Bordercrossings as they should be – Iguazu Falls

We have spent 6 weeks in Brazil by now and are looking forward to a new chapter of our trip. We leave the country and enter Argentina at one of the absolute highlights: We pass through Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and travel via the waterfalls to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina with a short stop in Paraguay. 3 countries, 2 days!

Foz do Iguaçu is the gateway to the waterfalls but also to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. CDE, as it’s often called, is a city just across the border between Paraguay and Brazil. It’s a world on its own, apparently very different from the rest of the country, and a day trip here is quite the experience. The 2 countries are seperated from each other by the Paraná river and border crossing is solely possible via a single bridge. Walking is often faster than driving as long traffic jams arise in the busy streets around the tight bridge every day – in the morning on the Brazilian side, in the afternoon it’s Paraguay’s turn. One of the reasons for the daily migration across the border is the shopping tourism: prices in CDE, especially for electronics, are significantly cheaper than in Brazil or Argentina. This attracts hordes of Argentines and Brazilians for major purchases and Christmas shoppings. It’s not December yet but still the city looks like a busy bee hive of buyers, sellers and agents luring the former to the latter. The moment you walk past border control you find yourself in a maze of skyscraper shopping malls. The sidewalks are transformed into one giant market by lines of stalls selling anything from hunting bows to white socks. Prices range from expensive to dirt cheap, depending on your bargaining skills. If you need a new pair of Nike sweatpants, this is the place to be. Of course there’s often a reason for these prices… Ciudad del Este is said to be the Latin American Valhalla for counterfeit products, smuggling and other illegal practices. So paying attention and checking your product is a must when you want to buy something. We are here to replace our stolen camera and find some other electronics for the van that is on its way to Buenos Aires. For this we go to the more “reputable” malls instead of the street stalls. Hannes soon finds a place that has the model he wants and we ask to test the actual camera that we would be buying, not the showroom model. After some hesitation the clerk agrees and fetches the box. The box has Spanish nor Portuguese on it – only some Asian language – so we immediately start to get suspicious. Luckily the “what’s in the box” is also in English and we notice that the manual is missing. The store clerk takes us for fools and invents a story about an ecological initiative by the manufacturer. That’s enough to confirm our distrust and we walk away. We do buy an external battery in the end, which ends up dying the moment we plug it in… We don’t have a camera yet so decide to go back the next day. At once an opportunity to try and get our money back for the battery. After an hour of haggling they reluctantly hand us over the 20 dollar note – we insisted on cash while their “policy” is to make the refund by transfer – and we continue our search for a camera. We end up buying at China Shopping. Prices here are a bit higher but the staff is very reasonable to negotiate with and after insisting Hannes could test all equipment. Hannes adds in an extra lens in return for a nice discount and then heads back to Brazil, happy as a kid on Christmas morning.

We are in Foz do Iguaçu for the waterfalls. Other than that there is little to do or see in the city – true, there is a dirt cheap all-you-can-eat churrasco restaurant. The streets even look a bit sad and deserted. The National Park of the waterfalls on the other hand is maintained beautifully. The Brazilians are well aware of the need to take care of this place: it draws big crowds year round. From the entrance we take a shuttle bus to the starting point of the 1500m walk. When we get of the shuttle we’re immediately facing panorama of the waterfalls: more than 275 individual falls, some more than 8m high, spread out over 3km. Impressive is the word. Our attention is also drawn to the floor below and the trees above us. Coatis, raccoon-like cuties, and black howler monkeys roam around everywhere. They know very well tourists once in a while “accidentally” drop something edible. Cute as they might be, the park authorities warn about the risk of nasty bites and rabies infections, so we keep our distance. We go with the flow – of people, not the water – along the entire trajectory to the grand apotheosis: Garganta do Diabo, or the Devil’s Throat. A walking platform takes you over the river so you can experience the power of the water from in between the falls – rain jacket recommended. It’s a truly amazing feeling standing there, even though you have to push your way to nice a spot once in a while. We heard some say the Argentinian side is even better but we find that hard to believe right now.

We don’t want to miss the Argentinian side, so at noon we hurry across the river. Well, unfortunately it’s not that simple. It’ll take us 3 busses and a border control to get there. Once in Puerto Iguazu, the gateway town in Argentina, we quickly go get some cash. Apparently credit cards don’t always work in the park. Because of the rush and the astonishment by the enormous costs charged for withdrawing money – €9 on €50 euros withdrawn – Hannes forgets to take back his card and the ATM takes it. Earlier he already blocked one of our cards by mixing up pin codes, so it’s not a first this trip. The card is lost anyway, the bank is closed and we have no time to lose. So without much hesitation we move on and run for our bus to the park. Of course the credit card terminal did work. Inside the park there is a little train bringing you to the 3 different walking trails. The Argentinian side has an extensive network of trails and walking platforms where you can walk for hours and see a lot more of the nature surrounding the falls. We’re already quite late and a park employee advises us to head straight to the upper station for la Garganta del Diablo. We will not make it to the last train if we firstly do other things. We follow the advise and hop on a train to the this side of the Devil’s Throat. After a walk over the platforms that bring you to the middle of the river, we have to admit that we side with the supporters of Argentina as most spectacular of both. The platform practically brings you on top of the rumbling waterfall. Here you can really see how much water plunges off the cliffs every second. Here you feel the brutal force of the water even more. It also feels a lot less busy here. The Argentinian side is visited as much as the Brazilian, but because of the extensive network of trails it doesn’t feel like you’re just following the herd. Such a sight is hard to say goodbye to. When we finally get back to the train we are indeed too late to do any of the other hikes in the park. As we want to catch our bus to Buenos Aires tonight we regretfully need to go.

We made it to both sides in one day and we knew it was going to be tight. In hindsight, we should have stayed another day to spend more time exploring the Argentinian side. Nonetheless it was a truly amazing experience. We’re delighted to leave Brazil with a bang and we raise the bar for what is to come in Argentina!

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