Archive for March, 2012

Since our not-wonderful experience with the judge, I have been having horrid dreams and angry fixations when I am awake.

The dream is a recurring one, and happens several times per night. We are on a boat, sailing somewhere mid-ocean, and things slowly start going wrong. Mechanical failures happen and the boat begins taking on water. Conditions are not bad on the sea, but the dire situation with a sinking boat is not good, and there is no help to be found. Despite all the technical and mechanical knowhow and raw brute force salty pirate stuff, the boat continues to fall apart and sink, literally dissolving in the water. Why didn’t we know the boat was water-soluble? Why were we not informed?

Somehow I run to shore and now I am in the neighborhood where I grew up. It is night and nobody is around, yet for some reason I am compelled to hide beneath the evergreen tree next to the Bradford’s house in the cul-de-sac near Mom’s place. As I am waiting under the tree for whatever-it-is to pass so I don’t need to hide, I notice spiderwebs. The silky funnel kind. Everywhere. Now I am not an arachnophobe when I am awake but for some reason these spider webs scare me. The more I look around, the more I see them, and it seems the more the tree is absolutely infested with these funnel web spider nests. Now spiders start to come out of them, and I have to cower beneath the tree to avoid getting spiders and webs on me. I start to crawl out from under the tree but more spiders and webs block the way. And as I turn, what was once a clear pathway out from under the tree is now blocked by more and more spiders. I am trapped. They are not attacking me but I need to get away from them. As I squirm through ever-tightening spider web gunk and bat spiders out of my way, I make my way more out from under the tree. Once I get out, I see that the entire lawn is covered with more of these spider nests, and they are spreading all over the neighborhood.

The past few days I have had this grinding obsession in my head to take revenge, but against who? Against what? You cannot fight an ideology. Discussing the situation with a few people, it has come to my opinion that the lack of initiative by bureaucrats, workers, and everyone in Uruguay in general, is spreading…

A friend of mine was in O’Hare airport when President Obama’s election victory was announced. Suddenly all the cops, security guards, gate agents, any worker of any kind who was black, stopped working. Sure, let them celebrate for a few minutes if they are happy, but the work stoppage wasn’t just a short celebratory hurrah. It lasted for a long time. The airport came to a grinding halt. What, now that you have a black president, you don’t have to work anymore? Off came the uniforms, on went the Obama shirts. Workplace etiquette was thrown out the window.

You’re going to get your cut from Obama’s Stash? Obama Money?

The same thing is happening here. Since Mujica, the Tupamaros, and the other Frentistas have been in power for 8 years, the people just don’t feel like they need to work. And, indeed, they don’t. ChefBob, who works at a local restaurant, earns a local salary. Because of his children, he is “entitled” to a certain amount of government benefits. If he doesn’t work, that is. ChefBob did the math, and figured out that he would make more money sucking the tit of the state than keeping his job. Fortunately he earns off-the-books tips, and the restaurant pays him more than his on-the-books salary in order for both to save on taxes. Most employees have similar arrangements. Uruguay runs on Mujica’s Stash. Mujica Money.

The rule of law has been eroded down and now judges rule by subjective means. The punishment for criminal acts has been reduced by Mujica and friends, and gee, who’da thunk it, crime is on a rampage. Uruguay has become a Banana Republic, as GermanBob is fond of saying.

And, if they are turning away creative, intelligent people with means, their fate is sealed. The next step is to hang the iron curtain. Uruguay already has that, in a way, with their xenophobic attitudes and self-imposed embargo on the rest of the world. No, they certainly do not like change or difference, but they are going to need it, and they are going to get it good and hard in a way they cannot control or forsee if they continue down the road they are going in.

Uruguay has made it abundantly clear to us that we cannot become citizens as productive, independent people.

We met with a judge today at the Electoral Court, which deals with citizenship requests. We were accompanied by a representative from our lawyer’s firm. He arrived late, with no papers from our file, did not brief us on what was going to happen, left us hanging high and dry at the interview, and then offered no suggestions or solutions after the unmitigated disaster which unfolded. I’ll get into all that in detail.

