It so happens that sometimes when you travel you run into some places that are not what you expect. For me, Paraguay was the one. When I first booked the trip I was curious to see what this less travelled country has to offer. Although not as majestic as the other places I have seen, Paraguay, and especially Asuncion, has its own charm that overweighted the other less “pretty” things. But no matter how hard I tried to connect with this place, I found it very hard. Overall, I found Asuncion to feel empty, a city without a spirit of its own just being pushed in the future by the inertia of change.
Tiny bit of history
What made me very interested in Paraguay is its rich history and how things played out for this country. Following the Spanish colonization Asuncion became a central point for trading in South America. That was in the 16 and 17 hundreds. Then in 1811, Paraguay gained its independence from the Spanish and had an exponential growth. However, this stopped abruptly due to the war of the Triple Alliance. In 1864 Paraguay declared war to Brazil with the purpose of obtaining certain territories. However, Brazil made an alliance with Argentina and Uruguay and together they crushed the Paraguayan army, ending the war in 1870. That was the moment when Paraguay fell and now, more than a century later it still hasn’t managed to get up. The main problem was that the country not only lost territories, but it also lost a large number of people as victims of this war (between 400,000 and 1,200,000 depending on the source).
Our hostel was in the historic centre of Asuncion, so we decided to go around and explore as much as time permitted. The weather here was fabulous, reaching 30 degrees. But, we started to melt since we were so used to the low temperatures that we had until then. So we called it a short day when mosquitoes started to gather around me like bears to a fire. Dengue fever is quite common here so my health panicking mode got activated… I needed my mosquito repellant from my suitcase!
But, in the short time we spent walking around we did get a chance to see a few things.
Although the pictures don’t show it, behind and around the polished monuments were piles of garbage laying around. The contrast between the display of greatness and the rubbish being torn by the wind, was quite shocking. Until we got used to it…
Palacio de los Lopez, or government palace, is quite beautiful. Decorated with flags it looks like a place of pride and empowerment. Located on the shore of the river, it has quite an extravagant feel to it and contrasts the rest of the city in a very blatant way.
We arrived the palace right when the national guard was practicing their protocol for receiving foreign dignitaries. Our view wasn’t the best but it was interesting to see all the men in fancy uniforms doing their army duties.
From here we visited the Panteón del los Heroes, which is a smaller replica of Les Invalides in Paris. This is a monument dedicated to the heroes lost in the Paraguayan wars and it is a commemoration place where army guards stay at the doors in a way paying their respects.
Food in Paraguay is absolutely amazing. The first thing I tried was the chipa, which I fell in love with. It’s like a bagel filled in with melting cheese. Absolutely delicious! I tried it in Buenos Aires as well, but the ones I had in Asuncion were by far the best!
The boat situation
The next destination we had in our plans was Iguazu, Argentina, and to get there we needed to reach Ciudad del Este first. However, the only way to get to Argentina by bus from Ciudad del Este is to go via the “Friendship bridge” which crosses first Brazil and then reaches Argentina. My travel companion was in a little bit of a pickle as she needed a visa for Brazil so the bus option was not really feasible.
But a pickle is not really a pickle when you’re in South America. There is another way. From Ciudad del Este you grab a taxi to Presidente Franco Frontera. There should be a local bus going there too but we chose the taxi option because we weren’t sure of it. Right on the shore there is a little office with a guy at the Paraguayan immigration desk. There you get the stamp for exiting Paraguay. Right next door there is a lady selling tickets for a boat. This boat is mostly used by cars to cross from Paraguay to Argentina, however, they receive passengers as well and its only 10,000 guaranis (approx $2 I think). The boat operates between 8 am and 5 pm. I am not sure about the weekends… Boats come every 30 minutes and the trip across the river is around 15 minutes. When you reach the Argentinian side there is a border where you can get your passport stamped for Argentina. And that is how you avoid Brazil for getting to Iguazu. There is very little information online about this option and it took me a lot of research to figure out if it will work. We kept our fingers crossed and we hoped for the best. Next thing we knew we were back in Argentina!
Now that I have checked Paraguay off my travelling list, I feel like I’m much more closer to completing my continent travels across South America. Dear Paraguay, you were interesting and I hope than when we see each other next you’ll be a little bit more “awake”.