So this blog post is about the difference between being an ex-pat and being a traveller. You need different skill sets for each. When you're an ex-pat you need conversation starters, you need to know a bit about culture and politics, and you need to know how to pick a good fruit at the market. When you're a traveller, you need to know how to ask directions, watch your wallet, and understand a bit about body language and psychology. So when you're an expat traveller, you may think you know what you're doing, but you have to remember to stay on your toes.
Travelling is wonderful. You can rise above your life and float from place to place, landing wherever the wind takes you. If you have a conflict or a bad feeling, all you have to do is book the next train out. You get to eat out more, and your life consists of planning to see the best of each place you go. It is necessary for expats to get time to travel, otherwise we don't get to experience the best of the country we're staying in. We don't get that sense of freedom of choice or the bliss of transcending the mundane. We don't get the thrill of being a jerk sometimes when we need to, taking comfort in the fact that we never have to see the victims' face again.
On that note, I would like to promote the trip I just got back from. It was relatively budget, which is very often a necessity for expats. Gustavo and I went to Foz do Iguacu. But we didn't go to the Brazil side, we went to the Argentina side. The town is named Puerto Iguazu. Here are a few tips for you if you decide to do what we did and take a long bus trip down to see something absolutely astonishing.
- Only use the women's toilet in a bus station if the toilet seat is UP. If it is down, that means it has already been used by someone. A toilet seat is only sat on once. The second person to enter the stall will not sit, but will hover and spray. That is why you should only use the stalls with toilet seats that are up. This is how the cleaning ladies leave them, to indicate that they haven't yet been used.
- At bus terminals, men will stare at you, more than usual.
- A Leito (bus with 'bed' for overnight travel-- it's not really a bed, just a seat that reclines a tiny bit further and is a bit wider) is not long enough for tall people. If you're tall and thin and on a budget, use the regular bus if the front seat is available and if you are traveling with your partner. You can lean against each other and you will have about 100 extra reais to spend on souveniers. You won't sleep well either way, Leito or not.
- Always check user reviews of your accommodation before you reserve. If you reserve before you go, you save money, but remember... hostels near the falls don't have a priority of being beautiful, they have the falls as their selling point. Just make sure that the sheets are clean and that your private bathroom actually works.
- Bring a converter for your North American appliances. You don't need it a lot of places in Brazil, but you will in Argentina.
- Make sure you have enough battery life in your camera.
- If you go to the falls, stay on the Argentinian side. It is quaint, a different culture, and cheaper. It is far superior to the Brazilian side. The falls on the Argentina side are also amazing and you will not feel like you missed out if you miss the Brazilian side altogether.
- From the Argentinian side, there is a free ferry which will take you to Isla San Martin. Go to the island. It is the most beautiful and intimate view of the falls and many tourists don't go there so it's much less trampled upon.
- Keep your eyes open for the little details. The birds nests, the spider's webs, the monkeys, the flowers, the crevices water carved out, the agate and jade stones on the beach, the begonia growing on the cliff face. There is so much life there.
- Know a bit of Spanish before you go.
- Be prepared for many border crossings. If you're taking a public bus (easy instructions from the Rodoviaro in Brazil, to the Fronteira Argentina) be prepared to get off and say goodbye to your bus 2ce. Once to get a stamp leaving Brazil, and once entering Argentina. Same thing coming back.
- It is a tourist site, and so be prepared for obnoxious tourists who think the view of the falls, and all the walkways leading up to them, belong only to them.
- Meet some Native English speakers. There are many there.
- Buy a rain poncho in Foz do Iguacu for R$ 3 rather than at the falls for R$ 23. Yes, you can use R$ on the Argentinian side, as well as USD.
- Go see the view of the Tres Fronteiras on the Argentinian side. You can stand at a point in the park where you can see all three countries: Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.
- Whoever you go with, you will always share that experience. It's a great place to go with someone you love.