The meeting with the judge started off pleasant enough. She was smiling and friendly. She asked us a few questions about our income and what we do, which we answered honestly. It was never about amounts, only where it comes from and how it works. I receive mine from royalties on art and books, and residual website subscription revenues. WifeBob recently sold her business so she is an official bum until she figures out her next gig.

The fact that my income is globalized and not Uruguay-centric bothered the judge and pretty much disqualified us right there. She was further bothered that I sell to the whole world at large, that I am the boss, and that I don’t answer to anyone as an employee. “You don’t have a studio here in Uruguay? You don’t work for anyone here?” she asked. No, you see, I don’t need to. We have this thing called the Internet. And I’ve been pulling residual income from it since 1994. That was 18 years ago. This is 2012.

“You don’t have a job here in Uruguay?”

“No.” A Uruguayan job would net me $100 per week, which is less than the $500 per month amount you require of your foreign residents. Why would I take a HUGE pay cut and then break the requirements? People like me do not work for other people. Other people work for people like me. Where do you think jobs come from? Of course I am not saying this to her, or I’d have Vince and Vinny throwing me out on the sidewalk. But damn it would feel good.

“Well, some people are not as fortunate as you.” SHE actually says this. I swallow my fury and think: Then maybe they should try harder! I did. And here we are. The internet lets you do this sort of thing. Don’t you want wealth and intelligence in your country?

“Do you have a bank account here?” she asks. Yes. “Well, that won’t help.” Then why did you ask?

I say: “We have records of deposits, withdrawals, bank wires which had to originate here and be initiated personally.”

“No, that won’t help.” (which we would later find is total BS, because other offices who conduct these interviews have this specifically on their checklist of things to prove “habitual residency”)

I say: “We own property, which we have not rented because we have been living in it. We recently built a house. We have every receipt of our bills which I have paid for years.”

“Yes, but you can get anyone to do that for you. You don’t have to be here for that. People like you have the luxury of being able to get people to do things for you.” Yeah. Isn’t that what you are looking for? People to employ your entire culture as underlings? Make up your fucking mind.

Which reminds me that I have years of legal paperwork, all taken care of via power-of-attorney, for the mired disaster that was my attempt to import a motorcycle. It’s been locked up in an Aduanas warehouse for 2 years now. But that doesn’t count, because I was employing an attorney to deal with it in my stead because I had better things to do. Adding to the economy, while adding to the economy. That’s bad here, apparently. That paperwork won’t count either.

“I have a truck, and insurance, receipts for gas…”

“No.” As if I would buy a truck at twice the world market price in order to pay someone to burn fuel with it at $7 per gallon… in addition to tolls…

“We have BPS receipts for payment on rural land.” Nope, not good enough.

Then we go to the information that will trump anything: “We have immigration records and passport stamps that place us here.”

And then the kick to the nuts: Not good enough. WHAT?!?!?!

“You need to prove that you have been living here.” What? We have been. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars here, renovated houses, built new houses, I built a boat in my garage last winter…

“You should have paid taxes on your boat, then you would have a record,” she says. I about blew my fucking lid but I kept it swallowed down enough to not become redfaced and scary.

“So there is nothing we can do?” we ask, completely depressed and dejected.

“Have you been to the hospital?” she asks. No. We are in good health. “No insurance?” No. I have only had to go to the doctor once for a general checkup, done a few labs myself (because I’m smart and keep tabs on things) and paid all out-of-pocket.

Well, that won’t work for you either then.

“Well then what *can* we do?” we asked her, out of ideas.

“Join a club. Then come back in 3 years.”

…pardon me but what the f’ing FF FFFFFF? All this complete distrust in 100% verifiable legitimate records, and joining a club will trump it all? We can join a club and then never show up. What good is that?????

In the end, what went down is that because we have the ability to freely come and go, and the wealth to hire underlings to do our bidding, we cannot possibly prove in any way, shape, or form, that we really live here. Had we been pobrecitos sucking the state’s tit for welfare money, or minimum wage drones, we’d be in like flint.

Join a club. Fuck you. No, really. FUCK YOU.

So we left. Lawyer-boy offers no help and no solutions, looks me straight in the eye, and says:

“I think it is hopeless.”

