For the past four days I have been in Iguazu, Argentina, which is very close to Brazil and Paraguay. The three countries are separated naturally by the Iguazu River. In this picture, the ground I am standing on is Paraguay, to the left is Brazil and to the right is Argentina. It was the first and probably only time I’ll see three countries at once.
We passed in and out of the three countries with ease, accumulating plenty of stamps on my brand new passport in the process. The country we spent the least time in was Paraguay, we were only there for around an hour. However, it was the country that left the deepest impression on me.
The quickest way to get to Paraguay was by taking a makeshift ferry that consisted of a barge pulled along by a small tug boat. The journey only took 15 minutes. The crew set up a barbeque on board for themselves that at one point caught fire. I doubt that would ever pass British health and safety regulations! At £2 each I have no complaints.
Once in Paraguay the difference between it and Brazil and Argentina was immediately apparent. Immigration was a small trailer manned by one man and his dog, who had recently had a litter of puppies. Sadly we haven’t been vaccinated against rabies and on doctor’s orders we couldn’t get too close, but it was cute nonetheless.
At the point in the Iguazu River where the three countries overlook each other there is an identifying monument on each side, painted the colours of the country’s flag. In Brazil and Argentina these monuments are massive tourist attractions, with cafés, gift shops and the like. In Paraguay we had to fight our way through overgrown foliage to even reach the monument. It was quite exciting and felt like proper exploration!
The only people at the monument were us and two traders, the men in the picture. I imagine they must be pretty desperate to set up in an area like that, in the hope that some rich tourist may come along. I bought a rather crudely carved Coati off them and they probably ripped me off, but I didn’t mind. It is a souvenir that has more character than anything I could have bought at a gift shop.
The state of the monument captures the state of Paraguay itself. It is a poor country with a population the size of Ireland, surrounded by its much richer neighbours and is mostly overlooked by tourists. Iguazu is a naturally beautiful area and Argentina and Brazil have capitalised on this by building massive visitors centres and charging £20 each for entry to the National Parks – there is no such commercialisation in Paraguay. In many ways it is sad to see the country be so run down, but at the same time it had an authentic charm that the other two sides simply lack.
On the way back to the ferry we passed a group of girls playing out in the road (there were hardly any cars). The oldest must have been around seven, and she was carrying an infant who I assume must have been her sibling. Despite their surroundings they seemed so content and it is an image I wish I could have captured, but child trafficking is a major problem in those parts and I was genuinely afraid that I might be accused of something untoward if I started taking pictures. Describing the scene is the best I can do.
The excursion to Paraguay will no doubt be one of the most memorable moments of the entire trip. It really was a world apart.