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Published: October 26th 2015
Jesuit Mission Ruins In Trinidad
Ruins of an old 'commune' run by the Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It was now time to take my first bus journey of the trip - a ride of around six hours from Foz do Iguazu to Encarnacion, Paraguay.
Paraguay is often overlooked by travellers, what with its lack of superstar attractions. Although this fact it recognised by my Lonely Planet, it nevertheless recommended visiting Encarnacion with its brand new riverside beach and its annual grande fiesta
during Carnaval. Intrigued by a country that receives little attention and with a desire to tick another country off my list, Paraguay and Encarnacion also provided me with a stop to break up the long journey from Foz do Iguacu down to Buenos Aires and Uruguay.
Not that the bus I was catching was straightforward.
As it was to be my first bus ride I wanted a bit of security of knowledge in terms of when exactly I had to catch the bus and when it would arrive in Encarnacion. Therefore I booked my ticket through an agency through the hostel who told me I had to cross the border from Foz into Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, catch a bus from there to Posadas which is a border town with Paraguay over the river from Encarnacion,
Catedral de Encarnacion
Encarnacion's very own cathedral.
and then take a bus from there over the border to my final destination. It didn't quite make sense to me, as I could just go straight over the border from Foz to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and then take a direct bus from there to Encarnacion and save myself an unnecessary border crossing into Argentina. The only thing was that I didn't know when the buses from Ciudad del Este to Encarnarcion would be leaving nor would I know what the quality of the buses would be like. I'd also heard that Ciudad del Este could be a bit sketchy, that I'd need to make a transfer from the bus drop-off point to the bus station once over there and I also wasn't keen on the possibility of hanging around a bus station in Ciudad del Este all day.
On the bus over the border into Argentina, I met a very interesting British guy whose distinguishing feature was an amputated right arm from the elbow down. He was into football and journalism - I love football and read a lot about it in the papers - so we had plenty to talk about. He could speak both Spanish
A very nice tomato-based meat soup with cornmeal balls.
and Portuguese so I had an opportunity to practice my Spanish a little bit. Among the interesting things that he had done was meeting the well-known BBC South American football correspondent Tim Vickery, and having done the Camino de Santiago
- a walk done by Christian pilgrims from the Basque country right across Spain to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast. It was certainly an encounter that stuck in the memory.
The Spanish practice I had with him was probably not enough, as I discovered when I crossed the border into Puerto Iguazu. My Spanish is a bit hit and miss; I can sometimes hold very fluent conversations with people but then I couldn't understand what the baggage handler at the bus station was telling me. It was making me a bit nervous - would I understand what people are saying here? They supposedly do talk a little slower than Spaniards which might help. Following my interactions, I found I could only think about the best way to phrase my sentences after the fact, which was annoying.
Going through the northern Argentinian countryside, we drove along a lot of clay-coloured dirt roads and stopped at a lot
Streets Of Encarnacion #1
The place was a lot poorer than I was expecting. This is the street my hostel was on.
of relatively crusty towns along the way - people and places seemed a lot poorer than I had expected.
The bus itself was quite comfortable - it was fitted with semi-camas
which could almost recline all the way down.
The hassle I then saved myself by ordering my bus ticket through the hostel then manifested itself when I got to Posadas.
I had no Argentine pesos
so I needed to make a withdrawal from the one functioning cajero automatico
at the shopping mall next to the bus station which had a 20m queue. Only that the ATM wasn't accepting my card. Bollocks.
Conversing in Spanish with the lady at the tourist information desk, she informs me that I can only pay for the bus with cash and that there aren't any more cash machines nearby in this industrial part of town. F*ck.
Going over to the taxi rank, I find out that a ride over the border will cost me 500 pesos opposed to the 15 I would pay for the bus. Therefore my only option is to take a taxi into the middle of town to try the cash machines there, before catching another bus that crosses the
Cathedral At Trinidad Ruins
Ruins of the main church in the old Jesuit mission in Trinidad.
border leaving from the centre of town. It costs me 100 pesos (£7 - to put things in perspective my bus ride from Puerto Iguazu cost me £12) that I didn't want to spend on top of wasted time and some stress but the fact did not escape me that this would all have been a lot more difficult and stressful had I not been able to speak a word of Spanish.
To an extent.
I discovered that I had real difficulty understanding the Argentinian accent; they pronounce things differently and also use different words for different things which made catching everything that was being said a nightmare. For example tu
means "you/your" in Spain but here in Argentina they say vos
. Many times I had to just admit that no entiendo
and it would be as if I had never taken any Spanish classes at all. Thankfully my taxi driver was very patient and was genuinely wanting to help me rather than trying to rip me off.
That wasn't quite the end of it however. Once over the border, the bus didn't bother waiting for me while I was getting processed at Paraguayan immigration so I ended up
This is Encarnacion's new riverside beach complete with promenade and beachside bars and restaurants. Just needed a better day.
stuck at the border. I got talking to a local who told me that the bus would be another 30 minutes, a veces mas
After everything I had been through, I had just about had enough so when he suggests we share a taxi to the bus terminal, I took him up on the offer. It was however, another 50 pesos (luckily the taxi driver took them as I had no Paraguayan Guaranies) I didn't need to spend although I was relieved when I finally made it to the hostel. With the hostel quiet and with nothing happening, I was more than happy to buy a massive lomito
(submarine sandwich for 15,000Gs = £2) for dinner and then go straight to bed.
The weather has been up and down - my last two days in Foz saw temperatures above 30°C and it was a balmy 25°C when I arrived in Encarnacion. With the air conditioning set to Patagonia
as remarked by my Italian dorm-mate, I was freezing in the top bunk sans a blanket and to my dismay the temperature outside was about the same when I eventually got up the next day.
It didn't make Encarnacion's main attraction
Carnaval is supposed to be pretty crazy here - so much so that Encarnacion even has its own sambadromo for parades.
the best place to be as result - it was too cold to be hanging out on the beach of the costanera
and I regretted not taking a jacket with me.
There really isn't that much to see here - I saw the whole town in two hours. Maybe the place is livelier on a hot day during Carnaval, when they get to use the sambadromo
that they have built here.
With a party waiting for me in Buenos Aires and with two more nights booked here and an overnight bus to catch, I thought that I'd cancel my last night here and leave Encarnacion early.
As for Encarnacion's inhabitants, it seemed to be full of fundraising teenagers on street corners blasting out some seriously loud reggaeton and electro-pop, and boy racers cruising the city centre blasting out some seriously loud reggaeton and electro-pop from their stooped-up Fast & Furious imitations. There are seriously a lot of kids here. There are also a plethora of fast food joints and dairies/off-licences/corner shops doubling up as fast food joints, selling mainly hamburgers, lomitos and empanadas
. There was also an abundance of closed clubs/bars (and hardware stores for some reason) suggesting that decent
Encarnacion's municipal market where lots of corn/maize and corn/maize products are sold.
parties do happen here during some parts of the year.
The town is a little run-down and poor, particularly on the outskirts.
That night I chatted with my dorm mates (who seemed to be the only people at the hostel) both in Spanish (which becomes mentally exhausting after a while, explaining why I chose not to join the Spanish-speaking drinking session downstairs) and English and over the course of our pizza and beer, we managed to form a plan for the next day. I would be needing my third night here after all.
First thing I did was to to get a cheap(ish) bus ticket (240,000Gs/£27) for a 14-hour overnight ride to Buenos Aires from the bus station before going to the main market where there are a slew of stalls in the rather run-down market building selling Paraguayan food. I ordered the vori-vori
which was a tomato-based soup with braised beef and cornmeal balls that tasted and felt like gnocchi. It was very nice, though I wouldn't say it was outstanding. What was quite outstanding was a maize pudding for postres
which resembled creme caramel
. All served by a very friendly and curious middle-aged lady.
