New Country, New Complications – Foz do Iguaçu

02 Feb – 03 Feb

My foray into new territory in the form of Brazil did not get off to a good start. I caught the 12 noon bus from Puerto Iguazu to Foz with the intention of visiting the park within the day, and taking an overnight bus to Florianopolis – the bus journey to Foz was supposed to take an hour, and the park closed at 6, so I figured I had plenty of time to catch the 8pm bus to Florianopolis. Passing through Argentinian customs was a cinch, but Brazil took a little more time, and when we were done, our bus was gone. I figured the bus would arrive pretty soon, so I hung around the bus stop waiting patiently. When a bus finally appeared (a good 45 minutes later), it wasn’t the same bus company as the one I had set out on, and I had to pay the 15pesos again. To add to the annoyance, I found out while waiting for the bus that despite being barely 5km apart, Brazil and Argentina do not operate in the same time zone, because Brazil has daylight savings time and Argentina doesn’t. It just goes to show, eh? When I finally arrived in Foz, it was past 2pm, which I thought still gave me enough time to hit the falls and be on my way to Florianopolis on the last bus there. Asking at the info desk yielded bad news however. It turns out Foz has TWO bus terminals, and the one I was at was the internal bus terminal serving Foz, but the company selling tickets to Florianopolis was at the terminal half an hour away. The girl at the info desk said I could get tickets from tour companies a couple of blocks away, and that there were ATMs there for me to get Brazilian reals, so off I went. Except…it was SUNDAY. All the tour offices were closed, and I didn’t manage to find an ATM that accepted international cards, so after half an hour of wandering (and finally managing to get some money out of an ATM at a supermarket), I headed back to the info desk, feeling like I didn’t like Brazil very much at all.

To top it off, it was blistering hot. Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

To top it off, it was blistering hot.
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

There was a different lady at the info desk this time, and she apologized for her incompetent colleague and tried to help me as best as she could. Her suggestion was to catch the next bus to the park and try as best as I could to catch the last bus to Florianopolis, failing which I could stay at a hostel anyway. It sounded like a good plan, but as always with these things, I missed the bus, and the next one was an hour from then, so I headed to the bus station instead to get my ticket to Florianopolis, and then settled in at  a(n expensive) hostel for the night. I spent a relatively quiet evening at the hostel with some of the people at the hostel, and made plans to go to the falls the next day with a girl staying at the hostel. The next day, we (I’ve forgotten the name of the girl I went with, I think it was Amanda) headed to the falls after breakfast – it took over an hour to get there (there being the falls themselves because after taking a bus to the entrance of the falls, there was another internal shuttle we had to take to get to the falls), so I was pretty glad I hadn’t tried to rush through it the day before. The part of the national reserve open to the public in Brazil is much smaller than that in Argentina, so it was entirely possible to explore the park in one day, unless you planned to do some of the extreme sports (rafting, bungee, etc). I didn’t feel like blowing a ton of cash on something so touristy, so we wandered around and…took pictures of the waterfalls.

Brazil has a great view of the falls Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

Brazil has a great view of the falls
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

Very impressive indeed Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

Very impressive indeed
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

You can literally see everything Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

You can literally see everything
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

But this is the closest you can get to the actual waterfalls in Brazil - see, no touch! Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

But this is the closest you can get to the actual waterfalls in Brazil – see, no touch!
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, Feb 2014

We were done by 2pm and took a break before heading back to the city. My bus to Florianopolis was only at 8 in the evening, so I figured I would hang around the hostel till 7 before setting out. When I got to the bus station to catch the bus to the other bus station, however, I found out that the buses didn’t run that regularly – I had missed the 6.50pm bus, and the next bus was only at 8.20pm. Thankfully, I managed to catch a cab at the bus station and made it in time for my bus to Florianopolis, feeling pretty glad that my visa for Brazil was only valid for 30 days so I wouldn’t have to spend too much time (and money) in this utterly confusing country. All in all, Foz did not give me a good first impression of Brazil 😦

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Puerto Iguazu – Cataratas is the sound waterfalls make

30 Jan – 02 Feb

I was really quite excited about my bus ride to Puerto Iguazu – travelling in style with seats that become beds, wifi on board and all that jazz. And it was a pretty cool experience. I was definitely glad I spent the extra 100pesos to get a bed I could sleep in, because it was a very comfortable journey and I was very pleased. (:

Hot food on a bus! Awesome. Brazil, Jan 2014

Hot food on a bus! Awesome.
Argentina, Jan 2014

The bus arrived in Puerto Iguazu at around 11, ending the 23 hour journey and depositing me in the blistering heat. And it wasn’t even THAT hot – 34 degrees or so, but it felt awful. I was only supposed to meet my CouchSurfing host at 4 or 5pm, so I had time to kill. After wandering around for a bit with all my worldly possessions, I decided to send all my clothes for laundry and just have lunch and chill out in a cafe to escape the heat.

