Into Brazil

Trip Start Aug 31, 2012
Trip End Apr 30, 2013

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Flag of Brazil  , Rio de Janeiro,
Thursday, January 24, 2013

 Our last stop in Argentina was a small town on the crossing of two rivers that pull together the corners of three countries, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. The star attraction (and it is big billing) of this town is the nearby colossus of nature known as Iguazu Falls. Don’t rely on our pictures, have a quick google. Iguazu (surprisingly pronounced exactly as you’d think) Falls are South America’s answer to Niagara Falls, and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature; a mind-blowing amount of water falling fast and falling hard like a giant, wet hammer. Experiencing these falls so closely was something like being picked up and shook, as Nature herself screams into your ears and sprays roaring water into your face and makes the ground around rumble.  We were quite stopped in our tracks by this spectacle. From the Argentinean side, it is possible to walk over, under and around many of the falls (on sturdy grille walkways), and all the way to the epicenter of the whole great network, the Devil’s Throat, the largest and most concentrated section of plummeting water, where the walkway seems almost to hang suspended over the edge, allowing you to look down into the crashing cascades below and see nothing but the water being thrown back up into your face. It sprays as though alive, 500 megatons of power being generated eighty feet below us (that’s like Hulk and Superman hitting each other at the same time), fuming back out of the throat like smoke from a bonfire, and becoming wet slaps on our already sweaty skin. It was a hot and humid and did I mention freakily hot day, and the only thing as loud as the roar of crashing water was the coos and squeals of the crowds getting wet.

 (Note: 500 megatons is a rough estimate/made up number)

Last stop in this country then, and as a fitting farewell to us, Argentina chose to inflict upon us one more piece of scallywaggery, and rob us on our bus from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu (Iguazu town). 
 Just to give you some background, the people who lift your luggage onto a bus in Argentina ask you for tips. That’s a tip for piling bags into a bus. Just to clarify the process: I take my luggage to the bus, I queue amongst all the other sweaty travelers, I put my bag on the dirty floor at the back of the bus, where a guy puts a numbered tag on it, gives me the other half of the tag, and throws my luggage unceremoniously under the bus, whereupon he holds out his hand to me and grunts “Tip.” If I don’t understand (and the first time it happened I laughed jovially at the guy, assuming that tipping for this was his idea of a hilarious joke – not in Argentina, it seems), he shows me the other bills that other passengers have given him, and repeats the demand, “Tip.” In all our busses in Argentina, I think we ignored the first time this happened, paid half a dollar the second couple of times, but had nothing smaller than the 100 pesos note this last time (about twenty five quid), and so shook our heads at the greasy baggage-monkey and got on the bus. It was obviously too late that we discovered that this same fine, greasy, upstanding representative of international relations of a bus station grunt had decided he’d get his tip by rooting through my bag and taking one pack of playing cards, and a set of cutlery, including our finest forks, spoons and chopsticks. This cutlery pouch was a gift from friends when we left china, and so obviously we were pretty upset about losing them to some dirty, greedy scumbag who probably won’t even use them, but just wanted to show us niggardly foreigners what happens when you don’t pay to have your bag lifted off the floor for you.  These companies need to pay their workers enough that they don’t need to steal from their customers. Ok, ok, in theory I pity this guy that he needs to steal from me, he’ll obviously never fight his way out of his social situation. I know I am more fortunate by being born into circumstances that enable me a higher chance of social mobility (I can move up or down the ladder more easily), something that if I am not grateful for, I don’t really understand my own situation. Itīs called petty crime for a reason, the cash amount is practically nothing. On the other hand, I hope he accidentally sticks our chopsticks in his eye.

 Iguazu Falls can only be fully appreciated from both sides of the river, so we have heard, and so, after a bit of a ‘cheers Argentina see you later’; we stepped reverently into Brazil via the most ridiculously easy border crossing in the world. We may have been more excited about Brazil than any other country we’ve entered in South America yet. There’s just so much of it, and where do we start? And isn’t it dangerous? If so, where?… and how? As usual we’d left the studying of the guide book a little late to really know where to start but figured we’d pick it up as we go along. Starting in Foz do Iguazu, then, seemed a logical choice, and we were able to see the falls again from a completely different perspective. 
 It must be seen from both sides. There’s photo’s from both. They don’t do it justice. We actually preferred the experience from the Brazilian side because there was more space, less people, better park infrastructure, a cheaper price, and more Brazilians than Argentineans. But it is true that it needs to be seen from both sides, so we would recommend seeing it from Brazil, with just a simple day excursion to the Argentinean side. On the Brazil side, we also visited a bird park near the falls where we got to wander around with some wildlife, stroking strangely unperturbed toucans. There’re a few photo’s from the park, and a few from the falls featuring some wild butterflies, and some of the super-cute coati, an almost tame-seeming animal that looks like an exotic cousin of the raccoon, and whose main habitat seems to be the restaurant and picnic areas of people, where they can be found swiping the remains of any unattended lunches. 

 We had been anticipating the change from Argentina to Brazil with a little concern. Now we wouldn’t know any of the language, and we fully expected that the people would be unwilling to try bridge that communication gap. There are some places in the world where you can get along well with smiles and pointing, some places you just can’t. The people in Foz Do Iguazu, then, our first stop in Brazil, surprised us wonderfully. They were much friendlier than we had expected. Bus station attendants actually approached us offering help… in English! A far cry from the surly “assistance” of Argentinean bus station workers. The food we have found so far is cheaper and more fulfilling than we’ve had in a while (lots of rice and beans), and the people selling it are patient with our lack of understanding or knowledge, and are happy to calmly repeat themselves in order that we know what we’re buying. 

 Our first hiccup in Brazil was simple embarrassment at having missed our bus to Sao Paulo one sweaty early evening after having lugged our ridiculously oversized bags through a humid few-blocks blocks walk to the station, and to our slow realization that there is in fact a one hour time difference between Argentina and Brazil, and that we had spent our first three days in Brazil living an hour behind actual time. Anyway, with the help of a phone call  from our hostel owner, the bus company refunded our ticket price (an hour after the bus we’d missed had left the station!), and gave us tickets on the same bus the next day for no extra charge, and even did it all with a smile. Hmm, we stroke our chins, so far we’re really liking Brazil. Brazil is welcoming us. Insert smileyface emoticon.

 The next day then, after having sheepishly reset our watch, we did eventually catch the ten-or-so-hour bus to Sao Paulo (don’t even try to pronounce ‘Sao’ properly, the mouth has to perform a kind of round-lipped vacuum-cleaner-shutting-down sound. I’ve known Chinese sounds easier to make), and we’ve been invited to stay in the home of first-time Couchsurfing host, but long-time Couchsurfer Natalia (with a little symbol above the middle ‘a’ which our keyboard doesn’t have, so like Nata’lia), a journalist for a number of cool-looking Brazilian magazines, who has a warm and insatiable appetite for chatting, and is a passionate aficionado of Samba. Finally! Some music I’ve been looking forward to, from Brazil, that Brazilians like, and dance to, and are passionate about. Natalia took us to a samba club, a small and dustily-lit bar with four musicians sharing a bass drum and beater, a tambourine and a couple of guitars, with brilliant voices and brilliant rhythms, and making people dance with some fast and  romantic hip spinning. 
The musical tastes of our journey so far in South America (if we can digress) have steadily gotten better through the particular path we’ve taken. Radio in Ecuador was an 80’s-tastic pop-roast boil-in-the-bag from your favourite Lionel Richie-types to your fondly- remembered Michael Bolton-a-likes and including enough dips into The Rolling Stones and co. bag for me to be happy (I might have mentioned before about the awful taste of China’s pop music, sorry guys but it’s true, or the even worse state of Thai music). Peru passed in a similar way, and then Chile became interesting. There they had folk music and the passion of the people distilled into it. Argentina became more interesting still, though not necessarily better.  There we learned a little about Tango, and the romantic old crooners that sing it. But the classic music of Argentina is a little slow for my taste most of the time. Conversely, Argentineans also seem to be the rockers of South America, with a huge punk culture of pointy hair and nose-pegs, which has - like punk did in England - served as an antithesis of music and culture. We witnessed a lot of this desire for ‘sub-culture’ in Argentina. They did manage to beautifully fuse Tango with some kind of Speed-Ska, and create a style of music known as ‘Quarteto’, a kind of monkey-bouncing relentlessly fast good-time Jazz. No, I know this doesn’t help. One day, I’ll play you some, you’ll love it. 

