April 4, 2007
It was already time to leave Argentina, so we decided to do a bit of shopping early this morning. My mom wanted to get some mate (the tea made from yerba leaves that Argentines are always drinking), and she was overwhelmed by the number of choices. They really take mate seriously here.
Getting across the border was much easier this time. We quickly got a bus from the main terminal in Puerto Iguazu to the border. Everyone had to get stamped out or show their IDs when leaving Argentina, so the bus waited for us to complete the task. The bus didn't wait at the Brazilian border, but this time the next bus seemed to arrive quite quickly. Maybe it was the fact that the weather had cooled significantly since raining yesterday. The next bus took us all the way to the center of Foz do Iguazu.
Foz is a city of 300,000 people, small by Brazilian standards, but still much more hectic than the chilled out town on the Argentine side of the border. My parents discovered this right away as a guy started harassing us and trying to get us to go with him to a hotel as soon as we walked off the bus. The guy would not leave us alone; I couldn't read my map of the city or even think clearly because he was constantly barking at me to go with him. I'm not a violent person but it was a real test of my patience not to give the guy a good beating. This kind of thing happens a lot in South America, but I was hoping my parents could avoid this aspect of the culture. We come from a "don't call me, I'll call you" society, so any attempts at "help" like this one are generally met with hostility. I checked a few hotels on my own, but they were too expensive. The only reason I really went in them was because I was hoping the guy would go away, but no dice. Finally, I waved the white flag and agreed to go with him to one of his hotels. It actually turned out to be quite nice with a swimming pool and big breakfast, and reasonably priced. The guy didn't leave until it was confirmed that he would get his commission, then I never saw him again. Man I hate those guys!
After settling in, we took the bus to the Itaipu Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam. We signed up for the free tour and were led to a movie theater, which showed us a movie in Portuguese with English subtitles. The movie showed all kinds of token statistics having to do with the dam's construction. Enough concrete was used in its construction to build 210 Maracana Stadiums (the largest soccer stadium in the world, in Rio de Janeiro), the amount of iron and steel in the dam could build 380 Eiffel Towers, forty times more water spills through the dam each second than all of Iguazu falls, etc. The movie constantly talked about how great the dam is. It powers 93% of Paraguay and 20% of Brazil, produces clean energy because it comes from water alone, and some of the money generated from the project is used to plant trees and help with wildlife conservation. Strangely, the movie never mentioned the 1500 families whose home were wiped out by the dam's construction, the 700 square KM of rain forest that were cut down to build the dam, or the fact that the dam destroyed the Sete Quedas, previously the world's most voluminous waterfall with thirty times more water spilled than Iguazu. The one-sided movie and free tour almost made it seem like the folks who manage Itaipu were going out of the way to justify their project.
After the movie, we were taken to a comfortable bus and driven all around the dam. It was huge, but impossible to tell just how big it was until I saw a bus drive past the massive generating units. Later we drove over the dam. We were technically in Paraguay for about five minutes when we crossed over the dam, so I guess I introduced my parents to three new countries.
Back in Foz, I walked with my dad to buy snacks at a massive supermarket that was so packed it was impossible to move. We had to wait in line for half an hour because the guy ahead of us wanted to buy an entire shopping cart of chocolate Easter eggs and his credit card company wouldn't approve the purchase. Then I found out that one mango went for over $2 in these parts. That's truly incredible considering that I used to pick and eat at least three per day for free when I was in the Guianas and northern Brazil.
The photo album for this entry is here.