Foz do Iguaçu (4/5/07 – 5/5/07)

The Iguazu falls are South America’s mightiest. Mightiest? You might say… I did. In a land which already boasts such natural wonders as Angel Falls in Venezuela and all those wonderful nearby waterfalls at Canaima, surely waterfalls can’t get even more spectacular… When Anna Eleanor Roosvelt (reputedly) famously remarked “poor Niagara” I think I can appreciate what was going through her head. The Iguazu falls are quite a wonder to behold… and I hadn’t even heard of them until a few months into this trip when someone asked me “are you going to the Iguazu falls?” to which I responded “the what?”.

The falls lie on the river Iguazu which is the natural border between Argentina and Brazil. There are two national parks dedicated to the falls and, not surprisingly, one is on the Brazilian side and one is on the Argentinian side. My first stop was the Brazilian side. I didn’t see any prancing deer, but apparently the wildlife here is almost as spectacular as the falls themselves.

There were, however, a lot of these fellows – Racoons. They were very tame and were constantly harassing visitors for food. There are even warnings everywhere not to feed them and to try not to agitate them, lest one accidentally contracts rabies.

As you walk down the marked path towards the sound of the falls, you can begin to actually “feel” their presence, not least because there is a great deal of mist in the air which slowly moistens then soaks your clothing. Nothing really prepares you for the moment when you first actually witness the falls though. This was quite an experience for me because, since I didn’t know much about these falls (and hadn’t heard of them until recently) I had never seen photos of them and didn’t really know what to expect. Well… I was pretty blown away.

There are something like two kilometers of actual waterfall. Most of it is actually on the Argentinian side while a mere 600m is on the Brazilian side. The Brazilian side, however, does have the advantage of offering wonderful broad panoramic views of the falls. And you need them too… first you are gripped by the might of the falls… then you slowly realise just how impressively massive they are. They are reputedly the second most voluminous natural waterfalls in the world in terms of water flow, after Victoria falls (from Lake Victoria which is the source of the Nile… guess where my next major travel destination will be).

Because of the thick mist and the very pleasant weather here, there is almost constantly a rainbow arching over the falls. By now the air is saturated with the sound of the falls and one’s clothes are also saturated by the mist…

A sign that John Landy obviously did not pay heed to prior to the 1954 Empire Games… (that’s a terrible joke, don’t worry if you don’t get it, its probably a good thing).

The insect life here is almost as spectacular as the falls themselves. They’re friendly too… they have absolutely no qualms about landing on you and trying to extract nectar from the fibres of your clothing.

Ant meets large butterfly…

Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by beautiful rainforest scenery… combine that with the early morning sun and the mist from the falls… and spectacular photos are easy.

After plodding along slowly for about an hour (its not a long way, you just can’t help but stop every few metres to gawk at the falls) we reached that part of the falls called “The Devil’s Throat” which is also about where the Argentina-Brazil border is. Constructing that walkway would’ve been pretty tricky.

There is a small shop at the start of the walkway that sells cheap plastic ponchos… I don’t know why anyone would want one, you’re generally quite wet by the time you get here anyway… and in the heat, the spray is very refreshing.

Venturing out allows excellent views downriver… and a close-up of the dramatic and turbulent water at the foot of these waterfalls.

I wasn’t exactly risking life and limb, but I was risking my camera, which I kept in a ziplock bag and occassionally pulled out to take the odd picture… luckily, I hardly got any water on the lens. The spray was incredible and I had to wait for the odd gust of wind to blow back the other way to give me a “clear” window to take a photo. Here, you can see the double-rainbow effect. In theory, these rainbows continue on to infinity, but the conditions are rarely good enough to see more than one rainbow.

Another shot, just moments before I shoved the camera back into its plastic bag just prior to getting drenched by the thick cloud of water droplets that dominate the right half of the shot.

About twenty metres down from the walkway, there is an elevator which takes you to an observation platform which is above the level of the top of the falls. These visitors don’t seem to give a stuff about the beautiful watery violence going on below.

A nice view of the walkway… maybe that’s why they sell people those plastic raincoats – so that people standing on the observation deck can see them.

The trees surrounding the top of the falls were literally swarming with insect life. These butterflies seemed to be having a little convention while I was here.

Pssst! Hey, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours…

The butterfly with translucent wings… phwoar.

Later that day, we journeyed upstream to the world-famous Itaipu hydroelectric power plant. (this isn’t it… these are power lines)

The Itaipu power plant is the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant. When you see it, it is not difficult to believe… I couldn’t get the whole thing in one shot. The visitors centre is very spiffy and the tours were free (including bus trip and short video!). Here is a scale model of one of the turbines in the dam. There are 20 of these in total, generating 700MW each. Phwoar… powerful!

