Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Search for Serenity

Jesus and the Virgin of Milagro inside Salta's main cathedral. Having recently had my heart thrown to the ground and stomped on by a local girl, sitting in my room moping was about the worst thing I could do. I had slept in, I had finished reading The Rivers Ran East, I had read whatever e-mails were waiting for me in my inbox, responding if necessary, and I had done all the Web surfing I could stand—which wasn't much. Having run out of ways to distract myself, rather than suffering more boredom in the hostel, I decided to head to the park and begin my last book—The Old Patagonia Express, by Paul Theroux. Some fresh air and sunshine would do me good.

After tossing the one-inch-thick paperback into my camera bag and my camera bag onto my back, I headed out. The plan was to go to Parque San Martín, where I could get some peace and quiet. I went in my usual direction—head left out the front door, then take an immediate left on Mitre which turns into Alberdi at Belgrano, where all the cross streets change names. Then I would hang a left on San Martín, the main drag in Salta, walking until I got to the foot of Cerro San Bernardo, a landmark mountain, always looking over the city, always acting as a compass, in case one loses one's bearings. The park stretches for several blocks like a welcome mat in front of the mountain.

Another photographer. I hadn't gone south for one block to Avenida Belgrano before seeing that the road was mostly blocked with people. Cops were standing guard, holding ropes, some people were holding Roman Catholic paraphernalia, while others were squeezing through the corners of the crowd to make their way parallel to Ave. Belgrano.

Not wishing to fight my way past the crowd—and not believing I would be allowed to cross Ave. Belgrano here—I backtracked and went one block farther east before trying to head south. Meeting the same roadblock, I hung out for a few minutes and snapped some photos. After weighing my options, I decided to follow the trickle of people filing through the edge of the tightly packed parade-waiters, thinking I might find a chink in the law enforcement's armor mid-block, as the intersection seemed to be quite heavily fortified. I ended up traveling more than one block along the sidewalk, and, taking advantage of the conspicuously absent parade, followed some stragglers across the wide avenue.

A Roman Catholic worshipper. Glad to be done with the crowds, I briskly made my way to the park, dodging more-casual pedestrians, and skillfully picking my way across traffic at busy intersections. Upon arriving, I was surprised—and disappointed—to find the park not peaceful at all, but bustling with the typical locals plus a sliver of the 300,000+ visitors who had come to this northern Argentine city for this weekend's well-known and very popular fiesta.

In 1592, two statues—one of Christ and the other of the Virgin Mary (later to be called the Virgin of Milagro)—were sent to Salta from Spain, a gift from Bishop of Tucumán Fray Francisco de Victoria. In 1692, severe earthquakes destroyed the city of Esteco, Argentina. While the earthquakes were shaking the foundations of Salta, its inhabitants prayed to the statues and the earthquakes stopped, sparing Salta Esteco's fate. The cessation of the tremors was attributed to the Virgin of Milagro. Ever since, pilgrims from all over Argentina have trekked to Salta every September to honor the statues. It's the largest celebration in the country.

A Roman Catholic worshipper. Able to find neither a quiet nor comfortable spot to read in the park—and not being able to concentrate, anyway, my mind being distracted with bittersweet memories of love—I decided to head back to the hostel. Being clever, I headed north immediately, believing for some reason that the crowds must be centered around city center, but not in the eastern part of the city, north of the park. Unfortunately, the throngs lined both sides of Ave. Belgrano for almost its entire length, all the way to this, its eastern end.

As I hiked northward, I slipped in behind a gal who seemed to be on a mission similar to mine—get to the other side of the avenue. She was plowing her way through the crowd, and it's always easier to let someone else break fresh snow and just follow in their tracks. When we got to the police cordon, she convinced the cop to let her cross, but his generosity ended at one body, despite the fact that there was still no sign of a parade.

A Roman Catholic worshipper. If I were bolder, or more accustomed to lying, I could've pulled out my massive camera and told him I was a photographer from the United States writing a story for a paper, as my friend Bruno had done on multiple occasions, winning us free entrance into several tourist attractions in Cordoba and Mendoza. However, as my ex-wife will attest, I'm not a very good liar. Or maybe I could begin smoking marijuana. Perhaps that was Bruno's trick.

The cop told me there was no cordon one block farther downstream—farther away from my hostel—and so I headed in that direction, fighting my way out of the packed crowd at that intersection and into another one at the next. I think the cop had been smoking something, as the situation was no different a block away. Backtracking yet again, I figured I'd try the mid-stream crossing technique again. Falling in line behind some other people who were also trying to get closer to el centro, we shuffled our way along the sidewalk, inching ever closer to my home, my respite from the madness—interesting how my perspective of the hostel had changed from prison to respite.

Some friends from Salsa class. When crossing one intersection, I did a double-take when I saw someone who looked familiar. It was the cute girl from Salsa class who always has trouble looking into my eyes for more than one second when we dance. I give her a hard time about it and bob my head around trying to intercept her line of sight while we dance. We both laugh about it and occasionally she even makes eye contact.

I caught her attention and mussed the hair on her forehead. She looked at me, smiled, and mouthed the solitary word hola to me. I returned the greeting and pressed on. [She's the one on the left in the photo.]

I fell back in line behind a couple people who were parting the waters for me, making my journey just a bit less painful. Within less than a block, we came to some kind of construction of corrugated metal—one of the most common building materials in Latin America, right alongside concrete and bricks. There appeared to be a way through, but the contrary was confirmed by someone standing nearby. While the others turned around and headed back, I decided to stay put. I'd had enough fighting for the day. At least I was stuck next to a tall, attractive woman, with impossibly pouty lips smothered in lip gloss. Between watching the parade and staring at those lips, I figured the time would pass quickly.

A future devout Roman Catholic. I would just wait for the procession to pass, which was now in full swing. I wouldn't exactly call it a high-energy parade. Priests in robes and others dressed in everyday clothes walked, some carrying, well, Roman Catholic stuff, mostly statues of varying sizes of Christ nailed to the cross, painted blood dripping from his hands and feet, and, of course, a red daub of Parker's best representing the wound in his side.

There were loudspeakers installed in strategic locations throughout the city with announcements made over them, and songs played through them. The crowds joined in, singing praises to Jesus, or Mary, or the saints, or whomever the Catholics worship. I even recognized one of the tunes. That's at least one thing the Catholics and Protestants have in common—the melody of a song.

At one point, the police lowered the rope they had been holding taut in front of the worshippers. A few folks filtered into the road occasionally, joining those already parading down the avenue toward the monument of General Güemes. I thought about trying to pass for a Catholic worshipper, but just stayed put. Damn you, woman with voluptuous, pouty, glossy lips!

The parade in Salta. Within a few minutes, the ropes came down for good, the main procession having passed us by. Already, thousands and thousands of Argentine pilgrims filled the wide avenue to capacity. I cautiously—and as quickly as possible—threaded my way across the street, trying not to be swept too far downstream before reaching the other side. At the far side, I began paddling upstream furiously, toward the next tributary, which would lead me safely away from the overpowering current of pedestrians.

Having milked my analogy of the street with a river for probably far more than it's worth, upon reaching the next cross street, I met a very solidly packed wall of onlookers, blocking my way out. I said permiso (the Spanish version of "excuse me"). Nothing happened. Again, permiso. Nada. How about get the hell out of my way because here I come? That, along with not-insignificant exertion from my short yet strong legs, got me started. With continued permisos, and my newly acquired forward momentum, the crowd began to part for me. They could see, beneath my Oakleys, I meant business. One older man actually made a concerted effort to help me on my way, stepping aside with a kind look on his face, possibly seeing the out-of-place foreigner was having a tough go of it, and wanting to offer some encouragement. I threw him a gracias.

A Roman Catholic worshipper.Within fifty meters of the main drag, I was free and clear.

Back near Las Rejas Hostel, I went into the corner restaurant, still thinking about the scrumptious looking steak I had seen someone else order the night before. I ordered one for myself along with a salad and a Coke. I asked for the salad to be brought out before the steak, as the Latinos are in the habit of eating the salad and the main course all at once, and, rather than watching my steak get cold while I ate my salad, I figured I'd take advantage of good timing. The steak was, in fact, quite good, and I thoroughly enjoyed a break from the pile of people, to use a Spanish expression. I took pride in seeing—on the television!—the mayhem I had just escaped, while I sat in peace, savoring some good—albeit normally over-hyped—Argentine cow meat. The cameramen for the news had gotten some nice aerial shots and angles from tall buildings that I had missed from ground level.

