Published: July 4th 2012May 31st 2012
We boarded a bus from Puerto Iguazu to cross into Paraguay. To do this you must actually pass through Brazil briefly. It was the first country we have entered and exited (if only for about 15mins) without having to get stamps or stop at immigration. So yes, we were illegal for a little while. When we did arrive at the border city of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, I was immediately reminded of the border towns in Asia. If you remember, most of them had large shopping outlets or casinos and were basically only sprawling and in some way prosperous because of the border trade. The bustle at these border crossings is definitely one thing I will remember from the travels. They always make you feel on edge, there is for some reason a lack of trust of the locals who to be fair probably on the whole can be trusted, but the hassling is just off putting and in some way or another you will get ripped off. For us it was exchanging money! But with little or no option it just has to be done and it’s at these times that you just accept that it’s another few euros
gone to a “cambio” or “change” counter.
After getting all our stamps, we stood on the side of the street waiting on a bus to the station another opportunity was possibly upon us when a local approached us, speaking to John. Asking does he speak English. You see you have to understand, there are times when we have to put a guard up and at border towns we usually do. Turns out this local fella who speaks immaculate English has done a lot of travel to Europe and wanted to welcome us to the country. So I’m speaking away to him (John continues to pretend he doesn’t understand after blanking him) and he is telling us about his work as a translator and mediator for foreign investment and the like. A really nice chap who was nearly apologising for Paraguay’s lack of tourist infrastructure and asking did we need help. We had to quickly blow over the fact that John does speak English, sure he is just quiet! But it was nice to meet such a friendly guy in the sea of border craziness!
So the next hurdle was the bus station. Our Spanglish is just about getting
us by, we do not realise that the time is an hour behind in comparison to Argentina, we book a bus thinking it is leaving in a few minutes but no, it’s leaving in an hour. And in the rush of it all the bus is pretty crappy once we board it. No air con leads to the longest, sweatiest 5 hours of the bus journeys so far! We arrive in Asuncion as night falls to rush hour traffic and it’s clear that things are different here to Argentina and Chile. It’s definitely not as developed.
All the ups and downs of the trip here are worth it when we arrive in the cutest hostel yet. It is run by a Swedish guy and his Paraguayan girlfriend. Once we enter I’m in love with the place. A quirky little courtyard with pristine bathrooms and bedrooms surrounding the hammocks and lantern lit green centre. Heaven in a city!
That evening we head out to the local and most popular pub in the city for dinner and drinks. The bar is wedged; the vibe is good and kind of reminds me of home somehow. I think it was that there
were lots of levels and it just felt like everyone was having a great time. Immediately, we noticed how cheap it was here compared to Argentina. The drinks and food were a fraction of the price. Next step though, trying to order. There is no English here for sure! Drinks and food ordered we sit among the locals (hardly any other tourists here which is nice) taking it in and chatting. We wait an hour, no sign of food….. Damn it, don’t think my ordering worked. So I try again at the bar. Luckily there is someone at the bar who speaks English and he helps out. There was some confusion in the kitchen! Phew, not my Spanglish then so!
Wandering around Asuncion and I realised I liked it here in Paraguay. I don’t know if I’m getting to the stage where I really like when it’s more different from home or let’s say less developed. The city buses are gas guzzlers that you would hear three miles away and there are lots of them. The cars, vans and trucks were similar in vintage at times so it was a bit like stepping back in time. They certainly are
different from anything we have seen before. Modern is not the word to describe them anyway.
The pavements were cracked, uneven and basic. The plazas, palaces and tourist attractions were yes, similar to other places in SA but right behind the presidential palace and the modern building of the parliament was one of the most basic shanty town set ups we have seen. Tarpaulin strung together over wooden poles was the structure of people’s homes. I think it’s good to see that the parliament is looking out over its problems!
One of the main squares – Plaza de Los Heroes includes a building that houses coffins and ashes of fallen soldiers or political figures that are important in Paraguayan history. It was very quiet and eerie in there with armed guards on the door. Next to this was a little market with gifts galore of all sorts but also with open air tattoo parlours. It looked sore! I tried to get John to scrawl my name on him but he couldn’t be persuaded he he.
The artisan shops here were really impressive. Some of the wooden artworks, leather handbags, wooden cribs, statues, cloth wears really were the
nicest we have seen. I almost bought a really nice bag but my backpacker sense prevailed. I suppose the one thing we haven’t done from all our travels is buy local stuff. We just haven’t had the space and postage has proven to be more expensive than I thought. I hope when we get back we won’t regret it…… Memories and photos will have to do :D
That night we went for dinner in a restaurant that was caught in a time warp, a serious time warp. It was like a 1940s or 1950s place with green wooden walls, green table clothes, and dark wood everywhere. Unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy it totally cos I was sick (again, agh).
On our last full day, we took a trip to a local town called Aregua to see what village life is like here. After all we have been to city after city and sometimes that swallows up what the real life experience is in a country. If I was to say to you that the journey there and back was fun filled in itself - you can imagine but let’s just do a quick summary:
Ciara and John get
on gas guzzling bus, miss the stop by about 2 miles, try to ask about 6 or 7 locals/bus drivers about getting to Aregua in Spanglish, all say No to everything, get on another bus back in direction of original stop (after getting frustrated and annoyed with each other), get off bus, get on the correct bus for Aregua, pass out the exact road we were on where everyone said No to buses for Aregua, arrive just wrecked from the whole thing!
So after all that we arrived in the slow paced, ceramic and pottery capital of Paraguay. Streets lined with character ceramics, multi-coloured and gaudy. I really don’t know how they sell a lot of them! The town was so quiet and it was like a very very rural place in Ireland. There was no real centre but they had plazas spread out, an old train station, a relic of a palace and a beautiful church all next to a large lake. The roads are red, dusty and uneven here. The tourism office has no one who speaks English. The taxi drivers all have yellow cabs but line up to watch TV at their rank. But it was
a good reflection of what life in small town Paraguay was like!
We had lunch in a quiet little spot that served massive portions, check out the photo of a breaded chicken (known as milanesa here) I got. The restaurant was more like someone’s home where they used the patio to serve food. It was just us and the owner’s friends there so it was relaxed to say the least. Before we knew it, darkness and rain were approaching and we had to get onto the guzzlers again headed for the big city. It couldn’t be more different and it was only a few kilometres away.
The bus journeys home were a bit less stressful apart from when we had to hop on a second bus and we really weren’t sure where it went. The buses all have numbers (we knew we had to get 28 or 30) but apparently they have letters too which indicate slightly different routes. By the time we were on the bus going a totally different way to before we could only laugh! But it went close to the hostel so we jumped off (the buses do not stop to let you on
or off, they just slow down).
Our last morning in Asuncion was during “Black Friday” 1st
June. I think the shops here have tried to take on the Thanksgiving Black Friday and it seemed to work. There were queues around corners, fridges, cookers and the like being loaded onto trucks. The hostel owner was gone to buy mattresses. Basically everything was discounted between 20 and 70%. There was also a reopening of a plaza so there was live music, stalls and a crowd gathered near the hostel. It seems that the people on this continent do not need much of an excuse to have a party or celebration!
Our time in Paraguay has come to an end but I’m glad we spent the few days in the country because actually it brought a different side of the SA trip out!
There are more photos below