With Arms Wide Open

Saturday 17th March 2018

We followed our progress on the map and noted 8 hours, then 5 hours, and then 2 hours to go.

Breakfast was served somewhere over North Eastern Brazil. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything out the window as we were still flying in total darkness.

The breakfast bowl was Julie’s worst nightmare, scrambled eggs and baked beans. Whenever we order a cooked breakfast she always asks to omit the egg and beans! Despite having not eaten since her half a sparrow in the airport she didn’t feel hungry.

Before long the sun was rising, and the plane prepared for landing in São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport.

We did so with quite a bump and took a long time to slow down. Julie was building up towards a panic just at the point where we showed signs of coming to a stop. The relief was immense. “Yay” I said, in an attempt to trigger her usual fist pumping celebrations. Her joy was nowhere to be seen as she reached for the sick bag and vomited with relief. Her ordeal wasn’t over. We had a connecting flight in two and a half hours.

It seemed like plenty of time but it got complicated.

We had to collect our luggage and go through immigration which took forever. Then we had to find the check-in desk for Avianca airlines which was in the domestic terminal 2 or after some confusion we went to one specifically for flight connections located between terminal 1 and 2.

There wasn’t much in the way of a queue but they only had one desk open and it took us almost an hour to off-load our luggage. Then we had to find the Avianca information desk to pay for our hold luggage because it wasn’t included in our ticket. Then my Visa card, the one I had loaded with our spends for the two weeks, wouldn’t work so I had to pay the $R120 in cash.

Then we had to find gate 206 which was such a long way away. We had no time to stop and enjoy a coffee or something for Julie to eat. We literally reached the gate as they were opening it up to board. Luckily there was a small tuck shop at the gate where Julie got a chicken, beef and cheese club sandwich which she devoured in seconds.

We got on a bus and shuttled across the tarmac to find the plane. It felt like we were driving around looking for ours it took so long to find it. Eventually we came to a stop and walked up the steps, all thirteen of them (Julie always counts them) to our Avianca jet.

It was fast becoming overwhelming for her. Sat in her seat she shook with fear. Ahead of us was a short 75 minute flight to Foz do Iguaçu.

“These are the worst types” she added speaking from a bad experience of a short hop from Liverpool to the Isle of Man, possibly the bumpiest flight we’ve been on. As it turned out this flight was exceptionally smooth. The staff were attentive and professional which put Julie immediately at ease.

It was too short of a flight to watch a film so instead I watched “The Best 40 Goals Ever”. There were some crackers in there. Plenty of Brazilian players of course but also Welshman Aaron Ramsey with a cracke. The stand out goal was from a player called Patrick Innes(?) whilst playing for Seattle Sounders, a phenomenal scissor kick.

By the time we had reached our cursing altitude (sorry I mean cruising) it was already time to start our descent and prepare for landing. As we flew over pristine rainforest of the Iguaçu National Park the view from the window was utterly fascinating. We could see how it was dense lush jungle on one side of the Iguaçu river and cultivated land on the other.

Minutes later we were coming in to land skipping over the massive Itaipú Dam on our way down.

Touchdown was solid, not exactly smooth but not too stressful. We were both surprised how short the runway felt as we lunged forward when the plane had to come to a very sudden stop at the end. Once she controlled her barfing reflex the joy of finally arriving safe filled her up with a wonderful smile. 

We walked across the tarmac towards the small terminal building. Having spent the last 24 hours inside air-conditioned spaces the warmth of the Brazilian sun came as quite a surprise. It felt so good to be here at last.

We collected our luggage and walked out into arrivals where someone was waiting for us to take us to our hotel. His name was Chader and he was going to be our driver/guide for tomorrow’s trip to see the waterfalls.

Hotel San Martin was just minutes away from the airport which was very convenient, especially at the end of our epic journey. Before dropping us off he quickly showed us where to find the entrance to the Brazilian side of the Iguaçu National Park also a bird sanctuary, both were within easy walking distance from our hotel.

