In the geographical heart of South America lies the forgotten country of Paraguay, the country no one visits and no one really talks about. Only 20 odd years ago the country was under the fierce and terrifying rule of one of South America’s most gruelling dictators, General Alfredo Stroessner, who was in power for a staggering 35 years, and left the country plagued with corruption and economic woes. Aside from all the trouble Paraguay is a really interesting place, from the dodgy border towns for smuggling and exporting counterfeit goods, the world’s second largest dam, the most exciting Carnival party outside of Brazil, remarkable Jesuit religious buildings, to the isolated Pantanal region along the Paraguay River, there is plenty to do here if you have time to spare.
The northern-most province in Argentina, Misiones, extends up the map like an arm reaching out and terminates at a natural border, and triple frontier, with both Brazil and Paraguay formed by two mighty rivers, the Rio Parana and Rio Iguazu. A short trip up the Iguazu River is the world famous Iguazu Falls, a thunderous waterfall of unimaginable power. The small border town of Puerto Iguazu was to be our last stop in Argentina. After over a month in the country we were sad to have reached our last stop but excited at the prospect of seeing yet another natural wonder in this incredibly diverse country.
There is nothing better than finding a quiet place to kick your feet up and relax. Uruguay has this wonderful laid back feel which you really get a sense of the moment you leave the hustle and bustle of Montevideo. The country, in particular, is all about the slow life, living off the land at your own pace and snoozing the afternoon away during siesta time. There is no reason to hurry here, there really isn’t much to do. We came in search of serene beach villages to relax in, and to travel cross-country from the Atlantic coast to the border town of Salto, observing the peaceful country life amongst the rolling green plains and farms of central Uruguay along the way.
A long time ago, back in the 16th Century, when the great powers of Europe had set their sights on South America, there were never-ending disputes and battles over the diverse lands of this great continent. The Spanish eventually conquered the south, what is now Argentina and the Portuguese the North, what is now Brazil. In the middle of these two great nations lies a lesser known country named Uruguay. Almost entirely surrounded by water, Uruguay is strategically positioned on the Atlantic Coast to the east, and along two great rivers to the West and South separating it from Argentina. The Portuguese first claimed Uruguay, and to fend off the insatiable Spaniards, constructed impressive fortresses in tactical locations along the extensive coastline. The on-going battle between the Spaniards and Portuguese for this nation went on for almost two hundred years, with each, at various times during the conflict, defeating the other to lay their claim. What remains in Uruguay today are wonderful historical quarters with strong influences from both European societies and remnants of the great defensive structures used to guard this land. The most historically significant places being Colonia del Sacramento, the country’s oldest city, and the capital Montevideo – our first destinations as we discover Uruguay.
South American cities are renowned for their magnetic atmospheres, diversities and exotic cultures. One such city is Buenos Aires, the culture capital of the continent, the city that has it all; a rich history and architectural fabric, old world glamour, an abundance of food to try, music and tango in the streets, passion, romance, drama and so much more. Born and raised in this great city, Ale and Mariana so kindly accepted our request to Couchsurf with them in their apartment in one of the most eclectic neighbourhoods of them all, San Telmo. This visit was going to be different, we were excited to be experiencing, and learning what this city has to offer through those that know it best, the local residents.