Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lago de Itaipu, Brazil

Dear friends and family,

We last emailed you on March 7 after having ascended the swift Paraná River, with Paraguay on the left (west) bank and Argentina on the right, to the mouth of the Iguaçu (or Iguassu or Iguazu) River, which joins on the right. Both rivers are set in deep, forested canyons. Puerto Iguazu, Argentina and Foz do (Mouth of the) Iguaçu, Brazil lie on the north and south sides respective of the Iguaçu River. Ciudad del Este lies on the Paraguayan side of the Paraná.

The meager Argentine and Brazilian port facilities face each other a kilometer upstream on the Iguaçu. We had decided to have our baby in Brazil, so after a week we crossed over and tied up at a facility for getting dredged sand up onto trucks. The bank was steep and muddy. The glossy, red-brown waters rose and fell dramatically for reasons unclear to us; both rivers had major dams upstream. Getting to shore was difficult, and getting from there to downtown Foz required a long uphill walk and a bus ride.

With a population of 250,000, Foz had a fair availability of goods and services. Ginny’s extended belly didn’t lend her to vigorous exploration, but Steve, with no such handicap, bought a used bicycle and a map of the city. The nights were hot and our solar-fed electrical system lacked capacity to run a fan, so we installed a second battery and a fan of lower amperage. The weather subsequently cooled with the onset of Southern Hemisphere autumn, but we would need the cooling capacity later as we re-approached the Equator. Playing on Brazilian strengths we ate mangoes and chocolate and drank beer from returnable liter bottles. There was little traffic. On weekends families came and set up chairs and umbrellas and fished at the foot of the boat ramp as if it were a beach.

Ginny’s mother, sister, and her sister’s boyfriend were scheduled to arrive around birthing time, so we found a small furnished apartment ten blocks east of downtown, near a shopping center. On March 15th we picked Mom (Lois) up at the airport and moved in. Normally talkative, she was so excited she switched from subject to subject like a hummingbird sniffing flowers, zigging and zagging. At the apartment she showered us with gifts, including peanut butter, hostess treats, and five (!) tiny magnifying glasses, not to mention a suitcase of things she had transported for us. Lois took one bedroom, we the other. Then we sat on the sofa and feasted on pizza and ice cream.

On March 19th , one day past the due date, Ginny woke up feeling “different somehow.” At 8:00 a.m. she started having contractions every five minutes, then every four. That being the indicated frequency, Steve called a taxi, but when we tried to leave the gate wouldn’t open! In our apartment block each landing led to a pair of apartments sharing a barred gate. We had never locked it before, nor had the neighbors, but this time they had locked it and left. And our key didn’t work! We were stuck inside with Ginny in labor! Ginny was calm, expecting labor to take all day anyway, but Lois and Steve were in a panic, yelling for help and trying to kick the gate down. Finally a neighbor, reaching his hand through the bars, got our key to work.

Ten minutes later we were in the lobby of the Hospital Cataratas, a small private institution. We had already purchased a birth plan. Staffers promptly examined Ginny. Pronouncing her “pronto!” (ready) they wheeled her away into the depths of the hospital where no one could hear her scream. Lois and Steve took care of paperwork, then tried to follow her. They wouldn’t let us into the birthing room! Steve remonstrated with increasing insistence until some nurses dressed him in scrubs and led him into the inner sanctum. 

Ginny was in full labor, screaming with pain, foaming at the mouth, thrashing on the table. The doctor was working calmly only taking time to occasionally give the impossible order “Tranquilo!”. A brawny, demonic nurse had her arm passed through the metal framework of the birthing bed from one side to the other in such a manner as to clamp Ginny down while also pressing her bulge vent-ward. “Push!” she commanded. “Stop, breathe deeply! Now push! Harder!” Steve, crying but calm, held Ginny’s hand and translated the commands. His presence helped Ginny feel more secure, but it didn’t relieve the primal agony.  
After a short, but unimaginably long 30 minutes the anguish was over! They snipped the cord and all too briefly showed us our baby, then took him away. During his forty-five years of practice Doctor Fava had done 28,000 births, so he knew his business. He was the only doctor we could find who did normal births as Brazil is notorious for having an astronomically high rate of C-sections, something like 90% in the private hospitals. In the big cities there is a move back towards normal, what they call “humane” births, but Foz is not so progressive. Their attitude seems to be that anyone who requests a natural birth must be poor or masochistic.

They rolled Ginny into a private room where Lois was waiting, content because she had previously been in the nursery holding the baby who then spent four hours in an incubator. Finally they brought George Iguassu Ladd to us, healthy and beautiful! Various doctors and nurses came and went asking this, injecting that. George was chubby and calm. He weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces, much bigger than the doctor had expected. He began nursing right away. “Now we’re immortal,” said Ginny. Unable to sleep, she just stared at George all night.

