This was one of the surprises of my recent travels. Not expecting much from Paraguay and actually using it as a mere stepping stone to get from Uruguay to Argentina to Brazil and then onwards to Bolivia.
Somehow sandwiched Paraguay threw up some interesting experiences, none more so than this special bus journey as the only foreigner travelling through the urban un ventured parts of this South American Umbrella Country (see another post for the relevance of umbrellas in Paraguay).
So on a calm quiet sun-less Sunday I left behind the raw busy border city (and Paraguay’s second biggest) of Ciudad Del Este on a bus by the company Expreso Guarani. Panny had also been on a bus the week before from Ciudad Del Este and had actually been on the exact same trip as me from Montevideo to arrive at Asuncion. She had explained to me the route she took, and my final plan worked out almost exactly the same!
Except she had told me her bus from Ciudad Del Este to Asuncion was full of local people standing in the passage.
But actually on departing Ciudad Del Este, mine wasn’t full of standing locals and had in fact many free seats. Perhaps I was with a more luxurious company, or she had gone on a busy day and at a busier time.
Just before leaving the bus station at Ciudad Del Este I remember sitting down on top of my backpack watching them load sugar from Brazil onto a bus. I also had time to photograph the massive nearby football stadium, but had not realised it was there so lost the time to actually visit it. The area nearby looked dodgy enough anyway and I didn’t feel totally safe in Ciudad Del Este anyway, perhaps a second visit I’ll not be alone and will have more time to explore this massive city of mayhem.
I got on the bus and had a window seat on the right hand side, Seat 7 near the front. I really liked the seat and the bus was comfy and relaxed. There were no other foreigners around. Some local people got on trying to sell stuff, newspapers, food and DVDs. Such is the norm in South America.
I glanced at the on board clock which read 1.20 pm, however my bus ticket and bus company said the bus was due to leave at 12.20 pm. We pulled away at 1.20 pm, but I was very unsure of the time difference, and actually now believe that the clock on the bus was wrong and we really left at 12.20 pm on schedule.
That day I had woken up in the hostel in Argentina at Puerto Iguazu and had managed to do a lot already including being in 3 countries in one day, probably with at least 2 time changes to comprehend. I didn’t really care about the time, at any rate had no watch and no person in the seat next to me to ask what the correct time was. It’s nice to live in a timeless world. Away from the hussle and bustle of posh English types with their jobs of glamour and reluctance to ever wear trainers to work.
Whatever time it was, we left Ciudad Del Este bus station and on the way through the edge of the city, already I was enthused by the way of life in Paraguay. Poor people put up tents made of plastic and bin bags on the edge of a corner market, where they and their mates try to sell fruit without much success, while in the same street, football top clad teenagers flash mobile phones and iPods. It was a city of contrasts. Perhaps the iPods were stolen or fake and perhaps the plastic tents were a luxury only Paraguayans know. Check out that photo there with the home made tents, the people seem to sleep by the rubbish without a care.
On the way out of Ciudad Del Este, there was a lot to see. It seemed to be a direct straight road out of the city, with the bus stopping at random places, none of which seemed to be bus stops. At each place something random would happen. A guy got on and off again. Kids got on selling sweets. Women got on selling bread. Other locals (some successfully) tried to scrounge a free lift “Och I’m only goin up the road a wee bit love and I’ve no pennies” was the Northern Irish phrase turned into Paraguayan Spanish for the bus conductor to listen to. The second place we stopped at was Servi Vet, I wrote that down and was a bit lazy to make a note of every exact stop. There were too many and Ciudad Del Este seemed to go on quite far.
Until the road became a muddy dual carriageway with more dispersed street sellers and Paraguayans trying desperately to flog anything and everything to anyone and everyone. I had lots of leg room in my seat and was very relaxed. The final stop in Ciudad Del Este (at least as far as I could tell) was at a Municipality Border. There a kid aged 5 got on selling shit sweets. Another kid, aged probably about 10 got on selling magazines.
On the outskirts of the city I noticed a bizarre trend for selling inflatable items, such as crocodiles, swimming pools and all sorts of animals. Literally loads of these type of stalls everywhere!
That reminded me of times such as that photographed, where as chairman of SOENISC we used to bring green inflatable crocodiles to meetings.
