Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Paraguay - The Final Frontier

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
18:45 - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It´s been a long time since I´ve been in a true third world country the likes of Honduras, Salvador and Nicaragua and Paraguay sure is a lot more like those places than it is like Argentina, especially when one is held sequestered in Buenos Aires. This is gonna be short even though there is soo much to say since the Interent doesn´t quite work as well here as it does elsewhere but Paraguay is now my new favorite country!

Having heard many stories from Ethan when he was here a year ago on a month long photo trip for Lonely Planet (which didn´t actually pan out so well for him in terms of LP and the photos, even though the photos were good) and having read only a little of what Carolyn worte in the LP South America Shoestring Guide (props on the hotel recommendations here in Ciudad del Este, we like the Hotel Munich even though the American style buffet is more European than anything but I think at least four of the five places you recommended are on the same street within a block from The Munich and that there are plenty of other choices closer into the the heart of the city... I know, I know, never enough time or money to really 'tell it like it is'),I really didn´t know anything about this place except the one day I was here in Encarnacion last year with DP and Aimee, and that was a great day even though we did have to bribe our way into the country (US Citizens coming to Paraguay now need a $45USD Visa for a one-time entry good up to ninty days which can be obtained at the consulate in Posadas). Now I feel as if alot of the speculation about Paraguay and especially Ciudad del Este has been put to rest, at least in my mind and that I´m much more up on what´s really going on here. A few thoughts as there is soo much to tell...

- Paraguayan´s love to burn things, especially trash
- Paraguayans are very friendly, more so than Argentinians
- Ciudad del Este up here in the lawless triple border region is NOT nearly as dangerous as most Argentinians say OR as bad as the guide books make it out to be
- I´ve seen more guns in CDE than anywhere else since El Salvador
- It´s NOT very easy to sell a car with American plates for the price the car is worth in say Argentina (and even harder to do IN Argentina)
- There was a big protest today on the bridge to Brasil that shut it down
- I can buy a gun here if I want to, even an AK-47
- Most security people in the small corner stores have bullet proof vests and pump action pistol grip twelve guage shotguns (go Wheeler!)
- I had the best haircut of my entire life by a very cute Paraguayan that even used a straight razor behind my ears! ($2USD)
- The local currency is NOT called pesos, but rather Guarani and $6,000 Guarani is equal to $1USD ie - lunch today for two cost $15,000 Guarani but was really only $2.50USD
- People here don´t really have much Guarani and 95% of Paraguayans actually speak Guarani, which is an indigenous or 'Indian' language (Ethan, maybe you can comment on what you told me about the Paraguayan Dictator´s son that thought he was Napolean and something why everyone here speaks Guarani
- A guy showed us a photo that he took last week of a ten foot long Anaconda Python (which is small since the average length is nineteen feet) being held by like himself and five kids, although it didn´t have a head
- Did I say its my new favorite country?

By the way, props to LP author Lucas something or other for the 'Authors Choice' Gran Hotel Turismo recommendation in Corrientes, from the most recent LP Argentina guide. Although you failed to mention ANYTHING about the second largest border crossing into Paraguay over the bridge from Posadas, the Casino that was right next to the Gran Hotel Turismo in Corrientes (that you also failed to mention) was AWESOME, even after we both lost all of our money and it was 5AM! (I´ll have to write about the two 19 year old Argentinian hitch hikers we picked up on the way to Posadas later... all´s I can say is that they were a lot of fun to pick up.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Revolution!, NOT Independence

I stand corrected that yesterday el 25 de Mayo was not the day of Independence, which is the 9 of July, but rather six years earlier marking the day the revolution begin. I have yet to read one history book on Argentina other than their recent dealings with the World Bank and the IMF so am pretty clueless other than a very general picture that goes back a few hundred years.

But, that's not what this post is about. It's about two things, maybe three.

The first and simplest is that as dumb as it may sound, I went karting again, tonight, just a little while ago, go karting on 250cc machines of molded plastic seats and heavy steele frames.. As many of you know, some serious rib injuries occurred that last time I did this with Ethan and the boys a few days before my trip back home to the States almost a month ago. But, the offer was there with private transportation to and from the track and I couldn't not defend my title and just couldn't say no. Plus this cute Australian was going as well. Mistake. Even though I won the first 30 lap race which meant that the other three had to pay my $35 peso entry fee, my ribs were hurting, more than they had since the previous accident. But after the second and final race I just didn't care... tearing around that track, lap after lap, trying to maintain position, defend my lead, pass the slower drivers without crashing or hitting the wall... It's simply brilliant. But now I'm achin' pretty good, but not as bad as the last time, just slowed down the healing process.

