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Wild Paraná

Wild Paraná

Together with two other policemen, Ofrênio went to the place and
confirmed the fact: three chickens presented signs that they had been sexually abused. A
blackie, that Mrs. Marciana called Laura; a white one named Maria Lúcia and still another
one with a naked neck, known as Maria Helena.
By Brazzil Magazine

PARQUE NACIONAL DO SUPERAGUI

Comprising the Superagui and Peças islands in the Baía de Paranaguá, this marine
park was created in 1989. It is renowned for its mangroves and salt-marshes and also
contains a great variety of orchids, dolphins, jaguars and parrots, threatened with
extinction as the Mata Atlântica shrinks.

The principal island of the park, the Ilha do Superagui, is the most visited. Boats
disembark at Vila Superagui, a fishing settlement with a population of about 200. There is
a small pousada (Pousada Superagui, charging $10 per person), a basic
restaurant and some small general stores. Some of the families rent rooms in their simple,
wooden houses. There is no electricity.

To maintain the environment and to make sure the local culture remains relatively
undisturbed, all visitors must report to the IBAMA checkpoint, about two km from the
village.

Beaches away from Vila are deserted. The longest is Praia Deserta, a 20-km-long strip
of fine, white sand. The water is calm, but swimmers need to watch out for the stinging
jellyfish, which appear when the water gets warm.

The trip, apart from Guaraqueçaba, is interesting, as the boat passes through
mangroves and provides a great view of one of the world’s best-preserved salt-water
lagoons. It takes about 2 1/2 hours, depending on sea conditions, and is made in small
fishing boats. The cost is around $30 for the round trip, made on the same day, or $10 if
you go on the larger boat, which leaves on weekends at 6 am and returns at around 3 pm.
This boat anchors in front of the old municipal market. For reservations, phone 482-1275.

The closest town to the Parque Nacional do Superagui is Guaraqueçaba, which is a bit
of a dump. It’s accessible by bus from Curitiba or Paranaguá.

An alternative route to Superagui is via Paranaguá, but you need a bit of patience and
a lot of luck. The diesel depot for boats in Paranaguá is on Rua General Carneiro, near
the old Mercado do Café, and it’s possible to meet men from the island refueling their
boats for the return voyage. You can identify their boats by the words `S.AGUI’ painted on
the bow or stern. How much they charge you for the ride depends on how plentiful the fish
were and the price of diesel.

PARANÁ BEACHES

Descending the Serra do Mar from Curitiba, you get a good view of the Paraná coast.
The broad beach runs uninterrupted from Pontal do Sul to Caiobá. With the notable
exception of Ilha do Mel, these are unspectacular beaches, hot and humid in the summer and
too cold in the winter. There’s plenty of camping and numerous seafood barracas,
and each town has a few hotels. Unfortunately, the condominium blight is spreading.

Praia do Leste

This small, unattractive town has a couple of hotels, and the closest beach to
Paranaguá, a bit more than half an hour away. The beach is open and windy, and there are
some beach breaks for surfing. You can check your luggage in at the rodoviária
($0.50), if you want to go for a swim.

This is the place to catch buses south to Guaratuba. These get very crowded on summer
weekends, so get there early.

Pontal do Sul

The end of the line, this is where you get off for the Ilha do Mel. The bus stops three
km from the canal where boats leave for Ilha do Mel. In between are summer homes and lots
of open, unused beaches.

ILHA DO MEL

The Ilha do Mel, an oddly-shaped island at the mouth of the Baía de Paranaguá, wasn’t
discovered by the Portuguese until the 18th century. In 1767, to secure the bay and its
safe harbors from French and Spanish incursions, King Dom José I ordered a fort built.
Since then, not too much has happened. The few people on the island were ordered out
during WW II, in the name of national defense. Most significantly, the island is now part
of the Patrimônio Nacional, which has prevented it from being turned into more cheesecake
for the rich.

The island is popular in the summer because of its excellent beaches, scenic walks and
relative isolation. Its undoing might be that it is becoming too popular. However, it is
administered by the Instituto de Terras e Cartografia Florestal (ITCR), which intends to
preserve the island more or less as it is.

Unfortunately, they can’t stop the sea from making changes. By the time you read this,
erosion will have opened a channel at Nova Brasília, cutting the island in two. You’ll
see lots of houses crumbling into the sea as you walk from Nova Brasília to the fort.