We spent the night in the hospital room and in the morning took a taxi to the apartment. Ginny’s sister Carley and her boyfriend Matt had arrived during the night. We spent several happy days together. When Ginny wasn’t scrubbing diapers, nursing or just staring at George she was zoned out pondering the baby’s mysterious needs and wants. Lois kept us all well fed. When she wasn’t cooking she spent every possible moment holding and cooing to her first grandchild. Carley brought a huge bag of prizes for George, donated by kind friends. Matt, in taking a walk, discovered a favela (slum) lining a stream only a quarter mile from our relatively lush apartment complex. Steve studied guitar and Portuguese. It has even more verb forms than Spanish! And those devilish Xs can be pronounced four different ways: “sh”, “s”, “z”, or “cs”.

On George’s seventh day we all took a bus to Iguassu Falls, which occupies matching national parks on either side of the Brazilian/Argentine border. We followed a trail on the lip of the gorge with views of the countless individual falls, up to 270 feet tall, over a large area where the river plummets over a cliff that curves in plan view, and which in places is broken up into two steps of half that height. The trail had many vantage points, some immersed in swirling droplets due to proximity to one or another of the cataracts. We held George aloft in the mist that he might absorb power from his namesake. We also rented a car and explored the Brazilian state of Paraná. Corn blanketed the rolling hills, dotted with neat little towns, cleft with deep valleys.

The third leg of the stool, Ciudad del Este, is an infamous duty-free zone and smuggling center. Lois and Steve took a bus there to buy cameras and new clothes for Ginny. It was comparable in size to Foz, but poor and congested. Paraguay’s lack of import duties had created a retail boom necessitating a profusion of new six-story buildings. Typically the side facing the street was emblazoned with mega-graphics while the other three were of unfinished brick. In the canyons between the buildings overhead cables filled the air like vines in an Amazonian forest. But one rarely glimpsed such things, because stall-keepers had turned the sidewalks into congested tunnels of shoddy Chinese merchandise, while the streets were full of stalled traffic. Flyer-distributors tried to entice us into Lebanese- or Syrian-owned electronics stores. Ambulatory vendors sold phone chargers, hats, belts. When a rainstorm hit a little boy in shorts and flip-flops turned a discarded chunk of Styrofoam into a boat and floated it down an engorged gutter.

Carley and Matt went home all too soon, but Lois stayed over a month. Foz is a bland, automobile-oriented city, but we had plenty to do. We had Thurston transported from the river to a reservoir above the city, and got George a shiny new Brazilian passport. We made new friends and enjoyed a few musical get-togethers with them. A newborn necessitates a lot of idle time, but  we could always count on an American action movie dubbed in Portuguese to keep us entertained. 


On April 16th we sadly accompanied Lois to the airport. Our rental now expired, so we packed up our stuff and caught a bus to the boat. A few miles upstream of Foz on the Paraná River lies the mammoth Itaipu Dam. The Lake Itaipu Yacht Club had not only consented to accommodating Thurston, but had towed her there free of charge. An army of employees in matching blue T-shirts kept the grounds immaculate and launched and retrieved the members’ boats, which were kept on land, each on its own trailer. Thurston waited for us under a shady tree, on land to facilitate some boat work.

Except for the yacht club, the shore of Lake Itaipu is a wilderness reserve. A troupe of tufted capuchin monkeys sometimes comes to pick a big green fruit called guanábana (soursop) from a tree behind the club’s workshop. All the conveniences are available here, but we live aboard as usual. Ginny re-arranged the cabin to accommodate George, who sleeps beside her up forward. She has made up funny songs to sing while she feeds him, changes his diaper, etc. He gets fussy but Ginny is patient. In the morning Steve plays with George in the cockpit while she washes diapers. The nearest stores are a twenty-minute bike ride away in Tres Lagoas, a suburb of Foz. 

We made a new sail cover and are now building new hatches for the aft stowage compartment because the store-bought ones always leaked. We are also cutting the compartment’s forward edge down a little to allow a full rowing stroke even when the water is rough. (Waves necessitate lifting the oar blades higher, which in turn necessitates  a lower arc at the grips.) After learning guitar for two years with standard tuning, Steve has gone over to Major Thirds tuning, which gives the fretboard a symmetrical pattern of notes.

As eccentric travelers who had chosen that their adorable son be Brazilian instead of Argentine or Paraguayan, and had middle-named him for their waterfall, we enjoyed ideal public relations conditions. Besides the kind hospitality from the Iate Clube Lago de Itaipu new friends put us up in their posada for a spell, a TV crew filmed us (see the video here) , a newspaper reporter interviewed us, and the yacht club wrote us up in their glossy quarterly magazine. Too bad we didn’t have anything to sell!

When we get underway again we plan to ascend the Paraná and Paranaiba rivers into the state of Goias, transport to the Araguaia River, and descend it to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon. George has been asked to hurry up and learn how to row. Wherever we are in about four months we intend to fly back to the U.S. for a long visit.

Lots of love,
Steve & Ginny (and George!)