Swamp Place

Hello again :-)

warning...this one's pretty long..

== Foz du Iguazu ==
We stayed 4 days by the waterfalls, in the lazy little town Puerto
Igazu on the Argentinian side of the border. There's about 275 falls
in total, up to 90 meters high. Very impressive of course...think I
finished about 2 rolls of film.. It's difficult not to though, the
walkways around the place are arranged so the views gets better and
better as you walk..so any time you stop at a viewpoint it's the best
view you've seen and you have to take a photo.. Part of the walks we
did the first day were very crowded though and it felt a bit like
disneyland.. Got better after we took a little ferry over to an island
in the middle of the falls, was tons of stairs to climb, and lots of
these up to a meter long lizards so a lot less people :-)
We started the second day with joining one of these touristy
speed-boat-under-the-falls thing, and got completely soaked. Seems
everyone except us had figured that part out in advance and brought
proper clothes... Anyway, we found a little uncrowded park to hide in
while drying ours afterwards. After this we went to the biggest of the
falls - the Garganta del Diablo - "Devils throat". The walkway takes
you right up to the edge of the 90 meter falls - you can't see more
than halfway down for all the water in the air though. Very
impressive, with the falls roaring and the rainbows almost making a
full circle. We were there just before they close the park so wasn't
too many people either. The last day before heading off we walked a
jungle trail that led to another, a lot smaller, waterfall in the
forest that we had a swim under.

We didn't check the Brazilian side of the falls since the guide books
said it's not as nice, but some backpackers we met later said they
found it better..so - if anyone's planning to go - make sure to visit
both sides ;-)

Had a really nice time by Foz, and our hotel was next to a nice
Argentinian restaurant where I put myself on the Atkins diet..but here
comes the bad times for this mail..the 16 hour bus ride to Campo
Grande for heading into the Pantanal.

The 13 and 10 hours bus trips from Rio to Curitiba to Foz was
alright so I didn't think this one would be too bad..armed myself with
mp3 player and Dalai Lamas "Freedom in Exile" to read. This bus wasn't
a sleeper bus as the previous and was a lot bumpier, was joking "don't
know what they're feeding this camel" .. After 2 hours we changed bus
though, to a one we dubbed "3 legged rabies camel on amphetamines".
Just after the Dalai Lama reminded of the Buddhist doctrine of
impermanence I also realized we had forgot our change of clothes on
the first bus, my only long pants etc.
Our seats were at the back of the bus, next to the toilets. Smell
wasn't too bad at first, but then someone that had to puke just didn't
make it all the way.. They cleaned it up at the next stop, an hour or
two later but the smell stayed.. On top of this the aircondition was
off for a good while, the bus had trouble starting at one stop and I
think the driver turned it off to charge the battery. The always
positive Dalai Lama mentioned a Tibetan proverb "it's this pain that
you measure pleasure by".. We fell asleep eventually but didn't feel
very fresh on arriving in Campo Grande at 7am.

