295° east of my home, and one time across the date line, I have not quite made it once around the world just yet, but still, I have now set foot on a new continent, and have an entirely new country to explore. This is the beginning of my adventures in…
Brazil is big. An not only kinda sorta big, but really Mega-Freacking-HUGE kind of big. It is the fifth-largest country in the world after Russia, Canada, China and the United States, and thus also one of the five countries that are larger than Australia – a freaking entire continent! Covering a total of 8,515,767km², this huge land is almost half as big as all of South America. Almost! And with a population of 210 million people, it is also the fifth most-populous country on earth after China, India, the USA and Indonesia. This is apparently a very healthy balance, since it results in a population density of only 25 people per km², which is about the same as Sweden, a bit higher than New Zealand, and about 1/9th that of Germany. However, that doesn't mean that Brazil is one big rural country. Quite the opposite: Some of the largest cities in the world can be found here (like São Paulo with 12 million inhabitants), with huge stretches of untamed wilderness bringing down the average population density.
Also, a common preconception is that Brazil is entirely covered with tropical rainforests. However, this only holds true for the northwestern part of the country, which is bordered to the southeast by an extensive stretch of savanna and mountainous regions, which yet further southeast turn into a belt of subtropical rainforests. Especially the latter are subject to heavy deforestation, the result of which is that by today, barely half of Brazil is still covered in the stereotypical rainforests of old.
Another thing that surprised me was the topography. Somehow, I've always had this picture of South America in my head with the Andes as huge mountains to the west, and no other notable elevations all over the continent. Now, while this is technically correct in the sense that the over 6,000m high Andes make all other mountain ranges on this continent look small, it nonetheless fails to take into account two other defining topographic features of the continent, one being the Guiana Shield at the northern border of Brazil, and the other being the Brazilian Highlands at the southeastern coast (and then some), both of which almost reach up to 3000m. Together, they server to divide South America into two major river basins – one being the Amazonas Basin in the north, and the other being the Paraná Basin in the south.
A direct consequence of this misconception should be me being confused about rivers not flowing into the directions I would have expected them to flow. The Iguazu River, for example, originates in Curitiba – only about 50km from the Atlantic Ocean – and from there takes a very adventurous route west through the Brazilian Highlands before eventually merging into the Paraná at Foz do Iguaçu and following it south and west for over a thousand kilometres before finally reaching the ocean at Buenos Aires.
Anyway, let's no see exactly where I am in this huge country. Brazil is subdivided into five regions – each of them bigger than most European countries – which in turn are subdivided into a total of 26 states plus the federal district around the capital of Brasilia. My travels have taken me to Paraná, the northernmost of the three states of the South Region, named after the Paraná river, which marks its western boundary. With an area of roughly 200,000km², the state of Paraná is slightly bigger than Spain (and thus notably bigger than either Germany, Japan or New Zealand), although it's population of roughly 11 million is closer to Belgium. This results in a population density of 57 people per km², which interestingly enough is a very close match to the average population density of the entire world (counting only the land area, of course).
Within Paraná, I am located at the very southwestern corner, in the relatively small city of Foz do Iguaçu (for all practical purposes, you can pronounce the "ç" like an "s"), which is home to only about 260,000 people, and as thus a little bit bigger than the city of Hachinohe in Touhoku, Japan (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story).
And within Foz do Iguaçu, my home is located pretty much in the dead centre of the urban area, right next to the Avenida Juscelino Kubitscheck, and only about 750m from the Paraná river.
Now, latitude-wise, I have now definitely reached my closest approach to the equator at which I should spend an extended amount of time. Located at 25.5°S, Foz do Iguaçu is located 0.7° closer to the equator than Tokashiki in Japan was (see Book II ~ Chapter 16 ~ Tropical Tokashiki) In fact, I am presently located almost exactly opposite of my southwesternmost turning point in Japan. If you were to dig straight through the earth from Tokashiki, you'd burn and die a horrible death in the planet's molten shell of magma, but after that you would emerge near the town of Pato Branco, not even 200km southeast of Foz do Iguaçu. I guess that makes Japan to Brazil what New Zealand is to Europe.
As for the climate, Paraná is classified as having a subtropical humid climate, or as I like to put it: cats and dogs on a daily basis. Seriously! The place seems to be on the vortex point of lightning, for it seems like roughly every second or third day they have a massive thunderstorm that would make headlines everywhere else in the world. I don't think I've experienced as many thunderstorms in the last four years as I should in those four weeks in Foz do Iguaçu.
The amount of rainwater that washes down from the heavens necessitates good drainage, lest the city floods every two or three days. Luckily, such systems are in place, yet for the duration of these regular mighty deluges, the streets routinely turn to canals nonetheless.
Occasionally, however, the thunderstorms are particularly devastating…
…resulting in widespread power failures (no wonder with the way they build their power lines here) and necessitating repairs that can take anywhere between hours and days. One such power outage happened while I was in the supermarket, when suddenly the entire store went dark, and another when I was at home and without power for about three hours or so.
Now, as far as the temperatures are concerned, this place ranges somewhere between "Die in a fire" and "Auuuuughhh! It Burns!!!", or to put it into softer words, somewhere between "uncomfortably hot" and "very uncomfortably hot" – and this isn't even the hottest part of the year. I think with this it is decided that I will never attempt to make a closer approach to the equator than this.
Anyway, adverse climate notwithstanding, this is a very special place, and I will later elaborate about the winds that have blown me here. For now, suffice it to say that I am now located…
At Three Countries' Corner
Foz do Iguaçu is located at the corner where Argentina and Paraguay border Brazil. The Iguazu River defines the border between Argentina and Brazil, while both countries are separated by the Paraná river from the relatively small country of Paraguay. And I say "relatively" because although Paraguay seems small when compared with Argentina and Brazil, it is still about 15% bigger than Germany. Also, there is a city on each of the three "shores" of this corner, with Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, and Ciudad del Este (as well as the immediately adjoined Presidente Franco) in Paraguay. From the air, it looks almost like one big city that has been cut in three by the rivers.
Now, as to how I ended up here of all places… once again, I effectively let the wind carry me. When first I decided to travel to South America, I had my sights set on Tierra del Fuego in the very south, and thus either Chile or Argentina. However, a friend of the family said he had an acquaintance in Eldorado, Argentina, who would be happy to house a travelling fox for a month or so, and opportunistic as we foxes are, I gratefully accepted that offer, happy to have such a great opportunity to stay with the locals. Alas, however, it should not be. Said acquaintance ran into severe financial troubles with his venture, and I, having already booked my flight to the nearest international airport – which happened to be in Foz do Iguaçu on the Brazilian side of the border, found myself in quite the conundrum. At first, I unsuccessfully tried to find a place to stay in the vicinity via HelpX or WorkAway, but eventually I simply took things into my own hands and did what I did for the last few months of my journey through Japan: Namely rent a room at an Airbnb place.
And that's where I am now: At a nice, homely place hosted by an easygoing man called Joao Ritchie his wife Carol and their son Mateus. We don't get to interact a lot, but I should get many a valuable advice from Joao, and in return invite him and his family for pizza a couple of times.
Also part of the family is Chili the dog (yeah, seriously), who spends most of his time upstairs in Joao's apartment, so I don't get to interact with him a lot. I'm sure he's a really sweet boy though.
Anyway, I'm sure you're already curious about more details on the place I'm staying at, and I will get to that shortly. However, before that I feel I should give you closure on the hardship I found myself in at the end of the last chapter. Fortunately – and so very thankfully – my worst fears should not come to pass, and the entire situation should turn out to have…
A Happy Ending
Recapping the current state of affairs: The majority of my luggage has been lost and/or stolen, including all my short clothes, light shoes, and bathroom supplies. As such my first order of business on my first day in Foz do Iguaçu is to walk to the nearest shopping mall – which goes by the name of Cataratas JL Shopping – and outfit myself with the most basic necessities. Fortunately, they have quite a large and colourful selection, and so I can even find shirts and shorts in my favourite colour.
Meanwhile, Joao proves to be a great help, calling the airport and investigating after my lost luggage, and in the end he manages to bring me great news: It turns out that my luggage was "only" left behind in Canada after all, and on the second day after my own arrival, a motorcycle courier delivers it right to my doorstep. I can tell that Air Canada took every possible measures to get it to me as quickly as possible.
I am so happy, so very, very happy to have not only my belongings, but also my most prized treasures returned to me. Those being Levi and Ran – my two vulpine companions – as well as Toyokawa and Anamori, the two Kitsune kami I brought along from Japan. Plus there is the cooking ladle I received after the ceremony in Toyokawa Inari Betsuin, and also the Ofuda from Anamori Inari. All of them have – contrary to my worst fears – found their way back to my side.
Never again am I going to go through something like this! The first thing I do is something I should have done years ago, namely mark the nondescript black cover bag for the Trekking Backpack of Flames in a unique and unmistakable manner. A roll of silver tape does the trick, and while I'm at it I also cover some of the structural weak points the faithful sack has developed over the course of the years.
