Archive | August, 2009

Update on the good life in Asuncion.

30 Aug

Mandy and I have been in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital city for 3 weeks now. We have been living with Mandy’s boss, Stael and her husband Jose Luis. They have surpassed the friendly hospitable reputation of the Paraguayan people. We have been made to feel a part of their family, inviting us to family dinners and lunches.

Mandy and I have been spoiled, staying in their 2 storied pool house, nestled in the garden at the back of the property.

In Paraguay there is big difference between the rich and poor, and there is not really any significant middle class. But the upper and lower classes rely quite heavily on each other. The upper class rely on their maids and labourers for the day to day running of the of the house and the lower class rely on this paid employment.

So it is common for the upper class to have full time maids. At our house there are two great maids Marcella and Julia who have been with the family nearly 30 years. At first it takes a little bit of getting use to, having all your meals cooked and served to you and not to mention laundry and house cleaning done. But I’m always willing to fit in and somehow I have managed to adapt!

Next week Mandy and I will be moving to Mandy’s good friend Carlos’s house, who is actually Stael’s brother, so we will have to get reuse to the bus system all over again! In my future posts I will let you know about work, study and my Paraguayan acting career!

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The melted continent

27 Aug

A short update on the post below and my Antarctic endeavour. I have just applied for one of two volunteer positions to help paint the exterior (mostly window sills) of New Zealand’s Scott Base. Thanks to the people that alerted me to this opportunity, keep the fingers crossed, it still could be an Antarctic Christmas (what a present that would be!).

There have been times in the past month that I wished that big hunk of frozen ice called Antarctica would just melt. I have become a slave to the frozen continent, it has totally taken over my life, all my decisions are made by Antarctica.

From the above you can probably see that my job search was unsuccessful. Well, unsuccessful is the wrong word, it’s too negative, unsuccessful in the sense that I don’t have a secured job for the upcoming season. But I have talked to many people, got my name and goal out there and have had supportive feedback.

The past month I have sent over 100 emails, I have contacted all 52 companies that are registered to work in Antarctica. I received many supportive and encouraging emails, but majority said “no” in some sought of way eg “sorry we already have our crew”, “we have a Russian crew” , “our crews been together for 20 years” etc etc. But none the less it has been great to hear back from people wishing me luck, especially when they could just as easily delete the email, but instead they decide to write me back, and it’s those little bits of encouragement that really keep you going.

What’s the plan now you’re asking? Well, I came all this way to South America with the plan of going to Ushuaia, Argentina (the port that the boats use to depart for Antarctica), so Ushuaia I will go, I just have to do it.

For two reasons I will go, firstly I will try and get onboard a boat this season, whether it’s a private vessel needing an extra hand or a cruise ship that is short of crew, I would do anything. Secondly, a couple of companies are based in Ushuaia, so I want to meet with them, and try and secure work for the following season, put faces to names, I want to show them that I’m serious. But, realistically, as far as getting work by going down there, the chances are minimal as most of the companies have recruitment offices in other countries not in Ushuaia. But hey, there’s still a chance, and that’s all I have, who knows who I could meet.

So, my master Antarctica has spoken, I will be in South America next year as I wait for the following 2010/11 Antarctic season to roll around. Or maybe it is my year next year to gain employment at New Zealand’s Scott Base. Whatever happens, next year is business time, my final shot, as 2011 I will be celebrating my 30th birthday in some mud hut in Africa.

PS A big thank you to all the people that have emailed me and to friends that have given me contacts and ideas, a big sincere Hap hug to you all.

PPS To my master and dear friend Antarctica, see you soon mate.

 

Kissing Paraguayan men

20 Aug

Mandy and I have just arrived in Paraguay’s capital city, Asuncion and are sitting on the worn black leather in the back of a taxi, football commentary blaring on the speakers. We are headed for Mandys bosses house, where we will be living for the next couple of weeks while we get settled into Paraguayan life.

Mandy gets off her cell phone and reports they are expecting us. Her boss is still at work, but her husband is at home waiting. Wanting to make a good first impression, which seems like it is going to be hard judging by the amount of prolonged looks my dreadlocks have received already, I start quizzing Mandy on the Paraguayan greetings.

