“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea.” I may not have emulated Coleridge in any way other than my laudanum-like state last week, but his poetry barely does justice to the beauty of and magnificence of Iguazú falls. But we can come to that later. For those who wish to have a blurb of what is to follow, in order to judge whether it is to their fancy, four boarder crossings in three days, the “eighth wonder of the world”, second biggest dam on earth, two sets of Unesco-protected Jesuit ruins; excessive drinking outside a petrol station in Brazil.
Paraguay – in Ruins
Advice to anyone considering crossing the boarder from the Argentinian city of Posadas to Encarnación in Paraguay – don’t. You may do this if you have an preoccupation with having a rather appealing red stamp in your passport that you can brandish and announce that you, with only a few others, “have been to Paraguay”. However, it was the most chaotic boarder control I have seen. In order to reach Encarnación, the “jewel of Paraguay”, you: get on a bus at Posadas bus station; perform a rather odd loop where you pass the bridge that takes you to Paraguay – twice; bus leaves you in a queue for an hour and a half in the sun as taxi drivers offer to drive you over the boarder (you are looking at it); you watch as some people walk straight through without a care in the world; get stamped out; get on a different bus that takes you to the Paraguayan side; get stamped in; get yet another bus that takes you to Encarnación bus station. This whole ordeal takes about two hours to go two miles, but Paraguay is an hour behind the rest of that part of S.America, you have only lost an hour. Not sure if this is clever planning or just another layer of idiocy to add to the whole fiasco.
Not wishing to criticise a whole country having seen so very little of it, but I shall: I don’t think there is much to do. That is not to say that it is not a lovely country nor that there is nothing to do, but that for a tourist, there is little to pursue there. This sounds deeply disparaging, and I don’t mean it to. Bristol is perhaps my favourite city in England, even though it lacks the beauty of Bath, the attractions of London and the magnificence of Oxford. Moreover, I would refrain from recommending Bristol as a travel destination for those lacking time. I wonder is Paraguay the same? That being said, they have some very lovely Jesuit Mission ruins near a place called Trinidad. But first one must get there (20miles from Encarnación)…
Hostels are great because they are accustomed to inept guests and therefore overload you with info. Not in Paraguay… I asked the receptionist (R.) when buses left for Trinidad (the only attraction). She didn’t know. She called the bus station, “they leave at 11.30am” (it was 11.27).
CB – When else?
R. – I didn’t ask.
CB – Could you ask?
R. – (calls) 13.30
CB – When else?
R. – Didn’t ask, do you want to know all the times?
CB – Forget it, I’ll ask at the bus station. Any idea how often they return – roughly?
R. – No… I didn’t ask.
(CB nearly explodes)
Took the bus with locals and a handful of travelers to Trinidad and the ruins. (I say more about the ruins below, but don’t want to loose the less learned of my readers at such an early point.) Saw a breathtaking sunset there and decided to wait for the famed “light show”.
While beautiful, the night viewing was an error for two (unforeseen) reasons. 1) The otherwise deserted ruins were descended-upon at night by a cacophony of schoolchildren and the elderly (recall my fondness). The tour was also in Spanish, which meant I was translating for the ungrateful group of travelers. 2) We returned to the road from which one takes the bus. I ask in the only shop how often the bus leaves. “Every half an hour.” After an hour and a half, I ask again. “Oh yea, on Sundays the buses stop at 5pm.” When I ask recommendations on how we get back to Encarnación, I am told, “Not sure to be honest, but you shouldn’t stay here, its dangerous for you now.” – Great. Manage to haggle with a local man in a car that he drive the five of us back for £5 each. Did not die that night and bus to Ciudad del Este, which hosts the boarding crossing with Brazil, the following day.
Brazil – Dam fine
Another stupid boarder crossing and the stamp to prove that I, logically, could not have spent more than 47 hours in Paraguay. Was actually about 28. TICK. Two things on the agenda for Brazil. Iguazú waterfalls and Itaipu dam. Before either of these, I was told that one can visit a viewpoint where three countries are visible. Ever the adventurer CB decides to run there. The hostel (really cool made form shipping containers) advised against this. I had presumed it was for the distance, which was a mere 7-mile roundtrip. Cool view…
The advice was as such because the run back, in the dark dark, was along a dodgy road and and even dodgier part of the city. As I returned, I was ardently asked if I was robbed, threatened or chased.
