Archive for June, 2012

Horqueta

Posted on June 28, 2012 by 6 Comments

We spent another day enjoying the serenity of Laguna Blanca before steering the bus north. As we headed out on the dirt road, the rain clouds gathered and started to follow us. The clouds were white to the west, and black to the north. We managed to get through the storm without sliding around too bad and hit pavement before the road turned to mush.

Bel had invited us to meet up at her parents house in Horqueta, which is a small town near Concepcion. Upon arrival, we learned that as we were relaxing at the lagoon there had been a massive police/peasant shootout leaving 17 dead and 80 injured – and that people were calling for the resignation of the president. The president, Luco, was once a bishop – who just before we’d entered the country, acknowledged a second child born to a nurse while he was still a priest. His popularity has been sinking fast, and the opportunistic congress has since impeached and replaced their Paraguayan president.

Bel’s dad, Don Juan, owns a funeraria which is attached to the house and makes for an interesting visit. We were assured that no bodies were there – they only make and sell the caskets.  Apparently, in Paraguay the family takes the casket and prepares the body at home.  It’s all natural, so the deceased is usually buried the next day.

We were happy to learn that a couple of clients who came by on Saturday night were there for Don Juan’s other service: premarital counseling.

Jeremy took us to visit Concepcion while we were there. It was a soggy day, but the Spanish colonial feel of the town was apparent. There were lot’s of cool old buildings that needed restoring. I’m not sure if it was the weather, our continual arrival during siesta, or if the town has just seen better days, but it seemed a bit deserted.

And, Pablo and Bode picked up where they had left off and had a great time. They managed to scatter toys all over Pablo’s grandparents’ house and play hide-and-seek among the coffins. No one seemed to mind.

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Laguna Blanca

Posted on June 24, 2012 by 2 Comments

It was a tough road out to visit Laguna Blanca, right smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Northern Argentina and (at least southern) Paraguay are covered in this red clay dirt which isn’t easy to drive on when dry, and absolutely awful when wet. You can ask my mom about that.

Anyway, 4 hours from Asuncion, you turn off a major highway onto an unmarked dirt road and go for another hour or so. This is deep Paraguayan farm country, complete with piglets running across the road.

Finally, we arrived at this little oasis. A crystal-blue lagoon so clean you can drink from it and a white powder-sugar beach. Oh, and thousands and thousands of butterflies.

I’ve heard this place is packed to capacity during the high season, but we are here mid-week in winter. Still, we had beautifully warm sunny days. The only other campers were a family of three that showed up at 8pm on a motor scooter from Asuncion. I’m not sure how long that took them (it is about 5 hours by car) or how they managed that dirt road in pitch black darkness, but good for them

 

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All Choked Up

Posted on June 20, 2012 by 7 Comments

Our buddy Jeremy first came to Paraguay a decade ago as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. Ten years or so later, and after moving back to the US for a while, he’s now back in Paraguay and directs the education efforts in the Asuncion office.

We were on our way out of town to visit some Peace Corps volunteers in Caacupe when we were stopped in the street by Jorge. A VW guy. He actually knew we were coming and was planning on contacting us, but never got around to it. Serendipity calls again. We know how that goes.

We needed amortiguadores (surprise!) and he volunteered to help. He asked what else we needed and the only thing I could think of was our broken choke. He took us to the VW dealer – you never know, he says. They went in the back and came back with two. OEM. Nine bucks each. Imagine going to a VW dealer in the US and asking for carburetor parts.

After we found some front shocks, we went to get some groceries while Jorge went to get his Vanagon Westy. One of two in Paraguay. This one was driven down by some Canadians, who had so many problems that they eventually gave up on it and went home! Now, it’s Jorge’s baby.

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La Vida Loca

Posted on June 19, 2012 by 6 Comments

While we were out at Aregua, Jeremy took us over to La Vida Loca.  He just randomly stumbled upon this place a while back, and it’s a pretty cool find.

It’s a restaurant… a good one. But, it happens to be run by a wacky Austrian guy who has a minor thing for split-window VW buses.

He’s currently restoring 19 splitties. Nineteen.

And, ALL of them have already been sold to European collectors. Average price is around 30K euros. You do the math.