Secondly, I'm proceeding to employ one of the most basic vulpine loss-avoidance strategies, and that is caching. In the wild, foxes cache their food in multiple small caches rather than one big store. The reason for this is simple: Should one of the caches get raided, the impact of the loss would be relatively small, whereas the loss of one big store would be pretty devastating. Likewise, I am now bundling up some of the stuff that I no longer need, such as warm clothes, Japanese books as well as one of the two Kami, and dispatching it home via the Correios – the Brazilian postal service.
It turns out to be quite busy, and there is a machine distributing waiting numbers for the various counters. Not being able to read Portugese, I have some trouble figuring out which category to pick, but eventually I manage to figure out one that I am at least relatively certain will fit my needs.
Turns out the ticket category was the right one. The next hurdle is communicating with the office clerk, who regrettably does not speak English. Naturally, I have anticipated as much and spent my waiting time memorizing how to say "I want to send this to Germany" in Portuguese. My pronunciation is probably terrible, but with a bit of back and forth I manage to get my point across, and the entire package is dispatched to Germany at a cost of 458 Reals, which equates approximately 111€. Not a cheap price, but considering that it would give me at least some peace of mind, I deem it acceptable. Also, I might want to mention that I purchased the "first class" option to maximize the chances of my parcel arriving home safely, and true enough, only about a week after I sent it, my father informs me that it has arrived safely back home. That's one weight off my chest.
As for Levi and Ran, those two remain with me (and subsequently also get introduced to Mateus). However, in order to avoid risking to lose them both at the same time, I am also applying the vulpine caching strategy by distributing them between my check-in luggage and carry-on luggage on my next flight. But that is yet in the future.
So far, so good. But before I can really get going here in Brazil there is yet one more thing I have to do, and that is to get some Barbarians to cut my hair. Having come straight out of Japanese winter I am still sporting my winter fur, which is about three times the amount of hair you would want to wear in tropical temperatures like this.
At 20 Reals (5-6€), the haircut is incredibly cheap, and yet I am absolutely happy with the quality. And oh does it feel so much better to have a little less fluff to carry around in this heat.
With that, I am now finally ready to truly begin exploring Brazil, beginning with…
This time around, I am staying in an Airbnb place above a brightly coloured mattress store that goes by the straightforward name of Casa dos Colchões ("House of Mattresses", pronounced "Casa dos Col-shoh-ehs").
And now, without further ado, let me give you the traditional place of this place, which is just so much bigger than all those cramped Japanese rooms I've been staying in in the past year.
One of the first things I have to get around to is solve the puzzle of how to connect all the electrical devices I have with my adapters and outlets at hand. This takes some experimenting, but in the end the result looks somewhat like this and involves connecting my Japanese power bar to the Brazilian outlet with the Germany-to-Japan-adapter, and then connecting all my German plugs to the Japanese power bar using Germany-to-Japan adapters – or in the case of my power bank, which has a New Zealand charger, a Germany-to-Everywhere-adapter atop a Japan-to-Germany-adapter.
And only shortly thereafter, I have my workspace all set up so I can earn my travel funds via my good old home-office software development job, where I'm currently working on Testcases. It might not be a ★★★★★-workspace, but it's definitely better than some (or actually most) of the laptop-friendly workspaces I had to deal with in Japan.
Now, all I need is an improvised dust bin next to my desk (made out of three empty bottles and a garbage bag), and my room is all set up.
One very important feature of this room is the AC, which is the only defence I have against the burning hot temperatures here short of standing under a cold shower all day. The three hours I had to endure during the power outage without an AC were already comparable to a lovely little trip to the inside of an oven.
Speaking of the oven: I'm already very, very thrilled to know that this place has an oven so I can get some baking done!
Alas, it's a gas stove, and one that does not have a (working) electric igniter. I don't think a lot of people who read this will be familiar with the good, old-fashioned gas stoves of old, but yes, there was a time before electric igniters where you lit all stoves with lighters or matches. Regrettably (and you might already have gathered as much), I am a teeny-tiny bit weak to fire and thus unwilling to use matches for something like this that usually results in a moderate flare. What's worse, the classical long-necked grill-lighters that I like to use for such occasions back home are not for sale here. Instead, there's such a device as a flint-and-steel on a long handle…
…which works just fine for lighting the stove...
…but not so well for lighting the oven. With the stove, I usually just need two or three tries, while with the oven I often need two or three minutes. Eventually, I simply settle for the somewhat roundabout – yet still faster – method of using the lighter to light the stove, using the stove to light a reasonably long piece of wood, and using the reasonably long piece of wood to light the oven. I even regularly remember to turn off the gas stove after that. =^,~'=
Now, what's more? Different countries mean different customs, and one such custom is mighty hard for me to get used to: Namely how to use a toilet in Brazil, or rather how to finish using it. Unless in all other countries I've been to where you dispose of the toilet paper in the toilet, in Brazil you instead put it into a waste basket next to the toilet. This is owing to the fact that the Brazilian sewage pipes are significantly smaller and would get clogged from the paper. In fact, even the toilet itself has a much smaller drainage pipe, barely half as big as all that I'm used to. Especially in the beginning I often make the mistake of flushing away some or all of my toilet paper, much of which consequently gets stuck in the bowl and requires three or more flushes until it's completely gone. Fortunately, however, I somehow avoid creating a clog with all my absentmindedness.
Apart from me, the house is also home to a bunch of other critters which freely come and go. From big to small, those are first a lizard, which I leave to his devices…
…second a cockroach that I capture (repeatedly) and throw out…
…and over 9,000 miniscule ants that not only eagerly colonize every little crumb that falls onto the floor, but also regularly occupy the kitchen sink. Bad though that makes me feel, I don't really see any other option but to drown them by the hundreds when I need to do the dishes (and they still come back every time).
As for how they all come in… not only do the ants have their walkways in the walls, but also the door to the balcony has a 2cm airgap below it, which not only enables little critters like these free access, but also regularly turns the kitchen into a wading pool if I don't react quickly during rainstorms and jam up the gap with towels.
On sunny days, meanwhile, the balcony makes drying clothes a breeze. With the orbital photon blaster shining down with tremendous strength, I can literally watch my clothes dry.
Now, as you might already have guessed, this place is pretty loud, considering it's right next to a main road and all. However, the loudest nights are always Saturday nights, when a nearby disco is always staging a Saturday Night Fever sort of thing… from 3AM to 5AM.
Fortunately, that's only one night a week, and starting at 3AM, it means that I can get in a few hours of shuteye before they get started. Apart from that, this is a pretty nice place, and serves as a great base for me to explore…
This is an unusual section. Normally, I'd lump this together with the "The Place"-section, but since there's just so much to say about this town today (and the place), I figure they each deserve their own sections this time around. =^,^=
Walking around town, the first things I notice are the sidewalks. Now, while they do vary wildly in their state of completion and (dis)repair, they surpass Japanese sidewalks in one important aspect: They are present, and not only on big roads, but all through the city. Unlike in Japan, there aren't any interesting manhole covers to be found, however.
One notable curiosity about them is that unlike in other places where the buildings have to adjust to the street level, here the street level adjusts to the buildings by means of the sidewalks, resulting in some very interesting topographic designs.
Another very notable thing are the garbage "pods" which are located at the street's edge in regular intervals like oversized bird-feeders of various designs, and which are emptied once a day. I could imagine this frequent clearing cycle somehow relates to the toilet paper situation.
Either way, this is another improvement over Japanese roadside infrastructure, where the only garbage cans could be found inside Konbinis and supermarkets. Here, they are not only literally all over the city, but there are also various kinds of recycling bins available every here and there.
As for the roads themselves, again in contrast to Japan, they are generally very spacious, and usually covered in plenty of green, which at least helps to somewhat keep the temperatures down.
Some of the sideroads, by the way, are paved with the most effective speed-reducing agent I have ever experienced, namely extra-rough mega-cobblestone that makes driving on these roads at speeds greater than 30km/h and ordeal that few people would ever be willing to endure in all but the most dire circumstances (and it would probably be bad for the cars too).
And speaking of which, owing to the fact that a handful of Brazilians like to abuse the roads as their personal race tracks, there is a notable number of speed bumps to be encountered all over the city, including on main thoroughfares. Some of them can be pretty hard to spot, but I reckon that people learn to watch out for them after their first axle fracture at the latest.
The extension of those are the very reasonable Travessia Elevada ("raised crosswalk"), where the entire crosswalk is pretty much one big speedbump. I'm sure this system would do great in reducing the number of traffic accidents even here in Germany.
Which brings us to the next thing: After half a year, I can finally read all the signs again! Okay, so maybe I can't pronounce them correctly, but at least I can guess at the meanings drawing on my German and English (and rudimentary Latin) skills, and also easily type them into a translator. How great is that?
And the next thing: The roads finally have names again! I will have to get used to being able to easily finding my way around the city using road names again instead of relying on maps and landmarks.
Staying with the roads, the crossroads here are somewhat adventurous for pedestrians. Pedestrian lights here come in two general categories: "Ignore them" and "Absent". The "Ignore them"-variety stays red for about 90% of the time, even when no cars are coming from any direction, and no one pays them any heed. By contrast, the "Absent"-variety can mostly be found at large four-lane road crossings where pedestrians have to rely on their wits and observation to safely cross the road. It's not as difficult or lethal as it sounds, and I didn't witness a single accident during my time here despite being more or less right next to one of those crossings. Nonetheless, it certainly adds a daily dose of excitement to every trip to the supermarket, and makes me appreciate the local infrastructure back home all the more.
