Asunción; we're travellers, get us out of here!
Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
133Trip End Jun 14, 2010
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Where I stayed
After our recent experiences with buses without air-con, we were determined that our trip to Asunción would be more comfortable. We looked in the bus station for those companies running the smarter buses and checked with them which buses they use for which routes. We decided to take the 9.00 bus from one company and arrived in good time, only to be told that there were no seats. However, the woman usefully told us that the company next door had seats for their bus just about to leave. The bus looked smart, we bought tickets (strangely now 10,000 Guaraní more expensive), boarded and almost immediately set off. We had expected to buy some breakfast as we waited for the bus but this was not a problem as we soon had a man on the bus selling chipas (warm bread rolls and rings, sometimes with cheese or ham mixed in). We looked set for a great journey.
We had no information at all about the city. There seems to be no Lonely Planet for Paraguay and information on the web is negligable; our googling had not found any hostels or the like. Recently we have often stayed in Hostelling International places but they have none in Paraguay.
With no knowledge of where we were, nor where the centre was, we set out. A local bus was signed as Centro so that seemed good enough. We got on and marvelled at the circuitous route that the bus managed to take, although we were still not sure where it was going. After close on an hour, we reached some streets that looked more like the centre of a city and we elected to get off. As we made our way to the front door, a man indicated the back door (where we do know you are supposed to alight). The bus had a sort of barrier at the steps and when it stopped, another man gestured to Jen to pass through but stepped in front of me and immediately dropped some coins. He dropped down to retrieve them, Jen stepped of the bus and the bus set off. I gestured to Jen that I would get off at the next stop but as the guy in front was scrabbling on the floor the men behind me were pushing against me and I realised that I was being rumbled. I reached down to the zipped pocket where I keep my wallet and grabbed the bloke’s hand, rezipped the pocket with wallet intact and punched him, uttering some Anglo Saxon that he may not have understood in detail but I’m sure he got the sentiment. It was clear that the other men (who may well have been in collusion with the bus driver) realised that the game was up so one whistled to the driver, the bus stopped and I got out (having vented my anger by giving the guy another thump). Jen was just a little way away having walked in the same direction as the bus. She had been able to see that there was some sort of altercation but not able to tell what was going on. As it is, we are intact but a little more wary. We have travelled safely through several countries with nothing as substantial as this ever happening; so much for Paraguay and their strong Christian ethic!
We were now in what purported to be the centre of the city and we walked around and eventually found a tourist information office. Here they were able to give us a copy of last month’s tourist guide, which does include maps, but mostly of shopping centres. It has a short resume of the tourist sites although the names they give are not always the same as on the map. We enquired about a series of restored houses, Manzana de la Rivera, which was the only thing that claimed to be open. The assistant in the tourist office showed us it on the map where it is called Casa Viola. We walked to the spot on the map but the houses were not actually there but across the road in a different place. But it was alright because the houses were clearly not open and the disused ticket office and junk resting against the doors suggested that it had not been open for a long time. We were beginning to get a bit fed up with Asunción!
(Since writing that paragraph, we have discovered that the computers in the hotel are just for show. Although they are new and complete with headphones, mikes and webcams, they are not connected to anything, let alone the internet. The bus station opposite has three places that advertise Internet but two of these do not actually have an internet connection. The third was so popular that there were long queues to use the terminals so we had only enough time to book a hotel in our next stop, Resistencia.)
When we finally managed to start our journey out of Paraguay, it was soon marred by an almost inevitable altercation at the border. We have already mentioned how we were unable to get our passports stamped on entry to the country because the bus did not stop at the border. When we tried to leave we were refused an exit stamp, taken into the office and told to pay a fines of 163,000 guaranis (about £20) each or we would have to go back to Ciudad del Este to get an entry stamp. This was such patent nonsense; if it's wrong for us to be 'on the loose' in Paraguay, they can't really suggest that we carry on travelling! So we couldn't simply pay up and we protested loud and long. When it became obvious that we were getting nowhere, we reluctantly decided we'd have to pay but we insisted on a receipt. The immigration officer was obviously not keen to do this, so he reduced the price of the 'fine' if we did without the receipt and promised not to come back into Paraguay; we were pleased enough to agree to that.
So we have seen very little of Asunción (or Paraguay itself) and what we have seen has not really enchanted us. We certainly do not recommend Asunción, which has all the disadvantages of big cities with no redeeming features that we could find. Encarnación was charming if not really attractive and the mission ruins well worth seeing (but you can get there by crossing into Encarnación from Posadas - but remember to get your passport stamped!). At an earlier stage of our planning we had toyed with the idea of travelling into the wide open spaces of the north of the country and returning down the Rio Paraguay by boat but we’re not.