The madness of crossing the Ponte da Amizade to get to Paraguay and Ciudade del Este is boggling. This is a border crossing between Paraguay and Brazil that is barely policed. Rift with crime, drugs and illegal exchange of goods, one wonders what’s going on here.
Apparantly the joint venture between Paraguay and Brazil that resulted in the largest hydro-electric damn in the world also yielded an agreement of sorts that allowed for ease of crossing the border between these two countries. It’s a duty-free zone gone mad. The nearly 1km long bridge is constantly clogged with traffic. And a narrow path defined by a concrete medium separate motorcycle traffic from other motor vehicles. One can pass over the border without question. It’s up to you if you want to get stamped at the border. Most simply go to Paraguay, buy goods in the market madness and return to Brazil. This has resulted in a free market opportunity for motorcycle taxis. The unknown heroes and maniacs of this odd bridge and border are these motorcycles and their riders. For a dollar or two the motorcyclist will usher people across the border — and back.
Like a pack of flies the moto taxis huddle in a holding area until an offical gives the go ahead that they can cross the bridge. At this time they swarm acorss often bumping into each other while balancing passengers and their cargo to make the journey across the river. It’s something one must experience and see first hand. Sadly, I didn’t take any video footage of this wildly amusing chase.
The line to get across and the traffic on the bridge just gives a sense of the madness of a border you need no documentation to cross.
Moto Taxis on the Parguay side waiting for customers with arm-fulls of duty free goods to buy a ride across the bridge.
On the Brazil side Moto Taxis line up and wait for the go ahead so they can swarm across.
The shops on the Paraguay are purported to offer, among the real thing, black market, stolen and phony goods. THere are dozens of stores that sell the exact same thing. It’s like Hong Kong but gone even madder. I wandered the maze of markets looking for a backup battery for my video camera. I spent three hours being ushered from one stall, to a store, to a mall and back again by no less than four helpful “runners.” I’m sure if we found the goods somewhere, my usher would earn some type of commission. But this is speculation.
I spent a couple nights here including a dinner with my friend Angelo that I’d met in Brazil at the falls at his churasscaria. Then I returned to Brazil to marvel at the industrial masterpiece called the Itaipu Dam. It is the largest in the world in a hydroelectric capacity. Though when Three Gorges is complete in China, Itaipu will fall to second. Though they are sure to explain that due to varying water levels the amount of energy generated at Itaipu will be greater on an annual basis.
Angelo, pictured here with me in background, sent me this photo a week after we met. Turns out his wife took a pic of him on the bus ride into Foz do Iguaçu and coincidentally I was on the same bus and made a cameo appearance in her picture. This is hours before we met.
My tour at Itaipu was incredible. The size of this damn, though not as impressive as the Falls which it shares the water source, is mind-boggling. Located on the Paraná River on the border separating Brazil and Paraguay, the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant is the world’s largest electricity producer and a joint development between both countries. Negotiations for the dam began the 1960’s and in 1974 the countries signed a treaty which allowed the legal exploitation of the river’s hydraulic potential. During its construction the amount of concrete poured every 55 minutes was enough to construct a 20 story building. Though most of the damn was paid for by Brazil and international banks, Paraguay technically owns half. As the agreement is written, each country gets 50% of the electricity. If one country uses less than the other, the other country must buy the energy from the other. This is all because the damn straddles the border of both countries. It produces more than 20% of Brazil’s electricity and 92% of Paraguay’s. Frankly, Paraguay doesn’t need much of the energy Itaipu produces. Brazil, on the other hand, uses and pays Paraguay for the excess energy. The dam first generated electricity in May of 1984. Brazil for many years was straddled with the debt it took on to build the damn. And the previous management of the damn worked for 20 years or more without making a dent in the loan. But new management has put Itaipu in the black and payoff is in the foreseeable future.
It took two days to get to Santa Catarina Island — Florianopolis — on the southern coast of Brazil, stopping on a rainy night in Guanapuava for rest and food. The road from Içuazu toward the coast is for the most part a toll road. Unlike Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina (with a few exceptions), Brazil joins Chile and Mexico as countries that charge motorcycles for riding their highways. Also interesting to note while riding past the toll booths that shared a stretch of real estate with the police, was the bone-yard of crashed cars and motorcycles — at each police checkpoint — mute reminders of why driving in Brazil should raise mortal reminders. Some of these cars were so gruesome that I had to swallow hard and turn my head avoiding the vivid imagination of what likely happened. The insane speeds that some Brazilians drive combined with how close they come up behind other cars — and this motorcyclists — at speed while jockeying to pass leaves no doubt that Brazil’s reputation for bad driving and auto fatalities is easily evident.
Arriving in Florianopolis I once again got bombarded with heavy rain.