M/Cing to SA: We reach Iguacu Falls

The Iguacu Falls. Up close and powerful.

We make a hard right turn and head toward Buenos Aires

Once we crossed the border into Brazil, we had a decision to make. What’s next? One look at the Brazil map brought a gasp at how big it was. Our original plan (Version 6.0 really) was to beat it to the northeast coast to  Salvador, then follow the coast south all the way to Buenos Aires.  It would be the last great leg of our circling of South America.

This was looking unrealistic now. Business– the mother’s milk of travel– was raising its green head. Karen’s back was more consistently calling out in pain since our two-hour dirt road excursion in Bolivia.  And, admittedly, we were both tired. So, we decided to set the GPS way points southeast toward Buenos Aires where we would finish the tirp where we started.  I would either ship NV home or sell him there, details to be worked out later (what’s new)

In the meantime, there was an important piece of business to attend to; we wanted to go see the Iguacu Falls as everyone who’s ever seen it says its a big, big deal.  Now that we were on our way to BA, it was easy to head toward the Falls.

The three day ride southeast through Brazil’s farming area was strange because it wasn’t … strange.  The roads, even the secondary ones, were great.   They even had painted lane dividers and they were fast.  We were back among the civilized, in this case the civilized who drive fast small cars, and were no longer the fastest thing on the highway.  There were 5X as many trucks, but these babies were all new and big.  Scania, Volvo, VW, and Mercedes 18 wheelers barreled along.   And we all — cars, m/cs, and trucks — had plenty of really big gas stations to choose from.  Gone were the one-pumpers of Bolivia replaced by my favorite retail establishments in all of South America– the gas station as food/wi-fi/fuel stop.

A couple of things become crystal clear in this part of Brazil (A note on where in Brazil we were.  We ONLY visited the very south eastern tip.  No Sao Paulo.  No Rio.  No Amazon.  No Coast.  Just a small sliver).   Farming is taken seriously and meticulously.  Huge farms with perfect fields on rolling hill after rolling hill.  This is big agribusiness and it shows.  All the little towns that pop up along the road are well kept.  Nothing is falling down and little is unpainted.  This is culture shock to people who’ve just spent a month in Bolivia and Peru.  Second, we were really lost in terms of language.  Perhaps we are deluding ourselves, but we felt we had a fighting chance with Spanish in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia.  Not so in Brazil.  Portuguese was Greek to us and we understood nothing.  If the person we were talking with didn’t speak English, we accomplished nothing.  Not the big 25% communications success with Spanish.  Zip, zero.

And then there’s the cost.  How can anyone afford to live in Brazil?  It makes Chile look like a pauper’s retreat.  Everything we’ve tried is expensive:  hotel rooms, gas, food, booze — yes booze, is there no mercy?  I need to look up the average annual income for Brazil as it must really be impressive.

Riding along, being passed by every model of VW, Toyota, Daewoo, Renault, Nissan, Hundai, Fiat, Peugeot and anything else built by a non-US company, I”m struck by one overwhelming thought.  What the f___ were US car makers doing when every European, Japanese and Korean car manufacturers took over this (South America) market?  What is it that gives VW or Renault a better chance to penetrate the South American market?   Just another sad example of the American car industry asleep at the switch.  But, I guess we can rest easy as our pickup trucks are well regarded here.

I won’t bore you with my description of the Iguacu Falls as I’ll let the video and pictures do the talking.  It’s a place where Mother Nature speaks loudly and carries a big stick.  Standing in the well guarded viewing stand is a powerful experience.  Sadly, we read today that two American tourists were killed at the Falls yesterday when their boat hit some rocks and capsized.  We were going to take a boat excursion — maybe even that excursion, but both KR and I needed a day to chill and decided not.

Another note on logistics – maps

Most real Adventure Men don’t worry too much about maps.  Go where the road takes you is the modus operandi for AM.  For the rest of us, maps are damn important.   GPS’ don’t really cut it either as they don’t give you an overview and are only useful if you can find detailed GPS maps of the specific area you’re riding in (most of the time, I couldn’t).  I brought  about a half dozen maps from my South America collection bought in the world’s best map store in Houston sometime in 2003.  I thought I was set, yet for most of the trip we were starved for good road information as our maps didn’t cut it.

Our biggest problem was the least expected:  cities of all sizes and shapes.  It’s relatively easy to navigate on highways and roads, but try driving into a city (or town or village) without a map and you’re screwed if you need to find a particular place (like a hotel).  I thought we could easily buy whatever maps we needed, but that proved to be a false assumption.  The only reliable source for maps were travel book stores in large cities.  Unfortunately, they usually carried only the maps of their country.