== Pantanal ==
Right after we left the bus there was lots of people trying to sell us
Pantanal tours (Pantanal means "swamp place", it's a hughe wetland at
the Brazil-Bolivia border, great for looking at wildlife). I tried to
be tough (we had planned to head to Corumba first and take a tour from
there) but one guy was very persistent, mentioned we could be dropped
in Corumba afterwards, that they had a hotel room where we could have
shower+breakfast until the bus leaves at 10, talking about everything
included on the tour and that the price was the best ever in history
as usual. I think we were sold on just the word "shower" though after
that 16 hour bus ride..
So we booked his 4 day tour, and after another 6 hours of bus we were
dropped off at a small station in the middle of nowhere where his
company was to pick us up. We waited in the shade, talking to some
road workers that were sitting there drinking beer, and after an hour
or two a pickup truck showed up. They excused the time on the truck
getting stuck in a swamp (think this is the standard one though..other
people we talked to at the camp heard the same excuse). From there
there was about 2 hours on the back of the pickup on a small dirt road
heading out into the swamp. On the way we saw alligators,
capybaras(70kg rodent) and tons of birds; eagles, storks, vultures,
hawks, parrots, macaws, rheas (big ostrichlike ones), herons, storks,
king fishers, cormorants and more I forgot already..
All this on just the way to the camp set the expectations a little too
high though - for example our promised "jeep safari" was just another
drive back and forth on the same road on the same pickup truck.
This was seriously the hottest place I've ever been, was around 40
degrees in the day and the very basic brick house we slept in (no
fans) kept the heat a good while into the night (the other option was
sleeping outdoors but the people who tried got totally eaten by
insects, even with net and repellent). A (dirty riverwater) shower
would help against the heat for a little while (no need to use a towel
since you'd be soaked in sweat in a few minutes anyway..)
Surviving the heat there was a lot to see around there though, was a
group of hyacint macaws (worlds biggest parrot) living in a tree just
100m from the camp, and there was a semi-tame alligator visiting
Other animals added to the last list over the days are toucan,
armadillo, a 10 cm frog I found sitting in the toilet the first night
(was trying to figure out how to rescue it without touching anything
when it took a little jump and suddenly sat a meter up on the wall
instead..) and howler monkeys.
One day we were out horse riding on some very lazy horses. I was the
only one they gave a whip..a sure sign my horse, Tobiano, had trouble
finding second (or sometimes first) gear. I didn't use it much
though..we after a while got a sort of agreement that he could stop
and eat, drink, be lazy if he wasn't too far behind the others...he
kept the right to walk into a tree so I'd get a branch in my face
whenever he wasn't happy with the agreement though..
One of the days we spent piranha fishing, 7 of us in a little boat,
using some meat for bait. First time I tossed out the line the meat
disappeared in 10 seconds (got all exited for a moment when I felt
something on the line, before I realized the fish had outsmarted me).
After this nothing happened for over an hour. Then, all within one
minute, I caught a big log, one guy caught a pacu (look like piranha
but are supposed to eat fruit), one girl caught a catfish and we got 3
or 4 rods stuck in a tree. Took some photos :-)

When leaving the Pantanal the water in the swamps were a lot higher -
we were there in the beginning of the flooding season. The pickup
truck did get stuck this time, to pull it through the worst parts they
had an old tractor (that also had to be pulled to start it). After
making it most of the dirt track back the pickup truck had a flat tire
so we had to walk a good bit. Anyway, eventually got on the bus to

Corumba is a small border town that the guide book says is known for
poaching and drug smuggling. It was once the biggest river port in the
world, but since the railway it's been in steady decline. It really
has a feeling of "was tons of money here 100 years ago but now we
can't afford paint" - lots of nice old falling apart buildings, and
lots of volkswagens for some reason.

== Death Train ==
We stayed one night in Corumba, then booked a ticket on the "Death
Train" - it's a long train ride to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Three
different trains go on the line - "tren rapido" - slowest at 17 hours,
the express train - 14 hours and the "ferrobus" at 12 hours. The two
first ones recommend bringing sleeping bag and insect repellent so we
took the ferrobus..
The Lonely Planet says it's called the Death Train because it used to
derail, and loose people to heat exhaustion, the Rough Guide says it's
because it's so boring. Rough Guide also predicts "revolting airline
style food" and I can confirm it's the one closest to the truth here..

We survived the food anyway, and finally got a chance to wash our
full-of-swamp clothes in Santa Cruz. Spent one day there, mainly
slacking in the park. There was supposed to be some 3 toed sloths in
the trees there but I couldn't find them..seemed they all had got
uniforms, climbed down and were walking around telling tired
travellers not to lie down on the park benches..
In the center of the park was a large statue of a Colonel Ignacio
Warnes, a military pro-Independence governor here in the 1800's who
massacred over a thousand indigenous people that had been fighting on
the spanish side, before he himself got executed together with 900 of
his men and had his head displayed outside the town on a spike. Oh the
joys of human history :-)

This area is also famous because Che Guevara was captured and executed
together with his men not far away from this town when he was trying
to start a continent-wide guerrilla war. Oh the joys of continent-wide
guerrilla war..

