The landscape was unsurprisingly green, given the amount of rain, as we ventured out of Paraguay towards Foz do Iguaçu. Our border crossing into Brazil occurred in Ciudad del Este, the large duty free city in South America, a city of sky scrapers. The first notable one we encountered was unfinished; seems it wasn’t until it reached its 15th floor of construction that the local authorities realised it didn’t have local authority approval and so stopped its further construction, it now stands as an eye-sore at the entry to the city.
Foz was the spot that Finn’s harem grew, with the addition of Lea and Rachel from Western Australia and Hanna and Louise from the UK. I think he was amused by it, having lost his wife to cancer only a couple of months before.
We awoke to blue skies – hardly believing our eyes!
Before hitting the falls we visited the Parque de Aves, a sanctuary of beautiful birds from Brazil and other parts of the world – parrots, macaws, flamingoes, hummingbirds, toucans and even some cassowaries! Again I stayed away from the anaconda cages, determined to not lay my eyes on one this trip.
I took the option of a helicopter flight over the falls. It was spectacular, the expansiveness and power of them clearly evident from the sky. We had a great view of both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side. There are a total of 275 falls across a length of 1.5km with some falls being up to 72m deep. They have a beautiful cascading effect across the cataracts.
With that excitement out of the way and a clearer understanding of what we were going to encounter we excitedly drove into the park (passing a native agüti, scavenging by the roadside, along the way) to walk the misty boardwalks. The Brazilian side of the falls certainly gave you a good appreciation of the width of the falls, which were running so fast the Devil’s Throat walkway had been closed for safety reasons – it looked under serious threat from the pressure of the passing water. The little squirrel like Coatis were having a great time feasting on people’s leftovers – quite happy to take off with any dangling bags.
We celebrated our fabulous day with a few drinks at a local bar before some of us headed to the supermarket for dinner. This was our first per kilo meal (buffet style weighed before you eat it) and it brought back childhood memories of trips to the City Coles cafeteria with my Grandma.
The next morning we went to the Argentinian side of the falls. Our first introduction to them was via a walk along a boardwalk at the top of the falls. They really are breathtaking from this side as you’re right on top of them.
Those of us who had opted for the boat ride under the falls then hopped into the back of the truck that would take us down to the river. We drove through some of the 67 000 hectares of national park on the Argentinian side before jumping into a large zodiac for a ride up to the base of the Devil’s Throat and under some of the others we’d walked above earlier. We’d been warned we’d get soaked so had prepared well. The ride was certainly exhilarating!
We were told that the falls normally flow at 1 700 cubic metres per second but that the day before (day of our visit on the Brazilian side) they were flowing at 15 000 cubic metre dropping to 9 000 the day of our Argentinian visit – certainly explained the power of the falls!
Our final leg for the day was a walk around the lower part of the falls where we encountered more of the coatis from the day before and towards the gate we encountered brown capuchin monkeys; it had been a day for it all!
Each part of the falls had been different and each absolutely gorgeous – definitely ranked as another highlight of my trip.
With the falls seen we started to make our way to Rio. We had a few stops in between, the first being Curitiba, which we reached by overnight bus.
I managed to get a good night’s sleep on the bus so while waiting for the others to wake at the hotel I headed off to explore a bit. The city was established in 1693 and now had a large university population. The buildings were quite eclectic with a mix of art nouveau and gothic architecture.
I spent the day with Rosie and Isabella checking out the sights from the hop-on hop-off bus. The bus started in Praca Tiredentes, where the cathedral is located. Our first stop was the Jardim Botanico – lovely grounds with a wire like greenhouse dominating the park.
Having had our botanical fix we chose a bit of culture with the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, the largest museum in Brazil. Oscar designed the building in his signature style (he’d integrated an ‘eye’ that functions as an exhibition room). Oscar had been the town planner / architect of the new capital, Brasilia. His style was undoubtedly futuristic based on his architectural models we had seen at the museum.
Our visit to the museum was well timed with a temporary exhibition by Dutch artist MC Escher. I’d always liked his work and was expecting to see some on the European leg of the trip so a nice surprise. I also really enjoyed the works by local Curitibano artist Violeta Franco – one of a number of Curitibano artists who’d broken away in the mid 1900s to create their own abstract form of art.
With a bit more time left before the threatening storm hit we headed to the Bosque Alemão, a public area dedicated to the German immigrants of Curitiba. We enjoyed trying to put together the tale of Hansel and Gretel, written in Portuguese, as we walked through ‘The Woods’. Quaint.
The city was filled with memorial areas – for the Italians, Polish, Arabs, Ucranians and the Indians of the Guarani nation. Who hadn’t settled here?
And then down came the rain (…and washed it all away…) prompting a night in before the early morning bus to Sao Paolo.
Sao Paolo is huge – estimated to have between 17 and 24 million inhabitants, makings it the largest in The Americas and the Southern Hemisphere and seventh largest in the world by population. We stayed in the tranny district of the city – making for a colourful time.
