Across the Rio Parana
Trip Start Sep 22, 2007
21Trip End Nov 10, 2007
It is a long day of travelling. Our first slight problem is that with the 2 bubbly Australians (Lisa and Tess), a reclusive Slovenian (Yerbie) and us, there are 5 passengers plus driver for the 5 seater jeep. The driver is quite happy to squeeze as many people as possible in the jeep and there is already a mysterious guy sleeping ontop of our rucksacs in the open air vehicle boot. To have a more comfortable ride, which strangely costs the same price per person, we briefly consider leaving behind Yerbie
The 3 hour journey is a tight but we enjoy getting to know oneanother. The scenery is fantastic with red mud, grasslands and blue skies. Occasionally we see pink storks taking off into flight. As each minute passes, I begin to realise the magnitude of the Esteros del Ibera park. It is a giant wildlife santuary of pure natural beauty.
After the jeep, we take a really hot bus from a small town to the larger transport hub of Posadas (Argentina). Here we jump on a local bus to take us across the border. The temperature is getting warmer as we head north.
We know very little about Paraguay except that it is the 3rd poorest country in South America, and full of corruption as bootleg goods are passed across into Brazil. The country sounds appealing as it is rarely visited by travellers and close to border town of Encarnacion, there are the Jesuit ruins. Definately well worth investigating.
At the border, the first thing we learn is that the two Aussies are supposed to have a visa
Another bus takes us into the centre of Encarncion. Itīs late afternoon on a Saturday and the town is buzzing with plenty of traders selling watches, jewellery and clothes. The ladies remind me of the slim Venezuelanīs and they look beautiful.
We walk in some intense heat to a number of hostels where our travel guides promise swimming pools and comfortable air conditioned rooms, but after 2 hostels we realise that these places are expensive and they do not look like the sort of places where we donīt think that we will be very comfortable. We all feel quite disappointed with the useless recommendations.
Tess and I investigate other better options. After visiting just about every hotel in town we realise that everything not recommended in our books turns out to be quite good. We end up chosing Hotel Piranha. The owner is extremly friendly. The rooms are like stepping back to the 1960s with frilly bedspreads, a bakelite phone, a valve TV and a giant turqoise blue ceiling fan. Itīs basic but quiet and cheap (8 pounds per room).
John and I make our 1st mistake of the trip
Fortunately for us, Paraguay is a relatively safe country. Itīs one of the few countries in the world where Iīve read in the Lonely Planet that women can walk around at night in safety. We donīt spot any other backpackers during our time, but everyone is extremely friendly and accomodating. This seems a little odd for the 3rd poorest country in South America.
In the evening we decide to give our guide books another chance and visit "Hiroshima" a Japanese restaurant. We discover that Paraguay is actually an hour behind Argentina and we have actually turned up for dinner at 6.30pm, an unspeakably early hour for eating in South America. We are all tired but have an absolutely fabulous Japanese meal which fully restores our confidence in our guide book. We tuck into 2 platters of raw sashimi, 4 main course plates, warm sakes and several beers (served in champagne style ice buckets by a waiter dressed in full diner jacket). The bill comes to less than 5 pounds per person
After a good nights sleep, I wake to feel fully refreshed. Our Aussie friends are so enthusiastic and so full of vitality that I am reminded that I am on holiday. I am really beginning to relax and enjoy myself. After a fantastic breakfast with 2 jugs of fresh orange and pineapple juice, served by a waiter fully dressed in a dinner jacket, I feel even better.
The Jesuit ruins of Trinidad are 28km from the town. The bus passes through fertile soil which is a rich and amber red in colour and fields of wheat. Apart from the soil colour and the occaisional palm tree, the scenery looks oddly like the British countryside. I later learn that a lot of the original forests have been destroyed to plant crops. The sky is a hazy cloudy white colour although the temperature at around 35C is definately much hotter.
The Jesuits came to the country in 1607 and were expelled in 1767. Their stay in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil is controversial. They helped to protect the indiginous cultures from extinction and improved living conditions by always chosing fertile regions to grow crops. They also promoted the growing and drinking of yerbe mate as it was favoured to alcohol. However, they were disliked by the locals as they were wealthy. It was thought that they secretly mined for precious metals in their missiones.
The site at Trinidad is around 20 hectares in size. The main catherdral, bell towers, living quarters, and cloisters are all built from a red sandstone
We also visit the ruins of Jesus by catching a local taxi. No one really blinks an eye lid to see that our passenger window is made of huge strips of yellow faded sticky tape and I share the front seat with a slim local girl.
The site of Jesus is very isolated and a single ruin of a main cathedreal is totally surrounded by fields and trees. The combination of ancient stone ruins with naturual surroundings reminds me of Angkor Wat. For me, the beauty of the place not only lies with the architecture of the buildings but also its unspoilt remoteness.
At the top of the church Tess walks along the top of the 1 metre wide thick walls to the front of the church and stands with her arms outstretched. Itīs at least a 20m drop down and we all feel a little quesy watching.
After another very sweaty and busy bus ride back to Encarnacion, John and I check out whether there are any air conditioned buses which can take us up to the border to re enter Argentina and visit Puerto Iguazu
We cool down with a huge 600ml tub of ice cream from "Los Dos Chinos" Geletaria (70p) and chill out with the rest of the town in the main plaza. There is an odd 1970s concrete monstrosity and also a Japanese garden. There are quite a few Japanese in town and we wonder why there are so many around.
On our final day we have a money count. We have only spent one third of the money we withdrew from the ATM machine. Armed with a bundle of notes, I head out to buy some warm shoes in preparation for Patagonia. The staff are extremely friendly offering to share their supersweet chilled Mateīs (the national drink) with me. I cant believe how cheap sports trainers are. I am suprised to see the trainers that I bought in Peterborough, UK cost 50% less here!! I end up buying a pair of leather Basics shoes for 22 GBP.
We say goodbye to the girls, who, as promised, are heading back to Posadas in Argentina. Our minibus takes us through more rural countryside and 4 hours later we reach Cuidad del Este, city of the East.
Its getting late in the day, so we change our remaining Guirane with a dodgy dealer in the bus station
Our taxi driver is extremely friendly but he turns a little impatient when we insist that against his judgement we do need to get a Brazilian exit stamp in our passports. We end up forcing him to return from the Argentinian border back to the Brazilian customs. He responds by dumping us off in a quiet street in Pueto Iguazu and demaning a fee of 40 USD rather than the agreed 40 Argentinian Dollares (12 USD). We have both enjoyed our time in Paraguay, but this incidence leaves a sour note in my mouth.
8 days into our travels and it seems hard to believe that we have left our home in St Neots and have now travelled through Greece, Rome, Argentina, Paraguay and Brasil. OK, we did only stop a very short time in most places (only 30 minutes in Brasil and 5 hours in Rome) but there 3 of the countries I didnt expect to visit. I am enjoying the travels and feel full of energy for more.
We have experienced a brief taste of Paraguay. Although corruption seems rife with well kept Mecedes cars driving around the towns, the ruins have been well worth visiting, the people are friendly, it seems safe and the food is delicious. Itīs has been a great stop over.