He brought us back to the hotel and helped us with the formalities which was kind of him. It proved really useful as the two old guys behind reception spoke very little English. As it turned out, there wasn’t a room ready. To be fair we were a tad early for their usual check-in time of 2pm, it was only 11:30am.  Chader left us to wait in the lobby and we arranged to meet up at 8am tomorrow to visit the Argentinian side of the waterfalls.

As it happens, we didn’t have to wait long for a room. Some five minutes later the oldest one at reception called us over and rather proudly presented us with the key to room 713. Wearily we wheeled our cases down a connecting corridor, past a bust of an Argentinian General called José de San Martín and then down a subtly lit corridor painted in a fashionable grey with white fabric draped stylishly every other door.

The room itself wasn’t as stylish but it was clean and tidy which was the main thing.  We fought the temptation of just crashing out on the bed, choosing instead to get our flip-flops on and head out to the pool.

We found two loungers in the shade of a palm tree and ordered a cheese & tomato sandwich for lunch followed by two caipirinhas, Brazil’s best-known cocktail. It’s a simple combination of limes, sugar, ice and cachaça a white rum made from sugarcane juice.

As part of our research into this trip we had practiced making caipirinhas quite extensively! Now we were drinking the real thing and it felt great.

Whilst Julie had a dip in the pool I was entertained by a butterfly. At first, with its wings shut, it looked like a leaf that had fallen from the tree, but then as it fluttered about, it revealed a dazzling orange colour. 

I can not put into words how incredible it felt to be sat outside in lovely warm 34C after the long cold winter we’ve had back home. It felt wonderful. We could only handle an hour or so of this amazingness before returning to our room for a siesta.

At 3pm we woke up and literally forced ourselves out of bed. We could so easily have stayed asleep but we were determined to not waste this afternoon.

We had a couple of options of what to do with our time. We could have visited the waterfalls on the Brazilian side but Chader suggested we’d have plenty of time to do it tomorrow which sounded like a much better plan.

Instead we visited Parques das Aves the bird sanctuary literally two minutes’ walk away.

Stepping out of the air-conditioned lobby we were hit by a humidity like a hot steaming towel wrapped around us. We hadn’t experienced this level of humidity before.

The blue skies had now been replaced by grey clouds. “There’s a storm brewing” I joked.

We crossed the road, we didn’t have to nut there wasn’t a pavement on our side. We could have walked along the grass verge but in a sub-tropical climate you could never discount the possibility of snakes in the grass!

We crossed back over the road to the park entrance and paid R$45 each, which after the old grey matter worked out the conversion rate, wasn’t too expensive. (around £10)

We’re not the biggest fans of zoos. We find the whole captive animal thing a little upsetting. In fact, it makes me weep if I dwell on it too long.

I’m ashamed to say that when we were young and naïve we had a beautiful pair of “love birds” we kept in a cage. We didn’t have them long. They sadly died one hot summers day. Probably dehydration. We felt so guilty. It was so cruel. Never again did we have a caged animal as a pet, not even a gerbil of a goldfish.

The park promotes itself as a centre for rescue and rehabilitation. All the birds have been rescued either as unwanted pets or saved from smugglers transpoting them for a lucrative overseas trade.  http://www.parquedasaves.com.br/en/

Some birds appeared to be free to come and go as they pleased. Many seemed quite content to sit on a branch watching us watching them as if they were still in a cage.

The pink flamingos were also not caged but they were penned in. I suppose they need a long run to build up speed for a successful take-off! It looked like there was a hell of a lot crammed into the pen but the entire back wall was a mirror which created the illusion of much more. I don't know if it was for the birds benefit or for ours.

They seemed a little agitated as thunder rolled in the distance or perhaps that’s just the way they are, nervously looking around all the time.


From there on in the birds were kept in aviaries. They weren’t small cages, but large netted areas. Instead of peering in from the outside we walked inside the enclosures. In the first one we were instantly captivated by this prehistoric looking Scarlet Ibis. When it opened out its wings it looked positively tetradactyl like!

