Story by Jack Stuhler with an introduction by Paul May,
Jack Stuhler, the founder of Eezi-Awn, is an adventurous man and has spent his entire life exploring the African Continent. After driving from Johannesburg to the UK through the middle east in the early 1999, Jack set his sights on the Americas. He prepared a Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Troopy by the name of Tubby for his journey and shipped it to South America. With his significant other, Margaret, their epic journey from Ushuaia to Dead Horse Alaska took over 18 months to complete in 2004/2005. They later returned south to Houston, and shipped Tubby home. Quite impressive for a couple in their 60s. Their adventures are an inspiration for us all.
THE AMERICAS WITH TUBBY XPLORER SOUTH AMERICAN ADVENTURE PART TWELVE
Days fly bye and we are on the road again, this time our direction via Santa Ana back onto Ruta 12 and the best restored and presented of Jesuit Mission ruins ‘Mini’ at San Ignacio. The history of these 17th century Jesuit Reduciones which were mostly situated in north-east Argentina, southern Paraguay and southern Brazil is most extraordinary. Beginning in 1607 in the upper Parana region of Paraguay and Argentina , in isolated areas largely overlooked by secular Spaniards, the Jesuits brought about a major political, economic and cultural transformation amongst the native Guarani. The remarkable success of the Order aroused envy and intrigue against them and eventually caused their downfall. The Mission economy was mostly agricultural and diversified. The Indians raised their own subsistence crops (maize, sweet potatoes and cassava) but also laboured on communal fields. Yerba Mate was the most important but cotton, citrus and tobacco were also significant; within the settlement itself intensive vegetable gardening took place. Outside the settlement native herders tended the Missions numerous livestock. When the Jesuits were expelled in 1768 due to exaggerated rumours of intrigue and jealousy of their success and self-reliance San Ignacio Mini had a population of 4,000 souls, close to 32,000 head of cattle and more than 64,000 sheep and goats. Quite a success story!
With the aid of German priests the Guarani learned crafts and trades such as weaving, baking, carpentry, cabinet-making and the design of musical instruments. Unfortunately these skills did not help them in the post mission world. Ironically today centuries later it is sad to see the descendants of these most industrious folk living in abject poverty surviving only on subsistence farming and the occasional sale of handycraft and exquisitely woven and sewn carry bags. In its heyday San Ignacio Mini must have been a glorious complex with its decoratively stone carved ornamented red sandstone church, workshops and residences the well preserved ruins proof thereof today. Margaret and I spent quite some time walking the walk, taking in history and trying to imagine what it was like so many centuries ago. The ambiance and setting so ‘tranquilo’ however no matter how much we wished to linger longer it was time to drift on. Next stop, Iguazu Cataratas (Iguazu Falls).
Leaving history behind we continued up Ruta 12 we were tempted to veer off and take a short stint into Paraguay and cross the Parana River to visit the Ruins of Jesuit Missions in that country but numerous people we met advised us that it was too dangerous and particularly with a vehicle such as the well equipped Cruiser which attracts so much attention. Not only would the police at road blocks hassle us for bribes etc but we could even find ourselves without wheels. We decided to stick to the Argentinean side of the river and made our way north rolling up at midday at our destination Puerto Iguazu situated at the confluence of the Rio Parana and Rio Iguazu, this woodsy town the gateway to the most famous of waterfalls ‘The Cataratas del Iguazu’. We checked in and set up camp at Viego Americano, the best organized campsite to date, in a superb setting amongst huge indigenous trees, lawns and meticulously clean facilities – more one could not wish for. Our plan, to visit the Falls the next morning before the hordes of tourists arrive.
Up at sparrows, packed up, time to move out to explore one of the most awe-inspiring sights on the planet. These waterfalls are of such magnitude and sheer power that they make others seem puny in comparison. They lie split between Brazil and Argentina within 2100 sq kms of National Park, much of it rain forest with an annual precipitation of 2,000 mm, and teeming with unique flora and fauna – hundreds of varieties of birds, many animals, reptiles and thousands of species of insects especially multi-coloured butterflies.
The Falls were first seen by Europeans when Alvar Nunez Cabera de Vaca and his expedition stumbled upon them in 1542. According to Guarani folklore the Falls originated when an Indian warrior named Canoba incurred the wrath of the forest god by escaping downriver in a canoe with a young girl named Naipu with whom the god had become infatuated. Furious, the god caused the riverbed to collapse in front of the lovers producing a line of precipitous falls over which Naipu fell and at the base turned into a rock. Canoba on the other had remained standing as a tree overlooking his fallen lover.
At the entrance to the Parque a huge new complex has been constructed with restaurants, stores selling curios, exotic garments, adventure agencies offering boat rides, great ablutions. At the ‘Train Station’ from whence a cute gas powered locomotive pulls open sided carriages that ferry tourists to various stations from which one could walk along catwalks to marvellous viewpoints overlooking the falls. These catwalks totalled in excess of 5,000 m.
