Friday January 16, 2015 (Brazil, Foz Do Iguacu, South America)
Well: this was a doozy of a day. Our plan was to visit the Itaipu Dam. It turned out to be one of those travel days where almost every conceivable thing goes wrong. Here's a rundown:
- We had previously decided to meet up with our group of four at the Super Muffato (the local grocery store) at 9am to catch the first bus on our way to the dam. There's an ATM inside the store that Sandra and I needed to use to settle up some debts from previous evenings. As we were leaving with some snacks for the day and going to use the ATM, we noticed that it had stopped working. No problem -- we'll go to the gas station across the street.
- Inside the gas station were two ATMs side-by-side. Only one was working. Now there were about 12 people in line to use the ATM, presumably because only 1 out of 3 ATMs in the immediate area were actually functional. I see a group of three males in line together chatting. I hope they'll go quickly because only one will need to use the ATM. Wrong. All three of them use it, and each one of them withdraws money from multiple accounts on multiple cards. I've been waiting in line now for about 20 minutes just to get some cash out. I get up to the front and insert by debit card. Nope -- machine won't accept it. I insert my other debit card. Nope. So this ATM won't even support my cards and I've just stood in this line for absolutely no reason.
- We get on the first of two buses we have to take to get to the dam. The first takes us to the city centre, where we have to transfer. Upon getting off the buses, we're promptly informed that the bus drivers have gone on strike, so we won't be able to continue to our destination by bus. Very nice of them to take us to the city centre on a bus and then leave us stranded...
- We catch a cab as a group. About 1 minute into the ride, the cab driver receives a phone call. Almost immediately, he commences yelling into the phone. The argument continues (which we later found out was related to some real estate issue), for a solid 5 minutes of vigorous yelling.
- We disembark at the dam and head to the reception to check in for our pre-arranged tour. We're escorted to a window to get our tickets. At the window, we're informed that our tour has been booked in Portuguese. This is presumably because our hostel staff booked it for us and the people at Itaipu assumed that since the person booking the tour was speaking Portuguese that they wanted a Portuguese tour. We're at the dam at 10am for our 10:30am tour, and we're told that the next available English tour is at 2pm... yes, four hours away.
- We're then informed that our clothing is not acceptable -- we cannot wear open toed shoes and the ladies' shorts are too short. The staff go off to collect extra footwear and staff clothing so our team can actually do the dam tour.
- Maybe we could head across to Paraguay for a few hours to fill time? Nope -- Ian didn't bring his passport because he didn't expect to cross the border.
- The EcoMuseum is available for walkthroughs, and it's just 1km away. We decide this would be a good time-filler until our dam tour starts. I offer to pay with credit card. No -- you cannot pay with a credit card unless you have a matching passport. We try to trick him by getting Sandra to pay with Ian's card using Sandra's passport. He notices and denies us. Ouch.
- Ian goes to retrieve cash from one of three ATMs at the dam site. He still needs to pay back his friends here. Machine 1 with card 1 and network 1 fails. Machine 1 with card 2 and network 1 fails. Machine 2 with card 1 fails. Machine 2 with card 2 fails. Machine 1 with card 1 and network 2... SUCCEEDS! But now I get dinged with a service charge from both Scotiabank and the local ATM to the tune of about $8. And if I'd used my other TD card using this method, it would have been free. Frustration.
- Cash in hand, we head to the EcoMuseum by bus. Where we're told that you can only take a bus TO the EcoMuseum but not BACK from the EcoMuseum. You must walk the 1km back from the museum to get to the dam to start the tour.
- We return to the dam to start our tour and collect our replacement shoes and shorts. We use hairnets for socks. Sandra looks great sporting her slip-on loafers with "cloud socks" and baggy butch shorts.
- The tour commences. In Portuguese.
- But eventually a half-half split of Portuguese and English begins, and the rest of the tour goes along swimmingly. I'd say we deserved it, at that point.
Important dam notes:
- Supplies 17% of all of Brazil's electric power and 75% of Paraguay's
- Is approximately 2km long from one end to another
- Constructed mainly from the late 70s to early 90s
- Still leads the world in terms of overall power produced in its lifetime
- Half of the turbines in the dam produce electricity at 50Hz (for Paraguay) and the other half produce electricity at 60Hz (for Brazil). During construction, Brazil offered to foot the bill to convert the entire country of Paraguay to 60Hz to make the implementation easier, but Paraguay refused.
Jason (our local Couchsurfing connection) took the group out for a meal of Acai in the evening. It's basically a really thick frozen yogurt kind of concoction in a super-deep purple. Not too sugary, but very tasty. You can add on all kinds of toppings like bananas, granola, pacoca (peanutty-sugary-flaky-crumbles). They also had great pao de queijo (cheese breads) with fillings available. I got a pizza-filled one and Sandra had a plain jane number.
We were treated to a lovely sunset wherein the entire sky filled with an all-encompassing orange. Not like a sunset we're used to in Canada where the colour seems to emanate from the clouds, but one in which the entire sky appeared to glow with colour. Beautiful!
After the meal, our host Jason took us across the border to Paraguay. Do Canadians need visas to get into Paraguay? Well, technically, yes. Does Paraguay have effective border control? The answer is no. We just drove on in. We visited some of the rich areas of Cidade del Este (the name of the city on the Paraguay side). A "country club" full of massive mansions. These are the estates of people who run the import/export businesses that take advantage of low taxes and tariffs in Paraguay and sell goods across the border to Argentina and Brazil. Jason then took us to the electronics shopping area that's locally famous for the cheap shopping. He showed us his business, how deserted and garbage-filled the streets are at night (people dump the trash from their new purchases so they don't pay duty fees when returning).
We capped the night off by visiting a casino/hotel in Paraguay to get a nice view of Foz do Iguacu from across the Parana river. Beautiful! A quick trip back across the border to Brazil (and a stop by a bar for some beer and mohitos) and we called it a day!