn’t announce the stop but this time we had our eyes fixed FIRMLY on the road.

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Border (and passport control) from Argentina into Brazil

So, we were at the Brazilian border control an hour after we originally passed through and this time managed to get stamped in, but then had to wait a good 40 minutes for our bus back into Foz do Iguacu. Once on the bus we kept our eyes trained on the road to spot the bus stop outside McDonalds, where we then got off and crossed the road to catch the 115 towards Jd Das Flores, paying R$ 3.45 (£1) each to get off at Rua das Papoulos, which stopped right outside our accommodation, Hostel Poesia. A journey we were told would take 1-2 hours ending up taking 4, and with Brazil also being an hour ahead of Argentina we didn’t make it to our hostel until around 4pm. The saving grace was the hostel – a big, clean, airy new hostel with security doors at the entrance and a great common area both outside in the garden and inside, with a friendly guy on reception (Wesley) whom spoke really good English. After checking in and dumping our bags in our rooms (with lockers, a plug socket and personal light EACH!) we headed outside with a beer (Bavaria) to lie on the sun loungers, where I managed to FaceTime my mum and step dad for the first time in about 7 weeks.

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A slightly offensive notice on the Brazilian buses

We started chatting to a group of people in the garden; 2 German guys whom had met during a year living in Colombia 7 years ago travelling together for a wedding in São Paulo, a German couple travelling together for 3 weeks around Brazil, a solo Swiss female travelling South America for 6 months and a solo Irish male travelling South America. We ended up drinking beers and playing a card game (similar-ish to UNO) until Katie and I decided we must shower and head out to the shops as we needed food and cash to pay for our bus out of Iguacu. So, despite everything we are told as female/solo travellers, we wisely ventured out on a 30 minute journey in an unfamiliar area at night time. Brilliant.

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All was fine – the hardest part was having learnt Spanish over the last couple of weeks to now find it completely redundant in a Portuguese-speaking country an once again resorting to mime and gesture as a means of communication, eventually managing to order a corn pie in the supermercado cafe to find it completely underwhelming.

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I also tried the Brazilian favourite drink of Guarana, which tasted like a combination of red bull and cherryade to me. Back at our hostel we got better acquainted with Melanie, Jack, Leandro and Jerry over beers and travelling tails (the Postman Pat theme tune being a highlight for me) before heading to bed around 1am.

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We got up in time for breakfast the next day, which was a really decent mix of freshly baked cake, fresh fruit, bread, ham, cheese, butter and jam coffee and hot chocolate, before getting our things together and heading to the Iguacu falls with Jak. We walked about 15 minutes to the bus stop, hopped on the 120 bus and paid R$ 3.45 (£1) each, which seems to be the standard journey cost here, and after about half an hour we arrived at the entrance to the falls. It costs R$ 63 each (£18) to get in, which includes the cost of another bus to reach the various destinations. We went straight for the walkways, jumping off to once again find coatis (apparently spelt Quatis in Brazil) milling about the place, chomping on chocolate chip cookies from a bag that some careless human hadn’t gripped onto tightly enough. We even witnessed a quati snatch a plastic bag containing chocolate from a poor woman, for about 20 quatis to dart after it in excitement.

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So, 2 days after visiting the Argentinian side of the falls we are now at the Brazilian side, and the best way I can describe the difference between the two is through the contrasting perspective. Despite walking above and amongst the falls at the Argentinian side, and walking for a good 4 hours in total, you almost don’t appreciate or quite realise how long it is. Then you get to the Brazilian side and are gifted with a more panoramic view where you can comprehend the scale of it.

As you get closer and walk across the walkway that literally goes out into the falls, you can even spot the tourists on the Argentinian side making their way across the walkway, which is just bizarre – nowhere else have I seen since a close-up yet physically detached border between two countries – the powerful and treacherous valley of water in the middle of both countries is a pretty definitive line. 

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As with life, once you step away from something – a relationship, a situation, a feeling – and view it from the outside, you get a better perspective and a more whole, rounded viewpoint. That’s sort of how it felt going to Iguacu after Iguazu, and I would personally recommend doing both.