Tropical (recycled?) Christmas decor Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Tropical (recycled?) Christmas decor
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

I ended up spending the whole afternoon in the cafe, with no word from my CS host before I finally decided to make an appearance at his place. He wasn’t home, and after waiting for another a hour and a half and getting his neighbours to call him, I finally gave up and decided to find myself a hostel. Total waste of my time, and very rude of him not to contact me at all – needless to say, I was annoyed.

[I didn’t hear from him the entire time I was in Puerto Iguazu, and only got a message from him after I had left, saying his computer was broken, which was why he didn’t contact me. I replied with a curt message lecturing him about the spirit of CS and never heard from him again. It was the first time something like that has happened to me, and what a pity, because a vast majority of CSers aren’t like that, but it only takes a few to give CS a bad rep. Sigh.]

I ended up in a hostel right across the bus terminal, run by a lovely woman named Lydia. Being as annoyed as I was with this fiasco with my non-existent host, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant! Besides, it was Chinese New Year, so it seemed particularly fitting. I asked for my noodles to be prepared extra spicy and I spent the meal crying – apparently two months of not eating spicy food killed my tastebuds. It was still a good meal and I went to bed feeling pretty damn pleased with myself.

A taste of home Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

A taste of home
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

The next day, it was off to the falls! The bus company that runs that route makes a killing, charging 70 pesos for a return trip (compare this to 15 pesos to go to Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil) but there wasn’t any other option, so off I went. Entrance to the park cost another 170 pesos, but included use of the trains within the park and access to the trails.

Exhibit about the park near the entrance which was really informative Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Exhibit about the park near the entrance which was really informative
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

It was pretty cool, walking around the park. I saw a raccoon like animal – the coatie which is apparently very common in the park,

Coatie at close range Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Coatie at close range
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

these cute birds,

Gorgeous colouring on the birds Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Gorgeous colouring on the birds
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

awful tourists (I could go off on a spiel about idiot tourists who feed animals in nature reserves, but I’ll save that for another post),

Stupid tourists #1 Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Stupid tourists #1
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Stupid tourist #2 Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Stupid tourist #2
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

 

I hope they get bitten Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

I hope they get bitten, scratched and robbed
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

and of course, the waterfalls!

Bridge to Garganta del Diablo - you can see the spray of the falls! Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Bridge to Garganta del Diablo – you can see the spray of the falls!
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

First glimpse of the actual waterfalls Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

First glimpse of the actual waterfalls
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Look at this picture and imagine the sound if a plane taking off Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Look at this picture and imagine the sound of a plane taking off
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

I wanted to head back to the park to do a different trail the next day, so it was early to bed for me that night. I set out pretty early the next morning, reaching the park at about 9 and setting off on the Macuco trail, a 3-4hour trek to a smaller waterfall and back.

Clearly marked! Iguazu, Argentina,

Clearly marked!
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina,Jan 2014

It was very peaceful on the trek, with the hoards of tourists preferring to wander around the main trails.

Bamboo section of the trail Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Bamboo section of the trail
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

I kept hoping to see exciting wildlife, but unfortunately I didn’t have any luck.

Not a snake. Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Not a snake.
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Spot the toucans! The only interesting animals I saw on my trek. Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Spot the toucan! The only interesting animals I saw on my trek.
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Despite that, the waterfall at the end of the trek was pretty worth it – I also took the opportunity to take a dip in the little natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall (despite the girl at the info desk warning me not to) because it was too hot not to.

This would have been gorgeous anywhere else, but next to the majesty of the Devil's Throwt, this pales in comparison. Still really beautiful though.  Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

This would have been gorgeous anywhere else, but next to the majesty of the Devil’s Throwt, this pales in comparison. Still really beautiful though.
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Then, it was back on the trail to head back to the main park, where I decided to take a boat tour down a quieter section of the river with some cute (but annoying) kids and their families.

