Written by SeenThat on 24 Mar, 2007
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…Read More
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.Close
Written by SeenThat on 23 Mar, 2007
Moving through South America can play confusing games with the Spanish language; the same noun can refer to different objects. Usually, that is of no concern to the casual traveller, unless it is related to food or other basic needs.Despite the fabulous coffees of Brazil…Read More
Moving through South America can play confusing games with the Spanish language; the same noun can refer to different objects. Usually, that is of no concern to the casual traveller, unless it is related to food or other basic needs.Despite the fabulous coffees of Brazil and Colombia, the main drinks at the southern outskirts of the continent are infusions of various herbs. These are generally known as “mate” (maa-tae), but the noun can refer to different drinks.Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay call “mate” to a drink prepared out of “yerba-mate” (shaer-baa maa-tae). In Argentina and Uruguay, the ground shrub is used to fill up an empty kind of pumpkin which has the general shape and size of a regular cup, while in Paraguay a cow’s empty horn is used for that purpose alongside the pumpkin and the metallic cup variations. A metallic straw is used to drink the beverage. In Argentina and Paraguay a kettle is used to add the water while Uruguayans use a thermos; strange as it may seem each one defends its method fiercely. The nasty part is related to hygiene; if invited to drink with a group of people, then only one pumpkin is used and passed among the people. Whenever one finishes drinking, more water is added and the “mate” is passed to the next one without further formalities. The beverage is quite bitter and some people add sugar to it.Paraguay is by far the hottest country among the three mentioned above; thus it is only natural than an iced version of the drink exists there. Less natural is that it is called “terere,” apparently there is no connection between the names of the cold and hot beverages despite being variants of the same. For the cold drink, a jug with cold water is served together with a proper “mate;” if the water includes aromatic herbs then it is called “terere con yuyos.”If the variations until now weren’t confusing enough, when the border with Bolivia is crossed, then “mate” is transformed into a generic name to any tea prepared with herbs. The pumpkin disappears. There, a few leaves are added to a cup of hot water, or sometimes they are packed within regular filter paper, similarly to herb teas worldwide. The most popular infusion are “mate de coca,” which is prepared with coca leaves and “trimate,” and infusion prepared with three different herbs. Usually these are coca, anis and "manzanilla.”Did I mention they find terms as cappuccino, late and espresso confusing?Close
Written by SeenThat on 17 Mar, 2007
At first sight South America is a linguistically simple continent for the visitor: Spanish and Portuguese complete the list of main official languages in the vast majority of the continent and both are related. However, South America suffers of a great variety of extreme landscapes…Read More
At first sight South America is a linguistically simple continent for the visitor: Spanish and Portuguese complete the list of main official languages in the vast majority of the continent and both are related. However, South America suffers of a great variety of extreme landscapes that have isolated big areas. Moreover, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani and other native languages have influenced the local versions of Spanish and sometimes even created confusing dialects.If compared to the Spaniard Spanish, the main characteristics of the South American dialects is the collapse of the “c,” “s,” and “z” into a single sound comparable to the English “s”; nonetheless it is not rare to hear it pronounced as a “sh.”Until now it was simple. Two sounds have striking differences from one country to another: the “ll” and the “y.” at the end of a word, “y” is always pronounced as “ee,” but at the beginning or the end – Spanish is not exactly a phonetic language – it sounds as a “sh” in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay but as an “ee” or a “j” in Bolivia and the other Andean counties. The lateral consonant “ll” is the most complicated sound. Spaniard pronunciation is almost impossible for most humans. Argentineans and the other southern countries settled down – again – for a “sh,” while Bolivia and the Andean countries prefer an “ee” or a “lee.” The surname “Aslla” is pronounced “As-sha” in Argentina and “As-ee-a” or “As-lee-a” in Bolivia. Bolivians have added a “jh” to denote the English “j,” nonexistent in Spanish.This is not all. Speech speed and the underlying tone upon with the words are placed change from place to place. Chileans speak very fast and skip the ending “s,” while Bolivians enlarge certain vowels, “la-aar-go” they said (long) instead of “lar-go.” The last is an influence of the Aymara way of emphasizing words.The vocabulary suffers as well of significant variants which can cause significant embarrassment. In Argentina, “tirar” means “to pull,” as in Spain. But in Paraguay, “estirar” (to stretch) is used. In Bolivia, “tirar” is the parallel of the English word that originally meant “From Unknown Common Knowledge,” that infamous “f” word. “Jalar” is used there to pull something.These dialects can create “serious” difficulties for the unaware traveller. “Serio” would Argentineans say, while Bolivians would prefer “grave.” Mon Dieau!Close
Written by SeenThat on 16 Mar, 2007
In a continent full of strange landscapes, the Chaco is one of the most bizarre. If it was a complete desert it would be easier to describe. Suffering of unreliable rains, the yellowish sand fits only for wild shrubs to grow; reaching up to three…Read More
