Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Another land border, from Argentina to Paraguay. This is the most porous border yet; God only knows what was smuggled across in those heavily taped boxes that went beneath the bus. We landed at the seedy border town of Ciudad del Este and headed into town after finding a dive hotel for 15 dollars a night. South America is not as cheap as it used to be! The downtown was absolutely deserted, at 5:00 in the evening, except for security guards at every corner with long sawed off shotguns. The shops where all closed with metal doors rolled shut over them. At one corner several men were trying to rattle their way in one. Eventually we found an ATM and a place to eat. A Chinese woman in a short skirt was twirling her keys and making suggestive comments to the diners as we walked in. As we ate I noticed a man standing by the window staring in at us. When I glanced at him he winked at me and continued staring for a moment before backing into the shadows and lurking there. After a bit he was back at the window staring as he twirled something in his hand. If I looked over in his direction he would wink or make other machismo facial expressions. I was completely unsettled and told Tim that he was waiting for us with bad intentions. But it turned out his motives not nearly as sinister as I had imagined. The man sitting next to us bought him some food and asked the waiter to bring it to him. The man grabbed his to-go bag and took off, mission apparently accomplished.

Day two in Paraguay was spent visiting Itaipu Dam, which produces 75% of Paraguay's power and 25% of Brazil´s. The Dam is an environmental nightmare to be sure, but if that 75% of power had to be supplied by another means it would probably be just as bad environmentally, and probably worse from a humanitarian standpoint; power would be more expensive in a country that is already quite poor, and Paraguay would not be as energy self-dependant. The tour of the dam started with a propaganda video showing all the animals that supposedly live around the newly created lake, but most of the photos came from inside a zoo. When the dam was finished in 1983, water flow was completely cut off and the lake was filled within a three week period. Tim and I couldn't help but crack up laughing when the movie showed people in small boats netting animals that where stuck in the trees as the water rose. This was supposed to prove environmental awareness, but I think filling the dam that fast was completely reckless! I guess the animals that couldn't climb trees were shit out of luck.

After our visit to the dam we spent six hours on a bus and a few more trudging around looking for a hotel in Asuncion. At one, we were told that a room would be available in a half hour. OK, now, it's 8:30 at night. Just what kind of hotel do you think that was? At some point during this odyssey, I remembered that it was my birthday. Tim remembered the next morning!

We spent three days in Asuncion (not in the questionable hotel) before heading to Ybycui National Park (your guess on pronunciation is as good as mine) to see one of the last stands of Brazilian subtropical rain forest. Unfortunately, it was now in the midst of Holy Week and both hotels in town were full. Buses were coming into Ybycui, but they were not leaving for two days. Sonya, The friendly lady running one of the hotels showed us a room full of extra furniture and said we could stay there. She brought us sheets and a foam mattress to sleep on. The lights did not work and neither did the fan, but the room had a nice balcony. As evening came around, bass thumping cars full of teenagers began cruising back and forth on the road out front. It soon became apparent that our room was a mosquito breeding ground, so we set up our tent in the middle of the floor. The next morning the room was full of bloody mosquitoes. Well, at least it wasn't our blood!

Sonya found us a ride to the park with a friendly couple staying at the hotel. It was jam packed with locals and tourists from Asuncion swimming and camping. There were two major highlights for the day. One was seeing a Praying Mantis staggering along in its weird, jerky gait and the other was an amazing, huge, electric blue and black patterned butterfly.

After this, we headed to another border town, and another border to cross.

Drinking Yerba de Mate, the national drink. Everywhere you see people carrying thermoses of this tea leaf brew.

How would you like to have a tooth pulled here?

An old cannon in a city square, piled with riot gear. I was a little nervous snapping this shot in the midst of the many groups police lingering around.

Praying mantis

An interesting mural in Asunction.

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