Saturday, April 2, 2011

Counting Cataratas (28-30 March 2011, Days 109-111 of 127)

Iguassu Falls (Elev 192m) is the world's largest in terms of number of "Cataratas (cataracts or waterfalls)", comprising 275 of them, so start counting! 75% of the cataratas are in Argentina and 25% in Brazil.

The falls border Argentina and Brazil where both countries meet Paraguay, by air: 1,350km from Buenos Aires, 1,573km from Brasilia and 348km from Asuncion (the capitals of each country). I call it "Jose's Corner", the South American version of Australia's "Cameron's Corner"!

The falls themselves are part of two national parks: "Parque Nacional Iguazu" in Argentina and "Park Nacional Do Iguazu" in Brazil. Both are UNESCO protected. The falls span 2.7km and drop between 40 and 80m (Angel falls 996m). The main city servicing tourism for the falls in Argentina is Puerto Iguazu (Pop 34,000. Elev 192m) and Foz Do Iguacu (Pop 311,000. Elev 192m) in Brazil. Ciudad Del Este (Pop 356,000. Elev 192m) is the closest city in Paraguay and only 7km from the centre of Foz Do Iguazu. For more facts on the falls refer to "IGUASSU FALLS FACTS" below.

Iguassu Falls can be spelt three ways: the Argentines use "Iguazu", the Brazilian's use "Iguacu" and both use the Anglecised version of "Iguassu". Given that I visited both sides I will opt for the Anglecised version in this blog.

We arrived at our hotel in Foz Do Iguacu at 10:30am on Mon 28MAR after a 13hr overnight bus ride from Salto in Uruguay. The total trip hotel-to-hotel took 26.5hrs since we had to cross two borders: Uruguay to Argentina to Brasil.

Foz Do Iguazu has no attractions itself and is not very good looking for a city that hosts a world-class tourist attraction. There is no central plaza, no main boulevard and the ground is uneven. The climate is very tropical with high humidity. In JAN/FEB, temperatures are often in the low 40s and with humidity averaging 87% all year round it is very oppressive. Annual rainfall is 1,800mm, falling mainly in JUN/JUL and the place looks like a jungle.

At noon we boarded our private van to visit the Brazilian side of the falls, 18km away. Unfortunately there was cloud and a light sprinkle but the falls were still spectacular. The Brazilian side is the best place to get an overall panorama of the falls to give you an idea of span and majesty but the Argentinian side gets closer, to many of the falls to give you an idea of size and power.

The view is eye-filling - waterfalls everywhere with lush jungle foliage in between. We spent 4hrs on the Brazilian side with he highlight being the 1.2km elevated walk ("The Path of the Falls") above the waters to the largest, noisiest and most powerful of the falls being "Garganta Del Diabolo (The Devil's Throat").

The spray is amazing and is like a torrent of water - this is here no matter if it is raining or sunny. The rumble is also grand - you can feel your chest vibrating! Only Niagra has a bigger volume of water and louder sound.

Four of us then decided to see the falls by boat and get soaking wet - the rest went back to the hotel. We spent 30min getting to the boat through thick forest via electric buggy and on foot. The actual boat trip was 30min and then 30min to get back to the main entrance of the National Park where Edwardo was waiting to take us back to the hotel.

The boat ride was exhilarating and a lot of fun. There were 12 people in this 20-person boat with two 75 horsepower outboards. This boat just flew, reaching speeds of up to 80km/h. We travelled 5km upstream to two photo points before immersing ourselves under two waterfalls and these were little ones. Once in the waterfall, the force and spray was so great that you could not open your eyes and look at it directly. The water was warm - I'd say 24C. We immersed ourselves 2 times in 2 falls. On our way back we did 180 degree spins in the water and ran into our own wake, causing the waves to spill over into the boat and soak us all over again. I was wearing my cozzies and nylon singlet whilst 8 of the Japanese with us wore regular clothes with a plastic poncho - it did not work!

Back at the hotel, a hot shower never felt so good. At 7:30pm we all went out to dinner to try some typical Brazilian fare - lots of beef with fried cubed potato and a chicken pie with molten cheese. There was no chilled white so we opted for beer.

At 8am on Tue 29MAR we were off to the Argentinian side of the falls approx 20km from the hotel. By 9am we were inside the park and boarded a little diesel train to take us to the "Gargantia Del Diabolo (Devil's Throat)" walk which ends up above the waterfall of the same name that we saw on the brazilian side only now we were right above it instead of below it. The walk consists of metal grated panels sitting 1m above the rushing water on concrete pillars. It took approx 10min to get out there and the view is something else.

Absolutely roaring water gushing down over three balconies or steps eroded in the volcanic basalt rock. The whole of Iguassu is a series of steps formed by a molten magma flow which cooled faster than normal then got progressively eroded by the gushing river. The falls are fed by "Rio Iguacu".