Margaret and I decided that seeing we arrived very early on the first day to take the train to the furthest and most dramatic cataract, the mind bending Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) arriving at the end of the track we got off and walked the first long catwalk (1400 metres) bridging the mighty Rio Iguazu. It is supported on huge concrete pylons and touching tiny islands along the way opening up to a massive platform overlooking the mightiest of mighty waterfalls one can imagine. The river with millions of tons of water cascading and disappearing over the edge into the abyss 80m below, spray and mist in all directions, glorious sunshine, beautiful rainbows, a photographer’s delight. We have fantastic photos and video footage!!
It was not long before hordes and hordes of tourists arrived, time to scoot out of there, return via the catwalk and take in the marvellous scenery all around. It was almost noon by the time we returned to the mini Train Station. Steaming hot and humid outside we wandered into an air conditioned restaurant for lunch and my routine siesta –taking a nap on a park bench under a huge shady tree. Mid afternoon it was time to explore the lower terraces of the Falls again walking the catwalks that led to the ‘miradors’ of more incredible cataratas, this time viewed from below. Absolutely mind boggling the size and scale of these waterfalls in all in excess of four kilometres in width. On reaching the last viewpoint there was a small kiosk offering exciting, exhilarating and daring boat rides on the river up to and close to the base of certain waterfalls as these meet the river below.
Margaret was most apprehensive at first but soon changed her mind as she was not going to be left behind and off we went. Fitted out with life-jackets and plastic bags to protect our photographic equipment we boarded a 20 seater inflatable powered by two, yes two, 200 hp outboard motors. No sooner had we settled in and our skipper turned up the throttle and we took off in the direction of the first waterfall. It looked so gigantic towering above us. Near the falls a slight hesitation, “Protect your cameras” our guide shouts and as the last word leaves his mouth the boat rockets forward and realizing what was about to happen we (most of us in the boat with the exception of the crew) started screaming but to no avail, no help was forthcoming as we shot under the torrent of falling water – but before one could utter Jack shee .t the boat sped out again, we were totally drenched looking like drowned rats. To make a statement the skipper turned the boat and accelerated back once more under the falls – vanity had gone out of the window, we all looked as if we had been dragged headfirst through the river, absolutely wetter than wet!!!!
Cruising out of this leg of the river the skipper turned the boat facing upstream of the Rio Iguazu and the resonance of the motors changed as we sped up the river towards Garganta del Diablo. Sheer madness but sanity prevailed and 600 metres short of the Devil’s Throat he slowly pulled over to one side of the river, the motors idling and then the inevitable now expected shout “Cover your cameras” and off we took this time speeding across the waters and under another huge cataract coming off the side of the ravine, split seconds and out again, lest we forgot one more sprint under the torrential water a second dunking bar none. Wet to our shoes, then a short stint downstream and a walk up a stairway – goodness knows how many steps – trudged and puffed up them slopping in our sopping wet clothing, out of breath and still wet we reached the top and our waiting Overlander to take us on a short tour of the jungle and back to the parking lot and Tubby.
The following afternoon we returned to the Parque and explored the upper level of the Falls seen from the boat below the day before. Two bonus days of sunshine and excitement – another fantastic event to remember. Next stop Foz do Iguacu – to see the Falls from the Brazilian side.
Across the confluence of the Rivers Iguazu and Parana beyond the Argentinean village of Puerto Iguazu lies the southern Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu and to the west its chaotic sister city Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Between these two they have the unfortunate reputation as South Americas most corrupt cities, frequented by smugglers, drug traffickers, money launderers, you name it, and Ciudad del Este one of Latin Americas biggest shopping centres especially for electronic equipment, cameras, sunglasses, cigarettes, liquor, CD’s etc. etc of which many goods have been smuggled into Paraguay avoiding import taxes and are sold at ridiculously low prices. With so many criminal elements around who would dare to take his well-heeled Land Cruiser across the river? We hailed a taxi (cab) for the day instead. Our first stop the Cataratas on the Brazilian side. Leaving Argentina we presented our passports as usual, clearing through immigration in no time, and on entering Brazil there were no checks whatsoever. On we went, the road leading to the Parque Nacional Do Iguacu and arriving at a super-duper newly erected entrance facility we were soon ushered onto luxury double-decker buses that took us to the Brazilian side of the majestic Iguacu Cataratas.
Our first stop – a marvellous panorama of the Falls on the Argentinean side of the Iguazu River. Only then could we get a picture as to the immensity of these awe-inspiring, tumultuous, thundering waterfalls. A footpath hugging the hillside paralleling the river led us to a number of miradors, each view as superlative as one can only imagine. Strolling along the damp path we came across a number of Coati Mundi – cute little animals, related to the racoon, scavenging along the walkway and clambering in and out of the dustbins searching for food. Onwards we strolled towards the catwalk that would lead to the foot of the Garganta Del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). Standing at the end of the walkway on the platform looking up at the water tumbling down from the top – to our left, to our right and in front, the gigantic cataract The Devil’s Throat. One could only be mesmerised by the grandeur of these magnificent waterfalls and not for one moment even believe that in 1978, during the dreadful drought of that year, there was not even a drop of water flowing down the cliff-face. Incredible!!!! It is strange how nature works.
