Hitchhiking from Curitiba to Foz do Iguaçu went smoothly – on the first day we did 500 km with a young architect who took us to a delicious dinner and left at a gas station outside the city of Cascavel, and on the second day the driver stops by seeing us on the way walking to the right spot. In Foz itself, unfortunately, we are left on the other side of the city and it takes us 2 hours to get to our host. We are welcomed with open arms by Pablo who moved here from Uruguay to study. We decide that we will be able to see the nearby Itaipu dam on the same day.
The rock that sings. Does clean energy have clean hands?
After a short walk through the neighbourhood, which was built for workers building a dam, we reach the gate of the hydroelectric complex. Unfortunately, it turns out that the whole region is fenced, and only people with passes or participants of organized trips can enter. With pain, we buy the tickets and get on a double-decker bus, where a guide with a microphone is waiting for us. We feel like American tourists cruising European capitals aboard the red bus of City Sightseeing Tour, but we find it worthwhile to experience a moment of shame in exchange for seeing the Itaipu dam.
Well, this isn’t any hydropower plant, but the second largest in the world (it was overpassed by the Three Gorges Dam in China). It was built in the years 1975-1984 (40,000 people worked on the construction site during the most intense phase) and has 14 GW electrical power – over 20x more than the Siekierki Heat and Power Plant in Warsaw. It covers 95% of Paraguay’s electrical demand and about 17% of Brazil’s demand. It was financed in 50% by both countries and so is divided the energy produced. The reason for this division is the fact that the complex was built on the border river Parana. Paraguay doesn’t use all the energy it produces and most of it resells to Brazil. The resulting reservoir is 170 km long, 12 km wide and has 29 km3 of capacity, about 45x more volume than Lake Śniardwy.
At the beginning, we are suppressed by the most propagandistic and luscious movie we’ve ever seen. Happy people use clean energy, a venture involving two states led to cooperation and friendship, and the resulting reservoir allows active spending time by the water. Millions of trees have been planted in the area, and the fish are happily splashing around in the newly formed lake. So as not to be missed, at least 5 times it was repeated that Itaipu means in the language of the local Indians, guarani, “the rock that sings“. Then, during the bus tour, the guide talks about the passing elements of the dam, among others about an emergency door with a possible flow of 63,000 m3/s (about 40 times more than Iguaçu waterfalls), which drain the excess of water in the rainy season. We also set up handsets in which English lector initially provides factual information about the dam. However, we don’t have to wait long to hear phrases straight from American educational films from the 70’s. We hear a countdown and an explosion when the lector talks about the construction of the side channel of the river, in a moment he invites the engineer who will tell us about the technical details of the complex, and finally a fish swimming in an artificial lake arrives to the recording studio to tell us how it spends time with friends in their new home.
We are stunned by the story of how the dam was the inspiration for many painters, musicians and poets, one poem is even being read to us. At the end of the trip we arrive at the port, where for only 90 PLN one can sail a catamaran that accommodates several dozen people for a romantic cruise at sunset. A real idyll.
But no one even stumbled that 150 workers were killed during the construction and the artificial lake flooded the world’s largest waterfall Guaíra. As if that was not enough, after the flooding, the Brazilian authorities blew up the rocks under the water to make sailing easier for the ships. Thus, even if the dam would be pulled down later, the waterfall won’t be there anymore. With its disappearance is connected another tragic story. After the construction of the massive dam, tourists came to see the waterfall before it disappears forever. In 1982, under the weight of the crowd, a rope bridge hung across the Parana river collapsed, plunging 38 people in the rapid water, of which only 6 were saved.
