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Published: March 23rd 2011
At the Northeastern tip of Argentina we had Brazil to the north and Paraguay to our east. Freedom of opportunity took us on a whim to Paraguay for the weekend. We exalted at the possibilities of travel, it's not everyday you get to choose between crossing a number of different borders. Unless, of course, you live in Switzerland.
Going to Paraguay for the weekend did involve, however, a twelve hour overnight bus journey from Buenos Aires. Cheap long distance buses were a thing of the past as we battled with our wallets to pay the £90 it took to get us both on board. The deal was made considerably sweeter when we were served beef stew followed by pudding on the journey. Brilliant! This was still the cheapest ticket we could buy. The meal was a nice touch but I'd rather pay Asian prices and bring a picnic. Travel in South America is going to be expensive.
Paraguay greeted us with a two hour passport palaver as we wrestled our bags painfully slowly along a huge queue. When we had got the stamps of approval it was then a made push for the bus to take you to town.
There certainly isn't any worries about overloading the buses in Paraguay and I was relieved when the bus finally closed it's doors to squeeze me in.
The city of Encarnacion that straddles the border of Argentina has a pleasant small town feel that belies it's reputation as the 'Capital de Carnaval'. A little lonely planet birdie had told us about the Carnaval celebrations that occur every weekend in February with more crowd involvement, drinking and importantly nakedness than Rio. An opportunity like this could not be missed.
Buenos Aires had been a pleasure dome of European architecture and relaxed bohemian streets. Now in degrading downtown Encarnacion we felt like we were back in Asia. Markets took up the pavements leaving one to walk in the gullies of rain surging streets that rippled over the potholes. The ability to bargain decreased when we know so little Spanish yet we were able to negotiate a good deal in a rather dour room. Having had it easy in Oceania for the last five months I relished the challenges that now greeted us.
Dealing now in Paraguayan Guaranies things were considerably cheaper. In fact at the border crossing we spoke to
a few Argentinians that were simply coming for the shopping bargains. We wandered the expansive city and found a more refined area in which Han could hardly retain herself amongst the multitude of Heladarias (ice cream parlours). The rain outside served as the catalyst for our desires. With beer served by the litre and ice cream served in kilogram pots we weren't stuck for what to do.
Pulling ourselves away from the delectable lures of town we took a day to roam around ruins of the old Jesuit Missions. We explored the crumbling beauty of what was the church and then all its out buildings. The Unesco World Heritage Site has little in the way of information but the imposing power of the Jesuits was plain to see.
Saturday came and the carnaval build up began. We got our tickets for the main event and sipped beer with the locals under a now blue sky. Buenos Aires had given us sumptuous steak and football for proper football fans but Paraguay certainly cut it too. The steak at Restaurant Terminal was extremely cheap at £2 and served as our eatery of choice. Wandering into the open restaurant at 5pm
on Saturday we were shocked to find the place full to the rafters. It was the big match. Olimpia vs Cerro Porteno, the two biggest teams in Paraguay. There was fanatical support from an even split of fans from both teams. We watched and drank beer like the locals as Olimpia won 2-1 and then marvelled at the crazy scenes that ensued. Music pumped from cars as impromptu street parties began with Olimpia fans singing and jumping. We went to our room, drank some wine and got ready for the Carnaval and an hour later the streets were still filled with ecstatic Olimpia fans. It was absolutely brilliant.
Having bought our tickets and then some snow spray, we were ready to enter the Sambodromo where we found our place amongst the rickety old stands that line the parade strip. At 9pm the stands were already almost full, the snow spray wars began and it all got brilliantly messy. The music pumped and the parades started, showcasing elaborate floats in a kaleidoscope of colours and amazingly dressed, or not dressed as it was, dancing women. The elegant carnaval dancers wore huge peacock feathers and variations on their backs and nothing
but small brazilian bikinis, as they shimmied down the long parade to rapturous applause from a very up for it crowd.
Beer flowed as freely as the floats before us and soon we were partying with the locals, sharing beers and our support for Olimpia.We also met some nice English guys with whom we delighted in this quite incredible experience. The parade just kept on going until 4am and so did we on to a club to continue the dancing and drinking. What a night!
The next day we paid for our enjoyment with a hangover to rival all others, but we had had a remarkable experience. It was impressive how much work must have gone into all the costumes and floats that kept on rolling. It was a special time to be in South America and Encarnacion. The 'Capital de Carnaval' had proved to be an intimate, friendly and most importantly fun city to enjoy it. Not a bad place to come for the weekend.
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