After a LATAM flight from GIG to IGU, we arrived in In Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguacu) around 5PM.
We found a taxi to take us all to the Iguassu Eco Hostel that the guys were staying at (I booked a hotel in the city center because the hostel didn’t have any private rooms available). They checked in and found their bunks in a shared room (8 beds total) while I surfed the internet. The receptionist was super friendly, helpful, and luckily spoke English.
Side note: at this point in the trip we were basically completely unable to communicate even though two of us new enough Spanish to be useful. Every time we tried Spanish, either the accent, the pronunciation, or the word was different enough from Portuguese to be 80% unintelligible (my friend Brice described Portuguese as a combo of French and Spanish with an Italian inflection). Also, it was rare for people to speak Spanish, and even rarer for people to speak English. We found that, at least in Iguazu Falls, given the proximity to two Spanish speaking countries (on the border of Argentina and Paraguay), Spanish was thankfully spoken.
We learned from the receptionist that the city center was about a 30 minute drive from airport and national park area that my friends were staying, but that there was a bus route that took us between the two in 40 minutes for 3.20 Reias. The bus route 120 going from the city center to the Cataratas do Iguaçu was a God-send in the days to come. Everyone decided to join me down town to check in, and then find a restaurant, so we all tried the bus together for the first time. The hostel clerk was kind enough to give us a quick ride with my suitcase to the bus stop.
Since Bus 120 picked us up at a stop at a bus shelter, we were only able to board from the front and had to pay the fare and go through a turnstile to grab a seat. It was a little challenging with a suitcase, but we managed. It took about 40 with lots of stops, and we were dropped a few blocks from my hotel and walked the rest of the way. I was staying at Áquas do Iguaçu Hotel, which was on Avenida Brasil, one street over from the main highway (Avenida Argentina), and on the main shopping/dining street in town. The location was excellent.
I checked in, dropped my stuff in the room, and we talked to Cristian at the front desk about dinner plans. We were told in Rio by the older, enthusiastic tour guide to check out the Rafain Churasscaria folklorico show in town. Cristian called for us and found at they had space for that night (Monday), and that reservations weren’t necessary. We booked a van through the dinner show to pick us up, but it took so long to arrive that we decided to use a taxi instead. It was about a 10 minute drive at the edge of the main street area, and we were inside by 830PM.
Rafain Churrascaria consisted of large tables around a main stage for seating, where we were waited on for drinks. A few of use decided to try the local beer, Rafain (not sure if it was white labeled for the restaurant, which also seemed to be a big name in town). The beer was light and refreshing, and tasted like a Coors or a Budweiser.
For food, there was a large buffet area consisting of cold items, hot items, a churrascaria carving area, and a desert table. It was so so, and both Tarek and I were put off by the large number of people we had to move/push our way through to get food, especially around the dessert table. Even so, we each went back a few times to try a little of everything. Unfortunately, the food was not that great so we left a lot of food on our plates. The churrascaria in Rio would be taking the cake for dining so far.
The show was cheesy as expected but fun. The performances varied from song/dance centered on the cultures of 9 different countries, featuring Argentina and Brazil. The tango performance was nice and so was the capoeira and samba performances (Brazilian, of course).
The weirdest performance was one around Brazilian samba pirates (or so I surmised).
We left there around 1030PM and taxied our separate ways – me back to my hotel downtown and my friends to their hostel near the Iguazu Falls national park. I was up until about midnight writing, checking email, and Skyping with friends. The room was comfortable and large with AC, but had an slight ant problem in the bathroom and had an internet problem from about 10PM onwards each night.
We decided to sleep in a little and the plan was for me to take the bus to the Iguazu Falls National Park area Tuesday morning and meet up with my friends around 930. I had a large breakfast at the hotel which was both delicious and copious in it variety, melding international options like eggs and cold cuts with Brazilian dishes and pastries/cakes. This was my first real breakfast since arriving and it was nice to also enjoy a cup of coffee. It seems all the coffee here comes pre-sugared so I at first made the mistake of adding sugar before tasting – a mistake only made once 🙂
After breakfast I was to the main bus terminal a few blocks from the hotel and tried to catch the 9AM bus in central Iguazu Falls, but apparently it leaves about 5 before the hour and the next bus didn’t come until 920AM (leaving around 925AM). The arrangement at the terminal was a little different and you paid in advance at the bus stand and then entered a turnstile in to the waiting area. I waited for quite a while that first day and people watched, listening to a nut vendor try to hawk his goods to anybody within earshot. When there as nobody around, he still shouted what he was selling and often seemed to talk to himself. I was glad to board the bus. Here’s a view from the Iguazu Falls bus:
On the ride over, we were serenaded by a musician who played guitar and sang Brazilian songs, explaining this was how earned a living. He was rewarded with claps and coins. Another woman was selling rain ponchos for several Reais. The bus was apparently a real entrepreneurial place. The guys were waiting for me at the bus stop and explained that the line was already quite long to go in to the park and there was too much to do for a late start, so we decided to make the following day our long day, exploring the park for 10 hours or so. We talked about options for the day, and decided to try the helicopter ride and the bird park across the street at the least.