The sad thing was the number of homeless people – I could only think that their number contributed to the reason for the vagueness of the population size. I went off and visited St Paul’s cathedral – impressive building but right beside residential buildings in a terrible state of disrepair.
Having arrived on a Sunday and the day of the Confederation Cup final between Brazil and Spain it was pretty quiet around town with most museums closed so my final stop was the Italia Tower where, from the 38th floor, you get a fabulous view of the city. While the views from the top bar were fabulous, I declined – I couldn’t justify paying the additional $15AUD cover charge for a drink!
Of course the game that night provided a good excuse to head to the nearby Brahma Bar for a few ales amongst the local futball lovers – we obviously barracked for Brazil who thrashed Spain, creating a very happy bar of people!
Our last stop before Rio was Paraty, a lovely colonial port town complete with cobblestone streets. All through the bus trip the clouds came and went giving us hope for some sunshine. Alas, rain it was to be. The first evening I indulged in a little too much cachaca (rum spirit in the caipirinhas) with Finn and our new friends from the restaurant, Aussies Ruth and her 8 year old son who were travelling for a year or two.
I was pretty fragile the next day so it was a low key day for me, managing to only venture around the streets for african influenced tapioca flour savoury crepes. The town was very colourful with plenty of reminders of its history as one of the key ports used to bring in the African slaves.
Our night with Ruth had revealed that we had been fortunate indeed with the timing of our visit to the falls. The park had been closed at the time of Ruth’s visit – seems they had been closed the day after our visit because of safety concerns arising from the high flow of water. We’d seen news reports showing flooding in areas, obviously impacting them from upstream. Felt even more lucky to have visited the amazing place, I would have been quite devastated had they been closed.
We awoke to blue skies – yeh – off to Rio de Janeiro!
Our last bus trip. All of the bus trips on the trip had been wonderful. I felt I’d seen and experienced so much more than I would had I flown between destinations.
I knew we were in Rio when we started passing colourful floats in storage yards – and the Sambadrome, where all the action other than the parades happens during carnivale and of course we were greeted with a view of the statue of Christ the Redeemer, perched high on Corcovado.
We dumped our bags and then went out for an orientation of the city. The graffiti was impressive in Lapa, the area in which we were staying. Apparently it is a result of council intervention – art spaces provided as a distraction from drug use.
With the clear skies and a bit of light left a number of us headed for Sugarloaf, the top of a large rock jutting out to the sea, reached by two cable cars. The cable car system was established in 1912 and has since become the star attraction in Rio enabling wonderful views of Ipanema, Copacabana and Guanabara Bay and inland toward Corcovado and the Tijuca Forest. The views were magical. We had arrived before sunset and left after sunset so got to enjoy the views with the changing lights. In the dark, the lit statue of Christ appears to sit suspended in the sky over Rio, no doubt designed to have this effect.
We were in Rio, and we were staying in the party district, so had to see some samba! Headed out to a bar recommended by Cristina. It was fun watching the locals do their thang. The moves were impressive from both the men and women; quite a workout and there’s no doubt – Latin Americans have rhythm! I didn’t dare venture near the dance floor for fear of embarrassing myself – I was quite content watching the dancing and flirting that was going on around us.
Another glorious day so this time we headed for Corcovado, reaching it by funicular. More wonderful views atop Rio from the toes of the statue of Christ. The statue was erected to mark the 100th anniversary of the independence of Brazil from Portugal (1822). It’s not hard to see why it was established recently as one of the new wonders of the world. Again the views were superb.
With some confidence on using the buses a number of us headed back into town to visit the spaceship like Metropolitan Cathedral. It had interesting acoustics; we sat and listened to some Afro Brazilians singing. Apparently only 50% of Brazilians are catholic, the rest being of evangelistic faiths. Quite a contrast to the countries conquered by the Spanish under the decree by the pope of the day.
An area known to be a more seedy part of town has Selarón’s Steps. The steps, coved in cut tiles, are the work of an artist who lives on the avenue of the steps. He got sick of the grimey look of the steps and so chose to tile them himself. Apparently he still repairs any that are broken and sells his own art to pay for the maintenance.
The steps led us up to a part of Santa Teresa that had the Parque das Ruinas, ruins of a mansion with fabulous views of the city, and the adjoining Museu da Chácara do Céu, the former mansion of art collector Castro Maya. The house itself was gorgeous – architectural style similar to Frank Lloyd Wright.
The day was finished off with a visit to the Jardim Botanico, lush grounds with some interesting garden structures, before a farewell dinner with the group and a few farewell drinks out with Cristina. This was it – tour over – 65 days through five countries with the only constants being Cristina and me. I’d had a great time, having met lovely people who I knew would remain friends.