What adds to the fun is that Brazilian traffic lights work different than those in other parts of the worlds. Not only does the phase logic of these traffic lights differ from anything I'm used to, but also the traffic lights themselves work differently. Once I take my time to observe them for one full circle of phases, however (note: taking that time here in the burning full light of the heavens is something completely different from taking your time back home where it's nice and cool outside, say around 30° or so) I quickly realize that it's a pretty neat countdown that displays both the remaining time for the green and red phases and gives drivers a chance to act accordingly.
Staying on these crossroads, it’s a common sight to notice people selling stuff to the people as they wait. This is actually a very sensible institution, I think, since the sellers adapt to the needs of the people. In the morning, they sell sandwiches, so you can literally grab a bite to eat on the way to work, and during the hot of the day they sell small bottles of water. Since they are being discreet and not pushy about it, I think that's actually a nice example of proactive entrepreneurism.
By the way, if you pictured Foz do Iguaçu as a flat town, then you are sorely mistaken. Running parallel to the great Paraná river, the city is marked by loads of little river valleys of tributaries running perpendicular to the great stream. As such, though appearing flat from a great distance, the cityscape is actually marked by lots of up and downs, making it a particularly bicycle-unfriendly place (apart from the road rowdies). Good thing I don't have a bike here.
Apart from aforementioned street rowdies, there's another menace that plagues the roads of Brazil, and those have range and deal in sonic damage. Remember those noisy election-campaign-cars in Japan (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together)? Here they have these for standard, year-round advertising, blasting the blocks around them at high volume and with not-at-all subliminal messages. No idea how effective they are, but the only think they make me want to buy is noise-seeking missiles. Fortunately only two or three of those pass by every day.
Moving on to public transport. Public transport in Foz do Iguaçu comes in two flavours: Bus and Taxi. Buses run. Somewhere. Sometime. Somehow. Apart from the major stops such as the nearby TTU ("Terminal de Transporte Urbano" = "urban transport terminal") It is impossible to know when and where a bus stops since time tables and route plans are completely unknown around here. When asked why, I was told that it would be impossible to create route maps for the many (approximately 12) bus lines of Foz do Iguaçu. Yes, let me think about how that would be impossible given that notably bigger cities such as Munich, Christchurch and Tokyo somehow manage to pull it off.
Anyway, apart from the fact that you have to use the buses on a "general direction" and "whenever it comes", basis, they are actually pretty convenient for getting around. There are also two international bus lines, one going to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, and the other running to Puerto Iguazú in Argentina.
They are very cheap though, charging only 3.75 Reals per trip, no matter how far you go. Of course, the international buses are a bit more expensive, and you also have to pay again whenever you change the bus. The way they charge the fare is pretty cool too. Every bus is divided into two parts: The front, where you get in, and the rear, where you get out. These two parts are divided by a turnstile which is attended by a conductor. In order to get from the front part to the rear part, you have to pay the fare, thus ensuring that everybody who enters the bus also pays his dues. The cool part about this system is that it allow the bus to load up on people and start driving even while the people are still busy paying. The downside, of course, is that this style necessitates an extra employee aboard the bus. However, with my experience from Japan, I could easily envision a fully automated alternative here.
The alternate way of getting around are Taxis, which, while considerably more expensive than buses, are still laughably cheap compared to what I'm used to from other countries. The 30-minute drive from the airport, for example, cost me only 65 Reals, the equivalent of maybe 17€. It's almost 20 times as expensive as a bus ticket, but it's nonetheless very affordable compared to what I'm used to. Anyway, one thing I'm not used to seeing from anywhere else are the Taxi houses that can be found all around town, and are usually staffed with several Taxi drivers eager to take people wherever they want to go.
Here's another sight that I have grown unaccustomed to during my time in Japan: Churches. They may not be as common as Shrines and Temples are in Japan, but their presence is still a clear sign that I'm back in the western world again.
And by the way, just in case you were wondering what the big green blob directly north of my home here is… that's the military base of the 34º Batalhão de Infantaria Mecanizado, the 34th Mechanized Infantry Battalion. From the air, it looks like a big green park with some buildings in one corner, but you can bet your tail that the actually strategically important targets are cleverly hidden under the cover of the greenery.
Another common sight in these streets are laundry shops. There seem to be quite a lot of them around, implying that washing machines are not yet a common household item in these parts. Not all of them are as nicely designed as the one directly across from my home though.
One last notable thing on the streets are the dogs. While not super-common, it's still notable that there are a good number of street dogs around, and what timid little creatures they usually are. Look at one of them for too long and they will cower in fear and run away. Also, much unsurprisingly, they wisely take to shelter in shady spots during the heat of the day.
Moving on to the necessities of life, one of my first concerns is finding a place where I can safely withdraw money. Once again, Joao is a great help here, and suggests a hotel just around the block where that has an ATM in the lobby, and is a safe place for withdrawals. And since they also get a part of the transaction fees, the staff of the Bogari Hotel is more than happy to let me use it. In hindsight, however, it would have been cheaper for me to pay by credit card, since although the nominal exchange rate is about 4 Reals for 1€, with all the fees in between it's more like 3 Reals for 1€, making this the most expensive transaction and exchange fees I have ever witnessed.
For my shopping needs, there's a big supermarket going by the melodious name of Super Muffato only 5 STEPs away, making it very convenient to walk there in all but the rainiest of weathers.
The first thing I notice in here is how great it is to be able to read again. Well, not read read, but at least be able to read the characters and draw conclusions. It's only now after a year in Japan that I fully realize how similar all the European languages really are, and how easy it is to read something in any European language once you've got the basics of two or three languages down. It's actually a little bit like programming in that regard. So maybe Python and C++ are different, but they are still basically the same when compared to, say, Piet.
The next thing I notice is the bakery. How long has it been since I've had access to this many kinds of bread? At first, I am overwhelmed (and also a bit shy), and instead simply take some sliced bread off the shelf (and even that is so much better than all the bread I got in Japan), but eventually, I should sample my way through the bakery's amazing selection.
And then, I run into the pizza selection. Part I of the pizza selection, that is, since they also have another freezer full of pizza further around the store. However, even this is already enough to let me know that the long time of pizza hardship has now finally come to an end. I have an oven. I have pizza. What more does a fox need? And the best part is, with this big of a selection, there's absolutely no way in Dragon that the pizza is as bad as in New Zealand of Japan. One rule of thumb I've learnt on my travels is that the bigger the selection of a particular type of article in a supermarket, the better the quality of any singular instance is. I attribute this phenomenon to competition.
Apart from that, there are also several other popular ready meals, that I have not seen in such a selection anywhere else thus far, namely lasagne and burgers, each of which fill several fridges with a multitude of different flavours.
Next up is the meat. Meat is obviously a big thing here in Brazil, with an estimated 30m long fridge row offering everything from sausages of club-like proportions to family portions of steaks.
The amounts and prices are quite unbeatable too. Especially coming from Japan, paying only 21,64 Reals (~6€) for 1kg of pork seems too good to be true.
Another thing that was difficult to find in Japan was Tomato Puree. Here in Brazil, I should have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever.
However, the problematic part should be buying sugar in denominations smaller than 2kg (I only needed a few spoonfuls to make the yeast rise). Fortunately, sugar is ridiculously cheap here, with even a 5kg bag costing less than 10 Reals, so I can easily afford to buy a 2kg sack and then donate the 1,97kg I did not need to Joao and his family.
Finally, there's one clever layout arrangement when it comes to the cashiers that I have not seen anywhere else so far: The pester power shelves near the cashiers are on hinges, allowing them to open and close like doors depending on whether the cashier behind them is opened or closed. That means that while many cashiers are closed, there's a long row of shelf space available that can on demand be opened up to give access to extra cashiers. Also it means that one can see on first glance which cashiers are currently staffed. A convenient and clever system that I have not yet seen anywhere else in the world! I wonder if they've got it patented?
Anyway, let that be enough of the town for now. I may yet add more details later on, but I'm sure you're already itching to learn about the main events of my stay here, beginning with the…
Day Trip 1 ~ Cascading Cataracts14-Feb-2019
The Amazonas, Halong Bay, Jeju Island, Iguaçu Falls, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Komodo Island and Table Mountain, those are the 7 wonders of nature as elected by an international initiative in 2011. What are the odds that the winds should carry me right to one of those seven here and now. One could almost believe I had this planned out from the start.
Needless to say that visiting the Iguaçu Falls is my top priority while I'm here. Now, back in Japan, during the last days of my stay, on the evening where I held my workshop at WorldUnite, I got some valuable information from a South American girl saying that it's better to go visit the Argentinian side of the falls, and Joao can only confirm as much. Even better, he also has a recommendation for how to best get there: A little hostel one block to the west is hosting day trips there at very affordable prices. And the best part is: You're not stuck with a tour guide, so you can explore the Iguazu Jungle Park at your own leisure. In my book, it just doesn't get any better than that!