From January to Carnaval, and during Easter, the island is very popular with a young
crowd, but there is still a lot of beach, and always room for an extra hammock. If you’re
traveling up or down the coast, it’s crazy not to visit the island at least for a day.
Many people end up staying much longer.

Orientation

The island has two parts, connected by the beach at Nova Brasília, where most of the
locals live. The bigger part is an ecological station, thick with vegetation and little
visited, except for Praia da Fortaleza. On the ocean side are the best beaches—Praia
de Fora, Praia do Miguel and Praia Grande. All are reached by a trail that traverses the
beaches and coves, and the steep hills that divide them. The bay side is muddy and covered
with vegetation. Boats from Pontal do Sul go to either Nova Brasília or Praia dos
Encantadas.

Brasília, the larger settlement, provides access to the most comfortable, expensive pousadas.
Encantadas, on the south-west side of the island, is a bit smaller, with only eight pousadas.
During the summer, Encantadas is the most popular and crowded, while Brasília and nearby
Praia do Farol are the surfers’ favorite hangouts, because they’re close to Praia Grande.
Out of season, Ilha do Mel is a very tranquil place.

The entire island can be walked around in eight hours, but by far the best walking is
along the ocean side (east) from the southern tip of the island up to Praia da Fortaleza.

Bichos de pé are prevalent on the island, so keep something on your feet when
you’re off the beach.

Beaches

The best beaches face the ocean toward the east. Praia Grande is a
20-minute walk from Nova Brasília and a two-hour walk from Praia das Encantadas.
According to local surfers, it has the best waves in Paraná, and on winter weekends,
boatloads of surfers come across. The walking is excellent along this stretch, too. Praia
da Fora,
close to Praia das Encantadas, also has good waves.

Other Attractions

Points of interest include the Grutas das Encantadas, small caves at the
southern tip (Ponta Encantada) where, legend has it, and beautiful mermaids enchant all
who come near them. The fort, Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres, was built in
1769 to guard the bay at Praia da Fortaleza. From inside the fort, a trail leads up to the
WW II gun emplacements and a magnificent view of the whole area. The Farol das Conchas
lighthouse,
built in 1872 on the orders of Dom Pedro II, stands at the island’s
easterly point, at Praia do Farol. The fisherfolk on the island regularly catch hammerhead
sharks, which they call `Formula Ones’.

Festival

Ilha do Mel goes crazy at Carnaval. Last year’s attendance was estimated at 20,000.

For places to stay and eat, read the book.

OTHER BAÍA DE PARANAGUÁ ISLANDS

There are several other islands in the Baía de Paranaguá that can be visited, but
you’ll have to do some scraping around to get there, as there are no regular boat
services.

The Ilha dos Currais is known for its bird life, and the Ilha da Cotinga for its
mysterious inscriptions and ruins. The Ilha das Peças and the Ilha do Superagui make up
the Parque Nacional do Superagui.

FOZ DO IGUAÇU

Arising in the coastal and mountains of Paraná and Santa Catarina (the Serra do Mar)
at the modest elevation of 1300 meters, the Rio Iguaçu snakes west for 600 km, pausing
behind the Foz do Areia Cruz Machado and Salto Santiago dams and picking up a few dozen
tributaries along the way. It widens majestically and sweeps around a magnificent forest
stage before plunging and crashing in tiered falls. The 275 falls are over three km wide
and 80 meters high, which makes them wider than Victoria, higher than Niagara and more
beautiful than either. Neither words nor photographs do them justice: they must be seen
and heard. They’re what the Romantic poets had in mind when they spoke of the awesome and
sublime.

Thousands of years before they were `discovered’ by whites, the falls were a holy
burial place for the Tupi-Guarani and Paraguas tribes. Spaniard Don Alvar Nuñes, also
known as Cabeza de Vaca (presumably because of his stubbornness), happened upon the falls
in 1541 in the course of his journey from Santa Catarina, on the coast, to Asunción. He
named the falls the Saltos de Santa Maria, but this name fell into disuse and the Indian
name of Iguaçu, meaning Great Waters in Tupi-Guarani, was readopted. No agreement has
been made on spelling—in Brazil it’s Iguaçu, in Argentina: Iguazú,
and in Paraguay: Iguassu. In 1986 the international commission of UNESCO declared
the region (along with the Pantanal) a World Heritage site.

With a population increase from 35,000 to 190,000 as a result of the Itaipu dam
construction, the Brazilian border town of Foz do Iguaçu is a frenzied place which can be
dangerous, particularly at night. Ciudad del Este (in Paraguay) is a real pit, while
Puerto Iguazú (in Argentina) is much more mellow.

