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Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE LAST LAP, PLUS BONUS DAYS IN BUENOS AIRES

Time is moving on so we can only explore a few more spots in Paraguay before we head to the coast in Brazil. First stop after Ascunion is the rather unexciting city of Encarnacion, but we do pass a craft village that still weaves and dyes by hand, hammocks, spreads and mats. Encarnacion is rather uninviting, so we continue on to more Jesuit ruins at Trinadad & Jesus. Both are pretty amazing sites. The lush green grass against the red rock makes them look stunning.
By now it is time to get to the border at Ciudad del Este. This border is frantically busy. It is choc full of cars, buses & motorbikes. In fact it is so busy find ourselves on the bridge that is the border. We are hoping the Paraguay customs are with the Brazilian customs - but no, we have totally missed them in the chaos. There is no way we can go back. Fortunately Brazil doesn't notice that we are not stamped out of Paraguay (by now our passports are so full of stamps & visas it is hard to find anything). They happily stamp our passports, but then we have to persuade them that we need a Temporary Vehicle Import Licence. We still have our Paraguayan Licence - I hope this doesn't come back to bite us. I guess it just means it could be messy if we want to return to Paraguay.
Back to Brazilian traffic again. Our first stop is Iguacu Falls. Yes, we went there before, but this time we want to see them from the Brazilian side. A totally different lookout - it is hot & humid and spectacular.
Lots of driving now to the coast, with lots of forest, farmland & rice paddocks. We do stop at the very German town of Blumenau because Oktoberfest is still on (in fact it is the last day). This is the biggest Oktoberfest outside of Munich, so we spend a few happy hours wandering the German stalls, sitting in the huge beer hall downing beers (John) and eating German sausage & cheese, and listening to Om pah bands playing. It feels like we are back in Germany.
Anyway on to the coast. It is Sunday and traffic is increasing as we get closer to the coastal cities. It takes ages to find a spot by the beach at Porto Belo, after driving up numerous narrow beach roads squeezing past oncoming cars and finding no spots to stop. Then it is on via toll roads to the city of Florianopolis through a massive traffic jam. After chatting to a guy in a vehicle beside us, we decide not to visit the built up northern part of the island, but to explore the "slightly" more deserted beaches in the south. Many glorious beaches & lakes later we decide to get back to the mainland over the hill via many hairpins and more traffic. Eventually we leave the city behind us. We do manage to find some magic camp spots along the coast, despite the many resorts. Then there are many more miles of rice fields, banana plantations, ceramic factories, industry and of course traffic.
After passing through lots more marshy area full of carpyrbaras we reach another border. This time Uruguay at the shared town of Chuy/Chui. The Uruguayan side is full of duty free shops selling the usual stuff - chocs, alcohol & expensive clothing. The change of pace in Uruguay is great, as we explore the lovely coastline. we could spend weeks camping here on all the gorgeous beaches. Some of the highlights were the Fort at Santa Teresa, the quaint ramshackle town of Punta del Diablo and the gorgeous Cabo Polonia, which can only be accessed by "Mad Max" type 4WD vehicles. Here we spent a lovely few hours exploring the beach, watching the seal colony and climbing the stairs of the very old lighthouse. Another great stop was to the Museo Taller Casapueblo - a fantasy house that cascades down a cliff to the beach below. It was built by the artist Carlos Paez Vilaro, and displays lots of his works.
As we reach Montevideo, the style of housing becomes more and more "Sunshine Coast" and finally "Gold Coast" highrise along the waterfront of Montevideo. Here we discover that there is a Llamada on at 4pm, so we decide to fill in time exploring the Saturday markets, eating at a parilla restaurant and  scrubbing out GR2. We park on the street and pull out our deck chairs. After waiting an hour, they start. First the flags, then the dancing girls & finally the drummers. Four groups in all. The drumming was loud & hypnotic. We tear ourselves away because we have a ferry to catch tomorrow. So it is on to Granja Arenas to park GR2 for a few months. The next day we finish packing and taxi to the ferry. Then ferry (an hr later than expected because our ticket was in Argentine time which is different from Uruguay time) to BA and taxi to our hotel.
We have 1 day to explore. We can't get tickets for the on/off bus, so we walk and find our way through the amazing San Telmo markets. The biggest I have ever seen. Then on through some dodgy suburbs to La Bocca. There is a soccer game on and the boys are all packing the stadium. We finally reach the touristy part of La Bocca, with its brightly coloured walls and restaurants with tango dancers performing. The next day we fit in a rushed trip to the Recoleta cemetery. One of the ritziest places around, before heading to the airport.
We had heard that Qantas was having dramas, but after checking our flight online, everything seemed OK. But once in the massive line, we discovered that the line up was for passengers on Saturdays flight that had been cancelled, and our flight was now cancelled. After a few hours we were bussed back to BA for 2 extra nights free of charge. What a bonus. Lots more exploring and eating.
Finally home.


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