Am actually in Puerto Iguazu, but don’t want to write about it until after I’ve seen Iguacu Falls.  The best waterfalls IN THE WORLD!  They reckon.

So – in Fray Bentos – I went back to the first bar I went to on arrival.  Group of guys, including barman, playing cards.  I help myself to a beer, and watch.  A couple of the guys are smoking inside – tut tut.  Uruguay’s had the no smoking in bars/public places since March, I believe.  Stop at a sports club on way to bus station for another beer.  A poster on the wall with scantily-clad girl on sports car.  I think it’s an ad for a car battery.  At the bus station, I get my thermos filled with hot water from a candy kiosk – and drink my yerba mate, just like a local.

Get to Salto, and it’s raining.  So, go to nearest bar, of course.  Which happens to be more of a shed, really.  Parilla (barbecue) outside though, so a beer and some food.  Get to hotel – pretty cheap.  $150, less than my ‘dorm’ bed in Colonia.  The guy opens the door – it’s a huge room, with cool huge antique furniture.  (I think, I didn’t check to see if it was fake.  Possibly, but still would be worth heaps in NZ).  Too big to stick in the pack though.

26 June

Woke up late, so spent day wandering around town.  The fountains here actually work.  So – sorry for photos of fountains, but it was really rather surprising to see fountains with water in them.  Go to information office, and figure out how to get to the thermal pools.  Stuipidly easy, and feel guilty for not bothering to do it today.  But, go to the shed/tent/bar I discovered last night, and watch Uruguay vs Peru in the Copa America, have a few cervezas, chat to the locals, same old, same old.

27 June

Went to the thermal pools.  Pretty sweet, just hanging out in a thermal pool for a few hours.  Got bored of it, and decided to leave.  Got changed, and then discovered the spa & sauna.  But, too lazy to backtrack – so carried on.  Bus back to Salto, and then – of course – back to my local for a few drinks while waiting for my bus to Argentina.  Eventually got on the bus, crossed some dam which forms the bridge between Uruguay/Argentina – and arrived in Concordia, with no idea of what to do, or where to go.  Find a bus to Posadas at 1am.  Not really thinking clearly, but book it.  Go to restaurant, and order dinner.  With a bottle of wine – forgetting how much I’ve already had to drink (well – it was a while ago).

28 June

Arrive in Posadas.  But, I’m on a roll.  Immediately start looking for buses onward.  Find one, buy a ticket.  Then – discover a bus company called “KRUSE”.  Have already committed myself though – so follow through with bus to San Ignacio on a bus called “M. Hermandies” or something equally stupid.  Get there, leave pack at a store near the bus stop, and check out some old Jesuit ruins.  Wasn’t really expecting much.  But pretty cool.  Big complex they’d set up.  Self sufficient, they reckon.  I reckon “Prove it”.  One thing the jeebers-believers had done right, apparently.  Actually set up communities which were self sufficient, and were pretty sweet to live in.  I’ve heard them described as “utopian”.  I reckon “Prove it”.  Had at least one grapefruit tree though – so I reckon they must have got pretty close to utopia at least.  Prices for entry were cool too.  Different prices for locals, Uruguayans, Latin Americans, and ‘General’.

Then, let me think… (overnight and constant travel screws my perception of what happened on which day.  No – it’s NOT the booze) … right, walked a little bit around San Ignacio – not much else going on really.  Then, got on a bus to Puerto Iguazu.  Watched a DVD on the bus – rather obviously from some guy in a cinema with a video camera.  Constantly the video would disappear, or nearly disappear, as a jacket is placed over the camera.  I’m guessing cinema workers were walking past.  But eventually, made it to Puerto Iguazu.  Enjoy some more good beef and good red wine in Argentina, before Paraguay – which is far from being renowned for fine dining or wining.  Am staying at a place called Residencial Noelia, in case I go missing.

Fray Bentos

Managed to escape Colonia.  Was looking a bit dodgy there for a moment, when I discovered the secret of buying 2 litres of red wine for 50 UR$ – just over 2 NZ$.  But – stuck around just long enough to watch the All Blacks vs South Africa.  I’d been told that the Uruguay cable channels show it – and knew the hostelhad cable – so decided to stay one more day, rather than risk the next town not having any.  Then, got worried – as volleyball coverage kept going well after time of kick-off.  Started thinking that maybe I’d miss the start, and the haka.  Then – rugby, but a kind of documentary/interview type thing.  On famous drop-goals.  And yes, Zinzan was included – and explained what was going through his head when he did it.  Finally, an hour after kick-off time – sweet, full delayed coverage.  In Spanish – which was cool.  Mostly just reciting the names of players with the ball, and once – when a penalty kick went through – the long drawn out yell, similar to the famous “Goooooooooooaaaaaalllllllll”.  Sweet.  Hung my NZ flag up on the wall, wore my NZ scarf and Ben’s NZ t-shirt.  All Blacks underwear.  Full sport-head like.  And had a South African to watch it with.  Americas Cup coverage on the internet beside me (crashed about 2/3 of the way through – but just as well, I guess).

