Para que?? ParaGUAY!!
Trip Start Aug 09, 2006
53Trip End Ongoing
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I`m in Argentina now, but this entry wont have anything to do with Argentina. So am cheating and predating this, putting it in the Paraguay spot. So last time I wrote I was about to enter Paraguay. Border was a piece of cake, although they were interested in every page of my passport for some reason. Lots of guns on the Paraguayan side. Bus got searched for a while and the driver got in some trouble for some reason. Paraguay has some pretty easy import tariffs and laws, so stuff is constantly being run across the border into Argentina or Brazil where its sold at much higher prices. Which pisses off the merchants there, so just recently they`ve started cracking down a bit. But just a bit
One thing cool about crossing the Paranà River into Paraguay is the 2 hour time gain! So you be in Argentina, travel east into Paraguay, and gain two hours. Strange. Later on (couple days ago), crossing back into Argentina, only was a one hour difference so something must have happened. One thing about the time is that since the country has a reputation as a bit shady, you don`t want to be out alone when its dark. But it gets dark so early that's not realistic. Good thing is the sun gets you up at 5:30am no problem. As I would see in other places, the bus stations are a little less official looking here. Everybody hawking everything under the sun. The money in Paraguay is ridiculous. The smaller bills are in the worst shape you`ve ever seen, taped together in all kinds of places, you think they`ll disintegrate in your pocket.
Went to a boring Chaco War museum, then off to more Jesuit ruins! First Paraguayan bus experience. ¨Comun¨ buses are super old, look like death, lost the shock pads 30 years ago, and are full of smells and things that squawk. And unless you`re a woman over 60, you must be prepared to make a running-boarding
Things change on this side of the border, but the biggest surprise? The presidential election is in a month
Candidate number 2: Lugo, a Catholic bishop. All the liberal parties decided to band together to form the Alliance for Change Party in order to unseat the Colorados. Their candidate is Lugo. But you can`t be a bishop and hold public office at the same time. So he quit being a bishop. What? You can`t do that, just ¨quit¨ being bishop! So he said oh well, I`m running anyway. Which brought ire from the gov, and threats of ex-communication from the church. But he stuck to it and decided to run for prez. Mainly on a platform of helping the poor and of renegotiating the contract with Brazil over Itaipu. (May remember that huge dam I went to last trip? Between Brazil and Paraguay, near Iguaçu falls, and the Binational corporation running it is called Itaipu, as is the dam. The contract made in 73 and valid for fifty years states that all of Paraguay`s excess energy must be sold to Brazil. Obviously with only one suitor, its sold well below market value, which is the problem Paraguay has with the contract
Last but not least: Lino Oviedo. The most bizarre of them all. Just spent a few years in prison for a coup attempt. Was supposed to be 10 but was let out on parole for good behavior. Was army chief in 1996 when threatened to take over the government. But didn`t actually do it because was promised a position in the Ministry. But that was reneged. Decided to run for prez in 98, got the support of the Colorado party, but was sentenced, mid-race, for the 96 stuff. His VP mate, Cubas, ran instead, won, then freed Oviedo from jail. Supreme Court ruled you can`t do that and right before getting impeached, Cubas resigned. Nobody`s left in line for prez! Wrong, Cubas` VP was a guy named Argaña (who had lost the primary to Oviedo), who because of all the craziness had risen to the ranks of president. But Argaña was a big rival of Oviedo, and before he could take office, was assassinated with Oviedo putting the hit out. At this point, everything is madness and Oviedo and Cubas are exiled to Brazil and Argentina. The guy who actually DID take over the presidency was later arrested on fraud and embezellment charges.
And nobody in Argentina or Brazil has any idea that all this is going on right now. This was a super interesting election to follow, if you ask me. As I write this, we have a winner, and I was lucky enough to come back to Asuncion for it. There were maybe 2 televised debates. I don`t remember about Brazil, but in Argentina, Cristina Kirchner refused to debate her candidates because she was gonna coast to victory anyways.
