We decided to spend our final full day in Iguaçu at the Iguaçu National Park on the Brazil side and take our chances with the weather. We agreed to meet between 0830 and 0900 at the entrance to the Iguaçu National Park, the last stop of our 120 bus route if coming from town. To make this early arrival time, I had to wake up at 7AM, have breakfast, and get to the bus terminal at 0745 to catch the 0800 bus. I barely made it in time and luckily was more efficient the payment this time since I knew the drill and what to ask for: “Ciento veinte por favor”. I was on the bus at 0752 and it pulled away a minute later (again leaving 5 minutes early).
The bus arrived at the Iguaçu National Park visitor’s entrance at 0835, passing by the stop I usually got off at to get to the hostel as well as the helicopter tour building.
I didn’t see the guys there yet but a line was already forming so I stepped in it and waiting. The park apparently opened at 0900 so we still had a few minutes to go. At 5 minutes to 0900, Rami and Amir showed up and I signaled to them that I had a place towards the front of the line. We made a plan – I would buy the ticketed and they would go to the tour office to see about booking other activities. There was a 2 hour boat ride under the waterfalls and hike in the morning, and a 4 hour bike/jungle hike/kayak adventure through the Waterfalls National Park. In other words, we decided to max out the day with park activities at save the actual picture talking of the falls from above as the last activity. It was a well-made plan.
And you know what God does when he learns of well-made plans? He laughed, and it rained. All day. A torrential jungle rain. The kind where you can’t get dry and you are wet and cold to the bone. The sun was gone. Just rain. Doing all of these activities in this kind of rain was disheartening, but we soldiered through. The good news was that we got many of the guides/tours to ourselves and could have a better time getting to know the guides and being flexible on time and activities.
We took a double-decker bus from the main visitor’s center of the Iguaçu National Park to our first stop, the Macuco station, where we would pick up the morning activity. It started with a ride through the jungle on a tram – a la Jurassic Park. At this point we were still getting used to the wet and cold and still fighting it, trying to stay dry under our ponchos. We debarked after about a 30 minute drive and chose to do the rest by foot as the others continued on the bus. Our guide (John Paul, I think?) was a young man with a lot of energy and great knowledge of the jungle and the park. He pointed out heart of palm, different types of trees and their uses, and orchids that grew in trees and were not parasites.
The guide led us on a hike under a smaller waterfall and then towards a cable car that brought us down to the water, where we boarded speed rafts.
We found a spot in the front of the raft and took off, whizzing across some rapids and approaching the falls. We were excited but already getting soaked. We stopped trying to stay dry when the raft went under the waterfalls (at that point, nothing was dry). We went in for two separate approaches, and I think that Ramy was recording the whole thing through his phone turned in to a Go-Pro by putting it in a waterproof bag and strapping it around his neck. I was sort of in the front middle of the raft and could barely see over the front to view the falls, but occasionally caught a glimpse of them. I was really looking forward to taking some better pictures of them later in the day, as there was literally no chance to do this with all the water and speed happening at this stage (unless one had an underground camera).
Now we were absolutely freezing. In the Iguaçu National Park at the Macuco station, we stripped down and laid our clothes out a bit to dry as we have various hot beverages – cappuccinos, hot chocolates, and café con leches. We each had at least two, and some empanada snacks. At this point, I had an eye towards giving us for a while and finding some real food. The boys wanted to continue on, doing the 4 hour tour next. I grudgingly agreed to go along with them to the next station and at least learn about what we’d be doing.
We took the bus to the next activity stop in the Iguaçu National Park and got off, meeting our guide, Johnny, another young, enthusiastic, but slightly sardonic guy. He explained the plan – walk or drive through the jungle (bikes were out due to the weather), then take a boat and do some exploring, then go kayaking, then finish with another small walk or drive. I asked him how many of these activities “were covered” and he laughed while he answered the question: “All of them can be except for the kayaking”. I decided to go for it. At this point we were all still wet and freezing, and would just get more so as the day progressed.
We opted for the jungle drive rather than the jungle walk. Johnny gave virtually the same spiel the other guide gave so we started asking him other questions to find out more about him and about the Iguaçu National Park. He said that he was born in Iguaçu (Brazilian side) and that his mother was Paraguayan and father Brazilian. In his excellent English, we he learned in school, he told us with pride that his mother is a lawyer who commutes to Ciudad del Este every day, and that his older brother is a doctor. He wants to save enough more to travel to Europe and backpack around, and especially wants to explore Germany. Working as a guide is a temporary profession for him to save some money and follow his passion to travel.
He also explained a little more about the Iguaçu National Park. He said that it used to be part of a farm owned by a single family. Eventually the government bought it, reforested it (it was a young jungle) and made it a national park. It’s one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and clearly the big economic factor in the area. Most of the park’s employees were youth, and it seemed like a great way to provide a living for them, while also allowing them to practice their language skills and interact with guests from all over the world.
