Goosed

Day 136 - Foz do Iguazu

I wouldn't have thought it odd had a church bell struck a single, sonorous note right at that point. For I was alone, frighteningly literally. The Argentinian-Brazilian border was at my back, the bus I crossed on at my front, going at 40mph and not turning around. "What are we going to do now?" I could only ask myself. I had just set foot in a country whose language might as well have been Sanskrit for all I knew. Looking about for a clue, the merest hint of what I should do next having discounted my initial idea of getting into the foetal position. I noticed a fellow former passenger had also been deserted and approached with my best 'help the poor gringo' look. Rudimentary Spanish gleaned the information that more buses were imminent. He also informed that should I need a hostel his friend was picking him up shortly and they could take me to such a place. I had to question the merits of my decision as I sat in the back of the car heading to the aforementioned hostel but, I reasoned, Stevan and Diego seemed nice chaps. When decisions like this pan out you attribute yourself a wonderful judge of character and not a little intrepid. When they don't, a hopeless (and hopefully still living) knave.
I had judged well, both men were as they said they were and it was indeed a hostel to which I was brought. It was a backpacker factory for sure, the slick operation, the wallpaper of signs and notices left no doubt as to that but I found it unexpectedly agreeable. Perhaps its quiet appealed, a limited residence left me talking primarily to Stevan (in Spanish), Diego (in Portuguese) and Luisa the chef (in gesture) both nights I was there. After a first couple of hours at the bar of being entertained by some dubious musical choices and far too many UB40 tracks (i.e. more than zero) I felt Stevan required the benefit of my DJ'ing expertise *cough*. We tried Irish punk and some Jay-Z before a bit of American heavy rock piqued his interest. I retired to bed feeling my work was done for the day.
War had broken out again between Argentina and Britain. Again it was over a tiny, insignificant patch of green in the middle of nowhere. Again the sly South Americans were first to the scene, again the British were not far behind. With surprise the aggressors struck the first blow raining down exocets from every direction. Britain was shaken, doubting its resolve, its ability to protect its own territory from the assault. But slowly, but surely with a stiff upper lip, blitz spirit and other worn clichés it clawed itself back into contention. Guile and persistence and a healthy dose of spin ensured the day was won. Stevan, you must play on that ping-pong table everyday, forshame!
Time moved at its constant metre and I could spend no longer gathering my senses. I was here to see the Iguazu falls. Vast torrents of water surge over 275 sheer drops falling 260 feet into the eroded river bed below. As I waited at a lonely bus stop between the sight and the city where every passing motorist looked at me with an odd curiosity I planned the full day that lay ahead. The falls were for the evening before I got my next bus, first stop - Paraguay. Just over the river from Foz lies Ciudad de Este in South America's 2nd poorest country (after Bolivia). A bus took me from Foz city centre up to and over the international border without a single "passaporté señor". With no Brazilian exit stamp in my passport mild concern at the possible difficulties involved in reentry couldn't help but strike me. Oh well, I was here now. Here in a bustling city of commerce inundated with malls and stalls. Vendors proffered their wares in the welcome tongue of Spanish as I strolled the main thoroughfare. But I had little time for window(less) shopping so purchased a computer cable and sat down over a beer to plan my clandestine return to Brazil. As chance would have it the Paraguayans hop over this most porous of borders in great numbers and with apparent ease on the back of motorbikes. This would take the different means of transport I have used to swap countries on this trip to 7. My rider weaved through oncoming traffic slowing for not a second as we passed customs and immigration offices and I had made it back without Brazil ever knowing I'd left.
The sun blazed and a slight limp developed. Sitting on the bus to the waterfalls back in Foz I suddenly remembered a monument in the city that I wished to see. But after an hour of walking there was still no sight of it. Reasoning that I had enough time to reach it on foot if I got a taxi back, I could then fit in the falls and get my bus to Sao Paulo at 7pm. When I did reach the monument I stood at the meeting point of three countries, to my left the land of Argentina and to my right Paraguay, my feet planted firmly on Brazilian soil. An interesting location with one major, potentially ruinous problem - it was near deserted. The odd car came and went but not a single taxi in sight, another 90 minute walk would blast a giant hole through my packed itinerary and necessitate missing the main sight I was here for in order to make my bus on time. A minibus arrived with a couple of Japanese tourists in it. They came, they saw, they were swiftly leaving, no time to waste. Emboldened by desperation I negotiated a free lift back down the road and fortune had me on track again. Fortune bestowed greater gifts still when it transpired that the falls were also their next destination and they would happily take me all the way there.
I stood alone for the first time since I had reached this world-renowned sight and as the sun sank slowly in the sky I contemplated. Having done the tourist shuffle, having waited for a gap to open up on the viewing platform so I could take an identical picture I was left feeling unmoved. Standing solitary on another viewpoint further downstream little lizards scuttled back and forth, dragonflies buzzed around and around, hawks wheeled circles in the air. All of them in their circles just as the water below was in its circle, flowing to the sea where it will return to the sky and plunge down onto the mountains once more. Every creature in its own little circle, every element following its cycle. It is all circles really, life and death, decay and rebirth, growth and retreat, erosion and eruption. What is the point if everything ends up where it starts? What does it all matter? Nothing and everything. All matter returns to the earth and all earth returns to the stars, just as we erect monuments to perpetuity so we tear them down, or nature does it for us. All is just matter so nothing truly matters, but what else can we do? I felt, as I often have at these major sights, underwhelmed. That a lone little waterfall hidden somewhere secluded amongst the trees could have the same impact on a person as these mighty falls. That it isn't about the size of the location it's how you use it.

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