A Quick Adventure in Brazil
E very much wanted to tour the Itaipu Binacional dam. The second largest hydro-electric dam in the world is not to be missed, in his opinion (and, I was excited to see it as well, plus I love to add countries to my visited list).
The dam is half in Brazil, half in Paraguay, and the extensive tours are offered in English from the Brazilian side. I had researched the issue several times, but could not find a straight answer on whether a Brazilian visa was necessary for a single day trip by land. Most of the reports of people who had actually DONE the trip indicated that a visa was not necessary. And yet, the official line appeared to say the opposite without explaining how to acquire a land visa, and it does seem a bit odd that you could enter a country that requires a visa without some sort of documentation. Bravely (or foolishly) E and I decided to try to make it work according to the reports of folks who claimed it was not required.
So, we walked to the bus station near the Sheraton and took the bus to the Puerto Iguazu station (15 pesos for 2). From there, we took the inter-city bus to Foz do Iguacu (14 pesos for 2). Everyone disembarked at the Argentina immigration station and stamped out of the country. I explained that we were just leaving for a few hours and the immigration agent looked at me blankly, as if to say, "Lady, why do you Americans always think we care about your travel plans? You're leaving. I'm stamping. Enough."
So there we were, stamped out of Argentina, on our way to Brazil. And, what do you know? The bus stopped in Brazil, but it was optional to go through immigration, and about 3/4 of our bus chose not to do so.
The next thing you know, the signs were in Portuguese.
From the bus station in Foz do Iguacu, we found our way to the bus to Itaipu (14 Argentinian pesos for 2, which was nice since we really didn't want to go to an ATM for Reales -- their bus terminal appeared to accept USD, Arg pesos, Paraguayan Guarani, and Brazilian Reales, which was quite the opposite of our experiences in Argentina where everyone wants Argentinian Pesos even though there aren't any in the ATMs).
Upon arrival, we tried to book a "special" tour, which means we'd get to see the insides of the power plant. We were informed it was booked. So, we stood in line to by the "simple" tour. Having spent almost a week in Latin America, I'd learned to ask again, so I asked our attendant if there were open spots on the "special tour" and he turned off the speaker and went to go speak with a supervisor. He came back and informed us that, "Yes. There is room. But no flip flops. And you must have your knees covered."
"Ummmm... is this okay?" I asked, backing up so he could see my full attire including running shoes and pulling down my sundress to show how long it was (or could be, when pulled) and then up to show my running shorts underneath.
The speaker was turned off again. A second supervisor was called. I was motioned to step back and turn around, you know, model my outfit.
The female supervisor did not approve.
E, crestfallen at the idea that we'd crossed international boundaries and my clothes were going to stop us, did not look happy. Uncharacteristically, I recognized that this was not a good time to make a scene about the sexism of the no-short skirts rule (literally, the below the knees rule was only stated to apply to skirts). So, I offered to buy pants.
This would explain my new 3/4 length long white shorts with the Itaipu Binancional logo embroidered in them. They are actually quite flattering when not worn beneath a sundress. And, of course, they make a great story.
Also, the dam tour was super cool. One of the best experiences of the trip so far -- the guides were very knowledgeable and we were able to see the penstocks, turbines, the floor capping the 20 generators, the architectural structures, plus the control room split into two identical sides (where the Brazilian engineer appeared to be working and the Paraguayan engineer was blatently looking at pictures of women).
And, bonus, we made it back into Argentina without incident. The bus stopped at Brazilian immigration on the way back and many international English-speaking back-packers got off the bus. I asked if it was required for us to disembark and the driver looked at me like I was an idiot, saying,
Solo, si tiene entrada de brasil. La Tiene? when I said, No, solo tenemos Visas de Argentina, he shook his head, half in amusement, half in annoyance and told me to sit back down with the half of the bus who were skipping the Brazilian immigration experience.
6 bus rides and two countries later, we stamped back into Argentina with a sigh of relief and made our way back to the hotel.