Taking care of the hassle at the border is also part of the programme, and for a little bit extra I can also get the 700 Argentinian Pesos I need for the park entrance exchanged right there and then. The alternative would have been taking one of the international buses across the border, changing buses in Puerto Iguazu, and taking care of visas and money exchange by myself. In the end, that would probably not only have been more costly in terms of PP, but also in monetary terms, so I am quite happy with this arrangement.
By 8:30 in the morning, I board the little van together with half a dozen tourists from all over the world (not all of whom speak English)…
…and then we're on our way across the border (where we have to wait for about half an hour to get the visas sorted out)…
…across the Iguazu River…
…and then we're in Argentina, where we zoom right past Puerto Iguazu, through the jungle, and all the way to the Iguazu Jungle Park.
Now, for reference, the Iguazu Falls are approximately 20km southeast of Foz do Iguaçu, and their location can clearly be seen on any map because this is where all of a sudden the 1km-wide Iguazu River shrinks to maybe 2% of its original width – an extreme compaction that not even the Governor José Richa hydroelectric power plant 100km to the east manages to match.
And then we arrive at the Iguazu Jungle Park, and Dragon is it ever full! I just hope it's not as crowded inside. I'm just glad I did not pick a Sunday to visit.
While waiting in line, I also notice warning signs cautioning against pumas and jaguars which are apparently extant in this park. I guess the amount of people present today somehow mitigates the risk of me becoming cat food today.
Anyway, thanks to a large number of counters being open, it's only a short wait until I get my ticket, and I learn that it's a good thing I took the tour organizer up on his offer to get me the 700 Pesos to pay in cash, for I notice that for whatever reason, they don'T accept card payments here (also, as I should later learn from another tourist on our car, the only ATM at the park gates was broken, and he had to get a taxi driver to change his Reals into Pesos for him).
Anyway, now here I am inside the Iguazu Jungle Park, and much to my delight I notice that it's a lot more quiet and spacious on the inside.
From here on out, I should have a little over 6 hours to explore the park as I see fit. Plenty of time to walk the Sendero Verde ("Green Trail") back and forth, complete both the Circuito Inferior ("Lower Circuit") and the Circuito Superior ("Upper Circuit"), go and see the Garganta del Diablo ("Devil's Throat") and walk back again. The only thing I should pass on is the Sendero Maruco which does not go anywhere near the falls and goes there for a distance that is approximately ten times longer than it appears on the map. In fact, another co-rider should attempt this trail only to later tell us that it pretty much just went on and on through the Jungle for miles and didn't even have anything special at the end to show for it. Also, the Isla San Martin is currently off-limits due to whatever reasons.
Anyway, let's begin with the…
This should be one of the two most crowded portions of the park. But as I said, that mostly means that I won't have to worry about getting ambushed by aforementioned big cats. However, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what I was to encounter after walking literally two steps on that trail.
Coatis! Also known as the cutest things ever (apart from maybe foxes, that is). Distant relatives of raccoons, those little omnivorous critters roam the park in packs and show absolutely no fear of people whatsoever. They keep their tails raised as a beacon of sorts so they can always find one another, and make the cutest bird-like little squeaking noises. Of course it's forbidden to feed them, but I just don't think any sort of ordinance can keep people from succumbing to these levels of cute.
Either way, it's not in the park staff's interest to have the Coatis mingle with humans this closely, mostly because they tend to get their heads where they don't belong and also end up with "human" illnesses like diabetes from licking up too many a sweet leftover. That's why the park employs professional Coati Chasers who roam the park equipped with plastic bottles filled with noisy balls on the end of poles to chase the Coatis back into the jungle without actually harming them. It's gotta be tough chasing away what you want to protect for its own good.
But anyway, where was I? Oh right, the Green Trail. Anyway, the name could not be any more fitting as it leads straight through the lush greenery, crossing the tracks of the Jungle Train near the end of the way.
Crossing a wetland along the way, I also get to see my second native animal of this land: A gator. Specifically, a caiman. Fortunately, it's only a pretty small one and safely in the waters below the bridge.
After this little preamble, my next destination is the…
True to its name, the Circuito Inferior is located a good 50m below the remainder of the park, so it naturally starts with a bit of a descent down into the river valley.
From there, it continues upstream along a walkway that is still located a good 20m above the river level, leading past some minor falls that would still be very nice per se.
However, they simply pale in comparison with the Garganta del Diablo, which can be seen from an ideal downstream perspective on this trail.
Next to it, there's the Isla San Martin located between the two main segments of the falls…
…and then, there's what I am going to call the main event. Composed of a myriad of individual falls, the western cascades look too epic to be real. It feels like I've dived through a portal and am now no longer in the mundane world, but rather in the place that movies and games are made from, a natural beauty of such splendour and perfection that it cannot possibly exist in this world, and yet here I am, looking at it, and words simply fail me. Only once before on my travels have I been to a place of such unparalleled beauty, and that was in Cable Bay in New Zealand (see Book I ~ Chapter 21 ~ A Slice of Heaven). Back then, I did not think I'd ever find another place of such natural perfection, and yet it looks like I did. I was sceptical before, but now that I am seeing it with my own eyes, there is no doubt in my mind that this place has earned its throne in the hall of the seven natural wonders.
Of course they look even more impressive in action. However, I can't quite understand why anyone would be willing to pay for a boat ride to get any closer than this. Already, I'm getting wet enough as it is on the foremost platforms of the Circuito Inferior.
It's almost too impressive for me to look away, and yet I have still so much more to explore here, so I eventually continue along the Circuito Inferior, coming across an interesting two-lane walkway in the process.
The way back leads past many more little falls which by now seem rather pathetic in comparison to the majestic splendour I witnessed just now, and I realize that I will now never again be able to marvel at another waterfall, having seen what clearly are the most amazing cascades that exist anywhere on the planet of Earth. But anyway, this was just the beginning. Next up is the…
Just like the Circuito Inferior allows one to view the falls from below, the Circuito Superior runs along their upper edge and get a good view from above, as well as suffer a gruesome (yet epic) death if you go over the railing.
Somehow, the sight from the top of the falls is not quite as breathtaking, however.
And yet, it grows gradually more impressive as the terrain shifts from "land with water" to "water with land" and eventually "flowing lake with walkways".
It is on the viewing platform atop the Salto Mbigua that I decide to sit down and eat some lunch in view of the wonder panorama. Lunch in this case being "that thing", which is how I labelled this at the bakery I bought it from the day before, not knowing its real name. Unfortunately, it turns out to be rather dry for my taste. I think it was a Coxinha, and I should eventually get to taste a really, really good Coxinha, but today should not be that day.
That's it for the Circuito Superior! Going back to the train station, which sort of serves as a hub for most of the circuits, I come across my third native animal: A little monkey sitting in the trees…
…and before I know it, I am surrounded by hundreds of monkeys, waiting for the jungle train, and I make my resolve to walk on the way back if time permits. They do have a rather efficient system for "queueing" on the train, however: You pull numbers that have the number of a train on them, and there's only as many numbers as the train has places available. Then you wait for the train and board it. Occasionally, you can get lucky, however, and if there's still free places on one train they will call the people with tickets for the next train to board – all in Spanish, of course – and if you stand close enough to the gate when that happens you might be able to catch an earlier train. Not that the wait is all that bad, with one train running every 15 to 20 minutes. Still, I'm happy when I manage to grab a seat one train earlier than anticipated.
Not much later I'm departing for the Garganta del Diablo aboard this amusement park train going at a leisurely speed of maybe 10 km/h. I could easily keep pace with this thing on foot. Could, that is, if the temperatures were not "I want to die" again.
Eventually, the train arrives and deposits me at the southwestern terminus of this highly local track. Now I'm ready for the final trail leading to the…
Garganta del Diablo
For the vast majority of its roughly 1km long course, the trail is another walkway across a rather extensive "flowing lake" terrain, which is at the same time impressive, but also kinda boring. However, the worst part is that I am standing in the full light of the heavens, which is assaulting me from all directions. Coming almost straight from above since the time is only shortly after the zenith hour and being reflected from the waters below, I desperately hope that my layers of long clothes, hat and sunscreen manage to protect me despite my almost vampiric weakness to the orbital photon blaster's solar radiation. Even the thin layer of clouds barely does anything to keep the intense cosmic energy at bay.
Incidentally, none of my layers of antisolar protection should guard me from getting an unexpected case of butterfly-on-hat here. Fortunately, thanks to a friendly bypasser, I manage to detect it before it tunnels through my skull with its proboscis and injects it into my brain to… ALL HAIL THE BUTTERFLIES!!!
Anyway, a little after that, I finally reach the upper edge of the Garganta del Diablo, which pretty much looks like the earthly version of a black hole: A hole in the flowing lake with water gushing in from all the sides.
Up close, this thing seems more like the opposite of a black hole, however, since it is loud, bright, and crowded. The white waters and mists are absolutely fantastic for reflecting water in all directions, and with this being the official main attraction, the walkways are filled with people like the phone lines of Kyoto were filled with birds (see Book II ~ Chapter 20 ~ Kinky Kyoto), and by some wonder of human anatomy, they manage to be even louder than the thundering falls below our feet.
