A few of the lunches in my last few days in Santa Cruz I had were at “Pensions” Which is effectively where Someone opens up their house around lunchtime and you can go in and have a complete meal. Usually with soup, potatoes and vegetables buffet and a main all for a low price of between 10-15 bolivianos which is less than £2!
I packed in lots of salsa classes including 3 hours in one of the days and reckon I’ve got the gist now. As well as a couple of big ones to make the most of the night life here. As well as a couple of lazy days in a hotel to recharge after two weeks in a hostel 8-man dorm room.
When I finally left, my trip required the use of the “death train” so named as back in the day used to come off the tracks and in the jungle area there were quite a few wild animals about to spectate such misfortune. However, I was quite safe and father it has improved a bit over the years. That being said there was one point where the brakes squealed as we ground to a halt and definitely ran over something. We then reversed a bit (presumably to confirm the kill) and were rewarded with another similar bump before stopping in silence for about 15 minutes. I am told it was likely a cow! Other than that the 15 hour journey was relatively uneventful and I enjoyed a couple of movies on the screen and a very reasonably priced dinner in the dining cart before attempting to sleep overnight. When that failed, I decided to try and learn some Portuguese. It’s harder than Spanish apparently…
I got off slightly too early through panic as I woke up with a start and thought I was too late for my stop. This cost me a bit more in the taxi fare but no real harm done and I was at the Bolivian border by puerto quijarro. NB there are two puerto quijarros in Bolivia… both on the border. I’m not sure which genius came up with that idea but he fooled me for sure…
The crossing over to Brazil took a few hours but was not too bad save for the heat out here! I spotted another guy who looked European. He wasn’t at all, and was in fact Brazilian so apparently the natives can look different here! What ensued was my first (very short) conversation in Portuguese. We managed to swap a few bits of genuine information and he remained a nice enough guy despite my extensive repetition requests. I exchanged the last of my bolivianos for a few Brazilian reais which was more than enough to get the bus fare to Corumbá, my first Brazilian town.
I wandered around here in the heat and eventually found a cash machine (but they all seem to charge here…) as well as my way to the terminal, where I was persuaded to take a micro (minibus) in place of a coach on the basis it would leave sooner and get to my destination (Campo Grande) sooner. Well he was half right… in that it left sooner. However there was a lot of faffing on the way and we ended up taking from midday to 7.30pm for the “six hour journey”… the aircon was not great so in hindsight I reckon the coach could have been better but oh well. I met a nice Austrian couple and a kind Peruvian lady that helped me at the other side, translating Portuguese into Spanish for me and helped me find the bus that would take me to Iguazu Falls! I’d been told initially that the bus left at 8 so had thought we had just made it but alas apparently there was no bus at all that night! I was stuck there and so needed to find a hostel…
I jumped in a taxi and the driver recommended a place called “hostel inn campo grande” and this turned out to be really good. The owner Rodrigo and the guys (Elias is the only other name I can remember) were really welcoming and good fun. They offered to pick up a takeaway for me seeing I was pretty tired after the solid 36 hour or so travelling but I figured this may be my only proper meal in Brazil so instead took a recommendation and walked a bit to the nearest restaurant. This turned out to be awesome, it had a buffet of salad which I’d been craving again and they kept bringing out freshly cooked bits of meat/ kebabs (overall the meal type was called Rodizio and is famous in Brazil) until I had to tell them to stop as I could not eat anymore. It was delicious and easily the best barbecue food is had in this continent so far. Brazil is more expensive generally but this was good value with the meal and a litre of beer (smallest bottle they had apparently!) for about £5.50. I would share the name of the place but there wasn’t one bizarrely!
I made the error of not taking the address of the hostel and so took way too long to get back… but eventually did so and had a good night sleep.
The breakfast at the hostel was good, and the guys introduced me to a girl from the Philippines, Riza, who was shortly travelling to bolivia and so I shared a lot of what is done over the last month and in particular the recent journey getting from Santa Cruz to here to shed some light on what she could do for the other way. It had been playing on my mind a bit already that maybe I should be less hasty to escape Brazil and get back to a spanish speaking country… and so, realising that I had no real obligation to make my 2.30 train to Iguazu we spent the day in campo grande. At first navigating the bus system with some difficulty but success ultimately… then lunch at the shopping mall followed by a film. It hadn’t crossed my mind that they would be showing something in English but indeed they were, at a fraction of the cost back home and with portuguese subtitles so I could even learn something. I have wanted to watch an actual foreign film in a foreign country and that desire persists, but this fulfilled half the criteria at least! We then spent a short time at the lovely parque de Nações indigenos as the sun set.
