South America Backpacking Diaries

Iguazu Falls and Paraguay

My last post was on the day before I took a 17-hour bus journey from Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguacu, the Brazilian town on the tri-border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Those 17 hours were surprisingly not so bad, no bastard in a reclining seat this time, and the journey was certainly worth it to witness the area’s main draw: Iguazu Falls.

At my hostel in Foz do Iguacu I became friends with Emre. He was from Turkey, and like me, had come for a day to check out the town, and another day to see the falls. Unlike me, he is preparing to serve in the Turkish military, where it is compulsory for all men between 18 and 25 to serve for at least six months. He is 25, and cannot put off service any longer. Over a few beers we discussed the current state of affairs in Turkey, and it was evident he was very worried about where he will have to serve. As an Architecture graduate, I don’t think fighting is in his skillset. He was a nice guy, and I sincerely hope he will not be posted too far east when the time comes.

The following day we went to see the falls. I’d seen pictures of this place before I came so was ready for a spectacular visual experience, but the most incredible thing when I got there was the noise. You are not even close when you begin to hear the roar of the gallons crashing down on the levels below. You get a lot of ‘wow’ moments on your way round here, as you see the falls just go on and on, and yourself getting closer and closer, eventually getting soaked by the cloud of spray they produce at the bottom. I can’t think of another natural landscape I’ve seen on this scale, and I don’t believe I’ll get to see another one like it again. I think Emre thought the same. The next day we went our separate ways, Emre to Sucre in Bolivia, myself to Puerto Iguazu to see the falls from the Argentinian side.

My first day in Argentina was the worst of my trip so far. It was my first journey over a border, and having negotiated buses into the town, to immigration, over the border and onto Puerto Iguazu I was feeling good. Though that was in baking heat, and when I made it to my hostel, the owner spoke no English, and demanded cash only. Coming straight from Brazil I had no Argentine pesos. Back out I went to find a working ATM. I walked past the bank twice without realising it was there. This town was dead and had stray dogs on every street corner. I couldn’t withdraw any pesos on my card. I hadn’t drunk water for hours. That was quite enough for me so I called it a day, and later spent time lying in a hammock listening to Tame Impala as the sun went down, for a brief moment of relaxation. But then later at night I discovered this whole time I was ‘relaxing’ I was actually being bitten alive by mosquitos. My arms, legs and neck were covered in bites. It was too hot for a good night’s sleep. The noise of the ineffective air-con made the room feel like a construction site. In the morning I banged my head on a window I didn’t realise was there.

For as much that can go wrong, without being catastrophically wrong, did go wrong, which made it all the more annoying. But I later solved my peso problem, and gained much sympathy over my bites off a group of French, Germans and Dutch, who all happened to speak good English as well. Amongst these was an old French guy, whose name I instantly forgot, and Tim, from Germany, a Borussia Dortmund fan. We spoke at great lengths about Jurgen Klopp. Eventually I got to see the falls from the Argentinian side. There are far more vantage points on this side so you can get a lot closer. Unfortunately, this means while you are often busy watching in admiration as the water hurls down meters away from you, you are also being elbowed by a Chinese tourist trying to get far more photos than anyone really needs. Still, stunning views on offer are enough to let that irritancy slide.

I still had a spare day in Puerto Iguazu, and if the time I went to Sao Paulo’s Museum of Art was weird for me to do, here I visited an animal refuge working to rescue the area’s local wildlife. I went with the old French guy. Upon arrival it was made clear to me that this was not a zoo, but a place for animals unfit for the wild to be housed, and in some cases, rehabilitated to go back into the wild. For all the good work I could see the people here doing with the animals to save their lives, my thoughts on the way round were somewhat skewered by the comments of my French companion, instead indulging me with which of these animals’ meats tasted the best. So sympathetic. For my last night in the town I went to a bar with Tim and the old French guy to watch the Superclasico – Boca Juniors vs. River Plate. Moments before kick-off I was disappointed to discover this was only a friendly, but it turned out to be one of the most entertaining friendly’s I’ve ever seen, 3-2 to Boca! In red cards. River Plate won 1-0.

The next morning I left for Ciudad del Este, the closest city in Paraguay to the tri-border, and then took a six-hour bus journey to Asuncion, the country’s capital. Never have my expectations upon entering a country been so low, and never have they been demoralisingly far from being met. What a shithole. Before my trip I’d read in a number of places that Paraguay is often bypassed by travellers as there’s not a lot to do there. Stupidly, I ignored this – ‘how bad it can be?’ I instantly regretted being here. What a dump.

During my ventures out here I have been incandescently underwhelmed. The streets are lined with rubbish, roads and pavements have been poorly patched up all over the place and many of the buildings are simply crumbling. It’s a city void of any vibrant life. As a child my Dad was somehow hilariously placed in an all-girls school, but I can’t be that far behind in terms of feeling out of place here. I’ve received some very strange looks from people, even from the women who clean the hostel. Perhaps they, like me, are wondering why the hell I’ve come here.

It’s also pissed it down for much of my time in Asuncion. Though maybe that’s a blessing in disguise as I’ve felt less inclined to see more of the place. It feels bizarre to be in this country, and this to me has felt like a bizarre country. Though you can expect nothing less when one of the country’s most famous sons was the great Jose Luis Chilavert, the Paraguayan free-kick specialist who happened to also be a goalkeeper. ‘El Buldog’ is a footballing cult hero for his skills from a dead ball, but the notion of a free-kick taking goalkeeper does not seem weird in the slightest any more now I’ve seen the country he’s from. Chilavert scored 67 times in his career, the same number of times I’ve questioned my sanity for still being here this morning. Now it would be nice to get to a place where I don’t instantly want to leave. Hopefully my next stop, Montevideo, can provide that.

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