It turns out that back in the 50′s, when German immigrants were pouring into Paraguay (FYI -  it’s happening again), they brought their VW’s with them. Mostly, single and double-cab splittes.  Now, 50-something years later after these vehicles are exhausted as work-horses, he’s buying them up out of pastures and barns at Paraguayan prices… and making a fortune. He’s discovered gold in Paraguay.

La Vida not-so Loca.

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Asunción y tereré

Posted on June 18, 2012 by 3 Comments

Before leaving San Ignacio, we finally had the ceremonial burning of the pants. Jason has been threatening to torch his greasy oily work pants for a while, and they finally got so disgusting that there was no other choice. They were gone in seconds. Then, we headed up to the capitol of Asuncion.

As usual, Red Beard has opened up some doors for us here in Paraguay. Two years ago we were invited to visit Jeremy in Asuncion. Two take-aways on this: 1) that’s 2 years ago…we don’t forget an invitation! and 2) Jeremy didn’t really know who we were… the invitation was from his brother.

Luckily, Jeremy didn’t seem to mind. We met him, his wife, Bel, and 7 year old son, Pablo at their house and instantly hit it off. The boys spent the evening making Lego creations and playing and we learned all about Paraguay.

Jeremy had a combi just like ours back in the States and had been thinking of getting another some day. We were able to show him that it just fit inside his gate (where we camped) and he got to reminisce about the good ole’ days in his old VW. He’s now shopping for a bus.

The next day, we headed out to the lakeside town of Aregua. Jeremy and Bel have some friends building a cob house out here, so we checked out the progress they’ve made and hiked around their property looking for monkeys (no luck this time). Then Bel introduced us to tereré- which is an iced yerba mate drink. It’s a Paraguayan obsession. Like mate in Argentina, everyone here carries around a huge thermos of iced water, and pours it into a a cow horn cup filled with mate leaves and other herbs. It’s alot more refreshing in the heat that a hot mate. Bel thought it needed  something, so she plucked a few leaves of a bush next to us and threw them in too. She was right, it did improve! We’re learning that the Paraguayans know the uses of all the local plants and put them to good use.

We also visited the park at Lake Ypacaraí where the kids took advantage of the playground. And, we all took advantage of the water feature on the welcome sign to cool off.

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Hey, we’re in Paraguay!

Posted on June 15, 2012 by 2 Comments

The last week we spent hiding out from thunderstorms and getting our visas for Paraguay. The visa process at the consulate in Posadas is no big deal – take 3 copies of your passport front page, the Argentina stamp page, and your credit card. And, 3 color passport-style photos. And, $65 US dollars per person (1 time entry, multiple entry is $100 USD).  And, a birth certificate for your kid. I’ve heard it is difficult to get dollars in town, so bring them with you.  The whole process takes an hour or two if you’ve got everything.

The temperature had been dropping all week and it was snowing in Buenos Aires -  very big news. In Posadas it was still pleasant and sunny.

The traffic at the frontera was crazy, a drive-through border for most people, but it took us over an hour to get to the customs booth. This was probably the most crowded border we’ve crossed yet. Of course, we had to pull over and park and get our vehicle paperwork as everyone else just drove through.  Other than the wait, it was a painless process.

When we were in the south, we were pretty anonymous despite the California plates. But for the past few weeks, lots of people have been checking out the bus and eager to talk. Maybe the people are just friendlier. The aduana guy followed us to the bus and we opened it up expecting some sort of inspection, but he was just was impressed with Red Beard and wanted to check out the engine. He had already told his buddies about it. Que lindo!

So, into Paraguay. Encarnacion is the 3rd largest city in Paraguay (at 70,000 people), and from what we could tell had a nice new waterfront (thanks to a dam that displaced a lot of the poorest fishing families) and a lot of duty free shopping. We were a little overwhelmed by the shopping, so we drove right through town and found camping about 10 km north. The dueña was worried we would freeze to death camping in the ‘cold’. Maybe, it was 10 C. We survived.

So far, there are a couple of things that have really impressed us about Paraguay, especially since most people would say things like “You are going to Paraguay? Why? There is nothing there.” One, is that once again things are affordable, cheap even. There are supermarkets everywhere (again, the food is inexpensive) and the people are extremely friendly. Restaurants – good ones – even sushi! And, the nation is proud of its Guarani heritage. Guarani is the official language of Paraguay, along with Spanish (Castillano). The country has very little tourist infrastructure, and the only guide we have is the 20 or so pages devoted to the entire country in our Rough Guide South America.