Each one of those tubes is 10m in diameter. Those are big buses… it takes big tubes to make those buses look small. The dam actually runs across the border (the river) between Brazil and Paraguay. It generates about 90% of all the energy that Paraguay uses and about a quarter of all of Brazil’s energy. Interestingly, about 92% of all the energy generated by the dam is actually used by Brazil (figure that one out!). Construction began in 1975 and the plant began generating electricity in May 1984. When did construction finish? The last generator came online early this year.

Click the picture! The dam itself is quite an achievement of engineering. Now, I grew up in Hong Kong, site of the Chek Lap Kok (make a joke out of that one smartass!) airport, itself a grand feat of modern engineering… and I was more than impressed with this. Here are some interesting stats:

The rate of construction of the dam was equivalent to building a 20 storey building every 55 minutes
The total volume of concrete used in the dam would build over 200 stadiums the size of the MCG
There is enough iron and steel in the dam to build 380 Eiffel Towers
The spillway can handle a flow of water 40 times that of the average of the Iguazu Falls

Now I’m going to take a short break from Brazil (but stay tuned, we’re coming back!) to check out the Argentina side of the falls.

Now the area around Iguazu falls is interesting, it is on the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. When one visits the falls, it is not unusual to cross frequently from one side to the other. Brazil only requires stamps in your passport if you are going to stay for more than 24 hours (technically, they require stamps for every entry, but they’re not fussed). The Argentinians, on the other hand, insist on a stamp every time. My passport now has lots of Argentina stamps…

Towards the end of keeping these pages better-organised, I am not going to start the Argentina section just yet. I am going to include the Argentina portion of the Iguazu falls in the Brazillian section so that people don’t have to keep jumping back and forth between pages to follow my journey. Here is the logo of the Iguazu national park on the Argentine side the bird is the Swift, very similar to the swallow. It was chosen because the swifts here have the unusual tendency to nest inside the falls… yes, that’s right, and it makes sense if you think about it because nobody would be daft enough to invade your nest if you plonk it inside waterfalls such as these.

A wild guinea pig… does anyone else find it a little bit wrong that, when I saw this little fellow, I suddenly got quite hungry?

Owing to the fact that most of the actual waterfall is on the Argentine side, the Argentine park is much larger in area necessitating these quirkly little tourist-trains to take people around..

As in Brazil, a system of walkways snakes through the parks to minimise the environmental impact of visitors (and also to help us cross rivers like the Iguazu… ) .

The Iguazu river begins in Brazil somewhere and by the time it gets here, it is very very wide. Curiously, it is actually very shallow, being only just over 1m in most places. At the moment, though, there was recently some heavy rainfall in Brazil which meant that the river was unusually high – almost 2m in places. Good thing for those causeways. This photo is included for the benefit of the occassional professor of fluid mechanics who may find occassion to occassionally peruse these pages.

A litte reminder of the power of mother nature. In 1992, there was some really heavy rainfall… some would call it a flood. Anyway, it destroyed sections of the old walkway leaving these…

We approached the section of the falls called “devil’s throat” which you may remember from the Brazilian side. As we approached, it looked like there was a hole in the lake… with steam rising up from within it.

And here it is… almost 100m high. At the moment, I’m told that the flow of water is about five times what it normally is due to heavy rain. I asked if anyone had ever fallen in, to either the river or the falls, by accident. My guide said that there had never been an accident like that in the history of the park. There have, however, been two non-accident incidents. Very early on, one of the original park rangers was shot and killed by some hunters who didn’t like the idea of a national park taking over their stomping ground. Three years ago, a troubled 20-year-old girl commited suicide by jumping off the platform into the devil’s throat… I asked innocently “did it work?”. My guide gave me a very “John McEnroe – you CANNOT BE SERIOUS” look, paused, then said quite calmly, “yes, she died”.

Even though this is only a small section of the falls, I was so impressed that I thought I would gift the readers of my website with yet another panoramic stitched shot… click the photo.

These are Jays. They are curious birds who will approach anyone for food… they obviously haven’t figured out that people aren’t permitted to feed the wildlife here according to national park rules.

“What are you looking at?” (photographic note: this is not a zoomed photo, I haven’t bought a spiffy new SLR just yet. This bird really was as close as it looks).

The “88” butterfly, as they’re known.

Everyone thinks Tobey Maguire is a darling… but spare a thought for all those who auditioned for Spiderman and didn’t make the cut.

I wonder if the lower trail has an infreriority complex.

Another (failed) attempt to capture the scale of the falls. Notice in the upper, left-hand corner of the shot, the plume of mist which emenates from the devil’s throat…

Unfortunately I didn’t see any toucans during my time in the park… maybe these lizards were birdwatching too… both of them? yes, both of them… if one can’t spot a toucan, perhaps two can…

“mummy, where do butterflies come from?” “Well, it all starts with a furry little caterpillar… ” “ewww… I didn’t want the birds and the bees talk!”

A guide explains to us the history of the park. Interestingly, all the forest is relatively new. In the 20s and 30s, most of it was cut down for grazing land and sold to big business in the big cities. Then the national park came along, acquired all the land and replanted all the trees. As a result, there aren’t many very tall trees and there are an unusually high number of introduced species of tree which aren’t native to the area (like bamboo).

Well… we’ve seen the falls from the Brazillian side and the Argentinian side… I wonder what the view is like from in between the two?

Wow… we’re getting pretty close (and pretty wet)

Ok… that’s very close (we’re almost soaked by the way). At this point, the driver told us to put all our cameras in these specially provided waterproof bags… ok. Then we proceeded to drive to within a few metres of the falls themselves. Oh yeah! We got thoroughly soaking wet… (Nick, my passport got a little wet, despite being inside my water-resistant money belt). Oh, it made me feel so alive…

These particular falls are called “Dos Hermanas” – the two sisters. I wonder if they’re twins? I think they’d look a bit better if they were touching each other… just a little bit…

Sao Paulo (6/5/07 – 9/5/07)

Next stop: Sao Paulo, one of the world’s largest cities. Depending on one’s definition of the boundaries of the metropolitan area, it has between 20 million and 29 million people living in it. From the air, it is vast. Even vaster than Mexico City… as it covers a greater area. The competition at the top of the list of the world’s most populous cities is tight (although Tokyo blows everyone away with over 30 million people). Mexico City, Seoul, New York and Sao Paulo all sit on roughly 20 million and the exact ranking depends largely on where you define the boundary of the city.

People in Sao Paulo seemed pretty friendly…

Sao Paulo is a big (very big) modern city… with a big, modern art gallery. Which, like many art galleries, is closed on Monday!!!!! (when am I going to learn!?)

Rio de Janiero (9/5/07 – 13/5/07)

Rio de Janiero means “River of January”. Which is strange because it isn’t actually located on a river. I arrived in the evening and took the guidebook-recommended taxi to my accommodation on Copacabana beach which is meant to be a pretty nice place (anyone heard of it?). The Ave Atlantica runs along the shoreline and, by night, a small market selling trinkets opens up on the median strip.

The next day I slept in and walked along the shoreline after a hearty buffet breakfast. Hmm… what is this? The entrance to some quirky beach-front hotel perhaps?

No, its a sand castle… well… a sand mansion. There are a number of these on the beach and they are mighty mighty impressive. I should get the guy who made this to design my next house in Melbourne.

All along the beach, there were constant reminders of just how touristy the area really is…

There is a local saying that goes something like “God created the universe in six days, the seventh he devoted to Rio”. It is easy to see why…

As with any modern, touristy beach, there are lifeguard posts along it. These guys look way snazzier than their counterparts in LA.

Apparently there are only 65 days to go unti the Pan-American games. It is unfortunate that Australia isn’t in on this gig, as I think Inline Speedskating makes an appearence… or at least, did at some point.

There are beach volleyball and soccer nets set up all along the beach. During my morning stroll though, there was only one game in progress… but the standard seemed pretty high.

The area around Copacabana beach is one of the most densely populated in the world. Accommodation is sandwiched between the beach and the mountain, which is not more than a five minute walk from the beach. A tunnel connects this area with the main city of Rio (pronounced “hee-oh” by the locals).

This one’s for Nick… for all I know, this guy probably had as much a clue about surfing as I do… click the photo!

The beach is a bustle of activity, even on weekdays because of all the tourists. There are cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers, surfers, bodyboarders…

There’s that mountain I was talking about. It really is as close as it looks. I’m standing on the corner (well, I’m actually standing in the middle of the street) of this street and Ave Atlantica.

And would a photo page featuring Copacabana beach be complete without a panoramic shot? No, it wouldn’t is the answer. I think I’m getting better with the stitching deal. (click the picture!)

