12 June 2011


Thursday I pretty much just hung out in Encarnacion. It's definitely one of the nicer places in Paraguay, in my opinion. As much as I love Pilar for the people and tranquilidad, it's a town, not a city. I like Ciudad del Este for the activity factor and how easy it is to get around the country/continent by bus from there, but the safety issues are definitely a downside. Encarnacion seems to balance the activity with the tranquilidad. It's a big enough city to have, for example, a real supermarket (sorry Pilar) but everywhere I went (mainly in the zona alta) felt very safe, and was well-lit at night and clean. Being on the border with Argentina, there are plenty of buses to everywhere in Argentina, plus Uruguay, and pretty much everywhere in eastern Paraguay as well.

My bus to Buenos Aires left about 2 hours late, thanks to delays in Asuncion. Once we finally got going, we drove about 5 minutes, and got stuck for over an hour in Paraguayan customs. (WHY?! Since when does Paraguayan customs care about anything?) Then we drove over the bridge, and spent almost an hour in Argentinian customs. After about 10 minutes in Argentina, we stopped for dinner. I had a screaming baby behind me this whole time. After about another hour on the road after dinner at around 1AM, I decided that I needed sleep and went downstairs where it was quieter. All was well for a few hours, and one of the bus employees decided that I needed to re-learn the entire political history of Paraguay rather than sleep. He never said for certain if he was involved or not, but he talked a lot about the Somoza assassination and definitely there when it happened.

My relearning of Paraguayan politics continued until we passed a broken down bus and picked up some of their passengers. My previously quiet bottom floor was then filled with porteños who WOULD NOT SHUT UP. The lady behind me literally did not stop complaining about being on a Paraguayan bus (because, you know, all things Paraguayan are inherently inferior to all things Argentinian) despite it being identical to the bus that she had been on. My various other fellow passengers had an awful cough, a cell phone that apparently did not have a vibrate mode, and an urgent need to listen to cumbia without headphones at 5AM.

After finally making it to Buenos Aires and checking into a pretty awesome hostel, I met up with a few other travellers and walked around the city. Saturday I went to La Boca and Recoleta, and today I went to Retiro and did some more sightseeing with a Polish girl from the hostel.

Amazingly, in this city of 14 million people (the entire population of Paraguay couldn't fill half the city) and thousands of buses, I ran into an AFS Paraguay volunteer on a bus in Recoleta. Just proves how small exchange makes the world...

In a few hours I'll be heading to Montevideo, Uruguay. Chau!

08 June 2011

Cerro, CDE, Encarnacion, Trinidad

I'll preface this entry by saying that I'm shivering in a hotel lobby in Encarnacion, and it's a little hard to type on the ancient keyboard with freezing fingers, so give me some slack if there are typos.

While watching one of the Copa Libertadores games my first days in Paraguay, I mentioned that I would like to someday go to a soccer game in Paraguay. Amazingly, there was an excursion of Cerro Porteño fans from Pilar heading to Asunción for the game against Santos (Brazil) just a week later, so I got to go with my host sister and a few of my friends. We left the afternoon of the game, a bus full of Pilarense Cerristas, and drove the 7 hours to the stadium. Along the way I learned the team's songs, and that bus ceilings make great drums. We got to the stadium about an hour before the game, but it was already packed. We somehow found room in the first few rows after a bit of searching. The next three hours were full of chanting, singing, fireworks, smokebombs, and dodging bottles that were being thrown onto the field. At half time, the Santos fans started getting really riled up and throwing things at the Paraguayan fans, and had to be cordoned off by not just the fences and walls that were already there, but a line of riot police. The game ended in a tie, but it assured Cerro´s elimination from the Copa, so it was really more of a loss. Despite essentially winning, the Santos fans decided to trash everything, and some of them are still in Paraguayan jail for what they did after the game. The game was amazingly fun despite the tie/loss, and since everyone is still talking about the Santos fans, I get to talk about the game a lot. :) After the game, we wandered around Barrio Obrero for a good half-hour looking for our bus. Eventually we found it, and amazingly, the ride back took 4 hours. FOUR. F-O-U-R. The ride normally takes 7, maybe 6 if the road is in good condition (which it wasn't). I really don't even want to know how fast we must have been going to make that kind of time.