The past 6 weeks we had been living in Argentina where the greeting was one kiss on the cheek for guys and girls. Mandy informs me that in Paraguay they give 2 kisses, one on each cheek. With my new found knowledge of Paraguayan greetings the taxi bumps to a halt outside the front security fence of our destination.

We ring the buzzer and the maid and the husband come to unlock the front security gate. We say our hello’s and pleasantries through the bars of the gate like it’s visiting hours at prison. Then a prolonged silence settles over us as the maid struggles to find the correct key in the early evening darkness.

This gives time for myself and the husband to size each other up like prisoners in the shower. He is a small man in his early 60’s, wearing a check collared shirt and light brown coloured dress pants, his balding grey hair and glasses giving him an intelligent distinguished appearance. There I am on the other side of the bars standing there in boardies that still bare a sauce stain from Thailand, and shoulder length mouldy dreadlocks with an array of seashells hanging from them. I’m praying in my mind that the maid will hurry up and find the right key before the husband decides it’s better for his family’s safety and property value that he doesn’t let me in.

Like a prisoner hearing his cell door being unlock on his release day, I thank god, pick up my bags and follow Mandy through the gate. Mandy naturally embraces the husband in a hug and they rhythmically kiss on each cheek as though they have rehearsing it for years.

After Mandy finishes and steps aside, I confidently step forward to the outstretched hand. But I don’t want to be like the other timid foreigners that have passed through their house and merely shake hands. I want to impress him with my knowledge of Paraguayan greetings and put his dreadlock doubts to rest. So I clasp his outstretched hand and place my left hand on his shoulder, moving in and planting one kiss on his cheek. He didn’t seem as into it as me, and I don’t blame him, getting a face full of mouldy dreadlocks can really take the passion out of a greeting. But I was determined to finish what I started, and he wasn’t getting away that easily, and I plant another kiss on the other cheek.

Following the second kiss he pulls away and distances himself like any straight rugby playing man in New Zealand would if a dreadlocked male stranger came up and kissed him. He says “no, no, no”! I look to Mandy for help like a 3 year old looks to his mother after he’s shat his pants on a packed public bus and stunk it out. But Mandy is as shocked as the husband, as her mouth is open but nothing coming out.

I tried to explain and plead my innocence “Mandy told me that you give two kisses in Paraguay”. Finally Mandy recovers from the shock and says “ummmm, yeah sorry I forgot to mention that it’s only with women, guys don’t kiss in Paraguay like they do in Argentina”!

I’m pleased to say that we were still allowed to stay and that Jose Luis the husband has retold our first encounter many times since and received many laughs.

Un beso Hap

Who goes to Paraguay?

18 Aug

OK folks, this is my attempt at travel writing. I suggest to grab a coffee and hang a do not disturb sign on the door, or print it off and read it on the subway home. Here goes, oh yeah, sorry no eye candy (photos), as wasn’t that many photographical sights and photos never do justice to capturing chaos. Enjoy.

 

I’m sitting on the grey plastic seat of an old public bus, a world away from the luxurious 2 storied buses I have been travelling on in South America. A faded floral curtain that brings back childhood memories of my grandmothers’ cottage hangs in place of the Perspex glass that usually separates the driver from the rest of the bus. Rusted through seat legs are attached by backyard modified welds to the metal floor that has more chewing gum stuck to it than the underneath of a movie theatre seat.

In my hand I have my passport and I’m looking at the shining fresh ink of my Argentinean exit stamp, wondering what my Paraguayan entry stamp will look like, as the bus leaves Inmigración de Argentina.

Ciudad Del Este is my first taste of Paraguay: part of the triple frontera, a town on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Outside the bus window it seems like a modern day Wild West where the gun toting cowboys have given way to the chaos of congested traffic, honking horns, street peddlers, and a melting pot of ethnic diversity made up of opportunity seekers like the gold miners of yester year. There’s an uncomfortable feel to the place, a sense that you have one hand on your gun and be aware of your surroundings. You can feel the seediness, you can smell the illegal business, the trafficking of drugs and children, and you know you’re in a third world border town.

The bus lurches to an abrupt stop like a formula 1 car entering the pits. From the window it appears we have stopped in the middle of the road with cars buzzing past, no sign of a Paraguayan immigration building. The bus driver shouts out something but it is lost in the blur of a second language and the sound of heaving diesel engines. Like pack horses, carrying all our worldly possessions, my girlfriend Mandy and I trudge our way to the front of the bus to ask where immigration is. The driver enthusiastically points in the vague direction of where we have come from.

