Posts Tagged Paraguay/Argentina

Smile!! Life is a party.

Returning to a place you feel comfortable after a long journey is a great feeling. To drop your backpack, take off your shoes and allow yourself to relax. My mind is always “on” when we are on the road, constantly looking for danger, evaluating choices and trying to enjoy the current environment.

Laying on our guest room bed, Tamara and I do a brief overview of our trip….just to make sure we both were paying attention. It feels strange to be coming to the end of our trip.

Uli takes us on one last trip around Paraguay’s capital. We visited the recently closed main train station and saw the telegraph that his father-in-law used for so many years. We talked to the father-in-law later and he said that at times he communicates in his dreams in Morris code.

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We also got to see/tour the oldest train in all of South America. The British sent this train for the first train on the continent in 1856.

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As we were leaving the train station, a old strange sign caught our attention. It must have been there for years, out of sight but all the while projecting it’s message.

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A night before we were to head back to the US, we were getting ready for meeting and there was an explosion. Running outside we expected to see a bomb crater but instead nothing….then BOOM! Lighting stretched across the sky in a horizontal display. Every 10 seconds for 30 minutes spidery horizontal lighting reached from one side of the sky to the other. I never thought that lighting could be so constant and have never seen that much of it.

While the lighting didn’t touch the ground, the rain sure did. Uli said that “it will be a wet one” and it was! Rain so thick you could not see more than a 100 feet.

We packed everyone into the car and drove the 8 minutes to the Kingdom hall. We were soaked by the time we got the 30 feet from the car to the front door. I started to feel kinda proud of ourselves for making it in such bad weather and then I noticed that even though the Khall was full, there was only 3 cars in front. Most everyone had walked in the rain to get here.

The trip back to Oregon was a long 4 different flight, 30 hour, 5 movie, 4 meal, 2 kids (one vomiting) ordeal that is best banished from the mind. We really enjoyed our trip but also enjoy re-learning what being home is about.

Hope you enjoyed the documentation of our trip to Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Not sure where we will go or what we will do next but it will be posted here. There is a subscribe button on the front page if you wanted the posts delivered to your email address or feed reader.

Until our next trip…Christopher and Tamara

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Smugglers Blues

Part of un-scripted travel is that you can run into dead ends or delays. We have run into one of those delays but I think we can figure a way around it.

The area around Iguassu was contested for quite a while and this has caused a strange tri-border frontier area. In the photo below the land you see on the left is Paraguay, the land on the right is Brazil and we are taking the picture in Argentina.

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To get to Paraguay, you have to take a bus from Argentina into Brazil and then over to Paraguay. The trip is only 20 minutes and costs about $5. But, if you are an American….you will need a Brazillian Visa just to drive across. This is a problem because 1) It costs $165+ per person, 2) takes time to get the visa, 3) I am cheap and don’t want to give that much money to Brazil just to drive through.

In talking to some locals, they say that there is a way to cross into Paraguay by boat but no-one we have talked to has ever done it.

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Tamara and I fill our backpack and head out of our Hostel along with a couple of British guys. They are also headed to Paraguay but have Brazilian Visas. When they find out we are going to try and cross by water, they seem concerned and doubt it can be done. This kinda bugs me but the nice thing about only taking what you can carry is you are never stuck. You can always walk away and try something else.

The local bus picks us up and we ride the 25 minutes into town. Barefoot Indians in ill-fitting western clothes climb on board (not paying or being asked for a toll) and sit in the front of the bus. The many non-Indians (Argentinians) that are riding the bus give the Indians as much room as they can. Not out of respect but, what seems to be, out of disgust. I wonder what the dynamics are between the locals and the real locals?

The bus stops at the bus stations and the Brits head off for their 20 minute tri-country bus ride. Apprehension begins to leak into me as we start walking toward the river not knowing where we are going. I figure that down would get us to the river and the locals cross somehow…so…should work out, right?

Eventually we find the river and the strangest boat I have ever seen. It looks like more like an artistic endeavor and less like something that will float.

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There is a strong military presence here and they seem a bit disbelieving that we want to cross. They check, sign and stamp our passport and someone gives us a hand scrawled ticket to a ferry in exchange for $.80 cents.

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We end up waiting for an hour and as a small flat barge pulls up ( I was hoping to ride on the bubble boat) we are still the only people on foot waiting to cross. There are 5 vans that are waiting and I notice that they all are very similar.

We are loaded on the barge by a large captain in a stained hodge-podge uniform and then wait 30 minutes as he fixes a motorcycle that needs a new magneto. In the mean time, I start to wonder more about these strange looking vans. They are all 5 driven by super slimy guys that get very nervous when they catch me looking at them. In each of the passenger seats sits even slimier middle aged women with very low cut shirts. The vans themselves have had all the windows tinted and have cardboard covering the inside of all the windows so that it would be impossible to see in. The wheels are heavy duty and it seems like the suspension is reinforced.

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About the time the captain finishes his side job and we start to pull away from shore it comes to me why the vans didn’t go though immigration or customs, why the military seems to not notice them…..we are on a smugglers route.

