Paranaguá? Why not!

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.

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Ilha do Mel

“When was the last time I set my foot on a small island like this one?” – I asked myself when I first saw Ilha do Mel on the horizon.

We were going there by boat, and the journey was short, but very pleasant. On board, there were only two more passengers, the sun was shining, and views were spectacular.

The island we were heading to was quite unusual. As far as the progress of civilization is concerned, it stayed behind, and is not looking to catch up. There is no concrete, no cars, no roads. The three “villages” of the island (Fortaleza on the north, Encantadas on the south, and Brasilia in the centre) are connected by few forest paths, or by beach. The only available means of transport is a bicycle or a wheelbarrow. Optionally, you can take a boat to move from one part of the island to another. It is mainly nature that surrounds you there. There is not much land to cultivate. Local people live in small wooden huts, connected by tiny sand paths.

On the entire island, there are only three small shops that provide basic products, food, and drinking water, one school and a hospital. Every here and there, you can find a phone box, or a post box. Surprisingly, for being such a small community, the islanders constructed plenty of churches and football pitches.

A significant part of the island is not only uninhabited, but it is considered dangerous and inaccessible. It has been turned into a natural reserve of vegetation and wild animals, and even the locals try not to go there. We have been told that once,1000 Brazilian soldiers were sent to inspect the uninhabited territory and 100 of them got lost. Apparently, at certain point, their compasses stopped working and they had to seek help from local fishermen.

Ilha do Mel may not exactly be a place where inventions of modern technology make everyday life easier. It feels like time stopped there. It didn’t stop tourists from visiting, though. During our stay, due to the low season, it seemed a bit deserted, but still we had no doubts, that tourism was what keeps this place going.

We called at a little port of Brasilia, and we saw a tourist information right in front of us. Anderson, a guy who worked there, told us about the accommodation options. There were plenty. Later on, we discovered, that every second house on the island was a hotel or a camping, whereas almost every household offered a room to rent.

We were looking for a camping and he recommended one, quite far away from where we were. With our backpacks on, we had to fallow a small path leading through the forest. It was an exhausting half an hour walk, but it was worth the sweating. The place was situated right by the sea, so we could eat our breakfast on the beach, and every night, we would fall asleep with a soothing sound of breaking waves.

On top of that, soon we discovered that we became close neighbours with Anderson, the guy from the tourist information. He was renting a hut from the two brothers – owners of the camping. It was nice to make friends with someone who had all the important information about the island. He told us, for example, that when the electricity was brought, most people moved to the areas where it was possible to connect it, and formed the villages, but three families stayed in the reserve and still live there. There is a church, where the first marriage on the island was solemnised.

We were really keen on exploring the wilder parts of the island, but Anderson warned us, that even though it seemed easy, it was not always possible. Without knowing the place well, we could have been trapped between the beaches. If the tie went up, we could have been forced to go into the see and swim, or to walk into the forest. On top of that, there was a risk of coming across a dangerous snake or caiman.

In fact, the place was full of snakes. We were told, that there was a cobra that always came to the camping. Everyone knew it. It could be spotted on trees, or simply moving around the houses and tents. Every day we were aware of its presence, luckily, we newer saw it. One of the brothers showed us the skin it once dropped by his house. He had to raise his hand high above his head to present its fool length, and the tail was still on the ground. The cobra was far over 2 meters long!

It felt good to be surrounded by all this natural beauty. One day I walked out of the tent and saw a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower right in front of me. We admired some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. For the first time, we went into a beach cave.

boat

What turned out to be interesting too, was to see how people lived. There isn’t much to do on the island. Life is simple, but good. Many people live their lives following an uncomplicated daily routine. They go fishing, take care of their households, eat, surf and rest. Before the sunset, the guys from our camping would simply go to the beach, pick some fresh mussels, and cook them with tomato and pasta for supper.

I must say, that the peacefulness and simplicity of this lifestyle was tempting. Watching those people made me wonder why most of us still choose to rush, stress, and consume. Soon I had my answer. There was one thing that made my life on this island absolutely unbearable. One tiny thing that I would never be able to accept. Mosquitos!

They were everywhere. They would start attacking around 5PM, right before the sunset, and bite every uncovered part of my body (due to the weather condition most of the parts of my body would be uncovered). There were millions of them. They were restless. They were quick like a jet … and they wouldn’t react to any sort of insect bite protection. After two days my skin was covered with mosquito bites. I had them in the most unusual places. I was constantly itching. We soon realized that the only way to deal with it, was to go to sleep at 6 in the afternoon. One night, I stayed up longer to hang out with Anderson and his friends from the island. I put all my warm clothes on, and covered as much as I only could. The mosquitos were still biting me through my jeans. They were even biting my face: the nose, eye leads, lips…  I could not believe, that all the guys were sitting there, in their trunks, right next to me. I didn’t find enough courage to ask them the key question.  I figured, there were two possible explanations. Either they were used to being bitten, or it was my fresh blood, that drove those miniature vampires crazy.

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Iguazú National Park – The Devil’s Throat!

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”

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