After dinner and a short rest back in the hostel, I decided to try my luck in the jungle again. I was told there would be a show at the monument of General Güemes, which is located at the end of the very street Las Rejas is on—Avenida General Güemes. Besides, I had never visited the large statue.

The crowd reaching for the raining rose petals.At about the half way point, I ran into a crowd thick enough to make any attempt at additional forward progress a waste of my time. I just decided to hang out, take some photos of the crowd, and see what happened. Music came over the loud speakers and thousands of people around me began to sing. It must have been the Argentine national anthem. It didn't sound like a church song. Being buried in this crowd of thousands lifting their voices was a beautiful experience. At this point, a helicopter flew over the crowds and its crew threw thousands of rose petals out the door. The people smiled with glee as they reached toward the sky to try to catch the red petals as they rained down.

After the singing ended, attention turned toward the monument. Shortly, I could see that what people were looking at was another procession. A large statue was being brought back down the parade route, possibly to be returned to the main cathedral in Plaza 9 de Julio. I aimed my Nikon D3 in the same direction as the thousands of point-and-shoots and cell phones snapping photos of the spectacle. As the image passed, the crowd began to flow back towards city center, following the object of worship back in the direction from whence it had come. I just stepped aside The monument of General Güemes.and watched the crowds pass, snapping the occasional photo of an interesting passerby or of yet another statue being carried in the arms or on the backs of the more dedicated of the Roman Catholics.

After the bulk of the crowds were gone, I moseyed on down to the monument of General Güemes, looking for any sign of a show or concert. It didn't look like there would be any. Still, the statue was located in a nice park with a view of the city, up a slight hill from the average elevation of the flat city, so I decided to stay a while.

Now, it was peaceful. I snapped a few photos of the towering reminder of the famous Argentine general who defended Argentina against the Spanish during the Argentine War of Independence, then just hung out and looked over the city as the evening sky faded from light blue to gray to black, as lights flickered on across the city and began to stand out more starkly against the increasingly contrasting background. This Looking over Salta.was a vantage point from which I had not previously seen the city and I enjoyed the view and the peace. It was quiet. The air was still, the temperature comfortable. Kids climbed up the base of the statue and on large surrounding rocks. Mothers walked with and watched over their children. Schoolgirls walked through the park, arm in arm. Boyfriends and girlfriends kissed and held hands. Families sat, snacking and chatting. I had finally found what I had been longing for the entire hectic, stressful day. I was near humanity, yet there was a modicum of solitude. Life was good.

Involuntary parade participant. A future Roman Catholic worshipper. A future Roman Catholic worshipper.  Walking the image back to the church. A future Roman Catholic worshipper. A woman returning from the parade. Parade participants calling it a day. The best view in the house.Parade participants calling it a day. Kids climbing on the general.

Driving Drunk in Salta

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some Video Clips

These are some video clips shot with my Panasonic TZ-3—don't go on a trip without a point-and-shoot camera that can shoot video (most can). I had never planned to use my P&S in this way, but it really captures another dimension than stills.

Recommended Reading

A few weeks ago, I finished The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough. It's an outstanding and thorough history of the building of the Panama Canal. A few interesting tidbits:

  • The French are the first ones to attempt building the canal.
  • The Americans wanted to build the canal through Nicaragua, not Panama.
  • Much was learned about Yellow Fever and Malaria during the construction of the canal.
  • Some people wanted to build a sea-level canal—as you know, there are locks in the final version (i.e., it's not sea-level).
  • The changes in the tides of the two oceans—Pacific and Atlantic—are not the same.
  • The West end of the canal empties out into the Atlantic Ocean and the East end into the Pacific, opposite what one might think.

Just today, I polished off The Rivers Ran East by Leonard Clark. It's an adventure—far beyond any I wish to have—about his search in the western Amazon region for El Dorado. Here's a random quote from the beginning of the first chapter which I thought was pretty fantastic—you may or may not: “I simply had to have that gold, and with the same unreasoning desperation that grips a man who loves a woman—he has got to have that one woman, though a billion others exist in the world.”

