Did I mention my hotel room here has no blankets? Lots of places in the far north didn’t – but that was where it was warm, and they provided a topsheet instead, which was enough. Here – nothing. And cold. So – use my sleeping bag for the first time. Turns out to be stupidly warm – just used as a blanket. Get out from underneath it, and it’s freezing. Anyway – today checked out museum. Not too interesting. But they had caught one of every creature in the area, and stuffed it. Hundreds of birds, weird mammals, frogs, snakes, insects, etc. Then – go to tourist office type place to ask about bus to Bolivia. 200 Guaranis. Luckily, they also mention a bank next door (disguised as a non-bank), where I change all my seppo & brasilian currency. Now have enough for the bus, and some extra. As long as I can pay for hotel with Visa.
Get up early for my 6am bus. Wait for bus, next to tourism-type shop. About 7am, the lady who’d given me information arrives. Looks confused at seeing me. After a while, I figure out she meant 6pm last night. Not 6am this morning. Dumb. But – she reckons there’s another one at 10am. So – hang around, meet three seppo girls – give them some advice on the town. Then, I sit at ‘bus-stop’. (Side of road next to tourism shop & my ‘local’ ‘bar’. Wait, and wait. At noon I decide I’ve earnt some food and cerveza. Chap talks to me, doesn’t like it when I don’t understand spanish very well. I think he tells me I should leave Parguay ‘rapido’ in that case. Lucky I didn’t say I didn’t understand drunk mumbling spanish very well. But, after a while of him talking to others, I overhear “aleman”. I jut in, and say I am NOT German. Everybody becomes a lot friendlier. I don’t think the local population is too happy with the german mennonites. We talk about money, which I’m never too comfortable with. In Uruguay, when I was forced to tell my annual wage in US$, the guy thought I was getting my zeros mixed up – thought I’d put two too many on the number. I reassured him I was right, much later I realised I’d admitted to being a double-millionaire by his standards. Here – I’m a half-billionaire.
Old man starts talking to me. All friendly-like, a little creepy. Says there’s definitely a bus at 4, and until then – he knows a cheaper place to drink. So – we go. He offers to take my small bag as we walk in the narrow doorway. Fair enough. Puts it down beside him, under the table opposite me. I feel a little uneasy. We chat. I notice his hand under the table, obviously moving, as if itching his ankle. Uneasiness grows. He asks me to see the brasilian & uruguayan coins I’d shown some guys earlier. Mistake on his part – as they’re in my small bag. As soon as I make a move for it, he realises, and pulls it out for me. In the process, I distinctly hear the zip being done back up. Shit. I get the coins out – put them on table for him to look at. While he’s doing that, I check my stuff. Obviously has been gone through. Only thing missing I can identify is my Leatherman. Not happy. I ask him if he has something, about ‘this size’. He reckons ‘no’. I tell him goodbye, and storm out. Soon regret it, and think I should have forced him to give me it back, but by now he (if smart) would have stashed the swag. Go back to my local, get a cerveza, and fume. One guy I’d talked to the last two days turns up, and we chat. I don’t mention anything, but somehow have remembered the thief’s name. Ask my friend about him – and he says he’s ‘no good’. After a while, the thief sheepishly comes back, and sidles onto the bench seat next to me. He’s holding one side of his face, and hands me back the Leatherman. Tells me a Paraguayan hit him? I’m a little confused, as I hadn’t told anybody. Maybe the bargirl at the other bar had guessed what had happened? Anyway – I get it back, and he asks for a beer. Cheek deserves a beer, I guessed – so pour him half a glass, and tell him that’s the last one. My more trustworthy friend, not knowing what has happened, cautions me to move all my bags away from the thief. Later, the thief asks me for money as well. No chance. Tries the sympathy vote because he’s been hit. For thieving from me. Demonstrates by hitting me. Very softly, but still – bad strategy.
Chat to some more locals, including a ladies man. Getting a little antsy about the bus by this point, but my new amigos notice – and reassure me. Eventually a bus arrives. My amigos say it’s not my one, but I rush over to check. It turns out it is. So – hurried goodbyes, and I get on a bus where the aisle is too thin for me to carry my small backpack down. Bus eventually gets to Mariscal E-something, the military settlement. I get off near the edge of town – where I see a hotel sign. Is now fairly late at night – so figure I’m going to have to catch the bus to Bolivia tomorrow. Go to hotel, get a room. Have to pay in advance – not usual. Then – go to local bar. Largest man I’ve ever seen in real life – large enough that I am genuinely surprised when he gets out of his seat to get me a burger/beer. I actually expected him to ring a bell, and for somebody else to come out and do his bidding. But, we watch some Jean Claude Van Damme together, and I discover that the only bus to Bolivia passes through at 3am each morning, and is 240 Guaranis. I now have approximately 265 – luckily have already paid for burger/cerveza and hotel. I go back to hotel, and hòpe I can wake up at 2am. Am very very tired, but am stuck here for a full day with no money, and no way of getting money, if I don’t.
