Friday, May 2, 2008

Viaje a Brasil, parta uno

Finally you get to hear about some of our recent week long trip to Brazil!
It seems the biggest mode of transportation here in South America is bus and because of this we took a bus all the way from Montevideo through the Misiones Region of Argentina (a thin little strip between Paraguay and Brazil that doesn’t look like it should belong to Argentina) and on to the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguaçu. In total it took us over 20 hours to reach our destination. We had a couple of cute little meals provided on the trip in true Uruguayan fashion: about half is ham and cheese items and the rest is covered or filled in dulce de leche, a sweetened condensed milk very common in desert type things. We had a little game room in the bottom of the bus (that’s right, it was a double decker!) so we were able to play cards and some games to keep us entertained. There was a TV/music system as well, so that we could zone out while watching a movie to help pass the time. Then, the bus had very comfortable seats but it was still long night of not much sleep.
Traveling through Argentina, we stopped at the house of an author who, I think, has his roots in Montevideo. His name was Horacio Quiroga and he had quite the interesting life filled with tragedy. He built a house in the middle of the jungle and raised his children in the home that he carved out of the forest. Most of his writings (including one that I’ve read, “The Decapitated Chicken”) are dark, yet raise moral questions of human relationships. From his property you can see the Paraná River and across into Paraguay. Quiroga became quite the jungle-man: building his own canoes, furniture, and practicing taxidermy of the animals in the area.
Then we moved on to see an old Jesuit Mission. If you’ve seen the movie “The Mission” you know a little bit about the history of these missions. The Jesuits came in an effort to convert the natives and therefore their missions became sanctuaries for the Guaraní people as they learned the ways of “civilized” culture and practiced Colonial Christianity. Even though the mission itself was crumbling, the architecture was very impressive. We also got to see Timbó trees which the natives used to make canoes and a live Yerba Mate tree. Later we went to a lunch with asado, Latin American BBQ and a geode showcase from the local mines next door.
When we finally got to our nice 4 Star Hotel, we were pretty exhausted. So most of us lounged around and relaxed for the rest of the day. Several of us watched the 1st Harry Potter movie in Portuguese, none of which I understood, but I had just finished reading the book so I had a pretty good idea what was going on. Following dinner we had the first of many late-night, epic soccer games out on the field next to the hotel.
The next day, Sunday, was the Argentina “Falls Day”. Cataratas del Iguazu (since Argentina speaks Spanish), know on some lists as a Wonder of the World, is split down the middle by the Argentine and Brazilian border, and the national park is therefore shared by the two countries. The majority of the falling water is found on the Argentina side and during the morning we walked all along the top of some average size water falls, taking pictures, sweating in the heat, and staring gape-mouthed at the gorgeous scenery. Then, some of us took a boat ride on the river that took us around the corner so that we could look up the river and the amazing Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) where most of the water drops over the basalt layer. It was so much fun to open up and actually get to act like a crazy tourist! Screaming and yelling, we were driven into some of the falls for a quick shower and then rocketed in the jet boat down a set of rapids and on another mile at full speed.
We were let off and hiked up a hill to a truck that was to take us back to the main visitor’s area for lunch. The truck had benches in the open air and we had a tour guide supposedly to point out the flora and fauna as we drove back. Well first, there was no “fauna” per se, which was expected from the noise of the truck. Second, the microphone didn’t really work and our guide had a heavy accent, so she was hard to understand. But we did get a 4x4 drive through the jungle and saw plenty of different types of trees, plants, and butterflies. The coolest of the plants were the hanging plants living in a symbiotic relationship with the trees, not being parasites but only using the trees to get high enough to get sunlight. Also, we got to see a huge Rosewood Tree, possibly one of the rarest, and therefore most expensive, woods in the world. There are so few of them left that I think they are protected.
After lunch, we got to take a train, which played “The Mission” soundtrack as it went along, up to a trail head that would take us out over the Devil’s Throat to look into the mist and witness the power of the waterfall. The “trail” itself consisted of a raised walkway that went over the water of the river above the falls. We continued seeing fish, butterflies, and even a caiman, a small alligator, along the way. When we reached the falls, I can’t begin to describe the emotions you have as you stare into this giant horseshoe of water throwing itself over the lip of the falls, splitting into a thousand tiny droplets, and descending amidst rainbows to the river below. It’s another one of those things that you can actually consider awesome without flippantly using the word. I took a lot of pictures, some of which you are seeing now, and some video to try to capture the feelings I had, but sadly it never will. I hope that I can view some of this documentation with you so that I can try to share some of my excitement.
We hiked back to the trailhead and then rode the train back to the main tourist area. Along the way back to the bus, we saw a lot of sellers of crafts and even a little music group of Guaraní children singing in traditional fashion. It was very pretty to watch and listen to. Then it was back to the hotel for some food and relaxation. We met later on in the evening for a mini communion service and sang some songs. It was really cool to reflect back on the power of God we saw in the falls and how that makes his method of saving us that much more poignant. Thus ends part one of Colter’s Brazil story…

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