Foz do Iguaçu 2012
Foz do Iguaçu is a small city located where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay come together, in the southern part of the country. It sits on the Paraná River, and a short ways downstream the Iguaçu River empties into the Paraná. A little ways upstream on the Iguaçu are the famous cataracts, which is the largest volume waterfall in the world. In Brazil it has been made into a national park. A little ways upriver on the Paraná is the huge Itaipu dam, one of the largest hydroelectric generating facilities in the world. It sits square on the border with Paraguay, and the electricity produced is divided equally between the two countries.
I have a friend in the States who had wanted to visit Brazil for a long time. When I returned to the field in 2011, she decided that she now had an “excuse” to go. And so we arranged for a visit and a vacation. It was only 5 days, but we made the most of them, seeing not only the cataracts and the Itaipu hydroelectric facilities, but the city of Foz do Iguaçu itself, and spent a day resting in São Paulo before she caught a flight back to the States.
And so here are the details of this trip.
Although this was a vacation trip, I began with a few days in Brasília at ALEM, helping to resolve a few issues that had cropped up there. Besides, I had already purchased an air ticket from Brasília to São Paulo on November 7th. Therefore, on November 4th I packed my suitcase and boarded the bus for Brasília.
My time at ALEM was not especially remarkable, except that there were very few people present on the center. A large number had actually gone to the United States for an English course. The cafeteria was closed, and I ate breakfast and supper from supplies placed in the apartment where I was housed, and had lunch with a couple of the few people still present. It was a quiet environment and I was able to accomplish what I went there to do.
Finally, the 7th rolled around, and I managed to get a ride to the airport. Once there, I found that my flight was delayed a couple of hours. This threw off my eating schedule a bit, and I was a bit concerned about making the midnight connection to Foz in São Paulo, but it turned out not to be a problem. My friend was able to get the information about the actual flight arrival and was waiting for me when the plane landed.
This was her first time in Brazil! Fortunately, she had studied a bit of Portuguese and had a Spanish background, so it was not too difficult. We found a place to eat and “catch up”, and made it to the gate in plenty of time to catch the flight to Foz.
We arrived in Foz do Iguaçu in the wee hours, and proceeded to catch a taxi to the place where we stayed during our time there. Now Foz is a tourist town, and not noted for cheap lodging. Fortunately, my friend is a seasoned traveler and had managed to find a private home where an older couple lived and rented out two spare bedrooms for a very reasonable cost. We had contacted them weeks before and arranged to rent both rooms. They turned out to be very hospitable people, feeding us and giving us much useful advice about places to see and how to get there. Since my friend speaks better Spanish than Portuguese, we were fortunate that the lady of the house was originally from Paraguay and spoke Spanish from childhood.
Relaxing on a bench in Foz do Iguaçu
Given that we were both still tired from being up most of the night, we did not go to see the cataracts the first day. Instead, we both got up late (she got up later than me; she was more jet-lagged from flying all the way from the States), and then walked downtown and did some shopping and sightseeing. That night, we prepared a nice meal for our hosts, which they enjoyed very much.
Our hosts' grandson eating at our meal
Early Friday morning, we caught the city bus that took us to the entrance to Parque Nacional Foz do Iguaçu. Once there, we paid our entrance fees (they charge more for foreigners than for Brazilian nationals, by the way) and went in. The park stretches for many kilometers along the Iguaçu River, and free buses stop regularly at several points along the way. We caught a bus and started in.
At the entrance to Foz do Iguaçu National Park
Billiard at trailhead to first viewpoint
We got off the bus at the first viewpoint to do a bit of sightseeing. After that, we had two options, to either get back on the bus and let it take us further, or else take the hiking trail that wended its way along the steep bank. We chose the latter. Along the way there were more viewpoints, and each one showed us yet another marvelous vista of the tremendous scope of the waterfall.
And, of course, there was wildlife…
A coati, a small animal native to many parts of South America
Finally, we arrived where we could clearly see the cataracts themselves.
Upper tier of cataracts
The cataracts at Foz do Iguaçu actually descend through two levels. And they extend around past the head of the falls, creating a sort of horseshoe shape.
One of the cataracts on the lower tier of falls
A grand view showing both tiers of cataracts
Once we got up close, we were able to take in some really amazing views.
