Friday, November 23, 2012

Iguaçu

Wow,
basically.

We've just spent a long weekend at Iguaçu, enjoying some of the most fabulously stunning views of nature I've ever seen - waterfalls, rainforest, rivers, animals, birds. You name it, it was there. And it just went on and on, in every direction, for as far as you could see. I managed to take 230 photos in three-and-a-half days and I still don't think I did the place justice. Luckily for you, though, I'm not going to put them all in the blog - only the most impressive 100 or so.

For those who don't know, the Iguaçu (or Iguazu, or Iguassu, or Yguasu - take your pick depending on which language you prefer) Falls lie along the Iguaçu River, which is part of the border between Brazil and Argentina. Most of the Falls are in Argentina but to do them justice you really have to see them from both sides of the river and so this is what we did.

Day one was taken up with getting out of São Paulo and settling into our very nice hotel at the other end. We were staying at the Iguassu Resort (their spelling) which is on the Brazilian side, about 5 km from both the entrance to the park and the airport which are right beside each other. There was a lot of building work going on around the resort which unfortunately meant that the main swimming pool was out of action, but seeing as the whole place was inundated with smaller pools and jacuzzis at every turn, this wasn't so much of a problem, and I can honestly say we were never bothered by the noise or inconvenience.

The kids loved it. There was a dedicated games room where they could play table tennis, or chess, or even David's very own version of snooker (without a cue) and it was quite nice for Helen and me to send them off on their own so we could have a bit of peace and quiet from time to time. The food was great as well, although I really need to learn how to use a buffet without abusing it. I must remember it's eat all you want, not eat all you can. Six different desserts in one sitting is really, really unnecessary.

Anyway, on to the Falls. We decided to do the Argentine side first as there's a lot more to do on that side and we thought it was probably better to get the longer, more tiring day out of the way while we were still fresh. So, we got up early, had a nice quick breakfast of cereal, fruit, bread, ham, cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon, omelette, sweet pancakes, cake, fruit juice and coffee, and then set off (in a very large taxi).

Getting out of Brazil took us five minutes while someone looked over our passports and then stamped them. Getting into Argentina then took us three-quarters of an hour while our driver queued with all our  paperwork to have our names written down somewhere. And that was quick, thanks to a judicious bit of queue-jumping on his part. Sometimes, when it's busy, it can take up to three hours apparently. This is not something they tell you about in the guide book so if you're thinking of making the trip, bear in mind that your whole morning might well be taken up just sitting in a car park. And why is it so quick to get out of Brazil and so slow to get into Argentina? Well, in the words of our driver, "porque Argentina é chato."

Once we were actually at the Parque Nacional Iguazú all was forgiven however. The park is very well laid out and the various different routes are well sign-posted. There is also a train which takes you all the way up to the top of the park so you don't have to waste time wandering through the rainforest for a couple of hours before getting to see any waterfalls.

I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow of every waterfall we saw, but the first one deserves a special mention because it's the biggest and it was seriously impressive. It's called Garganta del Diablo (The Devil's Throat) and here it is in all its glory.

video
After that, we spent the rest of the day following the other trails, walking in front of waterfalls, above waterfalls, below waterfalls. Everywhere you looked there was a waterfall, and every time you thought that this view was the best, you'd turn a corner and come face to face with an even more stunning one.



 To end the day James persuaded us to take him on a boat trip around a couple of the more accessible falls. We were warned that the pilots liked to take you nice and close to the spray and that we would probably get a little wet so we carefully packed away as many of our clothes as we could in the handy waterproof bags they provided, just in case.

Well, my goodness. A little wet is a serious understatement. We got drenched. Okay, so we were sitting  right in the front of the boat, but even so, no one told us we were going right inside the waterfall. Poor David was terrified and I'm really not surprised. For about ten seconds I was literally unable to breath the pounding of the water was so fierce. We were all completely soaked. And then they did it again. For even longer. It was absolutely brilliant! And what a star David was. Within five minutes of getting back on dry land, he had completely forgotten his fear, had declared it one the best things he'd ever done and was begging to do it all again.

