Problems on the road in South America!Monday, March 14th, 2011 at 4:43 pm
Since the last blog, I have been to a few places and had several problems, some of my own design and others completely beyond my control! My trip up the coast of Chile hit a snag one evening when I attempted to get a bus from Valparaiso slightly north of Santiago to Arica, Chile’s most northerly city. I was informed that no buses were available until Monday, and it was only Saturday evening. I then asked about buses to San Pedro de Alcama, but again was told no buses were available, this time until Tuesday. Therefore, I returned to Santiago for one night and caught a bus to Mendoza, Argentina and wine country. This was an 8 hour bus ride through towering peaks and bumpy unpaved twisting roads. I enjoyed the journey immensely, feeling the bumps and twists. Mendoza is a nice quiet pleasant city with a main large plaza (square), surrounded by 4 smaller plazas. I found Mendoza has the best pavements of all the cities I have visited in Argentina thus far!! After a couple of pleasant days strolling the streets and visiting the cafes I headed north to Salta where the problems began…
The bus journey to Salta was meant to be an uneventful 18 hour ride but turned into over 20 hours and a change of buses. Something was obviously wrong with the bus I was on from the beginning as only 2 hours after leaving Mendoza, one of the bus personnel began banging things under the bus!! We did eventually continue the journey. However, only 70 miles (100 km) from Salta and about an hour from my destination, all passengers were told to disembark and board another bus. In my haste to gather all my gear and ensure I caught the next bus, I left my bag of medication, which had been on the floor between my feet all day, and only realised I was without it once in Salta. A guy from Spain who was also travelling, helped me to visit the company to explain my problem as he spoke Spanish and I only have a few words of the language. I was informed that it might arrive the next day, but not to be too hopeful. I decided that I needed to find a hospital and get replacements as it seemed unlikely my medication would reappear. Another backpacker from Italy accompanied me to a hospital that specialised in kidney conditions the following day after hostel staff had discovered where I might get assistance. The hospital had the required medication but the next problem was that it cost $750 for a month’s supply of 5 medications, something I could not afford. However, I was told that I might be able to get a week’s supply of the anti-immune medication for free. When I visited the doctor, he was able to give me a month of anti-immune tablets for free – unbelievable and extremely kind. The other meds I purchased for about $50. That evening, as I went to buy my bus ticket for my next journey, I discovered that my medication had been found and nothing taken, amazing. However, it was at this point my next problem arose! I tried to take money from the cash machine to buy my bus ticket to Posadas on the boarder with Paraguay, but the card refused to give me money. When I attempted to buy the ticket with my card, it was refused. I visited several other banks with one of the hostel staff named Carlos, but the same result, I was refused money. This meant having to email and then Skype my Mum, and work out what was wrong with the card if it was blocked or broken or it was the banks in Salta. I eventually established that the bank had blocked my card because I had gone from Chile back to Argentina. Through Mum’s help and Skype I was able, after 4 attempts, to get my bank to remove the block and use my card.
Salta is a more difficult city to travel around, although it is like many cities in South America on a grid system so it is just a case of counting blocks and asking for the name of the street. San Martin seems to be the main street in most Argentinean cities as he was the main general who gained Argentina independence from Spain in 1810. One of the main attractions in Salta is to climb up a hill by way of 1026 steps to a view overlooking the city and its mountains. I had threatened to climb these steps for several days and on final morning in the city did so. I first got my directions from Hostel Duendes at San Joan Street 189, where I had stayed and walked north for 7 blocks along Santa Fae Street then east for 3 blocks on Belgrano Street. This street gradually lead up hill to the Monument of Guemes, a notable local hero in the war of independence. Once at the moment, I managed to get a security guard to take a picture then set off to find the steeps up the hill. This was slightly confusing at first as the steps I found were large individual long blocks, that lead to a road. Nevertheless, once across the road, I was shown to where the real climb began. Rock steps that ascended in groups of ones and twos before larger groups of six and seven. The escalator twisted and turned up the mountain making it difficult for me to find the next series of steps. As I climbed the drop one side of me or the other became great and I nearly came off the step trail several times, slipping twice and falling onto grass at one point. I sweated and grunted my way, slipping, stumbling and banging my feet up the staircase. It was great fun and an enjoyable challenge in a peaceful setting with trees along the route. Two thirds of the way up, I was again confronted by a road which confused me for several minutes and it was only with the help of a girl from Canada that I found the final set of steps which took me to the top of the small mountain. I passed two man-made waterfalls along the way and added them to my collection of many photos from this trip.
