Paraguay the way I like it
Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
64Trip End Sep 04, 2011
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Where I stayed
Hotel Tia Nancy
Ciudad del Este, or the 'City of the East', is a buzzing town of almost 400k inhabitants, which stretches along the border with Brazil. Due to this "strategic" location, it serves as a gateway for smuggling contraband goods into the country. The city can seem to be a bit dodgy and unsafe at the first sight, but there is really nothing to be afraid of. As anywhere else in Paraguay, I was the only spotted tourists wandering around the city center along with countless ‘cambio’ guys and counterfeit goods vendors, who were taking care of their daily business. Honestly, these guys have problems of their own, than to pay too much attention to one enthusiastic and very careful backpacker. After disappointing Asuncion and boring Encarnacion, this place, with much of commotion on the streets, plenty of food and fruits street vendors, and a bit of that necessary garbage lying on the streets, put me back on the South American note
As in other parts of the country, the locals here love to sip ‘terere’, an iced herbal tea drank from a special set composed of insulated (thermos), flask cup and straw. At the beginning, I was surprised to see how many people carry these big ‘terere’ flaks along on streets, on buses; literally everywhere. But then I understood that drinking ‘terere’ is one big genuine national passion, the same way as wearing jersey of Paraguayan national football team. Not only boys, but also many girls proudly put on their white-red striped tops. It is something I have not seen in any other country. I can now imagine what kind of craziness was happening all around the country during the World Cup games of Paraguay.
The city however has also its dark sides. For the first time during my whole trip I could see people living on streets in tents made of plastic, bare-footed kids or women with an infant walking around outside restaurants and bagging for food, or kids sleeping on a path walks. Those were very disturbing scenes showing you what poverty is about.
Before moving to the ‘experience part’ of this blog entry, let me make a few comments on the population in Paraguay
Besides the hectic city centre, there is much to be seen around the town’s perimeter. My first steps led to Itaipu dam, the world’s second largest hydroelectric plant. Over there, a free tour on a nice and air-conditioned bus allows you to see the 6km long weir, as well as the heart of this ‘technical monument’, a 1 km long hall where all 20 turbines are located
After this technical excursion, it was a time to experience a natural phenomenon for which this micro-region is known, waterfalls. Just 10 km north of Ciudad del Este, in a small town called President Franco, can be found a first waterfall set called Salto Monday. With the height of 40 m, these are the highest falls in Paraguay, and the place where you can enjoy sound of roaring water mass without being disturbed by anybody else. I arrived at the site a bit before 6 pm, and have not seen anybody else besides 3 local workers building a new outlook platform. You must undergone a bit of hassle to find a correct bus to get you there, but I promise you will not be disappointing.
What Ciudad del Este is however the most well-known for is its proximity to one of the World’s New Wonders of Nature, and apparently the most beautiful waterfalls on this planet. Located just 15 km outside of Paraguay territory right on the Brazilian and Argentinean boarder, the city serves as a handy and cheap base for exploring the Iguazu waterfalls
Knowing the way back finding and crossing the border was fairly easy. The first meters back on Paraguayan soil let me understand how Ciudad del Este earned its nickname ‘Supermarket of South America’. With hundreds of street vendors and small stores lined up one next to each other, this place is a shopping wonderland where you can buy almost anything for just a fraction of original price. The question is to what extent these goods are brand names or just counterfeits. The answer can be a fact that the last place where I saw so many females carrying Louise Vuitton bags was LuxembourgL
I truly enjoyed my 3-day stay in Ciudad del Este, a city so infections for its unique business and smuggling ambiance. But even this experience must have come to its end. The bus back to Asuncion let me understood why I had to suffer aboard of the previous sluggish buses. Unlike the other ones, this one was a ‘directo’ stopping only at major bus terminals along the way, and not to anybody standing at the road. And as a nice bonus, the bus was air-conditioned. So for all of intending to travel around Paraguay, take directos! Coming back to Asuncion had only one pragmatic reason; to take a next day flight to the other side of the continent, the capital of the country stretching down through half of South America. December 2 was also the day when I started counting down my last 16 days in South America.
Paraguay is a country of remarkable contrast where shiny Mercedeses and bare-footed baggers meet on the streets, the country where the word ‘tourist’ is almost unknown, and a place which is surprisingly safe. If you want to enjoy a real off-bean path travel experience, or forget about other noisy backpackers, or just to travel without being perceived as one big $ sign, this is a place to be. Do yourself a favor and for once diverge from the main travel routes, cut a few days from your stay in Buenos Aires, and come here to taste what Paraguay is about. I think that you will not regret. I did it, and I am proud to say:” I have been to Paraguay”. Paraguay deserves its 60%.
Greetings from Asuncion, Paraguay