Heading north from Resistencia in Argentina towards Iguazu Falls I was undecided whether to stop in the town of Formosa or continue to the Paraguayan border and then on to the capital city of AsunciÚn. As I arrived in Formosa shortly before midday and didnít see anything compelling enough to make me want to explore further (sorry Formosa) I rode northwards towards the border after a short stop for petrol and a coffee.
Resistencia - Formosa Road, Argentina
As the more recent border crossings had been well managed, efficient and civilised; I was surprised to be greeted by touts and street money changers at the Argentina - Paraguay border. The Argentinean Immigration and Customs offices were clearly identifiable but a tout walked just in front of me pointing them out and then telling me which documents I needed to present. After all the border crossings I have been through in Latin America I have a fair idea of what documents are required and as the tout only spoke Spanish all he was doing was echoing or pre-empting what the border official said. I tried to ignore him without being blatantly rude although Iím unsure why I was avoiding being rude as it was obvious he was trying to pull a scam. We went through the same charade at the Paraguayan Immigration Office then continued towards Paraguayan Customs. The tout pointed to a window and said it was the customs office, I did no more than turn my head as an automatic reaction to his pointing but the touts partner in crime was waiting for me. The window was the Paraguayan Police Office and the policeman had been waiting to catch my eye. I now knew the scam was about to commence but because I have eye contact with the perpetrator and he is in a police uniform; walk freely into the trap. The policeman asks for my documents one at a time with the tout repeating what he said as if he was translating although they are both speaking Spanish which I understood. Iím then asked for my motorcycle insurance which I donít have. I explain that I have been to numerous insurance offices in Chile and Argentina and non of them have been able to supply me with insurance. Either they donít insure motorcycles at all or they canít insure vehicles of any kind unless they have local registration plates and my bike has a very non-local; UK registration plate. I had heard of this scam, the police know that insurance is difficult, or on some stretches of road impossible to buy so you are stopped, asked for your insurance certificate which you donít have and this leads on to the financial negotiations. I was told I would have to return to Formosa in Argentina around ninety miles (144km) away to buy insurance. As this involves explaining to the Argentinean border control staff why I need to re-enter Argentina and as insurance is probably unavailable in Formosa anyway itís a no-win situation. Iím then told by the policeman and this is repeated by the tout that Ďas a special favourí I can pay the policeman to pretend he hasnít seen me. There is no pretence of an Ďon the spot fineí etc. After paying the policeman not to see me I went to the real Paraguayan Customs Office, got my temporary motorcycle import document without any hassle and continued into AsunciÚn.
I mentioned in an earlier blog update that I was surprised how difficult it was to buy compulsory insurance in the more Ďwesternisedí countries of Chile and Argentina. I continue the quest by visiting any insurance office I see although with less enthusiasm than I did initially. Iím not unduly worried about not having third party insurance. The likelihood of having an accident which injures someone other than myself or causing damage to property other than mine is remote (says he; looking for a piece of wood to touch). I would though, really like a bit of paper that allows me to legally ride on the roads and not have to worry at the police checkpoints.
Presidential Palace, AsunciÚn
Seven weeks prior to my arrival in AsunciÚn there was a change of the Paraguayan leader. President Fernando Lugo was impeached in what many reports claim was a hastily arranged hearing. Fernando Lugoís lawyers where given twenty four hours to prepare his defence and two hours to present it. The legal team did ask for additional time to prepare the defence but this was denied. The hearings verdict was guilty and the Vice President, Federico Franco was sworn in as the new president. As a result of this leadership change Paraguay has been suspended from Mercosur, the South American equivalent of the European Common Market and a number of countries have refused to recognise the new government.