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Once the barge pulls away the nervous energy of the boat changes to a relaxed calm. The slimy people all get out of the vans and visit with one another. Inside the open doors I can see machetes and ancient rifles. Behind the drivers seats are completely blocked off with cardboard. I really want to know what they are carrying but I decide not to approach such a shifty looking group.

In 25 minutes we make landfall in Paraguay. There is a taxi waiting for us but the driver is obviously on drugs. His twitchy and loud demeanor is reinforced by intricate tattoos all over his face and neck. I have only a few rules to travel and one of them is to never trust a person with tattoos on their faces or hands. He yells at us as we put our heads down and quickly walk past him heading for the immigration and customs office.

The vans pull off the ferry, pass a bit of money to the customs guy and head off down the road. The process was quite different for us as the immigration guy was fully into his 90’s. He wrote our names in a large ledger, signed a few things, stamped randomly and then asked if we were coming or going. I am not sure I have seen glasses thicker than his but eventually we were allowed to leave. Mr. Immigration points up the hill and says that a bus will come up there.

The tattooed taxi guy is coming about this time, so we quickly head off up some stairs that climb the side of the hill, thinking it is a short cut. This ends up taking deep into the country side. I find a stout “walking” stick and try not to think about what a mess this could turn into with the single addition of a local with a knife.

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I wonder where the British guys are now and start to wish we paid the $325 to pass through Brazil. Then we come upon some locals building a road. I am not sure how they knew so quickly but I hear them call us “loco Americanos” as we approach . They point us in the right direction and to make a longer story shorter, we find a local bus (1 hour), find the bus station (30 minutes) take a bus to Asuncion (6 hours) and are picked up by Uli. When we tell him about our journey, all he says is “That sounds fun! I want to do it.”.

Wow, what a day!

Having done it once…I think we would do it again.

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Iguassu who?

Our time away was rapidly coming to a close so we started to plan our return to our departure city, Asunción, Paraguay. A highlight of South America is in this area and we have been saving it for the end of our trip; Iguassu Falls. The Falls are thought to be the biggest (in some ways) water falls currently on earth and is located on the border between; Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

We caught a cheap flight 2 hours north east, leaving behind the dry cold for the humid hot of the jungle. Iguassu is a frontier town in every sense. The poverty is pervasive but there is work and food so it is much better off than most places in the world. Many homes are set on a small hectare of land for growing manioc, corn, sugar cane and other subsistence foods.

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The red soil stains everything including shoes, children’s teeth and even the dogs are the same red color. Few of the roads are paved and are dominated by large semi-trucks moving good (sometimes legally and sometimes not) between the three countries. The jungle is slowly losing the battle and these roads claim a animal every day. The few pictures we see of wild animals are those dead on the side of the road; jaguars, tapirs and many other strange colorful creatures. The ancient cars that are driven here are just amazing to me. I don’t know where they get the parts or even the tires for these machines…but they keep driving.

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One day we hire a tour company to take us zip-lining, repelling and hiking in the jungle. We had never zip lined before so we were nervous to ride a cable almost a mile distance, 100 feet up in the canopy. It turned out to be great fun and we wished we could do it a few more times.

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We never did see any animals during the zip line but during the hike we saw a few creatures. The jungle typical Amazon rainforest but our guide explained many things that helped us understand it better.

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Then came the day we took the local bus to the Iguassu National Park. We walked about a kilometer as the roar of something large got louder and louder. We started to see mist rise above the trees. Then we saw Iguassu Falls.

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The falls stretch over a mile and the trails let us explore almost all of it. Since the falls are so large with massive amounts of water spilling over the edge, most of our photos are from far away. At times we were able to get quite close to the falling water and the powerful mist ripped at our hair and clothes. I always wondered what it would be like to be at the bottom of a large water fall so we jumped at the chance to take a boat into the falls.

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We loaded up the expensive looking boat with Argentinean tourists and headed straight at the water fall. We explored the mile of falls and then without much warning we went under some of the falls. I had my camera in a Ziploc bag so was able to capture some of it but after the first assault I couldn’t hold the camera anymore. The power of that much water hitting us from above, from the sides and even from below (?) pounded us into submission. When the boat pulled away from under the falls (not sure how it stayed afloat) the entire boat was spitting out water and screaming with laughter. Below is a video of the first bit but it is an experience we won’t soon forget.

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Train to the Clouds

I like trains.

Not sure why but I think it has to do with what I read when I was young. While most people like to dive, watch birds or buy some trinket when they travel, Tamara and I like to ride a train when possible. So far we have rode long distance trains in US, Peru, India, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Germany, Italy, France and UK. One of my dreams is to ride the new “highest train in the world” which travels from Shanghai to Lassa Tibet.

Here in Salta (Argentina), they have a train that travels up into the remote highlands and is part of the reason that we came here. The train only runs once a week and starts off very early. You can read more about this train called “Tren a las Nubes” or Train to the Clouds.