We then boarded the little train back to "Estacion Cataratas" from which we walked the "Circuito Inferior (Lower Trail)" that takes you upstream and very close to bottom of five main waterfalls at the other end of Devil Throat, 2.7km away. The day was a little better than yesterday with no rain and more scattered cloud but no direct sun - photos were better but not as good as sun.

After the lower trail we stopped off for lunch were we saw Capuchin Monkeys and Racoons up close. In the afternoon we tackled the "Circuito Superior (Upper Trail)" which took us to the tops of the same waterfalls as the Lower Trail. The views hear were different. You appreciate the volume of water and get better backdrops whereas the Lower Trail is more about the thunder and spray of the water. By 3pm were on our way back after spending 6hrs on the Argentian side.
Once at the hotel I decided to take on a new jogging challenge and run into Paraguay to complete 9 of 9 planned countries in South America (total of 13). Our tour guide made little effort to organise a van tour into Paraguay so I took matters into my own hands. My guidebook quoted 6km from the centre of Foz Do Iguacu to the border so I thought - stuff it - it is only 2km more than my regular run so off I went at 4pm with my passport in my waterproof money belt.

The border is in the middle of the Parana River with the Brazilian control on one side of the elevated river bridge and the Paraguyan on the other side. Much to my surprise I ran through both border checks without being stopped! I arrived at the Paraguyan control after 35min of running (7km) and I felt great so I decided to run a further 1km into "Ciudad Del Este" to make it official. I did not stop to get my passport stamped since Ozzies need a VISA so technically I was an "illegal immigrant" in Paraguay for a sum total of 10min while I ran 1km into the city and 1km back out. Ciudad Del Este (City of the East) is very commercial, grubby and poor. There are cars and people everywhere. The main road I ran on has huge shopping centres on either side, one after the other, since prices in Paraguay are dirt-cheap and most Iguassu visitors come here in organised buses to shop without the need for VISAs. Even locals shop here. I did not stop for the entire 16km, 80min run! I was not as soar as I expected and I celebrated that night with an in-room supermarket picnic to rest my weary international body! It was the first time I had run over an international border and was elated with the experience.
The following morning (Wed 30MAR) I took matters into my own hands again. Once again our leader did not put much effort into helping us organise optional tours for today so I visited the tourist office the evening before (after my run) and armed myself with bus and tour timetables so I could visit the gigantic hydro-electric plant "Itaipu Binacional" approx 20km from my hotel - it is one of the seven modern wonders of the world!

I left at 7:30am to catch the public bus to Itaipu Binacional, arriving at 8am, just in time for the 2.5hr "Tour Especial". Itaipu Dam is massive. It is 8km long, 196m high and contains 20 generators with a total capacity of 14,000 MW/H (Mega Watts per Hour). Each generator can power a city of 2.5 million people on its own. Only "Three Gorges" hydro-electric plant in China has a larger capacity at 22,000 MW/H. The snowy in Oz has a capacity of 3,756 MW/H. Even though Three Gorges has a much bigger capacity, Itaipu generates more actual electricty each year since it runs at close to capacity whilst Three Gorges is slowely ramping up as China grows (Taipu generated a world record 93.4 billion MWH in 2000).

Taipu Binacional provides 20% of Brazil's total power needs and 90% of Paraguay. Taipu Binacional is 50-50 owned by the Brazilian and Paraguayan Governments via a special single joint-venture company established in 1974 under treaty. This set up is like the Vatican but without the soverign Pope - instead the Brazilian and Paraguayan Presidents are on the board of directors. It was built between 1975 and 1981, cost $USD12billion and will be paid off by 2023. The first electrcity was generated in 1984. The dam and plant is actually built on the border between Brazil and Paraguay with 10 generators on each side of the actual border! The master control room is in the middle of the 20 generators with the actual border passing through the middle of the room with control panels on each side (with 5 controllers each and a rotating supervisor with final decsion making powers, who's desk is in between and traversed by the border). What a bizzare but novel set up! For more facts on the plant refer "ITAIPU DAM FACTS" below.

There were only 6 others on my tour. After watching a 30min film on the making of the plant we boarded a special bus and viewed the entire exterior for the next hour. It was fabulous.

First stop was a ground level, close, downstream view of the dam and spillway. We then drove along the top of the dam (Elev 225m) and stopped to peer down on both sides (lake and generator outlets). We then drove at the top of the spillway (14 gates letting out excess lake water up to 40 times the flow of Iguassu Falls!!!). At that time 4 of 16 gates were letting out water causing a huge water arch and plume of spray. Amazing site.

