I will and do mention Lonely Planet a lot, and I have to say I find it a really helpful, useful and worthwhile guide to have on my travels. Most of the information is excellent, but some things are often neglected (for example Black Cat hostel in Asuncion, Guesthouse Amice in Paramaribo, the dangers of the Altamira area in Caracas…). However they got it spotty dog on this one. The pure madness that is crossing the border into Paraguay at Ciudad del Este!
I read in there that the Brazil to Paraguay bridge at Ciudad Del Este was dangerous and not recommended for tourists or for anyone to walk across the border there. So I had already decided a bus was the way to go. You will read more about said bridge and border further down.
After having my breakfast in Argentina, visiting Tres Fronteras (the awesome triple border landmark), changing some money as mentioned above into Paraguayan Guaranis (which are confusing as hell!) and arriving bag laden at Puerto Iguazu bus station, it was time to bid farewell to Argentina.
It became obvious which bus to catch. The yellow bus with EL PRACTICO as the brand, and with a sign saying “Paraguay Directo”, basically meant that it goes direct to Paraguay without stopping. Which I didn’t exactly want, as I needed to be sure to get two border stamps that day. One at the Argentina side and another at the Paraguay side (my entrance stamp). I spoke with some locals from Paraguay on the bus and they told me that the bus would pull up at the Argentina border check and the Paraguay border check to get me both my stamps, and would wait for me.
The buses final destination was the bus station in Ciudad Del Este (or so I believed), which would be perfect (I thought) as from there is a direct bus to Asuncion, my destination for the night, where I had already booked online into the Black Cat Hostel.
We waited for the driver to have his morning snack and then boarded. I paid in Argentine Pesos something like 5 Pesos. Less than a quid to go through three countries. Three? Yes, because in order to do this route, the bus actually goes through Brazil. It leaves Argentina, enters Brazil and then goes across the border into Paraguay. Strange but true and not that absurd because its actually the quickest route. So in the space of 30 minutes I was actually in three countries.
I was the only foreigner on the bus. I assumed all these people to be Paraguayan. Many were families and I reckoned they were returning home after visiting the Iguazu Falls. There were no free seats, which was OK as I was happy to sit on my main backpack (always comes in handy as a seat) on the bus and enjoy the ride. We left pronto and direct to Argentine border check. On route I got my first glimpse of Paraguayan nudity, a lady with large boobs got her left nipple out on the bus to breast feed her child. The other kid was beating a Paraguayan drum with the football badge on it.
I can’t say I was sad to leave Argentina. Arrogant country which claims to be better than it is. Better off left alone, and I’m pretty glad Maggie Thatcher sent the troops over to sort the Falkland Islands out! The border officials at Argentina are some of the worst I have experienced (except of course for the wankstained Venezuelans). For whatever reason they don’t appreciate when I try to speak Spanish to them, passing me off as an uncultured foreigner. I asked them at the Uruguay border a few days before not to stamp one of my four blank pages on my passport, because blank pages are essential to be kept blank. There is plenty of room on all the other pages for stamps. But he stamped a blank page. And the dickhead at Puerto Iguazu border check did the same.
The bus waited and we all got back on board, I reconfirmed with the driver that he would stop for the Paraguay border check and he said he would. I have no idea whether the driver was Argentinian or Paraguayan, but he had misinformed me. I kept my eyes on the game and was ready for whatever circumstance. I checked with some other passengers, and they seemed to tell me that they all got out at Argentina border check because they need an exit stamp, BUT none of them will need an entrance stamp for the Paraguay side, since they were all Paraguayan.
Once over the Argentina border, we were now in transit so to speak in Brazil. Basically the driver got a by ball to drive us through Brazil without stopping, meaning we didn’t need to go through border control or customs at all in Brazil. A first for me that, travelling through a country without actually exiting the vehicle!
It gave me my first proper glimpse of the rather humungous Foz Do Iguacu (the Brazilian City on the treble border, and the one which people often stay in when they visit the Iguazu Waterfalls). It was much larger than I thought, and loads of people about. A busy Sunday morning of mayhem. At the end of the main straight we reached a quieter zone, which I reckoned meant the end of the Brazilian border and beyond that would be Paraguay. We passed the Brazil border and I knew I didn’t need a stamp there, but on the left of my window I spotted this guy in a Paraguay shirt, so I knew this was the border.
I caught a glimpse of the shy “welcome to Paraguay” sign above, and I realised the driver wasn’t going to stop, I was now illegally in Paraguay.
So I burst up to the front screaming “Permiso. Pasaporte Control Aca!” and they all realised I needed my stamp. Outside looked rough and tough and 100 metres or so PAST the Paraguay check point, the driver pushed the button to open the bus door, just for me. I had both bags over my shoulders, one in front, one behind. This was beyond the bridge they recommended to avoid. Yet there I was dumped out into the main busy street right past the border. And of course the driver drove off immediately. What an entrance to a country.
Blatantly the only foreigner I walked around past and through hoardes of people trying to suss me out and sell me stuff. I felt hot and uneasy. It was Ciudad del Este – a city I had assumed would be small and tranquil for some reason. Especially on a quiet Sunday morning. But no it was full of busy locals trying to flog everything from watches to taxis. I was offered a taxi and had to decline. It was total mayhem and I couldn’t find the passport control office anywhere.
As I walked back onto the bridge to Brazil, yes I was backtracking but this passport stamp was essential for me. There were some labourers working with concrete by the bridge and they saw me looking around. Being on the Paraguay side I assumed these workers to be Paraguayan. One of them pointed me in the direction of the stamping office, shyly situated on the other side of the road and not busy, hence my inability to spot it. I crossed via many sellers, cars and bikes. I reckoned there were a lot of Brazilians there too.
I got inside the stamping office, and without much ado I got my stamp, easy as pie, but outside a world of danger and mayhem was waiting. I asked at the passport office how to get to the bus station (the main terminal). I had assumed that it would be very close for some reason and was quite willing to fast walk it past the potential bag slashers and muggers. BUT they tell me it is miles away and reachable best by taxi. I had no real other option in amongst the streets of mayhem.
I’d never seen anything like the madness of this border control, and realised that anyone and everyone can cross the border no problem. Nobody checks! The point was I was due to fly out of Asuncion therefore they would require my entry stamp in order to give me my leaving stamp.
This part of my trip I didn’t use my camera at all, I had wanted to capture a photo of the mayhem, but being alone and surrounded by possible thieves (and experienced ones), the wallet, passport and camera were kept firmly at the base of my pockets.
So I popped back out into the main busy road and decided to put my faith and trust in one of the taxi drivers who shouted at me earlier for a taxi. I trusted him because he was older and sipping a Terere (Paraguays answer to Mate style tea, only its cold). It’s not an official taxi, but where is one? I don’t trust these types of taxis but I need out of the mayhem and he gives me a taxi option straight away, charging 40,000 Guaranis, which I learn is about 8 US dollars. It may be dear, but its miles to the bus station and I wanted to get there ASAP.
So without further ado and through the hoardes of beeping vehicles we manoevre ourselves to the left, past some dodgy looking areas to the bus station. Itself, hardly glamorous.
I gave him his 40,000 Gs and walk into a quiet ish bus station. I am greeted by many vendors shouting at me trying to sell me tickets. I have always known to shop around in these places and get the best deal. In this instance I decided just to take the next Direct Bus to Asuncion that I could get, but there were a few…
So I went with Expreso Guarani, perhaps because the guy was nice to me, but also because they go between 5 countries and I realised the bus must be quite good quality. Panny had told me that the bus is simply full of local people standing in the passage. The office.
The cost was just 50,000 Guarani and was direct to Asuncion (though I knew it wouldn’t be direct – what 6 hour bus journey ever is?). This made me chuckle as it cost just an extra 10,000 Guarani for a 6 hour bus as it did for a 6 minute taxi! But both were mandatory and both as efficient.
The next bus from Expreso Guarani wasn’t for another hour so I had the time to linger in the bus station. I was warned that this was a dingy bus station, but for the cheap $10 bus ticket to Asuncion came a pleasant surprise. The guy working there let me wait in the VIP Lounge! A posh section away from the local scum. It was nice to have such a luxury after coming from the market mayhem of the big city!
In there I relaxed on comfy red chairs and bought a wee beer for $5,000, which is $1. It was Sol beer, which i only bought because it was on offer. In the heat and after the manic confusion of Ciudad del Este I needed a refreshing drink. I felt good sitting there in Paraguay and after a few minutes to reflect forgave the bus driver for dumping me in the middle of nowhere. He would have had to wait for me to get my passport stamped, and there was nowhere to wait or stop in the busy crowd.
U2 randomly came on TV while I was sat there and in the shop they were selling biscuits called Bono! That was a bit surreal.
And I noticed the city’s football stadium was close by so there was time to take a few photos of it.
I noticed the Paraguay flag in the corner and the two pretty shop workers so I didn’t hesitate to get a photo of them with the Northern Ireland flag in it, plus one of me as well. I didn’t catch their names.
I then got talking to a lady on a different bus, a local lady called Montserrat from Asuncion. She spoke zero English and I managed a conversation with her in Spanish. Originally I thought Paraguayans spoke fast but eventually could understand them and found their Spanish to be nice. Montserrat invited me to her house in Asuncion, but I knew I wouldn’t bother going and thanked her anyway. Always nice to meet friendly people.
She went and caught her bus, and not long after I went and caught mine and the I had escaped safe and sound from the possible horrors of Ciudad Del Este.
Even the name of this city baffles me, how blatant! Translated into English that means “City Of The East”, but then again once upon a time, this city of mayhem was once called Puerto Presidents Stroessner. Bet you didn’t know that…
Videos I made:
BRAZIL TO PARAGUAY BORDER BEFORE THE BRIDGE: