Well, to be honest, it was not part of the plan. It turned out to be one of those things about our journey that “just happened”. Instead of going back from Ilha do Mel to Pontal do Sul, spontaneously, we decided to change our destination, and took a different boat. This way, around noon, we found ourselves in a town we knew nothing about.
As soon as we set foot on dry land, we felt really relaxed and welcomed. We sat on a bench to rest for a while, and to decide what to do next. By the port, people were eating lunch in outdoor cafes, and drinking Skol from ice cold, one liter bottles. The sun was shining, and I could smell fried seafood in the air. I felt a sudden urge to get rid of my backpack, shower, put on some fresh clothes, and for a while, become a part of this place. We looked at each other, and without much talking we agreed to find a place to sleep.
It was not difficult. A small hostel by the shore happened to have a cheap double room with a bathroom available. After 5 days of “mosquito camping” on a humid, sandy island, it seemed like a real luxurious treat! It is funny, how things change depending on where you stand.
Paranaguá is the oldest town in the state of Paraná. Its port used to be an important trade junction between the sea and the land. There is an old rail track that still connects it with Curitiba, the capital of the region.
Some really beautiful, colonial buildings decorated the shore. Once we gave them a closer look, we realised, there wasn’t much left of their former glory. They were just abandoned, colorful facades.
In two hours we saw pretty much all there was to see. We had dinner in “buffet por kilo” – tasty and economical way to eat out in Brazil – and we decided to call it a day. It felt great to sleep in a real bed for a change.
Brazil and Argentina share the honor of being homes to one of the most amazing creations of nature – the Iguazú Falls. Both countries facilitate visitor access, but each offers a different experience. In Brazil, you can see the entire chain of waterfalls from a distance, whereas in Argentina, a large territory of the Iguazú National Park can be explored.
Native inhabitants of this territory, the Guaraní people, described origenes of the falls in this beautiful legend:
” Many years ago, there was a big and monstrous serpent which lived in the Iguazú river and its name was Boi. Once a year, the guaranies had to sacrifice a beautiful virgin and throw her into the river to please Boi. One year, a young boy whose name was Tarobá, became a leader of the tribe. He was madly in love with a beautiful girl named Naipi. When he discovered that she was to be sacrificed, he kidnapped her and intended to escape in a canoe. Boi found out about it; she got furious and her anger was so deep, that she split the river into halves forming a massive gap. She caught the lovers, turned Tarobá into a palm tree, and Naipi, with her beautiful, long hair, into falling water. She disappeared in the Devil’s Throat and from there she watches Naipí’s and Tarobá’s suffering eternal separation. However, on sunny days, the rainbow surpasses Boi’s power and joins the two lovers.”
A visit to the park is a full day adventure, that includes walks and trails leading through lower and upper parts of the falls, a train ride, and a short boat shuttle to San Martin island. This variety of activities allows visitors to admire that miraculous land from different perspectives. Even though, in the Park, it is only allowed to walk within the designated areas, and visitors must follow the marked paths, it is entirely up to them which path or destination they choose. We decided to see the biggest fall first.
To get there, we followed a 1km long bridge, built above the extensive Iguazú River. If you carefully scan the shallow river bottom, you may see turtles, fishes and caimans. On small pieces of land grows a variety of plants and trees, giving home to many species of butterflies and birds. All this turns the walk into a very exciting experience.
From a certain distance we could already see the mist rising above the fall; then we heard the noise, and finally, at one point we just stopped. We couldn’t believe our eyes. It was like an image taken from one of those catastrophe movies – a big hole sucking up all that is around,…or a giant flushing toilet!
It was our first contact with the Devil. Still, we had no idea what was about to come. We rushed forward to get a closer view. And yeah!! You can get really close to the beast!!
This U-shaped fall is called Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) and the name already tells a lot about its nature. Every second, 12000m3 of water fall 80m down, with such a strength and speed, that the rising mist makes it impossible to see where the fall ends.
Standing in front of Garganta del Diablo has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. It is really hard to define how it felt to be there. My heart stopped for a few seconds, while my face was trying to figure out the right expression for this unfamiliar emotion. It was a peculiar mixture of happiness, fear, astonishment and respect!
When the sun shines, a beautiful rainbow appears, and the greatness of the scene is overwhelming. It turns into a very personal, almost intimate experience. You just stand there and feel so small, so fragile. In fact, tourists get surprisingly quiet there. Maybe the noise of the falling water disturbs communication, or maybe the view makes people realise how meaningless they are in the face of nature.
Yet, only a few hundred meters further, life proves the contrary. Humans’ interference with nature is significant. There is a spot in the park, where most of the trails meet. It is an assembly point for tours and groups of visitors. Every day, hundreds of tourists choose to grab a snack or have their lunch there. Over the years, the smell of food has been attracting animals and drugging them out of the forest. As a result, dozens of coatis have lost their natural fear of people, and they spend their entire lifes walking around the tables and robbing tourists.
