Day 25 -- Cuidad del Esta, Paraguay
22 Jul 2007
|Day 25 -- Sunday, July 22 -- Visit Cuidad del Esta, Paraguay
This morning, I checked out of the hotel (but left my luggage there) and took a taxi to the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls. From this side, it was much easier to see many of the waterfalls at once but it wasn't easy to get close to any of them.
This completes one of the goals of this trip: seeing both sides of all three major international waterfalls. Last August I saw both sides of Niagara Falls (U.S. and Canada). Two weeks ago, I saw both sides of Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe). Now, I've seen both sides of Iguassu Falls (Argentina and Brazil).
Inevitably, someone is going to ask which one I liked the best. I'd have to say this one (Iguassu) but not for the reason you might think. It's not the falls themselves that I prefer but the environment around them.
Niagara Falls is in an urban setting. There's concrete and buildings all around it. Victoria Falls is in a desert. Everything around it is dirty and dusty. (The water comes from hundreds of miles away in Angola.) But, Iguassu Falls is in the middle of one of the last remaining rain forests in the world. Everything around the falls is lush green with plants and trees growing everywhere. The result is a relaxing, rich experience.
Guess what happened just as I was leaving. I'll give you a hint: this is called a "rain forest". Yup, you guessed it; a torrential downpour of rain.
In the rain, I hailed a taxi to take me across the border to Cuidad del Este in Paraguay. He asked where in the town I wanted to go; I said anywhere. So, he dropped me off on one of the main streets and drove off. Fortunately, the rain had stopped for now.
Well, I thought the Argentina side of the border was bad up until now. This is, perhaps, the dirtiest most depressing city I've even seen (and I've seen some very poverty stricken cities).
To be fair, I did catch it at its worst. It was Sunday afternoon; all the stores were closed and, unfortunately, the open markets were just closing. And, the recent rain had stirred the dust and collected the trash in the gutters. But, still the overall impression was not just a poor town but a depressing town. The men seemed to just sit and stare into space.
Across the border in Brazil, it's always lively even if they're just watched a soccer match. There's chatting and activity. Here in Paraguay, there's nothing moving except the occasional stray dog. Nobody is smiling; hardly anyone is doing much of anything.
A few miles away in Brazil, they have three separate kinds of trash containers, which I translate roughly as: recyclable, organic, and refuse. Here in Paraguay, it's hard to find any trash containers; but, it's easy to see that they just dump trash everywhere.
Two hours of wandering around in Paraguay was more than enough for me. I could have taken an taxi back to Brazil but I decided to see if I could walk back.
I knew that my hotel was a few miles to the south. But, I had no map and no compass. And, with the heavy cloud cover I couldn't tell exactly where the sun was. But, that just adds to the challenge.
I quickly found the bridge to Brazil and walked across. As had been the case when I entered Paraguay, no one asked to see my passport. I had obtained the required visa; but, no one seemed to care to see it.
A few hours into my stroll, it started to rain again. So, I ducked into a nearby restaurant. No one there spoke English but there was obviously a buffet. So, when a waiter pointed to the buffet, I grabbed a plate and investigated. There was a great deal of variety of starchy foods (rice, spaghetti, noodles, potato) but no meat. Hmmm. Well, I took what was interesting and sat down.
A few minutes later a gentleman came by with a long skewer with barbequed chicken on it. He motioned to ask if I wanted some; I mentioned back yes; and, he took one off and put it on my plate. A few minutes later, he came by with another skewer. The one had something that looked like sausage. Then, we came by with what definitely looked like barbequed beef.
Now it was clear why there was no meat on the buffet. It turns out that I had accidentally found a "churrascaria" (barbeque) restaurant. That had been one of my goals for this trip, since it's the local specialty.
By the time I was done eating, the rain had slowed so I continued my quest.
Eventually (after about 4 hours), I found my hotel, successfully completely a goal that few would even think of trying. Specifically, I had walked from a country I knew nothing about into another country I knew very little about and found my hotel with no map or compass and, quite possibly, I may have found the shortest possible route between them. And, in true male fashion, I did it without asking anyone for directions. (Asking questions in countries where I don't speak either language, Spanish and Portuguese, respectively, probably wouldn't have been helpful anyway.)
By the way, if you're thinking that my little random excursions are too reckless, I do have backup plans. I carry the equivalent of $100US in local currency in a secret zippered pocket in my slacks. I carry another $100US equivalent in a secret zippered pocket in my shirt. I carry $20US equivalent in a buttoned pocket on my shirt. This last stash is called "mugger money", you immediately hand it to any mugger because they might get angry and hurt you if they don't get anything. I've never been mugged in my life; but, I am prepared. Even if a mugger got everything, I could still hail a taxi because taxi drivers don't expect to get paid until you reach your destination; and, I always have additional money stashed in my hotel room or luggage.
Between my taxi rides and my walk, I've had ample time to observe the drivers here in Foz du Iguassu. After soccer, the 2nd national pastime is watching auto racing. Here in Foz, they seem to want to incorporate auto racing into their city driving. Here, driving consists of alternately stomping on the accelerator and then the brake. Cutting off another driver is the goal, particularly at traffic lights.
The traffic lights seemed designed to facilitate this race car style driving. Each traffic light has three columns of lamps. On the left are red bulbs; on the right are green bulbs; the middle column has one yellow light. They work like the "Christmas tree" systems in drag racing. That is, each red light fires in succession until the bottom one is the only one lit and then the light turns green. Similarly, each green light fires sequentially. After the last green light, the yellow comes on and then the red starts over. So, when approaching a green light, you know immediately if you need to stomp on the accelerator to make the light. Conversely, when a approaching a red light you can time it so that you're at full speed when it turns green. During my walk, I found a driving school with an elaborate practice track. It seems to be necessary here.
Anyway, after my excursion, I collected my luggage for a taxi trip to the bus station. I had booked a seat on a "leito", a night bus. More on that tomorrow.