Incidentally, from here you can also see the facilities of the Brazilian side of the falls, which are just a little bit lacklustre, and probably don't have a very good perspective on the falls either, so I make a mental note to not go and visit them.
With three of the things I hate most – bright light, loud noise, and too many humans – coming together here, I don't stay at the falls for very long and quickly proceed to walk back across the flowing lake.
Coming back to the station, I unexpectedly run into an impressive swarm of yellow butterflies which, by all appearances, are busy drying their wings on the path next to jungle train. Or maybe that puddle is actually a pool of spilled lemonade, and they're busily feeding on it. I wonder how many thousand butterflies it would take to suck dry such a pool.
Or maybe they were sent by MY OVERLORDS THE BUTTERFLIES to guide me to my first Geocache in Argentina, which happens to be located not at all far from here.
Anyway, I have resolved to do so before, and with still plenty of time left I am now making true on my promise of walking back along the tracks…
…coming across some rather pointless-seeming bridges along the way…
…as well as having trains pass me by in both directions. Still, I manage to confirm that depending on your timing and speed, walking the distance is probably faster than waiting for one extra train, and definitely faster than waiting for two extra trains.
One very convenient installation along the way, however, are the poles providing portable water, allowing you to refresh yourself and refill your bottles – an absolute necessity in the dreadful heat that mercilessly permeates these parts.
And that's pretty much it. Returning to the central station, I have some more time to look around, meeting more monkey, coatis and caimans…
…before walking the Sendero Verde back the way I came and heading for the…
…however, not without hitting the souvenir store before and getting myself a nice, cute little coati keychain. Fortunately, they accept payment by card here. However, in order to clear the (laughably low) minimum purchase threshold for card payments, I also have to purchase a second keychain as well, and decide to go for a jaguar one.
And even after making all these circuits, I still have over an hour left before our ride back arrives. I am briefly tempted to go and make the Sendero Macuco, but upon reading that – despite what it looks like on the stylized map – that one is actually longer than all the other circuits combined, I decide against it and just wait for the shuttle bus to arrive. It's probably a good idea too, since my head already feels kinda woozy from all the sun.
And what a great decision that turned out to be! In the end, we have to wait for an extra 15 minutes for the last passenger to show up, which is aforementioned girl who dared braving the disappointing-yet-lengthy Sendero Macuco and had to run most of the way back to arrive at least in the barest semblance of "on time". My sympathies are with her.
Either way, now all that's left is the road back, which on the Argentinian side goes mostly through the green jungle of the Parque Nacional Iguazú. Watching what is pretty much a wall of green on both sides, the most interesting parts are the "Caution: Jaguars" and "Caution: Coaties" signs on the road which I am reasonably certain you are not going to find on any other continent.
And then, we are held up by highwaymen. Fortunately, they are the very reasonable kind who only demand a small amount of money under the pretence of an "environmental tax". I would love to think it is legit, and yet the fact that they collect it at the roadside from random cars instead of at the border seems more than just a little bit dodgy to me. Oh well, at the very least it's preferable to the "all your money or your life"-kind of robbery. Plus being a fox, I have got to appreciate a good hustle, and they at least did put some effort into preparing these cheap little paper recipes.
After an otherwise uneventful ride back that once again consists mostly of "waiting at the border", we return safely to Foz do Iguaçu. More or less. That night I would learn that despite my best efforts, I once again contracted a rather painful sunburn, and looking back on the day I can even tell when I got it: Namely on the way to and fro the Garganta del Diablo, where there was not a patch of shade for hundreds of meters in the full light of the heavens. The upside is that I only got burnt in that narrow strip of skin that was neither covered by my long shirt, nor my hat, nor the little strap of my trusty pouch.
And after I repeatedly applied sunscreen with SPF 50 too! I guess the next time I really do have to go for SPF 9000.
Anyway, today was not the most walking-intensive day, but I'm still rather hungry, so let's waste no breath and proceed with…
As I mentioned before, Brazil offers a fantastic variety of bread types, such as Pao Sovado Doce, Pao Ovo, Pao Integral Girass or Pao com Linhaca…
…all of which are equally tasty, and there's also a nice selection of things to put on top, the most notable being the interesting black-and-white choco-nut spread by the name of Nutty that is a sizable competition for Nutella in these parts.
Add to that a cup of the local Matte Leao tea (available in a selection of different flavours, all of which have the characteristic matte undertaste)…
…as well as some local fruit juice such as Acaí juice (made from Acaí berries that grow on palm trees native to the swamps and floodplains of Brazil, Peru and other states of northern South America)…
…and you have yourself a nice Brazilian breakfast (although a more typical Brazilian breakfast would probably include significantly more meat).
Lunchtime, meanwhile, should finally, finally, finally incorporate pizza again. It goes without saying that I should sample my way through the entire selection during my stay here, and in the course of doing so also discover a new found liking for olives on my pizza (since Olives are a part of most pizzas around here). Another typical Brazilian pizza topping is Catupiry, a brand of Requeijão, which is a soft and savoury cream cheese that makes for a great addition to any pizza.
For a pace of change, I also occasionally try out other ready meals such as Lasagne, Instant Burgers or Escondidinho – which looks a lot like Lasagne, but is actually mashed potatoes and meat with cheese on top – and while they all are well and good, none of them make me quite as happy as the super-tasty pizza, so I end up defaulting to my all-time favourite dish more often than not.
Dinnertime should as usually be my main cooking time, and as a direct result of the massive amount of meat offered here, my dishes should usually end up being sort of meat-heavy. Particularly notable here is the Enrolodinha – the mother of all sausages – which should keep me more-than-well-fed for two evenings in a rows. Also, good old champignons are finally being sold again at reasonable prices!
And, of course, with a proper oven at my disposal, I can finally bake my legendary tri-Tail pizza once again. My last chance to do so must have been in Fukuoka (see Book II ~ Chapter 14 ~ Fantastic Fukuoka Family Friendliness).
An integral part of pizza-baking that I don't usually have to bother with at home, but learnt about in New Zealand is properly preparing the yeast. I used to have my troubles with that before, but this time around, by putting a tablespoon of sugar and flour each into a cup of water that I boil up and then let cool down until I can put my finger into it without getting scalded and then adding the yeast, I manage to brew up a bubbling cup of active yeast, which on second thought I should probably have put into a different cup.
But enough about that, let's now proceed to proper Brazilian specialities, such as Pão de Queijo, or Cheese Bread. You can either get it at a bakery – any bakery – or buy them for baking up in the oven. Either way, they taste best fresh and while still warm.
Occasionally, I also go out to visit various restaurants, maybe the most typically Brazilian ones of which are the Churrascarias. Joao suggests a cheap and good one in the next block that goes by the name of Churrascaria do Gaucho, and one evening, specifically after coming back from the Iguazu Jungle Park, I decide to check it out.
So, what is a Churrascaria? Well, it is definitely not a typical restaurant. Rather, you pay a flat rate and for that you get unlimited access to a buffet with salad and various types of food.
That, however, is not the main deal here. The main deal is that instead of ordering from a menu, the waiters are roving around the restaurant with big skewers of meat, offering you generous cuts of whatever just came off the grill. Pork, beef, lamb, roast, spare ribs, chicken hearts, bacon, steak… the meats they serve know no end, and the real problem is learning when to say no, or else you'll have to roll your way home. That's why I also like to call these places the Brazilian battening stations.
Apart from the Churrascarias, there are also plenty of other little eateries around, and the food in them is… eclectic. There's no other way to describe the combination of edible stuff that routinely ends up on a plate here, such as black beans, rice, pasta, fries, nachos and egg, all of which may end up as part of a single Prato Executivo ("Chef's Special").
Another interesting thing is the Frango ao Champion ("Champion Style Chicken") which looks nothing like I would have imagined it, but instead features very unusual bacon-filled dumplings.
Joao also has a number of other recommendations in store for me, such as the City Bier, which has a mixed lunch buffet on Saturdays. In fact, flat-rate buffets such as these are actually fairly commonplace in Brazil once you know what to look for. The key word here being Buffet Livre ("Open Buffet"). Black beans are quite a common ingredient in Brazilian meals, by the way.
Acaí is also very popular around here, and you don't only drink it as a fruit juice. Rather, the most common way of consuming Acaí is in the form of a chilled fruit juice that is very similar to ice cream in terms of look and even taste, and yet does not contain any of the typical ingredients of ice cream. Instead, it is customary to mix it with a bit of granola… once you've managed to eat your way through half of the mountain, that is. Incidentally, the Acaí place also sells really tasty Pão de Queijo.
And then, there's this Confeitaria by the name of Jauense, which serves really great Brazilian baked goods. It is here that I not only taste amazing Coxinha, but also several other tasty treats, every single last one of which turns out to be filled with something.
Also, this place has a very interesting payment system: Instead of a normal tab, you get a big plastic tab that you need to bring to the cashier once you have finished your meal. I don't think I've seen a system like this anywhere else yet.
Finally, there's a Domino's just down the road, which I naturally have to try out. The pizza turns out to be better than in Japan, but not as good as in New Zealand. The interesting thing here is that due to some really weird pricing system, I can effectively "buy" a drink for a negative amount of money since the set meal is cheaper than the pizza by itself.
Before I forget it, there's also this one typical Brazilian condiment that you can serve with most other dishes. It goes by the name of Farofa, and consists primarily of toasted manioc flour with added spices. It goes well with mostly anything, and is particularly useful for toning down spicy dishes to a more bearable level. You can also use it somewhat akin to couscous.
There's also a number of typical Brazilian drinks. I already mentioned Acaí Juice and Matte Leao, but I should probably add that Matte Leao also exists in soft drink and ice tea variants. Personally, I like the Matte variant better.
One very popular drink here – possibly on par with Coca Cola – is Guarana Antarctica, a soft drink made from guarana berries. Unlike cola, it's colour is roughly that of clear apple juice, but the caffeine content is roughly the same. Once you know that this exists, you can pretty much get it all over the place.
A more exotic drink is Água de Coco (coconut water), which is exactly what it sounds like – but with style. If you buy one of these from a street vendor, you don't get a glass. Instead, they cut off the very top of a green coconut, and then use a manual device to punch a hole into it. Then you get a straw, and that's it. No glass required, and the waste is 100% bio-degradable. The Água de Coco tastes like something between milk and water, and is very refreshing, especially on hot days.
To wrap this up, here's some Brazilian snacks. It should not come as a surprise that there's plenty of chocolate to be found here in South America. However, some of the flavours sure are exotic, such as Maracuja or Cashew.
Most of the other snacks are pretty commonplace, with the exception of Torcida, which turns out to be thin, hollow, inflated dough "cushions". They're not bad, and definitely make for a good snack. Cebola, by the way, is the Brazilian word for "onion". I say "Brazilian" because this is one of the notable words where Brazilian diverges from its native Portuguese, which can be a bit of a pitfall at first.
And that, I reckon, is enough about Brazilian cuisine. Next, let us go and see…
Day Trip 2 ~ Dam It(aipu)21-Feb-2019
My next day trip should take me north of the city proper. Thankfully, there's a bus route going where I'm headed (but I would never have figured that out without Joao), so I my first stop is the TTU, from where I can board a relatively crowded bus heading north.
I already pointed out that the buses here safe time by having a conductor sell tickets aboard the bus. However, now I learn that they also safe time by not wasting any time waiting until the doors have closed before departing. An… interesting policy, if I do say so myself.
Now, the route the bus takes is rather roundabout and has so many corners that I am beginning to understand why no one ever managed to complete a map of the bus routes. It is also on this ride that I realize just how many speed bumps there are on the main thoroughfare – the bus easily passes over a dozen or more by the time it reaches its destination: The Itaipuan border north of Foz do Iguaçu
What is Itaipu? Itaipu is something amazing that I have not seen anywhere else in the world. It's a binational territory shared between Paraguay and Brazil, governed by the Itaipu Binacional company, which is made up in equal parts of Brazilian and Paraguayan workers and executives. This unique agreement was negotiated between the two countries to accomplish one of the most impressive feats of international co-operation that I know of: The mighty Itaipu Dam.
As a result, this is effectively a border and you can't just go there for sightseeing. However, with this being one of the world's largest dams, there naturally are a lot of people who want to see it, and as such there's a visitor's centre located conveniently just outside the checkpoint. Multiple different tours are available here, and after talking with the one guide here who actually speaks English, I decide to take the Circuito Especial for the very reasonable price of 92 Reals. I should not be disappointed.
However, I do have to wait for a bit until a tour with a free space and an English guide begins, so I look around the visitors centre, observing, among several models that would not make sense to me until later (and which I am going to show you at the moment when they made sense to me), a nice model of the surrounding area and the dam in its entirety…
…as well as a plaque recording the nationalities of visitors since 1977, which interestingly was 7 years before the dam's start of operations in 1984. Of almost 22 million visitors, about 400,000 came from Germany, 160,000 from Japan, and at least 9,000 from New Zealand.
Eventually, the tour begins with an intro movie in Portuguese, which fortunately features subtitles in Spanish and English.
During this, I learn a number of interesting facts, such as that the amount of concrete used in the construction would be sufficient to build 210 football stadiums, and the amount of steel and iron would be enough for 380 Eiffel Towers. Also, the volume of excavated rock and earth is the equivalent of 8.5 Channel Tunnels, and at the peak time of its construction thousands of workers were simultaneously in action, raising the equivalent of a 22-storey building every 55 minutes. Over the course of its construction, a total of 40,000 workers worked on the dam, which were enough that a total of three entire towns were built near the dam just to house the workers. These were unceremoniously named Vila A, Vila B and Vila C, and exist to this day as districts of Foz do Iguaçu.
Itaipu is also the world's second-most powerful hydroelectric power plant with an installed generator capacity of 14,000 MW, and although the Three Gorges Dam easily beats that with 22,500 MW, Itaipu's record for actually generated electricity still exceeds that of the Three Gorges Dam with Itaipu producing 103.1 TWh in 2016 against the Three Gorge Dam's 100 TWh of 2018. Itaipu is also the most environment-friendly hydroelectric power plant in all of Brazil, flooding only 1/10th of a square kilometre per MW of installed capacity, and funding and maintaining a dozen wildlife sanctuaries next to the reservoir, which is approximately 160km long, covers a surface area of 1,350km², and holds a total of 29km³ of water – that's the equivalent of 4,000 litres for every human on earth. The only shame is that the formation of the reservoir drowned the Guaíra Falls near the northern end of the reservoir in 1982, which previously were the world's largest waterfall by volume. The resulting inland fjord structures are nice though. Slartibartfast would be proud.
Anyway, after the intro video, we still have to wait for a bit, and then we get to board another bus…
…which eventually takes us all the way to the great Itaipu Dam. For reference: The "small" building in the centre in front of the dam is actually a massive 6-storey office block…
…and the 20 generator pipes are thick enough that our entire tour group would not be able to collectively hug one.
Now, the special part of the Circuito Especial is that we actually get a guided tour through the interior of the dam, the "main entrance" of which is located precisely on the border between Paraguay and Brazil.
Here, a maintenance tunnel leads deep into the heart of the structure, allowing us access to the Achilles Vent into which you'd have to drop a photon torpedo for blowing up the dam. Also, we are warned to be careful not to drop anything into that shaft, since the status of a dropped item would rapidly deteriorate from "lost" to "very lost". It's no wonder we have to wear helmets here.
Meanwhile, laterally, long maintenance tunnels stretch on seemingly forever, and make this place feel almost like a postapocalyptic underground bunker.
By the way, right now, we are located 144m above sea level, about 56m below the surface of the reservoir, and 52m above the surface of the lower Parana river. Also, the thickness of the dam at this level is about 100m. Even just building a 1-block thick cross-section of this beast in Minecraft would be a nightmare proper.
After our brief trip into the dam itself, we go inside the aforementioned "little" office building just across the road…
…where we get to see the control centre, most of the original components of which are probably obsolete now that everything can be handled by a dozen computers. Curiously, the control centre is not in the upper floors, but rather in the first basement floor when counting from road level.
Also, the border between Paraguay and Brazil intentionally runs precisely through the middle of the control centre. I wonder if they adjusted the border to make it this way, or if they designed the blueprints of the plan around the location of the border. Either way, depending on whether you count Itaipu as a separate territory or not, this means I can walk back and forth between Brazil and Paraguay freely here, and without a visa too!
Our next stop is the gallery of generators, which is a loooooooooong hallway above the 20 generator units, allowing for the generators to be lifted out and maintained. The surface of the gallery is 108m above sea level, while the upper balcony is at 139m.
And finally, we are taken right into the belly of the beast, where we get to see one of the 20 generators in action. And let me tell you, that thing is LOUD. It's also hot, but the noise is more unbearable than the heat. One minute at that volume is enough for a lifetime for me.
Now that you've seen that much, the following scale models are going to make a lot more sense. First, here's a cross section of the generator complex, with the galley of generators at its centre, and a closeup on the axle you've just seen spinning. At this point, I'm standing next to the thin lower red ring.
Above me, there's the actual generator unit…
…which occupies as much space as a whole orchestra.
And below me, there's the turbine, which is of an interesting model that is fed from all the sides simultaneously by means of a seashell-like pipe that feeds the water through the rotor, which eventually directs it downwards. I have no idea just how this mechanism works, but evidently it does.
Afterwards, we leave the central building again, and are next taken to the Mirador Itaipu on the Paraguay side of the dam, from where we get a great view on the dam, and especially the spillway, which is only in use approximately 10% of the year. The pools visible at the bottom of the spillway, by the way, are actually ramps that catapult the flowing water into the air, dispersing it before it hits the river, and thus mitigating the effects of erosion that would otherwise occur.
Following that, the bus takes us across the spillway…
…and to the top of them dam…
…from where we get to marvel at the size of the reservoir to the north…
…as well as an amazing outlook on the valley of the Parana river to the south.
That marks the end of the Circuit Especial. However, as a bonus, we get the option to take the significantly shorter panorama tour immediately afterwards, changing buses at the Mirante Central Itaipu on the Brazilian side, which interestingly has a steampunk version of the Statue of Liberty standing in front of it.
