My route in Paraguay:
I crossed into Paraguay from Argentina on September 10. It was uneventful except again they would not let me ride my bike across the river separating the two countries. They told me to hitch a ride with a truck. There was a long line of cars and trucks waiting for immigration so I walked my bike along side of them and saw a pick up with two guys in it staring at me. This is not unusual since I get stares all the time. I took the opportunity though to walk over and ask if they could give me a lift. They said sure. So in I got and we breezed through.
There is a lot of traffic between Argentina and Paraguay so the immigration officer did not even ask to see (or stamp) our passports. He must have thought I was Paraguyan. Once past customs I disembarked and continued on my way. The truck driver invited me over for a drink but it was a bit out of the way and I was eager to get to the border town of Encarnación. Now, It did occur to me that I did not have an entry stamp in my passport. I debated riding back to immigration to get one but decided against it. That would cost me later. For the moment I was just annoyed that I paid $65 for a visa and nobody even looked at it.
P. J. O´Rourke once wrote, ¨Paraguay is nowhere and famous for nothing¨. Then he visited and supposedly fell in love with the place. Well I can´t say I am in love, but there are a number of things about Paraguay I like: It is cheap. I got hotel rooms for $8, a nice dinner for $5 and a liter of beer for $1. Now the hotel was not the Hilton. Here is a view from my bedroom window:
The people are nice and friendly and very curious about my trip. They have great shoulders (called banquinas) on the main roads. Highway designers take note! Please design more roads with shoulders like these:
Ascunción is a charming city, more about that later. Finally, the post system is much more efficient that Argentina. I sent a package from Argentina to the USA from the post office. First I stood in line to buy a regulation box, then I stood in another line only to be told I must first go to customs to get my box approved. I stood in line at customs. Finally they approved it. Back to the original line where they took the package and stamped my receipt. Back to customs to give them a copy of my stamped receipt. All in all about 2 hours. In Paraguay the whole thing took 20 minutes. One person, no line.
Paraguay has had a bizarre history. The first president after gaining independence from Spain in 1811 was José Gáspar Rodriguez de Francia, who set the tone by calling himself ¨El Supremo.¨ He forbade trade and immigration and set Paraguay on a road to isolation. He was strange: Looking at his house, or even at him, could be punishable by death. Kind of a Paraguayan Medusa I guess. Then came the Lopez family, father and son, who led Paraguay into the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance. He lost half the country´s territory and 80% of the male population.
A succession of presidents culminated in the 35 year authoritarian rule of General Alfredo Stroessner, who used murder, torture and a state of emergency to remain in power until a 1989 coup.
Paraguay is divided into two distinct regions, separated by the Paraguay River. The south, roughly 1/3 of the country contains 98% of the population. The north is dominated by the Chaco, an arid scrubland scorched by the sun. My goal wsa to ride from the south, through Ascunción and through the Chaco to Bolivia. I was in for a rude awakening.
Getting to Asunción was not bad. I had a few real good days, including a 128 km day.
Then one day I had a terrific headwind. It was about 25 km/hour. It was so strong I had to pedal downhill. Hills are normally nice because although you struggle up, you can get a nice rest on the way down. But when you have to pedal downhill as well it is discouraging. So I got to with 50km of Asunción and got a bus in. A bus is safer when entering or leaving large cities anyway.
I liked Ascunción. It is the way I remember south american cities: dirty, smelly and crowded, with hundreds of busses belching out diesel exhaust and pedestrians nimbly scooting between passing cars. Street vendors selling everything from bootleg DVDs to BBQ beef.
The indigenous people, the Guaraní, are prevalent in Paraguay. As usual, they are the poorest of the lot. In Asunción they sell handmade crafts to passersby. I bought a few things from this woman.
But in one of the parks, several families have squatted right in the middle of the city. They put up tents and cook and live right there. Here is a shot of the tents and one of the families who was hanging out on the park bench. It was pretty shocking. What a way to live.
There are a number of artisan shops where people sell locally made stuff. Here is a sign for one of the shops.
A few more shots: Here is Oscar, a nice guy and terrific cook who grills beef and pork right on the sidewalk. It is impossible to walk by without inhaling the aroma and wanting to try some. That´s what happened to me and it was excellent.
I liked all the colors in this fruit stand.
This is the Palacio Legislativo. This is the building that once was illegal to look at.
I happened to catch the changing of the guard. They were guarding the Heroes Memorial. It is meant to honor all the people who died needlessly in Paraguay´s pointless wars.
Next posting: Northern Paraguay, the Chaco.