Foz do Iguacu, Brazil: Day 4

Itaipu Binacional could actually be considered a separate country (at least in my silly mind) because as you enter it you leave Brazil and yet you don’t enter Paraguay. It is governed equally by both countries as well as international law, it’s resources are shared by both countries equally, it’s lands were donated to Itaipu by Brazil and Paraguay and, when you include its reservoir which is the size of New York, it is larger than some of the countries I have been to.

Itaipu means “the sounding stone” but the dam is more commonly referred to as “the singing rock”. It sings for two (i.e. Brazil and Paraguay) and it sings to better the world. We should all seek an encore or two then as it most certainly has succeeded. Itaipu dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Paranà River and is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy. Construction began in 1975, it took 40,000 employees working each day to construct the dam until it was completed in May of 1984 and it cost the equivalent of $19.6 billion USD to construct. It was elected by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1994 as one of the new 7 wonders of the modern world. Brazil has several of these “wonders of the world” whether natural or otherwise as we have learned including Itaipu Dam, the Christ Redeemer, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon making Brazil an especially important country to visit.

There was an unfortunate incident caused by the construction of the dam. The once largest waterfalls in the world by volume called the Guaíra Falls was drowned by the newly formed Itaipu reservoir. The Brazilian government was forced to close the Guaíra Falls National Park and dynamited the rock structure where the falls had been but a few months before this happened an overly zealous and overly crowded bridge filled with people saying goodbye to the falls one last time collapsed killing 80 people. Philip Glass from America composed a symphonic cantata honoring what happened and the new structure named Itaipu.

Itaipu Binacional is celebrated as a world leader in including, without limitation, invention, research, biotechnology, ecology, conservation, energy, education, entrepreneurialship, and family. I learned that any employee who has been with Itaipu for at least 15 years gets to plant his/her own tree in the Itaipu Garden and there are over 1500 trees planted there now…that’s quite a sizeable family. I also learned that the forest donated by Paraguay has all its original trees and you can tell how old they are because of their size i.e. I think Renato said the Paraguayan trees are 150 meters in diameter or perhaps he meant cubic meters in volume but BIG nonetheless. I learned that because the lands donated by Brazil which surround this vast reservoir were once upon a time cleared for farming purposes so Itaipu replanted 40 million trees and you can tell how young they are because they are currently only 30 centimeters in diameter.

Unfortunately, the dam, while an engineering feat and, as aforementioned, one of the new modern 7 wonders of the world, only has visible water coming from the spillways about 10% of the time. I didn’t get to see this and, as such, due to my ignorance about how modern hydroelectric dams work, found myself disappointed on my visit to the dam. In order to avoid this, I would recommend doing the “special tour” rather than just the “panoramic tour” so you can really get an understanding of how incredible this dam is, what it actually does for the countries of Brazil and Paraguay and how much electricity this one dam generates as the numbers are astounding not to mention all of the other gifts the world receives from this slice of ingenuity. I would also recommend a “night light” tour wherein the dam is lit up at night. It is only available Friday and Saturday nights though I believe. You can even have a nice dinner and drinks in Itaipu at its restaurant and take a boat tour of the reservoir. I think doing these things will give you a better appreciation modern wonder of the world.

To end, a young boy of perhaps 10 years of age who was on the tour with me, asked if he could slide down the spillway or one of the 20 cylindrical turbines and Renato, our guide, exclaimed “yes, but only once”. The dam stands at over 195 meters – the equivalent of a 65 story building. While I also pictured a ride on perhaps a bobsled down the spillway, Renato is right – it would be the last thing either I or that little boy would ever get to do!

That’s all for now. With love and respect from Itaipu.

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