05.09.2009 - 08.09.2009 30 °C
The Bridge of Friendship closed, I had to travel further north and cross the river back from Uruguay into Argentina at the Paysandú-Colón bridge. In Colón bus terminal, I was immediately informed that I was being poisoned by that Uruguayan paper factory...
'Which red zone are you in? No to paper mills! For our children and grandchildren, join the resistance today! Don't let them oppress us any longer. Be part of history.'
That's actually what the sign says.
I was making my way across Argentina to Posadas, hoping to cross into Paraguay for a few days. I found myself in the province of Corrientes in northern Argentina, a land of small peaceful towns, cattle ranching, gauchos (cowboys) and constant mate consumption. Useful buses ran only once daily, so progress was slow, but an unplanned stay in the town of Mercedes (pop 30,000) and a stroke of good luck led to a very entertaining few days.
I bumped into a couple of other British backpackers, and the three of us traipsed the streets of Mercedes looking for something to do. We found only a nightclub where the average age of attendees must have been 15. As in small towns everywhere in this continent, the principal nighttime activity for everyone old enough to own a vehicle consisted of driving round and round the city streets, an incessant noisy carousel of mopeds, bicycles and beaten-up cars.
Wandering down a side street, a small car with approximately 8 occupants pulled up in front of us. The face of the affable César Armando Romero Galfrascoli beamed out at us and asked us if we wanted to go for a beer.
César and his extraordinarily friendly group of pals were all of a similar age to us, and working or studying in Mercedes. They devoted the next couple of days to entertaining the three of us Brits. By happy coincidence, we had arrived in town the day of the annual fería rural, featuring rural produce, cowboy skills, fairground rides and general shindiggery.
A prize cow:
Sheep with not-so-subtle reminders of their eventual fate:
An Argentinian-style mixed grill, with whole sides of ribs, steaks, sausages, blood sausage, intestines and other nasties:
At last we were inducted into the ways of mate drinking: the ritual of preparation.
The box of yerba de mate and sugar, that along with a thermos of water, a small pot of herbal seasoning, gourd and straw, formed Diana's take-anywhere mate kit.
Claudio drinking mate:
Chipa, the ideal accompaniment to mate: a delicious bread ball made from yucca flour, milk, cheese, eggs and butter.
As only seems to happen after I've had a few drinks, I went on a souvenir spree, buying my own mate gourd and straw, and a silly hat...
Only later did I discover to my distress that my gourd was covered with capybara skin. Poor furry critter! On a related note, I was directed the following morning to Mercedes' jardín zoológico, or zoo, an attraction that is seemingly a matter of local pride. There I was surprised to find that the 'zoo' was situated in a huge fenced yard that housed garbage trucks and other assorted vehicles used to maintain the municipality. The animals, including rabbits, deer, ducks and geese happily mingled in, milling contentedly around a lake that had been dug for them. It's the cutest zoo I've ever seen. And best of all...
And what visit to northern Argentina would be complete without a visit Yacyretá dam? A joint endeavour between the governments of Argentina and Paraguay, and spanning the border between the two countries, the construction of the hydroelectric plant ran way over budget, and it still isn't finished. Some slate the project as a 'monument to corruption'. They seem to have spent half the money on the swanky visitors' centre and its 360° cinema that shows a montage of inspiring and heart-warming images accompanied by an impossibly bombastic voiceover. Still it was pretty cool to look around.
The 20 turbines inside, each as wide as the length of a bus: