"Poor Niagara."

Trip Start Oct 09, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Parana,
Thursday, November 20, 2008

After a few weeks as a team-of-two, it's become clear that Mikeo and I travel quite well together. We have traveled together before -- to Amsterdam and Ibiza in 2002 and to Australia in 2005 -- and we were, of course, roommates at one point, but you can't really know how compatible you are with someone until you've spent an extended period on the road together with no set itinerary; where every day poses a new set of decisions and challenges. Luckily, we have a dynamic that works nicely: we share well, we each contribute to the cause in our own ways, we're both organized and involved with the planning (note: something I was not good at before this trip), we're both up for anything at any time, we both require very little sleep and we agree on an appropriate balance of cultural intake versus hedonism. Even our differences compliment the other nicely: I like the aisle seat, while Mikeo prefers the window. I love every person we meet and trust them immediately, while Mikeo is convinced every person in South America is out to swindle and possibly murder us. In the face of potential adversity, I relax and have faith that the pieces will all fall into place, while Mikeo is a worrier and insists that the sky is falling. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. And somehow our little system works like clockwork and spirits always run high.
Our opposing philosophies did lead to our first marital spat shortly after our arrival in Iguacu Falls. It had taken a 15-hour overnight bus ride to get to Iguacu, during which someone had vomited all over the floor and stairs outside of the downstairs bathroom. Mikeo had actually been inside the bathroom when it happened, opening the door to find the floor covered and no trace of the culprit. For the next hour, whenever someone on our floor--we were sitting upstairs on a double-decker bus--would go downstairs to use the bathroom, we would wait in giggly anticipation until they came back up the stairs with a look of horror on their face, at which point we would erupt with laughter. Our little game continued when we stopped at a bus terminal in the middle of nowhere and got to watch the facial expressions of a steady flow of customers as they approached the bus, saw what was waiting for them on the floor inside the door, then staggered backwards and walked away. Yes, we are idiots. But you have to entertain yourself somehow when you're stuck on a bus for that long.
Anyhow, when we arrived in Iguacu early in the morning, we had to transfer to a local bus to get to our hostel. We were specifically instructed to take the local bus and "get off when it stops at the big bus terminal." Based on my previous experiences in South America, I should have been suspicious of directions that sounded so simple. As it turned out, the bus terminal was not "big", nor did the bus "stop" there. While Mikeo chirped away about one of his favorite topics--I don't know, the sexual benefits of pineapples in your diet? Or maybe it was the new career he is planning to invent: honeymoon photographer?--the bus stopped briefly at a curb across a major street from a structure that looked like a car wash, one guy hopped off, then the bus continued to race along its route. By the time we realized that we should have disembarked at the car wash, the bus was on a bridge headed over a big river.
Mikeo was the first to notice the signs on the bridge. "Oh, great. We're going into Paraguay, dude!" he shrieked. I looked out the window and it appeared as though we were indeed leaving Brazil and entering another country. I laughed. And I continued to laugh. And with every laugh, Mikeo became increasingly angry at me for invalidating his feelings with mirth. "It's not funny, dude! This is the last time I agree to take a bus when we could take a cab!" This only made me laugh harder. "I mean it," he assured me, and then I lost it again.
Anyhow, the story ends with us hopping off the bus at the first stop in Paraguay. An Irish backpacker named Mick -- who also intended to get off at the "bus terminal" and who didn't realize we were in Paraguay until Mikeo ran up and told him (with no small amount of panic), "Hey, were you planning to go to Paraguay? Cause that's where we are!" -- got off the bus with us. Because it was rush hour, traffic was at a dead stop going back over the bridge, so we strapped on our giant backpacks, trudged through the Paraguayan version of Tijuana (No, thank you. I would not like to buy a used iPod already loaded with music. Are you sure this item isn't stolen?), and walked back over the big bridge into Brazil. Mikeo remained annoyed with me the rest of the morning, until we reached the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. All was immediately forgiven the moment we got our first glorious view.
There's a famous story about Eleanor Roosevelt's first visit to Iguacu Falls: the first thing she is rumored to have said upon seeing them is, "Poor Niagara." And it's true. Iguacu Falls makes Niagara look downright unremarkable in comparison. Even though the photos included in this blog entry won't nearly do justice to the majesty of the place (especially because they can't convey the deafening sound of the mighty waters), they will still get the point across better than any description I could possibly give.
I will make a few quick observations. First off, to anyone reading this who is planning a future trip to Iguacu, I highly recommend doing the Brazilian side first. That way, not knowing any better, you will be delighted and amazed by what you see on your first day. Then on day two your mind will really be blown when you get to the far superior Argentinean side (rather than doing it the other way around, which would mean an inevitable disappointment on day two). The Brazilian side has many beautiful views and can be done in a couple of hours. The Argentinean side takes half a day, involves plenty of hiking and a ride through the jungle on a cute little green train, features much better, much closer views (including the best view in the park atop a spot called The Devil's Throat), and with the afternoon light the mist becomes chock full of rainbows. Secondly, our hostel staff was extremely persistent in pushing a guided tour that would have cost much more than just taking a bus there, claiming that getting there on our own was too complicated, it would take too long, we might get lost, etc. We ignored them, went by ourselves, and it was no problem. Lastly, there is a tremendous amount of wildlife in the parks, the most remarkable of which is the thousands--literally, thousands--of colorful butterflies in every direction you look. In the air, on the ground, covering walkway railings and sometimes people. 
After two great days in Iguacu, we checked the weather report for Florianopolis in hopes of returning there. Sadly, a big storm was coming in; a storm that would continue for weeks, causing mudslides, taking out a major bridge, and--rumor has it--killing a number of people (I haven't been able to confirm this in the news media). We had planned to spend the next couple of weeks stopping  in various beach towns on our way up along the coast en route to Rio de Janeiro. But with heavy rains forecasted everywhere along the coast for the foreseeable future, we would have to change up our plans and improvise. Our fate was sealed when we e-mailed our deranged new British pals Sam and Harry and got a quick reply saying they were causing all kinds of trouble in Sao Paolo despite the weather. And so off to the nation's capital we went.
Reading: The Concise Guide To Sounding Smart At Parties by David Matalon and Chris Woolsey
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i22s on

A famosa garganta do diabo!...Noooossa!

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