When your wandering heart takes you to a wet, drizzly, quiet bus station on a Sunday night 8 kilometres from the less ventured capital city of Paraguay, you know you’ve struck gold. You know you are a traveller and you know that all those Spanish classes will come in handy in a land of unique, unchartered solitude.
It ain’t a small city, in fact, to describe Asuncion as a city perhaps doesn’t even do justice to the endless sprawling suburbs, developing itself into some sort of metropolis. A never ending mass of people and housing which began about 6 hours into my gorgeous bus journey through this country.
Paraguay had instantly made me chirpy. Despite what you hear about the dangers amidst the true true urban madness that is Ciudad Del Este. A city I spent a fair few hours in, without hardly ever brandishing my camera in order to avoid “standing out from the crowd”, an attribute I was hardly shy from anyhow given my double mochillas, my unshaven bake and a sense of wondrous intrigue to be the only visible tourist in town. Indeed on every bus (except when I was with Gregory from the hostel), taxi and at every bus terminal I ever was in Paraguay, I remained the only foreigner or tourist. And I cherished and loved that.
From the grey, dreary bus station on a deep edge of the capital, I had now to find my way to the Black Cat hostel. Unique in itself, being the only “hostel” in Asuncion. I had booked it a few days before, had been aware of it for a few months. Firstly the first ever Paraguayan I met (in Buenos Aires) had told me to go there and had recommended Asuncion to me as well (he would – now come on that’s like me telling someone to go and check out the Shankill Road. Bias goes a long way…). Studying in Uruguay with English born Harriet (who, for the jobs of her father had also lived in Northern Ireland some time ago) I learnt her and her boyfriend Matthew also stayed at the Black Cat.
I stood there with the locals, none of them bothering me or questioning my presence in their proud mammoth capital. Five or six buses passed by, I was waiting on a number 31 bus, perhaps only because the hostel had emailed and told me to get this bus a few days before and by coinicidence I was copying my good friend Panny Yu who took the exact same route as me from Montevideo to Colonia to Buenos Aires to Iguazu to Ciudad del Este AND to Asuncion. Somehow I had made the exact same route as her, but about 10 days later. It would have been nice to have travelled this together with Panny but my time in Montevideo was not yet up when this Hong Kong angel made the trip to Asuncion.
Her advice had also been about getting the 31 bus. I was daydreaming when the number 31 finally showed up, but somehow remembered to get on. An old fashioned style bus, trendy and neat. Old, worn and travelled. Two nice workers at the front helped me find my destination. I had told them Eligio Ayala and the Black Cat Hostel. The former they probably knew, the second they probably assumed was the pet I had lost.
Lost in translation perhaps as El Gato Negro (The Black Cat) was a hostel not an animal. The journey was nice. The sky was not so dark, the bus was average full and the people around me were all Paraguayan.
I had expected them to come and chat and curb their curiosities of this bag laden traveller, but they were quiet and reserved, one child stared at me, the bus driver’s mate (sat in the other front seat) pumped up the Paraguayan music tunes to liven the spirit on the bus.
I opened up my Lonely Planet book to check of we were yet on the map in there, and indeed we had arrived on Avenida Marsical Lopez, the seeming equivalent to Belfast’s Royal Avenue. A street which sprawls its way flatly along to the cities main attractions.
Indeed I noticed the obvious flatness of Asuncion immediately. There was something else that right now cannot be described or contemplated. Something raw and real about that arrival into Asuncion which made me feel the marvel of this city. That particular night I felt something special being in Asuncion and it will live with me.
Like my first shift in Australia in PJ Gallagher’s or like the first time I spoke another language for longer than one minute, there was an undescribable air of freedom in Asuncion.
Drifting back into that quiet bus journey, which by the way cost 2,300 Guaranis, about 40 pence, it was long and winding snake like in and out of the main streets, which were deserted. It was a ghost town.
But then it was Sunday. On rounding the corner to the city’s first real central location I saw, Plaza Uruguay pointed itself out. A video I took below shows that part of my journey. There in this quiet “square”, many local people had made tents out of thin black bin bags and were squatting there. It was a neighbourhood. It was poor. People there were hoking in bins (as they had done in Uruguay and Argentina) for rubbish only they know the value of.
That was a tad sad to see, but was another glimpse of raw Paraguayan life which is important to take in. When you see it, you don’t hesitate to feel sorry or wish a better life upon these people.
Soon after we passed the street Yegros and I saw Independencia Nacional, the street which was after the Black Cat and the driver let me out. At first I couldn’t get my bearings and didn’t notice the Black Cat, until a closing shop keeper pointed it out to me. He didn’t even need to ask if I was staying there. It was obvious, with two heavy bags, its blatant that I’m seeking the only hostel in this metropolis – yes, let’s call it that.
The all you can eat buffet in La Esquinza. Cost about $2. So cheap, and the food was amazing.
