LAST RESORT Clorinda, Argentina

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Most portenos - swaggering, self-assured residents of Buenos Aires - have not even heard of Clorinda. The port city they inhabit has more energy in a single alleyway than this capital of anaesthesia can muster along the entire length of its main street. The common threads linking the two settlements are a currency (the surprisingly robust New Peso), a language and a preoccupation with soccer. But Buenos Aires is not Argentina. I have seen the real Argentina, and it was having an afternoon nap.

Distance signs that run to four figures, whether in miles or kilometres, always make me nervous. There are plenty on the highway that strikes due north from Buenos Aires - at least it tries to go due north, but gets diverted around Uruguay and the marshy terrain that characterises the river region of Argentina. Find a porteno who knows of Clorinda and therefore can direct you to the correct bus station in Buenos Aires, and you could be passing the 1,100km marker that afternoon. The journey to Clorinda takes 24 hours, and terminates at the back end of a very large beyond.

Don't be misled by the modernity that awaits when you awake at Clorinda bus station. The town's only acknowledgement of the 20th century is the brash new terminus and the adjoining hotel. It sees few tourists; you don't end up in Clorinda by mistake, unless it is a particularly big one. Mine was to want to cross into Paraguay, shortly after the Day of Assertion of Argentinian Rights over the Malvinas. Travellers whispered about British passports being frowned upon, even so long after the end of the South Atlantic conflict. The land frontier did not look like a good bet.

While everyone apart from the waiter took a siesta, I sipped coffee and fretted. The map showed a ferry route across the Paraguay River to the capital, Asuncion, avoided the main road frontier. A bus carved through the scrub to Puerto Pilcomaya. This is not a port to rival Buenos Aires. One of its two boats lay half-submerged, having sunk at about the time Argentina last won the World Cup. The other had a handful of prospective passengers, a chain-smoking and wheezing engineer, and a fare structure entirely dependent on how desperate the passengers were. Several lunches- worth of New Pesos confirmed my anxiety to cross before dark. The engine and its minder spluttered a bit, then eased into a symbiotic chug across the river to Paraguay.

My departure was never recorded. The bureaucrats in Buenos Aires probably think I am still in Argentina. Yet as long as I am not overstaying on their patch, they probably don't mind.

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