Our Last Day in Rio
As carnaval craziness died down and the city of Rio returned to a more littered but quieter (VERY relative) state of existence, we had one last day left. Jo and I took a boat out to Ilha de Paquéta, a tiny island in the bay next to Rio. With most of the island covered in rainforest, we hired rusty old bicycles to explore the ‘town’ and few beaches. Our thorough exploration of the whole island, including climbing up a large rock which served as a viewpoint, attempting to cycle on the sand on one of the beaches, and walking around a large public garden, took two whole hours, after which we occupied ourselves with strong coffee and rain avoidance; the storm which had been brewing for a good week had eventually caught up with us.
The four of us left a cloudy Rio and headed west. After a twenty-four hour, overnight journey, we staggered off a coach in the city of Campo Grande, the starting point for our three day wildlife tour into the Pantanal, a tropical wetland area. The next morning we were driven five hours into the region, the last section on a large 4×4 jeep safari vehicle, until we arrived at a riverside lodge.
Boat Safaris, by Day and by Night
Our excellent local guide, Pipinho, had an amazing knack for spotting animals in the merest of seconds, whilst we cruised along the waterways in a small motor boat. In the treetops we saw Howler Monkeys, usually in pairs with a black male and brown female, sometimes with a small clinging baby, as well as Toucans, Macaws, and various birds of prey. We spotted many Black Alligators and Yellow Paraguayan Caiman, ranging from tiny young ‘uns only half a metre long, to huge individuals over two metres, which sat unmoving on the banks soaking in the warmth of the sun, or slid into the water as we approached. Periodically a heron would glide past us, standing in a clump of reeds floating downstream so that it could fish. We once rounded a bend just in time to see a family of capybara, large rodents related to guinea pigs but the size of actual pigs, climb out of the water and begin grazing on the bank.
One evening we stayed out on the boat until darkness descended. Bats flitted around and fireflies winked brightly along the banks, and Pipinho held up a torchlight so that the eyes of alligators and caimans glowed red.
Canoeing, Flotation and Piranha Fishing
Interspersed between our boat safaris were various other activities. The first morning, we paired up and canoed along a section of river for an hour, then decided to race Deetz and Carl back downstream for no good reason.
The ‘flotation’ activity entailed the three bravest of our tour group of eight jumping into the river armed with a number of woggles and floating along, at which point it started raining heavily, which was perfect timing for once.
The activity of Piranha Fishing divided the veggies among us. The meat at the end of my line kept mysteriously disappearing and my fish somehow got away. Deetz had a knack and pulled a couple, flapping wildly, out of the water, to add to the bucket for the evening meal. Jo also caught a couple, learnt how to gut one, throwing its entrails to birds of prey lurking nearby, and became a pescetarian for the evening, once they had been fried and dribbled with lime.
Jeep Safari and Ecological Walk
Our last morning, the safari took place on land from the jeep, which was noisier and confined to dirt tracks, so we didn’t spot as much as from the boat. We had the joy of a 90 minute ‘ecological’ walk, which meant weaving through the undergrowth surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes which everyone attempted to keep away with a cloud of DEET-heavy insect repellent spray. My fascination with ants also let me down; pausing for two seconds to stare at a nest I was shortly after rewarded with sharp stabs of pain as some cheeky buggers which had made it up the inside of my trousers began biting me. I was particularly offended by one which made it into my butt crack.
Accompanied by an extremely heavy downpour which utterly soaked us, in our final clean set of clothes, and all our belongings, we were driven out of the Pantanal and boarded another overnight bus to Foz do Iguaҫu.
Laundry Day and Itaipu Dam
We arrived at our next hostel damp and smelly. With no clean clothes left whatsoever we spent the whole day lounging around in our dorm wearing only underwear, sarongs, or in Carl’s desperate case, simply a towel, as we hung out three loads of washing throughout the day and stayed out of sight of the outside world.
The next day we enjoyed the special tour of Itaipu Dam. Only fully completed in 2007, this hydroelectric structure supplies 75% of Paraguay’s power and 17% of Brazil’s. A bus took us to the edge of the river to look across the 8km structure, then drove along the top so that we could see the vast reservoir which feeds into the turbines. We then all donned bright yellow hard hats, and entered the structure, beginning with the ‘cathedral’, the large space inside the dam over which the water of flows, although we could only see down into the rock pit below us. We also went deeper and visited a rotating section of the turbine.
Both sides of Iguaҫu/Iguazú Falls
On our final day in Brazil we visited Iguaҫu falls, a return trip for me, but still an enjoyable one. The Brazilian side offers a more panoramic view of the whole site, so we started right next to the falls and worked backwards along the various viewpoints, so that the waterfalls began thunderous and drenched us in mist, and slowly strung out to offer a wider view of the whole structure, including glimpses of the Argentinian side.
That evening we crossed the border into Argentina, and the next day Jo and I split from Deetz and Carl and visited the Argentinian side of the falls. With a greater proportion of the falls on this side, we were hard pushed to see everything in five hours. We began with a wooden walkway which crossed over the top of a long section of falls, so that we could watch the water tumbling away at our feet into a misty valley below. A boat ride took us extremely close to two sections, so that we were utterly drenched. The final walkway was one kilometre across the water, until we came to the top of the valley named Garganta del Diablo, or the Devil’s Throat, across which we could spot tourists on the Brazilian side. This was definitely the climax of the whole phenomenal structure, with the water crashing over the wide curve so heavily that mist entirely obscured the valley below.
We raced back to our hostel to pick up our large bags, then boarded a coach for Buenos Aires. Twenty hours later we arrived, and we are now safely ensconced in an awesome hostel (think free Spanish and tango lessons). Much needed down-time yesterday, after all it was Sunday and not much can be done on a Sunday on this entire continent, but today we are primed and ready to get going once again!