First up was the helicopter. It had rained in the morning and the weather was just starting to clear, so we had to wait around for a while until the place was certain it was safe to fly. Luckily, there was only one group in front of us so we were probably in the air by 11AM. We each paid about $130 for a 10 minute ride. It was worth it, as it gave a great aerial preview of the Cataratas (waterfalls), some rare picture taking vantages of the Iguazu Falls, as built the excitement for the following day where we would spend more time in the waterfall national park. For twice the price, we could have spent 30 minutes in the air (which we declined), but we all agreed that 10 minutes was the perfect about of time.
After the adrenaline rush of the helicopter ride, we made for the Iguazu Falls bird park. The admission price was fair, around R30, and compared to the size of the park and the amount of time one could spend inside, was actually a bargain. The first thing we noticed was the smell – birds, coupled with bird droppings, coupled with rain did not make a pleasant odor. But, we acclimated.
The park started out with several cages filled with a variety of exotic birds, some native to Brazil and some not. We spent some time on the flamingos, and then began to pick up the pace.
Pretty soon, we found ourselves in a cage area where we could enter, walk through with the birds around us, and then exit. We ran in to a very nasty bird that first started pecking at my legs and biting us. I was able to distract it with my camera strap and make a run for it. The others weren’t so lucky. Both Ramy and Amir got caught my surprise and were attacked in the back of the kneecap from behind. As they ran away the bird chased us. We caught this on video, and was one of the highlights of the visit. Nasty bird!
We discovered that we were not cut out for life in the wild and were suddenly thankful for the cages and the separation they created. We ran in to the same species of bird a few more times in un-caged exhibits throughout the park and kept a watchful eye, but never got attacked. That particular bird was apparently just crazy.
Some other highlights included the turtles and the alligators, the vultures, the toucans, and the parrots.
By the end it was already 2PM when we finished so we headed back to the hostel to finish planning our day. At that point we split up and Tarek and I hired a non-English speaking guide to drive us in to Paraguay, while Amir and Ramy went shopping and to a tourist-trap amusement park called Dreamland. At the end of the day, it sounded like they had a better time (even though something like this would have been the least likely thing I would ever do while in a foreign country) because Paraguay was absolutely awful. Read more about our Paraguay adventure here.
After Paraguay and back in Iguazu Falls, the guide dropped us off at my hotel since it was almost time for dinner. I showered and changed and Tarek made plans with Rami and Amir. They had already eaten and were going shopping, and would meet us later at the Rafain Chopp Restaurant for snacks and to watch the Paraguay match and the Brazil-Venezuela soccer matches. In the meantime, Tarek and I decided to get hamburgers at Brasa Burger down the street. We agreed it was a 6/10, even though it’s rated on TripAdvisor as one of the best bites in the city. To me it was good, but had a strange taste that I couldn’t quite identify. It might have been the fried egg that I decided to try (a first for me) on the burger. Also, I’ve been enjoying the Coke Zero’s in Brazil much more than the ones in the US – and I like the cans!
After dinner we walked a mile or so to join Amir and Ramy at the sports bar. They were in the middle of a pizza and huge Budweiser beer funnel. Tarek and I had seen these earlier at Brasa and were making fun of the obnoxious young men ogling winner and drinking from it. Luckily our group was much more refined! We ordered to some desert to share and stayed until about 930PM – after the first match had ended but before the Brazil match began. Unfortunately I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I walked back to the hotel and Tarek took the bus back to his hostel (the others had left about 30 minutes prior). We would have an early morning the next day (especially me) and a very, very long day. I was asleep around midnight.