Otherwise

Otherwise
opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Travel Highlights 10: Iguassu Falls Day 2

September 20th, 2007

We wake to the spatter of rain. Today we will visit the Brazilian side of the falls. I take out my trusty rain coat that covers so much of my body it reminds me of a burka; a sunshine yellow, transparent plastic burka. Ahem.

On our way through the Argentine-Brazil border we are the only two people to get off the bus to stamp our passports. Argentines and Brazilians do not need their passports stamped when crossing borders into each other’s countries. There looked to be one or two tourists on the bus with us, but I suppose they haven’t been notified that they need to take this pre-caution? We have read that tourists can get into trouble if they are caught crossing the border without stamped passports. Trouble in Brazil, at the hands of corrupt police or border guards, is not something we want to invite.

It takes a few minutes to stamp our passport, and afterwards we stand at the bus stop and wait for the next bus. We wait, and wait, and wait. There is nothing to do here at the border, and so we giddily amuse ourselves with silly games that involve jumping from one piece of cement to another. But as we continue to wait, the mood turns from giddy to annoyance. Where is the stinking bus? We try to think of another game, but there is not much to inspire us: a couple of cement blocks beside a roadway outside a looming industrial building, with fenced off fields behind us. And as it begins to rain more steadily, we try not to think about the fact that we are stuck on a couple of cement blocks in the middle of butt-nowhere, instead of at the beautiful falls. We’re in Brazil, I tell myself cheerily, we’re together as a couple. But as I think about the fact that we only have three weeks to experience South America, and that every moment is precious, I begin to feel even more at edge.

On our travels, we bump into many backpackers who tell us their shame and woe that they are “only in South America for five months” or “a pathetic eight months, man”. I grit my teeth at these backpackers, the spoiled brats of the travelling world. Most of them have cushy jobs at home in finances or advertising. Try being an underpaid artist, I think! We are here for three weeks, of which I intend to use to their very fullest. Except that, I am stuck at a border crossing, with cars speeding by, wheezing exhaust past us, as we stand in the rain on a couple of slabs of concrete. Grrrrrrr!! My agitation increases. Why couldn’t we have stayed an extra week, I think? Why does my job, er artistry, pay so poorly? Why do we have so much debt? And why do people complain about five months!!?? I am just about to rip my way into a long exposition about the injustice of our situation, when the bus putters up like a teenager on a Saturday morning. Finally, I think, and grab the steel handlebar to pull myself inside.

In the dryness of the bus, I am once again grateful. Three whole weeks to travel and experience! Many of the people on this bus will never travel beyond the border towns of Brazil and Argentina. Many of the people on this bus don’t know what a “holiday” is. I’m an idiot, obviously; a ethnocentric gringo. On our way to the entrance of Brazil’s national park, we are sidetracked by a woman who gives us information about the park, but then launches into a pushy sales pitch. I try to imagine the long expanse of three weeks and conjure my ethnocentrism, but at the same time, I watch the crowds line past us to purchase tickets, aware that we are now going to be at the end of a very long, deep line. The woman gabs on about the river tours, and I want to cut her off. In Canada, I most certainly would politely but firmly brush her off, but this is Brazil, and I don’t want to appear to be the ethnocentric, spoiled gringo that I am. Finally, she stops, a look of expectation on her pale, pretty face. “No, thank you,” we say,” sorry,” and we trudge to the end of the ticket line.

The trails through the Brazilian park are not as intensive or well planned as on the Argentine. Nevertheless, we take our time to enjoy the incredible sight, the earthy, leafy smell, the thunderous sound and the sensation of the mist that coats our faces. On our way to lunch, we run across a thick pack of scrappish coati who prowl amongst the tables and chairs for food. The coati here are nasty, as they have learned that unthinking tourists will feed them. They are known to be aggressive, stealing purses from underneath ladies feet, snatching food from people’s plates as they sit and eat. I am glad we saw these animals in a habitat untouched by people (in the Pantanal), peacefully lounging across the branches of a tree. Here, the coati are bandits and gangbusters, encouraged by unknowing visitors.

We end up at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. I never do justice to my wallet at a buffet. I am the kind of person the buffet owner loves because I hardly eat a quarter of any smorgasborg’s worth. I am lured in, however, by the mounds of passionfruit and guava on large silver platters near the entrance. As we tuck into our first plates, the rain begins to fall heavily outside. I am grateful for my tender cut of lamb (the best I’ve ever tasted), hot feijoada, and tropical fruit.

On our bus ride back from the falls, we must get out to have our passports re-stamped. We will be in trouble if we have an entrance stamp into Brazil, but no exit stamp. We reluctantly plod off the bus, into the passport office. Outside, the situation proves itself no different from this morning’s. We once again try to maintain cheer, but as the sky darkens, the temperature drops. Not only are we dulled by the sightless vista, we are cold. We wait for an hour, when a man in a tour bus says he will drive us to the Argentine side of the border for free. At the edge of Argentina, we wait still more. At least here there is a warm convenience store. Finally a bus arrives. We learn that our bus tickets are not valid for this bus, that we would have to wait for another fifty minutes for the bus our tickets are good for. Without a thought, we pull out some change, and pay the fare.

Long after dark, we arrive at our hotel. I wish that we had been like those ignorant tourists that simply stayed on the morning’s bus. Three weeks is a wonderfully spacious amount of time, but it is still short enough to feel precious. We are blessed to have the finances to spend such a long time travelling, especially (and I do not write this trivially) when there are so many in the world who have neither the time nor money to do so. It is our time, our life, which God has blessed us with, and I am anxious to experience it to the very fullest. I may be a spoiled gringo, but one who appreciates my blessings, the truly good in life, and who wants to revel daily in God’s creation and bounty. I thank God for every good thing I see, experience and sense, like a running soundtrack of gratitude that plays upwards and outwards – or at least I try my darndest to. Am I a hedonist? Oh, most certainly. But if I recognize and affirm from whom the bounty derives, and am sincerely thankful, is that so wrong??

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