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November 23rd 2011
Published: November 30th 2011
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Hello all!

This time an update from Encarnacion, Paraguay (Now in Buenos Aires, Argentina), where the people are friendly, Guarani is the shared first language with Spanish, Terere is commonly drunk, horse-and-wagons roam the streets in tiny villages, things are generally cheap, and bribes can be necessary when you´re in the country illegally. Please, walk with me as I explain...

I finished my last entry in Porto Murtinho, where I planned to take the boat. Locals told me the boat was to leave on saturday sometime between 6 and 7 in the morning, but that it would be good to get there sometime before in case it arrived early. Accordingly, I got up at 4, took the boat to the Paraguayan side of the river, and sat waiting. As dawn approached about an hour later, a person entered the periphery of my vision. Another traveler. Surprised to encounter another backpacker in the middle of nowhere, waiting to take some obscure boat down to paraguay, I also discovered that he was Dutch, from Groningen. After sharing some stories about our travels we appeared to have done a relatively similar trip through Brazil, and that we had similar ideas about Paraguay since we were both planning to end up at Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. As a result we decided to explore Paraguay together before going our own respective ways. Anyhow, his information on the boat appeared to be different from mine. According to his sources the boat would arrive between 7 and 9 in the morning. Either way we had to wait, because if we missed the boat the next one wouldn´t be until a week later. Hours passed, and before we knew it the scorching sun was high up above, forcing us take shelter under the shade of a tree. Each time we asked locals when the boat was coming they would reply with, "in an hour." Finally at 1 in the afternoon our boat arrived. Happy that it came at all we entered the boat. The deck was filled with goods, pigs, and other luggage. The bottom floor of the cabin was filled with people selling cookies, fruits and other necessities, whereas the top floor was where most passengers sat or slept. There were a few shabby, hole-filled hammocks where some were dozing, but most were already reserved for others. I passed the time looking at the surrounding scenery, reading my book and talking to locals. Everybody seemed friendly, but I couldn´t really appreciate their disregard for the environment. They would just throw trash out the window, and when we asked them why they did it and explained that it was bad for the environment, they just shrugged it off. I suppose they´ve never learned about the harm it can cause. During the night it was a free-for-all for who would get the benches to sleep on. Most hammocks were already filled and if you didn´t get a bench you slept on the floor. Fortunately Johan and I were early and we claimed our benches, though we really had to scrunch up to create space for others. After a rainy and uncomfortable night it was only a matter of a few hours until we reached Concepcion. Although the trip was as basic as it could have been, the food was really tasty and it was an overall interesting experience; it seemed strange that this was the only way for some people to get to and from their hometown. On arrival we were greeted by many a horse and cart, apparently their form of a taxi, though we were happy to stretch our legs and walk to a hostel.

Finally Paraguay - an interesting place. It used to be one of the most affluent countries in South America until it waged wars with 3 countries at once. To make a long story short, when Brazil invaded Uruguay Paraguay vowed to help them out. Argentina wouldn´t let them through, igniting another war with them. Finally, when Brazil conquered Uruguay, they also turned on Paraguay. I´m not entirely sure about all the details, but at some point Paraguay´s forces got so low that they sent women and children to the battlefield with moustaches painted on their faces masquerading as men. By the end there was no male population left and Paraguay fell behind in almost every way. Now the population is growing slowly but surely, yet being a country that is 10 times bigger than the Netherlands it counts just over 6 million inhabitants, a third of the Dutch population.

So we were in Concepcion, a small city, or really more like a large village. We walked around and explored the markets that were mainly abandoned because of the pooring rain. Water covered the streets creating the illusion that the city was filled with tiny lakes. I suppose they just wait for the water to evaporate. Though the city was cute, and the food was tasty, there was not much to see or do, so we stayed only an extra day before heading down to Santa Rosa del Aguaray. Upon arrival we asked for the next bus to Laguna Blanca, our true destination in that area. It was to leave at 5 and 7 in the evening. While waiting we went to a small restaurant where they served barbecued chicken and manioc, a type of yam. Here we met two Americans, one who was working for the peace-corps in a village nearby, and the other was visiting. We exchanged stories and they explained to us what Terere is, and the etiquette for drinking it.

How to drink Terere

Terere is a type of tea blend. They fill a Guampa (cup) with the tea, place a Bombilla (metal straw that works as a filter) in the Guampa, add iced water and drink. A number of rules must be met when drinking with others:

1) Don´t touch the metal straw with you teeth

2) Drink all the water in one go

3) Pass the cup back to the person pouring the water, he will pass the full cup to the next person

4) It is polite to add people to the Terere circle when they enter the group, whether they be known or not (not very hygienic, I know)

5) When you say "thank you", it means you don´t want to be included anymore.