Cute kid was amazed by... Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Cute kid was amazed by…
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

 

This! Giant lizard! Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

This! Giant lizard!
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Such a charming kid who sat next to me on the beat ride. Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Such a charming kid who sat next to me on the beat ride.
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

The highlight of the second day was the ten minute boat ride after that. Sounds ridiculously short, but it was amazing nonetheless. The boat took us right up the the waterfalls for an amazing close-up view of the falls, and a thorough (and very welcome) drenching. Amazing stuff and definitely worth the price!

The boat to the waterfall! Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

The boat to the waterfall!
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

All up in the falls! Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

All up in the falls!
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

We got closer than this, but that would have drenched my camera Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

We got closer than this, but that would have drenched my camera
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Heading back to the city, I happened upon two American guys I had met at the park the day before. I wanted to go to Tres Fonteras, the point overlooking the borders between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and they decided to tag along. It turned out to be a really cool view of the river separating the three countries, and a gorgeous sunset to boot. Yay for perfect timing!

Paraguay to the left, Brazil to the right Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Paraguay to the left, Brazil to the right
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

That evening being a Saturday night, I headed out with some of the people at the hostel to check out the nightlife of Puerto Iguazu. We came across some mad football fans celebrating a win in the streets,

Every win is an excuse to block traffic on the streets! Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

Every win is an excuse to block traffic on the streets!
Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, Jan 2014

went to a bar to chill out, where I met Lydia there who invited me along to a pretty cool party. All in all, a decent night out. And the next day…well, new day, new country – I was off to BRAZIL!

Spoilt

Written 6 May 2014

I’m spoilt. Not in the traditional sense of having too much money and parents who indulged my every whim and fancy in order to make up for being absent presences in my life. In a way that is far worse, and in a way that cannot be fixed, if such a thing needs to be fixed.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of African drums and was greeted by the imposing view of a glorious serra, the peaks blanketed in clouds as a fine, misty rain fell and afforded everything a strange, surreal, dreamlike quality. Two weeks ago, I watched the sun rise over a clear horizon, unbroken by ships or islands in the distance, the soft orange glow illuminating crystal clear waters and an empty shoreline dotted with palm trees. Two months ago, I stood in awe of a hundred thousand gallons of water gushing down 82 meters across 700 meters at one of the world’s most majestic waterfalls. And these are just a fraction of the amazing things I’ve seen. The rest, I don’t have the words to describe, nor do I care to – I would not be able to do them justice.

I am spoilt, not because I have tonnes of money or people around me who indulge me excessively. I am spoilt, because I have had the opportunity to see the amazing wonders of the world. I am spoilt, because I have come to see the kindness of strangers as something to expect, and even depend on. I am spoilt, because I travel.

People often talk about how travel opens your eyes and broadens your mind, it teaches you to be thankful for the small things and helps you appreciate the comforts you have at home. But something that is not often mentioned, except by weary travellers who have been on the road too long, is that travel ruins you for other things.

When you’ve seen the tallest building in the world, every other skyscraper becomes just that. When you’ve seen the biggest waterfall in the world, every other waterfall looks like a trickle of water over a ledge. When you’ve seen towering mountains, walked across vast plateaus, swum in oceans of the clearest blue, everything else pales in comparison. That sense of awe that makes your breath catch in your chest and raises goosebumps up and down your arms, while never really going away, is dulled into something far less…inspiring.

The thing is, the human mind isn’t impressed by repetition; it’s impressed by novelty. And as amazing as a magnificent mountain or gushing river or scorching desert is, it ceases to impress after the first five (or ten or fifty) times you see it. Travel, while awakening your senses, also dulls them. A tired lament of travellers isn’t that they’ve seen too little, but (often?) that they’ve seen too much. Seen so much that what lies before them isn’t (and perhaps will never be) as impressive or amazing or awe-inspiring as the other things they’ve seen.

And at this stage of my journey, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the feeling of guilt – that I am spoilt for having seen so much that I am unable to appreciate the other amazing things I see. Perhaps, it would have been better if I had never left home and never seen these things, such that I still have appreciation for them and don’t take them for granted.

Yet, maybe this is the test of a traveller. A traveller then, is one who, even after weeks, months, years on the road, can still find beauty in the ordinary. Who can still appreciate every river, mountain, desert, city with wide-eyed wonderment like he did on the day he first packed his bags and left. Who sometimes, still stops to smell the flowers.

As for me, I hope one day, I will stop being spoilt, and start being a traveller.

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