Diary, Travel

Brasil, belatedly. Measuring the country.

Already half-a-year has (nearly) elapsed since the magrelinha and I landed on the hot tarmac of Natal airport’s runway. I haven’t written anything yet about my experiences there so, with the guilty conscience of a debtor being 6-months in arrears, I am going to make weekly repayments through this series of blog posts – Brasil, belatedly.


Imagine someone from the Americas (North or South) who travels to Malta for a fortnight’s holiday and then flies straight back home. The first thing she/he does upon returning is to update their Facebook status with, “Spent a lovely 2 weeks visiting Europe”. How accurate a statement is it? True, Malta is a European country but by no stretch of the imagination can a person say they’ve visited the European continent. By analogy, someone who’s been to Rio de Janeiro can boast that they’ve been to Brazil but the sheer size of the country means that they’ve seen next to nothing of the territory. I discovered for myself the vastness of this land when we flew to a city called Foz de Iguaçu, in the southern part of the country. To get there we spent a full five hours in the air and, to emphasize what a far away place Natal had become, until the day before we were having regular sunsets at 5pm while our first evening in Foz,  sunset was a good 3 hours later.

Foz, a city of some 300,000 people receives around one million tourists. In this respect it’s very similar to Malta except that in our smallness we are a country. The magnet that draws the tourists here is one of the wonders of the natural world, the Cataratas do Iguaçu, a spectacular series of waterfalls the beauty and power of which are beyond what can be conveyed in words, photos or videos. In spite of the inadequacy of the medium but in an endeavour to share a smidgen of the waterfalls’ force, I’m posting a video clip courtesy of the magrelinha.

From a natural wonder to an engineering one – the Itaipu dam. Located on the other side of the city and linked to a different river than the one which feeds the falls is one of the world’s largest hydro-electric power plants. The wall at its highest point is equivalent to 3 Portomaso towers stacked one on top of the other while the width, at 8 kilometres, makes it as wide as Gozo. We took a guided tour of this marvel and discovered that there is much more to the place than the dam. For example, we went on a 2-hour trail walk in the forest which lies within the precincts of the complex. This area serves as a refuge for wild animals which are either ill or injured. They are treated until healthy enough to be released back into their natural habitat or, if too old or disabled (as in the case of a blind fox), looked after until they trot off to animal heaven.

In the few days we spent at Foz de Iguaçu, we crossed over into 2 other countries. Argentina was only a 40-minute bus ride from our hotel, the (patriotically named) Foz Brazilian. The first town across the bridge which separates the two countries is Puerto Iguaçu. Cosy, verdant and tranquil, there was nothing much to do except stroll along the mostly traffic-free streets and then make the obligatory stop for a cappuccino, bagging another sugar sachet for our collection. Another item I was happy to collect was the Argentinian border crossing stamp in my passport. While I’m all for the border-free Europe, I do find the paucity of ink-stained pages in the passport strangely saddening. Another morning we caught yet another bus across yet another bridge, this time going in the opposite direction, to Paraguay. It was a much shorter ride because our accommodation was just 3 kilometres distant.  Immediately across the formality-less border (sad moment time – no stamp to decorate the passport) lies Cidade del Este. Unlike its Argentinean counterpart, this was a chaos of commerce: salespeople spilling out of the cracks in the pavements and crevices in walls; everywhere stalls, shops, malls, street vendors;  strangers sidling up to us to offer anything from socks to smartphones. This is a shoppers paradise for Brazilians because of the bargains that can be made. The reality for us though is that the branded products cost as much – often much more – than in Malta. As for the temptingly priced items, these are of the  “Made in China” variety and scream out BUYER BEWARE! And so it was that we walked back to Brasil across the frontier bridge vibrating with vehicular and foot traffic, hand-in-hand but otherwise empty-handed.


The “Brasil, belatedly” series. Click for more:

 

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