In the hottest month of the year, by noon, I arrived to Asuncion for the first time. As I approached downtown my excitement grew, because the place reminded me of a much loved city. A wide, lazy river delimited it on one side, the houses were low and often there were huge gaps among them. Any non-constructed patch of land seemed to have been conquered by lush, wild vegetation. Many of the people around had attractive, dark skin and slightly slanted eyes. A digital thermometer at the central plaza showed forty-four Celsius and it was horridly humid; water seemed to be the place essence.
“It is like Vientiane, the Laotian capital,” I silently summarized while I left my luggage at the room that was awaiting me.
After a quick snack at the Lido Bar, I crossed the street to the central plaza and decided to make a quick survey of the center despite the heat and the bright, burning sun. The first hours in a place provide the strongest, more long-lasting impressions and I wanted to take advantage of that.
The Plaza de los Heroes was a typical colonial one, except for the fact that two perpendicular streets divided it in quarters and that one of the corners – next to the Chile and Palma junction and to the Lido Bar – was occupied by the Panteon de los Heroes (Heroes Pantheon). The last was a ghastly reminder of the country bloody and disastrous wars; avoiding it, I walked around the plaza and found the regular grid of streets so common in colonial towns. The few people around moved slowly and the gaps between following cars was of whole minutes. The fact that it was Sunday afternoon for sure contributed to the desolation; the place looked unnaturally empty, almost ghostly so. Dogs and cats were absents and birds could not be heard. Was it the heat?
Returning to Chile Street I headed for the riverside; after a few blocks the regular streets’ grid broke apart and the 19th century cathedral appeared at the right side. I did a mental note to visit its museum at the first opportunity, crossed the Plaza de la Constitucion – again, divided by several streets – and found in front of me the Congreso Nacional (National Congress). The imposing building blocked the sight of the languidly blue river, but walking to the left trough the Avenida Republica quickly corrected that. I had been warned beforehand by the hotel concierge about this area and the reason soon became evident. Groups of young people stood by the corners and followed my advance with a predators’ interest. I put my camera away and began walking faster. The well guarded Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) came soon into sight. It seemed too big for such a sleepy town and was the clearest sign to the country former importance. In front of it was Casa Viola, a historic museum closed on Sundays.
Few other sights were of particular interest, except for the railway station on Eligio Ayala Street. It dates back to 1856 and was one of the first in the continent. It was relatively well preserved and well worth the extra few blocks I walked to reach it.
At a slow pace – with time to admire the colonial surroundings and to avoid getting overheated – the walk took a couple of hours.