Paraguay and Cordoba
11.05.2011 - 16.05.2011 16 °C
Now I have put this on paper I am sure my luck will change, but South American border crossings are surprisingly easy. From Brazil to Ciudad Del Este (Paraguay) we had a brisk walk across the bridge, made sure our passports were stamped in all of the right places and got to the bus station in just over an hour. From Encarnacion (Paraguay) to Posadas (Argentina) it was slightly more difficult as we had to cram ourselves onto 3 different buses, wedging our rucksacks in with us, but it just shows that crossing the border in South America is not as difficult and stressful as you let yourself imagine. The border officials certainly make it seem that it is a very relaxed affair, wondering around with your passports while they finish their conversations, mint tea, and then eventually give you a quick glance and ink them. But again I have many more borders to cross and will most likely be correcting myself soon. Watch this space!
The journey through Paraguay on our first day however was not quick and easy, 100% the most tedious bus journey I have ever endured. It was only 6 hours long, which is nothing when you are travelling around South America, but it was the fact that you know they could have done the journey in about 1/2 of the time if only they had stopped a little less. I understand that you need to pick up passengers for the bus but when the ticket man gets off every 15 minutes just to have a chat on his phone (talk on the bus, you´re not the driver), or to buy something, you start to generate a few negative feelings towards this man that you do not really know. But to be fair to him he is not selfish with his buying, he makes sure he lets everybody on the street come onto the bus to sell you bread, or pokemon stickers (those were the standard items), which like the bus ride also gets a little tedious. What is nice is that you do not get singled out because you are a tourist, they sell as ferociously to the locals as they do to us.
Our short stay in Paraguay was based in Encarnacion, popular for it´s proximity to the Jesuit ruins in Trinidad, which we visited on our second day. We shared the entire ruins only with the security guard who really didn´t seem to care that we were hanging ourselves out of building windows for a good photo, and the ruins were deceptively larger and perhaps more interesting than we first thought. It was a little eerie going down into the crypt, that they hadn´t put any lights in, by ourselves, but it is supposedly one of the most interesting Jesuit ruins that you can visit out of the many dotted around Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay etc. We also spent some of our time in Encarnacion itself, often sampling the "Chipa"- a bread made with manoic flour, eggs and cheese that I surprisingly liked even though I hate cheese. This may be a turning point. Walking around you could definitely feel the increase in levels of poverty in comparison to the areas in Brazil that we had visited, the lack of upkeep of buildings and seemingly more informal labour. You also would not want to mess with the regular police and security guards that so many shops have, I feel very privilged to live in a country where they are not issued with a huge shut gun as standard.
From Paraguay to Argentina we made the 16 hour night bus journey to Cordoba, Argentina´s so called "second city." On this journey I had the pleasure of watching "Letters to Juliett" in which the guy is meant to come from Oxfordshire, yes we all sound like that, and "Skyline." If you haven´t watched either of the films then save yourself a little bit of time and money and do something better with it. I love Cordoba, with it´s central Plaza San Martin lined with the beautiful Cathedral. They may have gone a little overboard with the gold leaf technique, as with most of the churches in Argentina, but you cannot deny how grand it looks. The parishioners also use so may gestures and expressions when they are praying, I have never seen someone cross themselves and genuflect so much in the space of 10 minutes as one elderly lady, it must keep her very fit. Cordoba also has a great night life and our hostel is surrounded by bars selling Fernet and coke, a herby spirit that I was really looking forward to buying and then thoroughly regreted after my first drink. Luckily there are also some really good cocktail bars and I may have developed a bonbom addiction alongside my cravings for dulce de leche in any of it´s forms. Dulce de leche ice cream is amazing but being given caramel to have on your bread for breakfast is something I could become very used to.
On our second night in Cordoba we went out for dinner and a tango show which was amazing. Sadly there was a lot more singing than dancing in the show but it was still very impressive, the woman looking so sensual and powerful and yet so graceful. The Argentinian Tango was explained to us as a dance in which a man and a woman give themselves to eachother, feeling powerless against the world and knowing there is nothing that they can do about it. During the show Stew drank a bottle of wine and we followed this with cocktails so I got an extra show of the Argentinian Tango as we were walking down the street. I was quite impressed with how high he was kicking his leg but do slightly fear for myself when we do some tango lessons.
We also had a tour of the Cabildo Univerity and the church next to it that was the first church in Cordoba, built by the Jesuits. Once the tour guide had explained how the church was built it seemed even more impressive, the roof completely made from bent wood and cow gum, no nails, and the biggest altar piece imaginable originating as trees in Paraguay. They had carved the pieces there and taken them by river along the route that had taken us 16 hours by coach, effort, but then there are no trees in Cordoba. We also saw some of the oldest books in the library collection of the University. The lady became very defensive when Stew asked how much they were insured for but then I suppose they do not want their cultural goods to be stolen and enter the South American market.
Next stop- Mendoza!