Friday, June 10, 2011

Paraguay border to Bonito, Brazil, 200 miles.

First, if ever you do this crossing, stop and shop at Shopping China. This huge duty free store has just about everything and at amazing prices. We bought, amongst other things, lounging chairs for the beach, wine and champagne, gourmet food such as caviar, chocolate from Switzerland and candies from England and shoes for Tom. Traveling from my youth, I had seen stores like this but for Tom, it was astounding. From there it was a visit to the Policia Federal for our immigration and Aduana for the motor home before getting on the road to Bonito. We had been told that the road was well maintained so the trip would only take 5 hours or so. As we drove we were again in swamp and marsh terrain with a variety of birds to keep our interest. At one point we thought we saw ostrich...or emus...or what are they?...we muttered to each other. Without the benefit of the internet we came to the conclusion that they must be some type of rhea from this area. They definitely had the flightless appearance of the emu and some were quite large. Two other species of tall birds caught our interest, one being a road-runner type with a crest on its head and the other we knew from books – it was the 2 meter (7ft. tall) red-necked Tuiuiu stork. The Pantanol is home to about 650 species of birds including ibises, egrets, herons and parakeets. There are also many ranches with herds of Brahma cattle and acres upon acres of corn and sugar cane, most of which goes into the production of alternative fuel. Our campsite in Bonito is operated by Hostel International and similar to the hostel in Foz do Iguaçu but it turned out to be much smaller and not really set up for RVs. We had to park next to their tour vans in a small gravel lot with not much room. The town itself is very small, very touristy and very expensive. Since it is approaching winter here there were very few people and the big attraction – swimming and snorkeling in the local rivers – was cold to say the least. We visited a tourist park, Balneario do Sol which borders the Rio Formosa and has several waterfalls and areas for snorkeling. Tom and I endured a chilling 20 minutes in the water and that was enough for us. The park itself is pretty and clean with trails where you can see macaws, monkeys and a large furry rodent similar to a guinea pig called a capivara. But after all our travels and sight-seeing, Bonito was disappointing to us. After two days we decided to leave and get back to Peruibe and our rental home. We are not sorry we made the trip as if we hadn’t we would have wondered what it would be like but if your time in Brazil is limited, there are many other regions that are much more interesting and satisfying to visit. Sorry Bonito!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

San Bernardino to Pedro Juan Caballero – 300 miles

Heading north-east, we quickly left the populated southern part of the country and began the climb through the sparse, less frequently visited areas of Paraguay. This is the border of the Chaco region which gets extremely hot in the summer months but now in May is cool and pleasant. The first part, low Chaco is known as arroyos (streams) and esteros (marshes). This primeval terrain of swamp and palm forests is a boon for bird-watchers and definitely cattle-raising country with herds of Brahma studding the landscape. We pass acres of swamp, covered for miles in water hyacinth and marsh reeds clearly visible from the road. Due to its remoteness, this area has attracted a number of diverse unusual immigrant communities over the years. The best known are the Mennonites, a strict Protestant sect who settled from the 1920’s onwards. They are famous for their carpentry skills in furniture making and still speak a dialect of German known as Platt Deutsch. A more bizarre story occurred in 1886, in the settlement town of Nueva Germania, north of Coronel Oviedo. Elisabeth Nietzsche, the fanatical and (some say) crazy sister of the philosopher Nietzsche with her equally crazed husband developed a plan to found a pure Aryan colony. This venture went awry (Thank God) when they had to endure the realities of the countryside, other indigenous settlements, dense vegetation and intense heat accompanied by monsoon type rains. The ensuing anger of the colonists they had brought with them led to her husband committing suicide and her return to Germany where eventually she embraced Hitler as her leader. Her story is told by Ben Macintyre in the book “The Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche”, if you are inclined to know more. Our night on the road we spent in Liberacion. The shock here was that our refrigerator has stopped working. After finding propane in Asunción we had gone shopping for meat, chicken and the like for our freezer and now none of it has frozen. Since there is nothing that can be done on the road, we give all our perishable foods to an older man and his family. The looks of gratitude and words of thanks from them almost made up for our own loss. Just one more item to deal with on our stay in Peruibe. The final leg of our trip in Paraguay is to the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero passing Parque Nacional Cerro Cora. The national park was the scene of the last battle in the War of the Triple Alliance and the death of “El Mariscal Lopez”. This was a disastrous war for Paraguay in the 1860’s against Brazil and Argentina in which, it was reckoned more than half the population was killed and only about 30,000 adult males survived, causing Paraguay to be rebuilt mostly by women and to become for a while, a polygamous society which the Catholic Church chose to ignore. There are also caves in the park showing pre-Columbian petroglyphs. We passed many interesting rock formations scattered throughout the landscape dating from this same period in geologic history. As far as border towns go, Pedro Juan Caballero is clean and safe and we park overnight in the lot of the mega duty-free store “Shopping China” which we will browse in the morning before crossing back to Brazil. As always on my last night in a country, I think about its history, the people we have met and the experiences we have taken from our time spent there. The most striking difference in Paraguay is not from the Spaniards occupation but the strong ties that have remained with the Guarani lifestyle and beliefs. In many areas more than 70 percent are completely bi-lingual. The music and poetry of the Guarani is hauntingly beautiful even if you don’t understand it and the modesty and humbleness of the Paraguayan nature show none of the characteristics of the Spanish. They are a gentle, peaceful people who show an almost reverence in the love of their country, their history, their wars and their soldiers. The country is a reminder that the first Spaniards who came here, seeking refuge from the misery and war of the settlements at Buenos Aires wanted not to dominate but to find a Utopia, a paradise. Since then the country has been ravaged by a series of wars and dictators and yet the people remain the same. Unassuming and humble but with a deep sense of unity. And so with the sounds of the harp and guitar of the Guarani music in my head, I am also humbled and glad we visited this small but Utopian country.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sightseeing in Paraguay