Then – caught bus to Fray Bentos.  Met a kiwi couple at the bus station, and gave them the results.  Bus to Fray Bentos, broke down.  Buses here love to break down – luckily this one was at a bus station at the time.  Fray Bentos – home of what was once the centre of the meatpacking industry.  Responsible, I believe, for Oxo cubes, spam, and various other spam-like products.  First night – found dodgy little bar, met some locals, then went to play pool.  Yesterday, slept in well past checkout time – so paid for another night, then went to visit the old meat-works.  Didn’t go inside the actual factory (which apparently is quite interesting.  Pretty much left just as it was when the plant shut down – blood-stained hooks and all.)  But, walked around the museum attached to it.  Calf with two heads – it’s head(s) preserved in a jar.  History of the factory, etc.  Some guy came up with the idea of ‘meat extract’, came to Uruguay and built a factory to make it.  Also brought the industrial revolution to Uruguay in the process, machines at the factory supplied entire town’s power supply for a while.  Blah blah blah.

Other than that, Fray Bentos has nothing.  Except heaps of foreigners.  Was expecting to be only tourist, as everybody else I’ve talked to just goes Montevideo-Colonia-Buenos Aires, or the other way around.  Turns out I AM the only tourist, but there are several hundred foreigners, mostly Finnish, due to a paper mill being built nearby.  A paper mill which the Argentinians hate, and therefore have blocked the bridge border crossings – making it possible that I’m going to have trouble in a couple of days.  But, anyway, everybody here assumes I am Finnish, and that I’m involved with the factory.  Very very surprised when I say I’m a tourist, and usually react with disbelief for a while, and then asking “Why?”  Much friendlier once I convince them though, and I understand why after watching the behaviour of some of the other foreingers here last night.

This evening, I’m heading further north.  Got a bus ticket to Salto, but have 5 hours to kill.  Luckily, I discovered a cafe/bar with a type of cerveza I haven’t tried yet.  Salto is in the midst of a thermal area, with several ‘resorts’ scattered around.  So – hope to find a cheap one, and spend one or two days in a thermal pool.  Found out yesterday that I have already gone through the areas where the vineyards are located – so may conpensate in Salto.  Had some practice yesterday – although the bar owner tried to tell me that red wine was to be drunk slowly.  Crazy old fool.

Colonia del Sacramento

Have been in Colonia for a couple of days.  Is cold, nice, and drunk.  Another World Heritage sight, due to old city being prime example of colonial city.  Got a wall with a drawbridge too. More cobblestone streets, old buildings, lighthouse, museums, etc etc.  But most interesting part of here is the people I’ve met, as follows:

– English Peter.  Nice guy, on bus with me from Montevideo.  Reckons Colonia looks just like Europe, but heaps colder.

– South African.  Reckons he’s in exile from South Africa.  Loves New Zealand, hoping to settle there later.  Also – “You know those movies where guys put a notch in their riflebutt for each person they kill?  I stopped counting at 300.”  And his grandfather owns 20% of Lloyds Shipping.  And doesn’t need a visa for New Zealand, as a maori chief called John gave him a ‘Golden Key’ which allows him to visit some island chain just outside of Bay of Islands.  etc etc.  Scary thing is, his stories stayed remarkably consistent, even when very very drunk.

– Belgian girl currently located in Buenos Aires.  Very very energetic, talks lots.  Rather attractive, very ‘liberal’, and liked the Kruse.  Got very animated during a romantic comedy – yelling at the characters.

– Finnish guy.  Judged me by my face, and was remarkably accurate.  Very drunk, so couldn’t remember what he’d said one minute later when I asked him to write it in my journal.  Gushed about how happy he was to have met me though.  Fair enough.

– English couple.  Travelling around in a combi-van.  Am very jealous.

– Locals.  Very drunk crazy girl the first night.  Very drunk.  Very crazy.  Pool players.  Back to nearly normal pool rules.  Sweet.  Except have to sink the 8-ball in the same pocket as you sunk your last allocated ball.  Makes it interesting.  Finally figured this rule out last night.  Had previously thought the pocket I’d been told I had to sink it in was arbitrarily chosen.   After pool last night, suddenly several tables were set up – and everybody in bar sat at them – one big long dinner table type arrangement.  I was invited in, and soup was served.  Free, to my understanding.  Was pretty cool – part of the family after only two nights.

I’ve kitted myself out with all the gear for drinking maté.  Supposed to be amazingly healthy.  Got myself a thermos, tin to hold the maté, a gourd to drink it from, the weird straw-type thing to drink it with, and today finally got a container to carry it all in.  Look very much like the traveller who pretentiously makes himself look like a local.  Mission accomplished.  Now I just need to mock people doing organised tours, talk about the ‘Real South America’, and disparage guide books – and I’ll be a real travel-wanker.

