The other day we woke up in Brazil, spent the day in Argentina, and went to bed in Paraguay. Just your typical day. So three countries in one day is our record so far. The day before that we managed to squeeze two World Wonders into the same day.
I can definitely see why these falls are described as the world’s most amazing and a World Wonder. They are just spectacular – all 275 waterfalls! The power and mist of the falls is just indescribable. The lush vegetation and soaring birds add to the grandeur of the place. Everyone’s advice was correct – make sure to visit both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the falls. They are completely different viewpoints and experiences. But for both sides, make sure to arrive first thing in the morning before the park even opens. This way you can beat the heat of the day and the crowds which can really put a damper on your experience. We timed them both right. The Brazilian side takes much less time and provides excellent panoramic views of the falls. The Argentinian side can take a good day with all of the beautiful walking and hiking trails. There are plenty of viewpoints of the falls so close that you will get a refreshing shower.
The wildlife on the Argentinian side alone is impressive. There are hundreds of species of animals, including several endangered. The coatis are definitely not endangered though. They are everywhere! At one point we were completely surrounded by a large family of coatis as we walked down the path. The big mom and dad waddled along as a dozen or more baby coatis scampered along behind, playing around like puppies. At one point, they all got spooked and jumped into the trees. The coatis have no fear of people, especially when they are hungry. They walk right up and bed for food. On the park train, I chatted with an English man who had his lunch stolen by two coatis. They ripped open the side of his bag and grabbed some fruit and sandwiches. We also saw an unsuspecting guy drinking a Pepsi at an outdoor cafe when a big coati jumped on his lap. It startled him and he threw his Pepsi in the air. He looked under his table to find five big coatis staring at him. We also encountered several of what I thought were Komodo Dragons but are actually called Argentine Black and White Tegu lizards (or Giant Tegu). These guys aren’t scared of people. After Bryan got plenty of pictures, one big Tegu was getting a little too close to some people’s toes so we decided to head down the path before we saw his razor teeth in action. Supposedly, these lizards just really like human attention (like dogs do).
I thought I was just partial to Niagara Falls because all of my family is from Buffalo, NY (about 15 minutes away). But it turns out that the Niagara Falls actually beats Iguazu Falls with the amount of water flowing per second! Niagara has the highest water flow of any falls in the world, while Iguazu comes in second. You have to visit both though; they are each impressive in their own right.
Since we clearly haven’t seen much water lately, it was time to move on to our next World Wonder for the day – Itaipu Dam. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of stats or an engineering explanation of the dam from Bryan. 🙂 This dam in damned impressive though. Sorry, I had to go there. It’s the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world (China just built one bigger) and generates enough power for all of Paraguay and 20% of Brazil. The dam’s construction began in 1971 and was just completed to full capacity in 2007. It’s been one of the most expensive projects ever. The Itaipu Dam left me with mixed feelings. It seems much better to provide renewable clean energy through the dam but I can’t ignore the horrible impact that the construction had on the environment – destroying rain forests, indigenous villages, and enormous natural waterfalls. At least Itaipu is giving back to the environment with wildlife preserves and other movements. I guess technology and growth will always be a double-edged sword.
A Weekend in Paraguay
The Itaipu Dam is on the border between Brazil and Paraguay but you don’t need to show your passport when you’re on the tour. We wanted to see more of Paraguay than just the Dam so we forked out $100 USD each and went to the Paraguay Embassy to get Visas (required for citizens of the U.S. and a few other countries).
After a bit of research, we decided to visit the city of Encarnacion. For once we had good timing – there was a Carnaval in the city held several weekends in a row this time of year! Our Lonely Planet book even said that their Carnaval was smaller but more fun than Rio’s. Our excitement was short-lived though. After we handed over the wads of cash for our Paraguay Visas, the man at the Embassy told us there would be no hotels that weekend in Encarnacion due to the festivities. After a frantic hotel search with the help of Skype-phone and an employee at our current hostel, I was told that we had reservations in Encarnation for the weekend. But following several hours of bus rides and some border crossings, we arrived in Encarnacion at night to find that the old man running the hotel had no record of our reservations anywhere in his post-it notes. Thankfully, a nearby hotel employee took pity on our sad faces and broken Spanish and managed to squeeze us in for both nights (and the hotel was actually nicer).