After leaving Encarnacion, went to San Ignacio Guazu, just to see what there was to see. A pretty normal non-descript town. On the weekend apparently there are cool folk/rodeo/dance festivals. Most interesting thing I did was go to a ¨Memory¨ gallery dedicated to all those tortured and murdered during Stroessner`s regime. Stroessner, Pinochet, and the Argentina Dirty War, all happened in the same time period. Real crappy time to be a South American. Was something called Operation Condor and all the countrys cooperated clandestinely with each other in repression
Next, went to Asuncion, the capital. Got bored of being the history-traveller (go through stages...) at this point. Heat was crazy here. Checked out some of the city sites..Pantheon de los Heroes. One of those heros, Francisco Solano Lopez, led the country into annilhation in the Triple Alliance War. Another ¨hero¨ was the first ruler, and dictator, who, when he died (naturally), was so well loved by the people that they chopped him into pieces and fed him to alligators. True story. Both appear on the money. Why? Stroessner rewrote history to portray them as heroes and patriots. There are examples of the economic gap all throughout South America, but the extremeness really comes out in Asuncion. The huge nice legislature building with nice windows and pillar, is right across the street from cardboard-home-garbage-bag-roofed slums
Did a few other things....flamenco show...Manzana de Casas...Recoleta...The tourist office in town just recommended me places where NOT to go. Saw a movie and the theater was so old, the sound static so loud, I had to read the Spanish subtitles to follow along. I had all these plans to go to surrounding areas of historical significance, but like I said, got bored of history during this stretch, and scrapped all those plans. In the early 1900s there was a war in the north of Paraguay. Area is called the Chaco. Extremely inhospitable. But petrol was supposedly there, so Bolivia and Paraguay fought over it, with Exxon(? - I forget) and Shell backing up the two countries. Paraguay won, and no oil was ever found. Point is, they used guinea pigs as passenger pigeons, and Guaranì like we used the Navaho Code back home. Guaranì is a pretty cool language to listen too. I learned some words, but not much else. Yellow Fever has struck Paraguay for the first time in a long time. Right at the bus station are free vaccinations. And I wanted to go into the Chaco, but it was rainy season through March and they say not to go because transport gets tricky. Understatement. The torrential pours were so bad for 40 days, making the sandy-dirt roads impassable. Which kept food from arriving to the people that lived there. 25 died of starvation.
To get away from the whole history thing, decided to go to a National Park. In Ybycuì
Anyway, walking back to town, got picked up by a couple in a pickup. Saved tons of time. And I wanted to go to Asuncion so they offered to take me as far as they could (actually, didn`t want to go there, but if your destination doesn`t lie on a main road, you constantly have to go back to a hub city where there are connections everywhere. Really annoying). Was a big help, and they were really nice. Area near Asuncion is really pretty, with a huge lake (Lago Ypacarì) where people go in the summer, etc...They took me around and we went to another natural water park place, Chololò. On the drive through a town, saw somebody sprawled on the pavement, dead as a doornail. I would see major 3 accidents in Paraguay in limited time. The drivers suck. Reminds me about the news there. They´ll show almost anything on TV. Gross victims still laying in the car, crumpled, while family scream nearby...its crazy, you gotta change the channel. And if theres a rape victim, kid, informant, or somebody who needs their face blurred, the blur is the crappiest blur, you can see right through it
The guy`s family has a dairy farm in Altos. The father was immediately suspect of me when I showed up, especially when the kid told him ¨We found him on the road¨. He warmed up to me in a bit though. The fact that grandpa has a dairy farm and comes from a German background sealed the deal. The guy has been robbed blind by recent workers at the farm and is on the verge of losing it all. A very calm, almost empty farm, not too many cows. Big difference is all the business is done outdoors, but still under a roof. No milking parlor like back home. Everything is done under one huge roof. The next day the guy would actually ask me if grandpa would be interested in doing business with him. I`m not sure exactly what kind of deal he had in mind, and I explained grandpa`s situation now, but if he wants back in it for some reason, he`s got a friend in Paraguay. Difference between this farm and the ones in Brazil, if the robberies happened on the fazendas in Brazil, people would have been hunted and killed. Anyway, the whole extended family was there as tomorrow was Easter, and I was the excitement of the place
