April 2, 2007
I got up early this morning to meet my parents at the Rio de Janeiro airport. Based on how long it took to get here the other day, I figured the bus ride would take an hour, plus I had to allow another hour for the bus to come because it had no schedule. I also had to get to the airport a little before the plane landed to get myself situated. Once my parents arrived, we'd have to walk to the other terminal and re-check in for our flight to Foz do Iguacu. All of these factors combined had me getting up at the crack of dawn.
To both my delight and dismay, the bus I had prepared to wait for an hour came in two minutes. I would certainly make it to the airport in plenty of time, but I could've slept much later. At least the bus took me past Sugarloaf Mountain at sunrise, an amazing site. The streets were almost empty so early in the morning, so the bus got to the airport even earlier than expected. Suddenly, I had to wait for a few hours in yet another Brazilian airport.
I didn't sleep much last night because of all of the what-ifs. There was some sort of strike at the airport this weekend, and a lot of flights got canceled. Sure enough, when I checked the Internet last night, the daily flight that my parents would be taking from Miami got canceled two days ago. Last night's flight made it, but it arrived an hour late, which presented another potential issue. We only had two and a half hours between the time my parents flight was supposed to land and when our next flight was set to take off. The flights were on different airlines, itineraries, and airport terminals, so there wasn't much time to spare. I figured a delay of anything more than an hour could cause us to miss our flight.
When the arrival time approached, the flight boards showed me some bad luck. My parents flight took off a bit late from Miami, and it was set to land half an hour late. On top of that, another flight coming from Buenos Aires inexplicably arrived fifteen minutes early, meaning that passengers from both planes would be competing for the same luggage pickup and customs line. With an hour and a half left before our Iguazu flight's departure time, people started walking through the glass doors after getting off their flights. A quick inspection of their luggage tags told me that passengers from both planes were clearing customs simultaneously. Bad news. Half an hour passed and still no sign of my parents. I began to wonder if they'd missed their flight. Finally, with about fifty minutes until takeoff time, I saw them. I don't think they knew how close we were cutting it because they didn't walk with much of a sense of urgency.
We quickly got to the other terminal and started waiting in line to check in. Luckily it all went smoothly and we passed through security about ten minutes before our scheduled boarding time. Of course, when Third World economics meets airport politics, delays are inevitable. Our flight took off a good half hour late. There was nothing to worry about after all.
Before we landed, the pilot did a large circle over the waterfalls. It was a clear day, so we got an amazing view that few people are lucky enough to see. The trip started off on a high note.
My parents had been traveling for over a day by that point, but I still had a little more punishment planned for them. We had to cross over into Argentina to see that side of the falls tomorrow. At the airport we waited for a city bus which took us to a point on the highway where the road splits, one side going to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, the other to Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.
We waited for another bus to take us to the Brazilian border so we could get our exit stamps in our passports. A stamp isn't strictly required to leave Brazil if you are coming back the same day, but since we were going to stay in Argentina for two days, I figured better safe than sorry. On top of that, my parents wanted the souvenir stamps in their passports and I was running low on time on my Brazilian visa, and a fresh ninety days would come in handy. Unfortunately, the bus didn't wait for us at the border, so we would have to wait half an hour for another bus, or so we were told.
At the border, the customs official demanded my paper stating when I entered the country. I told him I didn't get one because I entered Brazil in Oiapoque, a remote town in the far north where they apparently don't see the need to deal with such formalities. He told me that I should have gotten the paper from the airport when I entered the country, but I explained that I didn't enter Brazil in an airport. Oiapoque is a small town on a river in the middle of nowhere. He yelled at me for a few minutes and let me pass through with no further trouble, but I've got to remember to get that paper when I enter countries from now on. I had the same problem in Bolivia last year when I came from a very remote section of Paraguay that required me to ride a bus for two days straight.
Once we were stamped out of Brazil, we had to wait for the next bus to Argentina. Time seemed to move incredibly slowly due to the extreme heat, my lack of sleep, and my parents being too used to First World efficiency. There are no schedules for city buses in South America, and quite often you end up waiting ridiculous amounts of time. Thirty minutes turned into an hour and still no sign of that bus. A taxi driver approached us and offered us a ride into the city for five times the normal rate. That was actually starting to seem attractive, but I didn't have any Argentine money and was certain to get ripped off as a result. We sweated it out and finally the next but came and took us to the Argentine border crossing.
This time the bus waited for us because Argentina requires stamps for all incoming passengers. We continued to the bus terminal and finally were dropped off just a few hours before sunset. We got a hotel less than a block from the hotel. It probably was a bit expensive, but nobody seemed to care at that point. At least it had a full kitchen area and we got our own separate rooms with our own bathroom.
We walked around Puerto Iguazu a bit and discovered that it's still the same laid back town it was a year ago. That was a good thing for my parents. I figured the culture shock would be a lot less severe if they started out in a small town, then moved to a bigger one (Foz do Iguacu), then went to a big city (Rio de Janeiro). It was a long way to travel in a day, but I think it was a good thing we didn't start the trip in Rio.
We tried to go to the point where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay all meet, but the bus never came and our patience was wearing thin. We walked back into the center of town and found a nice restaurant for a famous Argentine steak. It was as delicious as I had remembered. An added bonus of our brief visit to Argentina was that I got to speak Spanish again. I hadn't been in a Spanish speaking country since I left Venezuela about four and a half months ago, but I discovered that I wasn't that rusty at it after all. In fact, I spoke Spanish better than I thought I knew how. Maybe that's just a little reward after having to fumble through Creole, Taki-Taki, Dutch, Makushi, French, and Portuguese for so many months. We got to bed early in anticipation of a long day of walking tomorrow.
The photo album for this entry is here.