(Front loaded with words words words, lots of pretty pix towards the end.)
Taking advantage of a four-day weekend, five of us took a 3 day – 2night jaunt from Asuncion to the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls.
We had to rent a vehicle, as you cannot take newly purchased vehicles, even used ones, outside of Paraguay. Apparently you have to wait a couple months for some paperwork to clear before you are able to roadtrip outside the PY in your new ride.
Our rental vehicle, courtesy of a contact of ours just happened to be Little Noah, the van you might remember from my prior post… The one whose battery died in 94F degree (winter) weather in Aregua, and whose hood absolutely failed to open to allow us a jump, resulting in us being saved after two locals spent 45 minutes performing open hood surgery, removing the grill and disassembling the locking mechanism entirely to pop it open.
And we’re taking this several hundred kilometers across the country and into foreign lands. Hooray.
We departed bright and early at 8:30 or so, after all parties were picked up and packed up into the van.
Escaping the Asuncion-area gravitational pull was slow going. Aside from traffic, we were also randomly pulled over by the Policia (they stand in the road and just wave you through or over), and an hour in had to double back to start (do not pass go, do not collect $200) as someone had accidentally left their passport back in their casa.
So, much closer to a lunch departure than we anticipated, we again trekked off.
Allegedly the ride from Asuncion to the falls area takes under six hours.
Channeling our inner Spinal Tap, we went up to 11 hours.
While we enjoyed our ride across the Paraguayan countryside, once escaping the clutches of the Asuncion metro area, it was fraught with peril.
Speed Bumps. Because the freeways speed through small towns where pedestrians might be crossing, in addition to lowering the speed limit (sensible), PY also was placed speed bumps on the highway. Speed bumps. On the highway. On. The. Highway.
Policia. So we were less than 40 minutes removed from start and we got flagged down once. Hooray. It happens. And continued to happen. All in all there were no less than a dozen checkpoints along the way, including five in one town (Caaguazu, if you are keeping score at home) alone. We got pulled over three times, the second of which was a legit cop as we had left our lights on stopping for lunch in Coronel Oviedo, rushed to turn them off thanks to the whole Aregua debacle, and neglected to turn them back on, a necessity when driving on the freeways here.
The Mrs was sure it’d all be swell as when Mr. Wolfentire left our van and exchanged words with the policeman, they exchanged a handshake. She called it a “Bro Shake”. It was really a “Bro ShakeDown”. Let’s just saw the officer provided him legal advice for which he paid a fee. It was less than the ticket, and it was a legit cop, so we didn’t blink too much, even if the “legal fees” were twice the going rate.
The Policia Nacional should be proud, as they took the Bronze Medal in “Things seen along the road during our journey”, finishing behind termite mounds and livestock. And a far cry behind them at that.
While driving, we noticed each town seemed to have its own specialty… rather than bothering to learn the names of these municipalities (as we were not at all likely to recall them all), we simply dubbed them whatever it was they offered. Chipatown. Gourdville. Crate City, Dill Country, and my favorite, Homero – a town in which two bars and multiple bodegas were named after, and prominently featuring pictures of in their logo, Homer Simpson.
After another stop and a few more near misses, we eventually made it to Cuidad del Este on the eastern border of Paraguay. CdE is a bit notorious as it sits on the river that forms the borders with Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Allegedly it’s a hub for black market stuff, cheap electronics, knock-offs, and worse. I dubbed it “Cuidad del Eisley” in homage to the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” in the original Star Wars movie.
I’m sure 99% the people there are great folks just trying to make their way in the world, but most of our exposure was spending 90+ minutes driving the final ¾ a mile to “Friendship Bridge” over into Brazil, while every two minutes someone would come up to our window and push all sorts of goods on us from windshield wipers (remember this one), dvds, candy, chipa (bread with cheese in the middle), knock off sunglasses I dubbed “’GuayBans”… all while we were crammed in bumper to bumper traffic.
To make this more stressful, none of us had the requisite paperwork to enter Brazil. It’s apparently a pain the ass to get. It involves submitting a request, in person, at the nearest consulate, gather documentation – passport, photo, form, $160 (if an American like me), copy of itinerary, then submit an application. After that you may be required to submit additional documentation as well as sign a binding legal agreement guaranteeing you will name your next child after whomever is the star of their Men’s or Women’s national Football club (currently Neymar for boys, Marta for girls) … and, after ritual sacrifice of either a dodo or twonicorn, you must return at 11:11am the morning after the next full moon. (Argentina, by comparison, go online, fill out a form, pay $160, print out a sheet of paper to show at the border with your passport.)
As the meme says, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Because of all the delays we missed the ferry that went directly to Argentina, so we had to endure the line and pray.
