Sunday, 25 November 2012

Paraguay – Ciudad del Este - The wild wild west

                                Hairy trip mm's away from crashing crossing back into Brazil. 

It may be a travelling crime to not go to Iguazu Falls, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.  But in my defense I have been there before, and saw both Argentine and Brazilian sides and took the boat trips so that is more than most do.  How I really used my time in Foz was to actually prepare for the next leg of my trip.   I needed equipment suitable for Patagonia.  I already had most things but I needed to buy some real motorbike boots, a new rear tyre and equally important, an MP3 player to replace my stolen Iphone (still sad about that).  The place to do all this is Paraguay.

Foz do Iguaçu is right on the other side of the bridge to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.  Everyday thousands of people from Brasil and Argentina (some travelling thousnds of miles) cross to buy every imaginable item to smuggle tax free back into their countries.  The flow of people is so great that you can just walk, drive, or take a motorbike taxi across, buy what you want and then go back.  Unofficially no passport checks, which is just as well as I forgot to bring mine when I went, and prayed that I wouldn’t get checked.  I was a bit worried I would be stopped as my bike has a Chile number plate on the front of the bike.  The only country in S.America that makes bikes do this and it makes it stick out a mile.  I was supposed to takethe plate off, but I forgot to do this as well!  

Not to worry though, the Brazilian border control have an impossible task, so rather than checking every person and vehicle individually they resort to doing spot checks.  This means many people cross several times a day, play with the law of averages and hope not to get stopped.  When I finally went across, there are not enough adjectives to describe the experience, basically anything goes.  I had been warned so many times from people not to go and definitely not to take my bike across as I will either be killed by the traffic, have my bike stolen, get mugged or some kind of combination of all this involving death.  Needless to say I choose to take my bike and found it was not as bad as they said, although riding with the suicidal motorbike taxis was a bit dicey.

Queuing to go into Paraguay
Negotiating the narrow moto-taxi lanes

Crossing the bridge into Paraguay
 Rodolfo from the hostel kindly offered to come with me and came on the back of my bike.  Having Rodolfo helping was brilliant as I don’t think I would have ever found all that I wanted so easily.  I bought my boots for $200, a tyre for $50 and an MP3 for $25.  Hopefully they will all be worthy investments.  While there, I was offered to buy so many random things from the mundane to the scary, included guns and even a Tazer in fully working mode.  I know this as the guy thrust it in my face as he set it off.

I think I am allowed that look on my face, thanks to the Tazer being set off right in front of me

I also saw so many ingenious ways to smuggle, such hiding on bodies, ditching boxes of electronics and putting them in large boxes labelled with low price items, and people putting expensive tyres on old cars and rubbing mud on them to look old.  I also saw the other extreme with scores of people who didn’t try to hide anything at all.  This included groups of women who filled plastic bags full of obvious taxable items and then walk across the international bridge really testing their luck.  My personal favourite of all though was a guy crossing the bridge on a small scooter whilst holding a large TV across his lap.  

Preparing their goods to cross the bridge.
I’m glad Rodolfo came as he also recorded the video for me as we crossed the bridge back into Brasil.  I will admit it’s a bit hairy and you can hear him tell me to be careful all the time.  Watching it back I’m glad I didn’t attempt my usual one hand riding holding the camera.  Was all great fun, so much so I went back the next day on my own to buy some US$ to sell in Argentina at a small profit and of course the obligatory pair of fake sunglasses.

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