Adventure #1

Ciudad del Este

Igauzú is on the border of Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay. Due to bizarre tax rules, a Playstation 3 consoles cost about $200 less in Paraguay than in Argentina. Before we even think about Iguazú Falls, Angelo insists on going to Paraguay to buy a PS3. (Angelo is the kid from La Rioja on our adventure. He's a friend of the British kid Ollie. The three of us form a crowd of english speakers all with different accents.)

Going to Paraguay is totally illegal for me. It's no problem for Ollie or Angelo (Great Britain and Argentina), but for a US citizen it's almost impossible to travel without visas. I don't know about the legal standing between USA and Paraguay, but I'm pretty sure I need a visa to enter, which I don't have. By entering, I am possibly breaking international law. I am sure about the legal standing with Brasil - it's absolutely prohibited for me to enter without a visa. I don't have a visa for Brasil either, and by entering I am definitely breaking international law. And of course, as is always my luck, the only way to get to Paraguay is to go through Brasil.

Since Angelo, Ollie, and myself are all under the age 25 and relatively stupid, we decided to go for it. We hop on a bus destined for Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and hope for the best.

The bus ticket, which takes us through Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay, costs $1.50 pesos. That's ridiculous!! Forty-one cents of a US dollar to travel between three countries. Nice!

We catch our bus. The very first stop is the aduanas - the customs office. Everyone gets off the bus to have their passport stamped before they climb back on. You walk into the office from Argentina, and walk out to Brasil. Ollie, Angelo and I exchange glances. "Maybe they won't check?" We get in line. Ollie and Angelo get their stamp and wait. I hand over my US passport. The customs official leafs through it, checks my Argentine visa, looks at the ID page, confusedly examines the front and back covers a few times, and then gets out her stamp.

What a beautiful noise. Tap TAP. I'm in Brasil.

For a few fleeting seconds, I have my feet planted on forbidden soil. I get back on the bus, and the next time I step off I am in Paraguay. Ha ha haha ha.

Paraguay! Ciudad del Este! This is a nutty city. I don't know exactly how to describe it. You come in though a big three lane highway, and on either side of you are tall buildings. But before the tall buildings are four or five rows of sidewalk tents full of street vendors. On the road you're diving on are yet more vendors, peddling their wares on bicycle. You're first impression is that it's a city of street markets. It turns out to be a pretty accurate impression.

Angelo doesn't waste any time. We go immediately towards the buildings, and lo and behold are dozens of electronics stores. Some you can tell are official suppliers; others look like they obtained their merchandise by marauding the streets with baseball bats; others are somewhere inbetween. The hunt for a PS3 begins.

It's a difficult hunt. A lot of the vendors are charging the Argentine price, or more. Others are willing to haggle, but make complicated deals like "you have to buy a camcorder too." Others have intricate procedures, "Yes, I have a PS3 for you, but it's at another shop. If you go at four in the afternoon I'll meet you there, I can buy it directly from him and pass it on to you. I'll take $50, but in the end you get a cheaper price." We spend most of the day jumping from store to store. Angelo just isn't having any luck.

Of course there are other vendors besides electronics. We've got clothing vendors, plastic-toy vendors, DVD vendors, and various food peddlers. Pringles® are a huge deal for some reason. Tons of vendors are selling Pringles and mock-Pringles. I realized that day that I haven't seen a single pack of Pringles my entire four months in Argentina. I guess they're a precious item. It's also fun that people speak Spanish, Portuguese, and English; and accept money in Paraguayan pesos, Argentine pesos, Brasilian reales, US dollars, and sometimes Euros. There are some Argentines in Ciudad del Este, but there are a LOT of Brasilians.

At the end of the day, I walked out with the best deal. I bought a kilo and a half of bananas for two Argentine pesos (US 53¢). I also got my change in Brasilian reales, which is a unexpected but cool souvenir from Paraguay.

