I think I am not actually supposed to write this blog, because this is the third time I`ve tried. The first time, I wrote for an hour before power blacked out for a millisecond causing all the computers in the internet shop to reset. Yes, I know I should have saved my work. So I did the second time. I wrote it in Microsoft Word and saved every two minutes. When another storm rolled through, and torrents of water were gushing down the street, and the whole town went dark, I was wearing a triumphant smile. Until I explained to the cashier that I`d saved my work and so would like to use the same machine when the power came back. And she explained that all the computers have a program that wipes the hard drive clean each time the machine is turned off. GREEEEEAT.
So quickly then…
We wasted an entire day between Curitiba and Blumenau trying to do laundry wandering around trying to find non-existent laundromats. Every place we found was more like a dry-cleaners and charged per piece of clothing, not per kilo. On a brighter note, a woman asked me for directions in Portuguese while we were walking to the bus station and I was able to help her! She was surprised to find out we weren`t Brazilians, which was neat.
The bus ride to Blumenau was through some absolutely gorgeous country. Craggy majestic peaks shot up all around us as we wound our way through deep valleys covered in thick, jungle-esque deciduous forests with occasional stands of coniferous trees popping up on the fierce ridgelines. Palm trees frequently reached well above the other tree tops, and as the mountains gave way to farmland, banana plantations covered the terrain.
When we got to Blumenau, we had one of the funniest experiences yet (due to our Portuguese ignorance, of course). First, we were mega stressed out, because we had only vaguely planned our next move. But the road maps we have are inaccurate, and the information we have is incomplete, so we have to spend forever guessing different routes and then walking around to each of 16 bus companies asking them if they go to such-and-such a place or have a bus that goes by there. So, after trying desperately to plot our next move south, we gave up Florianopolis (a beach town with a forecast for rain) and a national parks with breathtaking canyons (because we couldn`t figure out how the heck to get there), and just decided to go to Iguaçu Falls.
Next was getting to town in the pouring rain without paying for a taxi. I asked in a shop, but all I could tell for sure was that we were supposed to take a bus that said Proeb on the front. Taking city buses with our backpacks in tow is hilarious, because each bus has an attendant that sits beside a tiny turnstyle and takes money. Well, the turnstyle is only as wide as my hips, and our backpacks and Pat`s hips are much wider than that. So there`s lots of struggling and trapped straps and laughing each time we get on a bus. Plus, the bus drivers are maniacs who accelerate into turns and take off well before you`ve found a seat (if there`s even a seat available), which means a ferocious battle with gravity and desperate attempts not to fall on anyone or crush them with our backpack appendages.
About five minutes down the road, I asked the woman in front of us if Proeb is in the centro. Well, apparently it`s not, because she started talking to another passenger about it, and before we knew it the whole bus was arguing back and forth about how we should get to the centro and which bus to take, etc. I finally understood that someone was going to take us by the hand and show us what to do when we got to Proeb. We got off the bus with a younger woman (40`s) and an older woman (60`s) who both started talking to me in rapid Portuguese. They kept saying the word “ponto,” which I desperately wished I knew the meaning of. I could swear bridge is ponte, but I decided to keep an eye out for bridges just in case. Meanwhile they are both still talking a million miles a minute, and I am just nodding and replying in the affirmative, trying to keep them talking so that eventually they`ll say something I understand. Suddenly, the younger woman leaves and the older woman motions for us to follow her onto a bus.
We sit, and Pat, who has been cluelessly watching our exchange, finally delights in the opportunity to find out just what, exactly, is going on. Of course, I have to reply, “Heck if I know. I think we`re supposed to go with this woman and she`ll tell us when to get off. ” And this is why I love Pat. Because he just says, “Oh, ok.” And starts laughing. You`d think being so completely out of control would be stressful and frightening, but it`s really not. It`s actually less stressful than what we usually are trying to do, which is to accomplish the task of an adult with the skills of a three-year-old. Honestly, everything we do is like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with your toes.
A few minutes later, the older woman turns to me with a panic-stricken look and starts gesturing and pointing and giving me directions. I think I understand that we are supposed to get off the bus, cross the street, and go up two blocks and then left some distance. I catch “shopping” (the word for a mall) and “ponto” again (really wish I knew that one), before the bus is screeching to a halt and we are trying to push our way out the back doors before the bus driver jets off. She is still yelling directions as the doors are closing, and we can`t stop laughing at the hilarity of the situation. And of course it`s still pouring rain.
Turns out one of the three hotels we had our sights on was only a few blocks away, a cute littler German number (it`s a very German town, with very old-school German architecture)
with rooms that made me feel like we were in the alps. We asked for a restaurant recommendation, and instead got the average price per plate we could expect to pay and also were told that eating at the shopping mall is more expensive. So, for forty minutes, we wandered around, tummies rumbling, trying to find something that was open and serving food. We were about to give up and eat potato chips from the gas station, when we happened upon a place called Rancho de Pastel. It took forever for us to understand the menu; we went from thinking the guy was explaining different drink size options with different meals to understanding from another waitress that the only food they served was calzones with a plethora of different fillings, and the actual diameters available were shown on the menu. Ooooooh! The food was excellent, and the local beer was quite yummy. The Eagles played on the T.V. the whole time we were there with the lyrics translated into Portuguese. I wish we could see more stuff like this. Such a great way to learn!