Plus, it tipped it down for us on the Argentinian side but was a gloriously hot today on the Brazilian side, so when we got soaked by the up-close platform at the base of Devil’s Throat (as opposed to the top of it at Iguazu) it was wonderfully refreshing and we dried off super quickly, too.  Bus times aside, we spent 3 hours at the park including a pit stop for a R$ 15 (£4) Caipirinha and made it back to our hostel at around 4:30pm. 

 

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After booking our bus to São Paulo for the following evening, resting, showering and having a few beers, Katie Jack and I went to catch a bus into the centre to dine at Churrascaria do Gaucho. A typical churrasca is a buffet-style restaurant where various cuts of meat are brought round to your table on a spit and carved/served fresh in front of you, and it is incredibly popular in Brazil. This one had really good reviews on Tripadvisor and their Rodizio was only R$ 35 (around £10) for all you can eat, including the hot and cold buffet stations as well as the meat brought to your table and even incorporating a dessert station. Having waited half an hour for our bus and finally arriving at 8:30pm, completely starving, we excitedly waved at the waiter inviting us to our table and immediately starting saying “si” to the meat that was brought round.

They say nothing tastes as good as the first bite and I happened to start by trying pork with cheese – not only was this the best pork I have ever eaten it was also my favourite bit of meat the entire meal, despite having steak, beef, chicken, gammon and chicken hearts, AND despite not even really liking pork that much. My only qualm would be that all the meat was quite salty and we had to order a lot of water (and red wine, of course) but it was such decent meat and the buffet selection extremely generous, and the staff so so wonderfully warm and welcoming. I would highly recommend it.

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After shovelling our faces in the space of about half an hour, we rolled back to the bus stop to eventually get a bus back to our hostel, arriving at about 10:30pm – it took us 3 hours, of which we only spent about a third of it actually dining. But it was so worth it. After relaxing in the garden with everyone – drinking beers and smoking (marijuana seems to be the norm in South America, even if not legal) – I was finally comfortable enough after 4 hours of digesting an entire pig to go to bed around 1am, to then find I couldn’t sleep because of the heat. Who needs sleep, aye?

Up at 8am to pack and have breakfast (the cake today being a hint of orange and chocolate chip) the whole group of us left the hostel just after 10am to head to a nearby lake – Cachoeira Carima – lead by a Brazilian guy whom didn’t speak English but could communicate with us in Spanish. We walked to the same bus stop as the day before and got on the 120 towards the falls, but this time got off about 15 minutes into the journey by an Acai stand along the side of the road. We then walked 15 minutes down a couple of side roads, picking up some cans of beers from a local shop on the way, before turning off into a forest by the side of a gate. We first turned left and clambered down hill until we reached the lake, stripping off and immersing ourselves in the water. 

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We then walked back to the top and carried on in the original direction, walking gradually downhill for 5/10 minutes before reaching a bigger, more open, section of the lakes that had rocks and mini waterfalls, plus a rope swing tied to a tree that you could climb up and swing off into the lake. Despite halving a 9m waterfall jump, a skydive and a 43m bungy jump under my belt, I still felt nervous (what if I hit rocks? What if I DIE?!) but I have got better at ignoring the unhelpful voices and doing the things I want to do, even the cruel ones that tell me how ugly my body is and how terrible I look in a bikini and maybe I should cover up or just go home. I stayed, I swung, and I swam. 

We spent a good few hours at the falls, talking, drinking beers and sunbathing, but at around 2:30 pm Katie and I headed back to our hostel, picking up an acai bowl on the way (very popular and common in Brazil but it set us back about R$ 12, or £3.50), to have a shower before picking up our bags and making our way to the bus terminal.

We caught the 115 bus – which takes about 30 minutes to get to Rodoviaria Internacional but with apparently no bus timetable to speak of in Foz do Iguacu it’s good to give yourself more time – and were able to pick up snacks for our journey before getting the 6pm overnight bus to São Paulo. Foz do Iguacu, you’ve been awesome.

LS.

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