Home > life, snarky > My time in Foz de Iguazu, Brazil

My time in Foz de Iguazu, Brazil

This post documents my time in Foz de Iguacu, home of the famous Iguacu Falls near the southernmost tip of Brazil, right next to the border with Argentina and Paraguay. If you aren’t familiar with this series of posts about Brazil (Yes, I dare call a set of 2 posts a series; call my lawyer if you have a problem w/ that), skip this post and get caught up.

So, here you go:

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As I try to fall asleep in my inebriated haze at The Maksoud Plaza Hotel at 4ish in the morning, I hear Kevin Rudolf’s “I See Your Dirty Face” accompanied by the sounds of a man dancing frantically to the terrible tune. This is no boozy drug-addled hallucination; yes, I’m in Sao Paulo, Brazil and my friend Praz is effervescent. I’m laughing helplessly at his antics while secretly considering strangling him to obtain some much-needed sleep.

You see, we’re all kind of wasted but mildly cognizant of the fact that a flight awaits us in a couple of hours. Since our planning skills are worse than pre-Katrina FEMA, we’ve decided on the spur of the moment to fly to Foz de Iguacu, a few hundred miles south of Sao Paulo. We’ve grudgingly handed over 500 dollars (yes, that’s greenbacks) to a fucking travel agency creatively named C-V-C. In return, we’ve received a ticket and a hotel room

that puts us in Foz for a mere 30 hours before we hopscotch over to Brazil’s crown jewel, Rio de Janeiro. Oh yeah, and we’ve also managed to score a free “gift” in the form of a travel bag that can fit a large rodent and not much else. The hideous gift will be a symbol of the gringos paying through the nose for the rest of the trip.

As we hurtle along the main highway to the airport, I’m riding shotgun and marveling at the fact that Brazil’s infrastructure is a valiant attempt at masking the poverty and squalor that lurks everywhere, just beyond our peripheral vision. The sky is a somber palette of pinks and grays, and in the quiet of the morning we stay away from the pre-pubescent humor that we love so dearly.

Then we arrive at Sao Paulo domestic airport – the wonderful-sounding “Congonhas!” – and the cycle begins all over again. As is the case everywhere in Brazil, the lines are long, snaking and a picture of chaos. You’d think a country with a population of 200 million would be able to better manage a line; hell, at least us Indians have the whole reproductive fecundity thing as an excuse.

Praz, of course, walks up to one of the few bored-looking airline clerks milling about and asks for an “upgrade”. I wasn’t there to witness it, but I imagine that he declares – “El Upgrade-o” as a sign of his seriousness of purpose. As expected, he get turned away because in order to be “preferencial”, one must be old, pregnant or at least attempt to not butcher Portuguese with happy disdain. We fail on all counts but rejoice in the knowledge of this beautiful new word that becomes yet another running joke. Try saying it – and make sure to roll your Rs. Then agree with me that the word makes you smile. Is it just me?

See a beautiful Brazilian girl? “That’s so preferencial“. Angry at the cabdriver for making you supremely uncomfortable? “That’s so not preferencial.”

We make our way down to the boarding gate and scope out a snack bar. This is as good a time as any to discuss the Brazilian obsession with cheese balls. Or cheese bread. Or bread with melted cheese inside. You see, they’re all the same product but faithful gastronomic chronicling is not my strong suit. In Portuguese, these little objects are called “Pao de Queijo” and the Brazilian people have taken their obsession to a whole new level. I mean, there’s a whole chain of stores named “Pao de Queijo”, complete with an airport wireless networked named “Pao de Queijo”. I make a mental note to make less fun of

Pão de queijo with coffee and a small cachaça ...
Image via Wikipedia

Starbucks upon my return to the US; at least they know better than to name themselves “Cheese Balls”. And before I let this rant go too far, let me outline the kicker: pao de queijo tastes like, well, nothing. Not spicy, not tart, not flavorful in any real sense of the term.

The flight itself is uneventful and everyone collapses in a nap, dreaming of all the voluptuous Brazilian women that are undoubtedly going to greet us by, around and under the giant waterfalls at Iguacu. Or maybe it was just me. In either case, the plane comes to a screeching halt and there we are.

Iguacu isn’t inside a tropical rainforest (in fact, we’re farther from the Amazon rainforest than ever before) but the environs feel like it just the same. There’s no concrete jungle or bustle of cars here. The roads are single lane and the trees stand sentry right at the very edge of the street. We’re about to walk out of the tiny airport as we see a strange, creepy family reunion scene. We’d like to walk right past but just like a car crash, we’re powerless in our ability to restrict rubbernecking.

Two Brazilian girls are holding a “Welcome Home, Mom” banner for a heavyset woman with a round face a few paces right behind us. In and of itself, this scene would inspire no attention. So to take it a step further, the women are dressed in clown costumes. Mind you, these are not the kind of half-assed clown costumes you’d see at a Halloween party. These are…PERFECT. Down to the disproportionately giant clown shoes, the clown hair (easy, sure), the makeup on the faces, you name it. If in good conscience I could have taken a photo, I would have.

