One Big Dam

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Trip End Feb 01, 2005


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Flag of Paraguay  ,
Sunday, November 7, 2004

Not as dodgy as I was led to believe, Ciudad del Este was an interesting place, a bustling kind of interesting. The TV has Arabic channels and there are a fair percentage of Muslims. The roads are lined with street stalls selling plastic crap. There was an black coach with Opus Dei in gold letters speeding past while, coincidentally I was reading The Da Vinci Code.

Itaipu Dam
I`ve got all the stats, but the most interesting is that Itaipu Dam is the largest hydroelectric plant in the world and provides power to all of Paraguay and leaves them with a bit more to sell to Brazil, who share the other half of the dam (but with 170 million more inhabitants, they obviously need more power).

I went for a tour, which I discovered was free (even better). We had a coach to take us for the drive, and being a Saturday morning, there weren`t many other people there for the tour. I was the only gringo on the bus.

We first saw some of the slipway(?) where there are massive waterslides of water coming from the dam. They rush down in a white water fall and then do a massive arc at the bottom and fall into the river. I really wish I had taken my bathers with me.....

Then we drove along past all the turbines, all 19 of them, heating the water up, which is shot down 20 metres before being released to bubble and warm the water up in the river. The turbine tunnels (I`m being extremely technical and correct here, as you can tell!) are 10 metres in diameter and the bus was dwarfed by the dam restrainer wall, rather like an ant walking beside a brick.

Next we drove along the Brazilian side to get a gawk of the slipway front on and the dam wall. After that we drove along the top of the wall and on the right was the massive big dam, which played second fiddle in the excitement stakes to the slipway and it`s waterpark good looks.

There are also massive big electric power pylons which are herded into a massive compound, although not surrounded by the normal developed world types of fences. A few stray pylons managed to escape and race across the green countryside.

Border Crossing
Getting back to Ciudad del Este was better than expected. After flipping the bird at a bus that didn`t stop to pick me up, I was flashed by a coach who stopped for me. I chatted with Juan Carlos and Fabian who were taking the empty coach back to the terminal and they were keen to know my thoughts about Paraguay and what Australian transport was like. They were nice guys and the free ride was an added bonus to the free tour!

After collecting my mochila, I boarded a bus that was supposedly going to the border a few blocks away. They told me that the 10 block trip would take 2 hours!!! There was banked up traffic and obviously some kind of problem with the Brazilian entry. So I took a deep breath and decided to walk.

I got a few comments, but by now I`m rather used to them (although they still rile me, why is a lone female such an attractive verbal target?) and waved off the offers of a motortaxi across the border. Now I was extremely happy about the lightened load and it would have been a massive struggle with an overfull backpack.

I got my stamp out of the country. I didn`t even have to wait in a line, despite the fact that there were hundreds of people streaming across the bridge and walking casually into Paraguay. Luckily I figured that I needed to walk on the righthand side of the bridge, and was passed by lots of people looking about nervously and clutching taped up shopping bags full of contraband: video games, DVD players and even a fluorescent light.

It was kind of weird being back to where they were speaking Portuguese after hanging out in Spanish speaking countries for the last 6 months. I miraculously ended up on a bus going to Argentina. I just happened to be walking along the road when suddenly an Argentinian flag appeared beside me, so I jumped on, and when I saw how far it was to Argentina, I was very glad for that stroke of fortune.

Things I Learned
* Rate of construction of the Itaipu Dam was the equivalent of a 20 storey building being built every 55 minutes. Now wouldn`t it be nice if all tradies built buildings so quickly?
* People from the Brazilian and Argentinian towns do all their shopping in Ciudad del Este
* I can carry my backpack without dying!
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