Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil borders Argentina and Paraguay. Spendng a week there, to-ing and fro-ing between Brazil and Argentina to take in the Falls (which I won´t tell you about here, as I`m not writing a guide book; though I will give you a tip: if you visit, stay in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, and not Foz do Iguaçu), I decided, for another stamp in my soon-to-expire, carbon-footprinting hypocrite`s passport, to complete the triangle and take the hotel tourist trip across the border into Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. Just before departure, a brief exchange with an amused driver kind of had me twigged that this wasn’t going to be a photogenic treat.
It isn’t far, although it takes a while on account of the traffic. There seemed no inter-city gap, ´the Foz´ and Ciudad del Este contiguously bridged across the river, over which traipsed copious pedestrians going in the same direction, towards what seemed a disinterested border control point. And we eventually parked, and were left to our own devices, me thinking, ´What the feck am I going to do here for five hours?´
Paraguay is celebrating 200 years of independence, and Ciudad del Este was bestrewn with red, white and blue flags, market stalls wedged into its mall-lined streets that are not barred to the bonkers traffic, including loads of ´moto-taxis´ (bikes), which don´t hang around – I was nearly taken out on more than one occasion. And the pressure to buy is relentless. If I was afflicted with compulsive buying disorder, I would be lugging home: socks, hair trimmers, sweets, more socks, football shirts, hand-held sewing machines, bogus perfume, even more socks, a wardrobe of clothes that would have been distasteful even in the 80s, and several blister packs of a certain patented phosphodiesterase V inhibitor. (Funny – even though I`m trying, French Foreign Legion-style, `to forget´ – how things come to remind you of your (former) research. I`d actually, before leaving the laboratory last year, been experimenting with sildenafil citrate. Not on myself, but on cells – being interested in its effect on growth of the exponentially multiplicative, and not the engorged dimension kind. But, as ever, another stimulus was still necessary.) Judging by the number of people there, the Paraguayan male apparently doesn´t require any, leading me to wonder, paranoically, why they deemed me a potential customer. In order to overcome the language barrier, one seller even demonstrated the effect with a large digitus tertius. (Or perhaps, as I`d declined repeatedly, he was merely telling me, “Up yours!”)
Negotiating all this kind of thing is kind of tiring. So after a while I sit down in a small covered café area and, as I didn´t want to drink a litre bottle of beer in the middle of the day (the only available option of Paraguayan cerveza) I compromised with a Coke, and a small salgado. I was actually relaxing a little more by now. Until I was tapped on the shoulder, and a young Amerindian-looking girl in need of a wash was asking for money or food. I estimated her to be about eight years old. I looked down, and saw she was with, presumably, her younger sister, about four. No adult; fending for themselves; older looking after younger. This disturbing encounter was compounded by another small girl coming towards me, again around eight, alone, with half an arm lost. I gave her some change. And shortly after, as I was readying to pay and go, the two sisters returned. I asked for two more of the pasties I`d just eaten, as the proprietor shook her head at them to scold their begging, and gave them the snacks. They mutely, but gratefully sat down to eat. And the lady at the next table had by now decided to relinquish her barely touched plateful of chicken, beans, spaghetti and rice, and the eldest girl was tucking in voraciously. I can hardly begin to imagine their lives in this corybantic place .
I walked towards the road, and my darkening mood was darkened further by a cloud front coming low, straight and wide over the city with horror film surreality: sky as black as the market it cast in its shadow. If it had been around 6 pm on Sat May 21, I might well have succumbed to believing that Harold Camping was right and that apocalypse was upon me. (Camping. What an idiot. I mean, what a fucking muppet! I´m actually working up the opinion that this disrgaceful old charlatan should be arrested. Aside from all those gullibles he, as a church leader, hence authority figure, has led up the wrong path to waste their time and money, what about the children he`s likely terrified witless? Terrorism is not just about bombs. ) I was half-expecting lightening thunderbolts, but they didn´t come. But the rain did. Only thing to do, as most people were, was take shelter and wait in an afternoon that had become as miserable as a Southampton New Year´s Eve.
Later, I made the mistake of eating at a covered market place, encouraged in by a lady who had no other customers at that moment. The rice was cold, and I wasn`t confident that the chicken, though hot, was fully cooked. Having not completely purged the food poisoning I`d come down with two weeks prior in Rio, I didn´t relish the prospect of an intestinal re-blooming. So, after a few mouthfuls, I paid the five bucks and, to her disconsolateness, left. (By the way, for those of a non-sequitur-ish inclination, I mean no disparagement neither to Paraguay, which I`m told is a beautiful country, nor its people, but… ) I trudged back to the bus with (having stupidly opted for flip-flops) dirty wet feet, thinking, `Get me out of here´ (which also reminds me of something).
And I still didn´t get the stamp in my passport.