We were headed north to Asuncion, but stopped in Santa Maria de Fe for a visit. The town plaza has monkeys that you can feed, and as Jason said, “I know a couple of folks who like monkeys.” We found them, but unfortunately, we didn’t have bananas. Bode tried his best monkey calls (he’s pretty good) but they were too busy preening. They were happy to watch us from a tree above the playground. I did not have monkeys at my childhood playground.

We stopped at a roadside carniceria – they advertise by hanging the goods outside. 3 steaks (bife de lomo) for about $3 USD. Cut with a hacksaw by hand.

Afterward, we headed out of town and found camping at Hotel Rural San Ignacio.  The big ‘CAMPING” sign out front helped. The owner, a Peruvian by way of Bolivia and now Paraguay has built a nice set of cabanas and camping complete with wifi, foozball, sheep, chickens and most importantly 6 puppies. It was a nice place for Bode to run around and there was a lot of covered space for us to lounge while it rained. Gustav, the owner, invited us to an asada. We thought we’d be eating sheep because the day before he told a sheep that we would be eating him, but the next day he insisted we were having pork.

And, we’ve made our arrangements for our “big break”. We’ll fly out of Buenos Aires in a few weeks, and our friend Rody will watch Red Beard until we return (thanks, Rody!)  Then, we’ll get a do-over on Uruguay and then Brazil, and well, why try to plan ahead?

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We’ve gotten some funny emails since our last post. No, it’s not over.  We’ll continue to provide your workday distraction.

I don’t where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

-David Bowie

 

Country #17, returning to #1, etc.

Posted on June 13, 2012 by 15 Comments

We’ve been planning to visit the U.S. for a while now. We have a family commitment in July that has been on the calendar since last year.  When asked if we’d be able to make it, if we would be finished traveling by then, we’d only answered that we would make it, but we didn’t know whether we’d be back for good.

That was a year ago. We’ve been able to successfully avoid dealing with this question until a few months ago. It’s hard to make a life decision when you are traveling, with friends, busy planning (and driving) for my mom’s visit.  Any reason to not do it will work. We are master procrastinators.

And, Bode had recently expressed some interest in going to a “real” school, so we’d consented that it might be time to change our lifestyle. We like the idea of settling down in another country – at least for a while. They have school here too. But, South America is just so far away. Besides – if we were in the U.S. in July, wouldn’t 2nd grade start in August?  And, as late as my mom’s arrival last week, we still hadn’t even attempted to investigate shipping the bus or even buying an airline ticket.

Procrastination. Avoidance. Is it all about to end? I think we were all a little bit sad.

But, the other night, Jason had a heart-to-heart with Bode and a few things became much clearer. Bode does want a break from traveling. Even though he had flirted with the idea of attending regular school, he’s still eager to continue to be home-schooled an travel the world. In his words…

Two month break. Then Europe, then Africa.

-Bode

This was a little bit of a surprise. We were already starting to think about how to end it smoothly – it has to end at some point. And, we’re all wiped out. So many people have told us that we’re living their dream… but we’ve been living in a car for 3 years. It’s exhausting.

Maybe because a two month break sounded like a great idea…  we gladly accepted these terms. In fact, we immediately started looking forward to elements of a less nomadic lifestyle – a real kitchen, hot water on demand, machines that wash things for us.  We can see family and friends and not be rushed. Jason can try to figure out how to fund the new plan. We can stock up on school materials and figure out how to do it for real. Even Red Beard could use a break. This plan just seemed like an actual plan. Done.

When you need a decision, ask a 7 year-old.

So, we’ll be looking for a place to park the bus and a flight* for a 2 month visit with family and friends. We’ll postpone our entry into Brazil since our visa only allows for 90 days once we’ve entered.  Now, we’ll go to Paraguay for the next few weeks and see what’s there.

Of course, some part of this plan could change. We don’t know everything… but for now this is the plan. And, if we want to drive south again, it will be snowboarding season when we get back.

 

 

*Jason actually once booked a flight for the wrong month, didn’t realize it, and was later turned away at the airport as his intended flight left without him.  He’ll figure out what to do with the bus, and I will be making the reservations.

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