As I get off the bus, my first sight is Mandy, sprawled out on the road with her bulging backpack and 2 carry bags on top of her. I see the culprit innocently lying beside her—a crater sized pothole big enough to swallow a toddler on a tricycle. I laugh, lovingly, and she forgives me when I first ask if I can take a photo of her before asking if she is ok.

We enter the white, inconspicuous, paint peeled building and walk up to the man reclining in the chair behind the glass, who waves a lazy finger to another hole in the glass. Then what should have been a simple question followed by an entry stamp turned into one of those illogical bureaucratic mysteries. Well to be truthful, that started in Buenos Aires 2 weeks prior where we had applied for our Paraguayan tourist visas. Mandy and I had filled out the same application form, paid the same $65 fee, yet my visa was valid for 90 days and Mandy’s 8 years. She can stay for 90 days, leave, and come back for another 90 days for 8 years without paying for a new visa each time – that’s a lot of sightseeing when there are no sights!

As we feed the hole in the glass our passports, opened to our Paraguayan tourist visas we innocently ask if he knows why my visa is valid for 90 days but Mandy’s for 8 years, and would it be possible for me to be allocated more days (we were going to live in Paraguay).
The friendly official calls over two terere sipping co-workers to look at our visas with the intrigue of archaeologists discovering a buried artifact. The end result of the conference is that they don’t know why Mandy’s is valid for 8 years. However, they decide that my 90 day visa started in Buenos Aires when the visa was issued, so now I am only to get 76 days. Nevertheless, Mandy’s visa starts today and she is to get the full 90 days. Deciding to embrace the third world bureaucratic logic as opposed to trying to understand it, we take our freshly stamped passports before they look into our reasons for wanting to stay longer.

As we walk out of the immigration building we are approached by a well groomed blonde hair, blue eyed German guy in his early 30’s, wearing neat beige dress pants and a tidy black long sleeve shirt. I had seen him watching us from an exterior window of the immigration building for the entire time we had been talking with the immigration officers. He stood out like president Obama guest speaking at a KKK meet. His groomed appearance contrasting the unruly ragged appearance of the other people he shared the pavement with. Straight away I felt suspicious, probably because I had just watched the movie “Taken”. Visions of us being abducted, addicted to heroin and spending the rest of our days in a curtained cubicle of a working class brothel flash before me.

He started speaking to us in Spanish, asking if we were having immigration problems. Then he insistently pushes a simple black and white brochure into Mandy’s hand, telling her to take it. My suspicion fuelled by paranoia is heightened when he asks us where we are going. We hesitantly answer the question, saying we are going to the bus station. He tells us what number bus we need to take and then fades away into the chaotic sea of traffic.

Feeling nervous, we decide to get a taxi to the bus station. As we hop into the beat up yellow 1970’s Mercedes taxi, with the driver tying down the overloaded boot, I see the German guy hop onto his motorbike on the other side of the busy main road. As our taxi pulls away from the curb merging between a horse drawn cart and a shining black BMW, the German guy speeds past us on his bike. I get the uneasy feeling that he is following us. My suspicions are confirmed 5 minutes later when we pull up to the bus station, I tell Mandy: “don’t look, but that German guy is 30 metres up the road looking at us”.

Now we’re on edge, checking the brochure he gave us and our carry bags for drugs or black market organs that he stashed in our bags while he was talking to us. I’m thinking it’s a setup, I’m waiting for a police raid, where they will take us to a dark cell until we pay the hefty price for our innocence. After all they say Paraguay is the second most corrupt country—only because they were bribed out of first place.

We make it inside the terminal, I tell Mandy to get us on the next bus for Asuncion and I will guard our bags. I’m sitting in the middle of the bus station with my legs and arms intertwined in the straps of our bags to deter any would be thieves. I feel as though everybody’s eyes are on me, and they probably are as I’m a 6 foot foreigner with shoulder length dreadlocks and my paranoia is giving me the nervous twitchy appearance of a cracked out junkie.