Among other things, there's also a comprehensive breakdown of the generator units here…
…plus of all the places, this is probably the best to get a good view of the main elements of the dam (sans the kinda substantial 4km long eastern portion). Also, the central island that you can see is the eponymous Itaipu Island, which was just barely emerging from the Parana river at its tallest point before the dam was built.
Moving on, the panoramic tour takes us to the Mirante do Vertedouro next, from which one can get a great view on the spillway… which admittedly is probably more impressive on those 10% of the days when it is actually open. The maximum volume of water supported by the spillway, by the way, is 40 times greater than the Iguazu Falls.
Then the bus drives back and forth across the dam without stopping – another perk of the Circuit Especial…
…and then continues onto aforementioned eastern section of the dam, which I did not get to see before. This one is constructed mostly of the 8.5 Channel Tunnels of material excavated during the construction of the dam.
The final stop of this tour before returning back to the visitor centre is the catamaran docking station at the interesting red beach of the reservoir. I wonder what makes it this way. I also wonder who would be willing to pay money for a ride on that catamaran, and for what reason. The tour of the dam and the vistas was highly interesting for me, but after seeing the reservoir – pretty much just a big expanse of blue – I really can't see what the alure of a boat ride would be.
I wrap up the trip with a bit of souvenir gambling, purchasing a chip at the store to trade for a random souvenir coin – incredibly winning the one that I was hoping for…
…and then have a lunch of Risotto au Funghi (with a drink of unusual Fanta Guarana) at the local restaurant, before taking the next bus back to town.
Thus ends my trip to Itaipu, another place that ought to be more world-famous than it actually is. And Foz do Iguaçu has many more things for those who keep their eyes peeled and their ears perked, so let's continue to talk about…
Starting with my stay place, I can officially say that it's a place with no bad vibes that makes you simply want to stay at home.
After all, it somehow feels like I've always got a friend there.
But when I do get out, it's usually a good idea to put on some sunscreen. In fact, here in Brazil this is so important that you occasionally even find free sunscreen being distributed in public places such as shopping malls.
Walking through the city, you can easily find many reasons to love Foz do Iguaçu.
For one, there is not only plenty of green to be found within the city, but also plenty of flowers in bloom. Right now, purple seems to be the colour of the season.
This also nicely relates to this aptly named chain of clothes stores named after a German settlement in Brazil roughly 570km east-southeast of here. Blumenau means "Flower Flood Plain" in German, and it invokes an interesting feeling seeing this familiar name all over the place here in Brazil, seeing as how the Blumenau is also a district of my home town of Munich, located not even 6km south of where I live.
Then there's this one shop that makes me simply stop (it would have been even better if they had sold hammers instead of jeans). Also, I wonder whether this shop increases or reduces the number of accidents on the nearby junction.
And then, there's another store that makes it very hard to say no.
By the way, the streets of Foz do Iguaçu also bear an exotic hazard that I am now exposed to for the first time in my life: Falling coconuts! However, thanks to the frequent thunderstorms in these parts, the times at which the fruits fall usually do not overlap with the times when people are outside. Thank goodness, because they can obviously cause quite some heck of a good lot damage indeed!
A little bit of cuteness – though not as commonplace as in Japan – can still be found if you keep your eyes open, such as in mosaics…
…or in mascots, such as on this one petrol station.
And then, there's this thing that decorates the entrance of aforementioned noisy Amarantha Pub. Is it an elephant? Is it an octopus? Or should we ask?
Another thing they have all around town are places where you can get really hot cars.
At first, I believe this to be some sort of car rental or sales place. However, as I see more and vastly different Lava Car places all around town, I am starting to have my doubts – especially since I never see many cars standing around in those places. Eventually, however, I come across some places that help me figure out the true meaning of this term: Those places are actually car wash shops, and there's quite a lot of them around! Those, mattress shops and laundry shops seem to be this town's primary businesses.
Speaking of mysteries, you have one try to guess the name of this particularly unorthodox hostel.
If you guessed "Tetris", then congratulations, you are correct! If I did not already have a place here in Foz do Iguaçu, this would probably be my first choice.
Moving on, every Sunday, there's a market on the southern end of the Avenida Juscelino Kubitscheck. Yes, you read that right. It's on the road. They literally block the entire southern part of one of the biggest thoroughfares in town so they can put a market on it. How rad is that?
I quickly learn that I better limit my visits to this market – which sells a little bit of everything, including freshly baked goods and other food – because it directly results in more keychains for me. Also, I realize that I might have contracted a mild Coati addiction here.
Returning from there, I run into a pizzeria that even I would not dare alone…
…and also come across another of those nostalgic places…
…which fits in nicely with the classical Bavarian bar I locate a few days afterwards.
At nighttime, it's not uncommon to see mosquito zappers around here… although the kill-counter is definitely something new.
Finally, another nighttime attraction that I have not seen anywhere else before are the junction fire jugglers who throw live shows on the crossroads at night to alleviate drivers' boredom during the red phases of the traffic lights. They usually work in pairs, with one guy juggling while the other roams between the cars, collecting donations.
So much for the flair. Now, I should have time for one last day trip during my time here in Brazil, and that one would make a fine tale…
Day Trip 3 ~ Of Birds and Borders28-Feb-2019
Two things are still left to see for me here in Foz do Iguaçu, and fortunately, both of them take only half a day and are located more or less in the same direction. I heard about the first one from the girl who braved the Sendero Macuco during my trip to the Iguazu Falls. After telling her that I liked animals, she told me of a bird park next the city. Hence, my first destination today should be the…
Parque das Aves
This bird park is befittingly located almost directly next to the airport, which means it takes about 45 minutes to get there by bus.
To get there, I once again use the bus. The line that runs there is the same that also serves the airport and the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls, and the only odd thing here is that the bus of the Linha 120 is not named after its final stop – the Parque Nacional do Iguaçu – but rather the airport, which is a few stops before the final stop. But either way, it's good to know exactly which bus I have to take, and at worst, I tell myself, I'll just walk the 3km from the airport. Fortunately, it should not come to that.
Thus, after a bus ride, during which the most unusual thing should be a person walking in the middle of the road at a junction, asking for something…
…I arrive at the Parque das Aves.
Purchasing a ticket, I once again marvel at how crude they are in this part of the world. They're effectively just printouts on a thin, yellow paper roll which everyone in Brazil seems to use.
But anyway, I did not come here for the tickets, but rather the birds. Checking out the park map, I quickly see that the park is arranged along a one-way circular track that leads you past all the birds. So far, so good.
Before I notice any particular birds, however, I notice the ambience, which is pretty neat and smart: Different from most other zoos I've been to, pretty much the entire park is one big forest. This not only makes it feel like a more natural habit for all the birds around here, but more importantly also serves to keep the place nice and cool and shady. Despite the widespread deforestation throughout the land, the Brazilians sure know the value of having trees around when they directly benefit from their shade.
The amounts of birds in here is truly astounding, and I won't even try to talk about each of them, or I'll still be writing about this next month. Rather, let's have a look at the highlights, such as the flamingoes, which are not only incredibly pink, but can also get incredibly loud once they get going. I especially like how they used mirrors to make the flamingoes feel that their flock is more numerous than it actually is, and how one of the flamingoes actually argues with himself in the mirror.
Moving on, there's all sorts of birds – such as Tachãs and Grou-Coroado – each of which is explained by more or less detailed, but definitely very aesthetic (and most importantly: trilingual) signs.
Soon after that, I reach the first of the park's three aviaries – the Viveiro Floresta – where birds are free to just sit around wherever they choose…
…and where I am besieged by charming bird calls from all the sides.
After that, there's the Viveiro Aves de Rios E Mangues, which as the name suggests is a little bit more aquatic in nature since it houses river and mangrove birds.
It is also in this aviary that a number of different toucans reside, the most prominent of which is the Toco Toucan with its huge bill, which among other things serves as an organ for heat regulation, similar to an elephant's ears. But seriously, the last time I've seen such a huge bill was after checking out of the Suzukia Ryokan in Zao (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together).
But it's not only birds that can be found in this park. There's also this interesting plant called Heliconia or Lobster Claw, which actually somehow reminds me of bird beaks on a cob.
And then, there's another aquatic areas where caimans and turtles get along surprisingly well.
Next up, there's the majestic harpy eagle, that I should only very briefly be able to observe in flight. These great birds – which are also locally known as Gavião-Real – are the largest birds of the rainforest, and mostly prey on sloths and monkeys.
The main event of the park, however, is clearly the Viveiro das Araras, where the colourful macaws that are often seen as the archetype bird of South Africa can be found all over the place.
Here, there's macaws and only macaws all over the place, sitting on perches, cleaning their plumage, dancing around and climbing down fences to drink. I briefly wonder what it must feel like to live in a habit exclusively filled with members of one genus and one genus alone, before realizing that the habit that I normally inhabit is even more exclusive, harbouring only a single species of primate with traces of canids and felids.
Next up is the Marsupilamium… no wait… the Marpiposario (in Spanish) or Butterfly House, where hundreds of little butterflies – some of them as big as my hand – flutter around all the time, feasting on the appetizing fruit all around the place.
