Journeys in Latin America - January to June 2009

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Hola blog followers...

(Photos to follow after they have been uploaded)

We now find ourselves in Paraguay, one of the relatively forgotten countries (backpacker-wise) of central South America. We failed to find more than One person who had been here, before we hopped on the bus at Puerto Iguazu, although that One person managed to fill me in on some of the intriguing history of Paraguay since the end of the 19th Century & The War of the Triple Alliance. It is mostly the history of a string of dictatorships and corrupt rulers, but also of the immigration and settlement of fairly large numbers of religious Mennonites of German extraction, which happened a three key times - at the end of the 19th Century, between the World Wars, and soon after the 2nd World War.

Anyway, the history is interesting, and it means that we now find ourselves in a German speaking town of about 9000 people on the Tran-Chaco road to Bolivia. We arrived last night from Concepcion on the Rio Paraguay, and so haven´t had sufficient time to explore, but more information will follow...


Iguazu - Ciudad del Este

The route to Paraguay from Iguazu involves a morsel of Brazil, about 30 minutes worth, and then a brige-border crossing over the Rio Parana into the busy, dusty, hot and electronic goods-saturated border town of Ciudad del Este. Many Argentinians and Brazilians travel there in day trips to pick up mountains of cheap TVs and stereos and then pile back over the border. Having no pressing requirement for bulky audiovisual equipment, we took a bus to the bus station, and immediately caught another bus out of the bus station. This third bus was to the capital Asuncion, and we arrived there as dark fell via an interesting road of rural pasture punctuated by tall skinny palms, occasional marshland, grazing cattle and bright orange earth.

We stayed in the centre of Asuncion, in a pension, which is basically a room in a fairly grand and immaculately kept family house. It was a good place and promised more from the centre of Paraguay´s capital, but as we headed out to try and find a beer and some food, we found ourselves in a strange world. The centre of the city was almost completely dead, with hardly sufficient street lighting, few people apart from those inhabitaing the dark temporary shanty town in one of the main squares, and almost no shops or restaurants - even closed ones! We eventually found a place for some food but it was a revelation to see how neglected the centre of this national capital was.

The next day was better, the place had a bit more life to it, but still it is the oddest city i have been in, probably ever. Apparently the "life" of the city is to be found in the suburbs, but apart from driving through a few of them on the way to and from the satellite bus station, we didn´t get a chance to find out the extent to which this was true.

Having said that, the place did grow on me during the two-and-a-bit days we spent there, mostly on account of the friendliness of most of the people, and the discovery of a bar in a seemingly dead part of town which became packed with young and middle-aged locals as the evening went on. I was reminded of woodwork.

Asuncion - Concepcion

Our plan was to get out of the capital fairly sharpish, and head North up the Rio Paraguay to the smallish town of Concepcion, with a vague plan of getting a boat back down the River to Asuncion. When we got there we discovered that all the boats went north instead of south, so we were thwarted there.

Then we hatched an ingenious plan to travel North on the Rio Paraguay, and cross into Brazil at a port 2 days up the River, which would allow us to take trains and busses through Brazil and eventually cross into Bolivia and head to Santa Cruz de Bolivia by that route. But research revealed that we needed to obtain an exit stamp for Paraguay in Asuncion, 6 hours the wrong way on bumpy roads, so we were again thwarted and instead decided to spend a few days roasting in the Concepcion heat but also enjoying the laid back atmosphere and pleasant orange dirt roads. It reminded me quite a bit of a town in central India, apart from the orange dust - this was partly due to the style of the markets and the omnipresence of the motorbike as preferred mode of personal transporation in the absence of local bus routes. Also the appearance of some of the people - far darker skinned than a lot of Argentinians.

I enjoyed the fact that we crossed into the "tropics" just south of Concepcion - the town is just a few miles north of the tropic of Capricorn.

After a few days of that sleepy spot, and having had our great plans for intercity boat travel squished like a cockroach on a hostel room floor, we decided to move on and get into the sparsely populated Chaco region of the west of Paraguay, and get back on track for heading to Bolivia.


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