Next was a couple of dud trips which expedited my way out of the country. Wanted to see Vapor Cuè. Its not on this online map, because I only pin places I sleep at. But its on a real map. More history stuff, where a bunch of old warships are. Very bla. And a bit funny since the remains of the wodden ships are nill. Theres an old metal piece of machinery, half a wheel, and old slabs of blown up wood in a pile, displaying the remains, and its called historic
Ready for Brazil now. Went to Ciudad del Este, opposite the border of Foz do Iguaçu. Stayed for a night just to see what I`d been hearing about for 2 years, with everything under the sun for sale. True, but didn`t feel as unsafe as I had heard it to be. Next day crossed the border on foot. Pretty big culture shock. Over everything else, the language. And the price. A place to stay in Paraguay, maybe 3-4 dollars. In Brazil, 18 or so. Really happy I constantly had friends to stay with in Brazil
Took the bus straight to Rio de Janeiro. Dengue fever has struck Rio with a vengeance. Worst outbreak there ever. Thousands and thousands of cases, don`t remember how many deaths. People selling electrified tennis rackets to kill them. Shoulda bought one just for the novelty. Was really crazy..these couple days. Stumbling through Portuguese again. When I left, it was near flawless. Not so much now. Anyway, I arrive to the old stomping grounds and, fittingly, see three of my old friends sitting there sharing some beers. I hadn`t warned them of my arrival and they showered me with love for a good while before we got settled down and caught up. On the spot, one of them got on the cell phone, calling folks and organized a party right then and there. So, I`m worn out from a 30 hour bus ride, haven't even done anything in Rio or to get to a bed, and hours later I`m in the same position. Good times. Lots new though. Half the people are gone, the other half are on the way out
Spent about a week in Rio and pretty much just used to time to meet up with old friends. An old friend I met in Uruguay happens to be pretty well connected here, she used to be in radio, and we went to some awesome samba show of a well-known (but not by me) people. Bumping shoulders with soap stars all night. Haha... Also, the old crew from Chapada dos Veadeiros was good to see. Birthday partys, etc...all around Rio-fun. Fernanda was getting married in Presidente Prudente so had little time before had to be there. So left Rio, to basically do the same thing all over again in Sao Paulo. Seeing old friends, etc...Great catching up. Explored the city a bit, since last time never really got the chance. Its alright, but theres no real draw to the city. Just if you already have people there or a job...Otherwise, normal huge city. Had a horrible rush hour experience. Only a few train lines for that many people is a mistake. Waited like 15 trains (stopped counting after 10), was mob mentality, like a rock concert, people getting pushed everywhere, women getting trampled on and screaming, door opening and people exploding into the train
So, Maria Elisa had rented a car to PP so I hitched a ride there. The ride was the most English I´d spoken in a long time. PP was more of the same, catching up with Amy, and catching up with all the Brazilians still in PP. Lots of good times and a bit too much craziness. So crazy, in fact, Fer`s wedding ended with her puking all over her dress and the hotel sofa while the guy working pretended not to notice. Haha...And this is new mom-Fer. And her dad got into a fistfight with his nephew the day befote. Had to rent a suit because obviously, I don't have anything like that with me. Wedding was nice, the reception too. Outside. The Coimbras were great as always, and I love eating at their place. The whole time was a bit crazy, and I was ready to go when the time came. The body needs its rest.
Still wanted to see northern Paraguay, but first Cerro Cora National Park right across the border from Brazil, near Pedro Juan Caballero. Worst border organization I`ve come across yet. Each border town`s bus stations are far, and the respective immigration places are far as well, so to hit all four places, you gotta take a taxi
But I had to leave in time to be in Paraguay for the election! April 20! Was definitely caught up in the whole thing. Because everybody knows the primaries were rigged, the opposition was afraid the general election would be rigged for Blanca as well. Most people I talked to preferred Lugo as ¨the lesser of three evils¨. Didn`t want more Colorados or the crazy Lino, which left Lugo. And indeed, he had been leading the polls. But before all that, I had to cross the border. A border that is so open, you have to get off yourself on each side of the bridge because it wont stop because locals don't have to
Left the next day for San Ignacio to give a quick hello to folks there and to visit possibly my favorite lodging in South America. Crazy family still lots of fun. The girls only go to school until 11:45