Orientation

The falls are roughly 20 km east of the junction of the Paraná and Iguaçu rivers,
which form the tripartite Paraguayan, Brazilian and Argentine border (marked by obelisks).

The Ponte Presidente Tancredo Neves bridges the Rio Iguaçu and connects Brazil to
Argentina. The Rio Paraná, which forms the Brazilian-Paraguayan border, is spanned by the
Ponte da Amizade; 15 km upstream is Itaipu, the world’s largest hydroelectric project.

The falls are unequally divided between Brazil and Argentina, with Argentina taking the
larger portion. To see them properly you must visit both sides—the Brazilian park for
the grand overview, and the Argentine park for a closer look. Travelers should allow at
least two full days to see the falls. Even more time is required if you want to do it at a
leisurely pace, or visit Ciudad del Este or the Itaipu dam.

The best time of the year to see the falls is between August and November. If you come
during the May to July flood season, you may not be able to approach the swollen waters on
the catwalks. It’s always wet at the falls. The area gets over two meters of rain
annually, and the falls create a lot of moisture. Lighting for photography is best in the
morning on the Brazilian side and in the late afternoon on the Argentine side.

Information

Tourist Office

Foztur maintains six information booths, all with the same information: maps, lists of
hotels with a one star and up rating, and tourist newspapers with English-language
descriptions of the attractions. All the staff is very helpful and most speak English.
Some also speak Italian, Spanish and German. There are booths at Rua Barão do Rio Branco,
in the city (open from 6:30 am to 10 pm), at the rodoviária (6 am to 6 pm), at the
airport (9 am until the last plane), at Ponte Presidente Tancredo Neves, on the
Argentinean border (8 am to 6 pm), just before the Ponte da Amizade, on the Paraguayan
border (8 am to 8 pm), and at the entrance to the city, on highway BR-27 (7 am to 6 pm).

Teletur (1516) maintains a 24-hour information service with English-speaking operators.

The Falls—Brazilian side

Although the Brazilian side has a smaller chunk of the falls, the Brazilians have the
Grand View across the churning lower Rio Iguaçu to the raging falls. The Brazilian park
is larger, with 1550 sq km of rainforest, but the Argentine forest is in better shape.

Walk to the observation tower by the Floriano falls, then over to Santa Maria falls.
There’s also a new walkway that gives an even better view of the Garganta do Diablo
(Devil’s Throat).

If you can spare the cash, treat yourself to an outrageously beautiful helicopter ride
over the waterfalls. For $50, you get seven minutes of intense pleasure in the air. The
choppers will take up to three passengers, but it’s best to sit by the edge of the bubble.
You can extend the ride to see Itaipu dam too. Helisul Taxi Aereo (523-1190) operates from
Hotel das Cataratas, right at the waterfalls on the Brazilian side, from April to October,
between 9 am and 5 pm; and from November to March, between 9 am and 7 pm. Travelers flying
into Foz or Puerto Iguazú, with accommodating weather and pilots, can see the falls from
the air.

You can catch a boat to the Garganta do Diablo from near the observation tower.
Sometimes the boat operators have an odd sense of humor—they’ll cut the engine and
float to the edge of the falls.

The Falls—Argentine side

The Argentine side is noted for its close-up views of the falls and the forest. The
entrance to the Argentine park is 18 km from Puerto Iguazú. There are three separate
walks on the Argentine side: the Passeios Inferiores, the Passeios Superiores and the
Garganta do Diablo, which should be saved until last for dramatic effect.

The Passeios Inferiores is a view of the falls from below on a 1.5-km circuit, Take the
boat to Isla San Martin (the boat service operates from 8 am to 5:30 pm, and is free) for
spectacular close-up views of the falls.

The Passeios Superiores’ concrete catwalks behind the waterfalls used to go as far as
Garganta do Diablo, until floods a few years back swept them over the edge. The path goes
only as far as the Salto Adán y Eva.

There’s a dirt road running a few km from the park entrance to Puerto Canoas. (There
used to be a shuttle bus, but when we were there, the service had been suspended
indefinitely—check to see.) From here you can take a hair-raising boat ride out to
Garganta do Diablo, where 13,000 cubic meters of water per second plunge 90 meters in 14
falls, arranged around a tight little pocket.

