I’ve just remembered the problem with travelling and the clue is in the name. The distances are huge in South America and it’s looking like it’s very easy to lose many days sat on a bus.
I left Ilha grande on the 9:30 boat reaching land just after ten. A shortish walk along the seafront got me to the bus station, where I purchased tickets to Sao Paolo. Departing at 12, I had a short wait before boarding the bus. It was some bus too. Air conditioned, ample leg room, reclining seats and state of the art foot rests. That was a bus journey of nine or so hours of luxury. Arriving at the beast that is Sao Paolo bus station, I purchased an onward ticket to Foz Do Iguacu. I had an hour to get some food and water. I dared to think that it was a textbook performance.
Fast forward two hours and I was sat in a small white room watching a Brazilian soap, with two Spanish, a French, one South African and one Brit and a handful of locals in a random mechanics yard on the outskirts of town. We sat there for two hours, because apparently there were not enough people. When we finally re-boarded the bus, there were the exact same number of people as when we first stopped! Seventeen hours later, I arrived in Foz Do Iguacu.
There’s not a lot going for the town itself. It’s fairly big, dusty and with no notable sights. Other than the all you can eat buffet, with unlimited barbecue for four pounds. I went there a few times. It’s what lays outside that brings the hoarders to Foz. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Iguacu falls sit on the border between, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and covers a distance of 2km. So the rumours go that when Lady Elanor Roosevelt visited the waterfalls, she exclaimed “Poor Niagra!”
First up was the Brazilian side. A short bus from the urban terminal, followed by another to the actual entrance, I stood in a long queue. That was much of the way the Brazilian side ran. There is one path, which everyone follows and then stops at the various photo areas. It’s hard not to feel like you are being ferried along. That said the views are incredible.
Arguably the best part of the falls, is when you get to walk out into the centre of the falls. You get wet, but you also get to appreciate the sheer beauty of the place. That and finally the sun came through the clouds and created a rainbow, which really capped off the sight.
The next day it was time for the Argentinian side. This brought a great dilemma. My hostel seemed to fail to get anyone else to go on the tourist bus and so I was left with the local bus connections. That is normally the way I prefer to do it; however there are numerous pitfalls to this as the busses tend not to stop at the Brazilian immigration points. This can cause huge hassle and big fines. Some people decide to just skip it and hope for the best. Others prefer to stop and complete immigration correctly. Being English, the latter option seemed like the correct one.
Amazingly, it all went fairly smoothly. My spanish was understood enough to get the bus to stop at the border and there I met a couple of Germans, who had been waiting for the onward bus (it doesn’t wait). Finally it arrived and we were taken through Argentian immigration (very efficient) and then dumped at the side of the road far earlier than expected. Confusion entailed, until a bus swung around the corner and took us directly to the falls.
In many ways the plan worked great, except that I didn’t have any Argentinian Pesos and the ATM had stopped working at the park. I had hoped to visit the ATM at Puerto Iguassu, but due to the trip becoming far more efficient this didn’t happen. Unable to pay the entrance fee and unable to pay the bus back I had a problem. So I went to the tourist office and spoke to the lady there, who understood enough to point at a man and say ask him for money exchange Now research hat on, there is a huge trade in dollars in Argentina, called the blue dollar. Great! I had some dollars and could exchange it for lots of Pesos! Problem solved.
Except the man didn’t speak and English and upon trying to explain the problem in Spanish, he seemed very disinterested and a little uncomfortable. Upon going back to the tourist office, I realised that she had been pointing at one of the workers, not the poor man who I attempted to carry out some dodgy deal with! The new guy was far more helpful and let me into the park to visit another ATM.
As for the falls themselves, the Brazilian side is arguably better because it gives you the panoramic view and an understanding of the sheer scale to the falls. That said, the Argentinian side is more enjoyable, purely because it occupies a lot larger area. Everything is so spread out. There are lots of different walks through the forests and crowds never become an issue. You also get to experience the raw power of the falls far more as you stroll over the top of them and see how the river goes from being calm and peaceful into such a incredible force.
The journey back was smoother, although I had to wait close to an hour for another bus to pick me up from the Brazilian border. Joy. It was all worth it though and I returned to my hostel, knowing that I had seem something really special.
If there is one major downside to Iguacu falls, it is that it is in the middle of nowhere. My next destination was Bolivia. The question was did I cross the border further up in Brazil, or travel across Paraguay. There was no easy option. Both entailed stupidly long bus trips and hours of pain on bad roads. I opted for Paraguay and boy was it a fun journey!