And also drifted my mind to think of once NI travelling lunatic John Hart, who for whatever fucking reason had decided to buy Paraguay shirts and flags and support them at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Lunatic. I was later to learn that he hadn’t in actual fact ever even been to Paraguay, so I thought to myself I had better fly the flag for him in this unventured haven.
On the first part of the journey I marvel at the laid back attitude of Paraguayan life. While Argentina was full on and arrogant, Brazil was forward without force, Uruguay had been charming and under-mined, Paraguay was deep and thoughtful.
Over summarisations there but they fit for me and I’ll roll with it. Many Paraguayans simply sit on a chair outside (in the sun or not) and just stare at the world. They don’t seem to have a care in the world. As long as they are fed for the day, they happily spend their lives relaxing on a chair. Not bad!
People blag “free lifts” all the way along. A woman gets on with a basket of bread, sells none of it and gets off 20 kilometres down the road. Free lift! Wish I’d thought of that one. I’m interested on the Paraguayan’s take at other cultures too. Here i see a Taiwan Cultural Centre (there must be something in this – one of a few “Taiwan” references on this route), a clear hands across the nations approach – maybe the Paraguayans and Taiwanese are good mates. They deserve to me. Both a true human respecting nation. We pass Brasiguayo – a Brazilian stroke Paraguayan eatery. Paraguay have made good friends with some of their neighbours it would appear.
Cows graze by the main road without needing fences. The coach is comfy and still unfull. It’s pleasant and relaxed. And smooth. A film comes on the TV screens and to be honest it passes me by completely and I didn’t watch any of it! The bus seems to randomly stop outside people’s houses and they get on, as if the driver knew them. He didn’t, but they pulled him over and he stopped. At one point I am joined by a lady beside me (who stays on until almost San Lorenzo ( could be regarded as a suburb of Asuncion).
By 2.52 pm (on the buses watch) we have made about 10 or so more stops, some get on, some get off, nobody stands in the passage, people try to sell me stuff and I decline. 2.45 pm we are at Caaguazu. A busy terminal, it seems to be getting dark bizarrely early, which leads me to believe the time is correct.
Sunset is coming on this journey through the sparse undecorated country roads of Paraguay. It seemed to be just one long long road direct to Asuncion, as if we never turned off the same road, or as if there was no other road. The road was mud track at times, and rarely had two lanes. Families continued to relax and stare at the bus from the road side the whole way. Coronel Oveido is another main stop.
It starts to rain heavily after this. The dude working on board comes and offers us all a free cup of Coca Cola, which is excellent. As if to apologise for the rain.
At a stop just after this a lady gets on and seems to be popular, she is from a Chiperia (Basically a Panaderia in Paraguay) in Santo Domingo and has a large basket of bread.
I learn that this is chipa! The special Paraguayan bread that I must try. I’m hungry and it’s a perfect time to try it. They are 2,000 Guaranis each so I buy two.
The time flies past and we pass San Lorenzo and possibly Luque. These are separate towns/cities from Asuncion but you’d barely know. Once we reached them, there was no further countryside and these blur into Asuncion into one metropolis, or as the Lonely Planet most profoundly put it “Asuncion’s sprawling suburbs swallow up neighbouring towns.” Spot on.
Arrival into Asuncion was low key, unpicturesque and cheerful. The lady next to me helped explain directions to get a city bus once I had arrived in Asuncion. She got off near San Lorenzo. I was staying on till the end. Asuncion bus station follows many ridiculous traits of South American cities and manages to be in the middle of nowhere, nowhere near the city centre. To have Bangor (my home town) bus station NOT in the town centre would be ridiculous! But here in South America they decided to put all the major bus terminals somewhere in the middle of nowhere. By standards the one in Asuncion was particularly poorly situated, some 6 kilometres out of the city.
There was no way I was getting a taxi. Our bus arrived on que just after 6 pm, or was it 7 pm? Can’t remember, but I was here and happy. I walked the 2 minute walk to a random bus stop, which had no numbers on it but somehow became the right one. Within 10 minutes of waiting I had found the number 31 bus to God knows where. Before it got totaly dark I had alighted from my bus and arrived into the fun, friendly and funky Black Cat Hostel. Bliss.
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