I craftily pretended to be the guest at one of the nicer hotels along the waterfront… and took a lift to their restaurant on the top floor and took a photo or two… I even had a plan to tell them that I was working for a travel magazine like Conde Nast Traveller… but I didn’t need to use it. They were happy with me pressing myself against the window and snapping away. (you can see the famous sugar loaf mountain in the background)

When in Brazil… do as Brazilians do. What are Brazilians known for? Apart from hot lingerie models and nether-region waxing configurations… Brazil is known for football. (in Australia, this is known as soccer) I decided that it was my duty to attend a game while I was here in Rio.

Access to the stadium is via several entrances, the main one of which was a huge walkway which led to the circular (very MCCG-like) stadium-part-with-seats.

Football games in Brazil are unlike anything I’ve ever been to. The crowd is already going bananas before anyone even walks on the field. There are chants, song and the like and EVERYONE knows the words. I was most impressed by the unity with which they were able to sing and chant. Add some flares, firecrackers and a samba band or two… and you’ve got yourself a Brazilian football game.

These poor fellows walk around, squeezing through the crowd selling drinks out of eskys and plastic bags full of ice. Observant readers will notice that the home team’s (the safest place to stand, as a general rule) colours are black and white. Those who know me in Melbourne might know that I am a Collingwood supporter… who share the same colours. This made the team, Botafogo, easy to cheer for.

The other actually scored first, just before the half time break. We scored the equalizer close to the beginning of the second half and the crowd, as one would expect, goes absolutely bananas.

Its a bit of a family thing, the football. You are generally born into whichever team you go for. One of the people I went with had the team’s logo and name tatooed on her back. These Brazilians take their football pretty seriously.

The final score… 2 – 1 in favour of the home side. Oh… the game was in the Maracana stadium… did I mention that? Originally built in the 1950s, it had a capacity of over 200,000. Then a thing called safety regulations came into practice and the capacity was reduced to just over 100,000. That’s still a lot of people! The stadium itself probably covers a greater area than the MCG, but it is not as tall. It is also lacking various bits of stadium technology that we take for granted… like a big screen for replays… and a clock. (I’m not kidding, there was NO clock).

As I mentioned before… the home team won. I’m sure these guys were relieved. The crowd that night was just under 50,000. About 47,000 of them were Botafogo fans… I’d hate to be the ref if the home side had lost.

The game itself was actually very frustrating to watch. As is typical of Brazilian football, all the players have spectacularly brilliant ball-control skills but, as a team, they don’t gel very well and the play often seems to lack direction.

The next day, I hopped on a bus and thought I’d go for a wander around the various touristy sights of Rio. One thing that you learn very quickly in Brazil – in advertising, you do one of two things – you either link your product with hot, barely-dressed women OR you link it to football. If you can’t do either of those things, then your product is probably not worth advertising for in Brazil.

Ha! A film shop… how quaint.

Waiting for the train that takes you to the top of Corcovado… meaning “hunch back”. It is a mountain where there is a big statue…

The train is kinds strange. It is basically a tram with little modification done to it except bigger brakes and a lower gear in its drivetrain. I would’ve thought that a standard funnicular (sp?) rail would’ve made more sense. Then again… all this stuff was constructed almost 100 years ago…

You get to the top and there is a… samba band. These guys are everywhere…

From the top… once you’re clear of the forest of tourists, you can get a pretty decent view of all of Rio.

Walking to the end of that little causeway, I was able to get a better view. In the top-left, you can see the sugar loaf mountain and to the right of that, Copacabana beach (see how all the buildings are squashed between the mountain and the beach?)

Oh yeah… and that satue I was talking about… As I got to the top of the steps leading up to the platform where the monument stood, I overheard an American say “Jesus Christ!” in awe as he witnessed the statue for the first time… to which I replied “well.. that was the idea”

He’s a terrorist… no he’s not, you’ve just got the exposure wrong, let me have the camera!

This is apparently where Carnival happens… it happens in February… which is, regrettably, a long way from May.

Drinks to tempt us at lunch… you see… the buffet lunch includes everything except drinks… now a buffet lunch has to be pretty expensive for someone like me not to get value-for-money… but when the drinks cost as much as they did (2 USD for a small glass of water!) then I can start to see how they make their money…

Next stop… sugar loaf mountain… accessibly only by cable-car…

Actually… that’s not quite true. This is another way to get up… but it requires considerably more effort. (but less rope/cable)

These guys have the right idea… the car coming down gives its energy, mechanically, to the car going up… meaning that most of the energy in this system is being used to overcome friction… rather than hauling something very heavy up a hill.

Are we there yet? Not quite… there are TWO cable car rides to get there…

Ooohh… we have a little friend.

Waiting for the second leg of the cable car journey. Wide angle lens meets wide angle mirror… hello there. (can you spot me?)

