SUNDAY 7 FEBRUARY – There is a glorious red sunrise beyond the bushy landscape. We were supposed to arrive at 7.30am but at 8.30am I see a sign to Parana 152km. A relief in some ways as at least we know we have not slept through our stop. The scrubby land turns to crop farming as we near the city. We are being slowed down by road repairs where many stretches are just mud made much worse by the recent rains, all the rivers are flooded. So much for our plan of breaking our journey into short legs – we could have been in Buenos Aires by now! Finally arrive at 10.30am and get a taxi to our hosts home. Mariela lives in a modern apartment and immediately invites us to shower before breakfast of coffee and toast. The perfect welcome. It is still pretty hot here but we set out to walk down to the Parana River to check out the Costanera (waterfront). The city has many trees and parks so it is fairly easy to find shade. The river is so high that all the waterfront café’s are submergedand the beaches completely gone – not that you would want to swim in the now muddy water anyway. We stop for lunch at a café where Steve is very happy to find a litre of beer at AR$8 (£1.35). After our 4-hour exploration we arrive back to both fall asleep until 6pm. Mariela cooks us a tasty steak meal in the evening and we chat to her English speaking daughter Gaby in Buenos Aires.
PARANA, HOSTPITALITY CLUB HOST MARIELA
MONDAY 8 FEBRUARY – We are up at 8am and the water is off. It seems the pump for the apartment block is broken, no problem for us as we are English and took our weekly shower last night! We walk to the city centre which is pleasant but not outstanding. Parana has a large Jewish community and 10 days ago they erected a new monument to the holocaust. Spend a lot of term researching where we will stay in Buenos Aires. In the evening Mariela takes escorts us to the dentist as I have a feeling I need some crowns replacing. It is a lady dentist and as we enter the surgery she leans forward for the traditional Argentine greeting of a kiss. She finds that I need a couple of crowns replacing but it would take a week so not an option here, no charge for the consultation though. We want to take Mariela out for a meal so she leads us to a nearby restaurant where we order a fish platter, A$36 (£6). The drinks come with a load of snacks and the fish platter feeds us all so very good value and tasty too.
PARANA 2, HOSPITALITY CLUB HOST MARIELA
TUESDAY 9 FEBRUARY – As we now have an onward plan we walk to the bus station to buy tickets, recommended here especially in the holiday season as most buses are full. I call in to the hairdressers to exchange my frizzy mop for a boy cut which is much more practical in this heat, A$30 (£5).
PARANAS 3, HOSPITALITY CLUB HOST MARIELA
WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY – Mariela walks us to the Fine Arts Museum, free, a pleasant stop for about 15 minutes. In the afternoon we take a taxi to the bus station, A$10 (£1.45). Our San Jose bus to towards Buenos Aires, A$95 (£16) will drop us in a small town so we can rendezvous with our host who lives in Tortuguitas. Whilst comfortable there is far less leg room on the bus. We head through the tunnel and across to Santa Fe and for the whole journey see bad floods on both sides of the roads with many shanty type houses submerged. This trendy continues for much of the journey with cattle wading waste high in water. The food consists of a triple decker sandwich with ham and cheese, cereal bar and sweet plus the ubiaquitous hot sweet black coffee on tap. Arriving in Pacheco our host Christian is waiting at the bus stop. He suggests we grab our bags and get into his car as quickly as possible as this is not a good area to linger in. On the way back to his home he tells us more about his life and family. Where they live land and property are cheap so it is inhabited by many poorer people so to protect themselves they have 3 german shepherds. They have a large piece of land with the main house and Christians studio where he has given us his double bed plus a swimming pool. His Dad Janos has a very interesting history, Russian grandparents, Hungarian parents, was born in Austria and now lives in Argentina. He cooks a BBQ with the traditional spicy sausage, on huge link about 1 metre long which is cooked whole then cut into pieces.
TORTUGUITAS, COUCHSURFING WITH CHRISTIAN