Journeys in Latin America - January to June 2009

Friday, 27 March 2009

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

From Santa Cruz

A less verbose post this time, as a stand-in for a fuller one in a few days...

After a marathon series of stages, in which waiting for buses featured as highly as sitting on them, we arrived to Santa Cruz in the South-Eastern part of Bolivia, from Loma Plata in Paraguay.

The road on which we spent a large number of hours - the Trans-Chaco - passed mostly in the dark, but i saw enough to know that the Chaco around the border of Bolivia & Paraguay (which was militarily disputed with great loss of life in the border-defining Chaco War of the early 1930`s. It looked like a grim place to fight a war - apparently more soldiers on the Paraguayan side died of thirst than bullets.

Anyway, the city of Santa Cruz has a pleasant centre with a lively and friendly central square, and side streets packed with little shops & cafes which more than anywhere else so far reminded me of being close to the centre of smaller Nepali cities and towns. The scrawls, grafitti, and painted adverts are in Spanish of course, but many sites could have been transplanted. Bolivia of course is the poorest of the South American nations, and it certainly shows, especially as you walk out from the central square, but the people seem to have a cheerfulness-through-adversity look about them - but this is just a first impression of a tiny part of the country. So far there has been no hassle whatsoever.

OK - we`ve had a few problems with uploading photos recently due to lack of internet places and slow computers, but they will appear soon... rob

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Hola blog followers...

(Photos to follow after they have been uploaded)

We now find ourselves in Paraguay, one of the relatively forgotten countries (backpacker-wise) of central South America. We failed to find more than One person who had been here, before we hopped on the bus at Puerto Iguazu, although that One person managed to fill me in on some of the intriguing history of Paraguay since the end of the 19th Century & The War of the Triple Alliance. It is mostly the history of a string of dictatorships and corrupt rulers, but also of the immigration and settlement of fairly large numbers of religious Mennonites of German extraction, which happened a three key times - at the end of the 19th Century, between the World Wars, and soon after the 2nd World War.

Anyway, the history is interesting, and it means that we now find ourselves in a German speaking town of about 9000 people on the Tran-Chaco road to Bolivia. We arrived last night from Concepcion on the Rio Paraguay, and so haven´t had sufficient time to explore, but more information will follow...


Iguazu - Ciudad del Este

The route to Paraguay from Iguazu involves a morsel of Brazil, about 30 minutes worth, and then a brige-border crossing over the Rio Parana into the busy, dusty, hot and electronic goods-saturated border town of Ciudad del Este. Many Argentinians and Brazilians travel there in day trips to pick up mountains of cheap TVs and stereos and then pile back over the border. Having no pressing requirement for bulky audiovisual equipment, we took a bus to the bus station, and immediately caught another bus out of the bus station. This third bus was to the capital Asuncion, and we arrived there as dark fell via an interesting road of rural pasture punctuated by tall skinny palms, occasional marshland, grazing cattle and bright orange earth.

We stayed in the centre of Asuncion, in a pension, which is basically a room in a fairly grand and immaculately kept family house. It was a good place and promised more from the centre of Paraguay´s capital, but as we headed out to try and find a beer and some food, we found ourselves in a strange world. The centre of the city was almost completely dead, with hardly sufficient street lighting, few people apart from those inhabitaing the dark temporary shanty town in one of the main squares, and almost no shops or restaurants - even closed ones! We eventually found a place for some food but it was a revelation to see how neglected the centre of this national capital was.

The next day was better, the place had a bit more life to it, but still it is the oddest city i have been in, probably ever. Apparently the "life" of the city is to be found in the suburbs, but apart from driving through a few of them on the way to and from the satellite bus station, we didn´t get a chance to find out the extent to which this was true.

Having said that, the place did grow on me during the two-and-a-bit days we spent there, mostly on account of the friendliness of most of the people, and the discovery of a bar in a seemingly dead part of town which became packed with young and middle-aged locals as the evening went on. I was reminded of woodwork.

Asuncion - Concepcion

Our plan was to get out of the capital fairly sharpish, and head North up the Rio Paraguay to the smallish town of Concepcion, with a vague plan of getting a boat back down the River to Asuncion. When we got there we discovered that all the boats went north instead of south, so we were thwarted there.

Then we hatched an ingenious plan to travel North on the Rio Paraguay, and cross into Brazil at a port 2 days up the River, which would allow us to take trains and busses through Brazil and eventually cross into Bolivia and head to Santa Cruz de Bolivia by that route. But research revealed that we needed to obtain an exit stamp for Paraguay in Asuncion, 6 hours the wrong way on bumpy roads, so we were again thwarted and instead decided to spend a few days roasting in the Concepcion heat but also enjoying the laid back atmosphere and pleasant orange dirt roads. It reminded me quite a bit of a town in central India, apart from the orange dust - this was partly due to the style of the markets and the omnipresence of the motorbike as preferred mode of personal transporation in the absence of local bus routes. Also the appearance of some of the people - far darker skinned than a lot of Argentinians.

I enjoyed the fact that we crossed into the "tropics" just south of Concepcion - the town is just a few miles north of the tropic of Capricorn.