We need to go to Asunción to visit the Brazilian and U. S Consulates. We want to check Tom’s visa for re-entering Brazil and he needs more pages in his passport. Geraldo has offered to drive us and we eagerly accept since the alternative is driving the RV which is never an enviable task in the larger cities. As we drive, Tom & I take in the sights of local rural towns and the larger, bustling suburb of Asunción, San Lorenzo. We head to the Brazilian Consulate first and are told the passport is good for another visit to Brazil. Since by now it is lunch time and the U. S. Consulate is closed, Geraldo takes us to one of their favorite dining spots in the city. It is a German restaurant and the food was indeed delicious. After lunch it was time to go to our own consulate. We were warmly greeted although we noticed that security at the U.S. embassy was significantly more than any other. We were told that adding pages was no problem and to wait about 20 minutes. As we were waiting, David came out and chatted with us about our trip to date. He is the secretary and consul for the embassy in Paraguay and has also travelled extensively in South America. We exchanges stories of our experiences and in no time we received the passport complete with another 24 pages. Geraldo offered to take us sightseeing but we had already left Winston for quite a while and wanted to get back to the RV so sightseeing would have to wait for another day. When we returned we did not receive our usual exuberant beagle greeting and noticed that Winston’s hind legs were bothering him again. After visiting the vet in Panama we have been following her instructions to the letter with periodic usage of Doxicycline but it appears it may be recurring. We will watch him for the next few days and see what transpires. The next few days we donate to checking out the area around San Bernardino. In the hills, the small town of Luque (Loo-keh) is famous for its silver filigree work. Hand-made by artisans following a tradition brought by the Spanish, the jewellery and trinkets are truly exquisite. We marvel at the intrinsical work and of course had to purchase some. The other town that interested us was Itagua, located about 7 mile east of Asunción. Famous for its hand crafted production of nanduti or spider web lace which is woven into handkerchiefs, tablecloths, hammocks and clothing. The delicate handmade lace is beautiful with gorgeous colors and again we are drawn to the craftsmanship and care which goes into each unique piece. Our credit card is getting a lot of use! But Winston is getting worse. He now needs help climbing into the RV and we discuss our problem with Silvia and Geraldo. They have three dogs, one of which has recently undergone cancer treatment so they recommend the University of Asunción Veterinary School and Hospital which is located in San Lorenzo. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday found us going back and forth between San Bernardino and the hospital as Winston underwent a series of blood tests, sonograms and x-rays. It wasn’t his old problem but a new one. An x-ray is showing some deterioration of his hip joint and there is a start of mild hip dysplasia. They recommend trying a change in diet and start using the Royal Canin for mobility strength and aspirin and to stick with this for about six weeks. They advise surgery should be a last resort. Well, at least it isn’t some rare, tropical disease. Oh, and the three days of tests and consultations cost us…about $35.00, amazing. Since there is no quick cure, we decide it is time to head back to Brazil. Before going to Peruibe and our rented home, we want to visit Bonito in the Pantanol region. It will take us a couple of days driving north in Paraguay to get to the border so we bid farewell to Silvia and Geraldo and San Bernardino and start the journey.