The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 3 – Paraguay & Iguazu Falls

I last left this blog with us leaving Buenos Aires and heading towards Iguazu Falls on our way to Rio.

First up, a 6 hours bus north to Concordia, a small town close to the border with Uruguay (whom I will always associate with this clip from the Simpsons). I’ve mentioned a few times about our bad luck with Sundays (withdrawing cash and sorting out buses), needless to say we arrived on a Sunday afternoon with no onward service into Uruguay until the following day.

This left us needing a hotel for the night. To save lugging our bags around town I left Katrina at the bus station with them and set off around the 3 ‘budget hotels’ nearby. Finding the first one full, the second trying to charge a rate close to $100 and the third claiming to be full I was concerned. Doubting the last hotel was really full with all the keys hanging behind the reception I sent Katrina back to try again. She was told to come back with her bags as they had rooms, no problem. The lady who had turned me away beforehand didn’t seem pleased to have me back and promptly gave us a room with a broken bed. Cheers luv.

Cheered up by another incredible Argentinian steak and bottle of wine I didn’t moan too much and early the following morning we nipped into Uruguay for a day. Despite the lack of time I wanted to tick another country off my list. We passed the time by wandering around the city of Salto and topping up our tans at one of the nearby water parks fed by hot springs.

In the evening we quickly headed back to Concordia to catch the last overnight bus of our trip to Posadas, I couldn’t have been more delighted having hated pretty much every such journey like that since arriving in South America. Buses and tall people with short attention spans just don’t go together.

Arriving tired we didn’t do much in Posadas. After taking a nap in a hostel owned by an incredibly sprightly and welcoming old lady we ventured into the sapping heat of the day. We hadn’t experienced temperatures this hot since the jungle. Sadly virtually every area of interest in the town appeared to be closed for restoration…..so we watched the new James Bond movie instead.

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Just over the river from Posadas is the town of Encarnación in Paraguay. I knew very little about Paraguay, in fact I probably still do considering the brief amount of time we spent there. However, it felt like we were back in the likes of Ecuador, Peru or maybe somewhere in Central America. It felt less developed, less sterile and full of life. And all importantly for a backpacker whose budget had been stretched over recent weeks, it was cheap again thanks to run down buses, local cafes serving bargain set meals as well as reduced price accommodation. Huzzah!

Close by to Encarnación are sets UNESCO of Jesuit ruins in and around the town of Trinidad. I had never even heard of such sites, believing the Jesuits to be rather primitive. In fact they build impressive settlements such as these before being forced to leave by the Spanish colonisers who did not appreciate their presence and success.

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Left behind are impressive stone structures and sculptures in place of cities where up to 400 families including foreigners and indigenous people would have lived. On the day we visited in 40 degree heat, we had the place entirely to ourselves! Not something you’ll ever have at other sites like Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat!

We headed east from Encarnación to Ciudad de Este, a city which formerly held a gruesome reputation for violence during Paraguay’s former dictatorship, but now a trading hub with Brazil. The city is compared to a giant shopping mall where many Brazilians and Argentinians come to access cheaper goods, many arrange annual coach trips for their neighbours to all visit and buy electronics and clothing with lower taxes.

We stopped here to check it out, only to find prices no cheaper than at home along with the risk of purchasing counterfeit items. Probably best to exercise some caution. Nearby however is a bit of a geeky tourist destination, the Itaipu Dam.

Prior to the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in China, this was the largest Hydroelectric facility in the world and still the 2nd largest today. Split across the border with Brazil and Paraguay, power production is shared between the two nations. Brazil may take 90% of the output but pay Paraguay good rates for the production they do not need. Almost 80% of the entire electricity requirement for all of Paraguay comes from the dam compared to around 20% in Brazil.

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Prior to completion, a set of waterfalls even more impressive than the nearby Iguazu was destroyed to make way for the reservoir required behind the dam. That hasn’t stopped the tourists coming, over 500,000 visited in 2012, a ridiculously impressive number!

But we honestly hadn’t come through this part of the world to see a dam. We’d come this way to visit Iguazu Falls. Having not seen Niagara myself I was rather excited for this. Eleanor Roosevelt did allegedly say upon seeing the falls “Oh, poor Niagara”. So no pressure then.

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You can probably tell from the pictures but they’re amazing! You can choose to see the falls from the Argentinian or Brazilian sides. Popular opinion from many backpackers appeared to favour Argentina, so for a 3rd time we entered a country I had mixed feelings about. That said, I think it was the right decision!

After paying a hefty entrance fee, we entered the park and set off to see as much of the massive area as possible. The falls aren’t in one place, they form an arc that probably goes on for a couple of miles allowing the budding photographer copious angles from which to get the perfect shot.

Despite a cute little train ride to take tourists to a 3 different stops, there’s a lot of walking involved. On a hot day like ours, it’s thirsty work, with the spray from the falls a massive refreshment at various points.

The highlight of the visit, is the walk to the “Devil’s Throat”, the biggest and loudest part of the waterfall. Gangways lead you from the station across calm running water where huge catfish occasionally come for a gulp at the surface of the water. All the while a load rumbling noise grows and grows until you reach the end, where plumes of spray spiral up to the viewing area.

Having rushed to reach here ahead of the many other tourists behind us, we were mesmorised by the scale of this wonder. Across the other sides is Brazil, below is simply white water with no sight of the bottom while a rainbow is forming out of the surge. I spent ages with the camera and probably messed it up with my Instagram attempt below.

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After all this we were waterfall-ed out. We passed on time to see the Brazil side the following day, partly due to sleep (I admit) and partly due to the Brazilian struggle with ATMs (don’t ask).

Shortly after that we were on an early morning flight to Sao Paulo, nearing our return home :(

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