Then has the gall to tell me, “Email me about what happened today and I’ll see if I can figure any other ways.” What? Me email you? If I have to keep tabs on my own shit, and work for YOU, then YOU need to be paying ME, bitch. How about YOU go do YOUR job, and find a way to fix this disaster.

I told him some very frank things, about the firm and its mishandling of things in the past. When we first applied for residency, our file was trashed because of a typo in the forms which they should have caught but didn’t, which held our file back, which made it take 18 months instead of 6. Then we were held back at the end while Migraciones tried to extort us for extra fees and “backtaxes” which weren’t on the agenda nor list of requirements when we applied.

Then as soon as we received our legal residency, I inquired SPECIFICALLY about this sort of thing (see Exhibit A)

THEN, had they been keeping track of our file, they SHOULD have contacted us 18 months ago when we turned out to be eligible (3 years from application of permanent residency) instead of the 3 years from receipt of legal residency which is the “other official answer”. And THEN they should have revisited this little gem below, and gotten our shit rolling so that we would already be 18 months toward getting our passport for the second fucking time, which would have made the whole situation slightly less painful.

Let me offer a key piece of evidence from the past…

Exhibit A:

30 April, 2009 (when we received our legal residency status)

Lawyer wrote:
So, when the time comes, we´ll review your situation with you, to see what elements you need to add, to prove “habitual residence” which is what the Constitution requires to grant citizenship.

I wrote:
This sounds somewhat scary– 3 to 4 years from now is no time to find out that we should have been saving some asinine slips of paper, should have made sure to get something registered, stamped, etc. I want to know NOW what I need to be doing NOW, in order to be able to prove my habitual residence when the time comes to do it, not to collect things at the last minute only to find out that I should have done it years ago. If they can be “added” to “prove habitual residence” then let’s bloody add them and start a paper trail that the gnocchis can go after with their precious rubber stamps.

Our goal is to become passport-holding citizens.

===end of Exhibit A.

If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is. I never received a response. Surprise surprise.

I’m twisting the huge fucking knife in my back.

Now I am fantasizing about selling everything here (to the Argies!) in order to fund the construction of an unstoppable death machine which I will steamroll through the capital, blasting it into a smoldering wasteland of rubble and corpses.

The final word: what we are left with here is that we are now more confused after going to the interview with the judge than before we arrived. We don’t know what they want, and it seems that they do not know either. What we DO know is that they do not want wealthy, independent, productive people with the means to make things happen.

So many times I would have thrown in the towel and gone back to greener pastures if it were not for that light at the end of the tunnel which was the second passport. I have thrown away opportunity after opportunity whiling away the time in this communist backwater battling bureaucrats when I could have been building even more businesses and employing even more people, adding even more value to the world and innovating and creating even more new technologies.

We have wasted 4 years of our life chasing a lie.

EMP

Posted: March 22, 2012 in Life
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A storm was blowing through this morning and, like many other mornings this week, its thunder woke me up. I like the sound of storms and the sound of the rain hitting the window, so I stayed in bed to listen to as I drifted back in and out of sleep. I was quite enjoying it until lightning struck one of the trees right next to the house. I saw the flash through my closed eyelids and the sound came instantly afterwards; it scared the hell out of me. I went out to check on things and find I have no internet; the EMP from the strike has fried our router.

Literally just yesterday we were talking with our neighbors, who complained that they have to replace their router every year for unknown reasons (now I know why), “Doesn’t that ever happen to you?”

“Uhm, no.”

Until now, anyways. Shit. Add a new router to the grocery list.

Every car and house alarm around the block was going off, and one house’s alarm continues to bleat and cackle over an hour later.

How wonderful the internet is

Posted: March 16, 2012 in Life
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I’ve been thinking about buying another boat. Of the models I have been keeping an eye on, one entered the market in Turkey. I was able to do this because of the internet. I was able to educate myself on the ins and outs of these boats, seek out and interview their owners past and present, and make an educated decision, because of the internet.

OK, now how much will it cost me to go out there and see it? I can find out, because of the internet.

It seems too expensive for a simple exploratory journey, says I; maybe there is another way.

There is! Or soon I shall find out.

