THREE CORNERS

Asunción, Paraguay. It was hard to imagine a determined group of Australians tramping through this unknown part of the world some thirty years before. It surely must have been a shock. Even now, it was a shock after enjoying the relative ease of travel in Argentina. Firstly, there was the unopposed President of Paraguay, Stroessner. Unopposed for some thirty years, smelt of burnt pork to me. The fact was simple .... oppose him in any way and you'd wind up providing yourself as nourishment for the piranhas. Walking the streets even presented oddities.

A battle-worn American girl who, at first, wanted a cigarette, then to seduce me and, finally, upon rejection, simply to straggle behind me. Following me wherever I went. A dodge and a dart and I lost her! There was the strange hum of the Guarani language, and its colouring of their "Español". It was extremely hot and humid and you could almost feel the encroaching jungle's presence.

At lines etched naturally into the map of South America were the intersection of the Paraná and Iguaçu Rivers, the divisions, the meeting corners of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. The "Foz do Iguaçu" were the extraordinary waterfalls that appeared in travel brochures, films and geography books. In real life and, in the middle of the wet season, they were the pounding of a million deep drums; surging all-powerful, muddy liquid which would perform to the onlooker by falling off ledges into crevices. Returning for the encore as a fine mist, which would catch the sunlight, and project part rainbows before you. It was the ultimate "son et lumière", sound and light show performed against a backdrop of jungle shapes and, for an audience, the unknown powers of Amazonia.

In three days I had travelled thirty hours by bus; border criss-crossing from Argentina/Paraguay/Brazil/Argentina and, finally, back to Brazil. I had seen Iguaçu from two countries. My border encounters had been less than pleasing, with contemptuous guards picking out misdemeanours like carrying Time magazine and its views of the Falklands. There was the clown who found my box of jewellery making apparatus and proceeded to mock-up the wearing of "my" earrings to amuse his friends. Finally, there was an incident where I was being told to go back and get a new visa for an hour's re-entry to Argentina, even though it clearly showed that I had twenty six days left on my visa stamp in my passport. On that occasion I used my, "I don't understand, I don't speak Spanish" repertoire, and just waited until he finally realised he was leaning on a brick wall.

The bus ride away from the falls was similar to leaving an open air rock concert. Deafened by the immediate and overpowering number of watts and the sound still audible five kilometres away. Then ten. They said that on a calm night you could hear the rumble up to thirty kilometres away. Who were "they" I thought to myself, and smiled! The sources of fact and fiction, of history, both past and present, were becoming important for me to understand. I was a traveller and it was my duty to question things, to understand from a practical and immediate base versus an historical or reported base. I thought a lot about what "they said". I had heard that during the years of Argentina's military junta that some thirty thousand people had disappeared. That only as little as two days' previously had they uncovered a huge mass grave. That even still the people couldn't speak out against it, all for fear of retribution. I thought how well hidden this "history" could be. Walking through the very chic and European heart of Buenas Aires, you could hardly imagine killings, tortures and people "disappearing". I remembered the problems I'd had trying to wear shorts. Searing heat, thirty-nine degrees, and people are hissing at me for wearing shorts. I'm asked to leave an ice cream palour because of knee-cap exposure; a policeman politely warns me "they" don't like it. But nobody can explain what it is they don't like, where the idea was born. In the end, I pacified myself by wondering why it was that so few business people wore shorts in Australia in summer. How men could still put on their coats and long pants on a century degree day in the middle of an Australian summer. An historical thing, perhaps? Tradition? What validity did I give tradition in that case? Take me to Brazil, give me the coast and beaches, implant me in Carnival.