Coatis became an additional attraction to the park. We spent over an hour watching series of hilarious events involving those bizarre mammals. They specialise in looking friendly and harmless, and in this cleaver way, they take advantage of naive tourists. People get easily fooled by their innocent look, they stop, take photos or squat to touch them. It gives the animals an opportunity to have a “good sniff” of their victims’ bags and pockets.Once they locate the food, they conduct a quick, unexpected attack. They work in groups and they are very fast, so most of the time they are successful! Once they get in possession of food, they disappear in the forest.
We were sitting on a bench, watching them run away with somebody’s bag of crisps, when a single coatie approached us. I was holding an empty chocolate bar wrapper. The animal came to me slowly, and delicately put his front paws on my lap. I got infatuated by his cuteness in a split second. Then, when I less expected it, he grabbed the wrapper with his maw and pooled with an unusual strength, helping itself with the long claws. It was impossible to win that combat, I had to let go.
We decided to look for an alternative place to eat, not to share our lunch with coatis. We chose to have a picnic on the beach of the island. La Isla San Martin is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. Once you get there by boat, you can have a bath in the river, just meters away from the falls, and admire some incredible views.
Our visit to The Iguazú National Park was not just a fantastic visual experience. There was some kind of a spiritual dimension to it. Most of the time I was speechless and I could only press the button of my camera. I wanted to capture every single thing I saw. I couldn’t get enough, even though I knew that no matter how many images I carry back with me, I won’t be able to capture and preserve the emotion.
Here is a fragment of the BBC series “Planet Earth”
As soon as we arrived to Foz do Iguazú from Sao Paulo, we crossed the border and we found ourselves in Puerto de Iguazú in Argentina. It turned out to be a reasonably easy transition – a public bus took us from one border point to another, crossing Paraná River, that divides the two countries. For us, arriving to Iguazú was a time to go back to camping lifestyle, after quite a few days spent in a large city.
Puerto de Iguazu is a small, but very tourist town, full of tacky souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels. There is one thing really worth seeing though. Not far from the centre, there is a park with a small hill from which you can see two rivers join (Paraná and Iguazú). This is the only place in South America where a river defines a border between three countries (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay).
We managed to find an isolated camping, situated in a residential area of the town. In Barrio de Santa Rosa we could merge with the locals and escape the crowds. It looked like a little village and required a 20 min bus ride from the centre, but it was exactly what we needed.
The bus rides turned out to be quite an adventure too. First of all, the machines were so old and loud that they resembled an antique tractor rather than a means of public transport. Second of all, there were no bus stops and no stop buttons. Everyone would just let the driver know, when they wanted to get off. Finally, apparently it was not forbidden for the drivers to socialise and relax while working, because they would smoke cigarettes or share passenger’s mate and chat while driving the dusty, unpaved roads.
Our camping was located just by the River Paraná and we could see Paraguay on the other shore. The place was owned by a middle aged couple, who clearly loved to be surrounded by nature. It was beautiful, full of trees, plants…and animals! They had 2 dogs, 1 Guacamayo (that talked), 2 Blue-fronted Amazon Parrots, 2 “running free” lizards (we never saw them, though), a cat, and a monkey!!
Now, we had some contact with wild monkeys in Brazil before, but this was a totally different experience. This monkey lost his mother and was being brought up by humans. It isn’t just that he was interested in everything and everyone that surrounded him. He was bored and desperate for any kind of attention and entertainment, and once he got it, he wouldn’t let go. The cat knew that, and he tried to stay away. He was not always lucky though. Once he got caught, he had to “play” until he managed to escape. The parrots weren’t that smart and paid a very high price for being careless. One day, one of them fell from a tree and the monkey pulled its tail off.
Still, humans were what interested him the most. He had to work much harder for the reward of keeping a person within his reach. We were much stronger than him, but he had a secret weapon. He was extremely cute and extremely skilled in using his arms, legs and tail as a hitch. Before you even realized, he was sitting on your shoulder, with his tail rapped around your neck, holding tight to your hair, biting your face, and sticking fingers into your mouth.
We were amazed how smart he was. For example, he understood perfectly well, that when his chain got trapped and he was unable to move forward, he had to go back and disentangle it to continue what he was up to. If there was something that he couldn’t reach with his arm, he would try to do it with his leg or with his tail. Also, he would dip his food in water to soften it. In fact, he ate like a human (well, a badly educated one), and he slept like a human, covering himself with a blanket that had to be changed every day, because if it wasn’t, or if it was made of a wrong fabric, he would tear it to pieces. He really did have humanlike face expressions, tiny hands, nails and a pair of intelligent little eyes.
So, even though it was often physically painful to play with him, every day, we could spend hours admiring this extraordinary creature – a living reminder of who we are. Meeting Moni has unquestionably been one of the best adventures of our trip.