Leaving Pato Branco in scattered rain showers, we press on westward to one of the world's greatest natural wonders, Foz do Iguaçu. Located well away from well known large cities like Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro or Asunción, this corner of the world is literally that, with the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meeting here.
Meeting here too is the Rio Iguaçu, after wandering westwards for 600km, with a three kilometre wide escarpment. The result are 275 individual falls, averaging from 60m to 87m in height, making the whole spectacle wider than Victoria, higher than Niagara and to our mind, grander than either.
The word Iguaçu means "large water" to the indigenous Tupi-Guarani. It is that all right. Although the falls are flowing 40% capacity when we visit, they are still very impressive. We are told The Foz pours three times more over the edge than Niagara Falls. In 1986 Unesco declared the region a World Heritage site.
Nearby, the Parque Das Aves (Bird Park) contains dozens of exotic bird species from hummingbirds to eagles to cassowarys. For many species we can walk inside their cages the size of tennis courts. Getting up close and personal with brilliant colored macaws, parrots, toucans and parakeets is a first for us and exciting.
Joyce visits arm in arm with a friendly macaw. Unfortunately, once again, communication is a problem, for the bird can only speak Portuguese and Macawanese, neither language Joyce is comfortable in. But, as with all foreign travel, eye contact and a smile can go a long way.
The Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu, which we use as our tour base, went through a period of frenzied growth during the 18 years that Itaipu Dam was under construction (1966 - 1984), when the population increased by more than five times. Today the city seems mostly geared to tourism and smuggling duty free goods across the Friendship bridge to Paraguay.
The Itaipu Dam is 7. 2 km long and 225 metres high, or about the height of a 74 story building. The iron and steel used would build 380 Eiffel Towers. The volume of excavation of earth and rock in Itaipu is 8.5 times greater than that of the Channel Tunnel and the volume of concrete is 15 times greater. As we stand and stare at this manmade wonder, we can easily believe the stats rattled off by our trilingual guide.
Although upon completion the Three Gorges Dam in China will be bigger, but Itaipu will still hold the record for the most power generation (14 GW, or twice that of Grand Coulee Dam), as it can produce 12 months of the year, something the Three Gorges cannot do because of rainfall limitations. The Itaipu Dam now supplies 90% of the energy consumed by Paraguay and 20% of that consumed by Brazil.
After visiting all that monster water stuff, it is time to move north and east. Get to warmer and sunnier weather. After three weeks touring Brasil it seems to Joyce and I the whole southern country, as far as the eye can see in every direction, is one continuous industry of big factories, cities of every size and endless green fields of corn and sugar cane.
Travelling off the Gringo Trail means, on one hand, lower prices for hotels, more personal attention, quieter towns and interesting places for the Chicitita to park (see photo above); but on the other, after you've seen one sugar cane field, you've seen 'em all. Make no mistake, Brasilian culture is pleasant to travel in. Food variety and quality is second to none, roads and signage are great, consumer products leave nothing wanting, and cleanliness is a way of life in the smaller cities. But we find travelling here getting to be hard work. Part of the reason is it is surprisingly disappointing not to be able to communicate. I learn that connecting with people, even on small-talk scale, enhances the journey far more than I realized before. Travel weariness may be setting in.
We put in some big distance days to get north. At Jaboticabal (try asking directions for that one), we wash the bikes at the end of the day. An adventure immediately follows. The Bumblebee, once started, won't shut off (again!) and stranger yet, Katie quits after several blocks. Sunset approaches. With no time to troubleshoot, we push Katie into a nearby Michelin tire warehouse after the friendly staff below generously agree to keep her overnite safe and sound. Joyce and I jump on the Bumblebee, and while trying (poorly) to follow directions to a hotel, get pulled over by the police for a traffic infraction. Not understanding what we did wrong, but explaining in Spanish and sign language our dilemna, the lady police officer takes pity and talks her partner into leading us to a hotel. By now it is dark. Mysteriously, the Bumblebee decides to return to normal and shuts off in the hotel's secured parking. We are all safe for the night.
The next morning we return to the Stefani Michelin plant. Amid typical Brasilian hospitality, coffee, smiles and genuine curiousity about our trip, I try to start Katie, hope against hope. Katie, never affected before by being washed, now acts like nothing has happened and starts obediently, first try. What is going on in our world of water and Brasil?? The Michelin crowd must wonder what was that all about. Nevertheless we are relieved, so pack up and hit the road again. Late afternoon, arriving at the little hilltown city of São Sebastião do Paraiso, we find a new hotel for 80 reais a nite that is quiet, clean, spacious and has a good bed and a generous shower. We park the bikes for three days and just chill.
Posted by Murray Castle at June 06, 2009 01:03 PM GMT