As we swooped in for landing I was treated to a spectacular glimpse of the cataratas from above. I spent two days taking in the awe-inspiring cascades of crashing water in 2009 during my month-long trip to Argentina. I have the pictures
to prove it. So I must be one of the few gringos to head to Foz without the express intention of visiting the falls and the only thing on Alex's mind was sleep, sleep and much, much more sleep. His mum, Bernadete, met us at the airport. Alex had told me that her favourite thing in life is talking and she was true to form, chatting the whole way home with Alex contributing just the occasional monosyllabic response. I immediately liked her and understood why Alex is so widely seen as a man of few words... And just minutes after arriving at the apartment he was a man of no words whatsoever, just sounds of fitful sleep as he crashed out on the sofa for the night. I busied myself with drinking beer with Alex's mum, taking advantage of a loaded fridge I was encouraged to exploit and, later on, revelling in having my own room.
While I had seen Paraguay on my previous visit I did not take the trip across the border so was pretty excited by the prospect of joining Alex on his duty-free shopping trip to Ciudad del Este. Yes, I have become one of those sad passport stamp junkies. Forgive me... We left the car on the Brazilian side of the Rio Parana which forms the border and headed out onto the bridge. The first stop was at the Brazilian Federal Police office to get my exit stamp and then we took the long walk across the river to the Paraguayan side where I was stamped into the country with no fuss. Alex's friend Groo had told me about when he worked in Brazilian customs on this bridge ducking and diving when regular volleys of bullets were unleashed. Until he became desensitised to the possibility of instant death. The place is crazy with human traffic flowing in both ways at a clamorous rate... and this was a quiet day.
Immediately it felt like being back in a South America akin to that which I had experienced in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. The hustle and bustle on the broken pavements, the chaos on the roads, the noise, the street vendors hawking every few footsteps... it was all there in abundance with the added caveat of numerous stores and
shopping centres offering electronics and fashion at cut prices. Alex was on the hunt for glasses, just the frames, as he was having problems recognising his fans calling to him from across the street. I was not buying, just taking in the atmosphere as we perused shop after shop and took our lives into our hands crossing the roads. Eventually Alex tracked down the perfect glasses and as he asked my opinion it felt like he had always been wearing these Ray-Bans. On the way back home he dropped off the glasses at a Brazilian opticians to get the necessary lenses. Next time he played at James he was going to be able to see all the girls dancing to his tunes. Not just those shaking their youthful stuff right in front of the DJ booth.
With four passport stamps from two countries already freshly inked it was time to complete my hat-trick with a visit to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina for dinner and drinks with Alex, his mum, his sister Danielly and her boyfriend Alvaro. I have really good memories of my stay in Puerto Iguazu in 2009, crazy memories...
I felt nostalgic as I was driven along familiar streets. We settled on an open-air bar/restaurant and there was only one thing I was going to eat... a great big cut of beef. And I was given exactly what I wanted, the best steak I had had since, well, leaving Argentina. We tucked into numerous large bottles of Stella before heading back to Brazil and, with eight new passport stamps adorning my document, I had another fitful sleep. So fitful that I did not rise until midday.
We had pencilled in a visit to falls for our last day in Foz but the weather was miserable so a change of plan was needed and where better to go than the bird park. I wanted to see some toucans and parrots close up since I had only seen both from a distance during my trip to Cuyabeno. And I was not disappointed as the huge park featured large cages which we could walk into and get as up close as personal with the birds as we liked. I loved seeing the toucans just a few feet away as they hopped and flapped around emitting odd grunting sounds. But my
heart was in my mouth in the parrot enclosure as a squadron of crimson and blue birds suddenly swooped from their perches and gave us a fly-by straight out of Top Gun. With added flapping, squawking and flying feathers.
My stay in Foz was topped off with one of the greatest carnivorous experiences of my life. Alex's cousin was celebrating his birthday at his apartment upstairs and to mark the occasion was serving up beef ribs slow-cooked for six hours to absolute perfection. The other attraction on offer was the sight of Ronaldo making his final cameo appearance for Brazil. What a sight. Surely the fattest but happiest player to make an international appearance in many a year. Farewell to a legend. And the only way to mark this moment was to chomp on some huge ribs with the meat literally falling into my mouth and melting. Delicious only does the experience some justice.
As we headed to the airport on Wednesday the sun was blazing and the sky was blue - perfect conditions for waterfall watching. But we were headed back to Curitiba on non-reclining seats. I was already thinking about pushing back my scheduled flight to Buenos Aires the following Monday...
I took Saturday night off from the usual Curitiba activities to ensure I was in a fit state to travel to Foz de Iguacu and to meet Alex's mum. The stinging hangover I sported after my big night out with Caroline also played a part. Of course, I can't say the same for Alex - he carried on regardless like the trooper that he is. With me refreshed and maxed out on sleep and Alex hanging for some R&R at his mum's we took a taxi to the airport and caught our Webjet flight to Foz without any hassles. Webjet is the budgetest of Brazil's budget airlines and, to date, the only carrier I have flown with that has disabled the seats from reclining. Are you reading this RyanAir? There is still one more corner you can cut... But I was still more than able to fall asleep as the one-and-a-half hour flight, excuse the pun, flew by.