Undiscovered Paraguay really appealed to us, because not many backpackers go there. We read about Paraguay and found out that it should have some beautiful nature, full of rivers and native animals. After seeing the difference in culture with Brazil, when shopping in Ciudad del Este, we were convinced we should visit this country.
So, off to Asunción, Paraguay’s capital city. Most of the time people that host us or people we meet tell us where to go next. But Paraguay is unknown for a lot of people, no one could tell us where to go. That’s why we chose to start in the capital. Probably we’ll go to Uruguay after that, because we got the opportunity to stay on a ranch for a few days. And after that we hope to go to Montevidéo, Uruguay’s capital city, to work on an WorkAway eco farm for 2 weeks.
From Foz do Iguaçu it’s easy to get to Paraguay. First we take a bus to Ciudad del Este, the town where we went shopping a few days ago (missed this blog? You can read it here).
Once we are in the bus we ask the driver if we need to get out of the bus at the Brazilian border. The drivers says we don’t have to so we take our seat and relax. We cross the bridge and stop at Paraguay customs where the guy behind the desk is asking us where our Brazilian stamp is for leaving the country. We try to explain him that the bus driver said it was ok, but he would not give in. So he sends us back on foot to get a stamp and after that we can get back to him. Sigh… Looking back on it, it did make sense because we are permanently leaving the country now so you need to get a stamp that says you do. Customs will then check if you did not overstay your visa term. If this is the case you will probably get a fine. Most likely the bus driver thought we were just going shopping here for a day and then back to Brazil. Officially you would then still need a stamp but since so many people are doing this it is condone.
Luckily the guy from customs is very friendly and offers us a place to store our backpacks for a while so we don’t need to carry them across the bridge. We take our passports and walk across the bridge back to Brazil. About 10 minutes. 30 minutes later and each of us 2 stamps richer we sit down to wait again for the next bus from Brazil. This one will bring us to a big bus station in the center of Ciudad del Este.
Arriving at the bus station we start to look for an ATM machine because we need Guarani’s now instead of Real. No idea of how much we need we decide to withdraw slightly over 1 million. Also so we can finally say we withdraw a million from an ATM machine. With our new currency we buy 2 tickets to the capital, Asunción. It is going to be a 6 hour bus ride and the price is under 10 Euro per person even. By now we have gotten used to the luxurious buses in Brazil, who stop for food every 3 hours at a big gas station. After the bus driver puts our bags in storage we find out that the buses in Paraguay are just as comfortable. We have gotten pretty hungry by now so we wait patiently for the first stop to arrive.
The bus stops briefly after about half an hour but no one gets out. In stead there are people entering the bus carrying big baskets packed with drinks and toys. They make a quick tour through the bus and then they get out again. About an hour later there is another stop. Now 2 women get in the bus with a huge basket covered with a towel. It smells delicious! We have no idea what they are selling though and before we get a chance to ask they have left the bus again. Oh well, there will probably be another one in about an hour.
4 hours later finally someone enters the bus again to sell stuff but sadly they aren’t carrying any food. Shortly after that the bus stops at some sort of control post. We look outside the window and there are a lot of policemen standing outside. A few seconds after that they also enter the bus and start looking around. They go to the guy that is sitting behind us and start talking to him. We turn around to see what is going on and then the officer talks to us as well in Spanish. Too bad we don’t understand that. Probably he would like to see our passport but that is going to be a challenge since they are in storage with our bags. The guy behind us is asked to step out of the bus with his wife and grandchild and we don’t see him enter the bus again after that. Once we are on the move again the guy next to us in the isle asks us in English where we are from. So we ask this guy what was going on but he couldn’t really explain it as well. We talk a while and the guy is really proud that we came to Paraguay as tourists. “This is what this country needs and now you can see for yourself how wonderful the people here are”, he says. A few minutes later he tells us he has plans for tomorrow to go to Brazil, otherwise he would have offered us to stay at his place. We have never experienced anything like this, how wonderful!
