Travel with Hafeez to Brazil
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – said Robert Louis Stevenson.
As old age is creeping on me, I am hurrying to see as much part of the planet as I can. I follow no-frill, do-it-yourself approach. Usually, I travel in July to a new country. In 2005, I set my mind on Brazil. I did not write a travel tale sooner as I had a horrible experience which I would narrate at the end of this tale.
I left Karachi, Pakistan on 22nd June 05 and returned back on 31st July 05. During this time of 40 days, I covered South-Eastern Part of Brazil visiting 9 cities by traveling over 7,000 km by buses or tourist trains. To me this was not a big deal as I had traveled in Australia for 12,900 km. Of course, there is a price to pay: neck stiffens, back aches and bottom burns. But sitting by a window, one is fully absorbed in concentrating on the terrain outside and realizes the pains only on reaching the destination. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang, a Chinese writer and inventor
Brazilians are very friendly people. When I got out of the Sao Paulo Airport, (Guarulhos), an elderly couple asked me where the bus station was? When I told them I was a new arrival, I was advised not to go to Sampa, nickname for Sao Paulo, but straight to Curitiba which was a dream city. Since they were themselves heading that way, I had no hesitation to join them. Together, we boarded an airport bus for Rodoviaria Tiete, a bus station, which incidentally was as big as the bus terminal of Big Apple (New York). Rodoviaria Tiete served directly 600 localities and four countries (Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile). In about one hour, we boarded a bus for Curitiba about 410 km away) and reached there in nearly 6 hours.
We found a nice hotel just at a walking distance from the Rodoferroviária, a combined station for bus & train. It was Hotel Condor, (Av. Sete de Setembro, 1866, Curitiba - www.condorhotel.com.br). The charges were modest at US$ 31 per night with breakfast and free tea or coffee all the time. Having come a long way by air and bus, I was tired and went to sleep.
Jardim Botanico Garden
The next day, I explored the city with the help of a map. First was Jardim Botanico Garden. It was surprising to see a two-floor greenhouse with a modern metallic structure, resembling the 19th century Crystal Palace in London. It was shaped like a castle and contained exotic plants.
The garden itself was lush green studded with colorful mysterious plants, small lakes and wooden bridges. It reminded me of Majorelle Garden, Marrakesh, Morocco which was designed by a French painter, Jacques Majorelle. The Curitiba garden was also in the same style with extensive gardens in the midst of fountains, waterfalls and lakes. A stroll in the area was very refreshing.
Crossing a wooden bridge, I entered the Botanical museum. A guide took me around for free. According to him, it was fourth largest herbarium of the country. There was a pond with turtle, carp, teal and herons. In fact, it was a complex containing a lake, a library, an exposition area, auditorium a theatre, cycle track and tennis courts.
Serra Verde Express
Serra Verde Express
Best part of my stay in Curitiba was a ride on a narrow-gauge train. It started at the heights of the Paraná plateau and went down to the picturesque colonial town of Morretes, Paranagua. It was a wonderful 100-km ride though expensive at 62 Brazil Reais, about $35 one-way.
The train ride was a breathtaking journey of three hours, passing under 13 tunnels and over 67 bridges. Along the way, there were streams, waterfalls, and vibrant vegetation. The track traversed numerous canyons winding through mountains. The ride's engineering highlight was the São João Bridge, which hugged the mountains at a towering 180 feet. Indeed, it was a fantastic historical railroad snaking through the Serra do Mar, a scenic mountain range covered by Atlantic Rainforest.
The train reached at about midday. Incidentally, the Brazilian couple were also on the same train and we joined together to have a lunch in one of the typical restaurants lining the river that ran through the town. We gobbled a traditional local dish, “Barreado” containing beef stewed in a sealed clay pot for 24 hours.
We returned by bus.
On way to Foz do Iguacu
I took a night bus from Curitiba and headed towards Foz de Iguacu 535 km away on a 10-hour bus journey. I had a “Leito” ticket which means fully reclining seats with leg rests. It made the travel very comfortable. The ride was smooth on the well-maintained 4-lane toll-way. Bottled water, juices, biscuits and tissues were provided by the bus company at the start. It was already 22:00 hours and I went to sleep.
