Posted by: Jena Davison | November 22, 2009

Moving North…to Tucuman

Eeenie Meenie Minie Moe. That is what my life has been reduced to lately. Part of the beauty of traveling solo is the extreme flexibility I have with where I want to go and when. But, it also means I have to make all of the decisions, and often at a moment´s notice. This became particularly apparent yesterday.

I was planning on heading through Paraguay after Iguazu Falls so I could visit two of my Paraguayan friends who live in Asuncion. I was so excited to see where they come from and to meet their families. Iguazu Falls is less than an hour from the Paraguayan border and I was told I would be able to take a quick 4-6 hour bus onward to Asuncion, the capital, from Cuidad del Este, a border town. Quick and easy, or so I thought. I have come to learn that nothing is easy in South America, from boiling water for pasta, which takes upward of twenty minutes most nights, to finding a legitimate cab that won´t rip you off or take you on some circuitous route.

Yesterday morning, I was all ready and set to hop on the city bus to Cuidad del Este when for some reason, I decided to ask the guy who worked at the hostel front desk whether or not I needed a visa to Paraguay. I thought not, and if so, figured I could get one at the border pretty much hassle-free. I thought wrong. U.S. citizens do need visas to Paraguay, and they must be obtained in advance. So, I went on a two-hour journey trying to find the Paraguayan consulate in Puerto Iguazu. I was pointed in opposing directions four different times, until I finally arrived there, dripping sweat and with a look of hopelessness upon my face. The ticket vendors at the bus station thought I did not need a visa, but I was not going to risk going to the border only to be turned away, and be left in a potentially sketchy situation. I talked with the guy at the consulate and quickly found out the truth.

Not only did I need a visa, but they do not issue them at the consulate in Puerto Iguazu. He told me I would have to go to Foz Iguazu, Brazil, the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, in order to get one. I told him how I did not have a visa to Brazil so that would not be an option. He basically shrugged his shoulders, implying I was more or less screwed. After I put forth some different options, which were all shot down, I figured out the only viable way to get a visa to Paraguay from Puerto Iguazu would be to take a bus to Posadas, Argentina, where I could find the Paraguayan consulate and apply for a visa. I would have to get some documents in order, like make copies of my passport and credit card, get passport photos taken and obtain an onward ticket out of Paraguay, before I could apply. The visa would also cost around $75. Then I would have to take a six-hour bus from Posadas to Asuncion. Since I was only planning on staying in Asuncion for three or four nights, I ruled out this option, as it would take way too much time, effort, and money for such a short stay. I was quickly saddened by the fact that I would not be able to visit Paraguay on this trip.

My next task was then to figure out where to go next. I wanted to get to heck out of Puerto Iguazu as fast as possible. The sweltering heat there and my frustrating experience with not being able to obtain a visa there left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I headed back to the train station and asked around for bus schedules and prices to some cities in northern Argentina. I knew one thing, I wanted to go north. I´ve spent too much time procrastinating around Buenos Aires and I need to inching my way up to Ecuador already because there is so incredibly much to see and do on the way. So, in the bus station, I made an impulse decision. The bus to Tucuman, Argentina was the only bus leaving that night with available seats (though only semi-camas, or half beds were available), so I decided to book a ticket and be done with it. The bus ride ended up being twenty-two hours long. Luckily, the seat next to mine was empty so I could spread out a bit more and sleep a little more restfully.

I am now in Tucuman. I arrived less than three hours ago, but am feeling good with my decision. I don´t know much about the city at all except that it is in northern Argentina and is the fifth biggest city in Argentina. No expectations are good expectations, I suppose. Observing the city from the short cab ride from the bus station to the hostel I am staying at, called Tucuman Hostel, it already feels more Latin American than cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. I am looking forward to exploring it over the next day or two, until I decide where I want to go next.

So here´s a lesson to you all: visa situations can be more complicated than you think. Don´t assume you don´t need one or can just get one at the border. U.S. citizens need visas into some countries in South America, and they are pretty costly. This is not true of Israelis, Canadians, or many Europeans, for instance, who don´t need any visas or can obtain them at a quarter of the cost. A lot of the visa regulations and prices are in place merely because the United States has similar regulations and prices in place for citizens of those countries. However, I still don´t think it´s fair. I am not my government, and I have no say in those policies.

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