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.