We then got very excited with our first glimpse of a Toucan. It was sat high up in the trees.

It then got even more thrilling when out of nowhere another Toucan swooped down and sat on a branch metres away from us. It was such a striking bird with its bright over-sized beak. It felt such a privilege to be so near to one.

There was no rush to leave the aviary. We could have spent as long in there as we wanted.

Moving on, we walked past another large aviary with a pair of majestic Harpy Eagles. We weren’t allowed in this enclosure. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was to avoid the risk of one of them flying off with a small child in its talons. They certainly looked strong and plenty capable of it.

It was getting darker and darker by the minute, and as we entered the Macaw aviary the thunder cranked up a level. It got the birds into quite a flap. They squawked their disapproval and flew nervously over our heads. Many were perched on large branches voicing their objections from the gallery. It was quite an experience to be caught in the middle of this cacophony of angry birds. Julie found it quite unnerving.

I could smell the fear, the birds’ not Julie’s.

It smelt a lot like a chicken coop. There was a lot of poop. There was a lot of birds in the aviary. More than I thought was appropriate, to be honest. I didn’t count them all, but I would have guessed around fifty.

Then it began to rain. 

We decided to get going before we got drenched. The forest canopy did give us some shelter but we didn’t hang around. We scooted through the butterfly enclosure, hurried past the owls and vultures who were in rather small aviaries, and before we knew it we were back to the Pink Flamingos where it all began.

Despite the rain it was still warm and humid. A cold beer was in order. We sat outside the park’s café holding the bottle with such delight, more for its temperature rather than its content. We rubbed it against our cheeks and held it to our foreheads. It felt so refreshing.

By the time the downpour ended, and the skies began to brighten, we were on our second bottle of beer and ready to leave.

Whilst Julie browsed the souvenir shop I spent some time trying to photograph two flamingos getting a bit touchy-feely in the hope they might form a heart shape with their long necks. This they did a few times, but I just didn’t get the shot!

Back at the hotel we sat in the lobby. At first it felt cold as our sweat soaked clothes was quickly chilled by the air conditioning. We soon acclimatised. It was also the place with the strongest wi-fi so we were staying!  We posted some of today’s photos onto Facebook and of course, whilst I was connected, I checked the football results. Manchester United beat Brighton 2-0 to make it through to the FA Cup semi-finals. Hooray!

It was 7pm when we returned to our room freshen up for supper. We were only back a few minutes when the room went dark. There was a power cut.

“We should have packed some candles and the monopoly board” joked Julie. “Is there a Brazilian version?” I wondered. (It turns out there is, with a mix of locations from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro!)

We weren’t in the dark for long and the lights came back. In time for us to get dressed and be at the restaurant for 7:30pm, exactly when it opened.

There was a choice between the a la carte menu or the buffet. Not being the biggest fan of the buffet because of the old cross-contamination issue, so we went for the a la carte option.

We were taken into the restaurant room which was just off the larger buffet lounge. We sat with all the other people who thought that eating buffet with the hoipoloi was beneath them.

The menu had plenty of choice for me.  Julie and I shared a caprese salad to start. It wasn’t exactly the best mozzarella in the world, but it was nice and fresh and did the job.

For my main I continued with the Italian theme with a Spaghetti Vegetariano. It was literally pasta in a tomato sauce with aubergines. It was tasty enough without being great.

Julie opted for the grilled steak. She couldn’t complain about the portion size. She had three small steaks on her plate. Plenty to eat. Too much in fact. She didn’t eat them all. They were quite chewy, served well-done and strangely lacked flavour.  The best thing on her plate was the creamy mashed potatoes.

We skipped dessert.

Incidentally it was St. Patrick’s day today and there were two Irish bars in Foz do Iguaçu! (Ballinas Pub and The Guns ‘n Beer pub) but it was a unanimous decision not to head into town.  We headed back to our room for a chunk of tolberone and a cup of tea.

My word, we are getting old!

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