Leaving the water’s edge we climbed up some 150 steps – pretty strenuous when you think that I suffer from arthritis – well I am thankful that my knees were holding up pretty well. At the top of the staircase we boarded the double-decker shuttle and returned to the Parque exit to meet our taxi and go on to the next venue.
Called in at a bird park – macaws, toucans, Roseate Ibises, spoonbills and many more of the most colourful birds that frequent this part of the world and a jaunt through an aviary of butterflies living side by side with hummingbirds. Glorious to see these miniatures co-habitating and flitting in all directions.
Then it was off to a Churrascaria for a lunch of the most delicious meats of all sorts barbecued to perfection over red hot embers, one could eat as much as one was able to consume! The meat was accompanied by assorted vegetables, downed with a cervesa (beer) and topped off with a superb postre (pudding) – absolutely decadent and weight-watcher’s revenge. Obviously we over-indulged and from there it was time to move on to our waiting taxi. Next stop – Itaipu.
Itaipu is the most powerful hydro-electric scheme in the world. This huge structure is a combined effort between Paraguay and Brazil and straddles the Paraguay River north of Foz do Iguacu. Apparently not even the Three Gorges Dam project in China when it is completed will provide more energy. The two of us and fellow tourists were chauffeured by buses into and around the gigantic plant of which the reservoir wall is 196m high and 7760m long and with its 18 generators produce 14.6 million KW per annum of electrical power which is more than double that generated in Grand Coulee in the USA. Returning to our campsite late afternoon we had had a most full-filling day.
Two days later much to the consternation of our friends in Obera took a cab and paid a fleeting visit to the immoral, dangerous city of Ciudad Del Este and its infamous mercurial shopping centres. The array of merchandise was something to behold and never mind the ridiculous prices. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the camera that I was interested in was only available with the NTSC system (American) not the PAL system we have back home in South Africa. So without further ado and slightly disappointed but not out of pocket we skadadalled back to our home on wheels and safety across the border into Argentina.
On arrival we opened the van, the awning, took out our table and chairs and whilst having supper we noticed way over in the distance a build up of ominously dark clouds ever so slowly moving in our direction – were we in for another deluge? As darkness set in the silence was broken, the wind started to blow, first a breeze and then it picked up to a roar thundering through the high canopy of the trees – time to turn in. We were in for another hair-raising night. We had only just cozied up to our pillows when the heavens opened shattering the silence of the night around us. Crackling, clapping lightening overhead was followed by the inevitable long rolling thunder. Rain blown by the wind was now pelting the tent from the side, it sounded like millions of pebbles being thrown onto the fabric. We could hear branches breaking and falling to the ground around us but fortunately not onto the tent. The noise was actually most disturbing. Margaret was terrified, crawled in under my arms and clung to me like a leech (thought my luck was in!!). The Cruiser and the rooftop tent swayed from side to side. What could we do but remain on top? Get down and get drenched? No ways!! This was a deluge second to none – no canvas in the world could withstand such an onslaught. With my Mag-lite I could see tiny glistening droplets forming on the inside of the canvas. The lightning, thunder and wind abated but the incessant rain continued. Eventually we fell asleep. Come daylight it was still raining and at mid-morn when it finally stopped we climbed down the ladder and hastily packed up.
No sooner had we closed our equipment and stashed our table and chairs into the Troopie when it started to pour. Time to beat it out of there. So here we are tootalling along heading south, visibility poor – the spray trailing out the back, the wheels churning up the red soil of Misiones and swirling onto the Cruiser only to cover it with grime, passing trucks adding to the misery. It is amazing that when there is drought one prays for rain and at the time does it does set in and remains continuous, we are unable to wish it away soon enough, I suppose that is life!!!/p>
Two heavy days of incessant rain – we had had enough, decided to shack up in a Cabana and hope for the weather to clear soon. All my life I have made a point of not packing away camping equipment that is not well and truly aired and dry, lest mildew and rot set in whilst stored. So as soon as the sun showed its head we got down to open up all our damp gear laying some of these out to absorb the sun’s rays.
A couple of days chilling out and re-arranging our equipment some of which we intended leaving behind in the Troopie and other goods we will be taking back to South Africa. All sorted we left the Cabana and on our way over to L N Alem we pulled into a car wash – ludicrous – the charge only two dollars!!! Drove on to Dimon, parked the spick and span Land Cruiser under cover in a secure corner, disconnected the batteries, handed the keys to our host, Andre Coetzer, bade him farewell and left by bus, a super comfortable luxury coach for the twelve hour overnight drive down to Buenos Aires and henceforth the flight home to Johannesburg. As mentioned before we will continue our Odyssey of South, Central and North America with Tubby Xplorer early in the New Year.