Landing safely on the tarmac at Toronto Airport in Canada, we breathed a big sigh of relief. We had made it to the western world, no injuries, nothing lost, our bodies and bags intact. Finally we could drop our guard, turn off our radars that were keeping us alert to danger and thieves constantly during the 248 days we spent travelling through South America. Not only were we excited to be catching up with Treeny’s excitable MammaLou , her wonderful grandad Brian (Pops), and his adorable partner Annie, we were thrilled at the prospect of eating some normal food, no more rice and beans, hurrah! Canada is a ginormous and diverse country requiring months of travel to grasp it, instead with our two weeks we concentrated our time in the state where it all happens, Ontario, home to Pops and Annie in Prince Edward County, the countries capital Ottawa, the state capital of Toronto and the mightiest waterfall in North America, Niagara Falls.
As a land locked country Paraguay certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of water. Lying to the north-east of the country, and shared with Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal. Dissecting Paraguay in half is the immense Paraguay River, the great drainage system of the Pantanal which empties its waters thousands of kilometres away in the Atlantic Ocean. The Rio Paragauy is the lifeblood of this isolated region of northern Paraguay, acting as the primary source of transportation for people, animals, food and goods to the communities spread along the river banks. To experience this alternative way of life we jumped onboard an old, very slow, rickety river boat called the ‘Aquidaban’, the only commercial trade and passenger boat which traverses these remote waters, to visit a small community called Fuerte Olimpo. The days ahead would require patience and a cool head in an otherwise steaming hot environment – a challenge of our resolve to travel like locals.
The biggest, most colourful party on the planet, would have to be the world renowned Rio Carnaval in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. What many people don’t realise is that this month long festival is in fact celebrated throughout South America in varying forms of colour, music, parades, and racy costumes. Rio may know how to do it best, but the tiny city of Encarnacion in Paraguay certainly gives it a good shot. We knew we weren’t going to make it to Rio in time and discovered there was a smaller version of the event in Paraguay, which is identical in every way only with 5% of the immense crowds that swamp Rio, and at 5% of the price – this smaller event seemed far more appealing. The Carnaval, for Treeny in particular, was one event in South America we couldn’t miss, we were excited to be heading to Encarnacion without the masses to experience the event somewhere a little different.
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.