Published: January 20th 2011October 4th 2009
After our different and remote boarder crossing from Brasil we failed to see any immigration on the Paraguayan side before we boarded our bus straight onto the first major town in Paraguay, Vallemi. The bus was really hot but the scenery was really amazing. We were in the middle of the Paraguayan Chaco (in Brasil it’s the Pantanal). After sweating the whole way we finally arrived in Vallemi. From here we would be able to catch an onward connection to Concepcion. We were dropped off by the bus at the house/office of the bus company to Concepcion. We had been told to be very careful in Paraguay, the country is the second poorest in South America and crime is rife. By now we had heard this about every neighbouring country on this continent so it was no surprise to be greeted by a bunch of friendly, helpful, unpretentious people! We hung around the garden of the house waiting for the bus to depart while playing with the resident animals.
By the time of our 1300 departure the bus was completely roasting. We continued our journey south through the Chaco. Passing tiny primitive villages and untouched, prime scrub. I thought ‘this was
the place to visit the Pantanal!’ Being so hot the drivers would wander continuously up and down the bus pouring water for the passengers to drink. We stopped a couple of times in the Chaco to pick up/drop off passengers in the intimate villages and with the landscapes forever changing, it was a really interesting journey. As the heat of the day evaporated we found ourselves with one last stop in a more sizable village. We got ourselves a couple of drinks and watched a local football game before we were summonsed back to the bus for the remainder of the journey.
On arrival in Concepcion we decided to continue straight onto to the countries capital, Asuncion. We took the opportunity between buses to see a little bit of Concepcion. It was quite primitive, which didn’t come as a surprise but the place oozed character. It was a mix of a side of modern amenities come a side of mud streets! It also wasn’t hard to spot a horse and cart. Concepcion had a nice feel about it. We ended spending most of our time at the terminal waiting for our bus which wasn’t a bad thing as there
is a lot of life in South America’s terminals! We perched ourselves on stools at a terminal side eatery and well, ate!! Good food but more importantly for us, a million times cheaper than Brasil! We people watched and talked to the locals milling around. With the heat of the day gone we got on a bus with air conditioning, typical!
On arrival in the capital (late) we found a ridiculously cheap hotel just opposite the terminal, in a neighbourhood you wouldn’t really want to be wandering around at night.
We took the opportunity to have a look around the nation’s capital but first we would have to sort out a small problem, we were illegals. We headed straight for the immigration office where we were sent straight to the top floor and the Secretary Generals office. I had a bad feeling about this, rightly backed up by the Lonely Planet, which recommends under all circumstances to have your papers in order. After a grilling by one of the henchmen we were refused a visa. So what happens now - extradition surely! Something which isn’t really one of my aims. Basically we couldn’t be issued a visa because 1)
we weren’t stamped out of Brasil 2) we weren’t stamped into Paraguay (self explanatory really) and 3) we don’t have the bus tickets to prove when and where we entered. Essentially we are refused entry because he doesn’t know where and when we arrived. The extraction thoughts were eased when he started to talk about a fine. But he still won’t issue us with a visa - saying that it’s the job of the boarder and not his.
At this point we now know we aren’t going to get a visa and that we must leave to pay a fine and then re-enter. Or is that the case? Of course not! As we asked how long we have to leave and pay the fine he just replied with ‘one week, two, a month or three, it’s up to you’! All a complete waste of time! We were allowed on our merry way and were left scratching our heads…..
Asuncion is an amazing day trip. Full of sights that can be seen at a leisurely pace. This city, like the rest of the country has a reputation. Trouble is it’s the wrong reputation.
From the edges of the Rio Paraguay
there are colonial splendours housing the government and Plazas containing war memorials and a welded statue of a former dictator which was blown up - don’t mess with the people! Wide open spaces and other colonial gems which have been turned into museums mainly to celebrate the liberation of this fine country and other museums to commemorate the dead from Paraguay’s war torn history. Near the river is where Asuncion shows its other less affluent side. There are mini slums on the banks of the Rio Paraguay and as I looked out from a balcony next to parliament I could see how deprived these communities are. Far worse than the favela’s of Brasil, I watched as young children played with the rubbish.
As I enjoyed a park bench in one of Asuncion’s many parks I watched the relaxed residents and saw the mode of transport for the poor - the horse and cart. It’s a surreal sight when you’re in a capital city, especially when it has the wealth of Asuncion. I continued through the cities many different faces to Asuncion’s finest building and it’s premier monument to its troubled past. This mausoleum is dedicated to the countries war hero’s
who fort to liberate and who fort to ensure this country remained an independent nation - Panteon de los Heroes. A stunning shrine, where some of Paraguay’s greats are laid to rest. I spent quite a while admiring this place. It features high on my list of the continents top architectural wonders.
As its Paraguay and as its cheap we are able to go all out and enjoy amazing local food at a top local restaurant! Bar San Roque.
We were up early and made our way over to Cuidad del Este. It was a shame not to have more time in Asuncion but time isn’t one thing we have in our pockets. We came here to mainly to see the Itaipu dam, the boarder market and to get back into Argentina. So firstly the dam, set in Itaipu it is the worlds second biggest dam. The free guided tour and information video/exhibit is superb. The dam is a project which produces 80% of Paraguay’s electricity and 25% of Brasil’s (it’s on the boarder). Impressive figures. We were taken to the colossal structure to see it for ourselves. Although the weather was appalling it was hard not to be
impressed by this magnificent engineering achievement. As with all these ‘strides forward’ and especially since this is South America, advancements come at a cost. The lake resulting from the project covers a whopping 1350sq km’s and is 220m deep. It resulted in the loss of communities, habitat, wildlife, sub-tropical rain forest and a set of waterfalls supposedly more impressive than those of Iguazu (where we will visit next). The high cost of electricity.
Back in Cuidad del Este we were looking forward to see one of Paraguay’s famed boarder town where you can buy anything for a nock down price. The market like Main Street wasn’t as frantic as we thought it would be. It was too late and it seemed the street had shut up for the night. A shame as you could smell the hussel and bussel of the day just gone. Every shop impressively advertises its domain in Piccadilly Circus style advertising.
We left for Argentina set for Puerto Iguazu, home to the mighty Cataratas del Iguazú.
This wouldn’t be our only visit to Paraguay. We had a planed return to the southern part of the country after we had visited Iguazu. We of course
had to deal with immigration on the way out. Would it be simple? Would it be smooth? Well we decided to take a taxi over the boarder, instructed the driver not to stop at Paraguayan immigration, continue to Brasilian immigration (it’s necessary to go via Brasil to get to Argentina) to get our exit stamps and then onto Argentinean immigration to enter the country. He agreed, asked no questions and neither did the boarder police!
One thing I had already learnt that is completely against what 99% of people say about Paraguay - there’s nothing there and it’s dangerous. Well to the contrary Paraguay is a traveller’s haven, off the beaten track, full of charm, character, beauty, modernity / permittivity and home to diverse areas. The locals are also fantastic, friendly, helpful and radiant people! Just don’t believe the rest! Full Paraguay Photos on Flickr Full Ascunion Photos on Flickr Full Itapu Dam Photos on Flickr
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