Then the plan was to load up on beer from the supermarket and head back to the hostel. I managed to steer this into the “more cultural” pursuit of cahaça, lime and sugar and so began the caipirinha factory that attracted much interest from the others at the hostel too. We passed the evening swapping songs and stories. Curiously, one of the portuguese guys who couldn’t understand a Spanish song originally could in fact follow the words when I sang it which was bizarre but cool… perhaps my (sub par spanish and) English accent was the necessary bridge between the relatively similar tongues? Anyway, the amount of sugar we got through was pretty obscene… we also nearly headed out to a concert nearby but sleepiness prevailed and we got a fairly early night
The next morning I managed to assuage my fears of being without cash (I’d had 0 success withdrawing something with my MasterCard in the mall previously) and found a friendly cash point (Caixa automático) in the university right by the hotel… as had been recommended to me by some Canadians I’d met the day before. Further, Rodrigo at the hostel deftly persuaded me to stay longer, reasoning that there was little point arriving at Iguazu in the early hours and much better to do so later to arrive in the morning. They were also doing a barbecue and so did a whip round of 20 Reais to buy the necessary which to be honest, of which I was pretty keen on being part. I also met a Dutch guy who was happily making his way to Iguazu that night (having suffered the same fate I had the night before) so I had completely run out of reasons not to stay. A couple of booze runs later (caipirinhas, skol beer and Budweiser) and we had a great afternoon enjoying music, food, drink and some mercifully cool weather which followed the thunderstorm the night before… I seem to be taking thunderstorms with me these days…It was cool, and the hostel team were great… despite my phobia of being in a country without speaking the language well I think I could figure out this one relatively quickly given my Spanish and I’ve had such a good time in a short period I may have to return here… carnival in February?? It could be a goer.
“I forgot that brits can drink”. Words once, heard thusly, would have made me proud…. we got through a lot of alcohol that afternoon but still made the bus to Iguazu to start the 15 hour slog. Oh joy. Another night bus!
Ken’s lonely planet guidebook yielded the Tetris hotel in Foz do Iguazu as the best option for our stay that night. It’s a nice place, built out of 12 shipping containers but has a pool and bar with a free caipirinha each day! I managed to save us an extra 5 Reais each by haggling for our dorm… I didn’t know that was a thing you did until very recently! We checked in early and headed out pretty much straight away to see the Brazilian side of the Iguazú falls. We met a Frenchman, Tim, and two… brits… the first I’d seen in ages, Leigh and Laura! The falls overall boast an impressive 280 waterfalls ranging from 40-80 metres each and we had a fun day larking about in the waterfall spray and dodging the coatis (small, highly brazen, raccoon type animals). In the evening we played some pool, had some drinks and chatted with some other guests and staff.
Despite getting up early for our guided tour, we decided to sack it as the weather was atrocious. There had been a storm the previous night and it was tipping it down here still with more storms forecast all day. So we had a lazy day and I eventually figured out what I was doing next… Buenos Aires was my final decision with flights to Rio, bus to Asunción, paraguay being close contenders. Albeit this means a 24 hour bus!
Up early again the next day but this time with clear and sunny weather forecast. I breakfasted with my Dutch friend and said goodbye as he set of early on his own, and I waited for pick up on the guided tour to the Argentinian side along with a Brazilian couple from the hostal and we picked up a German family, who got accosted by some Japanese travellers at the boarder who were obsessed with their Arian looks and beautiful children, requesting photos and holding the kids. Apparently they get this a lot in Brazil!
The queue looked long but our guide took care of the paperwork to cross the border and I instead had a wander around to see if Ken was still here, and sure enough bumped into him on his way out the other side! From here it was back with the tour group and we made our way round the stunning scenery of the Argentinian part of Iguazu falls.
(Last pic I’m standing in Argentina with paraguay on the left and Brazil on the right… Yes I caught the sun a bit)
I just about got back in time for a quick shower and then it was the Halloween party “hostal crawl” where we got in a bus and picked up some other hostalers nearby and had a drink at each of the hostal bars. I was pretty tired so didn’t quite make it to the end but it was great fun. Now I’m sitting in the bus terminal the next morning, using WiFi a Brazilian guy helped me get (you need a Brazilian mobile phone to get a code!) about to make the 24 hour bus journey to Buenos Aires. Bye bye Brazil!