Santiago – 8-9 April

In Santiago, it was time for our final dinner in Chile and to say farewell to our fellow travellers. It was sad saying goodbye to Jacquie & Bryce as by the time we return home, they will be off on their next adventure travelling to Cape York via Perth & Darwin and it will be several months before we see them again.

Rio de Janiero – 9 April 2012

Monday had us spending most of the day travelling from Santiago to Rio de Janiero. We arrived in pouring rain and peak hour traffic but our taxi driver seemed quite at ease negotiating the traffic while watching TV on a small screen mounted on the dashboard and answering his mobile phone. We arrived at our hotel with 5 minutes to spare before meeting up with our new group of travelling companions and our new tour leader Marianne who is a local. After a meal with our group, we took the opportunity to venture down to Copacabana Beach for a drink and to enjoy the warm evening air.

Rio de Janiero - 10 April 2012

We made the most of our couple of hours in Rio by taking a quick trip on the ABT railway to Corcovado where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is. We were fortunate enough to get some good views over the city. The train went through lush tropical rainforest which made us feel we would like to spend more time here.We have left snow capped mountains behind & now have palms, frangipani & mango trees & a lot more people. We're also getting used to buying meals by the kilo - you put what you want on your plate & it is weighed to work out the cost.

Iguazu 15 - 17 April 2012

Iguazu Falls from helicopter #4, Brazil, 15 Apr 2012

Iguazu Falls from helicopter #4, Brazil, 15 Apr 2012

We travelled by overnight bus for 16 hrs from Sao Paulo to Iguazu. It was more spacious & comfortable than we had anticipated so we slept quite well considering. Just been to the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls & lashed out for a helicopter ride. The Falls are amazing - the biggest we've ever seen anyway. There is an incredible amount of water coming over the falls & our cameras worked overtime.



Argentina 16 April 2012

Had a brilliant day at the falls in Argentina.

We crossed the border into Argentina early this morning and then spent the whole day exploring the Iguazo Falls Nature Reserve from the Argentinian side of the Iguazo River. We had glorious blue sky all day and the Falls were bathed in sunshine throughout the whole day.

We started by following the upper section and then descended to the river level where we took a short boat ride across to San Martin Island.  Here we climbed up a steep path to a lookout right on the edge of the southern section of the falls (there are around 3 km of the falls!). We then returned to the upper viewing section and after a brief snack and drink caught a small train which took us north-eastwards to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) Station. A short (1.1 km) walk along an elevated steel walkway over water and dense jungle brought us to the viewing highlight of the Iguazo visit. The track ends at a precipitous point directly overlooking the Devil’s Throat. A vast volume of water falls from a semicircular edge into a deep chasm 100m below. The atmosphere is utterly hypnotising as the sights and sounds are an overload on one’s senses. The amount of mist in the air provided a welcome cooling effect from the mid-afternoon sun. The water flow maximum is 6500 cubic metres (or 6500 tonnes) of water per second!

Just a short distance upstream (150m?) from the Devil’s Throat edge was a tourist boat cruising around and the thought of an engine failure was more than one cared to ponder!

We retuned to Brazil via the Tancredo Neve Bridge where the border with Argentina is marked half-way across. We stopped for photos and people straddled the international divide!

A superb day

Animals sighted: quati, lizards, monkeys, many colourful birds, armadillo, vultures, ….



Paraguay 17 April 2012

We spent the morning in Paraguay at the border town called Quidad del Este. Although only a kilometre or so away from Foz Do Iguazu in Brazil, the border crossing requires traversing the Parana River via a single span 4 lane bridge which is about 500 m long. It was bumper to bumper in both directions and there were no checks for passports etc. Smuggling cheap goods across the border from Paraguay into Brazil is common practice and there seemed to be little effort to prevent it. Paraguay is much poorer than Brazil and the streets of Quidad del Este were overcrowded with cars and hawkers offering every imaginable item from imitation watches and perfume to musical condoms. Yellow taxi motorbikes duck and weave amongst the cars at break neck speeds. We spent most of our morning inside a huge air-conditioned mall doing duty free shopping and looking mainly for the reputedly cheap electronic goods on sale there. We bought a USB 32 Gb memory stick and an 8 Gb compact flash card for the Nikon D700 both at reasonable prices. One shop had a Nikon D3s camera body on sale for a mere US$3500.

On the way back to Brazil it was fascinating watching all the frenetic activity & utter chaos on the streets of Quidad del Este while we were sitting in the van in a traffic jam waiting to go through customs. When we eventually got to customs we went straight through without even showing our passports.

Our afternoon was spent visiting the Itaipu (“Singing Rock”) hydro power station which is on the border of Brazil & Paraguay. It is currently the largest hydro- power station in the world but quite different from our Tasmanian hydro stations. It has only 80 m of vertical fall to the turbines but relies on the huge volume & flow of water held in the Itaipu dam. The water flows through 17 penstocks (each 8 m diameter) and into the Parana River. They said the volume of water flowing was 200 times the flow over the Iguazo Falls (??). Needless to say the hydro power station provides almost 95% of Paraguay’s electricity and 40% of Brazil’s.