== Samaipata ==
After Santa Cruz we headed to Samaipata, it's a small cosy dirty
little village/town 2 hours away by crazy Bolivian taxi. We shared the
taxi with 3 others + driver and it cost 2.5 euro.
The taxis here are interesting, seatbelts disappeared already in
Brazil but here there's also never a working speedometer, and usually
a broken windscreen and mirrors. I don't think there's a single car
with a broken horn here though, it's the most useful part of a car -
can be used..
- as replacement for other parts of the car that are broken/missing,
indicators, mirrors, brakes
- to wake up people sleeping by the roadside for checking air in
tyres, sell drinks..
- to move donkeys, goats, cows, dogs, children etc. off the road.
- to ask "do you need a taxi?"
as well as the worldwide standard use - annoy the person in front of
you in a car queue.

Samaipata is a really nice little place, next to a big national park
and about 1500m above sea level so the first place we've been in a
long while that's not way too hot.
Think we were there very off season, was one restaurant we went to a
couple of times that the guidebook said was "the liveliest place in
town" - we were the only ones there both times.
We booked a 2 day trek in the Amboro national park with this german
biologist that had set up a small eco-tourism company there with his
wife. Only me and Edel on the trek, with a nice spanish-only speaking
guide Erwin.
The next morning when we were to head off it was raining like crazy,
but we decided to still go ahead - if it kept raining there was a
farmhouse at the edge of the park we could stay instead of setting up
a tent in the park. To get to the park was a 2 hour drive by 4wd jeep
on a pretty tough road, and then there was a lot of uphill walking to
get to the cloud forest of the park. Was a very nice walk, even with
the rain - lots of moss, lichen and epiphytes everywhere in the trees,
and then these tree-ferns. I think I might have a slight fetish for
tree-fern - finished maybe a roll of film. Think it's because they
look so pre-historic and I was insanely crazy about dinosaurs when I
was very little (even digging holes in mums garden looking for
bones..). Anyway, very nice forest, didn't see much animals though -
only these 30cm leaf-looking slugs everywhere.
Erwin was pointing out useful plants everywhere, from making great tea
to healing wounds, fixing kidneys to causing abortion.
At the end of the day it had stopped raining but we were too tired to
walk back up with the tent so we stayed at the farmhouse, slept on the
floor of a small room under a Che Guevara / Fidel Castro poster up on
the wall :-))
Second day was sunnier, and we walked to the top of mountain - La Mina
- 2400m up so the view was really great, looking down on the clouds.
There was a lot of snakes on the small walking path, think we saw 7 of
them, trying to get some morning sun to heat up for the day. Didn't
step on any, but we both got a bit too much sun - have some skin
falling off now :-(

Another nice daytrip from Samaipata goes to this Inca/pre-Inca site on
top of a mountain closeby called "El Fuerte". It was a religous site
and not a fort but got the name from the military obcessed
conquistadors. I took a taxi up for a couple of hours one day while
Edel was recovering the sunburn - was another interesting drive - a
small stony dirt road next to the edge, the driver even crossing a
small river with his mighty Toyota. At the top the entire rock surface
is carved with lots of different figures, but it's pretty eroded and
you can't walk very close (because of previous vandalism..saw some
carvings in english as well..) - I didn't find it all that impressive.
One part was interesting though..a couple of long slots with zigzag
carvings next to them - these were thought to by new-age amateur
archeologist Erich von Daniken to be a launching ramp for
extra-terrestrial spacecrafts.......and, having had way to much sun on
my head myself the last few days, I see no reason to doubt this :-))

The taxi driver was very nice and we got on fine even with my very
poor spanish, he was drawing arrows in the sand to explain
oneway/return trip, and on the way I managed to explain I'm from
sweden, worked in ireland and am out travelling for a year..at least I
think that's what I said.
Getting pretty good at using gestures as well, the woman in the corner
shop probably thinks I'm totally mad - I've been miming washing hair
and having shower to buy shampoo/soap. Luckily toilet paper was on a
shelt so I could just point.....

We're in Sucre now - went here from Samaipata. It's a 12 hour bus
ride, that turned into 25 hours because of roadblocking coca-chewing
protestors and me and Edel were sharing a standard-sized taxi with 9
other people once we finally got out of it. Oh the joy of south
america bus rides :-)

take care,