Good reading.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Travel Tips

I will be updating this post as I travel and learn more, so whenever you see it at the top of the page, please check it for new info.

  • Bring US Dollars, anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand
    • They're used every day in Ecuador.
    • If the ATM isn't working, some places will exchange them for local currency. This can be a lifesaver—it was for me yesterday.
    • Some other places (hostels in Chile, I've heard) will give a significant discount for payment in USD—this may depend on exchange rates and economic predictions.
  • Photography-related tips
    • Keep your camera put away until you're ready to take a picture.
    • The crappier your camera bag looks, the better.
    • The easier your camera is to access, the better.
    • Don't leave your SLR at home—once you're at your destination, you'll wish you had it.
  • Buses are ubiquitous down here. If you travel much in Latin America, you'll end up on a bus. At the bus terminal, the ticket agent will tell you that your bus will pull into a specific bay—and they will commonly give you a range of possible bays. Make sure to check with the bus driver of any bus that pulls in near your departure time, even if it's not one of your "possible" bays. Not infrequently, the bus will pull into a different bay, and you don't want that bus pulling away without you in it.
  • Regarding theft and hanging on to your possessions
    • If green goo from air conditioning units drips onto you and some friendly people show up immediately to help you clean it off, here's what you do.
      • IGNORE THE GREEN GOO!!!!!
      • Make sure you are aware of and in control of your bags.
      • If you have a wallet, cash, or valuables in your pocket, you might want to put your hand in your pocket to make sure those things stay there.
      • Last, but not least, I would recommend punching, head butting, eye gouging, or slitting the throats of the criminals who want to steal your stuff.
      • Later, you can dab your finger in the green goo and taste it—it's really just mustard.
    • If someone gets your attention and points to money or a wallet lying on the floor, here's what you do.
      • IGNORE THE MONEY OR THE WALLET!!!!!
      • Make sure you are aware of and in control of your bags.
      • If you have a wallet, cash, or valuables in your pocket, you might want to put your hand in your pocket to make sure those things stay there.
      • The criminal put the money or wallet there to distract you while they steal potentially massive quantities of your extremely valuable possessions. I'm using big words here with good reason. You need to trust me on this.
      • They want you to bend down to pick up the money or wallet, even if just to help return it to its owner. While you're doing that, they will steal your stuff!!!!!
    • If someone gets your attention and acts like they need help or directions with something and want you to look at a map or step away to help them, here's what you do.
      • TELL THEM YOU DON'T SPEAK SPANISH OR JUST IGNORE THEM!!!!!
      • Make sure you are aware of and in control of your bags.
      • If you have a wallet, cash, or valuables in your pocket, you might want to put your hand in your pocket to make sure those things stay there.
      • If you step away from your things or look away for even just a few seconds, they will steal your stuff.
    • Just heard another technique. If you have a pile of bags on the floor that you are watching, someone might trip over one of the bags. At this instant, when you turn your attention to them, someone on your other side will grab a bag and book. In my opinion, this is a tough situation to deal with. Ideally, you have three people in your group. Two can watch the bags while one-at-a-time goes to the bathroom or goes to buy a ticket or whatever. Or, just situate the bags in a corner, where access is limited. No one can trip, and there aren't multiple directions your attention could be focused.
    • Don't leave your things lying around loosely at hostels. Hide them away or put them in a small bag. Best of all, lock them up or get a private room. I had a ninety-dollar pocket knife stolen from the shelf next to my bed in Rio.
    • There are many travelers you'll meet who are wonderful. They are trustworthy and will lend you money or help you in other ways if you need it. A highlight of your trip will be meeting people like this and becoming friends with them. On the other hand, there are travelers who are idiots: loud, obnoxious, and thieves. Those are the ones to be wary of. The challenge can be telling the difference. I hope you're a better judge of character than I am.
    • Just because your point-and-shoot camera is in a little pouch hanging around your neck, don't assume it's safe. Your camera could get "pick pocketed" right out of the pouch! You'll still have the strap around your neck and the little camera bag will be on the end of it—just minus the camera! NEW
    • If you bring a watch, make sure it's one you don't mind parting with. You can get that watch ripped right off your wrist. This is obviously not a sly or tricky theft technique. Someone I met back in El Chalten had a very expensive watch ripped right off her wrist. If your watch is a piece of crap, it probably won't get stolen. If it's nice, you're just asking for it. Remember—your camera has a clock in it. You can use that to tell time. I didn't bring a watch and haven't missed it too much. NEW
    • When traveling by bus, keep your really valuable things in your day pack—photo backups, camera, VISA card, passport, money, etc.—and don't store your day pack in the overhead bin. Keep it at your feet and keep it situated so that it would be difficult for someone to unzip a pocket while you sleep. Better yet, just pretend it's your girlfriend and hug it while you sleep. People will steal things out of your day pack and even your pockets while you're sleeping on a bus, so be careful! NEW