Fortunately we burned all our bad luck in Paraguay and after a loooooooong wait and the harrowing, everyone-in-the-car gasp/suck in air as the car in front of us was waved over for inspection as we had been repeatedly all afternoon. Fortunately they didn’t seem to care in regards to us and waved us through.
By this time it was dark and Noah’s headlights are, uh, minimally exceptional. Further most of our phones immediately lost 3G service the moment we crossed over the bridge, and the only operating phone was at 6%, which lead to her bringing up maps through Foz do Iguacu in Brazil, over to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, and finally our hotel which I was furiously taking pics of with my phone.
Foz do Iguacu looked pretty cool and I hope to return some day after promising to name our next domestic pet after Hulk (another Brazilian player) and have the proper paperwork, but with it being late and dark, us being there under dubious circumstances, our bad Spanish being lightyears ahead of our nonexistent Portuguese, and no currency, we opted to just drive on through as quickly as possible.
Only to be met by another 60+ minute wait to cross into Argentina. And now add rain. Remember the windshield wiper dude? The guy who had argued with us that they are the “heart of the car” came back to haunt us. Not only did our headlights suck, but so did the wipers. We were driving blind, right past the roundabout that was the landmark for our hotel.
So we FINALLY found our hotel, located off a dirt-road switchback which kicks off the highway… and it was beautiful. It had only opened in August, was still not 100% completed, and nestled into the jungle. How nestled? I could have hopped off the railing on my balcony, grabbed a vine and George of the Jungle’d my way to the Falls.
Naturally the day we had to tour the falls saw an 8am saw another torrential downpour.
The (great) guy working the hotel desk said it best when he deadpanned, “it is the rain forest…” He also offered the sage advice that it would burst, then clear up.
He was right.
(Less words, lots more pretty pix coming up!)
We were on the road by 8:30, at the park shortly thereafter. Between the rain maybe dissuading other tourists from an early start and the Iguazu Half Marathon which started out front, we practically had the national park to ourselves for the first 90 minutes or so. Seriously, just two other groups of 3-4 each and us.
Not going to bother describing the falls at length as words won’t do it justice. Neither will the pics, really. It’s absolutely staggering. Will just drop the “whats” of the specific park options we utilized.
We “hiked” (it was real easy going) both the “Superior” (upper) and “Inferior” (lower) paths. Neither of which were particularly long, both had breathtaking views. The upper had perhaps a few better, but the lower had one landing that jutted out close enough to one of the sections of the falls that I had to put away my phone/camera a good 20 feet from the end as it was already deafeningly loud and the spray & mist was making holding it treacherous.
We also took the expensive adventurer trek or whatever. We wanted to do the shorter trip as it was cheaper, and consisted of a fast boat which took us under the falls. Under. Because of the heavy rain (see above), the dock was under water. We had to do the more expensive, longer two hour tour, which involved a ride through the jungle to another boat. Was worth it. Also of note we only saw the lesser falls. The Big One, “Garganta Del Diablo” (Throat of the Devil), was out. The severe rains earlier this year saw the falls dumping over 22 times as much water as normal, destroyed the train tracks needed to access it from above. The heightened recent water flow made it impossible from the river… We didn’t even get to see it as the output of the falls was so much it was entirely shrouded in mist.
We did get close enough to the other falls that we were entirely drenched. I believe the term “Wet Ass” was being bandied about. Thanks to the cloud cover and earlier rains, temps were a nice 70, but felt really freaking cold after getting nearly drowned by the Falls.
After concluding our visit, we returned to the hotel to rest up, change, and hit town for dinner. The hotel, which only had a small menu of about six items and Budweiser (or wine) to drink, made a suggestion which we took up. Around 5pm, way too early for dinner (in South America they eat late. Eating before 10pm is roughly like showing up for dinner at Souper Salad with the Senior Citizen rush at 4pm) we were thrilled to find it still open. Five of us enjoyed our meals – four excellent cuts of steak and one fish – along with 4 liters of beer for under $90 total.
We stopped off for some beer and wine at a local market. Wine was selling for about as much as 1L of mediocre (Iguana) beer… Scored a cab sauv and an excellent malbec for about 45-50 ARS pesos each, or about $3.75 US. Un. Real.
Played cards at the hotel, enjoying our beers (and several of the hotel’s) after. The only lowlight of an otherwise amazing day was the fact the tv above us at the hotel restaurant/bar was airing an “Acapulco Shores” marathon.
The following day we headed back to Asuncion, in half the time. Not stopped at all and it took a whopping, combined 10 minutes to cross back. While Argentina stamped our visas to show our exit, the Brazilian side of the border was completely unmanned. Like tumbleweeds blowing by unmanned. Brazil to Paraguay saw the presence of a soldier or two, but no one gave bothered with any of the incoming vehicles.
Fortunately we made it back home in Noah with the most grievous of issues being an absolute failure of my passenger side window to go either up or down.
Had a grand time. Cannot wait to explore more of South America.