2011, 8th - 11th December: Encarnación, Paraguay
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The journey from Montevideo (Uruguay) to Encarnación (Paraguay) was an interesting one because it required crossing from Uruguay into Argentina then into Paraguay in order to cross over the extreme north east section of Argentina. I was led to believe that the coach would arrive in Encarnación at 8 or 9 in the morning and so did not book accommodation thinking that all the hotels would be open by then. In fact we arrived at 4am and with nowhere to stay I was a little nervous; fortunately there was a hotel with 24 hour reception near to the bus terminal.
After visiting the relatively affluent countries (by South American standards) of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, Paraguay was my first taste of a less developed one. I had not read or heard great things about the capital, Asunción, so elected to limit my visit to the town of Encarnación in the south close to the border with Argentina. There are some Jesuit ruins near to Encarnación that seemed worthy of a visit.
The town centre is pleasant and fairly well organised, but this does not reflect the rest of the areas I saw. In my opinion, Paraguay is a little gritty and rough around the edges, but without the charm that is present in other countries without a lot of distributed wealth. I´m sorry to say that I would not recommend a visit to Paraguay.
I found the Paraguayan Spanish very difficult to understand as they speak quick and I think that they mix in some Guaraní as well (a widely spoken native language - in many more rural parts it is people´s first language (Spanish second)). As I stayed in a hotel (hostels are not common), it meant that I spent 4 days without a single (even rudimentary) conversation - just talking to buy things and getting around. That was quite isolating.
Paraguay was my first South American experience of hot and humid weather. The days reached 36 degrees C with high humidity, so sight-seeing had to be taken slowly.
9th December - Jesuit Ruins at Trinidad & Jesús
The Jesuit ruins near Encarnación are rather small and there is no information - not even in Spanish (apart from the odd building having a label), but they were pleasant enough to wander around. However, the ruins are not extensive so I certainly would not recommend travelling any great distance for them.
Jesuit Ruins at Trinidad, near Encarnación
10th December - Parque Manatial
This is a country park near Encarnación with areas for people to swim and hang out, but it also has a few trails to walk around which was the reason for my visit. The trail went through sub-tropical woodland and along the banks of a river.
11th December - Journey from Encarnación (Paraguay) to Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil)
The longest section of this journey was from Encarnación to Ciudad del Este (also in Paraguay) where I was then able to take a short bus ride across the border to Foz do Iguaçu. This five hour bus journey was done on one of Paraguay´s ´Billy Buses´. This is a term I came up with while sitting on one of them. The Billy bit of the name comes from Billy Onions which is a funny term for BO (Body Odor). I came up with the term ´Billy Bus´ because these basic buses have no air-conditioning, so in the heat and humidity of Paraguay you are hit by the Billy Onions when you get on the packed bus.
The bus stops frequently which gives street-side hawkers a chance to ply their trade through the bus window (ice-creams, drinks etc). Also people get on board to sell ´chipas´ which are a bread infused with cheese and sometimes onion. There is a nice corn bread version which is called chipa guasu.
I changed buses in Ciudad del Este but did not visit the town. This border town is well renowned for being the place for dodgy fake brand names and electronic goods of less reputable origins. Though I did make it clear to the cross-border bus driver that I wanted to stop at both the Paraguayan and Brazilian border posts to get my exit and entry stamps he didn´t bother stopping, so when we got to edge of Foz do Iguaçu I had to jump off and catch another bus back. The border control at this crossing point is pretty much uncontrolled (maybe it all helps to shift those dodgy goods in Ciudad del Este). Had I not got all the stamps done correctly I would have had a lot of trouble (and probably a fine) when I leave Brazil.
I was glad to get out of Paraguay and into the more pleasant Iguaçu falls area of Brazil.