Paraguay is wonderful: open verdant landscapes; sun beating down all day; meat by the tonne; men on motorcycles being run over by Landcruisers; fence posts being attacked by Landcruisers; essentially, it has the lot! We had no real expectations when entering, which in itself is a rarity: usually we know at least something about a country, and yet all we could muster was a free-kick taking goalkeeper called Jose Chilavert in the 1990’s. Oddly, this didn’t come up that often.
Unfortunately for me my Wednesday started out a little badly. Well, that said, we had an excellent breakfast with bacon - first time I’ve seen it in 7 weeks - and a fabulous hotel stop in the cheapest capital city in South America. But after trying to nudge our way out into traffic, a motorcycle sped past and clipped the front of the bonnet, wiping out my left indicator. Shit, I thought, I’ve done it again! <For reference, I almost wiped out a busload of women and children going to a wedding in the Karakorum, Pakistan, but as the saying goes, that is another story>.
As happens in this part of the world, there are accidents every day: motorcycles rush by on either side of the road including the hard-shoulder; not all vehicles have worked lights; and traffic in cities is merely a diffident chaos. It was simply a matter of time in a big city that there was a scrape, and so 12,000kms into the trip I finally had an accident. Fortunately, the motorcyclist wasn’t injured, the bike needed only minimal of repairs, the Landcruiser was all right and police were friendly didn’t ask for a bribe. The whole matter was sorted within an hour. No one asked about a free-kick taking goalkeeper.
We spent the next few hours sightseeing in Asuncion, a cool small city of a few million people with some good restaurants, colonial architecture and food-trucks that would give Melbourne a run for it’s money. We shopped for a new indicator, replaced my disintegrating shower pipe and finally found a 7mm spanner to, there’s no other way of saying it, grease my (car) nipples. I did say Paraguay has the lot. We then headed up to the highway and spent a good few days in the Mennonite colonies, checking out the wildlife in the natively-famous Chaco Region and relaxing where we could amongst the blistering heat. Again, our timing has been impeccable – last week the whole area was flooded and rendered impassable. This week the water has gradually receded enabling us to spot cayman, heron, cormorant, flamingo, jabiru, sandpipers, coatis and bucket-loads of big damn spiders that create webs between trees spanning 20 feet <shudder>. And we saw puma . . . tracks. Not quite the same.
We made some good new friends too with tourist guide Marilyn who let us stay out at her cattle ranch, Ulrike at the tourist info that guided us around the museums and didn’t mind one bit about the fence post I knocked over and put back up, and the extremely kind Hector, a Landcruiser enthusiast that helped us grab parts in Asuncion. We headed out for some beers and food in the evening as a thank-you and put our broken Spanish to good use. Oh, and he knew Chilavert – yassssss!!!!
If you're enjoying the write-ups (and even if you're not!), I am trying to raise awareness of two great charities during this trip, and am constantly amazed at the number of people I meet that have been affected by domestic violence or mental health issues. It's not an Australian thing, it's a global human issue. Any donations would be most welcome and all funds go directly to the charities - am over one third of my way to the $5000 goal!
Another one of those incredible ‘wow’ moments this week, how utterly ennui. Do you actually do anything else, Reed?
We’ve been bouncing around in the last two weeks, whilst at the same time staying still. Which is odd, this staying still bit (I can feel my girlfriend’s eyes rolling from 12,000km!). A few days to rest in Buenos Aires, and to give Izzy a full-service, felt like a month went by. Lovely restaurants, cool graffiti, learning the history of another coup and a nation morning the disappeared, a city of Eva and the upcoming Summer Youth Olympics, BA is incredibly endearing. We even made time to pop over to the wonderful Uruguay on a catamaran for a few days, as you do, crossing the chocolate-milk River Plate.
Time plays a lot of tricks when you travel, and travel with such freedom and speed: a week and a half ago I was hunting orcas (shooting photos, not guns) on the eastern coast of Argentina; I rocketed up the coast through traffic and mayhem of Buenos Aires rush-hour to meet old friends; I picked upmmy travelling buddy for the next few weeks, Richard Clayton; we then visited the picturesque Uruguay, chilled out in cafes and got bitten the crap out of by mosquitoes at Cornito del Sacremento, a mash of Spanish and Portuguese influence; we picked up some more hitchhikers; spent two great days at Iguazu Falls; then went to Paraguay via Brazil, which was a bit unexpected.
In the past I tended to research places to death: the planning for London to Sydney took four years. This trip has been more ‘well that sounds all right, let’s try for there’. Hence driving across the bridge from Argentina, not knowing that I was in fact arriving to Brazil not Paraguay, and then having to circumnavigate across open-border immigration where effectively you can stroll right on through three countries if you were so inclined i.e. we did it and had some back tracking and apologies to do. Incidentally, rocking up at a border and saying you want to go to a city that’s not actually in that country, does make you look a bit of a tit.