Once at the top, I took in the view briefly, feeling the nice breeze and warm sun, before taking the cable car town to the bottom, which cost 15 pesos. I then got directions to the main plaza, 9th July and had a meal before catching my bus to Posadas.
I spent one evening in Posadas, which was hot and had little to offer in the way of attractions. I took a bus to the hostel from the bus station and got lost trying to locate the actual building. It was a Sunday and few people were about. I was now in the tropics. The next day I headed to my 58th country.
I had arranged to couch surf in Paraguay, at least that was the plan. I caught a mid-morning bus from Posadas across the border to the small city of Encarnación. This took about an hour. I was dropped on a street in the centre of Encarnación and had to find someone who had a mobile phone in order to meet up with Claudio, the guy I was staying with. Eventually I found a lady in a shop with a phone and 10 minutes later Claudio met me. He works in civil engineering and after dropping me at the house he shared with 3 other Paraguayans he returned to work. I met the other guys, Raul, Joseph and William, who nicknamed me Pony, because I’m so short! I just hung out that first night and spent my only real day exploring the river front in the morning and visiting an 18th century mission in the afternoon. It was about 25 miles (40 km) from Encarnación in the small city of Trinidad and took over an hour on a small rickety old bus with no air condition to get there. I was dropped on the side of a road with only broken bricks for a pavement. I had to walk 5 dangerous blocks in blazing sun and heat to find the mission. Once there, I was taken around the remains of the church and sacristy where I felt many pieces of rock art that the Guarani local natives had designed. I felt faces and flowers and leaves carved into the sandstone bricks that had been used in the church, it was most interesting. I later returned on the same hot smelly bus after chatting with some of the guides that worked there. That evening I caught a night bus for a 5 hour journey to Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital and took a chance the hostel would be open and have a bed available. I took a taxi but was taken to the wrong hotel twice before another taxi driver found it. I later discovered I could have taken a bus. I arrived at the hostel, an old house which had one dorm room with 4 beds, around 7.30 am and luckily found the owner in. He, for once, did not ignore the door bell and I was able to get a bed for a couple of nights, which turned into 3. He was a bit surprised to find a blind man from England with little Spanish wanting to stay. However, David from American was helpful and kind. He gave me good directions to the nearest supermarket and told me about an internet cafe and food place named Hesharms, run by a guy from Siria. I crashed for most of the first day and visited a nearby park in the afternoon. It was intensely hot in the mid 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) and very humid. I visited Hesharms cafe and found him a kind and interesting guy. I met one lady there who spoke some English and gave out some of my promotional cards about my book. On my second day, I had to go and find a place that sold hearing aid batteries as mine had run out and only one hearing aid was now functioning fully. David thought this might prove impossible as he said Paraguay is a very poor country and anything that cost or is specific might be not available. However, I headed for an electronic place and they helped me find another place that happened to sell hearing aids. Once I had my batteries, I set off to find the Palace of López. This not open to the public as it is where Paraguay’s president Calos Antonia Lopes resides. However, it is a lovely old colonial building and worth a picture. I eventually found it with help and then after my photo headed to the Paraguay river. I walked around feeling grass with my stick and hot sun shinning on my face. I eventually walked back into the city and found the plaza with the Pantheon of Heroes, a large building in the square with plaques and tombs inside. I had a brief explore before heading to a bar for cheese Empanadas and Sprite for lunch. Then I walked the 14 or so blocks with dust, sand, holes and gravel, not to mention broken pavement slabs back to the hostel. I sweated and struggled up the hill in the sun, getting burnt and bitten in the process. Back at the hostel, David informed me about a Dengue fever epidemic that had broken out in Brazil and in north Paraguay and Bolivia. I was planning to go north to Filadelfia in the Chaco, a mostly dry area of land in north Paraguay where many natives live. However, I knew Dengue would kill me if I caught it so I made plans to return to Salta, Argentina. Tomorrow, 14th March I go to Purmamarca, a small town in north Argentina for one night then head to southern Bolivia for the last 2 weeks of this tremendous Latin America adventure.
Tony the Traveller