Ep. 24 – Paraguay

Hello,

Our short video from our week in Paraguay, the country often skipped by people who are backpacking South America! We spent most of our time in the beautiful riverside town, Encarnacion & visited the nearby Jesuit ruins.

As always, don’t forget to watch in 1080p!

Thanks for watching,

Sophie & Dave

Jesuit ruins, Encarnacion, Paraguay

Ciudad del Este, Encarnacion & Asuncion – Paraguay

Hello!

So our first impression of Paraguay after going to Iguazu falls was of the border city with Brazil: Ciudad del Este. Now that first impression was definitely not a good one. Ciudad del Este is the second largest city in Paraguay yet it seemed only to be used as a place for Brazilians to cross the border and buy knock off and cheap tax free goods. When the Brazilians left, the city shut down. We saw so many people walking around with shotguns over their shoulders and in the short time we were out in this city, we saw 3 overt cases of child labour with kids no older than 12 doing shoe shining reminiscent of our time in India earlier this year. Needless to say we weren’t in the market for plasma screen TVs so we were very keen to leave the next day.

We had a week in Paraguay before flying to Bolivia and we both were thinking oh no, what have we done? Paraguay is awful. We headed to the bus terminal early, not knowing what to expect. I must say, so far, Paraguay is the one country this year where speaking Spanish is a necessity. Normally you can just google other people’s travel blogs to know which bus company to take, what the timetable is, the cost etc. But for Paraguay, there’s barely any information online. Arriving at the bus terminal was intense; instantly we were swarmed with bus ticket sellers yelling in all directions. This had never happened to us anywhere! I mean of course we’ve been hassled by vendors but never about legitimate transport tickets at a bus station. We tried to ignore the hassling and focus on looking at the bus company windows. It seemed most counters were just going to the capital, Asuncion. So I eventually asked and was pointed in the direction of the far right hand side of the station to a company called El Tigre. Fortunately there was a bus within the hour. Whilst we waited, we realised that we were the only tourists in the entire bus station. They do say Paraguay is not yet part of the ‘Gringo trail’ and this certainly seemed to reinforce that. We were unsure on what the bus standard would be. So far, South American buses have ranged between pleasant to extreme luxury but having seen the rickety old buses driving around Ciudad del Este, our hopes weren’t high. However we were pleasantly surprised as it turned out to be a double decker tourist style bus with a toilet. It was just very dirty and freezing cold given all the air con vents were broken but it cost us G$50,000 (£6) for the 6 hour trip. Mental maths of changing Paraguyan Guaranis to Pounds was great fun; G$7400 to £1.

So anyway, about us saying Paraguay was awful, turns out that was a load of rubbish. We really disliked Ciudad del Este but Encarnacion was like a different country! Encarnacion is a 400 year old city built along the river front that lies between Paraguay and Argentina. It was quite surreal being able to look out across the river and see the city skyline of a different country (Posadas, Argentina). There was a spectacular sunset looking out in that direction practically every night we were there, we also had the same beautiful view from our hotel room. Though there aren’t really tourist attractions “to do” here, we really enjoyed it just because it was such a relaxed place. We had only booked 2 nights initially but ended up staying 4. The main thing to do in Encarnacion is simply to take the time to stroll along the river front where there was a little beach called Playa San Jose, it reminded us quite a lot of the promenade walk, La Rambla, in Montevideo. By day, we didn’t see many people in the streets of Encarnacion, but in the evenings, the board walk came alive with groups of traditional maté tea drinkers sitting on benches and chatting. There wasn’t that many food options, especially on a Sunday, and Dave was distraught to have to resort to eating McDonald’s. However, we did find one amazing restaurant; Hiroshima, a really reasonably priced Japanese place. We got boat loads of sushi, literally, they served them in little boats.

One day we decided to visit the Jesuit Ruins in Trinidad, on the outskirts of Encarnacion. In the 18th century, Spain and the Catholic church, believed that the religious movement of the Jesuits was becoming too powerful and thus they were expelled from Paraguay leaving their establishments abandoned. The weather was really hot and while it was only a short 30 minute bus ride out of town, unfortunately the bus didn’t depart on schedule and waited for other passengers to hop on board until it was virtually full. This would have been fine apart from it was like a sauna on board and both of us, while dripping in sweat, were seriously doubting whether it was even worth going. Apparently the ruins are one of the least visited UNESCO world heritage sites in the world; and if I am honest I can’t say I am surprised. While they obviously hold historical importance, when you compare them to other ruins, such as the temples of Angkor, they really aren’t that impressive to the eye. However, it was quite nice to be the only ones there and potter round the grounds independently and have a picnic under the shade of a tree. There are more ruins located 12km from the main highway in Jesus de Tavarangue. However, transport options are severely limited and neither of us fancied walking in the midday heat so we decided to give them a miss and catch the bus back to Encarnacion.