But the second more important recent development is this road trip I've signed to go on to Paraguay, Ciudad del Este. specifically. Sam needs to sell the car he drove from Philly to BA which as US plates and no one here will touch it. Google Ciudad del Este, Paraguay and you'll find that by most reports its the wildest and mostly lawless city in Latin America where anything is possible - anything. And I've got this opportunity and have been wanting to go and now I have a ride and we leave today at 4pm. Photos, gonna shot a lot of photos of this strange, anonymous and very unknown danger zone. They say there is Al-Queda, mafia, CIA... the whole works.

And the third thing... don't remember. But living way down south here in Argentina continues to be like no other place in the world I've ever been and is just so hard to describe, or even live. It takes being open to opportunities, chances, calculated risks, heart and balls - pelotas. And it just keeps on getting better...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Independence Day - El 25 de Mayo

Barrackas, Buenos Aires

It’s the day before Independence Day here in Argentina. Most of the some 42,000 taxis that roam the streets day and night are proudly flying the Argentine flag. A blind man gets on the semi-crowded bus I’m taking across town and starts his way towards the back. I can barely ride the bus with good eye site, but he with his cane and all starts passing out pens to the passengers, pens to write with, pens that say Staples on them. He starts into his delivery about what quality they are and there can be no value on these pens. I take one, a red one as do most of the other passengers. Thinking to myself I can never have enough pens I listen carefully for the price, but it’s never given. I see other passengers digging for change and I figure its more of the sliding scale donation plan. I shell out a peso but tell him that I want a blue one, not red. He asks me if he’s holding a blue one – no. I’ll take a black one I as I trade the red for black. The guy across from me gave him two pesos for his pen.

Luis, Ricardo, Tommy and Sam, these are some of my Argentine friends. One is actually my roommate and is paying his rent (or will if allowed by the landlord) by writing for the web site project for me on the side. He drove his car from Philly to BA, that’s why I hired him. Sam Slaughter… that helped also.

Marina, a very good and dear friend of mine has taken ill with a piece of wood that fell into her eye while tending to her guinea pigs. Now she’s in a world of pain and can’t see… it befuddles me how these things happen to us, either by our own actions or by forces that we can not control. It’s been a rough year for her she tells me, ‘especially since I met YOU!’ she adds. I feel bad and there's not much I can do... but I think I'll see her tomorrow if she's up for it. We can't even watch a movie which is our favorite thing to do. She's up on her films more so than I these days.

The heater is working but drips water out on the balcony which then drips down right in front of the main door to the apartment building, which then gets the tenants into an uproar as if I’m not being a responsible tenant. That is to be fixed on Sunday or Monday but for now the bucket catches most of the drips as long as I remember to dump it every so often.

Today is now el 25 de Mayo, Independence Day, but since most Argentines don’t feel very independent of foreign influence and have serious doubts about their current, past and future governments they don’t really celebrate as say Americans would the 4th of July or even Argentines do on say Christmas or New Years Eve, going crazy with the pyrotechnics. What a country, todavia.

Oh, and here's a few snapshots from my trip back to California

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cannonball Run

It got down to five degrees Celsius yesterday, which I think is about forty-some degrees Fahrenheit (you can do the calculation) and a nasty cold has descended upon me. But, there’s heat in my humble apartment and I’ve got new tunes on my iTunes. My hand-me-down iPod died the day before I returned to BA, which is the third hard drive to fail on me in the last six months, not including the one that disappeared with fifty gigs of photos that weren’t backed up because I was on the road up in La Rioja with Ramiro, La Rafa, Dave and Mei.

Finally I slept last night more than I have in the past month… almost twelve hours in a row. But when the door bell rang for the tenth time at 8:00am I had to get up to tell whoever it was that was ringing my doorbell at 8:00am to go the hell away and then the buzzer at my actual apartment door rang. Looking through the security peephole I only see one person in a dark heavy jacket standing in front of my door, so I open it.

“Fumigation,” says the young boy standing outside my door as the door to the apartment next to me slowly opens. “No, we ordered the fumigation,” says my neighbor. “Sorry,” he sheepishly tells me as I continue on about how I had already told him over the intercom that he had the wrong apartment number. He had already apologized over the speakerphone but comes up and then he rings my doorbell anyways. I went back to bed and slept till two in the afternoon.

