Sunday, 21 November 2010

On the forecourt of the petrol station

A familiar feature of the gas station - a dispenser for
agua caliente, or hot water for the mate termos
Also very suitable for the coffee fix.

New country, new environment, new currency.  We need to find an ATM, a hole in the wall.  The cajero automatico will never be open to the street but in a glass cabin sometimes with an armed guard sitting in the corner.  The tourist officer, who shares an office with immigration and passport control on the Brazilian: Paraguayan border, has recommended the Esso gas station, on the grounds that it’s on the main through road; on a roundabout, so should be easy to find.  It is easy to locate, it’s on the roundabout; only on the wrong side for us.  New environment: how do Paraguayan roundabouts work?  Of course they work, everybody does their own thing, in their own way, all with respect.  The motos might aim for you and have you in their trigger sights, but they won’t actually hit you.  We plunge into the rotunda and get spat out, unscarred thee exits later.

The streetscene outside the immigration/tourist info office
in Ciudad del Este. Paraguay
The bean counter goes off to interview the money machine and try to extract a few million guaranis.  I am left to guard.  It’s then that I notice the two men standing at the corner, beside the pay desk.  Both have kahki coveralls, kepi hats, heavy leather belts, and shield shaped arm badges.  Uniforms of quasi militaristic regalia.  Both are holding what looks like the business end of a Karacher high pressure water washer.  Second glance confirms that the gun that’s attached to the tap is waiting to wash windscreens.  The other has shotgun cartridges bandoliered around his belt, he then turns to expose the night stick and hand gun.

We’ve arrived in Ciudad del Este, the hub of Paraguayan mercantile enterprise and counterfeit central.  I’ve already been offered Titanic 11, sunglasses, lotto tickets all whist being stamped into the country. It’s a local election Sunday, so most of the major emporia of electronica are closed.  Such that the only people around are the security guards outside the jewellers, the pharmacies, the credit unions and the petrol station.
It makes them very stark and very noticeable.  Security is big business.

The bean counter survives our latest encounter with an ATM,  returns with a fistful of new currency.