After quite some time, I woke up and learnt that we were passing through Irati, a small town meaning “river of honey”. Next notable stop was Guarapuava meaning “brave wolf”, about 258 Km away from Curitiba. The area became scenic as the bus passed through a valley. A fellow passenger praised the place for its spa, hot-water pools and good walking trails.
The dawn was breaking, the stars were dimming while bus was going at a steady pace. At one point, a person sitting next to me to said, “rattle-snake” which sent shivers down my spine. Later, I had a good laugh when I was told that ‘rattlesnake’ was nick-name of the city, Cascavel. It was a fertile area with lot of crops, hatcheries and ranchos – cattle breeding farms. By now, the road became congested with a lot of traffic as we were nearing Foz do Iguacu which means “big water”.
The down town - Foz do Iguacu
At about 8 am, the bus reached the international bus station. I got down and was happy to see a hotel just across the road. It was a blessing, a hotel at the doorsteps. Its name was Luz Hotel and address as Av. Gustavo Dobrandino da Silva, 145, 86863-370 Foz do Iguaçu. I got a room with a view for only US$30 and decided to call it a home for the next three days. I rested in the room for about 4 hours to straighten my back and then headed for the downtown area about 3 km away on a very cheap and frequent public bus.
The famous street of the area was Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue). It was lined with stores and restaurants. There were wide footpaths assuring convenience and safety. While walking around, I ran into a Arabic café and enjoyed Couscous, Falafel with laban and Halva. No meal is complete without a sip of kawa which I enjoyed very much after a belly full.
I returned by the evening and went to sleep.
Foz de Iguacu
The Falls of Foz do Iguacu
It was 28th of June 2005, the 7thday of my travel. I started with a rich breakfast buffet with a lot of fresh fruits and juices. With so much food, the dish-plates were rather small and one was obliged to go back and forth to have more toasts, cakes, pastries, cereals, yoghurts, cheese and cold cuts. After having a sumptuous breakfast, I braced myself for a daylong tour of the falls.
First, I went to the visitors centre and bought a ticket for about ten US dollars. Second, I boarded a bus to the start of a trail leading to the falls. Strolling along a series of walkways and stairs, I had a glimpse of the fall. Initially, it did not impress me but the way was very scenic with overhung tree branches, chirping of colorful birds in the backdrop of deafening roar of the falls. The walkways were wet with water and I moved rather slowly. Many visitors thought I had some problem and offered help. I waved them off with a thankful smile. At the bottom of the steps, another walkway led towards draw card of Brazil. Called Gargantua do Diablo or Devil’s Gorge or Devil’s throat, it was a horseshoe-shaped canyon hurling enormous quantity of water off the top of the fall. The river was about 3km wide at that point, and the falls dropped about 80 meters. Hence they are “higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria”, as the travel guides say. It created rainbows and mist in the air cooling off the visitors with its spray.
Depending on the season, the number of falls on the Iguacu River could range from 250 to 300. Considered the eighth wonder of the natural, the falls were declared a natural heritage site by UNESCO in 1986.
On my last day, I visited Itaipu Dam, about 10 km from the downtown. Built in the Parana River, on the frontier between Brazil and Paraguay, the dam generated 14,000 MW of electricity. It used to be the world largest hydroelectric dam until taken over by Three Gorges Dam of China. I have seen it too in 2007 and it was awesome.
The information available in the Itaipu Tourist Complex were staggering. The construction involved shifting the course of Parana River, the seventh largest in the world. Fifty million tons of earth and rock were removed to dig a two-km bypass. High as 65-story building, the dam was said to be composed of hollow concrete segments, while the flanking wings were earth- and rock-filled. The quantity of iron and steel used could be enough to make 380 Eiffel Tower, while concrete used could turn out 15 Channel Tunnels like the one between France and England.
At night, I went for dinner to Rafain Cataratas, a typical 'churrascaria' restaurant specializing in meat cuts. It had very large buffet dining area with a great selection of items to choose from. For twenty dollars per person, one can eat large varieties of meat plus a variety show of dances of almost all countries of South America.
This concludes part I of my Brazil tour. My next destination would be Campo Grande, the gateway to Pantanal, a bird sanctuary. But first, I needed to get some sleep.