There is also no information that more than 40,000 people had to be displaced. Among them were many Indians who had lived in these areas for years. Of course, it was not easy to convince them to leave the homes of their ancestors. The displacement process was very controversial, sources say about insufficient compensation, while rumors about the most reluctant resting on the bottom of the reservoir today. The creation of an artificial lake and the flooding of a waterfall also has a huge impact on the surrounding flora and fauna. Hundreds of square kilometers of forest have been flooded. Although replacement plantings have been made, nothing can replace the original vegetation. It’s like cutting out the Bialowieza Forest and planting a new forest instead. The sinking of Guaíra waterfall resulted in the disappearance of the barrier between the upper and lower course of the river and enabled the migration of species that were previously separated from each other (a small channel was built to allow fish to travel up and down the dam).
It is commonly said that energy from hydroelectric power plant is clean energy, but as you can see, huge social and ecological costs are paid for it.
The next day we are going to see the miracle of nature, which fortunately wasn’t flooded and blown up – Iguaçu waterfalls. In the language of the local Indians, Iguaçu means “big water”. Once we pay for the entry (62 BRL) and get into the double-decker bus with a group of tourists. This time, however, it’s really worth it – Iguaçu is a complex of about 200 waterfalls with an average flow of 1700 m3/s. It’s like the whole Warsaw has flushed water in the toilet in one moment. Along the rock ridge below the waterfalls a special trail was built, which you can go over the edge of the river bed. Its culmination is a bridge leading into the center of the “Devil’s Throat” – a place at the foot of the largest cataract of the complex. Each piece of the body that protruded from under the foil coat was completely soaked. Here we have a hint for the next visitors – it’s wet only on this platform, on other sections of the trail the electronic equipment is safe. We thought that water is everywhere, that’s why the camera was left at home and the pictures are only from the phone and GoPro. You can get a foil coat in many places before entering the national park, take your own or do what we do. We talked to people who immediately after leaving the bridge wanted to throw these coats into a special container, and we had ‘second hand’ coats.
And if we talk about containers, a lot of coaties roam in them. There is a whole lot of them here, and they aren’t afraid of the tourists in their search of food. They ruthlessly push the rivets into their backpacks and bags and grab whole nets with food of less attentive tourists. Although they look dear and fluffy, you have to remember that they are wild animals and shouldn’t be petted or fed. They become even cheeky and, in addition, they can bite.
The flocks of coaties are accompanied by a whole clouds of butterflies shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow! We wanted to admire these natural wonders on a less-attended trail, but unfortunately you have to pay extra for walking along routes other than those leading to waterfalls, and quite a lot! From 70 to 150 BRL. We sadly give up walking in the jungle (apparently you can see blue aras or even a jaguar) and get back to the tourist’s bus.
Ciudad del Este – a shopaholic’s paradise
On the last day of our stay in Foz and the whole Brazil, we go for a walk to… Paraguay. You can get to Ciudad del Este via the Friendship Bridge, so we can’t miss this opportunity. In no way did anyone get interested in us on the border, so there won’t be any souvenirs in the passport. What struck us the most, however, is the largest concentration of shops, stalls and shopping centers we have ever seen. Paraguay, unlike Brazil (greetings for the Brazilian postal service!), has very favorable customs and tax regulations, which is why it’s thousands of shops at the Brazilian border. You can really buy anything here, most of the stuff comes from China, of course. Electronics, clothes, jewelry, drugs, weapons, almost half cheaper than in Brazil. Although no, there is not everything here. We wanted to buy our host a wooden chopping board (he missed it at home) and couldn’t find it, and looking for a watch strap ended up buying the whole watch with a matching strap for… 10 PLN. Such concentration of shops causes a fierce battle for the client – the salesmen literally drag us by the hands to their stores or wave their with a set of panties with a ass-up in front of our faces. Interestingly, trading in Ciudad del Este generates 60% of Paraguay’s GDP. We quickly escape from this devil’s place not disturbed by anyone at the border crossing. We could’ve easily bring a kilo of marijuana in a backpack to Brazil, which costs here… 200 PLN!
These pretty intense 3 days were our last in Brazil. Time to go to Argentina and take a course on Buenos Aires! You will find a summary of our 2-month stay in this country of the size of the whole of Europe in the next post.