We then drove to the bottom of the dam to touch one of the 20 massive pipes feeding water to the turbines. You could hear and feel the rumble of water!!! At this point we went inside for the last hour of the guided tour. We saw the inside of the concrete pillars stopping the lake, master control room, generator hall (1km long housing the 20 pairs of turbines and magnets) and finally a live view up close of the massive spinning rotor shaft of one of the generators. Amazing scale. Amazing engineering. Suffice to say, I walked out of the place at 10:30am to catch the bus back into town with my head spinning. I loved it.

At 12:30pm we left the hotel for the airport to fly to Sao Paulo. The flight was only 90min and the landing extremely fast (to counter cross-wind) with three hops before engine thrust reverse. It un-nerved a lot of people! A private van was waiting for us and it whisked us out of sprawling Sao Paulo towards beach-side Paraty some 350km and 5hrs away.

Sao Paulo (Pop 19m. Elev 760m. Est 1532) is the laregst city in the Southern Hemisphere and is a huge sprawling city and commercial hub, much like Los Angeles with 8 lane freeways which become parking lots at peak hour. We did not stay here because there are no sites or beaches. Along the way we stopped for what turned out to be a brilliant steak sandwich (and the rest of my Chilean Cab Sav Reserva Especial 2006) in a place that looked like a Texan Diner! We arrived at our hotel in Paraty at 10:30pm wrapping up 14hrs of travel from the hotel in Foz Do Iguacu. From now to the end of the Intrepid tour it was nothing but beaches and hopefully sun!

NEXT BLOG: covers the Brazilian beaches of Paraty and Illia Grande due 5APR.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: 1) Many thanks to Ben for taking the speedo "Iguazu" photos and to Sarah for saving my clothes and passport from being nicked by the racoons!!! 2) Thanks to Sue for her daggy dance footage at Iguazu.

IGUASSU FALLS FACTS: 1) The total number of "Cataratas" (Cataracts or waterfalls) depends on the annual rainfall. The average of 275 can reach an actual of up to 350. 2) Cataratas fall between 40-80m height. 3) "Park Nacional Do Iguazu" (The Iguassu National Park of Brazil) was created by Decree in 1939 and UNESCO protected in 1986. It is 185,00 hectares in size. 4) "Parque Nacional Iguazu" (The Iguassu National Park of Argentina) was founded in 1934 and UNESCO protected in 1984. It is 67,000 hectares in size. 5) Av annual rainfall is 1,800 and av daily humidity is 87%. Climate is subtropical. 6) First white person to see the falls was the Spaniard, Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca in 1542. 7) World's largest falls: Iguassu in terms of "number of falls", Angel in terms of "height", Victoria in terms of "span of falls" and Niagra in terms of "volume of water falling". Ironically the world's largest waterfall uin terms of volume of water used to be the "Guaira Falls" which were replaced by the Itaipu Dam!!!
ITAIPU DAM FACTS: 1) The dam consumed the following major material equivalents: excavation of 20 "Eurotunnels" (under English Channel), concrete of 210 Olympic Stadiums (seating 100,000) and steel of 380 Eiffel Towers. 2) From 1977 to 2010, 15.8million people from 188 countries have visited the dam. 3) Lago Taipu feeds the dam and Rio Parana is downstream. Lake Taipu is 1,350 sq km (Av 170km long, 7km wide and 180m deep) with 29 trillion liters of water. 4) 3,000 people work at the plant, exactly half from Brazil and half from Paraguay. 5) Max spillway capacity is 39 million L/sec which is 40 Iguassu Falls!!! On the day I visited only 6 of the 14 gates were partially open spilling 10,000 L/sec. 6) At the peak of construction, the equivalent concrete in a 22 storey office tower was poured every 55min night and day by 40,000 workers over a 2 year period. 7) The dam structure covers 92m to 225m above sea level. 8) Itaipu Binacional plany and company is run by SAP R/3. 9) Generators were built by Siemens. 10) Each generator weighs 1,760 tons and each turbine weighs 300 tons. 11) The turbine shaft which connects generator and turbine spins up to 92.3 RPM and is up to 10m in diameter. 12) The "Generator Hall" that houses the 20 generators is 996m long, 99m wide and 112m tall. 13) The dam wall comprises 18 double blocks of concrete shaped in a "V" to save on concrete. Each block is 196m high and 35m wide.
HINTS & TIPS: 1) Make sure you see the Itaipu Binacional Dam when in Iguazu. You can get there from Foz Do Iguacu in Brasil by their local bus. Catch a bus with "Juncul C" on the front screen from the central plaza to get there and any bus with "Centro" on it to get back. It is only 2.4R each way (1.50AUD). Take the "Tour Especiale" which is the complete tour with 30min film, 1hr external and 1hr internal guided tour. Cost is 51R. You can also do the 30min film + 1hr external "Tour Regular" which costs 22R. Bus takes 45min so if you have the time do not bother going to a tourist office.

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