Tag Archives: Brazil

Mega wat(ers)

Foz do Iguacu is the perfect location to explore the Brazilian side of the world famous waterfalls. As the river marks the border between Brazil and Argentina, there is also the Argentinean side to visit. But I’ve heard from friends that both sides are worth a visit. The former one is easily accessible by public transport, which takes you right to the entrance of the national park. From there it is necessary to take another bus inside the park to get you to the actual falls.

First sight of the waterfalls

The first sight of the falls is already impressive, as the water drops over the edge in several places – some with the full height of 84 meters, some with another level in-between. It is quite amazing when you look at it, wait a few minutes and notice that still the same amount of water is falling down every second. It is just so much water! And while you continue to walk along the edge, there are still more waterfalls you haven’t seen before.

More waterfalls are to be discovered as you walk along the edge
The main attraction on the Brazilian side is a boardwalk that takes you close to the center of the “Garganta del Diablo”, the throat of the devil, where you are sure to get wet just by looking at it. Or you can dare to look over the edge to see how the water must feel like just before dropping another 20 meters.

The view of the Brazilian boardwalk

The look over the edge
But Foz do Iguacu has another attraction to offer – the world’s second largest hydroelectric dam, located on the Parana River on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The dam and the company that manages it belong to neither country, but are part of a big national contract between the two countries. It generates enough power (14000 Mega watts) to cover nearly 20% of Brazil’s and 80% of Paraguay’s energy demand. The power plant was built in the 70s and began operating in 1984, with the last turbine being installed only in 2007, after the reservoir was completely filled.

The Itaipu dam
Going on the “special tour” also enables you to get a look behind the scenes – going inside the dam, looking at the control room, which is permanently vibrating under the force of the turbines and going all the way down to the generator rooms, where it is hot and noisy. And if you thought that the Iguacu Falls had a lot of water, think again, because the amount of water would only fill two of the 20 steel tubes that lead to the generators.

The control room inside the dam
Two of the steel tubes carry the same amout of water as the Iguacu falls
After exploring both sights, I crossed the border into Argentina. Of course they have their own border-town, Puerto Iguazu (now with a z), mainly built for tourists visiting the falls. Again, local transport will bring you to the main entrance, but from there a little train will take you to the main attractions. Being on the first train of the day, I managed to get to the “Garganta del Diablo” ahead of everyone else, getting a superb view from the top of this large waterfall.

The difference between being among the first ones at the “Garganta del Diablo”…
…and arriving ten minutes later!
But the view from the “Upper circuit” was truly amazing, when you’re in line with the main section of the waterfall. When you look at it without camera, smartphone or tablet it will surely give you goosebumps! And if that’s not enough, there are cute and crazy coatis, wild toucans and even a waterfall to take a bath.

Nothing short of magical
Crazy coati waiting for some food
Wild toucan enjoyong the quietness of the jungle
Taking a shower under one of the smaller waterfalls

A visit in paradise

Even if I had met Nik only briefly on the city tour we decided to travel together, because he also had the idea of going to Ilha Grande. The island is located about 130 km from Rio and is popular with tourists and locals alike. However, there were not a lot of people on the island when we arrived there, making it a great spot to relax from the hustle of Rio and Cape Town. The transfer was relatively easy and we arranged for pick up right at our hostels.

Unfortunately the pirate ship was not our transfer boat to Ilha Grande

On the bus we met Bea, who has been working for two weeks at a hostel on the island. Since we hadn’t booked any accommodation, we followed her to the “Fleur da Ilha”. It seemed to be a bit old and run down, but the location right at the beach at the center of the village was great and we gave it a shot. And it proved to be a hidden flower of the island with really friendly staff, a sense of cleanliness and good breakfast.

A hidden gem – our hostel on Ilha Grande

The next days we set off to explore the island. First to the remains of an old cholera hospital, which was treating incoming immigrants before they could enter Brazil. Then to an old aqueduct, which has been supplying the village with fresh water for about 100 years. We followed the trail through the thick jungle, with monkeys screaming in the distance, up to a nice little waterfall, where we could cool off from the humid weather. The beach was also not too far away, so we decided to include it as well. We were quite surprised to find a few locals here selling drinks, ice cream, coconuts and other snacks, but later we found them on every beach, as it is easy to transport everything by boat to the different beaches.

The aqueduct in the middle of the forest
Hiking with Nik through the jungle
The water was nice and refreshing after the hike

Another hike took us to the other side of the island to the Lopes Mendes beach, which is considered to be one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches. The beach is located on the south side of the island and is unprotected from incoming waves from the Atlantic. Unfortunately there were high waves making it impossible for snorkeling and going in the water past your waist line. We still enjoyed the soft sand and the sound of the waves while relaxing under some trees.

On the way to Lopes Mendes Beach we passed other beautiful beaches
High waves at Lopes Mendes Beach make snorkeling impossible

If you want to see more of the island you have to do a multi-day hike, or you take one of the many speedboats that will take you to one of the more remote beaches around, which is what we did. As it didn’t matter to us if the beaches are on Ilha Grande or some other islands in the area, we chose a tour that would take us to “Las Ilhas Paraisicas”, the paradise islands, where we were hoping for less crowds than with the popular trips to the “Blue Lagoon” and the “Green Lagoon”.

