Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-

Pounding the Pavements of Paraguay

2007-11-16 to 2007-11-17

Pounding the Pavements of Paraguay

My camera broke way back in Coffee Bay in South Africa and I have been relying on all my new friends to send me pictures over the last few months waiting for it to get fixed. Well it got fixed under warranty but there`s no warranty against stupidity as they posted it to my old Aussie address under normal post and it got `lost.` So, now with the money returned to me it was time to go shopping and snapping again.

About an hour via Brazil is the small town of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, a town famous for being the shopping capital of Latin America. Its proximity to Brazil and Argentina, its poorer economy and a healthy dose of criminal backing has left it ideally placed for any kind of goods that you are looking for.

Myself, Ailish and Babs (Irish girls from Connemara) set off to get some bargains. Our first bargain was a 3 Pesos bus (US$1) for the one hour journey across the Argentina/Brazil border and straight into Paraguay without getting a stamp to acknowledge the two new countries on my trip. Cross border checking was again woefully inept in this part of the world.

The scene that greeted us can only be called chaotic. We had anticipated some big shopping arcades and some stalls but the entire town was a huge market. It was overwhelming but we needed to get amongst them and start bargaining. It was hard with limited Spanish but after a while the words started to come a little more easily and we were off! It was cutthroat stuff though, some guys banging their fists on the counter if we didn`t take their absolute lowest price right then when we just wanted to compare prices somewhere else.

The girls were looking for cameras and phones and from my standing point of knowing one colour in Spanish (negra which is black) by the end of the day I safely had 7 tucked away in my withering brain. “Do you think the red one of the pink one is nicer?” said Ailish, as a strange piercing pain started at the back of my eye!

Still the girls were real pros, haggling and giving as good as they got, the poor salesmen often looking to me for solace and sympathy which were both in short supply! Often the beleaguered salesmen would talk to me in Spanish, assuming from my basic speech that I was fluent. I let them rant on and then took a guess as to whether I should say `si ` or `no.` Some of the looks I was getting when I clearly chose wrong told me that I had probably turned down offers of additional free stuff or agreed to a sale and then promptly thanked them and left the store!

And in the midst of the madness, we found Mohamed from Lebanon! His English very good, was a marked improvement on nearly anyone else’s. He cleverly insisted on us going away and checking the other prices in the stores, confident that we would come back and we did. I had to smile when he told me not to use my credit card here because of the high instances of fraud, a brief throwback to my old career. I bought myself a touch screen camera for $250 that was quoted to me at $400 initially so I was delighted.

The girls had an uncanny peripheral vision thing happening and more than once I found myself talking to no-one as they had ducked into yet another shop behind me. But like all places, your Spanish really comes on when you are under the gun, quite literally in one case when I suggested to the security guard in a shop that his gun was a replica (like so many of the things on sale) and he forcefully showed me a bullet that he had in his pocket. I suppose I should have been glad that I wasn`t seeing a bullet being forcefully impressed upon my head at a rapid velocity.

The array of goods that were being sold was impressive. Chairs, knives, socks, helmets, blood pressure checking machines, tyres, black and decker hardware, pirate DVD`s, blow up dolls, razors, christmas trees, jewellery etc. I am sure I could have bought human organs if I had found the right store.

We went back to Mohammed to collect our gear and a quick last check of the merchandise, horror stories abounding the hostel of people who had returned with their boxes only to find a bar of soap inside instead of a camera! Hardly any comeback when you are a backpacker there for one day with hardly any Spanish.

But for a finish I was withered. Men are simply just not cut out for shopping, I can openly admit to a genetic deficiency in this area and I never intend to rectify it. I was mentally drained as well after speaking Spanish all day but gave myself a hearty pat on the back that it had come back to me. We ran down the street to catch our bus back to Argentina and watched the thousands of people who were walking across the border with their bags of goodies, all getting checked at customs.

I got another stamp entering Argentina and the girl behind the counter was in some distress trying to find a space to put it. I told her (in Spanish of course) that there was a little bit of space in the corner of page 14 and now I have to find another for when I head into Brazil in a few days time!

But the last two days have been amongst the most enjoyable on this trip, maybe, just maybe, things are looking up!!


Living La Vida Consi

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