Land of sun-soaked beaches, all-night parties, ice-cool capirinhas, and irresistable women: Brazil is the dream destination of every South American traveller, and it's also my grand finale stop on this continent. Brazil is an enormous country — most of which is taken up by the never-ending Amazon rainforest — and apart from the fact that they speak Portuguese there (and that some of its cities are really dangerous), nobody should have any excuse for missing it in their Latin travels.
This morning I woke up in my bed, and looked around in utter confusion. How did I get here? I had no memory — none whatsoever — of retiring to bed last night. All that I remember about last night was: I'd gone up to the bar (without having had dinner — biiig mistake!); I'd had quite a few capirinhas with some friends up there; at some point, I'd changed into my swimmers and jumped into the jacuzzi; and after, I'd gotten out and kept talking to people. Then, my memory stops — completely blacks out. However, after talking to some of my roommates this morning, I think I've got a pretty good explanation of why that is.
Stone of a Beach is yet another one of those places where you go to party, not to sleep. Not that there's anything wrong with that :P. Situated in the heart of Copacabana, it's rivalled only by the infamous Mellow Yellow as "the place to stay" in Rio. And with its sunny rooftop occupied by a well-stocked bar, a comfy TV room, and a sizzling hot jacuzzi, you couldn't ask for much more, as far as having fun at your hostel goes.
Rio de Janeiro. City of surf, sand, and sensuality. The sun always shines in Rio, right? Right?! This evening, when my bus pulled into the city of Rio, I arrived to find that it was pouring with rain. What's going on — how can there be bad weather in Rio?! The world's gone mad, I say. Anyway, everyone's saying it'll clear up soon — and it better. "When my baby, when my baby spits on me it rains in Rio, de Janeiro, and the thunder bellows..." :P.
Especially when you go by bus. I'm talking twenty-four hours straight kinda long, direct (-ish) from Foz do Iguaçu. My first bus experience in Brazil, from yesterday evening to this evening, was not a positive one: very tedious; quite uncomfortable; and outrageously expensive. All in all, a really rude shock, especially after the "sheer bussing pleasure" that is backpacking in Argentina. What's going on, Brazil? Why do your buses suck so bad?
Farofa is a simple dish consisting of raw flour from manioc (the root of the yuca plant), which is fried and sometimes flavoured. Usually served as an accompaniment to beans and meat, farofa is one of the staple foods, and the hallmark dishes, of Brazilian cuisine. Most gringos can't stand farofa — on account of it tasting like sawdust, to the uninitiated — but I'm starting to get used to it, and even to like it. Apparently it's very healthy, and it also keeps you going for quite a while.
On Tuesday, I saw the spectacular Argentinean side. Today, I completed my tour of the border-straddling marvel that is Iguazu Falls, by checking out the Brazilian side. While not quite as dramatic or as "in-your-face" as its rival vantage-point, the Brazilian side gives you a grand overview of the falls, with a panorama that lets you take in the entire set of cascades through one big, all-encompassing sweep of the eyes. In my opinion, the falls are simply too amazing to not be seen from every possible angle — so do yourself a favour, and don't shirk on the Brazilian angle! Photos follow below.
The highlight of today's visit to the Itaipu dam, was seeing one of the colossal hydroelectric turbines in action, spinning around at the bottom of the inner dam wall, generating billions of watts of energy right in front of our eyes. Check out the video.
The Itaipu dam, built on the Paraná River (which forms the border between Brazil and Paraguay), is the biggest dam and the biggest hydroelectric power plant in the world. It's also one of the "seven wonders of the modern world". With 20 turbine generators, and a dam wall almost 8km long, the plant supplies a whopping 90% of Paraguay's electricity, as well as 25% of Brazil's. Thus, most ironically, Paraguay — otherwise one of the most backward s$%#-holes in South America — has virtually the greenest energy in the entire world. This afternoon, Annemie, Hendrik and I went on a tour of the dam, and we saw this monster feat of modern engineering in action.
After almost 7 months of travelling in Latin America, my Spanish has gotten pretty good. It's been a long time since I stepped off the plane in Mexico City (seems like a lifetime ago!), and I found myself all alone in a foreign country, and unable to speak or to understand a word of what anyone said. Ever since, I've been getting more and more comfortable with Spanish, and the language barrier has become so small as to be easily stepped over. But today, for my first day in Brazil, I received a rude shock: I'm back to square one! "Eu não falo o português" (lit: "I don't speak Portuguese"), and it's a problem. Despite what people have told me, Portuguese sounds nothing like Spanish (although reading it is easy enough), and talking to Brazilians in Spanish has very limited results.
This Dutch-speaking Belgian couple are on a really cool adventure: they're touring the continent in a converted Danish ex-army truck! They're staying at Paudimar, here in Foz, where they have space to park the big boy. I was given a tour inside their (dont-f$%#-with-me) home for the year, and it's lovely on the inside. I went to the Itaipu dam with them today, and tomorrow they're crossing into Paraguay to continue their expedition.