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Bundled in scarves, jackets and cups of tea, we leave the frontier city and head northish toward the Bolivian plateau. The dry landscape produces a very fine dust that slowly sifts into your clothes and turned our eyes gritty. Working our way up a small river, the train looped higher and higher. At times the train would stop, switch tracks and back up a mountain, then switch tracks again and pull forward on another track. Using this method, we literally zig-zag’d our way up a few mountains higher and higher.

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Small towns gave way to remote villages and then sparse homes with barefoot children waving at the train. The landscape is really the highlight of the journey with brightly colored hillsides and haunting beautiful empty spaces.

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At the last towns we stop for 20 minutes so the train can do some adjustments. This gives us time to look over the crafts that the locals have prepared for us. Crude wool sweaters, warm cheese filled bread and brightly colored stones carved into shapes. It also gives us time to pose for snaps and get a flash cooked sunburn.

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The few animals that can live up this high were hard to spot but did see long legged rabbits twice the size that they should have been and a bright orange fox that seemed baffled by the train. In the distance we also saw the standard Llama and the rare Vicuna. The Vicuna is a Llama like animal which has the world’s softest wool on it chest. The delicate animal can’t be domesticated, can only live in high altitudes and is protected from hunting because of its rarity. They are quite beautiful and we felt lucky to see so many in the wild.

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About this time we are reaching 12,000 feet which can cause altitude sickness. You don’t really notice the change but slowly your heart and lungs are rapidly trying to adjust to the limited oxygen. Most people get a dull headache that feels like the low pressure is pulling your eyes out of your head. The train staffs a doctor and he walks the train to make sure no one is passed out. If anyone has an issue they have oxygen available.

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A few hours, cups of tea and aspirins later we arrived at almost 14,000 feet, the highest that this train travels. The landscape is barren with only a type of scrub and a few cactuses to show that this location is actually on earth. The sky is strangely bright and since there is so little atmosphere above us we are warned about exposure as the train stops letting out its eager voyagers.

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Everyone walks slowly toward the view point and the few that try to rush are quickly bent over trying to catch their breath. A few drop to their knees, succumb by the lack of oxygen. One lady next to us just turned off. One second she was standing there and the next second she was on her back, arms to her side and eyes turned up inside her head.  The train staff rushed over with oxygen and she was eventually hobbling back to the train.

We really enjoyed the 17 hour ride and will remember the remoteness of the landscape, the headache and the sparse beauty of the space. While the train didn’t reach the clouds it did seem to blend with the sky.

Now it is time for a post train Argentinean snack and soccer video game!

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Salta in my beer

They say that one of the most amazing areas of the world is in southern Argentina and Chile. Patagonia has long been on my adventure list. We had half planned (a story for later) to go to the south and see the penguins, glaciers and mountains but we found out that the winter weather had turned extreme. With those plans not seeming reasonable we instead found some cheap ($90) tickets to the north of Argentina where the weather would not be such a limiting factor.

The remote area is known for the fine wine, amazing scenery and a train that travels to almost 14,000 feet in remote plateaus where only Rabbit, Fox and Vicunas can live.

The city, Salta itself feels like a part of Bolivia or Peru and not the first world feel of the rest of Argentina. This is feel is reinforced by the Bolivian Indians that live and work here. The Indians are very dark, have old world features and speak Quechua as a primary language. They usually wear warm but crude woven ponchos, thread-bare canvas shoes and a fist full of Coca leaves stuffed in one side of their cheek. This gives them a lopsided look.

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The custom/habit of chewing Coca leaves is common in Bolivia and Peru. It is has a strong effect and is said to help with altitude sickness and hunger pains. It is addictive and illegal in most countries. The tea that is made from the leaves is not addictive or illegal. Tamara and I would have a cup of Coca tea with dinner. The tea has similar strength as a cup of coffee but reverse effect. It definitely helps with altitude sickness. We first Coca tea in the Peruvian Bethel. Here is a photo of a typical dinner; a stew of beans and meat, empanadas (a pastry filled with potato, onion and meat), fresh squeezed grape fruit and Coca tea.

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We bought a tour that drove us 16 hours into the remote desert. We saw many different landscapes and the tour guild explained how the formations were made. We usually don’t do tours but sometimes it pays to follow the path laid out, sometimes.

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One formation was very interesting. It was caused by a rush of water thousands of years ago that dug a hole into the mountain. I forget the name of the formation and photos really don’t do it justice but here is a snap of it.

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Tamara and I are not really wine people but not because of a lack of respect for the art. We just have not been exposed to much wine and so jumped at the chance to visit a few wineries that seem to make this area of Argentina famous. The tour was fun and the wine was very complex, with subtle changes and strong flavors created by the black magic of the grapes, water and soil. It makes more sense to me why people are so drawn to the old grape juice.

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I will close this with two snaps that are not connected in nature but in lack of place to stick them. One is of Tamara decked out in her photographer garb.

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The other snap is an example of just how ugly a llama can be. I am sure she has a nice personality.

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