3.24.2005

3rd dispatch from the Southern Hemisphere

There's so much that I want to write, and no time! It's nearly 2:30 am here, and I have to get up in three hours to catch a bus to Rio... My flights from Foz do Iguacu were delayed, so I didn't get back here, to my cousins' apartment, until around 11:30, and then I had to eat, unpack, and repack.

So this will just be a brief synopsis of what I've been up to since my last e-mail.

On Monday morning, I flew from Sao Paulo to Foz do Igauca (spelled many different ways, I may or may not be consistent...), via Curitiba. Interestingly enough, in Brazil, a "t" is pronounced "tch," so Curitiba is pronounced Curitchiba. Even more hilariously, the Internet here is called the "Internetch." Maybe that's only funny to me, and probably terribly un-culturally sensitive or something.

When I go to Foz do Iguacu, I went straight to Parque das Aves, a "bird park" near the Iguacu Falls, where they breed birds, including endangered species. I got the sense that they released the hatchlings back out into the wild, but I'm not 100% sure. The two salient features of my visit to Parque das Aves were: (1) I had no idea there were so many different kinds of cool-looking birds--many were gorgeous, some made funny sounds, and some looked like they were straight out of a Dr. Seuss book--I took special note of the bird that kills people by kicking them, and the male of the species incubates the eggs until they hatch! [ed. note: cassowary] (2) It was 35 degrees Celsius during my visit, and around 45% humidity, and there's no place to buy water until you get to the very end. That was terrible. If you ever go when it's very hot out, bring lots of water with you. I had a liter, but that wasn't enough.

On Monday night, I checked into my hotel, and was going to go to Paraguay, but it was too late. Instead, I went to the local supermarket to buy a BIG bottle of water (they only sold little bottles at the hotel). I also bought some Brazilian soda (I forget what it's called, it begins with a G, is kind of the color of cream soda, and tastes like an unidentifiable tropical fruit) [ed. note: Guarana]. Then I watched a terrible movie in my room--I forget what it was called.

On Tuesday, I went to the Argentinian side of the waterfalls. I spent around seven hours there--I could have spent nine or ten without a problem. It was fantastic in every way possible. Just a glorious day. I saw lots of interesting wildlife, including two agutis (rodent-like things) cavorting in the woods, an aninga (looks kind of like a weird goose), a huge lizard thing whose name I forget (not an iguana), a huge ant (I think it's a tiger ant--they're carnivores!), some black and yellow fish, and about a million green spotty lizards. I know the words "aguti" and "aninga" because I bought a book about the wildlife in Igazu today. I also some bamboo, which surprised me (the book said it was bamboo!) because I somehow thought that only grew in Asia. I saw many butterflies, too. Gorgeous shades of orange and red. Wow.

The waterfalls were fantastic also. They're enormous, powerful, and awe-inspiring. I took a boat ride that goes right to the bottom of the waterfalls and gets you soaking wet. I did that at the perfect time--when I was so hot and parched and gross that I almost couldn't stand it anymore. The water was really cold. After the boat ride, I took another boat to San Martin Island, which is an island surrounded by waterfalls on all sides--it's kind of hard to explain. The hiking there is supposed to be more rigorous than the rest of the park, and I was looking forward to the challenge. Then it started to POUR. Just pour. I was already wet, so I didn't really care, and it was kind of fun. It was slippery, though. I let a few people help me up and down rocks... Being wet was fun enough for the first two hours or so. (Riding back to Foz do Igauca on the bus in wet clothes--not so fun!) The rain was also good because it lowered the temperature by about ten or twelve degrees Celsius (a LOT!). Basically, everything about Tuesday was amazing. (AS, your emergency poncho kept my backpack mostly dry. Thanks!)

This morning, I took the bus across the border to Paraguay, just because I could, and besides, how many other times in my life will I get a chance to visit three countries in two days? There is no import tax in Paraguay, so Brazilians cross the border all the time to buy expensive things, and cheap things, too. I bought a leather purse for 30 reals, which is around $12. I don't really have one, and it was fun to speak with the shopkeeper in my broken Spanish (three years of Spanish at Maimonides, but that ended ten years ago, after tenth grade).

After my excursion to Paraguay, I went to the airport, locked up my stuff, and went to the Brazilian side of the falls. From that side, there's a lot less hiking, the people who work there aren't as nice, and, overall, it was a disappointment after the Argentinian side. I was told that would be the case, but I'm still glad I went.

I got kind of mad because there are some nice-looking trails in the Brazilian side of the park, but you can only see them if you pay money to go with a guide. I wanted to go alone, so I could go at my own pace (fast, but observant, quietly, and stopping to look at anything interesting). I don't really like hiking in large groups. The "free" hiking, near the waterfalls, only took about an hour, and then I had nothing to do, so rather than take the bus back to the entrance to the park, I walked along the paved road. That turned out to be fanstastic in its own way. I stopped and listened to the sounds of the rainforest several times (when cars weren't passing me!), and I saw at least five different kinds of wildflowers, three interesting fruit/nut things (one fruit was oval-shaped and the color of a persimmon, there was something that looked like an acorn but with a fleshy bright red top, and there was a round, green, soft nut thing), and I figured out what was making one of the distinctive chirrup-chirrup sounds I'd been hearing since I got to the area. There are these little (maybe 1 or 2 inches long?), wheat-colored grasshopper or cricket-like things. I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not sure I know the difference between those two noble insects. Anyway, it looks like that, and it makes an enormous sound. It blends right into the dead grass undernearth the greener grass.

On a somewhat related note, yesterday, I saw a butterly near some flowers, and the butterfly exactly matched the flowers! How cool is that? It was a pale yellow, and both the color and the shape of the wings/petals matched. The past few days have made me kind of want to be one of those scientists who goes into the rainforest and discovers new species, but then I remember that I hate bugs, and so I drop that idea. Maybe I will try to spend more time outdoors, away from the grit and grime of the city, when I return to New York.

Okay, I really have to go to sleep. I'll be in Rio from tomorrow through Tuesday morning, staying at a hotel one block from the beach! I've been in touch with the Hillel there, and hope to hang out there for Purim and Shabbat. The Hillel is kosher, which is not a foregone conclusion in Brazil.

Some general observations about Brazil before I go:

1. The sun is very, very bright here. I looked at an atlas and saw that New York has a latitude of 41 or something, Israel is around 30, and Sao Paulo is around 20 (south of the equator, though). It's really very striking. It's kind of like the bright light that represents heaven in movies and stuff. The light is just always very bright here.

2. Chocolate does not do too well in 35 degree Celsius weather. Especially in a black backpack.

Love,
ALG

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