I check Craigslist, and they indeed have a listing for Turkey. So I post an ad in the jobs section for someone to go out and look at the boat, take some detailed photos, maybe some video footage, and send it to me over the internet. The job ad is free.

I get about a dozen responses over the next few days, and I choose the best-sounding offer. I am able to translate the Turkish messages and make sense of them, because of the internet. The guy I choose speaks English, probably in some way assisted or at least improved by practice, because of  the internet. He has a friend who is an avid boater who knows what to look for and who can spot any problems with the boat. He communicates with said friend over the internet, and they arrange to go take a look together.

We email back and forth about more specific details, quickly and efficiently, and settle on a final price and expectations, in a very short timeframe, because of the internet.

I send him half the money up front, via PayPal, which happens instantly, thanks to the internet.

He checks the weather, on the internet, and schedules a good day to go.

He takes photos and video, sends me a summary of the initial findings, and starts uploading the files to a free file transfer service (wetransfer.com), thanks to the internet. Within a few hours, all the photos and video are sent from Turkey to Uruguay, all for free over the internet. I send him the other half of his payment, instantly, thanks to the internet. Business has been concluded and a friend has been made, all done across the world instantly. Thanks to the internet.

Not to mention all the other technologies that allowed this to take place: small inexpensive still and video cameras and personal computers.

Sometimes (well, often actually) I get down in the dumps about things but then little enlightening gems like this turn up to brighten my day.

If we could travel in time back to January, we could sit in our kitchen and watch one of our windows break itself. I am not sure if it was the temperature differences between inside and outside, or if it was the house settling, but regardless, the window cracked vertically from floor to ceiling of its own free will, making a sound so loud it woke us up.

We promptly called ArchitectBob, who knows all the contacts of the vendors and builders who did all the various things in our house, in order to either get the info from him or have him deal with it, as the house is less than a year old and still under warranty. ArchitectBob sends for WindowBob, who finally shows up about a month later on February 24th. Meanwhile the cracks in the glass expand so that there is about half a square meter of glass held precariously upright between two other broken sections, the cracks forming a sort of “island” which WifeBob and I fear will fall at an inopportune time and slash of any number of toes or feet of whoever is nearest. I put my money on WifeBob’s odds, but put tape across the crack in various places to minimize the future blood loss.

WindowBob inspects the cracks and finds a spot that I saw as well, which seems to be the epicenter of the crack. It’s a sort of mini-crater, and the concave part is facing us, the cratered part was formed on the outside of the glass. Now I am no expert but every glass ding I have seen in cars or houses where an impact occurs, the point of impact is tiny and the other side blows out or shows a craterlike shape in the cracks. If this was an impact, it happened before the window went in, and on the other side of the glass (it is a double pane, fortunately).

WindowBob’s goons take measurements of the window; I assume it is to prepare a replacement in an expedient fashion. I shall be proven incorrect. What boggles me is that WindowBob has no file from our original order just a few months ago when the house was constructed, nor one from the second window they had to replace, which they found was due to defective glass. The first window they had to replace was broken during installation. These are not small windows, they are floor-to-ceiling double panes. One should take care with them, and not suffer them to incompetence.

Regardless, WindowBob declares it is our fault and not covered under warranty, and then sends us a message 2 weeks later telling us what it will cost. Maybe he is tired of replacing windows that his gorillas install incorrectly.

“Fine, just do it,” says I, not caring, just wanting a new window in place as soon as possible so I do not have to undergo the drama of WifeBob’s inevitable amputation.

It is now the middle of March and we have yet to hear back from WindowBob. I have already sent him a couple of emails to make sure he got my original message to commence manufacture of the replacement. Concerned, I asked ArchitectBob the next time I saw him if he would “poner tu pie en los culos de los vidrieros” (put your foot in the glass man’s ass) to get some form of response. That was a few days ago.

This morning, different glass goons show up unannounced, in order to take measurements, a second (actually fourth, remember the file for the original installation, and the 2 other replaced windows) time. Just for dramatic license, I answer the door in nothing but a ratty old pair of shorts.  They take a look at the window and tell me that they don’t think they can install it due to the awkward wall angle. I admit it is a pain in the ass place to have to work, but honestly how did you get it there in the first place??? Having seen the other window replacements take place, I know full well how I would do it; maybe I will do it myself if they can bring me the goddamned glass. I tell them this, and demonstrate step-by-step how it might happen. They look at me like I am crazy.

