Paraguay Jan 28, 2008
Leaving Rio on a Crucerro del Norte bus, we had to book for Puerto Iguazu on the Argentina side. From there, local buses cross back into Brazil and then Paraguay. The bus itself stops in Foz on the Brazilian side but we weren’t allowed off. We then had to go through the Brazil immigration, then the Argentina immigration, and arrived at the terminal during a downpour. After waiting for over 2 hours for the local bus which runs every 20 minutes and night falling, we decided that we’d spend the night on the Argentina side and cross in the morning.
Early the next morning, Monday Jan 28, we caught the local bus which took us back to Argentina immigration for the second time in two days and then to Brazil immigration, finally entering Paraguay at Cuidad del Este. Our plan was to visit the world’s second largest dam just outside Cuidad del Este. The bus drove straight through, leaving us to backtrack in the rain to find the Paraguayan immigration. We had purchased our visas in Buenos Aires but needed our entry stamp. That done, we walked a few blocks into Cuidad del Este which is nothing more than a huge disorganized shopping bazaar that caters to 30,000 visitors from Brazil and Argentina every day for “duty free” shopping. Needing to find an ATM machine, it took several minutes and a group of taxi drivers to finally understand us. The ATM machine is located in a bank hidden among a few office buildings with no names. After getting Paraguayan Guaranis (money) we bought our bus tickets to Asunción.
Asunción has 1 million in population, several shopping malls, old colonial houses and not much more. We stayed in a private home, the Pension de Silva where they have converted about 8 bedrooms into rooms for rent. The ceilings are at least 20 feet high and the patio has 3 sofas and 6 chairs plus several other tables with 4 chairs each. A large 12 seat table plus china cabinets and large TV occupy a corner and still provide plenty of room for more.
Paraguay is a lovely country caught by crippling economic corruption and a political party that has been in control for 75 years.
It was four times as large as it is today 150 years ago. A major war with Brazil and Argentina resulted in all males over the age of three being slaughtered and Brazil together with Argentina carving and claiming most of Paraguay. The U.S. is pouring money into the country to form a wedge between leftist governments in South America and is making the politicians very very rich while the sidewalks, building, schools, roads, etc. continue to decay. So what’s new?
The next morning we went in search of the fabled boat, the Cacique II for a trip up the Rio Paraguay into the Pantanal. After asking many people, we finally found it being loaded with all sorts of food and beverages. All 3 cabins were booked for the week. We could sleep on deck in hammocks, but if we waited around a week until next Wednesday, we might get a cabin to take us up to Conception. There we would have to wait 4 or 5 days and hope a boat was leaving to go north. No guarantee! After talking with several travelers who had attempted to go upriver, we decided that it was best to head back to Argentina and visit the painted deserts and canyons around Salta.
Back in Argentina Jan 30, 2008
Entering back into Argentina we passed through immigration but didn’t get our passports returned until all our luggage had been taken off the bus and run through an x-ray machine. As they didn’t seem to mind that I had fruit in my bag, a no no, I don’t know what they were looking for. The bus from Asuncion took us to Resistencia where we booked an overnight bus to Salta, a Flecha bus. Not one of the very good ones but okay. On trips of less than 8 hours, the busses have 4 seats across instead of only 2 and 1, so they are narrower.
The landscape changed from lush green to brown rolling hills and finally into high desert. The hills were covered with low desert shrubs and hundreds of Saguaro cactus and a very low, flat growing type of Prickly Pear. We had always heard that Saguaro cactus only grows in the area outside of Tucson, Arizona and the Sonora Desert and that they are more or less endangered. Not in Argentina, there must be several million growing in the high desert. Many of the tourist items and small tables are made from the wood.
Salta is a really beautiful old colonial Spanish town with streets a mix of asphalt and old cobblestone. The large central plaza opens out into a pedestrian street with many shops of all types. The difference in the population from Buenos Aires is very apparent, many people of Indian heritage which gives a different flavor to Salta. We thought about renting a car but found out that the insurance isn’t really cheap; it comes with a deductible of $1300 USD.
Most of the hotels were booked because of the local “Carnival” but we found a newly refurbished and clean room with private bath for only $16 USD, but it was a ways from downtown so we spent a bit more on taxi fares.
We had neglected to change our Paraguayan money back into Argentinean pesos and found that no bank would change it, forcing us to wait until Buenos Aires and hope for the best.
Most of the town action occurs at the lovely town square. There couples and families congregate evenings. Restaurants and sidewalk cafes are full and parades, dances and the local “Carnival” brings Indians in traditional dress out. A couple of “Gauchos” walked around drumming up business for a restaurant but were more than happy to pose for the tourists.
A cable car runs from one the many parks up to the top of a mountain with fantastic views. Ted took the cable car while I visited all the tourist shops. After, we wandered through the main plaza, arriving just in time to witness a children’s parade. Some children wore costumes while the majority marched in street clothes. Many mothers accompanied the children.
The parade ended by the park gazebo where music blasted out; older kids mixed, danced and enjoyed. Suddenly Indians in brightly colored dress with elaborate headdresses began to congregate at one corner. Placing their feathered headdresses on a rack, they encouraged the children to touch and examine, some children trying the headdresses on. The biggest headdress had a stuffed Capybara mounted while several of the smaller ones had Armadillo shells mounted. After awhile, the Indians performed a dance back and forth in the plaza.
Walking around one of the city’s several parks, we spotted a small wooden boat shaped like one Christopher Columbus might have sailed in. An Ice Cream Boat, complete with ice cream cones and an assortment of flavors. Many stalls were set up selling all sorts of tourist delights. The ever present stalls selling a wide assortment of “mate” cups. These cups are made from horn, silver, gourds or rock. In each cup a silver straw with a filter rests. “Mate” is a sort of herbal tea that is stuffed into the “cups”, hot water from thermoses that almost all Argentineans seem to carry with them, is poured over the herbs and the drink is sucked up the straw. I tried a “Mate” tea bag but have yet to try the cup full of packed herbs. It tasted like Green Tea.
Several small malls are entered from the Plaza walking street. One had a large display of painted Saguaro Cactus, painted in fanciful colors and adorned with humorous or imaginary colors.
Salta has a museum where three mummies from high in the Andes have been brought, one on display and two in the freezer. The mummies, all children, were sacrifices of the Incas and were all royal children. With the children were small dolls, bowls and other items needed for the journey to the Gods. Because they were basically “freeze dried”, the children’s bodies and their clothes are in very good condition.
Next: north on the Bolivian trail to Jujuy.