Around midnight we arrive at the big bus station of Asunción. We get a taxi to bring us to our hostel which we booked in advance on Hostelworld, la Fábrica. The cheapest hostel we could find (4 euro’s per night) and absolutely a wonderful choice. The hostel is located in an old paper factory which is still running, very peculiar. There are a lot of rooms and also a miniature camping in the backyard. Luckily for us there is a 24 hour supermarket near so we decide to go there to get some food. Unfortunately the vegetarian choices are limited so I have to settle with a bag of chips while Riny get a chicken sandwich.
The owner of the hostel is a very friendly and cheerful man who organizes a huge barbecue on our second night because Brazil is playing Paraguay for the Worldcup qualification and also because there are a lot of new people in the hostel and this is a great way for everyone to get to know each other. Awesome! At the barbecue we meet a nice couple. A South African man (who speaks Afrikaans and thus can understand a bit of Dutch) and a German girl with whom we had some good conversations.
On the barbecue there is a rib the size of the barbecue itself and the barbecue had the size of an oil drum! So it takes a few hours for this piece of meat to be cooked. Luckily for me I get to dig in on the cassava root which is just as normal here as the potato is in Holland, it even looks a bit like it. In Holland this is only used to make vegetarian croquette cake, but here it is used in a lot of dishes. They use it to make french fries, tapioca’s, pão de quejo and probably a lot more. And all very tasty!
On our third day we decide to explore the city a bit. There aren’t that many sights to see in Asución. Most of them are important buildings like the parliament building and the royal palace. Sadly for us the president is in town today and therefore the palace is sealed within a 6 block radius by police officers carrying massive guns.
A remarkable sight in Asunción is the beach next to the river. Playa de la Costanera. Mainly because you don’t often see a beach next to a river and Asunción is located land inward so a beach here is rare. Our overall impression of Asunción is a bit moderate. The streets are dirty and the buildings not that spectacular. Next to that there are a lot of homeless people living on the streets and there is a lot of police carrying huge guns. A rather strange encounter. The Paraguayan people on the other hand are more than friendly, generous and very helpful. We even sat down at a coffee place and asked the guy behind the counter if we could buy a cheap phone somewhere, since I lost mine and Riny’s phone (Iphone 4 still) was about to break down. The guy asked his colleagues if it was okay for him to leave for a while. Then he brought us to a phone store and even negotiated a good price for us, how sweet is that!
All in all we look forward to explore the rest of the country, get out of the city and into the wild. But we will save this for later.
While we are in Asunción I read a blog about the famous ranches in central Uruguay, where the cows are actually hurdled by genuine cowboys on a horse, called gaucho’s. Immediately I was interested and started a search if we could pay a visit to one of those but i soon found out that they only eat meat there. Meat, meat, meat was all I read about on the entire website. I don’t really mind if a person next to me is eating meat but when this is the only thing on the menu I do have a problem, being vegan.
Then I found an article about a ranch close to Rocha. They don’t have cows but they do have horses just for recreational purposes. That sounds a lot more like me! I decide to send them an email and of course I ask them very boldly if maybe we could get to stay for free. As a return we would then write an article about them on our blog so they would get free advertising. Our proposition is accepted and we are expected within a few days. Oh joy!
So now we got a goal and a travel plan to set up. The easiest way appears to be via Montevideo, because there is no direct bus to Rocha from Asunción. This is a pity since we already have to be there when we leave the ranch. Meaning we will be travelling the same route twice and we don’t really like to do this. On the other hand, the longer I search the more convinced I get that travelling through rural Uruguay is not really an option. This would mean we have to take a lot of short bus rides between small towns which would cost us a lot of time. And time is something we don’t really have at this point.
We have heard a lot of good stories though about long distance buses. They aren’t that cheap but they do offer complete meals including drinks while driving. Sounds like something to consider then, even if it is just for the experience. It is going to be an 18 hour ride so a bit of comfort is more than welcome.
After visiting the ranch we are going straight back to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, because we got invited for a nice workaway. On a farm in a very small town about an hour form the capital. It is an ecofarm where they spend there time with biological agriculture and restoring a huge nature reserve for tourists. This reserve got abandoned about 10 years ago so there is a lot of work to be done. We are expected to be here in about a week so unfortunately we don’t have a lot of time to do some sightseeing along the way. But we do get to see the countryside from within the bus so we can then decide if we would like to go back or not. I am very curious about how Riny is going to like it on this workaway because we only get vegetarian food there (hooray). Exciting!