AsunciÚn National Pantheon of Heroes
AsunciÚn reminded me of Mexico with its numerous plazas and free concerts. Most evenings while I was there a concert was taking place at one plaza or another. The biggest concert was to celebrate the 475th anniversary of the founding of AsunciÚn, which makes it one of the oldest Latin American cities. I stumbled across the gathering crowd as I was walking around town after dinner and grabbed a chair. Some of the star performers I had seen on previous evenings were part of the opening acts. Twenty minutes into the concert the compere interrupted the performance to announce the arrival of the president. At the time I was unsure who had arrived and what he was president of. I thought maybe it was the president of the AsunciÚn Music Society or some similar organisation but later someone made a welcoming speech and whilst I couldnít understand most of what was being said I realised it was the new President of Paraguay, Federico Franco that was sitting thirty rows in front of me, close enough that I got the occasional glimpse of the back of his head. There had been demonstrations against the impeachment in AsunciÚn when it was first announced. Federico Franco was greeted with no more than muted polite applause when he was introduced.
The President And I Attend The AsunciÚn 475th Anniversary Concert
One thing that bugged me at the concert was traders walking amongst the audience selling food, drink, cigarettes etc. They were shouting out in the middle of the acts with no regard to the performer on the stage. During a guitar solo the traders were almost louder than the performer. Nobody else seemed to object, it was obviously normal, acceptable and desirable that the audience could buy a coke or whatever during the performance. To me it appeared rude and disrespectful to the performer and distracting to the audience. An interesting cultural difference. I remember reading once that in Shakespeareís time; people would walk in and out of the theatre during performances and traders would be wandering through the audience much as I was witnessing in AsunciÚn. It all depends on what you are used to I guess.
AsunciÚn 475th Anniversary Concert
I had bought a new Chinese rear tyre, a make I had never heard of but the only tyre available at the time in La Paz, Bolivia. I carried it around for a while, maximising the use out of the old tyre and finally got the new tyre fitted in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Crossing Paraguay, heading east from AsunciÚn to Iguazu Falls I had the first opportunity to test it in the rain and found it very exciting. Doing a steady 70kph (44mph) in a straight line on a paved road the rear wheel would suddenly spin up and sometimes kick the bike off course. It was raining fairly heavily which left pools of standing water on the road so I guess the tyre was aquaplaning in puddles. Iím going to have to be very careful in the wet while I have this tyre fitted.
I had hoped to ride from AsunciÚn and get across the border, back into Argentina at Puerto Iguazu in one day but some of the heavy rain had found its way inside my motorcycle clothing so rather than stand around at customs and immigration in wet gear I opted to stay on the Paraguayan side of the border in Ciudad del Este. Ciudad del Este has a renowned black market economy and large scale smuggling organisation into neighbouring Argentina and Brazil in electrical goods and just about everything else you can think of.
Taking the ferry from Paraguay across the Paranŗ river and into the Iguazu river to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina was a pleasant change from all the land borders. Thereís something very relaxing and traditional about arriving at a new country by boat.
Ferry From Paraguay, Across The Paranŗ River And Into The Iguazu River To Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
I didnít realise it was a three day weekend when I went to the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls so it was unbelievably busy. There is a narrow gauge railway to take visitors from the entrance to the start of a walk to the top of the falls. I waited in a long snaking queue and when the train pulled into the station it filled up before I could get on and I had to wait for the next one. This meant that when I got off there was in excess of two trainloads of visitors on the path to the falls. All we could do was shuffle along and if someone stopped to take a photograph two hundred people behind had to stop as well. It was as crowded as Fenwickís Christmas Toy Fair and if you havenít heard of Fenwickís Christmas Toy Fair and you are over the age of twelve your life has been truly blessed.
Bank Holiday Weekend Crowds At Iguazu Falls National Park
The train stopped at the start of the path leading to the top of the ĎDevils Throatí, a huge U shaped fall with water pouring over an 82 metre (269 feet) drop and mist rising up to 150 metres (490 feet) high. The Devils Throat forms the border between Brazil and Argentina which puts 80% of the falls in Argentina and 20% within Brazilian territory. Fortunately the walks to other viewpoints of the falls werenít quite as busy.
Iguazu Falls are ranked amongst the widest in the world and have one of the greatest flow rates.
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