Encarnación - and we manage to see Jesús!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 14, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel El Germano

Flag of Paraguay  , Itapúa,
Friday, December 18, 2009

Once we had finally reached the bus station in Cuidad del Este, it was an easy task to find a bus to Encarnación, although the quality of the bus was only a small step up from the boneshaker that we had just got off. We did have seats for the five hour ride although, even with all the windows open, the bus was still stiflingly hot. We were not sad to finally get into Encarnación and get across the road into a little hotel to be greeted by the owner, a charming Chinese woman called Gloria (!) who gave us lots of useful information about the town. As we walked around, it was clear that this is another of those towns where tourists are relatively rare and hence are treated no differently to locals. There are a lot of tiendas ambulantes (walking shops) here, basically a man goes around with a rack of stuff that he will try to sell to you. Much is the sort of stuff that people lose or break frequently (hats, sunglasses etc) but they often have useful items like torches, toothbrushes and vicious looking flick knives. And of course there are also those who sell food and drinks.

We made a visit by local bus (we must be suckers for punishment) to the ruins of two missions. The first, Trinidad (we’ve only just realised that Trinidad is trinity), is a short walk from the main road and has the most complete set of ruins that we have seen so far. Our previous visits to missions (from San Ignacio) had given us a good understanding of when and why they were built and how they worked. This was just as well as the Paraguayan authorities have absolutely no information whatsoever. There were four girls working the ticket office, that’s one for every tourist in the place. When we asked if they had a booklet, leaflet or plan they clearly thought we were mad.

An interesting feature of these ruins is that there is much more of the detail to be seen;  the places were much more decorated than the Argentine ruins had suggested. Also, because more is still standing, you get a better idea of the scale of things. The buildings themselves were pretty extensive and this mission was the first we have seen to have two churches. Unlike previous missions, we were able to go up vertigo-inducing ladders to the top of the bell tower and get a look over the whole site.  The surrounding countryside is no longer the jungle it must once have been and now could pass for rolling landscape of North Nottinghamshire (if you forget the odd palm tree). While we were there, workmen were busy all over the place installing lights and loudspeakers. Many of their tools and long extension leads would not pass UK H&S tests! Of course, there was no information but it looks like another Luz y Sonido that we have missed!

We walked back along the main road to find some way to get to our next mission 20km away at Jesús de Tavarengue. At the crossroads stood the oldest and most decrepit bus we have yet seen on our travels. It actually looked in worse shape than the scrapped bus we had just passed at a garage! However, the driver was clearly running a regular service to the village so we joined the crowd of locals for the ride, which was deafeningly noisy (except when going down a slight slope when the driver turned off the engine) and extremely uncomfortable. We had to pause at every building, junction etc to see if there were more passengers, and there were. For all its faults, this service is used and possibly makes a profit. When we were dropped off at the ruins, the driver said that he would be back in an hour to pick us up; and he was.

We had already gathered that the ruins at Jesús are a bit different in that the buildings were never actually completed. This may have been due to the final expulsion of the Jesuits or perhaps a result of the attacks that many missions suffered during their lifetimes. Beyond that we cannot go as we have no information! We’ll google it when we have some time... Suffice it to say that we were the only visitors there to see the unusual trefoil arches with their hint of Spanish/Moorish influences.

Back in Encarnación, we were lucky enough to be able to go to another big town fiesta, the second in 2 days in 2 countries! The main square had been set up with a stage, using the backdrop of the tall abstract heroes monument, now liberally decked out with lights. Huge stacks of plastic chairs were left at the side and people helped themselves and settled down. The usual array of stalls were selling drinks and panchos (hot dogs) but no other food seemed to be available. The event, needless to say, was late starting and even then the action was delayed by a local dignitary who talked for ages about all the people we had to thank. The impact of our rudimentary Spanish and boredom set in and we paid him no attention until things seemed to start. To our surprise everyone stood up and some people in the audience started to light candles. A sax started to play and a girl began to sing and we realised that it was a version of Paul Simon’s The Sound Of Silence (at least the tune) but this was just the backdrop to the third musician who began to intone the Lord’s Prayer. When this finished we all sat down only for a priest to appear to lead more prayers. Everyone stood up again as the priest said a whole bunch of prayers, every time you thought we’d got to the end and everyone had said Amen, he would start another prayer, with much kissing of the Bible and massed crossing of ourselves. When he finally finished, and with the event now running nearly two hours late, our dignitary reappeared and made more long speeches thanking everyone until he was silenced by the most deafening set of firecrackers we have ever experienced and the show was off!

First our musicians came back and performed a few songs including a medley of early Beatles songs! Then we had the dancing girls doing traditional move around and swish your skirts dances but this time, as a novel twist, with increasing numbers of bottles balanced on their heads. The finale being the two best girls who could manage to have five bottles, one on top of the other and still move about! (It has to be said that this was superior entertainment to the talent competition that we saw in the tiny town of Mercedes some days ago. We didn’t blog it at the time but it was an interminable series of half assed acts to demonstrate the local talents. It’s very worthy and we enjoyed seeing the kids having a good go at all sorts of stuff including a fashion show, dancing and breaking bits of wood with hands and feet but show business it ain’t!)

Then the main act started, a group of musicians strated to play and we were aware that the songs all seemed to include references to Paraguay. Then a female guest singer came on and joined them for a few numbers, all referring to Paraguay. The singer went off and the band did a couple more numbers about Paraguay and another woman joined them, this time to sing a song about Paraguay. The novel twist here is that she in turn was joined by a young man (I couldn’t tell if it was Ant or Dec) and they did a duet about Paraguay. When they went off the band did a couple of Paraguay songs before being joined by yet another guest girl singer for more songs about Paraguay. In between all the songs were rambling introductions about how great Paraguay is and how important it will be to do well in the World Cup in South Africa (helped by everyone singing along with the Paraguayan World Cup song). This pattern of the band with more and more guest singers went on and on, with all the songs exclusively about Paraguay. I couldn’t even name that many songs about England if I tried! After more than a couple of hours of this, and with the band showing no sign of reaching any kind of conclusion, we decided to call it a day. At gone 2am, as we made our way the few blocks to our hotel, we could still hear the band going strong, even after the closing firework display had been set off!




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