Just before 5 we went back to the busstation to look out for our bus. Around 6 we asked if the bus was still coming, to which the answer was no. No more buses to Laguna Blanca that evening. This kind of uncertainty started to become quite common in Paraguay, confirming fellow travelers´ stories. We crashed in Santa Rosa to catch the bus the following day.

Around 13:30 we arrived at the front gate of Laguna Blanca. We had to walk an additional 4 Km to arrive at the actual resort. The lagoon was beautiful with white sandy beaches surrounded by nature under clear-blue sky. Although we originally planned to stay only that day we decided that it would be nice to stay an extra day just to relax. We swam, walked around the nature, and made a fire to cook some food that we bought in the city. The second day was more of the same, and we rented horses to go riding. We didn´t even need a guide! We just got the horses and could do whatever, and go wherever we wanted.

On the third day we chose to go down to Asuncion, so while waiting for the bus a friendly lady across from the street gaves us two chairs to sit on in the shade. When the bus came we thought it would just go back to Santa Rosa, but we appeared to be lucky and it was going all the way to our destination. The bus was shabby, but we were comfortable enough and the lack of airconditioning was strangely refreshing; they usually blast the airco creating a near-arctic climate. We thought the drive would be about 3 hours. Unfortunately it was more like 7, the bus stopped in arbitrary places - wherever a person wanted to get in or out. After about 2 hours we stopped and two policemen entered the vehicle. They started to check people´s IDs. At this point Johan and I remember that... oh no, we didn´t get our entry stamps in Concepcion. We arrived in Concepcion on Sunday, so all official buildings were closed, and the day after we simply forgot. They looked at our passports and realized something wasn´t right. We had to follow them out of the bus and they told us we needed an entry stamp. We made up a story about going to get one in Asuncion, but it wasn´t good enough for them. After trying to communicate in my best Spanish I understood that the guy said we had to pay. I understood what he really meant - he wanted a bribe. He said we needed to be 200.000 Guarani each, which is about 40 euros each. I only had 70.000 on me, and Johan about 5000. I put the money on the table saying that it was all I had. The two policemen were discussing this and finally asked if we had phones on us. I showed him my phone, but fortunately he didn´t seem to interested in it. I guess he would´ve preferred an i-phone or something. Finally they let us go, so we got back into the bus and drove on. Not half an hour later two more policemen entered the bus. damn... we didn´t have any more money for bribery, but luckily they didn´t check our passports! phew!

Eventually we arrived in Asuncion and met up with our couch surf host, Chalo. He brought us back to his place where we had some beers and got to know each other. He seemed a really nice guy, very open and friendly. The next day Johan and I walked around the center while Chalo worked. Asuncion is a very relaxed yet proper city, which is unexpected if you´ve seen the rest of the country. Tall buildings frame the skyline, University students walk the streets and the center contains all the types of shops you´d expect in european cities. In the afternoon we had lunch with Chalo, after which we went to a nearby village called Aregua. There´s a large church surrounded by colonial style houses. The streets were filled with artisan markets where they were selling christmas decorations. Not too far down is a big lake where a lot of the locals hang out. Though people were swimming it was not recommended as a result of pollution. After meeting one of Chalo´s friends we headed back to Asuncion. The next day was pretty uneventful - we relaxed, drank terere, ate, and went to the cinema.

Next up was Encarnacion. It's located adjacent to the Parana river, accross from which lies the city of Posadas on the Argentinian side.Although there wasn't much to see in the center, it was a nice city to walk around. We met a Dutch couple in the hotel (there were loads of Dutch people here) who told us there was a yerba-mate (tea for mate and terere) factory where you could get a tour. We decided to go, though the tour was actually shorter than the way there. But it was interesting enough and I managed to buy a guampa. Afterwards we went to some old Jesuit mission ruins, Jesus and Trinidad, where we were the only tourists. Jesus, though smaller, was more interesting and better preserved in my opinion. In the evening we would go to a Japanese restaurant, where the food was DELICIOUS and CHEAP! It was a refreshing change from the usual cuisine in Paraguay.

We took a night-bus to Ciudad del Este, right on the border with Brazil and Argentina. The city is known to be somewhat dangerous, and the place to buy cheap, replicated technology. We wanted to see Itaipu dam, which is the second largest dam in the world, but the number one for electricity production. The tour was free, where they showed us a 30 minute video on its history, after which we were placed in a bus to actually see it. It is absolutely massive! It is said to generate around 80% of the population´s energy demand, and 20% of Brazil´s demand. The remaining 20% in Paraguay is covered by other dams. Despite the green energy it produces, its creation caused the flooding of waterfalls known to be more spectacular than those at Foz do Iguacu.

With no further reason to stay in the city we crossed the border to Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, without immigration checks! Lucky us! Since we never got our exit stamps it was as if we never left Brazil, or entered Paraguay!

Fotos coming up soon! And more on Foz do Iguacu and Argentina later!

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