Almost to the Jungle

Trip Start Apr 08, 2012
Trip End Sep 25, 2012

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Flag of Paraguay  ,
Friday, April 20, 2012

I was reminded today of my first trip into Botswana in 2008. We had driven the 7 hours to the border only to find that it was closed.
The border crossing consisted of a cement "bridge" - really just a dam that you drive over, very carefully - and the Limpopo River was so high then that it was impossible to get across as you couldn't actually see the bridge.
And even if we could have, the roads on the other side were all sand and dirt so getting stuck was guaranteed.
Today I was told that I must spend the night in Asuncion, Paraguay before finding a bus to take me to Santa Rosa for my volunteering.
Because of heavy rains a truck had gotten - and probably still is - stuck on the main road to the Laguna Blanca Reserve which means that no one can get in or out to fetch me.

So I'm in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. 
I had a bit of a shock when I stepped out of the airport. Two days ago I was in 2 degree weather, with bitter cold winds and rain.
Today I am still in the rain, and while the temperature is in the 20s, the humidity is about 95%.
If this isn't considered the jungle yet, it's close to.

The first thought that came to my mind while sitting in the taxi through the city was "I bet a lot of expats live here."
I have no idea why I thought that, I guess this sort of city-in-the-jungle setting is just what I picture when I think of old vets. 
My next thought was, but why? Surely people want at least some of the benefits of a first world country if they have the choice. Many of the buildings look very old and regal, as if there was, at one point, a lot of money in this country. But every single building I drove past was run down and dilapidated, as if one day, all that money just disappeared.

When I got money out of the ATM I realised why someone might move their life here. One US Dollar is worth 4300 Paraguayan Guaranis.
If I added up the numbers of the various currencies in my wallet I would end up with a ridiculous amount. If I thought I had trouble with the Chilean Peso at 488 per Dollar, I had it easy. I have absolutely no idea how much anything here costs.
For example, dinner tonight will cost 33,000 (less than $8) and my room will cost 170,500 (about $40). Far cheaper than anything you would find in America of the same quality, but for the people here it would be considered rather expensive.

Most countries in South America accept the US dollar as payment and you can see why. You can even choose on the ATMs here whether you want cash in the local currency or dollars.
Many businesses actually prefer being paid in dollars or Euros - the hostel I stayed in in Chile removed the 19% sales tax if you did.
On a related but slightly different note, in Venezuela the black market rate to exchange for a dollar is worth four times that of the legal rate.
Driving through Asuncion also made me realise that I have yet to feel unsafe on this continent. And while I still don't particularly, I'm also far more wary here. Where before I would happily walk around with my headphones in my ears, I won't carry anything more than the necessary amount of cash now.
On that note, I stupidly forgot that I left a knife - okay 3 knives - in my carry-on and I'm not comfortable going into the bush (I don't think that's the right word here) without one, so I need to find myself a store.
I'm running on about 6 hours of sleep for the past 2 days so after sleeping for as long as possible tonight I will catch a bus and - hopefully - make it to the place I will spend the next month at.


Edit: I realise that I may have made Asuncion sound pretty dodgy and that's not true. After walking around a bit - and getting soaked in the rain twice - I now understand why this place felt so different from the other places I've been.
Paraguay is not a popular tourist destination for Europeans or Americans. So before now every other accent I heard was American, in every hostel from Buenos Aires to Patagonia. Now I'm pretty much alone. Being out of a major city, less people speak English and being non-Latino is far more obvious.
But there's an upside to a lack of tourists and foreign money: crime is far lower than in most cities. Asuncion is actually a very safe place and everyone here has been far more helpful than anywhere else.
There are security guards and police standing outside every bank with shotguns and stationed outside many hotels.
And they all look so bored. As if they're wondering why they're there, knowing that nothing is going to happen to make their day more interesting.
Who thought bored expressions would make people feel safe?

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