Iguazu / The Great Water
Argentina’s Iguazu Falls fits into one of those wonders of the earth highlight reels (or the universal Reed ‘let’s try there’ system), along with Victoria Falls, Niagra and Angel – the latter is the only one now to evade my glare. I always find facts a little meaningless unless you can relate to them: everyone knows how much a litre of water is, but if you say the rate of flow is an annual peak of 6.5 million litres a second . . . the brain just says ‘yeah, sounds big’. To make sense of it all, you need a comparison, which is probably easiest with Niagra since it’s one of the most visited. Iguazu is taller than Niagra and twice as wide, with twice as many peak litres per second. In scientific terms, it’s referred to as a shit-tonne of water. Unlike when I was at Niagra when the Maid of the Mist ambled up to the colossal waterfalls and slams the engines into full-power to avoid getting sucked under, Argentina has a different policy: send everyone over on small speed-boats and get everyone on board absolutely soaking wet. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was as photogenic, vast and fun in my life. Oh and wet, staggeringly wet.
One of the many things I adore about travel is opening yourself up to meeting new people treading vastly different paths. Life is beautiful with people drift in and out of your lives, sometimes only fleetingly, sometimes for years and then many years apart. A chance encounter after being robbed of all my possessions in Madrid on my 21st birthday has endeared me with one of my dearest friends, and meeting a pastry-chef on a horrendously dodgy flight in Indonesia ten years ago has blessed me with another. In the last ten days alone I’ve met with lawyers, expedition guides, teachers, resource consultants and social workers, all following their passions, and I wonder which ones I may meet again. When working in London and learning Spanish, I was lucky enough to meet Anthony, a hard-working high-flyer buying a property in Argentina. Fast forward 15 years and although Anthony now lives in Singapore, the four-bedroom house in cool San Telmo, Buenos Aires, remains, and Myriam, our lovely Spanish teacher at the time, manages the property. Having showers and proper beds every day felt like a bit of undeserved luxury, which is the best kind of luxury known to man. A huge thank you to both of them for their time, kindness and generosity!
Onwards to Paraguay! Via Brazil, obviously, everyone knows that.
The Chileans said Argentina would be ugly, and the were right. Not all the Chileans obviously, I didn’t do a survey. Some locals on one of the many ferries on the Careterra described Chile-Patagonia as stunning, Argie-Patagonia though was muy feo. Our first tastes of the country, after crossing through the backdoor tiny border-crossing of Roballos, was about 800km of scrubland. Scrubland with ridiculous wind. I didn’t think it was possible, but if you amble away from Route 3, the main highway up the country, it’s even more windy. I didn’t want to take a pee out in the open because I didn’t want to get my glasses wet.
Since reaching the end of the world in Ushuaia and then turning up the coast, the description of Argie-Patagonia pretty much sums up the first half of the 3000km journey towards Buenos Aires. Ugly with border crossings, but punctured by penguins (sightings of them, they’re not trying to have a go at the wheels). Despite Ushuaia being in Argentina, to get north, you have to cross back into Chile, and then back again into Argentina. I’ve only been here a few weeks and Izzy and I have entered Argentina three times already.
The King Penguin colony is on the Chilean side, and I timed my visit perfectly for the visitor centre to be closed. I still got it. How the lass running the centre spotted my tears through the driving rain I’m unsure, but she opened up the office and I was allowed within shouting distance. Very, very happy boy. Further up the coast, and back in Argentina, the tourist-neglected national park of Monte Leon gave me a vast Magellan Penguin colony all to myself. This time, getting about a foot away. Yes, I know, I had the same query: how many little Magellan penguins, all feathery and cute from malting, can fit inside a backpack? Three is the answer, but Ewe wasn’t happy about it.
A curious incident on the way to the colony, though. For the entire trip I have heard rumours of pumas in almost every national park we’ve visited. I was desperate to see one: I’d even gone so far as giving my uncle the special ‘puma attracting nightlight’ when he camped in his tent. Nothing! Yet on the way to the colony, there are large signs telling you NOT to walk alone as pumas inhabit the area. Now . . . how much did I really want to see a puma? I looked at the brochure handed out by the tourist info: they did look big. There is a heading that says ‘what to do if you see a puma’. Surprisingly, shitting yourself wasn’t an option. Fortunately my trousers, I didn’t see one.