In a continent full of strange landscapes, the Chaco is one of the most bizarre. If it was a complete desert it would be easier to describe. Suffering of unreliable rains, the yellowish sand fits only for wild shrubs to grow; reaching up to three meters, they obstruct any other sights.Even knowing that - and maybe due to that knowledge - my crossing it was inevitable.In the early afternoon I arrived at Asuncion’s bus terminal – quite far away from downtown – and bought a forty dollars ticket to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in Bolivia. The bay number and departure hour were clearly stated on the ticket; I happily left my luggage at the terminal and returned to downtown. Roughly an hour before the departure time the terminal welcomed me back and I relaxed on a bench with a generous portion of terere, a kind of iced tea which fitted the forty-five degrees Celsius weather outside.A cool ten minutes before the departure time, I approached the relevant bay and found neither people nor a bus. I opened the glass door, walked into the burning air and asked a guard what happened. “Salen de la oficina,” “they leave from the office,” he told me with a cruel smile while pointing at a bus that was leaving the terminal.Without thinking twice, I re-entered the terminal building, crossed it running, and left through the main entrance, just in time to see my bus appearing on the main road. With no other options – I did not know where the office was – I run after the bus for two blocks. That was not what I had paid for. The bus stopped next to a house packed with people and eventually left some thirty minutes after its schedule – in a more South American fashion. My protests were answered with a deep silence.The bus was modern and comfortable; it seemed to have a strong air-conditioner and a television that didn’t stop working. Most passengers brought into the bus enough food for a month and many of them were Mennonites. Soon after leaving we got a big dinner and my mood began to improve: soon I was to see the Paraguayan Chaco!Travelling at night did not make things easier. Despite the air-conditioner, the bus heated up quickly and became as steamy as the surroundings. Sleeping was not an option and most passengers were swinging between various states of stupor. Three and half hours after midnight the bus stopped at an immigration booth, just after a town called Filadelfia. Despite being roughly at the country’s centre, our passports were stamped out. To my questions, the other passengers smiled vaguely pointed westwards and said: “Nada,” (nothing). Seldom have I heard a more accurate statement.Soon after the asphalt disappeared and there were no signs of civilization. With the first lights, I could see we were travelling on a narrow sand path surrounded by shrubs and nothing more. Only a customs check broke the boredom; a colony of butterflies was flying around their well watered garden. Nothing.A vast emptiness.An hour after noon, we arrived at the Bolivian Ibibobo border cross. Shortly after, the landscape changed into a hilly one – the trademark of Tarija and a few hours later we entered the Santa Cruz plains. At 10pm, after twenty-five hours of almost uninterrupted travel – shaped as our seats - we entered the city of Santa Cruz.Close
Written by louisejohnsson1 on 08 Sep, 2004
Paraguay is not a country that necessarily operates in the same was say as – United States or Sweden. One thing is for sure - it is passport stamping galore to get in there. Coming from Argentina, in order to leave one needs to obtain…Read More
Paraguay is not a country that necessarily operates in the same was say as – United States or Sweden. One thing is for sure - it is passport stamping galore to get in there. Coming from Argentina, in order to leave one needs to obtain an exist stamp and in order to enter Paraguay one needs an entry stamp - going back, this process is reverse and very time consuming. If one re-enters Argentina without having received the exit stamp they get VERY confused. How can you re-enter when you in theory never left? Never mind the fact that you are standing there right in front of them. Since when does reality matter?
I was traveling with a French woman I had just met and I did not by any means want to be the cause of any such confusion among the stern looking immigration inspectors. The problem is that one gets on one bus and buys the ticket but very soon after one has to get off to get the exit stamp.
Those more hardened border-crossers run - while us novices stand around and look baffled at the commotion of people sprinting around with bags and passports trying to make it first to the inspector.
We were at the end of the line and kept missing our buses. My French friend finally had had enough of all this looking at stamps and comparing numbers in the passport and so she told the inspector in no uncertain terms - and without pardoning her French - that maybe we didn’t have to stand there all day if he only hurried up a bit! The inspector got so scared he wrote in my passport that I am from Switzerland even though I am from Sweden. I can’t wait to cross a border again and explain to them that I changed nationality while visiting their country.
Finally, we did however make it into Paraguay. The Argentines on the bus got much insulted when we inquire if they were from Paraguay or Argentina. How could anyone possibly be from Paraguay just look out the window, they stated indignantly. There was no lack of them bad-mouthing their somewhat disorganized and worn-out neighbor. They pointed out the windows and mocked the downtown area of Encarnacion, the little town into which we had entered Paraguay, which, admittingly, did look like the incarnation of some back street yard in the slums of Detroit. Nevertheless, all we had to say was "Argentine economy" and they pretty quickly got a bit more quiet.
The Paraguayans turned out to be very friendly and humble people. However, they need to shape up on their deal making on bus purchases.
