Current date: Sunday, April 25, 2004 6:45p.m. (Buenos Aires)

Current Itinerary: Here for the next month for sure and much longer...unless I don't find a job (this needs to happen VERY soon) in which case I'll finally cross the line between man and bum.

Note #1: Boteco, Boteco...where for art thou? How I long for thine filet de frango

Note #2: New pictures have been put up on the website (www.thecooperchronicles.com). Lots of great animal pictures...some good gator photos and even a little video of some monkeys I saw in Esteros de Ibera.

Friday, March 12, 2004 (con't)

The bus dropped me off at the bus station on the Argetina side of Iguazu falls. I was so worried about crossing the border that I had not made any plan whatsoever about what I would do next. I mean, I knew I was headed towards Buenos Aires, but that was really about it. I looked at the buses that were leaving at that moment and one was going to a city called Posadas. I looked in my lonely planet and it seemed like an okay place to visit and it was in the direction I wanted to go. I quickly changed all my Reals to Pesos, bought a ticket and literally was on the bus and moving within 5 minutes of arriving at the bus station. Man, things happen fast when you're travelling...once again I was on my way to yet another city I had never even heard of...but of course that was cool with me. Welcome back to life on the road.

I was lucky that I got my Argentina entry stamp because about 45 minutes into the trip, we stopped at a check point and they checked everybodies passports. Whew!

The ride to Posadas was about 6 hours...I worked on journals and slept for most of the way. Even though I wasn't far from Brazil, there were some noticeble differences in the country side. In Brazil, many of the small, poor towns don't have paved roads and have very shabbily built wooden houses that are literally one room square. You see alot of them on the road when traveling by bus. In Argentina, things didn't seem quite as desolate to the eye. Every small town seemed to have houses and streets constructed of brick or some sort of orange/red adobe like material. Things don't look as poor as the small towns in Brazil and it seemed like everywhere had paved roads. Also, this part of Argentina seemed relatively flat...but I had lived in a pretty mountainous region so maybe that isn't fair to say. Anyway, those were my first impressions of some differences.

When I got here I didn't really know what to do or where to go...sort of like back in Guarapari, but atleast this time there were some suggestions on places to stay in the Lonely Planet. I ate my first Argentinian meal in the bus station, which wasn't that impressive, BUT, I had a beer also and was surprised to find that here they serve them in 1 liter bottles, unlike Brazil where they serve 600ml bottles. The good thing is they are the same price...but a liter is a quite a bit if you are just trying to have a sandwich and move on.

I got a bus to the centro and went in search of this cheap hotel I had read about in the Lonely Planet. It was only about 5 so I had plenty of time. My first looks at the centro of this city were not so impressive. It seemed like a nice enough town though. I found the hotel with no trouble and checked into my room. The accomodations were a little on the shabby side but I'm not too picky. I will say this though, thank god I'm carrying my own sheet! Also, I went to take a shower and sadly discovered that it didn't work. Welcome back to life on the road.

I figured I could put up with that for a day and I would find a new place tomorrow. I relaxed for awhile since I still was feeling a little sick from the day before. Finally I got up and went out in search of internet, food, and to explore the city center a little.

My first present surprise about Argentina was the abundance and cheapness of the internet places. Many are 1 peso or less per/hour (1 peso=1 real= US$0.30). I spent a couple hours "reconnecting" with the world since I had been without internet for 3 days. Time to get up and running with journals again so I'm going to try to get everyone quickly caught up. I also chatted with my friend Anthony for awhile, who I'm supposed to meet up with in BA.

After the internet I walked around town for awhile. Posadas seemed different from anyplace I had been in in Brazil. It seemed a lot less "foreign" and reminded me a little of any decent size city in the USA. There are a lot of shops and restaurants along the sidewalks in the centro but there didn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of action for a Friday night. I walked several square blocks just sort of looking around and stopped in to price a few hotels...nothing was too expesive. Finally I sat at a sidewalk cafe and had a sandwich and a beer. I ended up meeting these two guys from Buenos Aires who were sitting at the table next to me. They invited me to hang out with them that night, which I declined, but told them maybe we could meet up on Saturday. They told me what hotel they were in and said it was pretty cheap. As was happy that they seemed pretty friendly though. New random friends. Welcome back to life on the road.