I have missed out on some key fauna: no condor; no guemals (wild-deer); no whales. And yet I have seen flamingos, rhea, countless guanaco’s (wannabe llamas sometimes disguising themselves as guemals to get me excited); dogs by the million; foxes; a jackal; sealions; last night a Patagonian skunk, which was pretty cool; and today a spider dancing between truck tires on the freeway. And how do you spot such a spider? When it’s the size of your hand. Surprised he didn’t just bench press the lorry out of the way.
Despite rocketing up the coast on my own, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. It’s gradually getting warmer, and after being pummelled by Chilean roads, bitumen is very welcome indeed. When bored of comfortable driving, I’ve headed off over to local gravel roads on occasion, finding gems like Cabo Raso. I had no idea what I’d encounter but chanced the place would have some kind of food I could pay for with cash money. Turns out they did! However, Cabo Raso was, a first for me, a one-man town. That’s right, one person lives there. And Eduardo actually lives 60km away, so it’s a no-man town, but he happened to run the place and knock up a steaky-feast for me too, albeit with a starter of olives and cured meats. I hate both, but since it was just me and him in town, I wolfed them down purely on the basis that I didn’t want to wake up dead, halving an already pretty bleak populace for poor Cabo Raso.
A propos of nothing, I need some new glasses. These ones smell funny. Overlanding: it’s not all glamour.
It’s the End of the World as we know it, and I feeeeel fine!!
I’ve dreamt about Ushuaia. Not in an obsessive, odd way, just for the last ten years (erm. . .) or so imagining what it would be like. Think Scott and the Antarctic, treacherous weather blighting you all the way and yet somehow making it through to the world unknown and find . . . yourself! Or God! Or a snail, or something. Yes, I know, setting yourself up for disappointment much? The Scott reference may also refer to my blighted attempt at climbing the summit of Torres Del Paine in Chile a few days ago only for the snow to white-out the mountain and cancel my, at that point, 8km and 3-hour ascent. Such is life!
Yet as with everything, it’s what you make of it. I had a 600km journey from Chile’s Punta Arenas after dropping my incredible uncle off to the airport, and I planned on breaking the journey up a bit and take my time. It’s a long stretch of road, ferry ride, long stretch of nothing, uneventful border-crossings from Chile to Argentina, some towns, and then beautiful mountains. I gave lifts to two local hitchhikers trying to get to work, both old men, both I could barely understand (bit like having my Uncle back) and made good time to eventually camp out at a lake about 60km from Ushuaia – thanks iOverlander App! I had this beautiful peaceful lake, with water so clear you could see the bottom even halfway across, all to myself: no fires, no lights, no people, no animals anywhere. Lovely! Still, at dawn I did notice some animal somewhere peed on my wheel to mark their territory. The country is crammed with stray dogs but I didn’t notice any last night. But anyway, packing up my stealth camper early that morning, I was off again, to the great Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world!
Problem is, the city at the end of the world isn’t ready for early starters, so most things were closed. Bypassing the valley of shipping containers, the first view as you enter the city, I into the city . . . and then out the other side for Tierra Del Fuego national park: the park at the end of the world, the last road of all roads, where I found . . . tourists! And all had come to the end of the world to say ‘look, I’ve made it to the end of the world, just like Richard!’. Cabrones!
However, I did manage to head off the beaten track, find a rock to sit on, and watch nature unfold. A colony of cormorants basking in the sunshine kept me company, a pair of seals made large gaping breaths at the water’s surface before ducking down to feed, the sun tore through the clouds to light the world. It’s not what I’d imagined, but it was fantastic. I treated myself to a wonderful local seafood stew from a back-alley restaurant with no one in it – no self-respecting local eats at 7pm. Usually after driving, sight-seeing and taking a million photos all day, by the time 8pm hits, I’m ready for bed! Rock. And. Roll. Lifestyle.
As I write this, sitting in the national park after a lovely night’s sleep, and being greeted in the morning by a screeching Hawk sitting on top of the Landcruiser, it’s a bit other worldly. Most of the time on this journey there have been few tourists: most have drifted north as I’ve come south. My uncle and I would travel on backroads with barely a car every few hours. I spend my entire time thinking “I can’t believe no one is here!” and then when I encounter other travellers I then say “why the hell are you here?”. And yet this morning, as I went around the park and to the touristy areas of yesterday, no one was there. Not a soul. It was like the world ended or heard me bitching and complaining yesterday and thought ‘yeah, I’ll do something with that’. It was fabulous! I’ve since worked out that my guardian-angel has wiped out the entire population of Tierra del Fuego. So . . . sorry about that.
Life and the microcosm of travelling are similar in many ways: everyone is on a journey of their own making, paths cross, you navigate through the problems to the best of your ability, and you make of every situation the best you can. And that’s what starting the day without tea and toast gets you: philosophy. And yet to make a point, something has peed on my wheels again.
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here