Now, as stupid Americans we’re standing expecting mirth and merriment, maybe a little bit of Bozo the clown. Not so much. The older woman, carrying two suitcases both considerably larger than herself bursts into tears that could rival the falls in drop size and force. I get it. She’s happy to see the girls but it strikes me as a bit odd that they continue to wave the banner in their giant clown costumes as the woman wails tears of joy. P and V tear me away as I continue to gawk.

Our cab brings us to The Nadai Confort Hotel at the edge of the downtown “district” (if one is permitted to play fast and loose with the word). If we’re expecting a welcome relief from the Brazilian preference for colors that clash worse than Britney and K-Fed, well, we’re mistaken. The Nadai Confort – I think that means “Comfort” in English but I can’t say for sure – is Exhibit B in color palettes gone bad. Purple, white, green and a few other colors that I don’t have the ability to name all adorn the exterior of the building in overly bold wide stripes.

We drop our stuff and jump back into the cab to head to the falls.

Our cabdriver, Celio, is an older gentleman with a battered face, thick glasses and a genuine, beatific smile. Like a lot of Brazilians, he looks poor, relaxed and content. While Foz is a tourist center, it is nowhere as popular as Rio or Sao Paulo with tourists of businesspeople. I register major surprise, then, when I realize that he speaks some of the best English we’ve heard in days. I pause for a moment when he tells me that he’s been driving dumb tourists around for 40 years. When I ask him about Rio de Janeiro, he plainly states that he’s never been to either Rio or Sao Paulo. Both cities are too far and he’s never had the money to visit. As with all such moments, I say a silent prayer of thanks for my comparatively easy trajectory into adulthood.

Deprived of my morning coffee, I walk around the ticket window looking for the required jolt to my pathetic bloodstream. P and V throw their customary tantrum given that I’m holding them up like a damn old grandma. I flip them off and repair to a coffee station; I can already feel their snide remarks coming on. When I ask the local southern Brazilian woman for coffee to go, she stares at me like I’ve just asked her to take her clothes off. While she’s got a great smile on her face as she rattles off some incomprehensible Portugues, I suspect she’s telling the gringo to beat it. We eventually come to an agreement and she pours the strong liquid into a flimsy little corrugated plastic cup. I wistfully long for the American ingenuity that contrived the mundane plastic lid with a hole of just the right size. I shake myself out of my reverie before the Starbucks dream recurs and pound the coffee like a shot of Jack Daniels.

The next few hours are touristy, beautiful and uneventful. They are spent in the company of tourists from other parts of Brazil and Uruguay, with an old

Foz!

American couple from Arizona thrown in as the token white people. We take a speedboat right into the heart of falls and get sprayed as the boat driver gets us as close as humanly possible to a small section of the falls. P makes an R. Kelly peeing joke as the water is drenching us on all sides (“What if a guy were at the top of the falls taking a leak?”). V and I deride his perverse imagination. We dry off and proceed to view the panorama around the falls from viewing

decks. We then proceed to a highly questionable fast food meal – Brazilians really don’t know the first thing about making hamburgers and fries.

We trudge back to the hotel at 5pm; P and V collapse in heaps in the hotel room while I switch clothing and saunter out into the main strip in Foz and spend a few hours darting in and out of stores where the sales girls speak no English.

Dinner is awful. We muddle through a chicken lasagna that’s frozen in certain parts of the casserole while other parts are piping hot. I make a mental note to Google whether Brazilians are into frozen foods (Indos are most definitely not; I’m not sorry to say that I escaped soul-crushing TV dinners in my childhood). The only redeeming factor is the exhilarating variety of fruit juices on the buffet. Say what you will about Brazilian food, but these fools know how to juice the hell out of fruits. More on that as we make our way to Rio.

All in all, Foz de Iguacu reminds me of Wichita, Kansas + gorgeous falls. Nothing – and I mean nothing – ever happens here. The 2 Sleeping Beasts in our little entourage are zonked out and snoring by 11pm. My poor lonesome self spends the next hour plowing through Bill Bryson’s “I’m a Stranger Here Myself”. Pure coincidence, of course.

I can’t wait to get the hell out of Foz and over to Rio de Janeiro – home of Copacabana, Ipanema, the giant Christ statue that presents so many douchebag tourist opportunities and a giant hilltop poorly named “SugarLoaf” that showcases Rio as one of the most gorgeous cities in the world.

Over to the next chapter.

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  1. ER0
    May 27, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    WOW sounds like you had an aweful experience. Well, I am also in Foz as I type this email (11days so far) and I am not from Wichita so I welcome Foz and it’s beautiful falls. I guess its a matter of opinion but so far I love this place. Hope the rest of your trip was better maybe you should just relax and leanr to enjoy life. Cheers!

  2. saumil
    May 28, 2009 at 4:43 am

    I actually had a fantastic time in Brazil in general; am just sarcastic by nature.

    I was a fan of Rio, Buzios and Sao Paulo though, just not of Foz (especially since I paid 500 bucks for tix).

  3. Robbo Robertson
    September 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I have just returned from a wonderfull 9 months in Foz.My friends have a hotel there they have just finished renovating and I was out there lending them a hand and I have go to say I totally enjoyed myself and I wonder if you really experienced the same sights sounds and hustle and bustle as I did.From your posting it sounds as though you didnt venture too far to see the sights and hear the sounds that Foz has to offer.

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