My plate so in my case “all you couldn’t finish.”
Gregory Ortiz, here playing guitar at the Black Cat hostel. Gregory became my good friend in Asuncion, I met him in the hostel as I walked through the door that night, a zoo keeper with an keen interest in special animals. We explored the city together and he wasn’t a beer drinker yet even had a few beers with me.
A military shop.
A military parade.
More army parade.
I was almost a millionaire in Paraguay! Lots of Guaranis in a pound!!
The garden at the Black Cat hostel.
The relaxation of a lovely bed and a quiet hostel in Asuncion – the Black Cat is excellent!
Government building with many Paraguayan flags at Democracy Square.
The Pink Palace. Cabildo.
The Presidential Palace.
Northern Ireland flag at the palace.
Looking out across the river to Argentina.
The port of Asuncion.
Horses graze just a few minutes walk from the CBD. No kidding. The mix of rural and urban is stunning.
A local bus.
The Navy base near the port is a very sadly worn district of town, looked very poor and a touch dodgy to walk around.
A number plate resembling my birth town. Ards!
This area of slums was not advised to visit, so we didn’t – I walked round with Gregory up to the entrance.
Murals by that area of slums, which banks onto the river.
I had a real sense of understanding when in Paraguay. This was one of the poorest places I have ever visited, and yet I didn’t feel at once intimidated or like a stranger. I really contrasted it to Buenos Aires, a city which should be one of the richest in the world, and realised how my heart would always side with Asuncion. There were poor people everywhere but they had smiles and they had lives to live – it didn’t seem they would bother others, and not foreigners. Paraguay really touched me in that way.
Gregory and I ventured into a few slum type areas, some close to the city centre, but one also by the football stadium.
One of the saddest aspects was bang in the city centre, at Plaza Uruguaya, many poor people squatt there and hoke in rubbish bins for food. Anything. They make tents out of dirty bin bags and live in total poverty. You can walk past easily, but I felt uneasy taking photos of them, more sad for them and felt really sorry to see their lives were that way. That’s a photo I took however of the black bin bag tents.
And their next door neighbour, at that point I felt I had to spend some more money in the city, just to buy things to give to their economy, I mean everything in Paraguay was so cheap, yet these families had their kids playing football in the park while the parents hoked bins for food.
More from the same area.
The Post Office. As Mark Knopfler once wrote “postcards from Paraguay,” its rare to get one.
A Paraguayan post van takes kid brother my postcard all the way to Irlanda del Norte.
A nice wee bookshop.
Plaza de Los Heroes.
An Irishman was once here. Plaza Juan O’Leary.
Inside the monument at Plaza de Los Heroes.
Standing on the pitch at the national football stadium, Estadio Defensores del Chaco.
Paraguayan national football shirts.
Leather and nice hand made gifts in Paraguay.
Paraguay’s own liquer – Aristocrata! I never tried it…
Having a beer in Britannia Pub on a cracking wee night out in Asuncion with Gregory and Pawel.
Asuncion contains South America’s first train station, now it serves merely as a museum. A lady waiting on the non existant express to Encarnacion…
I like it. I want it to remain unknown and unpopular for tourists. That way it will always be the same Asuncion to me. I will return here. I want to return to Asuncion, and indeed spend a bit more time in rural Paraguay. I hope to write some more on Paraguay again soon.
Stay At – The Black Cat (don’t even consider anywhere else)
Strange Currencies – VERY STRANGE, 5,000 G (Guaranis) are equivalent to about 70 pence. For a few days only, I was a millionaire in Paraguay.
Transport Used – Asuncion Local Buses (I used many – they were excellent), Espreso Guarani long distance bus (from Ciudad Del Este), Aerosur Aeroplane (last plane out of Paraguay’s almost gone). Didn’t use taxis in Asuncion – just the local buses – but I did use a taxi in Paraguay – at Ciudad Del Este
Nationalities Met – Paraguayan, United States, Polish, German, French, Swiss, Australian, English, Bolivian, South Korean, Spanish, Venezuelan
Food – All You Can Eat Buffet at La Esquinza for 10,000 G (that’s £1.40 or something…)
Drink – Britannia Pub (much more local than it’s United Kingdom name suggests)
My advice on Asuncion – Go there
Mark Knopfler – Postcards From Paraguay:
GETTING THAT NUMBER 31 BUS THE NIGHT I ARRIVED IN UNKNOWN ASUNCION:
BLACK CAT HOSTEL ASUNCION:
PLAZA DE LOS HEROES, ASUNCION:
MILITARY PARADE IN ASUNCION:
BUS TO ASUNCION FROM CIUDAD DEL ESTE, PASSING THROUGH SAN LORENZO:
ESTADIO DEFENSORES DEL CHACO, ASUNCION:
IN SOUTH AMERICA’S FIRST TRAIN STATION ESTACION CENTRAL, ASUNCION: