There was very little I knew about Paraguay, I didn't even know the capital city of the country until we were going there. The only things I could tell you before I went were that the Football team played in Red and White, they had a former goal scoring goalkeeper in Jose Chilavert and they had a striker called Roque Santa Cruz who played for Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City other than I knew didly squat.
So with very little knowledge we headed off on the night bus to Asuncion. The night bus was probably the best we had been on during any of our travels; the seats were like arm chairs and had plenty of room, they even distributed a bus shaped carton to each of us with biscuits and a carton of orange inside. I thought this was a great idea and kept the bus to show my father, I thought it might be good for him to do something similar on his Blue Pigeon trips but instead of food inside brochures, pens, theatre tickets could be stored. It was a shame that the bus was only six hours long, on a bus that quality it would have been nice to have a longer journey, instead it took six hours and we were in Paraguay's capital before the sun had risen, infact we were at our hostel - The Black Cat and back in bed before the sun had risen thanks to the one hour time difference between our new destination and old. What did surprise me from our journey from the bus terminal to the centre of town was how busy the place was, even at 5am the old bus was completely jam packed. The odd time I've been up at 5am in any other country it is mainly just a scattered few people going to work or drunks on their way back after a good session. After several strange dreams, one about my child hood crush Sophie Allen and another where I was fighting with Paul Frith we set about finding something to do for the day. The receptionist informed us that there was to be a massive football game on Wednesday, it was the final of the Copa Libertadores, which is the South American equivalent of the Champions League. Though in South America they play the game over two legs, and as one of the teams involved was Paraguayan the first leg was to be played in Asuncion. So along with a Scottish chap called Ewan we headed up to the ticket office where our receptionist had guided us only to be turned away. We returned to our hostel and the woman apologised and then sent us to the stadium where we joined a 300+ line in hope for tickets. We weren't sure if we would get any or not, when we first arrived there was a guy at the back saying they had sold out, but once he found out we were British he let us join the back of the queue as did many more. We spent the best part of two hours queueing, seeing a fight in the street where things nearly got mental as one guy picked up a brick and also eating doughnuts. The ground looked shambolic, exposed brickwork made the stands look unsafe and the barred windows made the ground look like a jail, so maybe it was a good thing that at 3pm they had either shut the ticket office or sold out, we were not sure due to the language barrier. Some people were saying come back tomorrow, others were saying it was a sell out and would have to buy from a tout. We enquired with a tout and thought we had a bargain when he quoted us 25, if in Paraguayan we would be talking about 4 quid for the ticket but he was quoting us the price in US Dollars so we decided to give it a miss head to the supermarket and return to the hostel and possibly return the next day to see if we could get any tickets.
Earlier in the day we had purchased 400ml of whiskey for just over 50p, and Euan had bought some sort of 200ml rum for 27p so along with two guys from Reading - Aaron & Rob who had some whisky of their own and we shared a few beverages whilst playing s*** head. I even think I met a match for myself in the football geek category, as both of them had been to several random football games such as the Welsh Premier League and Scottish division three games and new random facts about teams and players. In my eyes they were heroes.
The Black Cat had some good things going for as a hostel, the showers were warm, a funky electrical hob and a swimming pool but the breakfast was not one of the things in their favour. It consisted of either porridge oats, or toast with jam which looked more like thick tomato ketchup. After this fine feast, I made myself presentable and then it was time to hit the streets again looking for tickets. We thought we might have acquired some the night before when the reception lady said her daughter knew someone who was selling three but unfortunately this fell through leaving us still on the quest for tickets. I dragged Earl along to the ticket office we went to the previous day but unfortunately the ticket office wasn't open leaving us no choice but to obtain tickets from the black market. We ended up paying 100,000 Paraguayan Guarani for a ticket, this was 80,000 over the face value of the ticket but no amount of bartering was having the tout budge. Still the lofty number we paid only equated to around £14 in English Sterling so the final was still cheaper than going to watch Mansfield Town vs Gateshead on a cold Saturday afternoon. With the tickets sorted and in our grasp it was time to see some of the sights Asuncion had to offer. The receptionist had given us a map which marked on some of the historical buildings so we did our very own walking tour visiting places such as Puerto De Asuncion, Palacio De Lopez, Malls, Markets, Plaza De Los Heroes and to round things off I went to a Ferrocarril (train) museum while Earl went back to the hostel for a quick snooze. There were some interesting buildings, sights and locations on our tour, I even tried a Paraguayan beer for the first time - a Polar it wasn't half bad but we lacked any real knowledge of anything and obtaining it was difficult because everything was in Spanish. For example in the railway / train museum there was various Spanish signs but it had the same English translation on every sign "This place and its furniture and equipment were bought from the United Kingdom during the (XIX) nineteenth century and are actually considered part of the one hundred endangered sites of the world declared by the World Monument Fund" Now it's interesting information but I didn't want t read it on every sign, I wanted the Spanish above it translated. What we really needed was a free walking tour with a guide that would be able to give us little facts and snippets of information we craved and often moaned how boring they were in the tour, but the problem was Paraguay didn't have such a thing, they had the places but no tour. It perhaps explained why Paraguay is a very un-touristy place to visit as they put very little effort into the tourism in the city and I couldn't help thinking that if they did it might actually be quite successful, but who am I to tell someone how to run a country.
That night started the same as the previous night, a few casual games of s*** head, a little bit of f*** the dealer and then things got messy as we rode the bus and learnt a new game called cross the river. We then decided to go to an Irish Bar called The Kilkenny. It was a taxi ride away, and the tai was not pedantic about how many people were allowed in the cap as the likes of the UK and Australia would be as we squeezed five in there, I say squeezed five in, Rob spent most of the journey sat on my knee with his head hanging out the window like a dog. The Kilkenny was a nice joint and things got messier in there with a brief spell of googles and then a game Euan brought to our attention called fives. It was up to me and Earl to teach the southerners how to drink, as Rob struggled to down a beverage having to chunder at least three times, and Aaron disappearing very shortly. The game clearly had an effect on Earl who began chatting up some women as old as his granny, we soon joined them once we found out there was free birthday cake. Euan and I then joined some other locals celebrating a birthday, they were of a more respectful age and we taught them to play fives too. I didn't see Earl again until we decided to leave The Kilkenny to venture to a club, I found him sleeping outside. Doing as all good mates do I woke up him up with a good handful off ice going down his back. He wasn't in great shape as we dragged him to a club which was shut so ended up in a karaoke bar singing the likes of the Spice Girls, Oasis and Foo Fighters until the early hours of the morning.
It was not a surprise nobody made breakfast the next morning and opted to arise from our retrospectives pits around midday. Earl was still struggling as he was scooping rice into his mouth, the rest of us decided to de-brief the events of the night before over a greasy burger, dodging th local street sellers on our way. The strange thing about the street sellers is that amongst their usual man bands and electronical items they also sold Tasers which we found rather strange. After our burgers Euan went to see the local sights Rob and Aaron for a siesta and I grabbed Earl and took him to the local market we had heard much about. It was much better than many of the markets we had been to in South America, it was cheap, was much like an Asian market and had more variety than most we had already been to, even though after about twenty minutes you found yourself walking by yet another shoe stall, or yet another clothing store but it is definitely worth a visit if you have a spare few hours in Asuncion.
Earl had decided to sack off going to the football that night and sold his ticket to Euan. He instead decided to go on a date with a girl he had found on tinder. We had noticed the city was much busier when we munched on our burgers earlier in the day, and true to South American style fireworks were already going off at midday to signal that there was a big game happening. Before kick-off Rob and Aaron took us to a burger place they had previously been called Bartholos. For £1.50 we got a burger with ham, cheese, egg and salad and a choice of about twenty bowls of sides. We could select from about any sauce you could name, peas, sweetcorn, beetroot, more different salads and chilli beef, it was immense. After disposing of our pre match whiskeys and rum we headed into the ground, well I tried, unfortunately because I didn't have Paraguayan I.D. I was held to bribery to get into the stadium. Before I came to South America I had read a lot about bribery but up until this point I had not been involved in any such scam. At first the young lady bribing me asked for coca, I'm not sure if she was being innocent and just wanted the soft drink, or was a bit more on the dark side and wanting some drugs. I had neither so she requested money 20,000 Paraguayan Guarani. I only had 14,000 on me. After explaining this to her, we settled on a round figure of 10,000. I was pretty shocked and disgusted until I realised that in England the sum I had been bribed for was the equivalent of £1.50 so I was able to laugh about it for the remainder of the night. The atmosphere was electric pre match, we were thrown bundles of paper and tape to throw at kick-off. If you didn't have your wits about you the tae could come quite keen on the head as I found out. Unfortunately there was no South American version of Champions League music, instead we were greeted with mass fireworks and the throwing of the paper and tape making it seem like thick snow was falling around us and finally a flag the size of the stand being pulled down over our heads to show the support for the Paraguayan team involved. Despite each team hitting the woodwork the first half was a drab affair. The second half not much better but San Lorenzo took the lead with a well-executed volley from their number 26 - Matos. It didn't look like Club National would ever score with most of their shots being wayward but they did manage to scrape an equaliser with the last kick off the game after a thunderous drive from - J. Santa Cruz . We made our way back to the hostel where we played what our customary games of s***head. Earl then returned with his date who had with her a little lady. Little being a key word, she was infact a dwarf, midget or whatever the politically correct word is these days. She had asked Earl if he had any friends back at the hostel and after showing her a photo of the previous night she had signalled out me. The girl obviously had good taste but I had to let the little lady down as I had already committed myself on going out with Euan to the girls house we had met the previous night.
It turned out one of the girls we had met the previous night was absolutely minted. She sent her bodyguard to fetch Euan and myself and we soon arrived at her mansion. It was probably the biggest house I have ever been in, it had four cars in the garage and two outside. There was a foosball table and pool table, a swimming pool that was being renovated and when they offered us food, she took us through to what semt like another house. We drank beers, played pool, played with her dogs who I called Sharon and Lindsay Lohan as I wasn't able to pronounce the names in Spanish, we watched Hitch on the enormous TV until I fell asleep just as the sun was about to rise on one of the gigantic sofas, this signalled home time and the bodyguard once again obliged with his chauffeuring skills. It was mental.
Somehow I managed to wake up after three hours sleep and have some breakfast which now had the added bonus of a bunch of bananas. We were leaving that day so had to pack our stuff up and checkout before exploring town one last time, getting our obligatory an-band for each country, supplies for the night bus and spending the last of our Paraguayan change. After this it was time to go back to the place where our South American adventure had started. Yes folks we were returning to Buenos Aires.
So until next time stay safe and take care