The next morning I ventured over to my new accommodation in Ipanema, airbnb accommodation with Rafaella and Gustavo. The apartment was lovely, while small it was beautifully decorated and carried the outside in through its lovely big windows. I knew immediately I was going to enjoy the next four days.
The sun was shining so what else could I do but go to the beach? I’d arranged to meet up with Heather, Rose and Finn at Copacabana so made my way along the esplanade. Observing along the way the great sand sculptures, men’s sculpted bodies and women in all shapes and sizes wearing itsy bitsy teeny weenie bikinis!
I was going to have my gringo siren on when I stepped out in my bikinis – they’d been marketed in Australia as Brazilian but I now realised that the brainiac marketer that came up with that had never been to Rio! I was confident I could fashion up something a little more appropriate after all I had a pair of shoelaces and hair band to work with.
One thing I did know was that I had no need to worry about how I’d look with the extra weight I’d gained, these beaches are clearly about tans not body size!
Heather, Rose, Finn and I enjoyed a caipirinha at one of the beach kiosks, toasting the end of a good trip. We all agreed it was a beautiful spot, the rocky outcrops at the end of each beach really making it special.
I was thankfully for being able to enjoy Rio in such sunshine – I had a woken to another glorious day. This time I trundled off on Rafaella’s old push bike to meet Finn up the beach for oysters straight off the fish monger; he opened them for us at the counter and we proceeded to give them a squeeze of lime before devouring them – a great way to start the day.
After a bit of people watching with Finn (you could sit all day doing this in Rio) I headed off on the bike for a visit to Leblon. The cycle path runs along the beach so you get a real feel for the various sections of the beaches. The hippie section had the odd dreadlocks wearing dude wandering around, the gay section was full of gorgeous men playing volleyball and the family section had a fenced off mobile kids area.
The path was pretty full; you had to give way to the ‘Billy Ice’ bicycles, which were selling bags of ice to the beach tents.
My evening was pretty low key with me opting to watch the Aussie movie The Square; a good tale about how, what seems like a, simple low risk crime can go terribly wrong.
Again I woke to a beautiful day. I’d been told that there was a local market on Saturdays so headed down for some more souvenirs for the family. It was then onto the beach. I hired a beach chair and umbrella from one of the beach tents for a whole 10 soles ($6). The beach is the penultimate place to people watch – there were no budgie smugglers to be seen just good old swimming trunks or board shorts – quite a contrast to the girls’ swimwear.
During my afternoon stroll I was fortunate enough to pass some of the very dark and glossy (sweaty) men using the fixed gym presses along the esplanade – etiquette had clearly dictated that they were only for beefcakes.
The ground is really flat in most of Rio so they make full use of the bicycles with them not only delivering ice but also being the primary mode of transport for the delivery of people’s grocery orders.
Bossanova is the beach thing for Sundays – bars set up for small bands or record shops with bands playing out the front. It was lovely to sit and listen to.
I took Gustavo’s suggestion and headed to the rock at the end of Ipanema Beach for sunset. He’d said it was a Sunday ritual of Cariocas (people from Rio) which was confirmed by the number of people up there and the stalls that had set up to service the gatherers – I was impressed with the mobile wood fired pizza guy.
I then followed this up with dinner with Finn by the lake, which neither of us had yet visited. I was wrapped as I got to try the Bahia dish of Moquena (fish stew) which I wasn’t up to trying during our stay in Paraty. Of course we farewelled over a caipirinha and a few more laughs! I knew he’d been grateful for my friendship during the tour as had I his – although he did reveal that he had secretly wished another guy had joined the tour with us as had I!
I felt my lolling around on the beach a little indulgent (I know – why???) so the next day I headed back into the centre of town to check out the municipal theatre and the national history museum. Poor research on my part – Museum was closed on Mondays! On the upside, I got to see a very seedy side of the town that I would not otherwise.
From there I ventured up to Santa Teresa for a stroll around the very bohemian village (think West End/Newtown) before stopping for a wine in a cute bar full of eclectic pieces of furniture and artefacts. I caught the bus and metro back towards Ipanema. By that stage the rain had set in; of course I got lost in the dark as I dashed in and out of the rain eventually make it home albeit a little latter than planned and drenched!
This was it – last day in Rio. After a cycle up to the end of Copa beach and a quick pack I walked to the esplanade for my last caipirinha in Brazil – it had been a longtime between these and the ones enjoyed with Kath and Sev over in Brazil’s motherland, Portugal, and no doubt it would be a long time until the next.
I concluded while sipping my caipirinha that I could live in Rio – interesting city precincts and plenty of beaches to escape to on the weekends – there were another five or so within relatively easy reach, which I hadn’t even touched contented at Ipanema.
So I farewelled the lovely little Ipanema apartment and headed for the airport. Armed with my shiny new purple converse (the cheapies from Colombia had served me well but were crying for a break). I’m off to my last destination in South America, Buenos Aires – is it the Paris of South America?