David and Lili's World Tour

Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay

November 2015 - Thirty-seven days in Spanish

Hola! If you're looking for something interesting to do, consider flying into Argentina at Buenos Aires en route to Brazil via Uruguay and Paraguay (especially if you speak Spanish). For us, this was a dream route and it surpassed our wildest expectations.

On the street in Buenos Aires we changed US dollars on the "blue" market at a 50% better rate than at the airport. This didn't take long because many people asked us to buy dollars. Next we wandered around an artsy Sunday market. Later we saw a tango show, but mostly we enjoyed talking to people. Compared to southern Europe, our arrival into Argentina looked familiar, but we felt culture shock from the suddenly constant Spanish coming out of our mouths. Native speakers generally assume that we are both Brazilians from our Portuñol accents, and we sometimes play along for two reasons: 1. Safety, because there are many dodgy criminals in Latin America, and when in doubt, it's better to be seen as Brazilian than say, Canadian, and 2. Simplicity, because the long version of our story could fill a travel blog. We often tell people that we're from New Zealand too, but not when we want to walk in a city at night, for example.

We passed through Argentinian territory 3 separate times (in Buenos Aires, on the bus to Asunción, and again at Puerto Iguazu to see the spectacular waterfall). During this interval Argentina had their presidential election and Mauricio Macri won, ending 12 years of center-left leadership. The first thing Macri did as president was to abolish the blue market by floating the peso, and the currency lost 36% of its value instantly. Most people we spoke to voted for the other guy, arguing that his Partido Justicialista grew the economy responsibly after the catastrophic debt default of 2001 while improving conditions for the most vulnerable, so why suddenly embrace American-style capitalism? Macri believes a mix of pro-business policies and government austerity will bring inflation under control while encouraging investment and exports, but the evidence suggests that austerity is a failed policy. Hmmm... We say, don't cry for Peronismo, Argentina. Move on. Hope for the best. Prepare for the next fight.

We travelled to Uruguay by river ferry, landing in Colonia del Sacramento, a charming town that's listed as a Unesco world-heritage site for its wide boulevards lined with big trees (a city established to smuggle contraband into Buenos Aires). Next we stopped in Montevideo where we explored by bicycle, watched the new James Bond film in Spanish, and obtained a visa for Paraguay (for David only because Lili has a Brazilian passport). Then we went to Punta del Diablo, a perfectly relaxing beach town. Here we rested after so much travelling around. Our main focus was cooking delicious and healthy food in our little beach hut.

Uruguay! This small country is comprised mostly of farms, but it ranks number-one in Latin America for quality of living, press freedom, low corruption, peace and prosperity. It is also the most secular country in the Americas with 14% atheists. Uruguay generates 95% of its electricity from renewable sources! And Uruguay recently legalized marijuana. Go Uruguay. It's worth noting that Portugal decriminalized all drug use in 2001, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Legal weed in Colorado is also a good-news story. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, and even drug use is down. We say, focus on harm reduction, folks, not jail time, and stop the expensive, destructive, and ineffective war against drugs.

How did Uruguay become so politically progressive? Many people credit one man, José Mujica, the "world's humblest president." Note to world leaders: you too could give 90% of your salary to charity, drive a small car, and promote intelligent legislation, please.

In Paraguay we visited our friend Alexis (whom we met last year in Nagaland), and he hooked us up. We stayed at his parent's house in Asunción from where we made many excursions (including four-days riding a Royal Enfield motorcycle), and to summarize: the heart of Paraguay is the family house, and the magic is the countryside. Thanks Alexis, Luis, Marina, and Lalo!

Travelling on that Royal Enfield was a highlight. I had the keys just a few minutes when somebody asked me at a traffic signal, "Hey, what brand is your moto?" LoL. Sweet! We visited an organic-farming NGO that also builds houses using bamboo, a highlight. Later we also visited a different farm and a reggae music festival, both highlights. In Asunción we also attended Senior Lalo's 85th birthday party :)

Regarding Paraguay's politics, the system is infamously corrupt, with low-taxes on soy-bean profits especially leading to rapid deforestation. In Asunción most people speak Spanish but in the countryside the primary language is Guarani. This is the poorest country in the Americas after Haiti, but the people in the countryside have good soil and abundant rain. This is where that Takuara Renda NGO comes into the picture, promoting better vegetable gardens for healthy eating plus sustainability. Grass roots. Plant trees.

We exited from Paraguay at the tri-border with Brazil and Argentina. Ciudad del Este is infamous in Brazil for its chaotic and inexpensive shopping district, but we didn't buy anything. Instead we went back into Argentina, and yes the Iguazu waterfall is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in the neighborhood, full-power nature, awesome. The view from the Brazilian side is pretty sweet too.

Hasta la próxima, David and Lili

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