After a few hours of sleep, I headed back to the bus terminal to once again go to Asuncion, on my way to Ciudad del Este to visit my friend who was an exchange student in Muskego last year. After a breakdown somewhere in Misiones, and almost running out of money, I finally got to Ciudad del Este around midnight. My friend's family was amazingly welcoming, and picked me up at the terminal at midnight, showed me around the city, took me to the countryside, drove me anywhere I needed to go, and fed me way too much.

On Friday, I went with my friend to her university in Brazil, and absolutely loved it. Saturday, I had asado, went shopping in the centro, and went to a bar called Liverpool with my friend and a bunch of her classmates, listened to good, English music, and played the Paraguayan version of Jenga. The Centro is absolutely insane. I personally find it lively and entertaining, but I shudder to think that this is most people's image of Paraguay, since so many Brazilians and Argentinians come to shop, and tourists to Yguazu Falls visit just to check another country off their lists. It's absolutely NOTHING like the rest of the city (which is actually quite nice, easy to navigate, and full of parks and green space) much less the rest of the country.
Sunday, we went to a friend's farm somewhere in Alto Paraná. I had an awesome lunch, saw some adorable piglets and lambs, and turned my shoes red thanks to the dirt.

Monday, I decided to finally go to Yguazú Falls (also spelled Iguasu, Yguasu, Iguaçu, and Iguassu), the tourist attraction that Paraguay claims, despite its firm location in Brazil and Argentina. Getting there was a bit of an adventure. First, I had to wait a half hour to find a bus that wouldn't let me off in Brazil, but take me straight through to Argentina. After waiting for that, I had to get off the bus in Paraguayan customs for my exit stamp, and wait for another bus (45 min) and was kept company by some old, obnoxious, racist porteños (people from Buenos Aires) who only came to Paraguay to shop. Argentinian customs went smoothly, but it looked like they were gearing up for some sort of strike or protest. (Argentina, please pay your border guards. I need to be able to get back into Paraguay in a few weeks, and can't afford to go through Brazil or Bolivia.) The bus from Puerto Iguasu, AR to the falls came quickly, and I practically had the place to myself. The falls are absolutely breathtaking, despite the creaky metal catwalk over the river you have to take to get to them. Getting back was somewhat more of an adventure than getting there. The last bus from Puerto Iguasu to Ciudad del Este ran early or didn't run or something, so I ended up essentially sneaking into Brazil and being saved by having waited so long on my way there, but that's a story for another day. The bus left me at the bridge to Paraguay, which is sketchy in the best of times and downright dangerous at night. Luckily, a Paraguayan family who had also missed the bus to CDE offered to take me across the bridge in their taxi. From there, it was all straightforward.

Yesterday, I came to Encarnacion. The bus I was supposed to take had issues and didn't run, so I ended up in a bus so bumpy that I literally could not listen to music, because my earbuds kept being shaken out of my head. After leaving the terminal relatively on time, we sat in CDE for 45 minutes going nowhere. Then at a rate of literally about 10km/h we made it to Minga Guazu, where we spent 20 minutes. Then in Santa Rita, we sat for 30 min. At some point, we went through a customs checkpoint, and I saw the driver pay the inspector what wsa at least 100,000Gs. We also sat in Maria Auxiliadora for 30 min, but the bus wouldn't start when we went to leave, so we all got to wait another 25 min for the next bus with room. I finally got into Encarnacion a little before midnight, almost 3 hours behind schedule.

Today, I went to the Jesuit ruins in Trinidad, about a half hour outside of the city, To say that Trinidad is a one horse town is an understatement. I saw one cow, one cat, lots of chickens, lots of parrots, and three dogs, but no horses. I was literally the only person at the ruins, which made for some great pictures. There is no map, no brochure, no guide, and no sign has more than 3 or 4 words. This is Paraguay's major tourist attraction. It was interesting, and I can now officially say that I have done everything Paraguay has to offer tourists. I didn't have to wait long for a return bus, but it was the EXACT SAME bus that broke down in M. Auxiliadora last night. Same driver, same bouncy, stuffed, valentine heart hanging from the ceiling, same sticky floor, same jesus sticker on the window. Thankfully, we made it to Encarnacion this time. On the bus, I met a German couple and spent the afternoon helping them find a hotel and plan their time in Paraguay.

Now, I'm off to find some dinner, and I think tomorrow I'll be heading to either Montevideo or Buenos Aires. I like Encarnacion a lot and would love to stay, but I only have 2 weeks until I'll be back in Wisconsin.