We moved 12 tons of dirt by ourselves in a couple of days, bitches. Respect my authoritah!

Anyhow, they leave with no indication one way or another whether they will change the window or even supply me with the glass. It is now 2.5 months past the original call about the broken glass and we still have a guillotine waiting to drop into our kitchen floor.

It bears mentioning that these are top-quality German PVC windows made by Das Fenster. The windows were the single greatest expense in the construction of the house. One might think that a quality product such as this should only be sold by agents of a certain caliber, for fear that lack of support might dilute the value of the brand. One might think that Das Fenster would be angry that their products are being treated with gross incompetence and that will tarnish their name. Not in Uruguay. You bought it, tough shit if it doesn’t work for you.

The Mitsubishi Wanker Jr.

Posted: March 13, 2012 in Humor, Stupidity, Travel
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What an unfortunate name. It probably sounds like something cool to the Japanese, but down here in SouthAm, it means Wanker, as in, one who spanks their monkey. What’s worse, it’s Wanker Junior.

Not to be confused with the full-size Wanker model, which is simply called the Wanker.

The Mitsubishi Wanker Jr

A sarcastic MercoSur joke

Posted: March 12, 2012 in Humor
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I heard this from ExceptionalUruguayanBob:

The perfect MercoSur has…

the honesty of the Paraguayans,
the elegance of the Brazilians,
the happiness of the Uruguayans, and
the modesty of the Argentines.

Paraguay summary

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Travel
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We arrived in Paraguay carrying a dark and heavy opinion about it. Several of my friends bashed it and berated it and complained about how horrible it was, and how stupid and slow the people were. ExceptionalUruguayanBob relayed quite a few stories about the density of the people, how it was a disorganized hellhole. Some of his stories included details about how other people with which he did business, when finding out he was Uruguayan, congratulated his homeland on doing something the surrounding places did not: exterminating the indigenous population. GermanBob goes on and on about the retardedness of the people and how he wants to remain the last one of his group friends who have not been mugged at gunpoint in Paraguay.

During an analytical conversation over some rotgut booze (a horrible concoction of “El Abuelo” Argentine Sherry which ExFedBob had picked up because it was surprisingly cheap, and over-sugared Pulp brand Guarana to try and mask the lack of flavor) about how racist Uruguayans tend to be, we found some interesting things that correlated not only the Uruguayan perception of Paraguayans, but some other key pieces shifted and fell into place from previous experiences. The scales falling from my eyes, all the clues came to light, like watching the subtle flashbacks at the end of a thriller mystery movie when the protagonist completes the puzzle and suddenly I understood…

Flashback: I was in Orlando, Florida, helping the brother of ExceptionalUruguayanBob move into his college apartment. UruguayanMomBob was there too. Her comments about Orlando were harsh but I agreed 100%: “This town is so ugly. Every square inch of it is commercial.”

Yes, indeed, Mom, but this place is responsible for so many wonderful technological developments that you use in your everyday life, courtesy of Walt Disney, that your head would spin.

Eventually UruguayanMomBob found I was not offended by her comments and then really let it out. Each day was building and building in her and she couldn’t stand the place, couldn’t wait to leave. Interesting.

Flashback: About 18 months later, when BrotherBob was ¾ of his way through his 2-year accelerated degree at FullSail, he decided he could no longer stand it in Orlando, abandoned his almost-complete degree, and left for another school in Seattle (a hive of scum and villainy, built on the trampled bones of commerce which the locals all take advantage of while simultaneously declaring it to be evil).

Flashback: ExceptionalUruguayanBob describing how horrible Ciudad del Este was, because of all the people running about doing business.

Flashback: AnotherUruguayanBob described Ciudad del Este as “Hell, complete Hell.”

It all gels into place in one cohesive, solid realization:

Uruguayans are completely, utterly, shit-their-pants afraid of commerce.

