Same state but two very different cities. Curitiba, the capital, sits on a plateau. The weather is cooler, the atmosphere urban and business-oriented. And then, there’s Foz do Iguaçu, the suffocatingly humid westernmost city of Paraná with the rainforest, the Iguazu Falls and Argentina and Paraguay next door.
It was a bit of a shock when we arrived. Besides, we didn’t know what to expect from Foz. We had always stayed on the Argentinian side of the falls, only passing through Brazil’s bus terminal and walking around a few streets.
As the taxi drove into town from the airport, it became obvious that despite an economy mostly based on tourism, Foz was very much following the usual Brazilian schedule—we had left Curitiba around noon, when it was shutting down for the weekend and here we were, 700-kilometre further East and three hours later, in another city where everything was definitely fechado and where doors would reopen on Monday. Avenida Brazil, the main road, was deserted. If I hadn’t stumbled upon a 24/7 padaria conveniently located a block from the hotel, we would have had to rely on supermarket takeouts and gas station food.
For a border city, Foz isn’t too seedy, an exception probably due to the fact it’s just a few kilometres from one of the new natural seven wonders of the world. Because of its location and shared borders with Paraguay and Argentina, Foz is more diverse than other Brazilian cities. You don’t see many Argentinians in town—most of them stay in Puerto Iguazú, at “home”—but you hear them when they wander into Brazilian territory. Their fluency in Portuguese is best expressed by speaking Spanish louder than usual as if it made this language, foreign to Brazilians, easier to understand. There are also many Paraguayans around—or should I say driving around. Based on my observations, there are two kinds of Paraguayans in Brazil—those who have fancy sports cars and poor driving skills and those who have a moto taxi and take shoppers to the border. I don’t know anything about Paraguay but with all due respect, I concluded that driving licences are… ahem, easy to get, and that the road test is only a formality.
Foz also has a fairly large middle-eastern population—this was the first time I was seeing women wearing the hijab since Chuí—and of course, thousands of tourists but we didn’t really notice them because the city is very spread out and most people only tend to stay for a day or two, just long enough to visit both sides of the Iguazu Falls.
For once, we had time. We didn’t need to rush so we used the city as a base for four days. There was enough to keep us busy. First, we visited the Iguazu Falls, which took us two days. Then, I decided to walk to the Marco das Três Fronteiras, a landmark marking the border of each of the three countries. There’s one in Foz do Iguaçu, one in Ciudad del Este and the other in Puerto Iguazú. I knew the Brazilian one was far from the city centre but I thought it’d be a nice hike. It was, for the most part… until the sun started to set. Until I realized I was alone in a not-so-great neighbourhood. Until I noticed the many stray dogs. Until I realized I had to take a dark road through the forest to finally reach the fucking landmark I didn’t care that much about. For once, I paid attention to the warning signs and I turned around, even though I was pretty close.
We also walked to the Ponte Internacional da Amizade, the busy crossing with Paraguay, and explored the shops around. Paraguay doesn’t have the Iguazu Falls, so the country sells great shopping opportunities to potential tourists. Apparently, you can get cheap electronics and clothing in the many duty-free shops across the border.
We spent our last day in Foz getting haircuts. I went back to the salon a few hours later to have my legs waxed (may as well!) and when I made a joke about my need for a massage, the owner of the salon took me by the hand to a place she knew, a few streets away. When a stranger wants to show me something, I usually say yes—I know, it’s a miracle I’m still alive—and I’m glad I did. I did need a massage, plus it was cheap.
“Are we going to a wedding or something tomorrow? I’ve never stopped by the beauty salon before crossing a border!” I joked in the evening.
No wedding planned, nothing fancy but the usual passport stamping experience. It’s time to say goodbye to Brazil.
Damn. I kind of liked it here.
Brazil was finally making sense.