It all begins with a steep mountain and a dense forest. The dirt road winds upward and into it for 14 kilometers from outside of the town of El Bolson until it dead ends at a small parking area. From there, you have to walk a few more kilometer’s to reach the “exhibit.” Actually, exhibit is a lame word that does not even come close to capturing the total awesomeness of this place. No doubt, the challenge and difficulty of the journey add to the overall experience. Yeah okay, it’s not hiking the Inca trail to Macchu Picchu but it’s the same basic principle. If you have to do something to get there, there is always better. The back drop is Mother Nature on full blast. Some years back, a small forest fire left its mark on a section of this mountainside forest. A group of a talented artists looked upon the burnt forest and saw opportunity rather than disaster. They set forth into the forest with chainsaws and carving tools, and let loose. El Bosque Tallado is the result. When Ms. B and I arrive on a sunny February morning, we have this magical place all to ourselves.
The compound is located on the corner of calle Porro and calle Flores. That’s joint and flower street if you need help with the translation. The couple who run the place are like living breathing manifestations of the hippie ideal. They are Argentinian; in their 70s; have been together for 50 years; have a brood of children and grandchildren; and have both traveled throughout much of South America. After many years of wandering, they have now, finally, settled back on the family property and transformed it into a hostel. There are dormitories to stay in and several cabanas. There is an organic garden, a sauna, a big barbecue pit, hammocks and lots of fruit trees. Everything is homemade, hand built, and homegrown. It is, you might say, a perfect little paradise for a guy like me. Continue reading →
I seem to be in some kind of a creativity slump. I haven’t been able to write travel stories recently and I’m not sure why. I am on the road again. Making my way through Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. I am undergoing amazing and incredible experiences. I have met all sorts of interesting people. But I can’t seem to tie things together into stories properly. My prose has purpled and my plot lines have crashed. Maybe I should try a different approach. How about a very very short story with pictures, like this one…
It’s a Buenos Aires black market money exchange. We meet the guy on calle Florida… the pedestrian walkway through the center of the commercial district. There are dozens if not hundreds to choose from. They swarm the streets shouting “cambio” as if they are engaged in a perfectly legal enterprise like selling hotdogs or something. So how do you choose a money changer? We pick one at random who looks honest enough. He quotes us a rate of 11.0 to 1 which is pretty good and he leads us through some buildings to some kind of mini mall. There is a closed door and a secret knock. The door opens and we are shuffled inside. It feels a little dodgy. But there are other people in there doing the same thing; changing money. So it must be okay.
Street hustler man leaves us at the doorway. Money changer man is a whole different dude. He greets us with a firm hand shake and an overly friendly smile. He tells me the rate is 10.5 to 1. “That’s not what he said on the street,” I say. “That’s the rate I pay here .” He responds. Oh well, it’s still way better than the 7.2 bank rate so I’m going to do it. I hand over 400 US dollars and wait a minute or so until he hands me a big wad of Argentinian pesos. I look at each bill individually in the light and then hand it to Ms. B. as I count it. The big danger on the black market is counterfeit bills so I’m checking each one for the hidden holograph in the left hand corner. But they all seem real. No fakes here. 3200 pesos of real deal Argentinian money…
Wait a second! Didn’t I give him 400 US dollars? This is only change for 300. Is he trying to rip me off?
My last stop in Paraguay is the city of Encarnacion. Much to my surprise, I happen to arrive on the busiest weekend of the year. Tomorrow is Carnaval and Encarnacion is the epicenter of Carnaval celebrations for the entire region so every room in town is booked, double booked and triple booked. I do manage to find a dorm bed though and it somehow seems appropriate to finish my tour of Paraguay at the biggest party of the year. Continue reading →
It is, perhaps, the largest single human engineering project on the entire planet earth. The volume of material moved, the amount of human labor hours used in the construction, and the depth and breadth of the technical know-how involved in its implementation is just plain staggering to the rational thinking mind. The Itaipu’ Dam on the Parana’ river in between Paraguay and Brazil provides 87 percent of all of Paraguay’s energy needs and 21 percent of Brazil’s energy needs. The amount of kilowatts produced by the thing on a daily basis is truly astronomical. You can look it up on line or go on a guided tour. The info is available and facts are facts. Even I have to admit that the Itaipu’ Dam is a pretty impressive display of civilization’s capabilities.
Nevertheless, as I stand here on the viewing platform and look out at that great marvel of modern engineering, I don’t see success. I don’t see the glory and wonder of the modern world. I don’t see the rational man demonstrating his power to harness the forces of nature and transform it into something useful and beneficial. Instead, I imagine the waterfall that once was… The way of life that was buried beneath these many many metric tons of practical and boring but useful concrete. Was it worth it? I ask the universe. Was it really worth it?
Now that I have reached the heart of South America in the northern Paraguayan Pantanal, it is time for the return journey. I am meeting Ms. B. in Buenos Aires in ten days. What is the best way to get there from here? No hurry, no worry. Sometimes in this life, we have to fight our way against the current… struggling, searching, questing, seeking… Sometimes, however, all we have to do is sit back, relax, and go with the flow. Continue reading →
Its my last afternoon at Tres Gigantes and the sun is falling towards the horizon. I’m sitting on the screened in porch when the impossible happens. A rather large green parrot, at least a few kilos in size, somehow flies through the mosquito screen and lands on the porch right in front of me. I mean seriously, I’m a little crazy sometimes and I do have an over active imagination, but this really does happen. So what would you do? I respond to this rather unusual situation in the only sensible manner. I talk to the parrot. I ask him about the meaning of the story I am trying to write. “Hey Mr. Parrot,” I say, “What’s the price of paradise?
“Paradise is free,” he tells me “you only have to pay for the civilized parts.”
According to Backpacker economics, my journey to Tres Gigantes and the Paraguayan Pantanal is way over-priced. I paid 100,000 guarani (about 23 US) a night for my mosquito proof room with ceiling fan on the side of a river when I could have camped on the grounds with my tent for only 50,000 guarani (about 11 US). I also paid another 100,000 guarani per day for three wonderful meals when I could have very easily brought my own food and cooked in the the kitchen for no more than another fifty grand guarani. In other words, I paid twice as much as I should have because I’m a spoiled lazy tourist rather than an adventurous and economical backpacker.
On the other hand, all the tourists on holiday out there probably think I’m insane because I spent a total of almost seven days traveling up and down the river from Concepcion to Bahia Negra on a crowded cargo boat when I could have just as easily flown the same route in an airplane for a few hundred US bucks. So I’m not exactly a tourist and I’m not exactly backpacker. What am I? I like to think I’m searching for the middle path, somewhere in between. I happen to enjoy both ends of the comfort and adventure spectrum. But most importantly, I like to exchange fair value with the people and places that I visit. Continue reading →
By far the most dangerous animal to humans on the entire planet earth, the mosquito is an adversary to be feared. With the biological weapons of yellow fever, malaria, dengue, and others in their arsenal, mosquitoes have the capacity to massacre large numbers of humans. They attack in swarms with relentless viciousness and they are even suicidal. If I was ever to choose an animal to symbolize all that is bad and evil in nature, I wouldn’t choose a snake, I would choose the mosquito. So the question presents itself; is it possible to be nice to a creature as horrible as a mosquito?
My first three days at the Tres Gigantes Environmental Station in the Paraguayan Pantanal settle into a routine. I awake before sunrise, have a quick breakfast and set out walking in the early morning light. It takes about an hour and a half to traverse both big loops of trails and I always see a variety of creatures among the jungle flowers. With the help of a little cannabis and the sparkling sunshine, I’d describe the experience as kind of mystical.