Ending the fast and leaving Tati Yupi felt as if it were my first day out of prison, Reintroduced to society with freedom to roam again. I enjoyed Tati Yupi but I had been keen to escape my self imposed austerity. The meal at Hernandarias had been an anticlimax: functional food with little enjoyment.
I cruised the few short kilometres and parked my fully loaded bike in the ITAIPU Binacional Car park and signed up for the tour. I bought a hat from the gift shop to protect me from the sun but I didn’t need it. There was little walking between the buses and the viewpoints so I just looked like a dam tourist.
The ITAIPU site is immaculate. Air-conditioned buses drive a circuitous route to the viewpoint and along the dam. Everything apart from the English subtitles of the film in the immaculate cinema was in Spanish. The tour from the Paraguayan side is free but the Brazilain side is paid but you get the privilege of seeing inside.
Back in the city, many hotels appeared to be closed for refurbishment. The ones that were open were more expensive than their equivalents further out of the city. All I wanted was a few nights on a soft mattress and some air conditioning. The Hummingbird hostel came up cheap, air-conditioned and not far from the centre. The people were very welcoming although the place looked a little tatty around the edges. Sylvia gave me some sheets and showed me the last available bed in a four berth dorm.
It was basic but clean and comfortable. The Dutch guy next to me didn’t say much and left early the next morning backpacking southeast toward Argentina. The two Korean girls were friendly and chatted happily in English. They also left, leaving me in solitude for the second night.
The dorm was hot in the late afternoons. The air conditioner didn’t come on until dusk and the single skinned walls shared the hot rays of the afternoon sun with the dark interior.
I discovered the Wunderli Cafe as an alternative haven just down the road. I could hang out there in cool, air-conditioned comfort. Both the hostel and cafe bordered a large tranquil park that seemed to be left with a wild but tranquil edge. I was close to the city but far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the markets and malls to experience the calm of nature.
I’d describe Cuidad Del Este as a commercial hub. It has little charm or tourist appeal but I liked it. I felt like I lived on the edge of another world, which it is since it looks east across the Paraná at the vastness of Brazil.
This is somewhere I could live easily long-term on short-term tourist visas, border hopping to Argentina or Brazil to refresh the rubber stamps in the passport. Cuidad Del Este doesn’t try to be anything other than itself.
I had booked into Hummingbird for two nights and would have liked to have stayed longer but they had already been fully booked for the weekend. Instead of looking for somewhere else in Cuidad Del Este, I decided I’d cross into Brazil and find somewhere to stay in Foz do Iguaçu. It knocks down a barrier for thinking further ahead for my continuation to the Atlantic coast.
The border offices are at each ends of the bridge. Migraciones was straightforward. Stamp, vamos. Paraguay’s Aduanas offices were hard to find and turned out to be the little blue kiosks between the carriageways. They looked like toll booths. I handed in my blue form and was waved away without any receipt or acknowledgement.
The bike lane across the bridge was barely wide enough for my loaded bike. And I’d feel the bags brush the concrete barrier where the lane narrowed by displaced blocks. Not all the traffic stops at the border offices. There’s a steady stream across the bridge in both directions.
A helpful young girl at the Brazilian side spoke English and spared the time to guide me to the correct desks. The Aduanas office was like a warehouse despatch depot. A steady stream of people were ferrying boxes of goods out of Paraguay and into Brazil via the rubber stamps of the Aduanas customs officials. From the road, the border looked so busy that I expected to spend the day there. I was through within an hour. Seems most of the traffic drives straight over the border without stopping.
Mandala Hostel came up cheap and close to the centre of Foz do Iguaçu on booking.com and I booked 5 nights, straight off, via Hummingbird’s WiFi. It’s always a risk committing to a long stay but I wanted a secure base for exploring the falls and catch up on some work.
The hostel looked like a large converted bungalow. A Hammock in the front garden and big rooms full of bunks. Two bunks in my room were doubles so they alone would take 8 people. The other four were single bunk beds so that was another 8. At most, there were 13 of us overnight and it was interesting to observe that all of them were engrossed in their smartphone screen, even the group of friends that settled in that day. I smiled to myself and returned to my facebook app.
Foz do Iguaçu is the second most visited tourist site in Brazil. Consequently, backpackers would come and go at all hours. Russel and Zippy weren’t shy about living amongst people. Russel would fumble through his various plastic bags and Zippy would search through every compartment of her rucksack unzipping and zipping them up one by one as she went and repeating the process until whatever item was eventually found, often under the light of an Iphone LED light that could rival a small star so as not to disturb anyone by flipping on the light.
Uninterrupted sleep was hard to come by…
Around the town, Foz is a contrast to Cuidad del Este. Pretty avenues and clean smoothly paved streets of quality shops and cafes. More expensive too, and seemingly not so busy. January and February are ‘high’ season for vacations but Foz still felt tranquil and laid back. Perhaps all the people were busy harvesting the tax-free fruits of Chinese slave labour over the river in Cuidad Del Este.
With a supermarket and cafe so close to the hostel, I hardly needed to take the bike out which remained in the garden until taking the trip to Iguaçu Falls
On the third day, I set off for the falls on the Yamaha. It was an easy ride. Turn right on Avenida das Cataratas and continue along the Avenida until you come to the Cataratas. The visitor centre is set well away from the falls, about 10km, which means parking the bike at the car park at ‘car’ prices (no discount for having fewer wheels or taking up half as much space), queueing to buy a ticket and then queuing in the airport-sized queue for a bus to the falls.
The bus terminal was packed. I’d got there early so as to beat the rush along with everyone else in Brazil having the same thought. Once on the bus, driving through the forest cooled and refreshed me ready for the stroll along the river.
We all evacuated the bus at the first viewpoint to jostle for a good view and photo opportunity of the falls before we drifted down the path in a herd. The mammoth falls roar through the valley parallel to the trail. Selfie sticks and arms stretch out across the trail to obstruct the dense flow of tourists along the narrow path. Even the most leisurely of paces is forced down to an energy-sapping dawdle.
Success in passing one group allowed a brief few paces before being blocked by another. I told myself there was no rush and to go with what there was of the flow. this was a strategy difficult to enjoy. Ducking under selfie sticks felt far more progressive and engaging whatever the result.
I’d finished the snaking trail that links the succession of viewpoints within a couple of hours and had returned to the visitor centre by lunchtime. The queues had now all evaporated into the mist of the waterfalls. There was nobody left waiting in the departure hall. Arriving at Noon is a far better choice.
On the way back to the Mandala, I took a detour to see the triple frontier from the Brazilian viewpoint. In contrast to the Paraguayan side, which you can see in the picture, this view to the triple frontier had been fenced off and sentried by a ticket office. Restricted to paying customers only. Artificial scarcity is a great business strategy: take what’s already free and sell it back to people. I’d already seen the frontier from Paraguay anyway and I could see Paraguay from the car park for free so I looked across the river thinking about tomorrow’s visit to the Argentinian side of Iguaçu Falls.
There’s no denying that the Iguaçu Falls is an impressive experience but the density of tourists helped me decide that I wouldn’t bother going the following day, especially with the added inconvenience of Immigration and Currency Exchange. I’d be better off helping ease the density for everyone else by staying away. I don’t mind doing my bit to ease other’s suffering… Instead, I decided to visit the Parque Do Aves (Avery, or bird zoo) that I’d passed earlier on my way back from the falls…