The view at the precipice is hypnotizing. Visitors will be treated to a multisensory
experience: roaring falls, huge rainbow arcs, drenching mist and, in the distance, parrots
and hawks cruising over deep, green forest. Watch for the swifts, which drop like rocks
into the misty abyss, catch insects in midair, shoot back up, and dart behind the falls to
perch on the cliffs.

The ltaipu Dam

How did Brazil ever manage to run up such a huge foreign debt? Part of the answer is by
engaging in mammoth projects like Itaipu, the world’s largest hydroelectric works. The $18
billion joint Brazilian-Paraguayan venture has the capacity to generate 12.6 million
kilowatts—enough electricity to supply the energy needs of Paraguay and southern
Brazil. The concrete used in this dam could have paved a two-lane highway from Moscow to
Lisbon.

Fortunately the dam will not affect the flow of water in Iguaçu as the Paraná and
Iguaçu rivers meet downstream of the falls. The Itaipu dam has, however, destroyed Sete
Quedas (the world’s largest waterfall, with 30 times the water spilled by Iguaçu) and
created a 1400-sq-km lake. Local weather, and plant and animal populations have been
altered, and the complete environmental repercussions of these changes will not be felt
for decades. Guided tours of the Itaipu dam are given six times a day: at 8, 9 and 10 am,
and 2, 3 and 4 pm. The hour-long tours are free of charge. The Itaipu dam is 19 km from
Foz.

Ciudad del Este (Paraguay)

Across the Ponte da Amizade, at Ciudad del Este, you can play roulette or baccarat at
the Casino de Leste, or purchase up to $250 of duty-free imported goods (no great deals)
or some nifty Paraguayan lacework and leather goods.

Forest Tour (Argentina)

There’s more to the 550-sq-km Argentine park than just waterfalls. If you intend to do
a forest tour, do it on the Argentine side; they do a better job of protecting their
parklands than do the Brazilians, and there are guides at the visitors’ center in the
park. If you can, arrange the tour the evening before, and pick up a wildlife list and
study it. Try to arrive at the park before 7 am (when the entrance fee of about $1 is
waived) or in the late afternoon, the best times to spot birds and wildlife.

Go in a small, nature-loving group and bring binoculars and a tape recorder (to record
the sounds of the forest). You’ll see fantastic butterflies (they congregate about pools
of urine and on sweaty handrails to sip salts), parrots, parakeets, woodpeckers,
hummingbirds, lizards, three-cm-long ants, beautifully colored spiders and all sorts of
orchids, lianas and vines.

We saw two species of toucan, but there are four species in the park. Our guide
explained that their long beaks are deceptive, being actually so light and spongy that the
birds are back-heavy and therefore clumsy flyers. The toucans eat fruit, eggs, chicks and
leaves of the amba (Cecropia adenopus) tree. Amba leaves are used to make a
medicinal tea which is good for coughs.

Other creatures in the park include monkeys, deer, sloth, anteaters, raccoons, jaguar,
tapir, caiman and armadillo, but as in other tropical rainforests, large animals are not
very abundant and tend to be nocturnal. You can see them on display at the natural history
museum at the Argentine park headquarters.

The foliage is lush and lovely: 2000 species of plants stacked in six different layers,
from forest-floor grasses, ferns, and bushes to low, middle and high tree canopies. The
forest cover, in addition to harboring a wide variety of animals and insects, protects the
soil from erosion, maintains humidity and moderates temperatures. Tarzan vines, lianas and
epiphytes connect and blur the distinction between the forest levels.

Festival

The Pesca ao Dourado (Dorado Fishing Contest) takes place in the last week of
October.

Bus No 7

Ciudad del Este is mostly an unattractive jumble of high-pressure shops using US
dollars. But, if you have an hour or two to spare, you can quickly reach `real Paraguay’
on one of the colorful, comfortable and inexpensive local buses that leave from just
beyond the main crossroads at the far (west) end of the main street. Just stay on the bus
to the end of the journey, then come back!

We caught a No 7 and soon reached dirt roads. Small-holdings had new thatched roofs,
outdoor ovens, horse carts and cows in the front garden. There wasn’t another white face
to be seen—it felt much more `third world’ than the sophistication of southern
Brazil. We felt we had reached the `real’ Latin America at last. Of course, this is tame
for those who are heading for Bolivia, but it was a highlight of our more conventional
visit to Brazil.

For places to stay and to eat as well as getting around, read the book.

Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by
Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more
information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications.
Used by permission.

Buy it at
Amazon.com

Lonely Planet
Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit

by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,
704 pp.

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