No wonder they hate Paraguay. Paraguay has come out of a dictatorship and a mere 15 years later is booming. Uruguay has had a 10-year lead on them and now they are sinking into the muddy bog of socialist fascism. Uruguayans think they are sophisticated and special, and they hate to see a bunch of sweaty Mestizos, Asians, and other mixed breeds showing them up.

They have more things available, cheaper, than Uruguay. We found all of the items we had to previously smuggle in, in normal grocery stores: real maple syrup, clear gelatin, spices, whole vanilla beans, juniper berries, the list goes on and on. I should have bought that $330 Playstation. Here in Uruguay it costs $550, and that is the cheap price.

In one sentence, what is Paraguay? Paraguay is the most upwardly-mobile country I have yet visited, in the worst location in South America I have yet visited (Chile is next on the list, who knows, it may prove better still). Brazil has the best beaches, Uruguay has the best tranquilismo, Argentina has the best cosmopolitan vibe. But each of those places has major problems holding it back. Argentina is burning in the iron grip of the fascist Kirchner mafia. Brazil has too many diverse regions controlled by too few concentrated centers of power, and it seems fit to burst at the seams somewhere. Uruguay’s socialist bureaucracy guarantees a stranglehold on anything that dares to move.

Paraguay cares for none of that. It heads in its own direction. Sure it has some problems but none that are keeping anyone down or preventing them from taking their chance at making their way in the world. Yes, it’s a little bit backward, but the people know it, and they are playing an excellent game with the hand that they have been dealt.

===

Some other observations about Paraguay that I did not find a way to insert into other posts:

Nosepicking seems to be a national sport. In public, while driving, while standing on the street corner, everyone is drilling for oil.

Volleyball seems to be everywhere as well.

I see fat people. Lots more obese people here than in Uruguay. I assume it has to do with a much more bread-heavy diet, also native Americans tend to have more problems with obesity and diabetes.

LawyerBob explained to us how it is dealing with the Indios: They are very immature thinkers, and have no concept of the future. If you employ them you only get 3 days of work out of them per week. And you have to pay them daily or weekly, never monthly. Monday they cannot come into work because they are hung over from drinking too much on the weekend. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday they work. Friday they cannot work because of some religious holiday thing. Saturday and Sunday they are out getting drunk with their friends. If you pay them monthly, they will blow it all in a few days and then come crying back to you for more, because their family is starving. Hmm… sounds a lot like Uruguayos.

In Asuncion, every square inch that can be covered by commerce, is. The local poor sell handicrafts or fruit or vegetables, people hawk wares they got cheaply at Ciudad del Este, there are street vendors everywhere. In Uruguay it is pretty much outlawed except for special areas or unless you have a permit (which is hard to get unless you have a whole life to waste chasing after whatever desk jockey who issues it). In Uruguay, nobody wants to try because they are beaten down by both the government and their fellow man. At the airport in Asuncion, I had to send a pair of shoe-shine kids away twice, explaining that no, my hiking boots do not need to be polished because they are for work and are always dirty. Instead of being resentful, they smiled, wished us a “Buen viaje,” and left. The shoe-shine kids are learning the basics of business early– they probably make enough to keep their shoe polish supply from running out, and whatever is left over they probably spend on candy (which is what I would have done if I were that age). They will learn the concepts of time, money, and resource management at age 10. Uruguayans, if they were even able to move themselves to run around the airport to shine shoes, would have told me to fuck off because they deserved the work I was hoarding away from them. I have never seen an Uruguayo shoeshine kid. They won’t let their kids work.

Only in a few instances did we see people with their hand out wanting something for nothing. Most cases were people with deformities or crippling problems who could not work under normal circumstances. In this case, however, some of them still made the best of it and would be selling lottery tickets or trinkets or something which at least had value. Anywhere else, if someone wanted money, they were trying to sell you something. Except for the instance with the scumbag road cop. Contrast this to Uruguay where the indigent expect you to take care of them, hassling you for money while offering nothing in return, and then treating you with open resentment because you won’t give it to them.

Paraguay, final day

Posted: March 11, 2012 in Travel
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We left early in the morning to see the Itaipu dam. We were running a little later than I had hoped, but it turned out fine timewise and I am glad we decided to go.