This is my theory: When the U.S no longer want their old school buses from 1963 they sell them to the Argentines. The Argentines then drive them until they can no longer fraud the inspection cards. This is when they sell them to the Ecuadorians. When the Ecuadorian can no longer drive them up and down their Andean autopistas they probably fool them onto the Bolivians who in turn leave them in some junk yard where the Paraguayans pick them up and smuggle them over Ciudad Este, to then use them on mostly unpaved dirt roads in the Paraguayan rural countryside - where I - of all people - ended up.
It was well worth it, though. In hindsight.
We went because we wanted to see the ruins of some Jesuit constructions, which had a great impact in the area 200 years ago. Having informed the bus driver of our mission he kindly dropped us on a dusty dirt road in the middle of absolutely rural nowhere. Helpfully he waved in the direction we needed to walk before he and the bus disappeared in a black cloud around the next corner.
Actually, there was a village on the other side of the hill, in which we soon became the main attraction of the day. Us Westerners have a lot to learn from these people. There we were landing like two aliens in their village and they all greet us, waved, said "buenos dias" and smiled, whether they are hanging out on their porch, horse, or in the garden.
The ruins were a fabulous surprise especially since we had the entire place to ourselves and our photo lenses. Fascinating buildings where one could see the remnants of a religious people trying to make a living through their way of interpreting God’s will and by agriculture. The Jesuits brought he Guarani Indians into their culture and co-existed peacefully until the Spaniards saw them as too much of threat and killed most of them. The ruins today are slowly crumbling and ar inhabited by rodents and birds being taken over by moss and cacti.
By the time we left we had found "Fifth Avenue" or "Baker Street", or la calle principal as they prefer to call it, of this village Trinidad. We stopped at "the Plaza" on our way out and shared a coke with some locals before it is again time to bite the dust...
Conclusion: Add Paraguay to that list of things to do. Get extra coverage life insurance for bus rides, lots of film, and water... And don't forget that exit stamp once you leave.
Written by panda2 on 06 May, 2007
Taxis here are quite a different experience here, better know some Spanish to communicate easier, either negotiate a fare if you know how much it should be by asking the staff at your hotel if starting from there, or others were you're starting from, or be on…Read More
Taxis here are quite a different experience here, better know some Spanish to communicate easier, either negotiate a fare if you know how much it should be by asking the staff at your hotel if starting from there, or others were you're starting from, or be on the meter.When we first crossed the border by bus into Paraguay, the bus doesn't wait and took off. After having our passports' entry stamped, we hooked up with two others to share a taxi to the bus terminal to share the costs.We arrived at the bus terminal bought our tickets for ASU - Asuncion for PYG30,000. We didn't find an ATM for the local currency. There are Cambios -currency exchangers but they'll give a poorer exchange rate. We came across another couple from the earlier bus to the border, after they got the passport entry stamped, they returned to the area where the bus let us off earlier and got on board the next bus going by/to the bus terminal and waived the bus ticket receipt and didn't have to pay again.We again split the cost of another cab fare with another tourist visitor whom we met towards our hotel we selected from the Lonely Planet Guide. We went on speculation as we didn't have any reservations. Fortunately for us, they had room for us.We were going to walk about and explore the city a bit but was warned by a hotel security person not to walk the way we were headed as it's not safe to walk in the parks at night and not to have valuables like cameras displayed. So we taxi to our destination by meter, but the driver couldn't read or understand the written destination and ran to someone else at the taxi stand to find out where we wanted to go, the meter indicated something like PYG8,000, but asked for considerably more than what the meter showed.We taxi another time splitting the costs with some others we had been talking with at the Britannia Pub to go to Africa Disco for a negotiated PYG20,000 but when we arrived, the taxi driver wanted more but we only gave him the agreed to price.Close
Written by celestemy on 03 May, 2007
One afternoon my sister-in-law took us to the Mariscal Lopez Shopping Mall. It is a modern shopping mall, just like in the U.S., but we also found a wonderful little store that sells original art by Paraguayan artists. For less than $500 we brought home two…Read More
One afternoon my sister-in-law took us to the Mariscal Lopez Shopping Mall. It is a modern shopping mall, just like in the U.S., but we also found a wonderful little store that sells original art by Paraguayan artists. For less than $500 we brought home two pieces painted by Esperanza Gill, a world famous Paraguayan artist, and three pieces in which tropical flowers and leaves had been carved into wood blocks and painted. Buy artwork in Paraguay;it's beautiful and so cheap to frame compared to in the US.
Paraguayan lace is actually pretty famous in South America. I now own a large cream lace table cloth, two different sets of lace place mats, and lace napkins. My husband has a nice lace shirt and so does my mom and many of my friends own lace table runners. My mother-in-law in Nicaragua actually has a very strong business selling Paraguayan lace. We purchased lace shirts at a somewhat high-end store in Asuncion called Catedral, and then we went to an inexpensive market to buy the other pieces of lace.
In Zona Centro (downtown Asuncion) there are street vendors everywhere, as well as Guarani Indians who’ve set up blankets with crafts, such as leather and coconut belts, carved wooden boxes, and beaded jewelry.