Anyway, after dinner I headed back to the hotel. I worked on journals for a little while and then read until I feel asleep around 12:30.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I got up early around 8:00 so I could go and check out the hotel the guys from BA were staying in. Also I wanted to get a little breakfast before changing hotels. Walking in the streets that morning it hit me for the first time that when you're in a new country, something like getting breakfast is not as simple of a task. In my mind I was thinking, alright, where's the nearest place for some Pao de Quiejo...or, "Where's the Paderia?" Then I realized those are Brazilian things...I had gotten use to the common breakfast items and places in that country. Here it's different though. I mean, even if I went into one of the cafes, I really wouldn't know what to order. I mean, how in the hell do you say, "Croissant Misto" in spanish? Or "Vitamina"? It's those little cultural things that you take for granite after living in a place for awhile. I was trying to think about how I learned all that stuff in Brazil but all I could come up with for an answer was "time". Welcome back to life on the road.

So I was walking around looking for something...sort of knowing what I wanted but at the same time knowing I wasn't going to find it. I even went into a grocery store and walked around for about 10 minutes, but I really couldn't get the fact that I wanted Pao de Queijo out of my head. Everything inside the bakery in the store seemed too sweet so eventually I settled on some yogurt. I guess that's why people lose weight when traveling, because they don't really know what to eat. I could stand to lose a few pounds these days anyway, my days of hanging out at the boteco everyday fattened me up quite a bit.

I went by the Hotel Turismo and checked out the room. It was decent enough and even had a TV so I decided to go there. I hate not having something to give me some background noise and since I never got my damn speakers back after leaving them in the cab in Foz, it would be good to have a TV to provide that. The joke was on me in the end though...the TV worked but did not receive any stations and only picked up static. Welcome back to life on the road.

I checked out of my room and lugged my things about 6 blocks to the new place. After checking in, I took a nice, long (and much needed) shower. I decided I would get some lunch and then go across the border to Paraguay and check out the little town on the other side. On my way to eat I checked out a little museum I had read about in the Lonely Planet but it was closed. I stopped in a little place and had some empanadas, which are cheap here and I also remembered they are quite tasty.

Before crossing the border I wanted to do a quick e-mail check...on my way to the place I passed a guy sitting at a sidewalk cafe reading a lonely planet book in English, which of course I noticed from quite a distance away. It turned out to be this guy, Chris/England. I sat and talked with him about his travels and mine for about an hour and then we went to the internet place together. We ended up spending an hour there and by that time it was about 3:00. I decided to scrap my plan for going to Paraguay for the day and we went and had a beer at another little bar. He was heading out to Buenos Aires on a bus at 5:00, so we didn't stay there to long.

A said adios to Chris and then went back to the hotel for a little nap. I stopped in to see if the guys from BA I met the night before were around but they weren't.

I woke up a couple hours later and was need of food. I went out to get some water and a beer and I went to this place I had seen earlier that was selling ham and cheese sandwiches for one peso...right on.

It was still really early, probably about 9, so I went back to my room, ate, and worked on journals for awhile. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 11, I fell asleep though and didn't wake up until around 2. Dang it! I debated going out still but decided to throw in the towel. It's the same difference...as Chris/England said earlier in the day, "Every night's a Saturday night for me. The only problem is, it's not the same for the girls!"

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Today was one of those ones that reminds me why I love doing this. Not that so much happened...it was just more about the adventure involved in getting from one place to another and the kindness of those you encounter who try to help you on your journey. Alas, I should start from the beginning of the day, and not the end.