Almost there… wow… that’s a view.

There you have it folks, Rio de Janiero. The statue of Christ the Redeemer is visible in the centre of the shot (and a bit north).

Copacabana beach… where I’m staying…

And zona norte. The airport can be seen in front of the centre of that very very long bridge.

I look down and what do I see? This is actually a military base… it has impressive facilities, including its own private beaches.

On the way down, I spotted the old cable car… The spiffy new ones can take about 60 people at a time. The old ones could take about 6.

Some strange monument outside the cable car station. Looks like a monument to the soldier who lost his life because he was too busy playing air guitar on his rifle…

Does anyone else think that the logo of this bus company is dodgy?

ooohhh… it is a cold day in Rio…

Our next stop was a little cathedral in downtown Rio… which has a rather curious shape to it.

The inside is very spacious and, I imagine, quite cool in the summer.

The roof and stained glass were most impressive. (actually, this photos is included mostly because *I* was most impressed that it turned out so well. The exposure was about three seconds long and I didn’t have a tripod or monopod… this was hand-held!)

The sun sets over downtown Rio…

The municipal building in the centre of Rio in which all state affairs are dealt with. Rio is a little bit like Melbourne in that it was once the capital… until a smaller city was literally built with the express purpose of being the capital so that the capital city would be located away from anything exciting. Interestingly… Brasilia (the capital of Brazil) also has a really good university as its only other real attraction.

Later that night, I decided to go to a show… no, not THAT kind of show…

No, I’m serious… it really wasn’t THAT kind of show…

It all started out innocently enough… this girl came on stage and warmed up the crowd in true Brazilian fashion by juggling the ball non-stop for about 20 minutes (I’m not kidding… no hands were involved)

The audience… where were all tourists… were amused.

This stage show is basically for those people visiting at any time of year when the Carnival isn’t on… its quite a spectacular show and the music and singing is live.

…and it isn’t all feathers and prancing around… these guys showed us a bit of Capoiera (sp?) a dance-martial art

Yeah, this isn’t a trick of the light… this guy is completely airborne

The staff were quite distracting… they spent the night going around the audience and asking us to buy DVDs and photos and such… ah, the joys of capitalism.

There was some very good dancing (and I should know, I dance enough…) and the costumes were really spectacular.

No, tap shoes aren’t enough… metal balls on the end of chains… now THAT is a tap routine and a half…

Did I mention that the costumes were spectacular? These lovely ladies would have had to do a fair bit of weight training to work up to carrying those things around…

The following morning, I got off to a 7am start (a relative sleep-in for me considering some of the stuff I’ve had to put up with). I got on a bus which drove for about two hours to an area to the south of Rio…

To have a little boat trip around some lovely islands… a very similar deal to what we did in Puerto Vallarta as a matter of fact… but the boat was a little smaller. Note to self: not enough sleep + boat = broken brain

Well… we didn’t have to worry about the boat running out of petrol… we could just stop by one of these and fill ‘er up.

Despite seeming a bit rickety, the boat was certainly designed to be seaworthy (I assume the boat also has a fairly accurate clock on it somewhere… mind you these things can’t be taken for granted in Brazil, after all, the Maracana stadium doesn’t have a clock).

The helmsman was very relaxed about the whole thing though… we weren’t planning on leaving sight of the shore anyway.

Our first stop… a lovely island. This area has over three hundred islands with over a thousand beaches between them. Many are privately owned. The beaches here are nicer than in Puerto Vallarta… There is even a “Club Med” which is strange… because I always thought the “med” bit was short for “Mediterranean” as in… that body of water between Europe and Africa.

It was a very relaxing day… we hung about the beach, we swam a bit and we lay about on the deck of the boat.

We even managed a bit of snorkeling… there were lots of fish… the great barrier reef still holds the top spot on my list of snorkelling destinations though.

Look! A llama! (cunningly disguised as a starfish)

“excuse me… I’m a little lost…”

and, as with any respectable touristy chartered boat.. there was a bar

…and we even got a fairly decent lunch.

One of the Islands that we stopped off at had a little church on it… with a really really tall tree next to it.

Yeah… no forced perspective trickery needed here… that is one tall mother of a tree!

Meanwhile, on one of the beaches, a silverfish and a swarm of ants do battle.

Oh, it must be so boring to be the staff on one of these boats. This shot reminds me a bit of the photo I took of some staff at the Louvre in Paris who just sat and looked out the window of a room filled with priceless masterpieces of renaissance art.

Our ship… with two masts… which are there for decorative purposes only.

A ten-second exposure of Copacabana beach by night…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.