Month: February 2017

Trinidad Jesuit Mission

dscf1553We got to this little-visited UNESCO world heritage site by local bus from Encarnacion. Built in 1709, it’s considered the best preserved Jesuit Mission in Paraguay

For us it was an introduction to the story of the Jesuits in South America.

At least they were not all about subjugating and converting the natives/first nation people. In their self-sufficient Missions the locals – living alongside the Jesuits – saw real improvements to their standard of living and education. But this progress wasn’t allowed to last for long. The Spanish, fearing the power of the Jesuits, expelled them in 1767.

The ruins give a clear sense of how impressive this ‘model-community’ would have been. And in the carvings – especially the heads – we saw the fusion of European and native art.

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Encarnación

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We’ve followed the River Parana down to probably Paraguay’s most attractive city.

The recent raising of the Yacyretá Dam’s water level has created a new waterfront at Encarnación complete with lots of modern bars and restaurants and an artificial beach. Great when otherwise the nearest beach is something like 14 hours away by bus. Across the lake is the skyline of Posadas in Argentina.

We walked to the main square. Very young mothers watched their children playing on the swings. Couples took selfies of themselves and drank tereré, or what we’d simply call cold herbal tea. Teenage boys were transfixed by their smartphones. And on another bench a middle-aged couple observed life happening.

At the ‘Triple Frontier’

img_1564International Tripoints are points where three country borders meet. There are 176 across the globe (according to Wikipedia) and this picture shows one of them.

In the cool of the morning light, it was a lovely place for Roger to visit whilst Hilary was reading in bed.

In the foreground is Argentina, to the back left Paraguay, and to the back right Brazil. Below is the convergence of the Rivers Parana and Iguacu. On the skyline – in the far distance – you can just see the skyscrapers of Cuidad del Este.

Iguacu Falls – now from Argentina

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Looking down into the Devil’s Throat – you’ll have to imagine the incredible noise

We’re glad we took a second day to see more of the Iguacu Falls – the Argentine side offers different perspectives and experiences.

We did all three designated trails. The star moment is definitely looking down into the Devil’s Throat from its rim, but we also simply enjoyed walking amongst the trees, crossing rivers on boardwalks, discovering smaller waterfalls, glimpsing views through the jungle, and having a cooling shower under one of the falls. We also saw more wildlife here – monkeys and caimans.

In our opinion, if you have just half a day to see the Falls then go the Brazil side. You get the big views quicker and the Brazilians have invested in a better visitor experience.  On the Argentinian side you need a full day and lots of energy for long walks – whilst you miss out on the overview panorama.

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A vista from the Lower Circuit
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On the Upper Trail looking down into San Martin Falls

At the Itaipu Dam

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Construction of the hydroelectric site started in 1971 with the first power generated in 1984

We took a free tour around the Itaipu Dam built on the Parana River between Paraguay and Brazil. It was a massive joint venture between the two countries; both at the time headed up by dictators.

China’s Three Gorges Dam has greater potential capacity to generate electricity but because the Parana River has less seasonal flow differences, Itaipu usually produces more electricity each year; much to the Paraguayans delight!

In a promotional video we learnt of the CO2 saved, but we weren’t told of the loss of the Guaira Falls – the world’s biggest by flow until they went under the Itaipu reservoir.

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The Itaipu Dam provides 75% of Paraguay’s needs and 17% of Brazil’s. It cost $19bn to construct and employs 3,000 people.

Ciudad del Este – smugglers’ town

Our base for visiting the area, Ciudad del Este founded in 1957 – when the bridge to Brazil was built – is the second largest city in Paraguay with a population of over 300,000. What’s amazing is the fact that Forbes lists it as the third largest commercial city in the world between 1990 and 2002.

That’s partly because of the proximity of the Itaipu Dam, but also due to smuggling which is estimated as five times the size of the Paraguayan economy. And every day thousands of Brazilians use the Friendship Bridge to come shopping; spending $1bn+ per annum on cheaper goods.

The city is a melting pot with large populations of Taiwanese, Iranians, Koreans and Lebanese. Street stalls occupy every square inch of space selling all sorts of things under the sun. Ten minutes of walking in this town and we are exhausted by the noise, fumes and visual assault on our senses. Hilary termed it ‘a s*** hole’.

Travel Tips 2 – Shoes

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With only packing room for two pairs each, shoes are important on a trip like this.

Wedded to her training shoes for most of her life, Hilary had to sorrowfully forsake them for a light pair of hiking boots and a pair of sandals. She knew that training shoes simply wouldn’t cope with the rugged hiking we had planned.

So far, the Scarpa hiking shoes have been great and the Ecco sandals have proved ideal for the hot countries, beaches and evenings. No blisters or feet problems yet.

Roger is pleased with his pair of approach shoes from Meindl. With his hiking boots too heavy and large to travel, these were bought specially for the trip and were expensive. The key thing is that they are goretex and therefore waterproof.

In the evenings he’s still enjoying wearing a pair of English slippers. But these are getting smelly so will soon be replaced by sandals.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Iguacu Falls – from Brazil

dscf1429One of the top sights of the natural world, the Iguacu Falls simply do not disappoint. We’ve had a great day seeing them from the Brazilian side; the nearly 300 falls straddle the Brazil/Argentina border.

And we got very wet. First on the walkway out to the chasm known as the Devil’s Throat – the noise, energy and water spray on a hot 35C day made this a fun place to be – and then by inflatable boat into and under one of the 60m waterfalls.

Who doesn’t love waterfalls? This is the second most popular tourist attraction in South America (after Machuca Piccu). The first panoramic view from high up the gorge literally takes the breath away – this is the largest waterfall system anywhere in the world.

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Riding through the savannah

img_9397Here we are riding out at the Don Emilio Estancia. Roger has the smaller horse as this was his first experience of riding. Hilary meanwhile has loved and ridden horses since she was 14.

Both horses are South American Criollos; descendents from the original horses brought over by the Spanish in the 16th century. The Spaniards brought the very best they had and this is still apparent down through the generations.

Life on the Estancia

Don Emilio Estancia has been our home for the last two days.

Located 6km south of the Paraguayan town of Coronel Oviedo, you approach it down a rich red dirt road past an isolated village. Oxen, bulls and horses roam the countryside. Birds sing in the forests. Cowboys ride by. This is an idyllic privately-owned landscape of 10000 hectares.

We read under the fans in the heat of the day, went swimming in the pool as it got cooler and took walks watching the setting sun. This estancia was founded one hundred years ago by a brave, pioneering family. Hard to believe it is still so unspoilt.

Thanks to Virginia, Daisy, and Deanna for looking after us so well – being the only guests we were really pampered.