Enjoying ice cold beer at an almost deserted beach

The trip included four stops on different islands, where we got some time for snorkeling or just relaxing on the beach. We saw quite a few colorful fishes, but also turtles. The beaches were really nice, with clean, white sand and turquoise water. I’m sure this is what paradise looks like for many people, but not for me. Don’t get me wrong – I do think that those are beautiful places, but it didn’t give me the same “wow”-feeling that I get in the mountains, plus I got a really bad sunburn, which usually happens to me at the beach even if I put on sunscreen.

One of the paradise islands that was great for snorkeling

We saw many colorful fish while snorkeling

To conclude our trip to paradise, we had to dine like the gods. What better way is there than to have the best homemade pizza? At least that’s what everyone at the hostel was telling us about Soldado’s pizza. So we got curious and asked him to make it for us, if we paid for the ingredients. Soldado works at the hostel and used to be a paratrooper for the Brazilian army. He doesn’t speak any English, seems a bit crazy, but he’s still a nice guy and managed to give us a lively impression of what it’s like to be with the special forces of the Brazilian army. And of course he did make really good pizza!

Soldado is making pizza
Bye bye Ilha Grande!

Oh solo Rio

When I arrived in Brazil I was quite fascinated – everything was different compared to the airports of Windhoek and Cape Town: The staff was friendly, helpful, English speaking and quite well organized and the suitcases arrived very quickly. I was off for a good start. However, my luck did not last very long, as there is only one ATM per terminal, which charges a lot of money for withdrawals. Nevertheless I had to take it in order to pay for the bus. Another issue is the language, since very few Brazilians (except for the staff at the airport) actually speak English. Spanish helps in several cases, so I was happy to see how much I already learned using Duolingo frequently.

Lush vegetation on the way to Rio

The airport of Sao Paolo is close to a city called Guarulhos, which also has a bus terminal. I was told to go there, because they also have busses leaving to Rio de Janeiro, saving me the trouble of going 25 km to Sao Paolo and back. What the people didn’t know was the fact that this terminal is way less frequented than the one in Sao Paolo. In the end I spent four hours at the bus terminal, including one hours delay of the bus. Luckily they had free WiFi and I had a few things to do, like downloading the offline dictionary from Google translate, so it didn’t get boring.

The landscape has many hills and valleys

Since I hadn’t gotten any recommendation on a hostel in Rio, I looked at some online reviews and booked my hostel based on that. However, once I got there I had to find out that the location was safe and quiet, but a bit too much as it is located in a residential neighborhood. Additionally there were no other solo travelers my age, so it was difficult to meet new travel mates. Therefore, and because I only wanted to spent two days in Rio, I booked a tour that would take me to all major sights in one day.

My hostel was located in a very residential area

We started off with visiting “J. C.”, as our tour guide named him, being quite familiar with the statue. With its height of 30 m, the Redentor is very impressive, located on the Concorvado hill top overlooking the city. It was built in the 1920s with donations from mostly catholics all over Brazil. The open arms are forming a cross with the rest of the body, but also represent a welcoming gesture to the ships entering the port of Rio, as well as being a sign of peace.

The mighty statue of Cristo Redentor is towering above Rio

Up next was the neighborhood of Santa Teresa, which is an area where only rich people used to live. Now it has been overtaken by alternative people and artists, giving it a nice vibe. Very artistic are also the Seleron steps, a set of steps that were turned into artwork by a guy named Seleron. He decorated them with lots of tile fragments in the colors of the Brazilian flag. After getting internationally famous through music videos and social media, people started to send him tiles from all over the world. Now it includes tiles from over 60 countries, making it one of the most international pieces of artwork in the world.

The streets of Lapa
At the Seleron steps

The huge cathedral, a modern structure which is made of concrete and glass, is big enough to seat 5000 people or 20000 people standing. However, it’s capacity is hardly ever needed, as our tour guide explained: Brazilians like to pray on the beach on Sundays. I guess that’s why some towns do have their churches right at the beach. Rio’s most famous beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana, are bordered by high-rise hotels, leaving no space for other buildings. Nevertheless you can still get a prime spot on sunny weekends.

Difficult decision for Brazilians on Sundays: Church…
… or beach, like here in Ipanema

In the evening I tried to meet up with Nik, a guy from England that I had briefly met on the sightseeing tour. We were staying in different hostels and agreed to go to Lapa for some drinks. When we decided for a meeting point we had no idea of how crowded the streets would be. In the end we couldn’t find each other (no WiFi/phone), so I just walked through the streets enjoying the atmosphere.

The streets in Lapa are busy on a Friday night

Another great experience was the guided walking tour through the favela Rocinha. Nowadays, favela is the word used for slums/townships in South America, or for a really messy and dirty place. Originally it is the name of a plant that was growing on the steep hills, where the townships were built. As it was hard work to remove the plants with their thick network of roots, the people identified themselves with the hard work and called the area favela.

Inside of the favela
One of the wider and livelier streets of Rocinha

Rocinha is Brazil’s largest favela, with about 120,000 people living in a very small area without high-rise buildings, so everything is build very compact, with tiny alleys that are not big enough for cars to pass through. Some favelas are more dangerous than others, and here they seemed to have made some sort of agreement with the tour company to ensure their safety: Every stop on the tour is used to get more money from the tourists – the gallery with art from local artists, the drumming session of some locals, the bakery, women selling their handmade craft and the daycare center for children, which is funded by a part of the tour fee. Overall it’s still a very interesting tour!

Locals using improvised drums for some Samba beats
The local bakery has homemade delicacies