We took a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Jesuit Ruins in nearby Trinidad. The place was something different to see for the day if you are in-town and looking for something to do. They are remnants from the Jesuits during the colonization of South America in the 1600’s. The ruins are the least visited Heritage site in the world. The most exciting part was the transportation to and from Trinidad. On the way there we were in the oldest school bus I’ve ever seen, painted green and white. The seats were so close together that even I couldn’t sit down normally. Bryan and I were switching around seats and complaining to each other about our leg room. In the midst of our whining about lack of leg room, we felt like the biggest jerks ever – a man with no legs crawled onto the bus and sat in front of us. I couldn’t make this stuff up. We both shut up real quick and I vowed not to complain about my circumstances for the rest of the day.
The ride back from the ruins was the crazier part though. We waited for over an hour with a few locals for a bus to the city. When it finally arrived, it was another brightly painted, hoopty bus that was jam-packed. Probably 100 or so people in a 40 person bus. People were sitting on each others laps, crammed in the isles, and even squeezing onto the center console by the driver. Bryan got on before me and claimed his spot on the dashboard. I was the last one on and had to stand on the last step beside the rusty loading door, pressed against the dirty windshield and white-knuckle gripping the bannister onto the bus. We flew down the hill jamming out to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” “I Love Rock and Roll,” “If You Want My Body,” and other American old-school classics. The bus started to slow and Bryan said we were breaking down because the engine was overheating. That didn’t stop us! The teenage assistant on the bus had Bryan scoot to the side as he opened a compartment door on the dash. He pulled out a few thermoses of water, opened the coolant reservoir, and attempted to pour water into the spout that was a foot or so below; all while we continued to chug along. Our driver gave him the thumbs up and turned the music back up. As our bus inched up the hill, a passing moped driver cheered us on with his big open can of Brahma beer. We must have looked ridiculous, especially with us wide-eyed gringos up in the front. A few thermoses of water and many American jams later, we finally made it back to the station without even having to pull over!
We both agree – Encarnacion’s Carnaval is awesome! We are fine with missing Carnaval in Rio and I think we may have seen one of the next best Carnavals. So if your travel itinerary doesn’t line up with Rio’s festivities, consider heading to Paraguay to experience the excitement. The crowds were bearable and Bryan could even bring his camera without fear. And the beers were only $1 USD each! The intensity was still super high though. Everyone had cans of Brahma (beer) and some type of silly-string/shaving cream stuff (including us). It was an all-out shaving cream war in the bleachers. I can see why so many people brought goggles. Everyone was like a bunch of little kids – spraying unsuspecting people, hiding our cans, and acting like we didn’t do it. Two little girls and I plotted against the man in front of us who kept blowing his never-ending chain of cigarettes in our faces. I covered his cigarette with shaving cream and he was pissed. The little girls were thrilled and told me “thank you.”
The main attraction was the samba dancers. They were incredible with their colorful, elaborate costumes and beautiful, buff, bronzed bodies. This goes for guys and girls. Even though I don’t have the butt to pull it off, I would love to wear one of the beautiful costumes for a little bit. I love the huge feathers, jewels, and dazzling shoes! I definitely have a lot of respect for those women dancing with the big costumes in stiletto heels. The guys didn’t have as fancy as costumes but they sure looked good all oiled up and shaking it! 🙂 The parade of dancers, floats, and bands went on for hours with no stopping. No wonder those dancers are in such good shape! We were all dancing and singing to some of the songs in the stands, even Bryan. By 1:30 a.m., the parade still had a line of floats to come but we were exhausted (I can tell I’m pushing 30!). It’s hard to believe that Encarnacion does this Friday and Saturday night for several weekends in a row! Bryan and I were really impressed.
We managed to hit 3 of the 5 must-see’s in our Lonely Planet book listed for Paraguay in one weekend! I’d say our short trip to Paraguay was a success. This evening we are taking a night bus and will wake up in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, Argentina!