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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Book III ~ Chapter 3 ~ Crash & Burn


The next part of my journey should take me across the Atlantic Ocean. Flying via São Paulo to Johannesburg, my goal for today (or rather: tomorrow) is the city of Cape Town, where I plan to spend the remainder of my time until my eventual return to Germany at the end of the month.

So, for one last time, I am heading towards the TTU…

…and from there take the bus towards the airport, along the same route that I took to get to the Parque das Aves just one week before.

At first I have to stand, but eventually I manage to grab a seat, and thus can lean back and relax, enjoying my final bus ride though this rural region of Brazil.

Interestingly, I note that there's quite a lot of horse farms around, and we even pass a rider riding parallel to the road. Makes me wonder whether it's recreational, or if horses are actually a viable alternative for cars around these parts.

Either way, taking the bus is still clearly the faster way of getting to the airport, and thus I soon enough arrive there with over four hours to spare…

…which turns out to be a good thing, since there's a queue spanning the entire length of the terminal in front of the security check in front of the check-in counters.

Getting through there is the easy part. That just takes time. It is the next part that I worry about as usual, since I am by now used to the giving me trouble. However, it should be today that my check-in experiences should go from "bad" to "utterly catastrophic and devastating".

What happens next is going to need some exposition. Brazil is classified as a country in which Yellow Fever is endemic, so you need a vaccination for travelling from Brazil to certain other countries, such as South Africa. I am aware of this, and while I think it's somewhat over the top of imposing a nation-wide rule on a country bigger than small continents, I can understand why they have to do it this way. I am aware of this rule, and also confident I have this vaccination since I specifically asked my family physician to give me all the shots I might need for my trip around the world. However, I can't be certain since my vaccination pass is about as human-legible as Fortran. With that being said, the first level of fail should not come as a surprise. They check my vaccination pass very thoroughly, even making calls, and eventually arrive at the conclusion that I do not have that vaccination. Imagine how that does make me feel, having trusted my physician that he gave me the vaccination against this potentially deadly disease, only to find out that I did not have it after all after having spent four weeks in an endemic area! Fun!

So, what happens next? One might think that they would have a contingency plan for this sort of situation, since surely I can't be the first person this happens to. At this point I am sort of expecting to be put in a quarantine area, given a vaccine and being kept in detention until it's certain I'm not infected or something. Or maybe they'll give me the address of a doctor where I can get the vaccination and re-book my flight to a later date. What sort of help would you expect if you found yourself unexpectedly in a precarious situation like that?

If your answer included any kind of assistance, then you're wrong already. At first I am just told to wait, which I do patiently, very, very patiently, still being used to the Japanese way of thinking, but still getting increasingly more nervous as the hours go by and the people at the check-in counter just proceed to deal with the incoming people while I wait right next to them. I am desperately trying to keep my cool, but I can feel my PP gradually depleting, and also think I'm in the process of developing and entirely new kind of travel phobia: the airport-check-in-phobia.

Over two hours later – it is 11:15 by now, and my flight departs at 12:40 – they finally send me away with a very vague idea of where to go to get the vaccination, and the information that I have to wait 10 days after taking it. No word about my flight, and any attempts to get anything out of them about it fail as well. So here I am, lost and alone, stranded at this airport with no idea what to do, and at my breaking point too. All this travelling around, and I still can't handle situations like this.

The worst part of it all is probably how they handle, or mishandle my flight booking. Being at a freaking international airport, you might expect that they would be able to contact the airline and tell them that I am unable to take my flight and re-book it, or at the very least re-fund it. At this point I'd even be happy about a partial refund, but do you think I have any chance of getting to talk to anyone who can help me with this here? At an international airport?

If you think I do, then think again! Although "international", this place is actually pretty small, and I figure the only international flights it serves are to Paraguay and Argentina, both of which are next door. My next resort is trying to call the flight company – although I figure this is going to be expensive – with my World SIM. However, fate appears to be conspiring against me today, since my World SIM, which served me just fine before, choses this very instant to abandon me, and every attempt to connect with any of the displayed networks fails (that is, takes forever, then fails, and the time is ticking away).