After a few days of that sleepy spot, and having had our great plans for intercity boat travel squished like a cockroach on a hostel room floor, we decided to move on and get into the sparsely populated Chaco region of the west of Paraguay, and get back on track for heading to Bolivia.


Friday, 20 March 2009

Las Cataratas de Iguazu

After a very pleasant 18 hour bus ride pretty much north from Buenos Aires, we arrived in the Misiones province of Argentina - one of the few remaining habitats of the "tigre" or jaguar. Needless to say we didn´t spot any of the mastercats, but we did see some rather large waterfalls situated in beautiful jungle with plenty of walkways for multiple and various views of the falls. Puerto Iguazu where we stayed our few nights, is situated very close to the Brasilian and Paraguayan borders, and in fact the falls happen right on the border as the River is the the natural frontier at that point.

We had a full day wandering and enjoying the ambience of the trails, which were extensive enough to smear the large number of tourists thinly, which meant you could easily find a bit of solitude to enjoy the butterflies, foliage, lizards, birds, and funny little badger-squirrels (i have a feeling that might not be the correct name. further research required...) which had a taste for tourist fruit and the fruits of the tourist tendency to share their sandwiches with furry creatures.

The pleasantness of the hostel and the town of Puerto Iguazu was such that we stayed for a couple more days. Photos follow, again all from the camera of Vic:

From Cataratas del iguazu

From Cataratas del iguazu

From Cataratas del iguazu

From Cataratas del iguazu

From Cataratas del iguazu

As i write i am in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, so the blog is a little behind, but within a week i hope to have updated with paraguayan words and photos, and get back up on top of things, blog-wise.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Buenos Aires once again...

Hello folks - a technical recently deprived me of some of my belongings which is rather unfortunate... two gentlemen from Mendoza with sharp eyes, fast feet, teamwork, and "cojones".

OK - update with photos from Vic´s camera - the order is slightly confusing at the moment but ill fall into a system again for future posts...

Ahora, estamos cuatro!

From buenos aires and mendoza

Chief likes his coffee!

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

Anyway, apart from losing my camera and other items, myself and Vic had a cracking time in Mendoza during which we again rented a car and did a little 2 day tour of some spots in the Pre Cordillera foothills of the Andes. We found a different and even smaller hostel at about 2000 metres, and stayed there for a night, going for a few hours of walking in the fresh air the next day before returning to Mendoza.

Prior to that we did a day of wine-tasting, made possible by bicycles and a little map, during which we enjoyed the fine wines of 3 different vineyards of various types (not wishing to give away too much free advertising, the tour of Mendoza´s Weinert winery was astounding, especially the cellar with it´s ridiculous quantities of exceptional wines undergoing the slow process of becoming perfect inside their vast oak barrels. Perhaps you can find wines from that place in some UK wine stores... Very nice.

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

From buenos aires and mendoza

Thanks to vic for all the photos in this post!

So.... i have a lack of photographs. Vic has taken some of the last 2 weeks, and eventually i will post some of them, but for now we will have to drop temporarily back into a text-based blog...

Plans. Well, we have now been joined in Buenos Aires by 2 very good friends, Alex & Claire, who arrived from London yesterday. Within a few days we plan to head North to see the waterfalls of Iguazu, and then the current plan is to continue up into Paraguay and see what is up there, traverse roughly westwards to Bolivia, and follow on with visits to the north of Chile and Peru.

This change of plan is mostly due to monetary pressures which mean that heading for cheaper countries and avoiding the vast distances and relatively large costs of returning to the South of the continent is a necessity. Of course the plans will change again but the others are satisfied that heading to the wastes of Patagonia and making the most of it will require another trip for another time.

It will be of interest to anyone following this blog to have a look at which the the website of my co-travellers (mainly Alex AKA Chief), and where will appear photos and some more news of whats going on... The name has significance but would require more than a post to explain, so i will leave that as their enigmatic secret...!

OK, thats all for now.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Buenos Aires,,,, and back to Mendoza

Hey ho,

Since i last updated i have been doing a bit more travelling, perhaps unsurprisingly. I headed to the big bad city of Buenos Aires and although I can confirm that it is indeed big, i could find very little "bad" about it at all. In my 5 days of exploring on foot and by metro, i found the city to be diverse and above all extremely friendly and helpful, pretty much down to everyone i had anything to do with. And a very relaxed attitude with no hint of all the scare stories you hear about people being robbed that dog pretty much every city´s word-of-mouth information collection. I met up with my friend Vic after 2 days and then we had an excellent couple of days wandering in the suburbs of Palermo, La Boca, San Telmo, Puerto Madero & the area around the Plaza de Mayo and the Microcentro. Photos will follow eventually, mostly taken by Vic - i still wasn´t that keen to be flashing my lensware around poor neighbourhoods like La Boca...

And now, we are back in Mendoza... This is due to some timing issues with 2 more friends that are going to be arriving in just over a week - we didn´t want to wait in BA for too long so we have come back to the wine country for a bit more bebiendo de buen vinos and another little excursion into the Andean Valleys to let Vic see her first sights of that immense mountain range.

We will be taking a wine tasting tour around several of the local vineyards tomorrow which i have been looking forward to for a while... More pics soon!