Sam Slaughter is on his way over, to talk about the car that he needs to sell and about staying here in this apartment with me until he is scheduled to leave Argentina on June 6th. We are also going to talk about Paraguay, Ciudad del Este and the military base up in the north, somewhere out there in the Gran Chaco desert near the border with Bolivia. Edd is even considering comin. I’ve got to get the pitch out cause this could be good one; three foreigners traveling to a land where no Gringos go, except for Ethan. He went there, but not all the way up into this part of Paraguay, the barren Chaco. Paraguay is about as far from a tourist destination as the North Pole is for an Antarctic penguin. It’s Indians, Peace Corp, Mormons, ex-Nazis, CIA, special ops and then the US Soldiers that are doing ‘joint military exercises’ with the Paraguayan military and who are also helping build the runway up in there in the North, next to Bolivia, where they just nationalized the gas fields which are just across the border from this part of Paraguay.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Well, California came and went, in a hurry. And it really was full-on or 'a full' as they say here in Argentina. I don't even know where to begin. I had a few extra hours at LAX airport yesterday before the flight to ponder and slow down a bit and then this hugely obese woman sits down across from me talking to herself outloud in hopes of sparking up a conversation with someone, anyone in the near vicinity. I immediately bury myself in my notepad only peaking over every once in a while to see if anyone will bite - nobody does. So then she picks up a brand new hardback edition of 'The Da Vinci Code' and I think to myself, 'that's so weird because you've seen soo many people these past two weeks reading that same book, which you thought came out a few years back but...' And then I remember my friend Michele telling me that her and her husbands (Chris, an old college friend) 13 year old daughter had just read one hundred pages from that book without putting it down and said it was the best book she'd ever read. And then I remembered her telling me that there's a new film of the same title coming out soon, thus the dash to be able to say, 'well, I read the book BEFORE watching the film.' I think maybe Tom Hanks is the star...

I know this has nothing to do with my trip and all of the crazy-good times but the thing that struck me the most about her and then about 3/4 of the people boarding the plane to Houston was their shear size - HUGE! I mean a couple of folks were definitely pushing 400lbs. (180 kilos). And then I thought, well... we are flying to Texas. And then I wondered which US state has the most obese people out of the country and my guess is its somewhere in the South, probably Texas. And then I began to drift in and out of sleep as we lifted off the ground at about 170mph (272km.) and climbed out over the California coastline up through the shallow marine layer and then through a series of short S turns, headed back towards the Southwest, eventually weaving our way around these beautifully gigantic and towering white cumulus clouds, some of which reached upwards of 40,000' (13,000mts.).

But its the friends and family back home that really made the trip. So first of all, thanks Marina for letting me tear apart your apartment (although it wasn't TOTALLY my fault, I definitely was the catalyst), thanks Steele for letting me stay in the mansion, thanks Rolo for getting the Subie to its finally resting place - RIP and also to Cal for that super welcome back Turkish dinner, thanks Super Dave for two awesome outings on the sailboat and for always being there for me, thanks Bob and Leslie for the great day of boating on my childhood Lake Piru in Ventura County and finally a specially thanks to my very own Mom; for all your hospitality and for simply putting up with me for all these years. I could go on and on because I'm very thankful to a whole lot more of wonderful people but am also glad to be back home here in Argentina. Pura vida como siempre... and now its time to get to work. Stay tuned - Goyo.

Monday, May 08, 2006

C A L I F O R N I A (que viva)

Back in San Francisco, California - what a beautiful city, but only for three more hecticly short days. And its been non-stop loconess since arrival last Tuesday morning, mostly catching up with old friends. Oddly, I don't miss this city, or Oakland or Berkeley or the Bay Area, not as a place to work and sweat in, but I didn't realize how much I miss all of these great people that I'm proud to call my friends. And I'm realizing how much I really do love the Bay Area, especially with the chill day at Lake Anza yesterday in Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills (thanks Fletch and Anlie for making that happen).

But is started out with some Tequila, some tough guy shit and then a out-of-nowhere sleeper choke hold that put Cal Santos on the ground (video on the way). That was in lieu of the fight that was scheduled up in Humboldt which was canceled with two days to go. The next night was dinner for almost 30 people, upstairs at this Turkish joint in the Tenderloin called A La Turca. Tons of food and great people - that's what life is about. Thanks to each and every one of you that made it out, seriously. Then next door to some new place that used to be called Julip but is now Whisky Theives. It gets blurry from there and has been for most of the time - whirl-winding around, parks, picnics, kids, dinners, drinks, omelets, and a lot of laughs; which has actually been very painful since the go-karting accident nearly a week ago back in Buenos Aires where I cracked a couple of ribs smacking into the wall. So the better the night, the more laughter that ensues, the worse my ribs hurt the next morning, reminding me that we have been having a real good time. TBC