I was lucky to find a travel companion in the form of my friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Jimmy. We were both looking to cut back on costs of transportation, and given Jimmy's location close to the Argentine boarder town of Formosa we decided that it would be a cooler and more cost efficient for us to cross the Paraguay River into Formosa from Alberdi located in the southwestern part of the country. Alberdi is located in the Paraguayan departamento (state) of Neembucu, which is considered one of the poorer departmentos in Paraguay. Unlike Alto Parana, in Eastern Paraguay where I live, Neembucu has very little infrastructure or large towns. Despite the fact that it shares a boarder to the North with departamento Central, the most populated department and home to the capital of Asuncion, Neembucu is remarkably isolated. Alberdi, the largest town in the northern part of Neembucu, is only 150 KM South of Asuncion, but takes over 4 hours by bus to arrive. This is primarily because almost immediately after you enter the departmento headed South from Asuncion the road becomes a white sandy dust bowl. To make the ride all the more exciting the older model, non-air conditioned buses that travels on this road motor as fast as they possibly can causing high amounts of dust inhalation for the passengers lucky enough to be on board. Once you get to the end of the line and get off in the sprawling metropolis of Alberdi the town comes off like something one would see in a old western movie except with more cement buildings in place of wooden ones. The existence of the town is dependent on commerce between itself and the Argentine city of Formosa across the river. I would even argue that if Formosa didn't exist that Alberdi would never have been founded. The testament to this is the fact that the town of Alberdi was named for the founder who was in fact Argentine. So it was on these sandy shores that our adventure into Argentina began.
|Customs Dock Alberdi|
It is easy to list the reasons, as I did early, as to why Argentina is wealthier than Paraguay. One could argue that Paraguayans are happier because they don't know what it is like in the rest of the world. This ignorance is bliss argument has a lot of validity, and I would venture to think that if Paraguay remained the way it is for the rest of eternity the people within would probably be happier than they would be in other more developed countries. Through my travels from Alberdi to Buenos Aires in a period of 24-hour I was able to see multiple stages of development that ran the spectrum from poorest of the poor to richest of the rich. It wasn't just that I saw that, but I lived it. I went from a wooden house in the middle of the Paraguayan country side to a luxury apartment in the center of a wealthy Argentine neighborhood. Personally, I loved the fact that I was able to take a hot shower, have air conditioning, and all the modern amenities imaginable, but I couldn't help by feel like something was missing from my trip to Buenos Aires that was being able to strike up a conversation with anyone and have them treat you like they have known you their whole lives. That is not to say I didn't have a wonderful time with my family, but after having lived a year in a place like Paraguay it sort of makes one reassess what are the most important things in one life that makes it fulfilling. To me the material possessions while awesome might not have the same value as they did a year ago, and all it took was a week away in a more developed place for me to have that realization.