Tomorrow, am hoping to leave.  But will depend on how much I drink tonight, and whether I sleep in again.  If I do manage to leave, will head to Fray Bentos. Off the Beaten Track.  The REAL Uruguay.  etc etc

And have been offered to meet up with the French woman I met in San Rafael way back in March.  She’s going to hire an apartment in Bolivia, and has invited me to join her in it.  I’m hoping her motives are pure, but suspect I’ll have to clarify the fact there has to be two beds.  I may have unintentionally led her on a bit in San Rafael – accidentally kissing her on the lips when doing the kiss-on-both-cheeks thing.  May have to let her down gently, so her offer of free use of her apartment in Paris isn’t withdrawn.


15 June

Well, after my last update, I couldn’t delay going to the bar any longer – so I went.  And drank cerveja.  Wind started picking up, until the point where the plastic chairs, rubbish bins and tables started flying.  I suddenly remembered the guy on beach warning me of a storm due tomorrow.  And that he actually used the word ‘typhoon’.  Guys at the bar whooping and cheering when things start flying.  Then, when a girl walks past trying to hold her skirt down.  Then – the power goes out.  More whooping.  Wild weather brings out the feral.  Power stayed off, in entire town.  So – bar closes up, and I walk back to apartment.  Much more people on the street now, in freezing cold wind, than I have ever seen during day.  Drank a beer by ‘candlelight’ (torch really), and listened to very very strong & loud wind.  Power came on after a while – announced by more whooping from the streets.

16 June

Packed my bags, and went to bar for a goodbye cerveja.  Catch bus to a town/suburb in the middle of the island, then get on another I hope is heading for the central city.  It does, but not to where the Lonely Planet says it will.  Luckily, the long-distance bus station isn’t where the Lonely Planet says it is either, and is only 100m from where I am standing trying to figure out where I am.

Only bus to Montevideo is at 10am.  It is 2pm.  Dumb.  Porto Alegro is on the way, so look for tickets to there.  One at 10pm, or one at 2pm.  Guy talks me into the 2pm one, despite it being bang on 2pm now.  Expensive, but comfortable bus.  Not comfortable enough for the kid sitting opposite me though.  Cried constantly.  Loudly.

At Porto Alegro, I find a bus leaving from there to Montevideo the same night – so book that, drink a couple of cervejas, give my passport to some guy working on the bus, and head off.  Again, expensive, but comfy – with food, drinks, pillow & blanket provided.  And when I wake up – my passport is given to me, all stamped and border crossing finished.

17 June

Montevideo is very cold.  2ºC according to a streetside display.  Good weather for a nice bracing walk.  So – I walk from bus station.  Found a cemetery.  Very cool cemetery.  These guys know how to be buried.  Although I was confused by the tombs with lifesize statues of jeebers or his mummy on them.  Surely, if you’re going to pay for a lifesize statue on your tomb – you’d get yourself?  Then, I discovered that some chaps did in fact agree with me.  I am going to start saving for a lifesize statue of myself for my grave.  Also – discovered a grave that must have belonged to somebody pretty important, or with some powerful friends.  Huge block of stone, in plot facing ocean.  Also saw a creepy grave.  Statue of some creepy looking guy/monster, with eyes that followed me.  And the eye-in-a-pyramid symbol.  Not a grave I’d get drunk and fool around with my cheerleader girlfriend on while sinister music plays in the background.

Old lady in cemetery warned me to watch out for thieves.  Then, when I left cemetery, and kept walking, realised I was in rather dodgy part of town.  So – I stayed the course.  Eventually reached Independence Square.  Big big statue of a general who helped Uruguay gain independence.  On his horse.  Big.  Underneath it – is an urn with his ashes.  From the size of the urn – the statue may be lifesize.  Room with the urn big barren square.  Big text on the walls with the dates of his life, and two armed guards.

Finally found an hotel, after asking around a few.  Food (suddenly remember that my spanish phrasebook is awful.  Spain spanish, not south america spanish), a short walk around, then a mission to find a cheap bar.  Mission accomplished, but almost feel guilty walking into this place.  The only patrons are very old men.  Most of whom look broken.  Bar owner flaunting the ‘no-smoking in public places/establshments’ law.  But I stay, let somebody know as soon as possible that I’m not a seppo, but from Nova Zelandia.  Make friends – all good.  Meet a guy who speaks passable english – who takes me to another bar.  Talk rugby for a while, and he ends up paying for my drinks at new bar, and insisting that he ‘walk me home’.  (Strictly security-wise, okay?)

18 June

And today, I spent eating a huge steak at the meat market, and then shopping.  Bought myself a thermos, and the rest of the equipment to drink some mate.  Not sure where I’m gonna get boiling water from, but it’ll sort itself out.  Also – after my shoelace breaking for the 10th or so time, got some new shoes.  Should have enough time to ruin these ones just in time so that I have to buy brand new shoes for the Inca Trail, and get some beautiful blisters.  Yeah, sweet.  And now – a couple of hours on internet, uploading photos.  More scenery and what-not.  Then, I’ve got a date with the chap I met last night.  The guy who bought me drinks.  And walked me home.  Hmmm… it is sounding quite bad now.  But anyway, hopefully he’ll have some info on whether any cable channels here will have the rugby on the weekend.  Finally, the south african timezone is actually good.