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Corrientes—People, not Places

The peotanal—pedestrian street, common in Latin Ameircan cities—Corrientes, Argentina. I wanted to see something new in between Posadas and Salta, so I stopped off in Corrientes, about 4 hours and 33 pesos ($12) West of Posadas. When I arrived, at about 8:15 P.M., a lady at the bus station saw me staring at the map on the window of the abandoned tourist information booth and asked what I was looking for. She ended up telling me that there are some Jesuit ruins nearby that I could go see. The next morning, I asked 3 or 4 other people about them (so I could figure out how to get there) and no one had a clue, nor any recommendations about what was worth seeing here in Corrientes. Way to get rid of the influx of money from the tourists!

Instead of staying another night, I bought a ticket for Salta on a bus leaving that night Río Paraná waterfront, Corrientes, Argentina.at 8:45, then decided I'd just bum around town for the day before continuing West. I hopped on a city bus, got off downtown, and spent the afternoon walking around and enjoying the nice weather and the Río Paraná which separates the Chaco and Corrientes provinces and on which the city of Corrientes is perched. I ended up talking to some folks who were passing the day fishing and another guy training on his bicycle.

Ricardo, fishing in the Río Paraná. The Corrientes waterfront is pretty nice and quite active, with many burger trailers and parks. There were no roller-bladers—the surface is a bit rough for that—but there were lots of joggers and walkers. At some spots, there are beaches or areas where one can descend down near the water's edge. One in particular seemed popular with some folks doing a bit of fishing. I never did see anyone pull in a fish, but had a nice chat with a few of them. One fellow comes here when he's between work, and apparently things are slow right now. There were a couple families sort of making a picnic out of it—a nice way to pass the time.

Fishing simply in the Río Paraná. Another fellow, a bit older, Ricardo, comes here regularly and proved you don't need the latest high-speed gear—carbon fiber pole and uber-expensive reel—to go fishing. His fishing equipment consisted of a bamboo stick wedged between some rocks and two or three pieces of rebar stuck into the sand. You'd be surprised how far out you can throw a line with your hand. Swinging about a 4-foot length of line with lead on the end gives you a fair amount of inertia. He got a good 50-foot "cast" out of it. Ricardo speaks Portuguese and knew a few words of English, too. Something he was a bit less educated on was American politics. Many Latinos want to know what I think of George Bush, for some reason—I think I'll start asking them what they think of their president. That's some fodder for good conversation!!! Ricardo didn't ask me that, but Fishing with only a line and hook. did ask about our political parties. Which party is Bush from? How many parties are there? Just two? Political conversations don't thrill me like they used to, and I'm glad this one was uneventful. After Ricardo gave me an orange, he mentioned that there was a zoo just a short walk from here and that admission was free. A few minutes later I headed out.

When I was within striking distance of the zoo, some girls who had been fishing with bamboo Half moon, Corrientes, Argentina.poles earlier—mainly for kicks, while mom did the serious fishing, with no pole of any kind, just the line—came along in the opposite direction. Apparently reading my mind, they told me the zoo was closed. With that, I headed back in the direction of city center to catch a bus back to my hotel, pack up, and get across the street to the bus terminal.

On the way, I ran across a plaza—not hard to do in Latin America, as there are normally several in every city. In this one, there was a guy doing some tricks on his BMX bike. He was amazing! Daniel actually competed in the Latin X-Games in 2002 and was invited by ESPN to compete in the full-blown X-Games in Brazil in 2003. After that, between marriage, having a son, and the pressure of practicing 7 hours every day, he gave it up for a bit. After giving Danial, practicing in Corrientes. his heart and life to God, he is living a more balanced life and is happy. He's practicing a couple hours every day and wants to get back into competition. He's thinking about moving to the States or Europe some day where there are more opportunities to compete. He has also started is own bicycle frame-manufacturing company, and I saw him testing his own product. I was really impressed!