One of the main reasons we stayed for 4 days in Encarnacion was because when we were researching Asuncion, the capital, the top thing to do was to visit a shopping centre… On our travels so far we’ve realised that we usually much prefer the smaller cities to the capitals. We used the same bus company, El Tigre, for the 7 hour journey, though this bus had the opposite problem of no air con working so we were sweltering. We finally arrived and were quite glad we chose to spend most of our time in Encarnacion. We used our only day in Asuncion to catch up on laundry, very exciting. When it was time to head to the airport for our flight, we asked the hostel to help us book a taxi but they reassured us that the bus was really easy, picking us up outside the hostel and dropping us at the departures entrance. We are usually all for buses unless heading for a flight but as it was G$3,000 instead of G$100,000, we opted for the bus. The guy from the hostel even put us on what he said was the correct bus. Turns out it wasn’t the right bus! It should have only taken 40 minutes but after an hour, we were concerned. I asked a lady on the bus and she said we were on the wrong bus! We jumped off and managed to get in a taxi and go back on ourselves to the airport. We were livid but we made our flight in time and all was okay.

Join us next time as we head to Bolivia!

Sophie & Dave

 

Montevideo – Uruguay

Hello!

From Colonia, we caught a 3 hour bus along the coast to Montevideo. Though it seemed like a legitimate touristy coach, all the locals kept hopping on and off as we drove along. Fortunately we had reserved seats but the aisle was full of people throughout the whole trip.

The capital, Montevideo, is sort of split in to the old city and the new city. One of the main things to do is walk the beach promenade; La Rambla. It was a lovely walk in the sunshine in what is classed as the ‘new’ area of Montevideo. It must have been considered too cold for Uruguyan’s as no one was swimming (apart from a crazy dog charging around the waves whom everyone was watching). The temperature was in the low-mid twenties with glorious sunshine yet most people were bundled up in winter coats and scarves! Probably the only time in South America so far where we’ve both stuck out as clear tourists wearing our shorts! We walked on further to the lighthouse which is on the southern most point of the city. Though nothing spectacular, it was a nice stroll and we saw a stray cat colony near the lighthouse. A lady who stopped with us said that she and others who live nearby come to drop off cat food here for them.

The rest of our time in Montevideo took us to the old city. We did a walking tour with a company called Curioso which was one of our favourite tours yet. We started in la Plaza Independencia where there’s a big statue and a mausoleum with the ashes of Jose Artigas; Uruguay’s national hero who helped to liberate them from various invaders including the Brits (who didn’t we bloody invade). There are 33 palm trees around the square representing the 33 patriots who fought for independence. Around the square, there was also the same building we saw in Buenos Aires whose architecture is inspired by the Divine Comedy with floors representing hell, ascension and heaven with a lighthouse at the top. Lastly around the square we saw the offices of parliament. The guide mentioned former president Jose Mujica who was very popular with the people and who apparently was often seen without guards and eating at restaurants and cafes round the square with ordinary people.

We carried on to La Plaza de la Constitucion, where Uruguay’s most renowned fountain sits. Apparently it was created by an Italian architect and thus some fundamental words about the constitution are spelt incorrectly with Italian rather than Spanish spellings! We also learned that Uruguay is one of the most agnostic and atheist countries, thus has very few churches. We did however go to one, cathedral metropolitana. The church had the body of one of the first presidents of Uruguay – Fructuoso Rivera (1854). Our tour guide said he was the reason why most Uruguyans have light, European skin compared to the rest of South America. Rivera apparently invited all the indigenous people to a gathering and slaughtered them all. Our guide’s comment on this was that the running joke is that Peruvians are descended from the Incas, Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs and Uruguayan’s are descended from sheep. In keeping with the liberal nature of the country, our guide explained how marijuana is legal for Uruguayan citizens; their ID cards have a chip like a credit card which enables them to go to pharmacies, insert their ID and it states how much weed they are allowed to buy. He said it is usually 40g per month and said it was so amusing for him to watch his parents all of a sudden change their perspective on drugs after they realised it was state owned and now he often goes home to see his parents having a joint together!

Though Uruguay was a country we didn’t really know much about, nor knew anyone who had ever been, we really enjoyed our time there and hope to return one day and explore a few more cities and towns, perhaps not just the ones along the coast but further inland!

Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to Brazil!

Sophie & Dave