After the drive, we took a small walk (Tarek was barefoot at this point, but the rest of us were still in soaked sneakers) to the boat, where we boarded. There was a dedicated captain for the boat and Johnnie and the other fellow who was more of a naturalist (but who wasn’t as chatty) accompanied us. The boat took us, as it picked up speed, water started spraying everywhere again, re-soaking us.
Johnnie took us to an area called the Black Well, named for its deepness – it did actually look black compared to the surrounding areas. Then we rode by several islands facing the Argentinean side of the falls. They had Brazilian flags planted in them to indicate to Argentina that they were Brazilian property.
Along the way were each served a snack pack consisting of crackers and cookies (the cookies were delicious and were the high point of the day so far for me. The second high point was having the café de leche in the dry Macuco area in the Iguaçu National Park).
Next, we had the option to kayak. I passed, but the boys went for it.
Even the guides though they were insane. At least the water was warmer than the rain failing on us. They were out for about 20 minutes as we tacked along the shore to lead them. Tarek found an orange – which apparently were here and there throughout the Waterfalls Park, a remnant of the former form.
Back in the boat, Ramy, Amir, and Tarek were now starting to really get cold. But they had big smiles on their faces. I was still pretty miserable, past the point of shivering. The boat returned to shore and we reached a shelter area where there was hot sugared coffee (third highlight of the day) and delicious plums. These helped us regain our energy and spirits. Actually, considering the horrible weather conditions, we had made the vow not to let weather get in our way and had stuck to it. After only a short ride back through the jungle back to Macuco, the tour was over, we made it, and I was proud of us. Nobody really complained and we all made the best we could of a bad situation.
It was still raining, and we hadn’t yet made it to the actual waterfalls viewing area which would take roughly 2 hours to explore and do the full walk around. We mustered up our remaining shred of sanity and will to move forward, and got on the bus to take us there. Once there, within minutes of starting, the rain began to relent and the sun teased us, in and out of the clouds. The Iguaçu National Park waterfalls were SPECTATULAR. I mean, up there with the Grand Canyon or Big Sur spectacular. As the sun further emerged and the rain stopped, we felt amazing as we began to shed layers and get dry. Of course, we got wet again when we decided to follow the devil’s throat sign into the waterfall spray. I got some quick pictures and got out of there, too attached to my newfound dryness.
We took the elevator to the top and continued taking pictures and enjoying the view.
Finally, after about 2 hours of playing in the waterfalls, trying different camera techniques, and posing for some fun shots, we were done. The only things left to do were go to the bathroom at the visitor’s center, check out the gift shop where Ramy and Amir had to dry some money before they spent it, and get on a bus headed back to the main center.
A good day, but a hard day at the Iguaçu National Park.
Back at the hostel the guys showered while I used the Wi-Fi, and then Tarek and I caught the bus back in to town so that I could also have a hot shower. I was starting to get cold again as the sun disappeared, the wind came, and night began to fall. I will still damp from head to toe. The buy ride took forever, but a hot shower waited for me on the other side. I spent about 20 minutes with the water on the highest heat setting as possible just to de-thaw.
After the shower, Ramy and Amir had just arrived to the hotel lobby, so we discussed dinner. Tarek and I really didn’t want a meat-fest, but Ramy and Amir had their hearts set on one. We ended choosing Churrascaria do Gaucho, a Brazilian restaurant rated #28 on TripAdvisor that seemed to have a decent salad bar with other options – and it had a good price, R35, so we couldn’t complain too much.I had some fun while we waited for our table.
I barely tried any of the meat but what I did try wasn’t very good – overcooked and not seasoned. The favorite was the grilled pineapple, with sugar and cinnamon and a light burn. I learned that Brazilian Italian food used heavy cream the same way Egyptian Italian food did and after that stayed away from the lasagna. The salad bar and the dessert bar were the highlights for me – mint chocolate chip ice cream was actually available, and although it didn’t take the same as in the US, it was still refreshing. I also tried a red Brazilian Cabernet which wasn’t that great.
After dinner around 2100, I walked back to the hotel and the boys went back to their hostel via the bus. We all had early morning flights on separate airlines – mine was at 615AM and there’s was at 535AM – so we made plans to meet in the airport in Sao Paulo after baggage claim.
I stayed up until about 0100 writing and woke up at 0400 to grab a taxi at 0430. The taxi ride was R60 – which I choked on considering the bus was R3.20; however, the bus didn’t start its rout until 0500 so I didn’t have a choice. The airport was surprisingly crowded with a lot of early morning flights, so the bag drop off took quite some time. Once inside, I only waited for about 15 minutes before boarding began on my GOL flight. Once I got on board, I fell asleep immediately and basically woke up right as we arrived in Sao Paolo.
My bags also made it, and just as planned, outside of baggage claim the boys were waiting for me. Time to start our Sao Paulo adventure.