The other side

Trip Start Oct 16, 2008
Trip End Apr 16, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hotel Villa Canoas

Flag of Brazil  , State of Parana,
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Crossing the border was interesting. We got on a public bus which is predominantly used by the locals, who don't need to worry about pesky little things like immigration. Well, sort of. The bus stopped on the Argentina side of the bridge and everybody piled off and filed through with their documents, the bus driver rounding us all up at the end and carrying on without delay or incident. On the Brazil side, the driver dropped us off at a stop just past the immigration buildings, pointed to where we should go for our entry stamps, gave us a voucher to jump on the next bus, and drove away. Blair had noticed a timetable posted inside the bus saying they come along every two hours, but the Lonely Liar (the backpackers' affectionate term for the Lonely Planet) assured us we could just jump on any old bus that came along, which were about every fifteen minutes. The only people who got off here were us, a Kiwi girl called Lottie, and a man and his daughter from Paraguay. We proceeded through immigration, tried to remember to say "obrigado" instead of "gracias", and were back at the bus stop within minutes. When another bus came along and told us we couldn't get on with our voucher because he worked for a different company, we were fearing a very long wait. Several other travellers came off that bus and went through the same procedure, all comparing the stories we had heard and tips we had read about this particular border crossing. In due course a bus from a third company came along and allowed us and Lottie to get on, but not the people who had come on the second bus. Must be some bus company rivalry going on. It took us to the terminal for Foz do Iguacu, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a Brazilian city of 300,000 people.

Being a Monday night, the fairly swish hotel we found - newly renovated, magnificent buffet breakfast, close to the bus station, air-conditioned, big room, cable tv, helpful travel agent, internet - was about the same price as what we had been paying in hostels. Usually in a hostel we get charged by the person (even though one of us is only little), so it sometimes works out cheaper to get a triple in a hotel, especially if it's not a weekend. After a long and hot search for an ATM to get some local currency, and a brief introduction to Brazilian fast food, we were ready to hit the falls again.

A visit to Iguazu is not complete unless you have seen it from "both sides". While Argentina gets you up close and personal, the Brazilian side allows you to take in the sheer size and number of the waterfalls in the whole area, a more complete picture. Despite having had a magnificent day on the Argentina side (it's tough to top swimming in the river), if I had to choose only one side to visit, it would be Brazil. But I didn't have to choose, so it's a moot point. In fact nobody should ever choose: just go to both. Once again, great national park facilities, with glass-roofed shuttle buses, nature trails, boardwalks out over the river, an excellent interpretation centre, and of course, ice cream. And again, I'll let the photos do the talking.

That evening we went out a bit too early, as we found all the restaurants empty - it's tough to strike the balance between feeding a four-year-old at an appropriate time and fitting in with the local schedule. But after a short stroll we returned to the one we thought we might like, and were the second table to sit down. The restaurant had a patio with a bandstand and I'm guessing 100 tables, it was huge, so we expected it might pick up a little before too long. We were right. They had a special going, six bottles of beer in an ice bucket, and, well, you can't go past a special .... The food was in enormous portions, which might help to explain why we saw an immediate difference in the size of people in Brazil compared with Argentina. Brazilians are fat. Well, not all Brazilians of course, but after two months among the relatively lithe Argentinians (despite their bizarre eating habits), they seem obese. And maybe they all seem a bit fatter than they are because they wear clothes four sizes too small for them .... curious.

The next day we spent the morning trying to arrange accommodation for Christmas and New Year, enlisting the help of the aforementioned travel agent at the hotel. We got ourselves set up for a few days in Rio, then booked 12 nights at a hostel in Saquarema, a beach resort 100km east of Rio. A great relief as I had been panicking about being homeless for the holidays.

Then it was off to the bird zoo, or Parque das Aves as it is officially known. It was brilliant. Most of the birds there had been confiscated from poachers and smugglers, and were being rehabilitated, although some will never fly again. But it was great to have an opportunity to see such beautiful birds close up. There were toucans, macaws, scarlet ibises, cranes, parrots, vultures, storks, flamingoes, hummingbirds, even cassowaries! Not to mention the caimans, turtles, and fish in the ponds. Some of the aviaries were walk-through, so you could get really close to the birds, particularly the toucans, or feel the power of their massive wings as the macaws swooped right by you to the other side of the cage. The colours are incredible. And loud! What a racket those macaws can make. Patrick was beside himself with excitment, and even got to have a blue and yellow macaw sit on his arm at the end of the day. In the souvenir shop he asked the Santa statue to ask the real Santa to bring him a carved scarlet macaw for Christmas. Let's see if that message gets through.

Another excellent couple of days. Tomorrow we take a 24-hour bus trip to (When my baby, when my baby smiles at me I go to) RIO DE JANEIRO!!! I've been wanting to go there for 12 years. I'm so excited.
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