Finally we make it to the safe haven of our Asuncion destined bus, Paraguay’s capital city and our new home. The bus pulls out of the terminal passing a soccer field with makeshift wooden and plastic shelters of South America’s second poorest country. As I walk down the aisle to my seat at the back of the bus, my paranoia and edginess of the past couple of hours subsides with every welcoming smile I receive from the friendly Paraguayan faces.

I flop down into the secure comfort of my seat, thinking of the past 2 hours and then of those Paraguayan faces I passed in the aisle. I think about those faces and the small, unknown, landlocked country they call home. Then the question butterfly that has been fluttering around in my head asking “who goes to Paraguay”, has finally landed………………………..Paraguayans go to Paraguay.

Argentina, Uruguay photos

16 Aug

  Click this link to view my Uruguay and Iguzau Falls photo albums.

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All is going well in Paraguay. The following posts are going to be on Paraguay.

NBL Hap

Now that’s a lot of water!

12 Aug

Igauzu falls lies on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (la triple frontera). Unfortunately poor old Paraguay must have got the short end of the stick and received nothing, as you can only view the falls from the Argentinean or Brazilian sides.

Mandy had already seen the Brazilian side so we decided (Well Mandy decides, I’ve never been good at planning ahead with travel, I just follow like a good little pack horse) to stay at Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinean side.

Here is where I wanted to bamboozle you with statistics about the waterfalls but unfortunately I can’t remember and I’m not connected to the internet. But you can ask Mandy, due to popular belief Iguazu is not one of the 7 wonders of the world, she knows this because she lost the bet today and this is why she’s cooking dinner tonight! Although I think it should be as the falls are spectacular.

This morning going against backpacker norm, we were out of bed before 7am, and on a public bus headed for the world famous Cascadas de Igauzu. Being nerdy tourists we were first to enter the park, and we even had cut lunches, the only thing we were missing were the oversized cameras hanging from our necks and the lonely planet guide to Iguazu falls in our hands-that’s not a dig at Lonely Planet, nothing but love for them.

Watching the falls has the same mesmerising effect as sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in; it’s something you could do all day. And that is what Mandy and I did, we were first into the park and got the last train out.

From the photos you can see that the water is quite muddy, this was due to an abundance of recent rain.

OK, I having more to say, feeling a bit tired, so to conclude this post; as far as water goes, Igauzu is pretty dam cool!

One of those little travel moments

11 Aug

The beauty of travelling here in South America is that nothing is certain and there is always more than one correct answer. For example, when we arrived in Salto, Uruguay we asked at the bus station about getting to Puerto Iguazu, about 12 hours away on the Argentinean side of the border. The lady told us that it was not possible to get to Iguazu from there and we would have to get into Argentina and buy a ticket there.

A day later we went back to the same counter and asked a different lady that we wanted to get to Iguazu, she said “no problem, what you have to do is pay for your ticket here, you will travel 1 hour across the border into Argentina and will be dropped off at the Concordia bus station. There you will have to get a taxi and ask them to drop you off on the side of the highway 20 minutes out of town. I will ring the bus driver that will be passing by around 10.30pm on its way to Iguazu and tell them to pick you up”. Perfect.

Well it seemed perfect until we were still standing on the side of the highway at 11.30pm in the cold with buses and semi trucks passing. Standing there wondering if the lady back in Uruguay had gotten around to ringing the bus to let them know they had to keep an eye out for two back packers on the side of the highway.

But without that happening we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet our two new friends, hoppy the stray dog that had been hit by a car and Neddy the highway policemen who took a break from fighting truck crime (or sleeping) to chat. All so often whilst travelling you forget where you are and what you are doing, it all just starts to feel so normal. But at that moment I thought to myself, this is great, here I am, on the side of a highway in Argentina, it’s 11.30pm, I’m eating soup with a badly limping stray dog and talking to a 19 year old Argentinian highway policeman, and I don’t know if I have missed my bus or what is going to happen.

The story has a happy ending, the bus comes, bang on time (South American time), only an hour late, we are welcomed to a warm bus and leave our new friends. Hoppy goes back to being a stray dog eating left over soup that the two humans with big packs left him. Neddy goes back to fighting crime (or drinking mate) and will wake up in the morning look at the photo on his camera phone and think to himself “that guy from New Zealand spoke good English for his second language” (during conversation Mandy said she was an English teacher and Neddy says “did you teach Hap how to speak English”!)