I woke up after a restless night in the hotel and went down for the free hotel breakfast. I was not exactly what I was expecting...just some sweet crossioants and a cup of tea. It will be unavoidable in these next weeks for me to live experiences in Argentina and not compare them with Brazil. Brazil handily wins the "free breakfast in the hotels" battle. Where's my fruit? Juice? Ham, Cheese, and fresh french bread? Maybe I had been too spoiled.

Anyway, after a dissapointing breakfast I was sitting on the fence on whether I should move on or stay one more day in Posadas and head across to Paraguay for the day. I figured I should probably get moving towards BA, but I had no clue where I would go next. I looked in my trusty Lonely Planet and it spoke of a natural reserve not to far from where I was and made comparisons to it and the Pantanal with respect to wildlife. Since the unfortunate turn of events cancelled my trip to the Pantanal in December, I figured I could make up for it going there. I decided to pack up shop and head to the bus station to figure out how I could get to the reserve. I took a shower and got all my things together, and checked out of the hotel. I figured I would be out of touch from civilazation for the next several days so I wanted to stop at the internet place across the street to do a quick check...it turned out to be closed, a moment which spiraled my whole day in a different direction.

I walked around the corner towards the bus stop and just as I rounded it, the bus I wanted came past me. I did a sort of waddle/jog (due to my heavy backpack) to the bus stop so I could get on before it pulled away. I just made it. On the bus were actually two other backpackers. Posadas isn't actually a popular stop on the "gringo trail" as they call it so it was kind of cool to see some other people. It turned out to be Phil/England and Aideen/Ireland who I had actually had an encounter with two days before in Iguazu, although I had forgotten. They reminded me that we had seen each other on the Brazilian side of the falls when Kris/England and I were walking along. We had asked them to take pictures for us and had returned the favor for them as well. Pretty cool.

Anyway, as luck would have it, they were also going to the bus station and ALSO heading towards the same reserve that I was. How 'bout that. Now we had a little team that could work together. Well, on the bus, there was this guy who struck up a conversation with them. It was one of those situations where the guy spoke a bit of English and wanted to be friendly and practice with some gringos...which he probably doesn't get a chance to do very often. We were in a small place that I doubt gets many visitors. Well, it turns out that he knew a bit about the region we wanted to go to since it's located in his home state of Corrientes. When we got to the bus station he told us we couldn't get a bus directly to Colonia Pelegrini (the city we would stay in and visit the park from) but instead had to bus to another city and then hire a private car or possibly get another bus into the reserve. I wanted to check on that first and sort of get a certain plan on how to get there, but when we got to the bus station it was a bit of a whirlwind. There was a bus leaving right at that moment going to a city called Visora. It turned out that it was the very same city where Ariel (the Argentinian guy who was helping us that we met on the bus) grew up and he was actually traveling there with is daughter today to visit his father and sister. He assured us it was on the way to where we wanted to go but he had absolutely no time to confirm that as the bus was literally ready to pull away from the platform and was waiting for us. Before we knew it, we were on this bus to some town that we had not heard of and was not on our maps.

I must pause here to say that normally I wouldn't let a situation get out of my hands like that...I'm often weary of the help that is extended to me by strangers I meet while in transit. It's sort of just a safety thing...but I think it is also a byproduct of the culture I come from. Nobody in the US is gonna help you unless they are going to get something out of it (note: I realize that is a slightly exaggerated statement, but I think we all know what I mean). It touches on one of the reasons I love being down here...people seriously will go out of there way to help you out. They just have a level of caring and consideration for their fellow man that you have to experience to understand. Sometimes it catches me off guard, and today was one of those days. After getting on that bus I was a little flustered thinking that we just listened to this guy and we have no clue where we are going. I quickly calmed down though. The guy was nice enough and it quickly became clear that he only wanted to help us. I calmed down pretty quickly and decided that I owe it to myself to put a little trust in this guy...he's from the area and probably knows what he's doing.