Foot of the upper falls, viewed from closer
Water descending over the lower tier of falls
Looking downriver along the Iguaçu, below the falls
Finally, we got as close as we could get. After enjoying the view here, we thought about taking the elevator back up to the top of the valley. However, the crowd was several dozen deep, and we decided that it would be easier and quicker to just hike up the trail instead.
Here I am, standing by the rail about as close as one can get to the waterfall
Afterward, we went to a local restaurant and had a bite to eat, then caught the bus and started back. Along the way we stopped to see a few things, but after seeing the cataracts, nothing else was quite the same. Finally, we left the park, caught the bus and went back to the place where we were staying.
It had been a good visit.
A pizza that we enjoyed for dinner that night
Our intent this day was to go visit the Itaipu hydroelectric facility. However, we also decided to make a quick trip across the border and spend an hour or two in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. So we took the bus down to the border crossing. The border between Brazil and Paraguay at this point is the Paraná River, and to go between countries you cross the Ponte da Amizade, or Friendship Bridge. There are lanes for both cars and pedestrians. We walked.
Looking at Paraguay from the pedestrian walk on the Ponte da Amizade
Once across the border, we were definitely in a tourist town! Our hosts had warned us to leave behind our wallets and anything else of value; thieves prowl the streets, looking for unwary tourists. And in the incredible mobs we saw, a thief could have swiped our stuff and vanished before you could say “Jumping Jack Flash!”.
We visited a number of stores. We also ran into countless street vendors. I confess that I saw what looked like a deal for a 16GB USB thumb drive and forked out cash for it—only to find out later when I got it to a computer that it did not work. Be advised if you ever visit places like this.
Looking at a telescope for sale in a store in Ciudad del Este
Shortly before noon, we crossed back into Brazil. i admit that for me there was a sense of relief to be back in a familiar country!
After returning to Brazil, we got a bite to eat, then caught the bus that took us to the entrance of the Itaipu facility. It turned out that visiting Itaipu was not simply a matter of walking in, glancing around, taking a few pictures and then leaving. Instead, they have a full-fledged tour, with guides who speak excellent English and Spanish in addition to Portuguese. The tour started off with a brief video about the history of the place. Afterward, we boarded a bus and began the tour in earnest.
Entrance to Itaipu Hydroelectric Facility
The facilities actually include a rather extensive natural ecological park, which we traveled through on the way to the hydroelectric dam itself. On the way, we stopped at the administrative headquarters for a brief visit.
Some of the ecological park that the tour passed through
I found a rather large friend at headquarters
From the headquarters, we were actually able to see the hydroelectric dam. Each of the angled white tubes in the picture below is a spillway for an individual generator. The generated power is divided equally between Brazil and Paraguay.
A view of the Itaipu hydroelectric dam
Afterward, the tour continued. The bus took us across the lower face of the dam, where we could see up close the immense scale of the facility. Afterward, we actually crossed into Paraguay (being part of the tour and inside the facility, there was no border/passport control involved) and climbed up on top of the dam. After crossing, the bus stopped so that we could get a good look at the dam itself and at the reservoir behind it.
Here is a picture of me with the reservoir behind me
This was basically the end of the tour. Afterward, we returned to the entrance, where we left the facility and caught a city bus back to our hosts home.
Fellow tourists that we met on the bus ride home
As I mentioned above in the Overview, Foz do iguaçu sits close to where the three countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay come together. The evening after we returned from the tour at Itaipu, our host family took us over to see this place. In ways, I was reminded of the Four Corners landmark in the U.S. (see Rocky Mountain High 2005), but this was even more significant, since it represented the point where three entire countries come together.
A view of three countries: Brazil (foreground), Argentina (ahead and across) and Paraguay (across to the right)
Our host family with their grandson, and the Brazilian triple-border marker behind to the right
Afterward, we went back to the house for a few short hours of sleep before catching another plane in the middle of the night, returning to São Paulo.
Afterward, we spent a day resting in São Paulo. Our flights were both at night, and we made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare. My friend caught her flight and I saw her off. Afterward, I ended up spending a good portion of the night sitting in the airport before my flight back home, which did not leave until the wee hours.
It was a long night waiting for my flight!
It had been a great opportunity to both visit with someone from back home, as well as see some new sights and get away from work for a few days.
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