Itaipu dam is massive. It provides for 91%+ of Paraguay’s electrical needs and they are working on the remaining few percent. It makes Paraguay completely energy-independent as far as electricity is concerned. And they are only using 10% of the dam’s capacity with a population of 6.5 million people. They are entitled to 50% of it because they split the construction with Brazil. That’s a lot of room to grow.

The tour started with a 30-minute video presentation about the statistics of the dam and the nature reserves, surrounding lakes, and a Guarani museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for any of these but we’ll have to check them out during a future trip. We liked Paraguay. We’ll definitely be back.

The rest of the tour consisted of a bus which takes you to a viewing overlook where you can see the whole dam and spillway. Unfortunately the water level was not overflowing so there was just a trickle coming down the spillway. Not the dramatic 300km/hour flume of deadly water that you see in the videos. There were some neat posters in the viewing deck which had diagrams, information about the dam and its workings, etc. in several languages. Then we got back on the bus and it drove through the lower part of the dam to the Brazil side, and then up over the top of the dam, then back to the visitor center. We didn’t get to see the guts, which was disappointing, but it was still a worthwhile tour. It was also free of charge, so therefore I should shut up and be grateful.

After the dam we sped back to Asuncion. Much less traffic on Saturday. No cops shook us down. They were present, but not nearly as numerous as the other day. Most of them were there at their checkpoints sitting in the shade and shooting the mierda with their friends.

We had maybe an hour left between the time we returned the rental car and when we had to leave for the airport, so I arranged for the rental car guys to take us there (we paid a fee for them to come get us from the hotel and take us to the rental center, and that fee included returning us to where we needed to go). No problem, they say. Good. We spent the next hour at the gas station cafe across the street eating nutritions meals like SuperPanchos and ice cream, and enjoying the air conditioning. When time came for us to go get our ride, we found that the rental car guys had bailed on us. Nice.

We called a taxi, said our goodbyes to NewBob and ExFedBob, and made it to the airport with no problems. The taxi driver talked politics with us (he brought it up!), and he seemed really positive. “Come to Paraguay, bring your friends,” he said, “There are so many things you can do here to make money!”

We’ll think about it. We really liked the place. Not sure I would want to live there, but it’s a great place for a playground, and cheap living. We arrived not wanting to like the place, our heads full of preconceptions, and we were very pleasantly surprised. It was kind of sad to leave. I’ll write up a detailed report soon summarizing my thoughts.

Ciudad del Este

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Travel
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We arrived in Ciudad del Este after a 5.5 hour drive in the car. The whole way is a 2-lane highway, paved fairly well, 300km from Asuncion to CdE. The top speed is 80km/h and there are cameras that take your car’s picture if it is speeding, or so the car rental agents say. We didn’t see any of said cameras, though, the whole way.

It took us about 1.5 hours to get out of Asuncion city limits. The traffic is chaos and we had to take a fairly thorough detour to avoid the construction that has torn up Boulevard España.

We got pulled over by a scumbag cop on the way out of town in one of the many shakedown stops they set up. “Your friends are not wearing seatbelts in the back seat. I will have to write you a ticket, and there will be multas (fines),” he says.

“How much is the fine?” I ask.

“190,000 Guarani.”

I look through my wallet and tell him, “I don’t have enough. What do you say to 50?”

“OK. Buen viaje,” as I slip him the bill. Equivalent about USD$11. I hope you use it to buy the bottle or rock or pill that blows your liver out, you waste of atmosphere. The rest of the trip the passengers must be bolted to the seats lest we run into any more scumbags. Fortunately we didn’t get bagged again but there were lots of “checkpoints” where the road cops were shaking down other people.

We arrived in CdE after a long tiring drive which involved going slow, speeding up sometimes, and staring a lot at the ass of whatever slow truck we could never quite get past. Traffic going towards Asuncion was busy. They really need to widen the road at some point in the near future especially if Paraguay’s economy keeps growing as it has been.

CdE is a crazy place. It looks like any border town. Run down shabby stuff next to new state-of-the-art stuff. Trash in the streets. Signs warning not to urinate in public. Lots of smoke in the air, probably from some of the massive fires we saw burning in the fields. Looks like it is the season to burn off underbrush. Everyone was doing it.