An hour and a half later we arrived in the town, Virasora. It didn't seem like there was a whole lot to it and most of the ticket booths for the few bus companies that operate out of there were closed. It seemed that getting to Colonia Peligrini was not going to be in the cards for us and I started to think that maybe I shouldn't have trusted this guy.

However, somehow he had gotten the number of a woman who operates private cars into the reserve. He called her but she only did it for groups of 12. We were only 3 so that was out, so then we were faced with the task of figuring out our best option.

Ariel was nice enough to offer us his home (or rather, his father's) for the afternoon and he would help us find alternative way to get to the reserve. We walked about a half mile with him and his daughter and finally got to the place. I wasn't feeling extremely confident that we were going to make it to the park but at the same time I didn't really mind. It seemed like a decent detour and I could see he really wanted to help us out. He talked to two other people but they said that the would call him back with word on whether they could organize a car or not. Since it was Sunday, it was a bit difficult to get anything done...most places in these small towns are closed. This was very evident as we walked through the town...nothing was open and there was no one on the streets. We figured that if we didn't have anything by 6:30, we would go back to the bus station and wait for the next bus to the the next "bigger" town. Of course by that I mean the next town that was actually on our maps...calling it big would be an considerable overstatement.

Over the next few hours we had a pretty good time. Ariel talked a lot about politics and Argeninta and things like that. One of the interesting things we talked about was this old railway station that his house was next to in Virasol. He was telling us how, before the governement and the econmy collapsed at the end of 2001, the train was a major means of transport through the area both for goods and passenger transport. After everything that happened, the company that maintained the railroad defaulted on their contract, leaving everything unmaintained and the railroad line aboandoned. This affected the region in many ways...mostly the industry nearby, which supplies MANY of the jobs for that town and the ones nearby. It just shows you how things like that affect the big cities, like Buenos Aires, but it the effects trickle down to the small places too.

Ariel had quite a bit to say. Of course I was forced into the requisite politics talk which I can't stand. I really think that people in other countries think we all sit around watching CSPAN, waiting for the next great move by our politicians, which we apparently all worship like Gods. Give me a break.

Despite that, Ariel ended being pretty cool. He even made a bunch of food for us to eat while we waited. Another highlight of the afternoon was that Aideen and I realized we have the same birthday! It's always cool when you find someone like that. I can't believe how many August 5th people I've met. There are 4 other people that I know now (Ray, Lyle, Eddy, Aideen).

Anyway, our peaceful afternoon in the town couldn't last forever...we were trying to get to Peligrini. Eventually Ariel talked with a few other companies that organize private cars into the park, but they were all too expensive. We headed back to the bus station to catch a bus to a town called Santo Tome, that we though might have direct buses into the park. On our walk back to the bus station from Ariel's house, we passed an open ice cream shop. Considering the sweltering heat from that day, it seemed like a great oasis to hit.

It was a very strange ice cream shop. Literally half their "non-cone" items contained aloohol. I didn't really realize that from the beginning though. I ended up getting something called a "fruterry fizz" or something like that. It turned out to be a strawberry ice cream float made with champagne! I can't argue though, it was pretty good...but wasn't this suppose to be a family establishment? Half the menu was champagne or whiskey ice cream drinks.

We actually ended up sitting in that ice cream shop for awhile. Aideen was pretty hungry by then, as were me and Phil so we decided to go in search of dinner. Ariel and his daughter, who had been with us the whole day, decided to go their seprate way at that point. Even though Ariel wasn't able to help us, I must thank him for his kindness. It is people like that that illustrate how amazingly open and helpful the pople in this culture are. He spent almost his entire Sunday with us, doing whatever he could. In the end, we had an opportunity to visit a cool little town and it was a pretty pleasant day. One of the reasons it was so cool also was that, since we weren't really in a hurry, it didn't matter to us to spend the day in this town and not really get anywhere. When traveling like this, an extra day here or there doesn't really matter...and we were able to enjoy time with a cool Argy that I'm sure we won't forget.