Although I didn't see any great tourist attractions in Corrientes, I met some great people—even better!

 

 Building in Corrientes, Argentina. Danial, practicing in Corrientes.There were 50 (!) of these ads next to the sidewalk. I think they get the message!!!  Danial, practicing in Corrientes. Daniel, showing me his own frame design. Daniel, international competitor, Corrientes, Argentina.Danial, practicing in Corrientes.  Father and daughter, getting around in Corrientes.

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Trinidad, Oberá, and Seeing Red

Jesuit ruins in Trinidad, Paraguay. I think the main reason tourists come to Posadas, Argentina, is as a launching point to visit the Jesuit Mission ruins in Trinidad, Paraguay. A two-night stay is enough for the visit, as a day is all you need to get to the ruins and visit them.

You take a bus from within Posadas to Encarnación, Paraguay, for 3 pesos. You can catch it at the terminal or anywhere along its route through the city. To get to Paraguay, you have to cross the Río Paraná (Paraná River) and pass through customs—the river forms the border between the two countries and is the second longest in South America. There doesn't seem to be any problem Jesuit ruins at Trinidad, Paraguay. getting through customs if you just want to visit the ruins. Get off at the bus terminal in Encarnación—just ask someone on the bus to let you know when you've arrived at the terminal, as it's not obvious.

From the terminal in Encarnación, catch the bus to Trinidad. It costs about $1.50, which is 6,000 Paraguayan Guarani—you can change your Argentine Pesos for Paraguayan Guarani at the terminal in Encarnación, if you need to. Good grief, people! Print some new money with smaller numbers on it (one-thousand Guarani amounts to about 25¢)! Make sure to tell the driver you want to visit "las ruinas" and ask him to tell you when to get off. The ruins are not at any terminal, so you'll just zip on by unless you know when to get off.

Oberá, Argentina. The day that I visited the ruins, the weather was miserable—think winter in Washington. It was rainy, windy, and cold. You have to walk about a half mile along a rock road to get to the ruins. By the time I got there, my feet were soaked and I was generally pretty unhappy. There's a restaurant just a stone's throw from the ruins and I hoped they were open. I was very pleased when the door swung open with a gentle push. I entered, used the bathroom, ordered a hot chocolate, and spent about 30 minutes sitting next to the fire drinking my pitcher of super-heated liquid (10,000 Guarani). This was so nice and just what I needed to prepare me to wander around the ruins.

Oberá, Argentina. To get into the Jesuit Mission grounds will set you back 5,000 Guarani, or about a buck-and-a-quarter. These ruins are a World Heritage Site, by the way. You'll want at least a couple hours to thoroughly investigate the area. It was fun to let my imagination run wild picturing these men in the wild frontier piling these rocks one on top of the other and creating these beautiful structures—much more fun for me than for them, I'm sure. Now, much of the material is missing, and the rest is falling apart and defaced by visitors with little respect for the past. Nevertheless, if you're in the area, this is a must see.

There are more ruins in Jesús, about 20 or 30 kilometers farther on, but apparently you'll need to take a taxi, at least part way. The lady in the restaurant told me that no buses run to them. They are much smaller, I was told. If you've got time and feel like being thorough, go for it.

Nice house in Oberá, Argentina. If you're an observant reader, you will have noticed that I implied you might have problems getting through customs if you want to do more than just visit the ruins. I discovered this today after packing my bag, checking out of the hotel, traveling on the bus through Posadas to the river, going through Argentine customs, crossing the river, and talking to customs in Paraguay. By this time, my left arm was numb from the 50 pounds on my back. Apparently, Americans need a VISA to get into Paraguay. I don't have one. The Fiesta of the Immigrant, Oberá, Argentina.consulate doesn't open until Monday and I don't want to stay in Posadas any longer. So I burned a couple hours and a couple spaces for stamps in my already-crowded temporary passport for no reason.

The guy at Paraguayan customs did tell me about something I could do in the meantime, assuming I wanted to pick up a VISA in Posadas in a couple days. There is a fiesta in Oberá. The official name is "XXIX Fiesta Nacional del Inmigrante," or The 29th National Party of the Immigrant. So, I went back across the river to the terminal in Posadas and caught the next bus out to Oberá. I didn't even know where Oberá was—I'd never heard of it, in fact—and was hoping this guy knew what he was talking about.

Well, 10 pesos, 110 kilometers, and 2 hours later I showed up in Oberá. It's an interesting city. It's got the usual run-down buildings and junk lying around that you find all over Latin America, but it's also got some surprisingly nice houses, sidewalks, and streets. It had a different look and feel to it than what I had yet seen.

Fiesta of the Immigrant, Oberá, Argentina. Another interesting observation applies to this whole region of northern Argentina, and probably at least to southern Paraguay. You see red dirt everywhere! The bottom half of many of the cars is solid red, and the clay gets caked onto the tires of bicycles, and, especially with the rain, your shoes become a mess and you can't help but track the red goo inside with you.

Thankfully, Oberá also has a nice little tourist information center not far from the bus terminal. I made a visit to it after swinging by a hotel across the street from the bus terminal and being told there weren't any rooms in town. The lady in the tourist information center called around and found a hotel with a vacancy for me. I also grabbed a map and a pamphlet describing the fiesta. After walking the few blocks to the hotel and checking in, I set out for the festival. NOTE: The tourist information center at the bus terminal in Corrientes appears to be abandoned.

Fiesta of the Immigrant, Oberá, Argentina.The festival reminded me of the Puyallup Fair which is also going on right now. I don't feel like there's a whole lot I miss about "home" but the Puyallup Fair is one of them! Although I never used to be able to imagine living anywhere but the beautiful Pacific Northwest, the longer I'm on this trip, the more I'm convinced that anyone can grow to view any place as home.

Anyhoo, the fiesta certainly wasn't up to Puyallup Fair standards, but I enjoyed my brief time there. There was one main stage, an area with various international foods, Girls giving away yerba samples—Fiesta of the Immigrant, Oberá, Argentina. and...well, that's about it. There weren't a lot of people, the schedule of performances on the stage was pretty slow, and it was cold. I caught a taxi back to the hotel for fear of rain. What a change from 2 weeks of 70-degree weather in Salta!

At this point, I'm not terribly motivated to jump through the hoops to get into Paraguay. I'm having my vaccination sheet mailed to a friend's house in Salta, then I'm going to head to Bolivia. At least I can tick Paraguay off my list, since I did visit the ruins.

Food at Fiesta of the Immigrant, Oberá, Argentina. Fiesta of the Immigrant, Oberá, Argentina.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Overloaded

I left Iguazu Falls this morning and took a bus to Posadas, just south of the southern tip of Paraguay. It cost 37 pesos (about $12) and took 6 hours. They leave every half hour. It stopped frequently and passed through all kinds of poor and interesting areas—probably towns that are on few (if any) maps.

After arriving, I had a taxi take me to Vuela el Pez hostel. In reality, it was more complicated than that. There is some problem with their address as listed on the Internet. Apparently, it's the only hostel in Posadas, and I figured I'd go cheap—i.e., the hostel. As one of the reviews online said, you really need to get directions to the place, or you probably won't find it. My recommendation? Instead of spending your money on a taxi (I got overcharged by my taxista according to the hotel manager—make sure to look at the meter before paying), just walk two blocks from the bus station to SC Hotel—unless you're planning on staying here a while and need to pinch pennies. It's 60 pesos a head and the rooms are sweet. There isn't Internet, so just walk to the YPF gas station a couple blocks away to use a computer.

There's a monster supermarket just 3 blocks away—one of the biggest ones I've seen on my trip (think Fred Meyer Superstore). I walked there to buy some grub for dinner. I felt like Mr. Burns after he had fired Smithers and had to go shopping for himself for the first time in his life. "Ketchup? Catsup? Ketchup? Catsup? Ketchup? Catsup?" I walked around for a couple minutes, got brain overload, then decided to just find a restaurant. The bus station and supermarket are right next to each other. As you exit the supermarket, turn to your left, walk one block, then cross the street. There's a parrilla there—that's a meat restaurant. I got the fixed size meat platter—4 kinds of meat—for 12 pesos ($4—all you can eat meat platter is 20 pesos, or just under $7), mixed salad ($1), and a Coke ($1). A perfect dinner for a great price. If you're in town, go there! I ended up eating there a few more times while in Posadas.