We spent a little time on our return visiting a gemstone outlet where rare and semi-precious gems were cut and presented. Brazil is famous for its emeralds, various colours of topaz and tourmaline plus many other interesting gem bearing minerals too. We bought two small gem stones, a pink tourmaline stone and a deep blue topaz stone.

We caught a night bus at 10.00 pm to Bonito which was 750 km to the north-west.

Bonito, Brazil, Wednesday 18th April 2012

We arrived a Bonito at 8.00 am and recovered quickly from our cramped bus ride where sleep was only fleeting!

After some breakfast in a nearby café we caught an old rattly taxi to the Gruta do Lago Azul (Blue Lagoon Cave) some 19 km from Bonito village.

A 200 m descent via slippery stone steps in semi darkness brought us into the main hall of the cave with its crystal clear water below us. The water was so clear that it was difficult to acknowledge that a rock visible in the water was 15 m below the surface.

We took lots of photos but needed to up the ISO rating to 2500 to get the effect of the azure water.

The cave had the usual stalactites and stalagmites but the water colour was the stand out feature. The only animal life in the water are small 5mm crustaceans.

Pantanal 21 - 22 April 2012

We're in the Pantanal wetlands area which is the largest wetland region in the world. It's half the size of France and regarded (by UNESCO) as a natural region of international importance in terms of biodiversity. Our accommodation is in a bunk house with hammocks which are surprisingly very comfortable to sleep in. The insects however are prolific & despite our efforts to cover up, they attack any bit of exposed skin & even manage to bite through clothing. We're supporting the insect repellant business but it seems as if the mozzies like the added flavor to their meal! We are told that malaria & denghi fever are not an issue here so we hope they are right. After a quick evening meal we went for a night walk to a nearby bridge where dozens of caiman were floating with ekes and snouts just above the water. These alligators live to about 60 years and get to about 2m length. They don't attack humans we're told! In the morning we went on a safari in the back of a truck stopping frequently to watch the wildlife which included caiman, capabari ( a large guinea pig like rodent), giant otters, deer, numerous birds including, hawks, toucans, herons, vultures, kingfishers, spoonbills and pheasants. Our safari included a stop to go fishing for piranhas. This involved wading out into the mud and casting your line as far as you could without hooking each other. They were quite small and difficult to hook but we managed to get enough for dinner and it was a lot of fun. The activity for the afternoon was horse riding. As Corinne had never been on a horse before this was quite an experience. The horses were generally well behaved and it was a great way to see around the area. Sunday morning we went for a walk and were rewarded by viewing a pair of blue macaws performing their early morning rituals. We also spotted wild pigs, monkeys and quatis as well as numerous other birds. It was worth the battle with the mozzies.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Monday 23rd – Tuesday 24th April 2012

After returning from our early morning walk we were advised that we had to leave immediately as the border closes at 1:00 - the rules had changed. We bundled everyone & all our luggage into the truck & headed off. A quick change to a van at the park entrance & a couple of hours later we were at the border. We made it through the Brazilian side with time to spare but when we arrived at the Bolivian side there was no one to be seen so we simply walked through & found taxis to the train station to catch our overnight train to Santa Cruz. All good so far.

Bolivian trains run on a narrow gauge and are old and rattled for the 16 hours of travel. Despite this, we managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep and arrived in Santa Cruz at around 8.00 am and got taxis to a hotel in the centre of the city. A hot shower and a hearty breakfast made for a pleasant start to the day.

Santa Cruz is described in our travel guide-book as ‘not a popular tourist destination’ and it’s a fair description. It’s the second biggest city in Bolivia and is the centre of industrial, agricultural and natural gas development. The Santa Cruz province is the productive region of Bolivia whereas La Paz in the highlands is the centre for administration and commerce. The Santa Cruz province wishes to break away from Bolivia and become a separate country. This is unlikely under the present government of Evo Morales!

We spent the morning catching up on washing, emails (the wi-fi connection was intermittent) and planning ahead. We then ventured into the city which is overcrowded with people and traffic as well as quite dirty. We wandered around and eventually found the city square where there was a tree covered with pink flowers and in the tree were two sloths; just hanging about and unaffected by the crowds in the square.

The signs of poverty are apparent and many of the buildings in Santa Cruz are in need of repair. The locals are apparently optimistic as the discovery of oil and natural gas near the border with Paraguay means a sudden influx of money and potential for economic progress.

At night we had a farewell meal and drinks as the group is to split into 2 tomorrow. We said farewell to David, Glenis, Claire and our guide Marianne.

In the morning we had breakfast and caught taxis to the airport and waited for 3 hours for our flight to Sucre which was delayed by bad weather somewhere. The plane was an old BAe 146 run by the internal Bolivian company called Tam. The plane had very obvious signs of corrosion in the region where the wings attach to the fuselage!