After that we called it a day, spent another half an hour or so at the border and then went back to the hotel for a well-earned and needlessly large buffet dinner of soup, bread, salad, rice, sandwiches, seafood paella, steak, vegetables, creme caramel, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and chocolate pavê (who knows, but it was so nice I went back for thirds). Also on the menu, but not making it as far as my plate, were the wonderfully named 'sweetish rice' and 'nuts pudding'.

The following day, after a leisurely breakfast of... well, by now you've probably got the idea, we set off to do the Brazilian side of the river. The Parque Nacional do Iguaçu is a lot smaller than the Parque Nacional Iguazú and the trail which takes in all the views of the Falls only takes about an hour to walk. The views, however, are amazing. Being further away from most of the waterfalls, you get a much better idea of the scope of the entire region than you do on the Argentine side, even though you can't actually see all the individual falls.

If you're planning a trip, don't be fooled into thinking you can skip the Brazilian side. The trail may be a lot shorter, but the views are every bit as stunning and the experience is every bit as rewarding.



 There are also other things to do inside the park as well as look at the falls. Again, you can go on boat trips and get wet, but having done that one already, we cruelly ignored James' desperate pleas for more. Instead, I was persuaded to take him on the arvorismo or tree walk, which seemed like a perfectly good opportunity to do a bit of father/son bonding while having a bit of an adventure.

Note to self: eight metres is a lot higher than it sounds, especially when you're struggling your way along an obstacle course while balanced on a narrow wire cable. Okay, so we were roped off to a safety wire, but relying on that would have been tantamount to cheating and I was not about to be shown up by an eleven year old who seemed to find the whole thing so much easier than me. I did, however, use my bad back as an excuse to duck out of the final challenge which was to climb a telegraph pole, stand on a tiny platform at the top and then hurl yourself across to catch a trapeze about eight feet away before being lowered back down to the ground (rather quickly).

James did it of course, despite being terrified. And not satisfied with his first attempt, he went and did it a second time, just to show how insane he really was. Meanwhile, I redeemed some of my lost cred by nipping up to the top of the climbing wall amid shouts of "Go Spiderman!" from the staff, which pleased me no end.

It helped me work up an appetite as well so once we'd rehydrated and I'd managed to stop my arms and legs shaking so much, we headed back to the hotel for another super-sized helping of buffet.

For our final day we decided not to do the other thing people like to do when they visit Iguaçu - namely pop across the border into Paraguay and spend the day at one of the massive shopping centres there, filling up several suitcases with cheap knock-off copies of brand name electronic goods and designer clothes. Instead, we decided to go to the Parque das Aves, which is a wildlife sanctuary - mostly for birds but with the odd snake and crocodile thrown in for good measure.

Now, I have to point out to anyone who doesn't know me well that birds are not really my friends. Not at all. In fact, I'm terrified of them. Yes, even the tiny little ones that like to jump up onto the table and try to steal your lunch from right in front of you - in fact, especially those ones. So I would just like to point out that for me to agree to spend a couple of hours in a giant bird sanctuary was pretty darned noble. And brave. And scary.

Of course, most of the birds were in cages. But then, on occasion, so was the only path. I tried, I really did, but the toucans did for me. They just have no fear. And one of them crept up and landed right next to me while I wasn't looking. So being the brave man I am, I ran away and hid behind my children until I could escape to the safety of the alligator pen.

But I have to admit, despite the fear factor, the Parque das Aves was an excellent way to spend a couple of hours. It wasn't too big, it was nicely laid out and you were able to get right up close and personal to a lot of exotic birds (if you like that sort of thing). The tour guide in me definitely recommends you put it on the itinerary. And stay for lunch as well. It's nice food, very reasonably priced, and not a single bird tried to steal mine off the table.


And that was pretty much it. We had a few hours to kill after lunch so we spent it lazing around by the pool and making sure we had a bit more to eat before heading for the airport. Then back to good old São Paulo.

It was a fabulous holiday from start to finish. I now have many, many wonderful memories and many, many average photos.

I also need to go on a diet.