South America Day 9 – Asunción
January 17th 2019
Today, we are travelling 200 miles west to the Paraguayan capital of Asunción. By bus. This is the old man’s route planning; I am a little bemused why anyone would want to do either of these things.
The bus departs from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, so first we must cross the border. We briefly consider the bus-border-bus-border-bus combination. Then book a taxi. The good news is that we make good time through the border. The bad news is that the taxi driver has forgotten the time zone change, so we arrive at the bus station two hours early. Fortunately, the bus company (NSA) has a VIP lounge where we can wait in air conditioned luxury, which is good as it’s 40 degrees outside.
I’ve not been looking forward to this journey, but the bus is, in fact, the most luxurious bus I have ever been on. So I recline in my semi-cama and watch Paraguay unfold. The colours are vibrant; lush green vegetation, rich red soil, and everything in between covered in a layer of orange dust. It’s like driving through a traffic light.
Over six hours later, long after I’m over the vibrancy of the colours, we reach Asunción. Our hotel; Chaco, has seen better days, decades even. The room, although rather tired and tatty is enormous. You could definitely swing a cat here, and not even have to worry about making a mess.
We have dinner (beer and a selection of empanadas) at Lido Bar. My guide book describes Paraguay as ‘off the beaten track’ and I can see why it’s not a popular tourist destination; it’s hot and dirty and dangerous enough for most shops and restaurants to have armed guards. A street vendor tries to sell us Swiss Army knifes while we’re eating. It’s rather unsettling when he suddenly flicks a blade in our face. We’re not totally sure if we’re being mugged – he maybe needs to work on his sales pitch.
After dinner, I go for a swim in the hotel’s rooftop pool and watch the sun set over the River Paraguay, much of which appears to be on fire. We have 36 hours left in Asunción, which is plenty.
South America Day 10 – Asuncion
January 18th 2019
The ancient air conditioning unit seems to serve no other purpose than to make noise. So we slept badly and I wake up rather grumpy. We have a whole day to explore Asunción. I’m not sure what we’ll do in the afternoon. Probably sleep, as we need to leave for the airport at 3.30 am tomorrow.
We set off at 9 am for some sightseeing. First stop, the railway station – South America’s first station. I ponder briefly the point of being first, it would seem beneficial to have more than one or where would the trains go? There is what can loosely describe as a museum, plus an original train from 1861.
Next, we go to the cathedral, which is locked. We head instead for the waterfront (the Costanera), but the cathedral’s security guard tells us it is too dangerous and turns us back.
So we go to the next place of interest according to Lonely Planet, The Cabildo. To quote LP; “this influential cultural center is a meeting place for Bohemian thinkers…” Meanwhile, back in the real world, the entire plaza is a shanty town where hundreds of people are living under tarpaulins; Comunidad Takuara’i.
There is a lot of police. And guns. And shouting. And general unrest. By 10 am, I decide I’ve had enough and return to the hotel, via Panteón de los Héroes; a building when the remains of prominent Paraguayans are kept under ceremonial guard.
Back at the hotel, I google Comunidad Takuara’i – they are indigenous people evicted from their land by soy producers and have been camping in the central square for months demanding a solution to their plight.
In the afternoon, the old man braves a walk along the Costanera while I retire to the rooftop for a swim and a beer. He returns unscathed, although he was approached by a man with a taser who was either trying to mug him or sell him a taser – he’s not quite sure.
We go for dinner and my Spanish lets me down. I think lomito caballo means loin cowboy style. I check with the waiter and he says it comes with eggs and onions. Not until it arrives and the meat seems rather tough, do I realise I’ve ordered horse.