Hooray – managed to get up. Leave my key in my door, in case I miss the bus and need more sleep. Walk to the migration station, and arrive there just as a bus arrives. Busman (guy not driving, but kind of sidekick) – very keen to get me onboard. Sure. 250 Guaranis. Hand him my pack, and he rushes me towards the queue for exit stamps. Where there’s a dozen people in front of me, and I wait for some time in cold, making friends with the police dogs. Get stamped out, then get on bus. Very very little legroom. Fall asleep for several hours, and then woken at 8am for the Bolivian migration checkpoint. Awesome – Bolivia. As soon as I get off the bus, it strikes me as being everything one expects and wants from South America. Tiny village on a dirt road, wooden huts, roaming chickens and pigs, army base. Get my entry form, and change my Guaranis into Bolivianos. Buy an orange juice. Fill out my form, then remember seeing a poster on the wall in the migration ’shack’ that looked to be a list of prices for various nationalities. Lowest price was 15Bs, I now have 12.50. And I can’t go back to Paraguay. Dumb. But, get to the front, a bit of delay when he can’t find my Paraguay exit stamp, and won’t let me find it for him – but doesn’t ask for money. Sweet. Back on bus, where I give my seat to the wife of an army guy, with two kids. BusMan not happy, and insists I sit down – finds a seat for me further up the front. Breakfast is served – biscuits and chocolate milk. Any liquid is appreciated by now, dry biscuits are not. But I force them down. Several hours later – lunch is served. A choice – the better of which (according to guy sitting opposite me, whose taste I respect after he booed the BusMan for putting Rambo II on the TV) – is the cold piece of chicken with a chunk of mandioca. And a bottle of soft drink. I eat as much of the food as I can before soft drink is gone. Impossible to swallow without liquid to wash it down.
Eventually get to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Bolivia is cool. On way in, drive past a grass airstrip. Complete with abandoned fuselage of an aircraft. Didn’t get close enough to see the bulletholes, but I assume they’re there. The traces of the last shipment of cocaine is bound to be long gone though. Bus doesn’t go to terminal, so I have no idea of where I am. Except in a small walled compound with barbed wire. BusMan is keen to get me a taxi (rather eager to please overall, the BusMan) – and does so. Insists on an address – so I pick first hostel from guide book. Get there, and hostel is full – so original plan of walking around looking for somewhere is not ruined after all. Original plan turns out to be bad though – as next three hotels are all full also. Find a restaurant, and order a jug of lemon juice, and food. Lemon juice fills me up, so can’t finish my food. Much food, for little money though. I do manage to finish my cerveza.
Decide to head towards bus terminal. There are several hostels there, and worst case – can get on the next bus to somewhere. Pass one last hostel in central city – listed in the guidebook as being very popular, and bookings much recommended. Not much hope – but they have room. Sweet. Joy fades as I walk into the courtyard, and hear very american accents. Having a very seppo conversation. Decide very quickly I won’t be joining in their conversation. Ever. Drop my stuff off, and leave to look for small local bar. Can’t find one – end up settling for a bar in a shopping mall where some locals are playing backgammon. Looks to be the best I can expect in the central city. Back to hotel, and wait for seppo and canidiot in my dormroom to finish talking about seppo sports before I can go to sleep. In my book-o-notes I actually wrote that the bus journey was 36 hours. That’s how long this day has seemed.
Woken up by loud seppos having an early breakfast, just as I’d overheard them promise last night. But – get back to sleep. Other people in dorm slip out quietly. Then, seppo below me gets up. Turns on light, packs loudly and lengthily, and then leaves – leaving light on. So I get up also – but too late to explain certain things to Uncle Sam. I go for a walk. Town is dead, as it is Sunday. Another country where they still hold Sunday as a family day type deal. The central plaza, however, is fairly busy. And pretty cool. Perfectly maintained gardens, trees, etc. Most other south american plazas – more concrete. Here – beautiful. Still, of course, containing the statue of some fellow – almost always a military chap. Apparently there are some sloths living in the trees here, but I don’t see any. Don’t look too hard either though – rather hungry. Eventually find a place for food. Interpret one menu entry as being something-of-duck soup. Very cheap. Sweet – order that. Get some soup and bread. Has offal in it – I think I eat the heart, but can’t manage the kidney. Seems to be far too large for duck-bits. Still a little hungry, considering a sandwich or burger from a street stall. Then – the second course arrives. Menu item was actually the soup of the day, and then fried rice with shredded duck. Far far too much for me to eat, for a little over NZ$2. Sweet.
Back to the hostel. See a toucan on the roof. Sweet – take a photo. Then, it flies down onto table in the courtyard. Sweet – photo. Then, jumps onto arm of chair. Photo. Then, it starts eating my shirt. Okay – photo, then run away, as it has a very long beak, and dangerously close to the groin. Then, it jumps onto ground, and chases me. While I’m wearing jandals. I think it got annoyed when I tried to give it a jandal to eat. And has short-man syndrome.
Go for another walk. Don’t get very far before a local asks me the time. Then uses that as an opening for a chat. I understand very little, but manage to bluff my way through. Much talk about how cold it is. He seems interested in how many layers of clothing I’m wearing. I show him my Icebreaker is made of wool – so warm, and he grabs it to see what’s underneath. Odd. Then, after finding I’m from New Zealand, I think he starts talking about New Zealanders having large penises. Odd. Goes on and on about it. Then, about nudist beaches, I think? About being naked anyway – pretty sure I got that bit right. And goes on about that. And then a cycle of those two topics, with it being cold thrown in occasionally. When he pauses for breath after a while, I use my perfect knowledge of how to say “I have to go now, goodbye” to great effect. Find a cuban cafe, and order a bottle of wine. Sit there for a while, reading the graffiti all over the walls. Notice one piece on the ceiling. A map of New Zealand with “New Zealand Aotearoa Viva la revolucion Bro”. Awesome. Am most pleased. Then I notice the date on it – only two days ago. Sweet.
Back to hostel – and drink some yerba mate while watching the Copa America final. Then, am forced into going to “Irish Pub” for dinner. No Guinness. But, order irish stew & a bottle of red wine, and watch cars driving around the plaza with brasilian flags. Rather happy, and loud, brasilians. Back to hostel, and drink some more mate.