A couple of days ago I finally found a great source for maps:  gas stations, especially Shell.   Before you say “duhhh,” remember that 90% of all the gas stations we visited barely had gas, let alone something other than a warm coke to sell.  Until we reached Brazil and Argentina.  Next time we come to SA, we’re heading for the Shell gas station and I’m buying every may they have.  I just bought one of Brazil (now that we’re leaving) that makes  you cry with detail

Oh well, traveling is a learning experience…

The Videos

Video #1: We’re approaching the Falls.

Video #2:  FW at Iguacu Falls

Video #3:  The Sounds

Video #4:  KR at the Falls

Video #5:  People on the Catwalk

Video #6: Road Construction

The Pictures

Carumba, Brazil. The only picture we have worth showing. Our first two days in Brazil were spent crossing the Patanal, which is eastern Brazil's equivalent to the Florida Everglades.

Since our grasp of Portuguese is even less than that of Spanish (is that possible, you ask?), road signs and instructions from road construction workers don't sink in. Result? We proceed down a construction site when we're not suppose to -- ie. when the oncoming trucks are using the ONE available lane.

This is the second most expensive hotel we've stayed at during the entire trip -- in Campo Grande, Brazil. This picture is false advertising as the pool was unuseable, they closed the restaurant the day we were there, and the room was dark because of the iron-gated windows.

Most pleasant meal in a long time was in this fast food restaurant in the fine town of Mercedes, Brazil. How'd we get there?

Our trip has been full of really nice people who for whatever reason are kind and gracious to us. Latest case in point: Jean. We're parked on the side of the road and Jean pulls up and says something to the affect that we're not gong to make the Falls by tonight, so why don't we come to his town of Mercedes and he'd like to show us around. And, there's a hotel in the city (that his family built) and so we say... why not! We have dinner with Jean and his girl friend and are then taken straight away to our hotel. Wonderful, unexpected night.

The next morning we all gather at Jean's automobile business for a quick Sunday morning ride. They show us the way toward the Falls.

The closer you get, the more impressive they are.

What's better looking? The Falls or The Big Guy? Tough decision ...

Hand painted? By Mother Nature of course

News just in — our route has changed again

This is a REAL ferry. You ride on one end and off the other. Piece of cake

We’re back in Brazil!  We decided to slash to the Atlantic coast of Brazil so that we can ride along Uruguay’s entire coast. So, we crossed another border and even caught another ferry as we went from Argentina to Brazil.  This time we went through Immigration and Customs for both Argentina and Brazil in less than two hours — a record.  The roads are really good (85+mph) so we’re going to try to make it to Rio Grande, Brazil tomorrow.

10 replies
  1. Sam says:

    FW, you grasp of languages has been fucking unbelievable. “Ignacio” Falls? “Iquacu”, “Carumba” and on an on? After this is all over, I’ll give you $10 for every city, hotel or sight you’ve seen that you’ve spelled RIGHT!!!!! I don’t eve have to check my wallet for that bet. But…great videos, pictures and writing. This has been a very very cool adventure.

  2. Gregg & Tish says:

    The Iguacu Falls were worth the trip alone. Absolutely spectacular – the Niagara Falls of the South.

  3. ryan says:

    Hey FW and KR,
    I don’t care if your french c (ç) or z turns into a regular c. Although, admittedly, I had considered sending you proofread editions of your posts. The main thing is that you’re having fun, and coming home with memories you’ve documented and shared with us poor bastards here at home. Besides, there will be plenty of time for editing later…at the palapa…drink in hand…favorite technician/assistant editor passed out on the sand…I can picture it quite clearly…

  4. FHW says:

    Would you say the same thing about a war correspondent reporting from the front? Well, there’s little time to get the spelling right when shells are flying overhead. Get your priorities straight…. : )

  5. Chuck says:

    Hi F&K…..your posts are great and glad to see you are doing Brazil.
    Yvonne and I will be relaxing in a hammock in our palapa near Yelapa next week. Me and Alfredo will do a check on LBS……cheers

  6. Gretchen says:

    I share all your adventures with family and friends….I am living my dreams through you two!
    KR great photos! You should sell them.
    FW Keep the wheels on the road and stay safe! AND keep the site going!

  7. Lynn Walti Phipps says:

    Love the updates and pictures (esp)! Hope KR’s back gets to feeling better. Enjoy your last leg! Love to you both!

  8. Sindhu & Greg says:

    KR & Fred — thanks for taking us along. We have really enjoyed the stories and pictures. Welcome home.

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