We’re learning the finer points of travelling by long-distance bus here. ‘Cama’ seats fold flat like beds, while ‘semi-cama’ seats recline like those on planes. From Buenos Aires to Posadas we had a 13-hour overnight trip, so decided to pay the extra for cama, and chose a company that offered a full meal service: snacks, dinner followed by champagne and petit fours, drinks (wine/beer/whiskey) and breakfast the next morning. We were offered ‘cama economica’ seats on our chosen service, and assured that the only difference was that the seats did not recline quite 100%, and that there was no azafata (attendant) on board; the food would be handed out by a driver, but was otherwise the same. Our request for veggie meals was noted, but these didn’t materialise. Still, we thought, lots of wine would help us sleep through the night. We then discovered that we’d been misinformed: if there is no azafata, there are no snacks, no drinks and no breakfast. .
So we were very hungry when we arrived in Posadas, the capital of Misiones province, at about 8 next morning. Fortunately were able to check in to our hotel in the centre of town. We had a good breakfast to compensate for the lack of food, and then enquired about trips to Paraguay. The river Parana forms the border; crossing would notch up another South American country, and enable us to see a couple of old Spanish missions which were recommended in the guidebook. So we booked a tour, and after lunch set off in a car with a driver called Nilda. She drove us over the big bridge between Argentina and Paraguay, through the town of Encarnación, and on to the first mission, called Trinidad. We had a guide there, and it was really interesting, with lots of excellent carvings remaining, including a whole orchestra of angelic musicians.
From there we went on to another mission named Jésus, with fewer carvings but a more scenic setting, especially as the sun had come out by then. From there we headed back to the bridge to Argentina, which is when the problems began. Over half the length of the bridge was clogged with traffic trying to get through Argentinian border controls. In the end it took us 1.5 hours to get through and back to the hotel in Posadas.
From Posadas we took a bus to San Ignacio, a smaller town which is dominated by the ruins of the mission of San Ignacio Mini. We looked round these during the day, and particularly enjoyed the outlying parts of the mission which were overgrown by jungle, as was the whole place until rediscovered. At night we went back for a Sound and Light show, which told the story of the mission and was quite atmospheric.
Our next stop was at Puerto Iguazu, right on the three-sided border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It is the base for visiting the Iguazu Falls, the most impressive in South America and perhaps in the world. The only downside was discovering we had booked into a backpackers’ hostel, with loud music till the early hours and somewhat tired accommodation.
Iguazu Falls themselves, however, lived up to expectation – as our guidebook said, they make Niagara seem like a trickle. They are much more extensive and intrinsically impressive, but also the setting is more interesting. They are surrounded by dense jungle, with a variety of wildlife, some of which we saw: coatis, monkeys, lizards, birds and hundreds of different butterflies, some of whom got very friendly. The Falls stretch for quite a distance, with dozens of different sub-falls, and drop down over two levels. At one end is the ‘Devil’s Throat’, where the waters pour down over a semicircular rim with an impressive force. There is a good system of walkways, so you can get up close to several falls, as well as getting great views.
To fully appreciate the Falls, you need to see them from both sides. So the day after our visit to the Argentinian national park, we took a remise (cheap taxi) across to Foz do Iguacu in Brazil. The driver got us through the border formalities very quickly – he’d obviously done it before! But we discovered that our hotel in Foz was miles out of town – the directions on bookings.com were completely wrong, and our taxi driver was (eventually) proved right! On the Brazilian side, you get a better view of the whole spread of the Falls. You can also walk out under the ‘Devil’s Throat’ and get seriously wet. While we were there we had blue sky and sun, creating beautiful rainbows.
Later that day we took the local bus into Foz, an uninspiring town, but we enjoyed a visit to ‘La Bella Pizza’, recommended in our guidebook. It’s an ‘all you can eat’ place, but like none we’ve been to before. The waiters continually circulate with huge pans of pizza (about four different types per pan) and pile any that you fancy on your plate. Another waiter carries a huge pan of fried chicken and chips. And you can help yourself to several pasta dishes (though as they were meat-based, we didn’t). The pizza is top class, and they do the most wonderful sweet pizzas for pudding. You can also help yourself to as much ice cream (six different flavours) as you want. It was definitely one of the best meals we’ve had here, as well as one of the cheapest!
On Thursday 3 March, we caught the 18.45 bus for our 22-hour to Rio. After an hour or so some of the passengers began to complain loudly about the state of the onboard toilet, which was broken. Fortunately we didn’t need to use it, as the bus stopped every 3-4 hours at service stations. The food system at the services was weird. You were given a ticket or thick card with a bar code, and when you asked for stuff they marked it, and then you had to pay on the way out. We finally figured out the system, so we didn’t starve on this journey. However, we did have problems finding the right kind of food, because of language difficulties. Our knowledge of Portuguese is limited to a few words in our guidebook, and Spanish has proved less useful than we hoped. So finding out what is inside a pasty is difficult, and one that we understood to be ‘sem carne’ was in fact full of meat.
Coffee too has proved disappointing. ‘Café cum leite’ looks very pale, tastes sweet and is only slightly coffee-flavoured. We think it is made with condensed or powdered milk. In one place we decided to try the cappuccino, but that was like nothing we’ve ever seen or tasted before. It was topped with half an inch of white powder, and when we stirred this in the resulting drink had the viscosity of hot chocolate. They may have ‘an awful lot of coffee in Brazil’, but we haven’t yet had a decent cup!