It is now quarter to panic, and my head is playing the Critical PP Siren Blues, but I am as of yet not out of options. Calling on the help of ancient technology from the last century, I procure a phone card from one of the airport kiosks, and attempt to call Expedia (over which I booked my flight) via the only number I have (which is in Germany), via one of the card phones, the instruction for which is in Portuguese, and which require the number to be dialled in some strange format that I am unable to figure out without resorting to help from the information (tick, tock…).

It goes without saying that the measly 40 Reals on the card (enough for 80 minutes, according to what it says on the card) fizzle out before I even get through the obligatory hotline phone menu, and even if it had not, there would have been no way in Dragon that I could have gotten any help even if I had managed to talk to a person. It is now five to panic and my vision is starting to get just a little bit blurry.

Having participated in a bit of this train derailment by now (yet unable to help me in any meaningful way), the ladies at the information eventually take pity on my plight and give me access to their WiFi (if you've thought that an international airport would have public WiFi, think again… again), which at the very least enables me to contact my father in Germany via Telegram, and quite fortunately, he replies almost instantaneously. I ask him to call Expedia for me and explain the situation to them for me, and at this point I am run haggard enough that I can simply beg him to help me in any way possible, even asking him to have them re-book my flight to take me straight home to Germany, because that's just how ruined my nerves are at this point in time.

And he does manage to contact Expedia, but if you think that the travel agency over which I booked the flight would be able to help me in a situation like this then think again again… again. Anyway, between all this back and forth, time runs out, and my plane departs without me at 12:40. Not that there would have been any chance of me still getting on it, but the departure time would have been the time by which I would have had to settle this with the airline, because obviously that is not a thing that trained airport personnel could have done.

What now?

What now indeed? One thing that's for sure is that my travel plans for today have been, aggressively, cancelled.

Fortunately, there is one person relatively nearby that is able and willing to aid me in this crisis, and that is Joao, my Airbnb host in Foz do Iguaçu. Since I now have internet access again, I can at the very least communicate with him via WhatsApp, and after I explain the situation to him he immediately offers to help me out, saying I can come back to his place and he'll help me get the vaccinations and make arrangements for me to stay the ten obligatory waiting days. After all I've been through in these last four hours, this level of helpfulness and compassion almost makes me cry, and it is something I am not ever going to forget no matter how long or short I'm still going to live.

Either way, this one branch is enough for me to grab and hold on to, stopping my spiralling descent into a panic attack, and avoiding calamity this one time. This little branch is all I need to catch myself and re-plan my steps from here on out. Shaken though I am, I walk out of the terminal, and force myself to walk to the bus stop from where I arrived a several hours earlier…

…and then take the next bus back downtown.

Despite my original plans, and against my will, it would seem that I am yet spending some more time here in…

Salvaging the Situation

6-Mar-2019 – 17-Mar-2019

So, here I am, back in the Casa dos Colchões once again, approximately 800km from where I was planning to be at this point, and still at critical PP. But somehow, I still have to hold together and make the best of this suboptimal situation.

The first order of business is getting the vaccination, and once again Joao proves to be an absolutely amazing host, looking up a nearby vaccination clinic for me and showing me where to find it on a map. Thanks to his help, I am able to find the building with only a minimum amount of searching.

Inside, I quickly find out that even in this professional place, people are not able to speak English. Anticipating as much, however, I looked up the Portuguese word for Yellow Fever – "Febre Amarela" – while waiting, and am thus able to make my desire known even though I'm lacking in the language department.

Following that, I experience the most time-efficient vaccination process of my lifetime. Back in Germany, I would have had to make an appointment at the doctor's, wait for at least an hour, get a recipe for the vaccine, go to the drug store to pick it up, go back to the doctor's, wait for another hour, and have it administered. Here in Brazil, I simply get taken into a room that actually looks more professional than the room where I usually get my shots back in Germany, and a nurse takes the vaccine out of a professional medical refrigerator and administers it. The whole process does not even take five minutes, and costs a mere 170 Reals. And so, only 15 minutes after I entered the clinic, I walk out again, vaccination certificate in hand, and ready to re-book my flight to South Africa in ten days' time.

Next up on the urgency scale is getting something to eat. By now, I'm quite hungry from all the stress and lugging my baggage around. It's now 14:30 and I haven't eaten anything for over 8 hours. My first plan is to check out the nearby Pizza Hut, since I did not try that one yet in Brazil, but although the sign says "open", it kind looks like they're just cleaning it out.

So instead I head for the local McDonald's and order a local burger, which ends up tasting more or less like burgers all over the world.