CdE has a special stink to it. Sort of a greasy spicy onion stink, the same kind that leaks through the pores on your skin after you have eaten a massive box of Burger King onion rings. Feces, often overpowering. Hot garbage and diesel fumes. Smoke and hints of what’s cookin’ wherever it wafts from. Ahhh, the smells of capitalism!

By night it is a quiet, sleepy, almost scary place that reminds me of scenes from zombie-populated video games. By day, however, it is buzzing and alive with all walks of life. People hawking their wares, coolies running carts laden with boxes of goods here and there. Traffic is complete chaos, as pedestrians and cars and buses and motorcycles and trucks full of cargo all compete for the same space.

One comment I read online said it was a place beyond belief, where you could see bootleg Gucci being sold on the sidewalk right outside the real Gucci store, and this was business as usual. It’s true. Kind of neat to see. Commerce! In South America!? Wow! Neat! They really *can* conduct business without getting an aneurism, spontaneously combusting, or being struck by lightning! This rings true throughout all of Paraguay so far as I have seen. These folks try much harder than Uruguayans, for sure, in all respects.

After a good night’s sleep, we started out the next morning to see Iguazu Falls. We were fearful of problems at the border, as my Brazil visa is expired and ExFedBob had none. I had read that sometimes the border cops are a pain in the ass, and sometimes they don’t care. Sometimes you can get through no problem in a tour bus or taxi. So they say. It’s supposed to be a 20-km free border zone for international tourism but as we all know, governments never quite follow their own rules and are very prone to shooting themselves in the foot.

Our fears turned out to be unfounded. The border cops could not have possibly cared less. Everyone was just driving through. I could have driven through a refrigerated van full of the corpses of my enemies. Hmmm…

Iguazu was beautiful and awe-inspiring as always. The last time we were here we were on the Argentine side. Having witnessed that, I had my doubts as to how the travel guides could substantiate the superiority of the Brazilian side, but now I agree. Brazil’s side has a place where you can stand on a catwalk literally right below one of the falls and be battered by the wind and mist and roaring water of nature’s raw power unleashed.

The Brazil side also has a larger, or at least more active, population of coati than the Argentine side. I spent much time explaining to WifeBob why we cannot take one home. No, you cannot pet it. Contact with wild creatures is how we end up with things like Ebola and the Bubonic Plague. Do you not remember the coati that mugged you for the sugar packet while you were mixing your coffee the last time? No, I disagree, I did not think it was cute.

After Iguazu we went shopping in CdE. Looking for specific things is an adventure. 100 people have what you want and every one of them has a different price. I myself was looking for a new Playstation 3 as my old one has many miles and is slowly giving up its ghost. Unfortunately here the price on PS3 consoles is still about $100 higher than I can find it in the ‘states, and a price I know Aduanas Uruguayos will have an issue with. So I pass.

We look for fuzzy chenille blankets which WifeBob has fallen in love with, but we cannot find any that don’t have flowers or animals or Buzz Lightyear or whatever tacky shit Asia didn’t want. No solid colors for you!

We walked through souk-like stores where things were simply piled up, because there was no more space for inventory. Touts walked through pointing to everything, as if we could not tell that this is a t-shirt, and this is pants, and yes, jackets here. Rug. You like rug? Nice rugs I have for you. You like daughter? She also for sale. 2 camels, I sell her to you. Good trade. You like.

It must be mentioned that these people are surviving here in this shitsplat trading post in the armpit of South America, and they do what needs to be done. They learn and speak 4 or 5 languages. They hustle. They work hard. They sell hard. And they don’t whine that they need more or deserve this or the Man is keeping them down. They know that hard work pays off and that if they sit on ass they go hungry. Ahh, capitalism! I love the smell of it!

All in all, however, I must admit that after I have spent 24+ hours in Ciudad del Este, I am a bit underwhelmed. I was hoping it would be better but it’s just not quite there yet. Something tells me that it is the way it is because folks know governments down here can turn on a dime and pull the rug out from under the people, so they toss up ramshackle shantymalls which can be abandoned on a moment’s notice and not severely impact the pocketbook. I am not regretting our trip out here, though. It is refreshing to see.