At six or so in the afternoon Angelo still didn't have a Playstation, but we decided it was time to leave. Half the hassle is trying to sneak a PS3 across the boarder; it's a complicated trick involving a taxi that would cost another $50USD anyway. We head back to the big highway that brought us here. We have no idea how to get home.

Supposedly the same bus that took us here can take us back, but it's kind of late and maybe the bus stops running at 5:30. A taxi would cost a lot, a price you'd only want to pay if you're smuggling electronics. I'm two countries separated from a location where I have a legal visa. What do we do?

Angelo walks over to a Pringles vendor and like a Deus-ex-machina he reveals that our bus will pass by our exact location in less than 10 minutes. Saved. Before long we are passing through the customs office again, and another confused customs official gives me another stamp. We're smuggling nothing except bananas and Brasilian reales. Angelo is disappointed, but I think it was a great day. Then again, I was the only person who managed to do something illegal.


The Escape 2

Well hello there, blog. It's been a while now, hasn't it?

I'll tell you, I haven't written for so long because I've been in La Rioja for weeks, pretty much doing the same old thing. I've escaped. Now I'm on a bus. The bus is going to Córdoba. In Córdoba I will get on another bus. That but will go to Puerto Iguazú, the home of Argentina's famous super-waterfalls. These waterfalls supposedly so super, they have earned the name "Niagara on Viagra".

That's impressive.

I'm traveling with a kid from England (Ollie), and a kid from La Rioja (Angelo). I just met them. I hope that by the end of this week I will have some crazy story to write about them.

Oh yeah! This trip is almost a week long. That's a long time! Wednesday just ended, it's 12:09AM on Thursday and we just got on the bus. I arrive back in La Rioja next Tuesday, six days later. This is kind of bad news because I'm leaving for Buenos Aires almost immediately after. And after that, I'm coming home. All in all, I have THREE MORE DAYS in La Rioja. The whole Argentina thing is coming to a rapid close and there's a lot of things I still want to do.

But back to the bus. To get to Córdoba is six hours. To get from Córdoba to Puerto Iguazú is twenty-two hours. What the hell and I going to do with twenty-two hours?? I ask you: Imagine yourself in the busiest part of your year. You're losing your hair trying to find time to do everything you need to do. And suddenly a bizarrre pink-haird fairy descends from the ceiling and grants you a free twenty-two hours to do whatever you what. What would you do?

Maybe you'd finish a research project that's due on Monday. Maybe you'd finally memorize your lines for the Musical, or learn your notes for Marching Band. Maybe you'd catch up on sleep. Maybe organize that bookshelf that's been such a mess for months, or finish up a home-imporvement project that's been suspended for ages. Or maybe you'd just chill, and watch the entire Lord of the Rings movie series... two and a half times in a row. Or all seven Harry Potter movies consecutively (3 hours x 7 movies = 21 outrageous hours of British wizardry). Or you could play the entire game of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from start to finish, I dare you. You could watch fourty-four episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or if you're from La Rioja you could sit in a park and do nothing for twenty-two hours straight.

But for all these miraculous possibilities, I honestly don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow on the bus for twenty-two hours.

[Twenty Two hours later]


So looking out the window I realized, "Oh look! Argentina actually has a nice countryside!" Things were green and nice to look at. It was something of a surprise; I've been in a dry dusty desert for four months. Why the hell did AFS send me to La Rioja, with all this beautiful country to choose from? Whatever.

Now we're in a youth hostel, which isn't too bad! We're paying $45 pesos a night (that's $12.03 USD); the 6-man dorm is filled with foul-smelling bunk beds, but the bathroom is nice. We have free wifi and computers with internet access, a spacious dining room with free breakfast, a decently-equipped kitchen for whoever wants to use it, and a room full of things to do when you're drunk (fuseball, pool table, pingpong, and big TV screens). Alcohol is an integral part of the youth hostel experience.

Tomorrow we hit up Iguazú falls. Either we'll have a super cool adventure and I'll write an exciting blog entry when I get back, or it'll be kind of unexciting and I'll just show you pictures when I get home. More on that later.