After that, I next have to go shopping to stock up on supplies again, and then head back home. It is 16:45 by the time I arrive back at the Casa dos Colchões, and after I finished re-unpacking my stuff and figure out how to get my phone working again with the help of online tech support, it is 18:00. Now guess when the telephone hotline for South African Airlines closes? Not that two out of my three planned flights have taken off by this time already. Instead, all I can do at this time is write an e-Mail, to which I should not receive an answer in a timely fashion. I also contact my Airbnb hosts in South Africa and inform them that it looks like I won't be arriving as scheduled after all.

Instead, I should spend the majority of the next day making calls to South African Airways and Expedia, trying to salvage this situation, but with only very limited success. Over the next weeks and months I would be communicating with them, and eventually get back about 500€ of the 1,600€ that I paid for this flight. It doesn't even help that I have booked a "total insurance" package with the Allianz insurance company for this flight, since they blatantly told me that this specific case was not insured. Four weeks in South America without getting robbed, and then I get relieved of one grand just like that, and without being able to do a thing about it. Even if my phone or laptop would have gotten stolen, the damage would not have been this severe.

Eventually, Expedia, South African Airways and the Allianz all end up on my personal blacklist, and I settle for booking a different flight with a different company via a different portal, hoping that this time around everything will work out, but already fearing the worst again after what I've been through. However, I am still headed for South Africa, and make arrangements with my prospective hosts there to arrive 11 days after I originally anticipated, the delay of 11 days being on one hand because I want to make doubly sure that no one will try to nitpick about the time frame for the vaccination to work, but also because I was able to get a cheap flight on that particular day.

Finally, let's not forget about the feedback from the vaccination. With the Yellow Fever shot being a Type 3 shot – that is one that has a very low, but definitely existent and documented mortality ratio directly related to the vaccination, and should only be administered to those who really need it – I am naturally in for some side effects that should affect me for about a week or so to come, featuring the full programme of grogginess, sore limbs, a sore throat, a stuffy nose, sneezing, headache, and so on. The most absurd part of all this is, however, that I have to take this vaccination not because I am entering an endemic country, but because I want to leave it. Kind of like applying sunscreen right before leaving the beach, or putting on a condom just before getting dressed again.

Either way, down though I should be feeling for the majority of my extra time here, I would still force myself to go on another…

Day Trip ~ Of Beasts and Buddhists

Distance: 6,0km
Ascents: 50m
Duration: 2,5h

The main problem is that by now, I have pretty much already covered the major sights of Foz do Iguaçu. However, there are still two smaller things that have caught my personal interest, the first of which being the Refugio Biológico Bela Vista, a biological refuge in Itaipu that I noticed while purchasing my ticket for a tour of the dam two weeks ago. The biological reserve is actually a bit to the southeast of the dam, but it's still included in the Itaipu area. As a result, the route to get there is just a little bit roundabout.

To get there, I first have to go to the TTU again and take a bus to the Itaipu checkpoint…

…where I can then purchase a tour ticket for a cheap 30 Reals…

…and take the next tour bus to the Biological Reserve.

The biological reserve itself consists of a whopping 1908 hectares (or 19km²) of subtropical rainforest that is the result of reforestation efforts that have started a few decades back, and it is not publicly accessible outside of guided tours like this. Said tour should take us through the forest to the lakeshore, and from there on to a zoo-like area.

One thing worth of note here is that wild animals such as jaguars are free to roam the open forest areas of the reserve as they like, which is another reason why you're only allowed to enter it as part of a big, and ideally noisy group.

Our first stop is the lakeside station, where our guide tells us all about how the quality of the water is being carefully monitored here in order to ensure a healthy biome for the local fish. Right here, we are in one of the fjord-like side arms of the might Itaipu Reservoir, so the massive dimensions of the 1,350km² big lake are not at all visible from this particular vantage point.

Also, there's a cork tree here, the bark of which is soft enough to press in for several centimetres with my finger, and elastic enough to return to its original shape after the pressure is released. It sort of feels like a massive sponge.

After that, we head towards the animal pens. However, before we should reach those, we have a run-in with some of the forest's inhabitants. Fortunately, it's not a Jaguar, but rather a pack of coatis

Not much later, we arrive at the animal pens, with the first critter we come across being a shy little Ocelot that prefers to hide out in its little shack. These spotted small cats make their homes mostly in the forests of South America, but have also been sighted in Central America, and as far north as Texas.

There's also quite a number of birds around. However, since we already covered the point of birds in the Parque das Aves about a week ago, I am going to keep this short. One thing worth mentioning, however, is that all those animals who are being kept in pens here are those that would not make it in the wild for one reason or another.

Next up are the Caxinguis, or Coypus. These semi-aquatic rodents are native to southern South America, and the pair in here have the curious problem of having developed diabetes after eating too many sweet leftovers from humans.

And then there's snakes, some more deadly than others, such as the South American Rattlesnake. The Rainbow Snake is also pretty cool, even though the current light conditions only reveal a fraction the beauty of its lustrous scales.

I also spot some deer hiding in the distance between the trees of a forested enclosure…

…however, the absolute highlight for me are without a doubt the Zorritos, or Crab-Eating Foxes.

These adorable fluffballs are so cute that I just want to up and take them back home with me, but I'm afraid our guide would not be very happy about that.

After that, there's an island inhabited by monkeys and a single deer. At first I assume that the deer belongs on the island and that the monkeys did simply climb across from the nearby enclosure, but it actually turns out to be the other way around: The monkeys are confined to the island and can't leave it, and the deer actually swam across from the other side of the artificial river.

Next up is an enclosure shared by Catetos or Peccaries – a type of hog – as well as massive Antas or Tapirs. The latter is the largest extant native mammal of the Amazon area, and is also known as the "Bushcow". Despite their chubby appearance, these large herbivores are quite mobile, and can negotiate both terrestrial as well as aquatic terrain with ease. Sadly, however, all species of Tapir are endangered due to illegal poaching for its meat and hide.

Finally, we arrive at the main event, which is the Jaguar enclosure. One of the world's species of great cats (the others being Lions, Tigers and Leopards), these felids – which are called Onça-Pintada in Portuguese – are the third-largest species of cat in the world, after the Lion, and before the Cougar (which is actually the largest small cat) and the Leopard. Here we see a mated pair of a regular-coloured male and a Panther female. By the way, did you know that black Panther colour variations exist in both Jaguars and Leopards? Those two big cats are tricky enough to tell apart as it is already, and if you've got Panthers of both species, pretty much the only way to distinguish them is by size, with the Jaguar being just a little bit bigger and more muscular than the lither Leopard.

Either way, especially the kids in a group are quite noisy, so it does not come as a surprise that first the female…

...and then the male take their leave in search of a bit of peace and quiet.

And with that, our tour around the Bela Vista Reserve comes to an end. However, before leaving, I can't help but notice one of those "May Peace Prevail on Earth"-poles that I have found all over Japan. Who would have thought I'd run into them here too? Even our guide is not able to tell me what they are all about, but I should nonetheless eventually figure out that they are actually called "Peace Poles", and are originally from Japan (which would also explain why I found so many of them there). Originally, founded in 1955 by Masahisa Goi, the World Peace Prayer Society has by now placed over 200,000 Peace Poles all around the world in over 200 countries. May their noble message be heard all over the globe!

Now all that's left is a walk back to the entrance area, where we wait for the bus to pick us up again.

However, during the bus ride we should spot yet one more species of Brazilian mammal. My camera is not quite quick enough to take a good picture of it, but what we see at the water's edge is a Capybara, the largest living rodent in the world! These oversized guinea pigs are highly social animals that can be found almost all over Brazil living near the water's edge and feeding on grasses, aquatic plants and fruit. They can grow to over a metre in length, and weigh up to 91kg (though their average weigh is only around half that). The main reason why they were not represented in the refuge is that they are actually doing quite well in the wild.

This, however, should not be the end of my trip. The day is still young, and next, I should set out and head towards the Templo Budista, which is also located to the north of Foz do Iguaçu. Once again the route for getting there should be just a little bit roundabout.

The bus system being what it is in Brazil, I do the same thing I did for getting to the Marco das Três Fronteiras: That is, take the bus back to town to the closest tangential point, and then walk from there. As a result I should end up walking through some rather rural parts of the town this time around, curtsy to me getting just a little bit lost.

Eventually, I make it back to the main road again, and along the way also run into quite a few cute little timid stray dogs.

After walking for quite a distance, I start getting worried whether I'm on the right track. Fortunately, that's just when I run into this very reaffirming sign…

…and not much later I stand at the gates of Joutenji (承天寺 "Listening to the Heavens Temple"), which is a proper Japanese Buddhist Temple.

So, what is something like that doing here, literally on the other side of the world from Japan? To find the answer to that, we have to go back over a hundred years, to the beginning of the 20th century when Brazil recruited Japanese people to come and work on their coffee plantations. Over the course of the following decades, over 200,000 Japanese emigrated to Brazil (especially during the world wars), taking ships from Kobe past Cape Horn and to São Paulo, and today there's approximately 1.5 million Japanese Brazilians living in Brazil, making this the largest ethnic Japanese population outside of Japan.

And that is why there's a proper Japanese-style Buddhist Temple here in Foz do Iguaçu.

The lower floor of the Temple is publically accessible, though photography is prohibited inside. Meanwhile, you can quietly hear the monks chanting from the upper floor of the Temple (apparently, I arrived just in time for the early afternoon prayer), accompanied by the occasional loud and clear ringing of typical Buddhist bowl-gong, the likes of which I witnessed during my ceremony in Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin (see Book II ~ Final Chapter ~ Of Spirits and Shrines [LINK = ]).

Other notable attractions here are one very colourful Buddha Statue…

…and then there's the green square featuring a proper army of Buddhas, each one donated by one or more individuals from Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina or even Chile! Come to think of it, some of those names are clearly Chinese, so it is also possible that this Temple might be Chinese in origin. Either way, it's still on the opposite side of the world from its "homeland".

Having explored the Temple to my heart's content (and placed a little donation in the offertory box), I eventually take my leave and proceed with my standard return plan, which is taking a bus from in front of the Templo Budista, since all the buses run to the TTU (plus, I might have spotted a bus at the TTU running to the Templo Budista). The bus route back is significantly less crooked than that from the Marco das Três Fronteiras, but it is still not exactly what I would call straightforward.

One particularly notable part of the ride back home is Vila A, one of the three villages built to house the workers for the construction of the Itaipu Dam…

…where the city planners apparently made a very dedicated effort to minimize the number of right-angle intersections in one grid square of the city plan. As a result, this part of the city looks quite dynamic.

And with that, my one day trip during my extended stay here comes to an end. Time to talk about…

The Flair

This time around, there's not much to be said here. Partly because I already covered most of it during the last chapter, but also because the weather during my extension is particularly bloopy this time around.

But I do come across the odd curiosity or so, such as this artistic Coati & Toucan mural.

Also, I do come across this very exotic beer from Germany, which is so exotic that you have to travel to Brazil to find it. At least I did never notice it in any stores back home.

I have already mentioned the many mattress stores here in Foz do Iguaçu. However, while walking the nearby Avenida Brasil, I notice that there's also quite a selection of pharmacies around. In fact, there is that one place where there are two different pharmacies literally right next to one another, and a third one straight across the road!

And speaking of roads, one rainy morning while walking shopping, I also get to ponder that one age-old question.

Back at home, I am starting to discover the benefits of having ants around. Dropped a piece of food on the floor and can't find it anymore? Don't worry! Just give it a few hours and the ants will kindly and very clearly point it out to you.

Finally, we already covered the fact that frozen burgers are a quite popular quick food over here, similar to how frozen pizza is quite popular in Germany, and I did try out quite a few of those frozen burgers with generally favourable results…

…so imagine my surprise when I open a box of what I had assumed to be two burgers, only to find ten burger patties inside instead! Even afterwards I can't make out any hint about that on the packaging.

Oh well, I wouldn't be a fox if I could not work something out with that. Naturally, however, this should happen on my (second) last day here, so I already use up most of my other ingredients, so eventually I end up preparing what I'd like to call "Antivegetarian Hamburgers Con Ketchup".

And that's it for the flair already, now let us once again attempt to proceed on…

The Road Ahead


After saying my goodbyes to Joao once more and thanking him very much for helping me in my hour of need, it is once again time to bid this room farewell. I dearly hope that things are going to work out this time around, but after my previous fail, I am not quite as confident about that anymore.

Either way, I try to move on once again, and it is a rainy day when I do so.

I am already bracing for the worst again, and while things should not go quite as wrong this time around, things would still go painfully awry. But that is a story for the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.

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