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March 10th, 2012 | Brazil

Itaipu and Iguazu…

With planned for two days to see the sights in and around Foz do Iguazu, the town on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay…

We decided to visit the Itaipu Dam in the morning of our first day, and then see the Brazilian side of the falls on that same afternoon, and maybe, squeeze in the Bird Park which is just outside the gates of the Iguazu National Park…

"Dude...!! I thought we said that after Rio, we wouldn't get on another bus...??"

We took the main road that leads back to town, and rode down the centre of it, following the well sign-posted road all the way to the north of town and then on to the dam site itself…

We parked our bikes and then bought tickets for the tour, which takes about two hours… The tour that is, not buying the tickets…!!

After a video presentation in Portuguese, of which we understood nary a word, we boarded a big yellow bus, and along with forty other people, driven out to see the dam…

Itaipu Dam is by no mean the largest dam in the world, but it does generate more electricity than any other dam on the planet, this included the Three Gorges Dam in China, which has a bigger capacity, but has never managed to generate as much power as this one…

The dam wall is almost eight kilometres long, and starts off on either end as an earthen wall, then the next section composed of basalt rocks which cover a clay cone, and then finally the concrete slipway and the main wall itself…

In the words of comedian Billy Connolly, “It’s f**king HUGE…!!”… Which means “quite large” in normal English…!!

Only an aerial photo could do this place justice, and we had left the keys to our helicopter back at the hotel...!!

The dam was a joint venture between Brazil and Paraguay, and when the agreement was reached to dam the Parana River which forms the border between the two countries, it was agreed to share everything on a 50/50 basis…

It took more than ten years to complete, starting in 1971, and when the wall was up, it took just two weeks for the dam to fill…!! The Parana River is the second largest in South America an by sheer volume of water that runs down it, and the seventh largest in the world…

The Parana River continues on its merry way to join the Paraguay River and become the Rio de la Plata that runs past Buenos Aires and into the Atlantic Ocean...

Ready for my new job at the dam, where I will be giving tourists false directions and keeping security on its toes....

The lake it formed, drowned over 1 350 square kilometres of land and displaced over 10 000 families… But before the bunny-loving, tree-huggers leap from their chairs in consternation at these facts, it is fairly important to note that this dam supplies 90% of Paraguay’s power requirements and 20% of Brazil’s…!! Without it, Paraguay might literally still be locked in the Dark Ages…!! Pun intended…!!

One of the massive turbine intake pipes... There are twenty in all...!!

The lake stretches back almost 170 km from the dam wall itself, and also drowned the world biggest series of waterfalls by volume of water, dwarfing even that of Iguazu…!!

At the site of the dam wall, the river runs 140 metres deep, and the wall itself is a little under 200 metres high…

It is a magnificent structure, and has been voted one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World…

We had paid for the full tour, which included a visit to the power generating plant inside the dam wall… There are twenty turbines installed, each generating a massive 700 Megawatts of power…

The control room is in the very centre of the dam wall, and the actual border between the two countries runs down the centre of the room…!! Three Paraguayans control ten of the generators and three Brazilians control the remaining ten… They sit on opposite sides of “the border” with a supervisor (who probably has dual citizenship…!!) between them…

The Brazilians are in the foreground, and their Paraguayan counterparts in the background, on the other side of the "border"...!!

Part of the turbine rotor on display at the entrance to the dam...

On the way out of the turbine area, we came across this rusted Union Coupling...!! On such a huge and important structure, you would think that they would have used Stainless Steel...!! A note to the engineers has been sent...!!

We traveled deeper into the bowels of the dam wall, to see the massive turbines up close… The sheer size of the rotors was astounding…!!

Each turbine weighs 300 tons, and their outer rings are over 3 metres in diameter…

While the amount of power and the generating plant was of interest, what grabbed my attention the most was the building of this mega-structure itself…

It took 40 000 people, working 24 hours a day, ten years to complete…

The volume of concrete used to build the plant, was enough to build 210 stadiums the size of the Maracana in Rio; enough steel was used to build 380 Eiffel Towers, and the volume of rock and soil that was excavated to make the dam wall, was 9 times that which was dug out of the Chunnel that connects England to France…

It is one of the most expensive projects ever undertaken on earth, costing far more than the Gypsy Biker’s World Tour…!!

From Itaipu Dam, we rode back through town, past the turnoff to our hotel, and on to the main entrance of the Iguazu Falls… We had to park our bikes near the gate, and the guards there allowed us to put them in the shade near their little kiosk, and far away from all the other scooters parked in the hot sun… And rightly so, our bikes were “Royalty” in comparison…!!

Before we began our long walk down the river, we had to refuel with a light snack...!!

A bus took us into the National Park, and dropped us off at the very far end, because we had heard that the restaurant there served great food…!! The transport of tourists to and from the falls was very slick…

Buses drove up and down the 12 km road to and from the falls, every few minutes, and also dropped people off at various points along the river, from where you could see different sets of waterfalls, and even walk the trail all the way back to the main entrance…

Needless to say, we chose to use the bus… It was Roger’s leg you see…!! The one he broke in Guatemala…!!  I of course am always up for a brisk walk in 40 degree heat with humidity up around 95 %…!!

We had lunch on the top of the falls, just where the water plunges over the first big set of cataracts…

We almost got away without paying, but the guilty look on Roger’s face gave us away at the last-minute…!!