Much more interesting, however, are the little hummingbirds that are supposed to be hiding in here. I am not the only one looking for the little flitters, and eventually, I manage to find a green and a turquoise one hiding in the foliage. turns out the little birds are actually smaller (in perceived size, not in body mass) than some of the butterflies in here.
And Dragon are those little fliers ever-so-fast. It's no wonder that the visitors are looking for them in vain, because those swift flitters actually move faster than the eye can follow. Not like some insects, which just move really, really fast, but actually Dragon-Ball-Z-High-Speed-Battle-fast. Pretty much the only times you can actually see them is when they're sitting on a branch, or briefly hovering in front of those nectar feeders. For those of you who've seen Pocahontas: Flit, the hummingbird from that movie, was darting around in slow motion compared to how quickly these birds actually move.
After that, there's yet one last particularly noteworthy bird, namely the Casuar or Cassowary, a flightless bird of New Guinea with an impressive crest…
…and then around lunchtime, I reach the end of the park, which is the ideal opportunity for me to have a quick meal of what I now know is a Coxinha, as well as another type of filled pastry, the name of which I do not know, while sitting in the café with view on the flamingoes.
This should conclude the first half of the day. However, it is yet far from over, for next, I am setting out towards the…
Marco das Três Fronteiras
My next destination is the mark of the three frontiers, which is a compound structure made of three vistas – one in each adjunct country – at the confluence of the Parana and the Iguazu rivers. I know that there's actually a bus running there, but with both the routes and time schedules being about as transparent as a good olde brick of concrete, I figure it's faster if I just walk. Or rather, I take the airport bus back to town until I'm at the closest tangential point, then get off and walk from there.
The stop I get off at is in front of the Shopping Catuaí Palladium, a mall in front of the city, and with that pretty much in the middle of nowhere. As such, the first part of my stray is along sparsely used but well-maintained roads with little shade in sight. "Good thing I chose the zenith hour for this endeavour" I think and generously add another layer of sunscreen before proceeding on my path.
Eventually, I reach the Jardim do Horto (Garden Yard) district, where the sidewalks abruptly end. If the houses were standing a bit closer together and were better maintained, why, I would feel like back in Japan again (though the only place with temperatures like this in Japan would probably be the Gifu Prefecture in Summer).
Also, Brazilian streets definitely have way more trees than Japanese ones. Speaking of which, this one tree definitely has the biggest leaves I've ever seen.
Moving on, I walk along the Avenida Morenitas thoroughfare through the Jardim das Flores (Flower Yard) district…
…and since this is a shopping road, I naturally come across yet another mattress store. I really wonder what the people here do with all their mattresses. Back in Japan, I found a single futon store during my entire year there, and I wouldn't know where the closest mattress store back in Munich even is.
And yes, I am positive that these mattress stores are not simply a front for a more savoury kind of business, mostly because they are closed at night, and aforementioned alternative businesses don't even bother to put up facades when honesty is a much more commercially effective approach.
Anyway, by now I am rapidly approaching the Marco das Três Fronteiras, which is remarkably well-signposted…
…though it's yet a little bit of a walk through the scenic landscape to actually get there.
And then, I arrive at the entrance to the Marco das Três Fronteiras, which turns out to be a little conquistador-style park…
…that only opens at 14:00, which is very now. One could think I actually planned this.
As a result, I am the first person to purchase one of those typical Brazilian high-end instant tickets…
…and as a consequence briefly have the entire park (which is only about half a hectare big) to myself.
The main attraction here is the Brazilian mark, which takes the form of a green-and-yellow obelisk…
…as well as the view on the other two countries.
Both Argentina and Paraguay also have a mark that can be seen from here. Argentina's mark is also an obelisk, while that of Paraguay is a rectangular tower. Both of them are painted in the respective country's colours.
Plus, you also get a good panorama of the river valley here. The Parana river is clearly visible, although the Iguazu river is mostly covered by trees. Of the three marks, the Paraguayan one probably has the best panorama.
Apart from the view, there's also a bunch of remarkably lifelike statues of natives standing around the place…
…and then, there's also a highly artistic little labyrinth with a bunchload of cute hidden within.
Altogether, however, there's not much to see and do here. Mostly, it seems to be a nightlife venue with a number of different and colourful themed restaurants (most of which are still closed). Joao even suggested that I come here in the evening, which however did not really fit into my schedule, plus I don't really like places that are too crowded. As far as I'm concerned, this is perfect just as it is. Maybe a little expensive for a vista, but still good.
As it is, I've seen everything there is to see around here and now head back home. Normally, I would have walked the distance, but with the temperatures being "I want to die", I decide to take the bus after all. Although the bus routes are confusing as Fox, there's one place that you can always get to easily, and that is the TTU.
Little should I know that this particular bus ride should be my most unusual urban bus ride thus far. Not only is the route about as crooked as witch's head…
…but it also leads right across one of aforementioned mega-cobblestone roads, allowing me to experience firsthand what it is to drive on those, and I have to revise my earlier statement: 30km/h are already utopic on these roads. 20km/h is more like it!
Fortunately, it's only the remote backroads that have this unhealthy-vehicle-sound-inducing pavement, and after a ride that takes roughly 45 minutes, I make it back home, where I get to inspect the souvenirs I bought today. The keychain from the Parque das Aves was a gimme, and then there was this little cute Coati at the Marco das Três Fronteiras that I simply could not just leave there. Also, isn't it interesting how the Argentinian flag and the Paraguayan flag look almost identical in greyscale?
And with that, my third day trip is over. Next up is…
Looking back, I had a really good time here in Brazil – the bad beginning notwithstanding – and my home here was really great as well. I had a large single room with a very comfortable bed, a kitchen all to myself, and the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic, with Joao providing many helpful hints. A washing machine was available for me to use, the WiFi worked fine, and the AC kept the place at a tolerable temperature. Also, this place was located very centrally, with all important things located right around the corner. Pretty much the only downside was that it could get a bit noisy at times, but otherwise, this place was perfect, and at such a cheap price too! I'm positively thrilled! Thank you so very much for this wonderful place, Joao!
It goes without saying that I should prepare a piece of gift artwork for him and his family…
…and present it to him prior to my departure, secret message included. If you're reading this and haven't opened it yet, now might be the time. =^,^=
And one more notable thing: Despite friends and family being concerned, I did not get robbed a single time while in Brazil (well, apart from that highly dubious "Eco Tax", and strictly speaking, that was in Argentina). I may or may not attribute this to several factors: I tend to avoid places with many people, keep my eyes peeled and my ears perked, carry my keys and wallet on chains, know how to use the "Cat Crosses the Courtyard"-stance, and frankly, I probably don't look like that easy of a mark to the atten-thief. Or maybe it could also be because South America is a whole freaking continent that is twice the size of freaking Europe, so just because some parts of it are not safe does not mean that all of it is dangerous. This sort of over-generalization is like saying you won't go to Germany because certain other nations in or near Europe violate human rights.
Either way, before I move on, there's still one last thing I want to go see here in Foz do Iguaçu, and that is…
Interlude ~ A Brazilian Carnival3-Mar-2019
As if by chance, the duration of my presence here in Foz do Iguaçu also covers the duration of the carnival. Believe it or not, but I am, in fact, completely oblivious of the fact that I coincidentally planned my stay here like this. However, I before long I should necessarily notice the signs of the approaching seasonal event, such as the windows of yet another nearby mattress store.
Well, now that I know that I have the chance to witness an authentic Brazilian carnival, there naturally is no way in Dragon that I'm going to let this opportunity pass me by. Naturally, Joao knows exactly where in town the festivities are (just next to the City Bier, as it happens), and so on the day of the carnival, I set out to the place to see what's up.
I'm already a little bit sceptic, hearing that it's apparently just one location, and not a parade like I would expect, so I'm not too disappointed to find out that it's only a pretty small areal spanning only a single road segment between two blocks. The flair also leaves a little bit to be desired: I already felt under-costumed, coming here wearing only my three tails. But compared to the ordinary clothes the other people wear here, my outfit is really fancy, and while there are a few people costumed in a way that I would expect at a Brazilian carnival, most of it is pretty mundane. In fact, even with just my tails, I apparently stand out so much that a girl comes talk to me. Unfortunately, she speaks only Portuguese, so whatever could have come from this gets smashed at the language barrier. Oh well. It's not like I could have learned all the languages of all the countries I might possibly have visited in advance. I'm still struggling with Japanese as it is. =^,~'=
Not only is it crowded, but the music is horribly, horribly loud, so I only stay long enough to take a few videos for reference…
…and then quickly wing it. I can't remember the last time I've been this glad to simply walk along a quiet, empty road.
And that's already it for this particular Brazilian carnival. I didn't exactly expect something like in Rio de Janeiro (which is approximately one France east of here)…
…but I still have to say that I'm somewhat underwhelmed. Oh well, nothing to be done about it but to look forward to…
The Road Ahead
Eventually, the day of departure arrives. Early in the morning, I leave yet another empty room behind, leaving my keys on the bare table that served as my trusty workstation for the last month…
…and then, I'm once again on my way, all my luggage firmly strapped to my body. And this time around, I have taken care to put Levi and Ran into different bags.
Again, I am off to another continent, so a long journey awaits me today… or so I think, for this time around, things should go quite wrong. But that is a story for the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.