Back at the bus station, we were informed that the next town, Santo Tome (2hrs away) didn't have direct buses into Ibera (the natural reserve we were trying to get to). We decided to go further on to Paso de Los Libres (2 hrs. further) because the lonely planet mentioned we could get a bus from there. The only problem was that the bus would arrive in this tiny little town at midnight and we weren't sure what the accomodation situation was going to be. Atleast there were three of us in it together...we borded the bus, hoping for the best when we got there.

As luck would have it, there was a small hotel just across the street from the bus station. We were able to check in quickly and finally able to rest after a full day of lugging our bags around. The room even came with cable TV so we watched for awhile while we winded down. We STILL weren't at our destination, but we had made some strides in the right direction (we think) and tomorrow we will continue on.

When I woke up this morning, I had no clue if I would even leave Posadas. Even more interesting was that if the internet place wasn't closed or if I walked out of my hotel 20 seconds later, I wouldn't have caught the bus and who knows where I'd be right now. Just fun to think about. Twenty seconds changed my whole day...and it was certainly a great one. Reminds of that movie "Sliding Doors" with Gwenyth Paltrow (I highly recommend it...I MUST have referenced it at some point before this). I love that uncertainty of what might happen to you when traveling...it makes it all so much more fun. You just never know where the path will take you from one day to the next...it really has got to be the best part. Welcome back to life on the road.

Monday, March 15, 2004

When I woke up in the morning, Phil and Aideen had already gone to the bus station and found out that we needed to get a bus to a city called Mercedes and then FINALLY from there we could get a bus into Colonia Carlos Peligrini, where we planned to stay. That bus didn't leave until one so we lounged around the room a little and then went and got lunch. I'm finding that it is easy to get a quick sandwich here in Argentina but a quick meal is a little more difficult. Oh well, I'll pretty much eat anything so I had to deal with it...even though I was starving.

At one we boarded a (very hot) bus to Mercedes. There was this guy on the bus...wait...I have to explain something else first. Here in Argentina, there is this very strong "tea" called Mate that just about everybody drinks (I talked about this when I was in Uraguay in 2002). People walk around with these thermoses with hot water and these little "cups" they use to put the herbs in and to drink from. Anyway, we get on this bus and it somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 degrees on it. There was this guy wearing a suit AND drinking this near boiling hot cup of Mate...and he was complaining about the heat. Absolutely mind boggling.

We arrived in Mercedes around 3 and we were promptly informed that there was only one bus a day to Peligrini...and it left at noon. Damn it. That left us there with no option but to wait until ANOTHER day. Man, are we ever going to get to that place!? This better be worth it! In truth, I really wasn't that worried about it. Hey, I got time. Plus, half the fun in going to somewhere remote is the path you take to get there. The only decidedly down side of this little journey we had taken, however, was that Phil and Aideen left their fleece jackets they had been lugging for their whole trip (but hadn't worn yet) on the bus. Doh!

Although Mercedes is tiny, there actually is a hostel there. We checked in and found that they actually had packages that they organized for people wanting to go the reserve. They were reasonably priced and far less than I expected. Good news!

We went in search of a bank and internet, both of which we were surprisingly able to find. Mercedes isn't exactly a metropolis...just to give you an idea, there aren't any stop lights, they just have these huge mirrors at each intersection so you can see if there is a car coming from the other direction. Pretty funny. The internet connection was painfully slow but I spent a few hours there catching up on a few things. We had decided that we (by we I mean Aideen) would make a proper dinner at the hostel that night. I was quite pleased upon returning from the internet to find that Aideen was working hard at the grill and was making some chicken and some nice fresh vegetables. We spent the night, eating, talking listening to music, and drinking wine there in the hostel. We were the only ones there so it was great. I was really happy that I had run into the two of them and we had the chance to travel together. It had taken us a couple days, but we were finally only 3 hours from the park and we had organized to spend two nights there. It was a great night of celebration. Welcome back to life on the road.

AC

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