 Arriving in Brazil, we knew, of course, they know how to do good music here. They do music like the way we like it. It’s fun and bouncy and loud and rocking.  So Natalia graciously took us out to sample some live Samba, and also the hands down best pizza I’ve ever had; seriously, when I finished I wanted to weep, I knew and know I’ll never eat pizza that good again. Even Italians are jealous of the pizza in Sao Paulo, so they say. I don’t know about that, but I am fucking jealous, that’s for sure. 

 Apart from the pizza and the Samba, the city of Sao Paulo doesn’t boil over with character (we only included three pictures of the whole place). A good exception to this, though, is one of the best collections of western classical art in the whole of the land, in the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, at which we found ourselves one weekday afternoon, slowly wandering the comfortable and carpeted rooms lined with Van Gogh, Dali, Monet, and you know, loads of other famous ones, you’d be dead impressed you really would. We were also  impressed mightily at our own tip tiddly toff-nosed ability to look at Art, and appreciate Art and talk about Art with such fresh witbits as ‘I like the brushstrokes’ and ‘good brushstrokes’, and even recognize some famous artists by their very own brushstrokes style. We are very cultural now you know, what-what.   

So after a few nights in the largest city in the southern hemisphere we were ready for some space and nature, and so following some advice from Natalia we decided to hit the coast en route to Rio De Janeiro and see what the beaches are like here in Brazil (well we’d heard good things). We were not disappointed. We managed - as usual - to leave the larger portions of our luggage at a hostel in a town called Parati (‘parachee’), take a tent and enough provisions to stay alive a few days, and go find a beach to sleep on. We followed Natalia’s directions and found a sandy patch of paradise that was only reachable via a twenty minute hike of slippery downhill treading through thick, humid jungle (after having disembarked from the bus a few miles from the nearest town). There is no road to this beach, and so there is nothing there. No bars, restaurants, houses, nothing. Plaia Brava is an almost perfectly crescent beach, twenty minutes’ walk from one end to the other, with squeaky-white sand, rocks protecting both ends, and jungle climbing steeply in all directions behind it. When we had eventually set up our camp and gotten a good look around, we realized that there would be little if no other people about for the next couple of days, and breathed in big lung-fulls of empty space. We then set about hanging up our hammocks and gathering wood for our fire. 
 The next two days were spent watching the sun going around, the waves rolling in, and tanning those parts of us that other people generally shouldn’t see. This was, in fact, after some initial, light tropical rains that had greeted us on our first day, making the climb down through the jungle that ever-so-much more treacherous. The sea was like a big salty washing machine, which made swimming fun. We found a few sources of natural water coming down from the surrounding jungle and so were able to have both water that was fit enough for drinking on one side of our camp, and a big natural bath of fresh cool running water to bathe in at the other side. We encountered snakes, spiders, hummingbirds, fireflies, crabs, and a beautiful waterfall ten minutes inland, that we found by boldly following one of the rivers back through the jungle like Tarzan and Jane. We spared a thought for you all, the people that we love and miss, at those magical moments as the sun went down and the fire was kindled and cradled and raised from sparks to flame and we squatted around in our loincloths boiling instant noodles with tinned veg and hotdogs thrown in.  

 So then, we are riding the bus back into civilization, and our next stop is Rio de Janeiro. We can see the islands and hills rising out of the sea to the right of the bus, more mountains to the left, and the city slowly creeping in around us. We’re watching kites fly above rooftops, small diamonds making little ‘U’s in the sky like they’re shaking hands with clouds. The kids that can’t afford or build kites use plastic bags on string effectively enough. We can feel the undertow, dragging us in. We have been playing with the idea of going to Salvador for Carnaval, but the charm of Rio is already enticing. We will let you know how it goes.
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Tony on

I've heard that the carnival in Salvador is way better. I really hope you didn't miss out on the opportunity of an iowasca experience in Peru ;)

Gav on

I'm loving this par of your trek around south America.
But I have to admit I was looking forward to you guys hitting Brazil this is a country I have always wanted to visit.
Absorb as much as you can of this place as it is a place of my dreams. Cant wait to see your visit to Rio.......

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