Next day I went to the world’s eight greatest wonder and, by many accounts, the most beautiful waterfall in the world. I was told Brazil was “photo side”, while Argentina was “experience it” side. Brazil didn’t disappoint. I am not sure I have ever spent three hours looking at the same view without my awe of it declining.
CB was also on a boat ride with a group of Koreans (South of course). Males were nice, the women did nothing but scream! Ironically, the screaming stopped when the small rubber vessel went under the waterfall. See the FB video if you wish to see the extent of “under”, here is the screenshot if not. Following day, it was the turn of man to see if nature could be trumped. While the answer was “no”, it was awe inspiring. The size of the dam just incomprehensible, the numbers sounded a joke! For instance, the structure itself was 233m tall, if you include what was required to be dug into the bedrock. This dam produces 19% of Brazil and 80% of Paraguay’s total energy consumption! While the dam has had outputs of water 40x that of Iguazú, it also required flooding a waterfall (in Paraguay) that was eight times larger than Iguazú. The cost of green energy!
I actually met an Indian chap who had studied Computer science and was now a writer; he was the inverse of me! Went on a boat ride to see the sunset atop the dam: don’t worry, I asserted my masculinity by opening each beer and shouting “men” at the water…
Night spent with an Irish-American and a couple of Brazilians. Quite a funny process of one Brazilian speaking, the other translating to Spanish and me into English. We partook in the age-old Brazilian tradition of drinking at a bar, located at a petrol station. Now it is not in my nature to be critical, but I am not sure that placing a drinking establishment at the same location where one fills one’s car is a good move. I would put Petrol and Alcohol as my two biggest outputs, so its nice to kill two birds with one stone, but it hanker that it rather encourages drink-driving. Some need no encouragement – eh!
Argentina – Only wins when it falls
For the first time on this trip, Argentina has beaten a country head-to-head. The Argentinian falls blew Brazil’s side away. As a tip for anyone planning a trip to this wonder: go to Brazil first. I am not sure how you could possibly go from the magnitude of the Argentinian side to the Brazilian side and remain quite as mesmerised. Whereas Brazil first is an excellent build-up (I could not conceive at the time how it could get better!)
Argentine side I met with Mila ~ Argentinian friend. While it is great to travel alone as you get to meet people, it is always nicer to share experiences! Moreover, one would not have the need to take photos of oneself with a selfie stick (not that CB would ever stoop to this; he has oddly long arms so can just extend them if the same action need be performed!).
You cannot conceive the amount of water, nor the sounds, nor the smell. One of the many amazing things was that birds, which flew a bit like swallows (but were not), were swirling around in the morning spray of the falls that enveloped about 100x70m of the river. Simply magical. Also saw a Toucan, not quite so swirly!
Following day visit another Jesuit mission ruins, this time Argentine side. Might I say, well done Argentina, beat Paraguay also (less of an achievement)! The ruined Missions of San Ignacio were spectacular and must have covered 25 acres. At the heart, a huge church / “galleria”. These are the same missions as in Paraguay and the same indigenous people, the Guaranì. it is no wonder that the Guaranì converted to Catholicism so readily. After years of brutality under Spanish oppression and lust for gold, along come priests who learn the your, improve your existence and build these Godlike ornate structures filled with music and light. (Nothing to match the Mayan or Incas, but no such empires reigned here.) This was all put to a bloody end by the Portuguese in the latter half of the 1700s. Fascinating history. For those who don’t mind reading another 500 words see here, for all those who cannot read / have a pining for Jeremy Irons’ voice (something I can empathise with: Scar from The Lion King) or want to hear Gabriel’s Oboe in context, I would say that The Mission is rather a good way to fill a few hours.
Back on Bus, after a somewhat unpleasantly long wait (again) on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere by a Jesuit mission. Was nervous that a precedent was being set! Back to Buenos Aires in a mere 12 hours.