Sadly, we are about to leave the spectacular Iguassu falls. We have been staying in an opulent Orient Express hotel, Das Cataratas, on the Brazilian side of the waterfalls (they span the Brazilian and Argentinian borders). The hotel is a serene oasis amidst the Brazilian forests and looks out onto the waterfalls. It is definitely one of the most luxurious places we have stayed. Last night we sat in the piano bar drinking mojito cocktails and snacking on smoked salmon canapes. While mojitos are Cuban, I tried the local Brazilian cocktail (the caipirinha) in Rio and did not like it (it is based on a sugarcane rum). I also tried and loved the pisco sour in Chile (a brandy based drink). As the hotel is part of the Orient Express group, it has a tv channel with very amusing videos about the adventures of jetsetting travellers (with names like Maxmilian and Duke) staying in other Orient Express properties or holdings. I decided I wanted to 'live' in these videos, visiting the Cipriani in Venice, staying at the Orient Express hotel in Cusco, travelling on the Orient Express train etc!
We had a full day excursion yesterday to the Argentinian side of the waterfalls. The two sides are quite different. From Brazil, you get a very panoramic view of the waterfalls and their magnitude, plus there is one amazing walkway that takes you out directly over the waterfalls and you get soaked walking on this path. The Argentinian side is now quite developed, with a small train to take you out to one of the spectacular features, the Devil's Throat, plus an upper and lower circuit walk. On the Argentinian side, you walk along metal walkways through the jungle, crossing the rivers that feed into the waterfalls many times. Compared to 1985, there seemed to be far fewer birds and butterflies. There have many over 250 species of butterflies identified at Iguassu Falls, although scientists expect that there are actually about 800 species.
John went on a jetboat excursion at the waterfalls. They give you a plastic bag to put all your bags and cameras, as the boat intentionally takes you close to the falls. When you are about to go on the trip, they tell you that you will have 'two good showers', and John said he got drenched. As the water is very fast flowing, the boat travels more slowly than the jetboat trip in Queenstown, New Zealand.
This morning, we had a magical, solitary walk along the waterfalls before breakfast. The national park does not open to visitors until about 9am, so the guests at the hotel have the waterfalls to themselves. It was quite cool and peaceful, with a lovely soft light on the waterfalls. Eleanor Roosevelt was reputed to have said when she saw Iguassu waterfalls, "Poor Niagara". And I wholeheartedly agree. Iguassu is definitely the most spectacular waterfalls we have visited and I was very pleased to have seen them a second time (in 1985, we only visited the Argentinian side). They are spectacular for their jungle setting, but also for their width and many levels, plus the walkways that allow you to get quite close to the waterfalls in places. In 1992 (after we visited in 1985), some of the walkways were washed away and several people died on the Argentinian side. It took the national park 10 years to rebuild and the new walkways are no longer as close to the edge of the waterfalls, plus the train now replaces the previous walkways that were washed away.
Prior to Iguassu, we spent four nights in Rio de Janeiro (literally, river of January, in Spanish). We had a beachfront hotel, on Copacabana beach, where John went swimming one afternoon. My vivid memory from 28 years ago in Rio was the absolutely stunning girls on the beaches, stunning both for their tiny bikinis and also their gorgeous looks. Brazil's people are really quite different to the Spanish and/or Indian descendants of most of the other South American countries. Brazil's history included slavery, so the population has every shade of black and some beautiful faces. But, this time the Rio beaches (at least where we were staying and walked several kilometres) seemed to be missing the Brazilian beauties. Instead, like much of the western world, we saw people poured into swimsuits that were too small for them.
While Rio will be hosting the next Olympic games in 2016, we saw very little indication of new stadiums or work underway for the Olympics. They will be using their football stadium, which at one time was the largest in the world, holding 200,000 people (about double the capacity of the MCG in Melbourne). They are renovating the football stadium so it will holder fewer people, but have better amenities including a retractable roof.
January is not really the peak time to see Rio; we had three quite gray days with low cloud, so often the peaks of Corcovado (where the huge Christ the Redeemer statue stands) and Sugarloaf Mountain were obscured by low hanging cloud. We waited until our last day to take the cable car up to Sugarloaf and to ride the small train that goes up Corcovado. The cable car up Sugarloaf mountain featured in the Moonraker James Bond movie and the original cable car used in the movie stands at the bottom of the cable station. Or as the guide described it, this was the movie starring the 'old Englishman, Roger Moore'. Near Corcovado, we also visited a Museum of Naive Art (a folk art museum) which had some lovely paintings, done in a folk style, of Rio.
Rio seemed safer than 28 years ago, notwithstanding the looming presence of the favelas (or slums) on the hillsides. While it is still 'illegal' to live in the favelas, they now have electricity and water supplied. We took the metro (new since our last visit) to the downtown centre and also travelled on one of the local buses up to Ipanema, which is the next beach/bay along from Copacabana. One evening we went to a samba show which we both decided was not a patch on the two shows we saw in Havana a few years ago. Our bus tour on the last day in Rio also took us to the Sambadrome - this is the long stadium that is used for Carnival in Rio, where each of the samba schools dances. There are about 3000 dancers/members in each samba school and it takes them about 80 minutes to parade/dance down the 800 meter sambadrome. If they are late by a minute, they lose points!
Today, we fly to Buenos Aires where we will have 6 nights, staying in a lovely bed and breakfast that gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor.