Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011, 12th - 15th December: Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

2011, 12th - 15th December: Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

For a full complement of photos, follow this link to my Flickr account:

My first port of call in Brazil was Foz do Iguaçu which is just across the border from Paraguay. It is a relatively young city and much of it´s development is as a result of two local hydrological features, namely; the Iguaçu waterfalls (on the Rio Iguaçu) and the Itaipu dam (on the Rio Paraná). These two mighty rivers converge at the tri-border point where the frontiers of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet.

I was fortunate to meet an American woman in the hostel called Marcia on the first night. She is very intelligent and so it was great to have some really interesting discussions and enjoy visiting both sides of the falls with her.

The cataratas (waterfalls) of Iguaçu (or Iguazu in Argentina) are shared by Brazil and Argentina. Because the complex of waterfalls is so vast, to fully appreciate this natural wonder it is best to view them from both sides of the border.

The Brazilian Side of the Falls

The Brazilian side is a gentler experience as you do not get close to the biggest and most dramatic feature (the Devil´s Throat (Garganta del Diablo)), but it does have a wonderful feature where you can walk out onto a viewing boardwalk which is located on an intermediate water covered plateau between two waterfalls, so one has a magnificent view of water falling from above and tumbling away below. One can also look up the canyon towards the Devil´s Throat (on the Argentinian side). While up close to the waterfalls I felt elated and full of excitement. The huge falls engendered a buzz that permeated right through me so I could not help but feel truly alive - as if all the spray and mist falling on me was a magic tonic.

We also visited a bird park where we saw toucans, butterflies, humming birds amongst many other species.

Brazilian Side  View Towards the Devil´s Throat

The Brazilian Side

The Argentinian Side of the Falls

The next day we visited the falls from the Argentinian side. This side of the border has far more waterfalls and a day spent there is one that just keeps giving and giving - when you think you have seen it all, you are awe struck again by yet another stupendous vista or waterfall.

The most dramatic view is at the Devil´s Throat. To visit this place is a truly incredible experience. The boardwalk takes you literally to the edge of the drop into the vast chasm below. In a brief moment the calm blue waters of the river transform into a vast white, chaotic and utterly powerful white abyss. The endless succession of tumbling white folds of water is awe inspiring. The forces at work and the unimaginable crushing and swirling at the foot of the falls are hidden beneath a permanent dense mist that is frequently lifted by the up-draft to give all those on the viewing platform a light shower.

While the Devil´s Throat is the showpiece of the Argentinian side, there is another feature that does not have the raw crushing power of the main falls but is nevertheless truly majestic. Numerous waterfalls are spread in a shallow crescent (the salto (falls) Escondido, San Martin and Mbiguá) - each formed of many separate white streams. The vista created is rather magical and made me imagine that the crescent was built by a king as a monument to a queen. I saw these views from an upper boardwalk, but was amazed to have vistas of even more waterfalls from the lower trail.

Before visiting the place, I would not have believed that so many truly incredible and beautiful views of waterfalls could be found in one location - I was blown away.

Argentinian Side: The Devil´s Throat (Garganta del Diablo)

The White Abyss

View Towards Salto Gpque Bernabé Mendez

A Scultured Vista Beffiting a Queen

Salto Bossetti

The Itaipu Dam

Being an Engineer, I could not visit Foz do Iguaçu without seeing the Itaipu Hydroelectric dam. While there, I took a tour that showed both the inside and outside of the structure - including the turbine feed pipes, the control room, the generator hall and one of the turbine output shafts in operation.

The dam, located on Rio Paraná, was built through a joint venture between Brazil and Paraguay. It delivers many heavy-hitting facts such as:

It has 20 turbines (normally 18 in operation at any one time (18oo20 to my ex colleagues)) and each turbine has a capacity of 700 MW - I make that 12.6 GW in operation (14 GW installed). For the non-engineers amongst the readers, to comprehend 12.6 GW, think of 210 million 60 watt light bulbs on the go, or the amount of hot air coming out of one politician´s gob during an election campaign.

The dam is 225 metres high (from the river bed) and you can see this height from the cathedral-like caverns that are formed by the triangular shaped bracing structure that provides the strength to retain all that water.

The generators are housed in a gallery that is 1 km long. The water used to feed the turbines is taken from a point towards the top of the dam, then accelerated down vast metal pipes (one dedicated to each turbine) towards the turbine. The water feed to each pipe is opened and closed by hydraulically powered gates near the top of the dam.

To the side of the dam structure housing the turbines is a spillway which is used as an overflow when the total river flow is greater than that absorbed by the turbines. The spillway is a long ´ramp´ which at it´s base shoots the water upwards to dissipate the energy and reduce erosion of the river bed. The flow capacity of the spillway is 40 times greater than the average total flow of the entire Iguaçu falls!

At it´s peak the workforce involved in the dam´s construction was 40,000 people.

The Itaipu Dam

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