The Iguazu Falls are located on the Iguazu River (strangely enough…!!) which begins life in the highlands around the city of Curitiba, far to the east…

Depending on the water level, there are as many as 300 different waterfalls that make us the Falls, and seldom fewer than 150 of them have water cascading them at all times…

The Falls are scattered over a distance of almost three kilometres and while they are not very high, they are certainly one of the most impressive natural sites you will ever see… The highest fall, at 82 metres,  is the Devil’s Throat, and this is on the Argentinian side of the border, but can be seen from the Brazilian side as well…

The biggest single waterfall on the Brazilian side, is the first one you see...

Our first view of the falls proper, was from the top of the series of lifts and walkways that takes you all the way down the lower level of the first big cataract…

From there, we could see down onto the first plateau that the water cascades onto, before dropping away down to the river below…

View of the elevated walkway from which you can look back at the main falls, as well as dozens of others...

On the next level, you are halfway down the main falls, and can literally reach out and touch them… This was one of my favourite views of the day… If you walked out to the edge of the platform, spray from the falls will get you soaking wet in seconds…!!

You will not get closer to a major waterfall than this...

"Are you sure they wear their caps like this in New Zealand...??" I asked... " Yes, my grandkids wear them like this all the time...!!"

We zig-zagged our way down the concrete walkway, snapping dozens of photos as we went, until we got onto the metal walkway that is barely metres above the level of the river, and walked out towards the furthermost point to see as much of the falls as possible…

The structure on the left is where you take the lift down to the lower levels of the main falls...

Taking photos from the elevated walkway is well-nigh impossible, as the amount of spray that is thrown and blown forward by the falls, covers the lens of your camera in no time at all…!! You have to turn away, dry the lens on your t-shirt if you can find a dry section after the first few minutes, then turn quickly towards the falls, focus and snap…!!

Then start the process all over again before you can take another photo…!!

Rainbows abound...!! But you have to be quick to get a half decent shot of the falls here...!!

We were sopping wet by the time we turned to walk back to the path that led along the river to other views of other waterfalls…

Further along the river, we stopped to admire yet another view of the many falls that make up Iguazu...

Far below us, we watched a boat took it's load of passengers right under one of the falls...!! We decided on the spot that we would do that tomorrow...!!

No matter what speed the banisters are doing...!!

It was one of the hottest afternoons we had yet experienced, and the walk up many flights of stairs, and down as many others, sapped our energy…

But every time we stopped to look back, or down, or across the river to the Argentine side, our flagging spirits were buoyed by yet another spectacular view of the falls…

“It’s certainly been worth the 1 500 km ride from Rio…!!” I said to Roger…

“Yeah…!!” he replied, “I’m glad we made it here…!! This was the last item on the bucket list of my tour…!! I can go home happy now…!!”

We stopped at a little restaurant located near another viewing deck, and bought ice-creams and water, and then sat on a bench nearby to watch the hundreds of Coatis foraging around the dustbins and also getting into people’s bags to steal food…

These raccoon like animals have no fear of humans, except when said human is wielding a broom, as one of the waiters did when things got severely out of hand…

He would wait for the Coati to get fully into the dustbin, then bang the broom against the outside of it, hoping to scare the living daylights out of the animal inside…!1

He needn’t have bothered…!! The Coati would lazily claw its way out of the dustbin, and then give the waiter a long and withering look, before sliding down the pole that the bin was bolted to, and walking away with its tail up in the air…

These two unsuspecting woman were about to get a visit from one of the Coatis...

Although they look cute, judging by their teeth, I would think they are capable of giving a nasty bite...!!

We watched how opportunistic these animals have learned to be around tourists… If a handbag was left unattended for even a moment, furry little hands would be rummaging inside it before the owner had time to lift it out of harm’s way…

One unfortunate woman decided not to chase after a Coati who had managed to extract a packet of sanitary towels from her bag, and was waving it around in triumph… She hurriedly paid for her snacks and left the area red-faced…!! What the Coati got up to after that, is anybody’s guess…!!

With their long pointy snouts, they quickly determined whose bag had food in it, and then would gang up and begin tearing at it while the person hanging on to it was doing their best to lift it away…!!

One clambered up onto the bench beside Roger, and began licking the neck of his water bottle, which was just inches away from him…!!

It had been a bust, hot and humid day, and we decided to give the Bird Park a miss, and return there the following day after our visit to the Argentine side of the falls…

We trooped back to the main road and waited for the bus, and minutes later we were on our way back to the entrance of the park…

Out on the main road, the wind that washed over us, quickly dried our wet t-shirts and cooled us down… Even though we seldom ride without our gear, the short distance we had to cover and the intense heat made us decide against our usual safety precautions…

Roger cruises down the main road back to our hotel...

Riding in just a T-shirt does give you an exhilarating sense of freedom though, especially after the heat we had been riding in since leaving Rio…!!

The smile says it all...!! We were having a good day...!!

At Hostel Natura, Julio was waiting for us with open arms, and more importantly, with open beers…

He had by now become used to Roger’s loud call of “JULIO…!!”, usually made from his prone position on the patio coach…

Julio would appear with two cold beers in hand, and Roger would always say the same thing…

“You’re a good boy, Julio…!!”

We sat planning our trip to the Argentine side of the falls, and decided that we would rather ride our bikes across the border than take a couch tour which could take all day…!!

Even though this meant we would have to waste time dealing with customs with regards to our bike documents, we still figured it was the best option… And also a heck of a lot cheaper…!!

We ordered dinner, which Julio rustled up from the kitchen across the parking area, and then tried without success to hook up to the internet…

Despite this aggravation, nothing could put a damper on the amazing visit we had enjoyed to the falls…

If the Argentine side was better than the Brazilian side, then we were in for another good day tomorrow…!!

©GBWT 2012

 

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