Watching The All Blacks...In Paraguay
I ended up watching the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France from a dinky roadside pizzeria.
was time for the main event of the afternoon - the Rugby World Cup quarter-final between the All Blacks and France! As luck would have it, the Argentine owner of the pizzeria we ate at the previous night was a huge rugby fan and would be showing the game .
As fate would have it, the game was being played between the same two opponents, at the same stadium and at the same stage of the competition as the 2007 World Cup. I and every other New Zealander remembers only too well what happened then - and funnily enough, I was backpacking when I watched that game too
In complete contrast to that
game, the All Blacks put on perhaps the best performance I have ever seen in a much of such importance. They were clinical, intense and ruthless. They had learned from the past that they had to be at their absolute best to beat France in a World Cup knock-out match. With such intensity and skill, no side let alone the French can live with them. And what skill. Dan Carter had his best game for years, back to his dictating best. Some of the passes and offloads too were just out of this world,
Children perform a dance in local costume as part of a festival celebrating Paraguayan culture.
even coming from prop forwards. The American, Argentinian and the Paraguayan watching with me "woahed" in awe at some of the execution on display despite the Argentinian being the only one familiar with the game. It was a spectacular performance - I still can't quite believe it.
It put me in a good mood for the final activity of the day - a festival by the costanera celebrating Paraguay and the culture of a community that was wiped out by the building of the Itaipu Dam, the second largest in the world near Iguazu Falls.
It was another of those uniquely local cultural experiences.
It didn't look much - if anything it resembled a school or community fair. There was an impressive performance from three harp players as well as a group of kids dressed in traditional attire dancing to a choreographed routine set against a backdrop of nationalist, distinctly Latin-sounding music, celebrating their own country.
Most intriguing however was the local food on offer. Amongst other things, I tried a meatloaf wrapped in cold pig skin, large pork scratchings dusted in ground corn very similar to Brazilian farofa
, and maladrina de pollo
(corn batter encrusted chicken) which was
Frieze above a side door of the main cathedral at the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad.
The culinary highlight however was a huge rice dish that resembled a Paraguayan paella but tasted a lot like jambalaya.
We had got to speak with a few locals that day; some were curious about us and others who were perhaps more unaccustomed to seeing foreigners, simply stared and sniggered at these strange gringos
in their midst - which to be honest, I didn't always appreciate as it seemed like I was some sort of joke to them.
On my last day in Paraguay, I decided to visit the old Jesuit Mission ruins in Trinidad.
Jesuit missions were set up by missionaries from Europe to Christianise and govern the local "Indian" Guarani people. They were basically small towns that operated autonomously in the 17th and 18th centuries before being mostly abandoned when the Jesuits were driven out by later secular governments.
I had to catch a bus from the bus terminal to get there and upon arriving at the station you are inundated by 'touts' asking you where you want to go. I normally ignore touts but I had to ask one of them for the right bus - the man then sold me a ticket
Various blocks and buttresses from the ruins of the Jesuit mission in Trinidad.
and pointed me in the direction of a bus. It seems that there isn't a centralised, organised system of public transport but rather a host of ma and pa family businesses that operate competing services, which was a bit unusual for me to see.
The ruins were actually pretty cool and they were set up in a very orderly and organised way, with a main square in the middle of the old pueblo
. I wouldn't say they were amazing though, or else there would be more visitors to this relative outpost of Trinidad.
Which sums up my impressions on Encarnacion and Paraguay.
There isn't much to see and do in the parts of Paraguay I visited. I got to see some real local culture and eat some local food which was really interesting but otherwise I thought Encarnacion was a bit over-hyped by Lonely Planet.
Many people overlook and bypass Paraguay on their tours through South America and sadly I didn't experience anything to suggest that they shouldn't. It goes without saying that I have no regrets however, about visiting Paraguay.
Next up, there has been another slight change from the original plan - stay tuned!
Church & Bell Tower
Walls of the secondary church and the mission's bell tower.
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