Onward and upward.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Onward, Downward, Then Upward, Then Downward, Then Upward

I left Salta yesterday at 3:00 P.M. I took a bus straight to Foz de Iguazú, the place I went at about week four of my trip, more than 6 months ago. When I left here the first time, I left some things behind, things I didn't need and figured I wouldn't bother carrying down to Patagonia. They were: my dry bag, maps, books, insect treatment for my clothing, and my "business" cards (cards I had made up with my name, e-mail address, blog address, and photo site address—they worked great for handing out to people I met along the way). I told the kind folks here at Hostel Inn Iguazú that I would be back in about 6 weeks to collect my things. Well, more than 6 months have passed and they have no idea where my stuff is. If my things haven't turned up by morning, I'll head out on a bus for Posadas, back south, the way I came. It's located just south of the Paraguayan border. I'll probably spend a night or two there, then I'll enter a country I have, as of yet, never visited. I've been bopping around the same two countries for the past 6 months, so I guess it's time to move on—and without the added weight of books, maps, insect treatment, my cards, and my dry bag.

As an aside, when I arrived here in Iguazu Falls today and got my bag off the bus (Flecha Bus), it was clear my backpack had been tampered with. I don't think anything was gone. For the first time on my entire trip, I think, the bag handler didn't check my tag when I retrieved my bag. Normally, when you put your bag on the bus, they put a tag on it and give you a matching number. Then, they require you to give them the stub before they will give you your bag back, after verifying that the stub you have matches a bag under the bus. Not today. On the same bus, another guy had his iPod stolen from his bag from under the bus during the trip. I've had good experiences with Plusmar, Andes Mar, Via Bariloche, and Crucero del Norte, but I think any of them is really a crap shoot. You may have problems, you may not. Just don't leave anything valuable in easily-accessible outside pockets of your pack. You're best off keeping critical items in your day pack with you in your seat.

Hostels in Salta, Argentina

I won't elaborate on all the details regarding my hostel hopping while in Salta. Just be glad I did, so I could accumulate the experience and knowledge to share with the rest of you. Keep in mind, people's criteria for places to stay are different. What I like, you may not. I will not be held responsible if you are unhappy with your hostel! :)

  • Hostel Kaskai—Nice staff, nice area to hang out in with grass, tables, and chairs, but noisy—hint: I heard a lot of Hebrew. I hate noisy hostels. I don't know if this is the norm here. My guess is that it is. Not a great location. Quite out of the way. I bought a Coke here. It wasn't refrigerated and was a complete ripoff—8 pesos vs. 2-3 at other locations.
  • La Salamanca—Very close to the bus terminal and the cable car. There is also a big park right across the street which has street vendors every day. Not even a 10-minute walk to the heart of the city. Quiet, "breakfast" included (a pretty typical breakfast, which is to say not fancy), and a fridge full of reasonably-priced drinks. Reasonably priced rooms. A good place to stay.
  • Las Rejas Hostel B&B—Da Bomb! Nice location, quiet, a decent breakfast, family owned and operated, professionally run, maid service (i.e., fresh towels, a new bar of soap, and a clean bathroom every day), and WiFi. I had a private room, so I can't comment on the price of a dorm, for those pinching pennies. I thought the private room was reasonable, so I'll bet the dorm would be, too. Highly recommended!
  • Backpackers Hostel Salta—There are several hostels that fall under this umbrella. The one I stayed in was Backpackers Hostel Salta "Home" located at Buenos Aires 930. It was okay, but not the cat's meow. Most hostels I have encountered have the beds made for you. Here, they just hand you sheets. I have encountered only one other hostel in my travels thus far that have you make your own bed, and that was Hostel Inn Iguazú (pretty nice place with a sweet pool, by the way). Not a big deal, but another factor. A bigger factor for me was that they didn't have towels for you. A minus, for sure. Also, a big minus for me, no WiFi. The big plus was the BBQ they have here where there was a great authentic performance by a small musical group while a man and woman danced in the Argentine Folkloric style. It was very nice. Not a great location—a bit of a walk to anything good.