We got to go to bed early, and got up the next morning to the best breakfast buffet we`ve have so far. Of course we had the standard bread (not toast), butter, jam, and coffee, but this one included several fruit options, every kind of bread you could think of, lots of pastries and breakfast cakes, eggs, sausage, and a few different kinds of juice. YUM! Our plan was to attempt to visit an ecological reserve in the countryside, so we ate as much as we could before heading to a bus stop and hoping we`d get on the right bus. We couldn`t really ask anyone, because we don`t know how to clearly describe where we are wanting to go. And you certainly can`t ask the bus drivers. Those guys are in a huge hurry. They barely even stop to let passengers off, and certainly don`t have time for a conversation about two crazy tourists trying to get to some random, unfamiliar, isolated place in the countryside.
The guidebook says to take the Garcia bus to a terminal and then change to Progresso until the end of the paved road. That`s it! So, we get on the first bus that says Garcia (along with a lot of other things), and just hope we will recognize wherever it is that we need to get off. Thankfully, the first terminal we come to is fairly obvious, and the bus driver finally stops after driving ten blocks past it, then two blocks back in the other direction before ultimately dropping us off. Before getting on the second bus (which is parked with the ignition off waiting for departure time), I ask them, “Vocês vao para Parque Ecològico Spitzkopf?” The attendant looks at me like I`m crazy, and says… “I think so. I`ll ask the driver.” Well, good thing we asked, because we never would have recognized our stop. It`s obvious that the guide book writer has never actually been to this place, because the paved road does not end. It goes on forever until the next town and the next and the next. There is just a bus stop on the corner where you get off and start walking down a gravel-covered country road. After inquiring about the frequency of buses and the last bus available, we`re off down the beautiful country road, laughing the whole way about the insanity we`ve gotten ourselves into. I say I think I`m the craziest person I know, and Pat decides that I have to be the second craziest, since I at least can somewhat communicate. “Only a crazy person would follow another crazy person, which is exactly what I`m doing,” he says. What fun!
After about a mile of walking past lots of little village-like settlements where the imaginative children are peeking out from behind the curtains and blasting their noisemakers at each other and us (think New Year`s), we finally arrive. The sign for “reception” points up a very steep and narrow cement staircase that leads past small, 10×20` terraces (the second one had two horses grazing on it!) to two barn doors, both of which were locked. We gave up and continued down the road, reading signs until we got to a giant pond with cabins next to it and signs describing the three hiking trails in the “park.” Still no signs of any humans or place to pay the entrance fee. In fact the place looks quite deserted, so we just head down the trail and decide to ask the first person we run into. There are three waterfalls, one on each trailhead, and they get progressively more impressive. The forest/jungle is thick with trees that have bark that looks like cedar/hemlock, and ferns that look like they`re from the jurassic era. Seriously, these things were at least fifteen feet tall. All of the trails were covered in debris (maybe this place is condemned?), and we followed the first past a giant spider (at least three inches long), a tree with waxy red flowers that seemed to have a bright yellow miniature daffodil growing out the center of each complete with large blueberry-like fruits, and giant vines hanging down in the trail. Eventually the trail became not only debris-covered, but overgrown as well, and so we turned back.
About the vines… I never understood how it was that Tarzan could swing on these jungle vines without them breaking, and assumed it was just a hollywood fantasy. Not so! These things are insanely thick and flexible. Between 1-3″, and could definitely hold a person. Nuts! Anyway… by the time we got to the second waterfall, we still hadn`t run into anyone. It was great. We had this jungle paradise all to ourselves! On our way to the third waterfall we ran into these giants stand of bamboo, which I never associate with rainforests, but very cool nonetheless. Along the third waterfall trail an very old looking aquaduct carried water…back to the villages? the camp? and we had to cross a dam with a sketchy cement staircase/bridge combo (suspended in midair) that was cracking across the bottom. Greeeeeat. The last waterfall was 60 feet tall and really beautiful. It was so fun to be there is such a paradise and share the experience with someone I care so much about. Awesome!
One of the prettiest waterfalls also at Parque Ecolgico Spitzkopf.
Because we forgot to buy water before we left town, we decided we ought not climb the peak, and so instead headed back to Blumenau in time to get lunch, see all the touristy spots, and watch Brazil`s game against Japan before getting on the next bus. Japan didn`t stand a chance! Brazil creamed them!
We were lucky as far as the bus went. On a fourteen-hour, overnight ride, being comfortable is definitely high on the priority list. This bus was a double decker, and the front seats on the top level were open! For some reason these seats aren`t popular. I think they`re the best seats on the bus, because you`re surrounded by giant picture windows on three sides and get a great view. Maybe people don`t like them because of all the light that comes in the windows (but there are curtains!) or because you can`t see the T.V. all that well, or because you get to witness, first-hand, every insane decision that the bus driver makes. Like tailgating a motorcycle or tiny car that can stop on a dime. Or passing in a no passing zone (I know I do it, too, but not in a giant bus!), or passing a semi on a two-lane mountain road when another semi is coming head-on. I`m not kidding. Several times the bus was sandwiched between two semis going opposite directions on a two lane road. Really crazy.
While this is actually a photo of a double decker bus in London, same idea. These are my favorite! Probably not the safest way to travel, though!
Because it was dark pretty much the whole time, the only point of interest was the cemeteries. Instead of sprawling lawns, every cemetery I`ve seen is built into a hillside with bodies inside stone/marble caskets above ground terraced all the way up the hill. It makes you feel like you`re on stage as the auditorium graves rise up in front of you. Sorry if I`m being morbid.
Anyway… after watching the Cable Guy, straining to hear the English while getting to read the Portuguese at the bottom of the screen, we got to have a pretty restful nights sleep complete with cookies for breakfast! Yum!