Paraguay, the country that everyone skips, but why? As our hope is to visit all South American countries, we couldn't skip the poor little land locked country of Paraguay. Though with a visa cost of US$130 (bloody reciprocity fees) we almost had second thoughts.
The bus trip to Asuncíon was the most horrific thus far as it was our longest, by about 7 hours, and we started with a late bus, Lindsay feeling quite fluish and the horrible stench of the off mayonnaise concoction. By the time we'd reached the boarder, early the follow morning, we weren't sure if the stench had left us or we were simply use to it. Thankfully the border crossing was very easy, with our shiny new visas, and the hawkers flogging their wares weren't too pushy. We then had about an hour before we arrived. A short taxi trip and we were at the hostel a little too early to check in, maybe the room would be ready early and we could shower? No.
We dumped our bags and took our stench (it hadn't left us!) to the streets to have a look around for a few hours before we would be able to check in. We headed to the tourist info centre to grab a map and ask what the interesting things were to do in town. Surprisingly there were quite a few museums to visit, so once again we set off to find some museums. The first museum we come across is closed. However there is a sign on the door suggesting (we think) that the museum is closed for the day to improve part of the exhibition. No worries we'll return tomorrow.
Down to the port, which seemed strange as it's a land locked country, but it's on the Rio Paraguay which can theoretically be sailed out to the South Atlantic Ocean, down at Buenos Aires. What was even more strange, is seeing their navy ship (we wonder how many they need) sitting off the port. Although manned, it doesn't look like it's sailed for a while.
We had some lunch and got back to the hostel at 1:50, is the room ready? Apparently not, it'll be ready at 2! The lovely girl that greeted us in the morning had been replaced by someone who appeared to stick to the rules (that or she wasn't having a good day)?!? So we sat and watched TV for 20 mins before trying again, yep it was ready this time, so off we headed to the room. Funnily the room we were meant to have wasn't ready so they gave us another (not as good?!?) room instead. There was some discussion about changing in the morning, possibly, and we were in and straight into the shower.
The showers were heated at the source, so at least the hot water won't run out, however the wires leading to the shower head were a little concerning, as if it wasn't for the electrical tape on the wires they'd be exposed. Hopefully we can survive the shower without getting electrocuted!
Finally clean of our stench, that we've been living in for over 24 hours, we relaxed for the afternoon, doing some research into what there is to do in Asuncíon and Paraguay. This is when we started to realise that most tourists skip Paraguay as there is very limited information about what to do, well online anyway. We did find a recommendation for a dinner location and head there. As it's open 24 hours we're confident that we can get a meal at a reasonable hour.
Once there we found out that it's where absolutely all tourists head for a meal! We found a place at the bar type area and sat down. When we were almost finished an American sats next to us and we sparked up conversation. He informed us that he sells pharmaceuticals and travels to where the work is to 'sell drugs'. He'd been in Asuncíon for several days and had 10 off, in which he wants to see some of the country. He speaks Spanish, as he's been 'working' in Central and South America for years, and informs us that he's struggled to find anything to do in the country, either in English or Spanish. Thankfully we're now confident that it's not just us that can't find any information, there simply isn't any. Not good news for what we should do, bummer! And having spent all that cash on the visa we're bloody well going to find something to do.
The next morning we headed to an address we found online about a company that runs river cruises up to the Pantanal. Again Google failed us and we were at the wrong end of the street. Once we were down the other end of the street we were failed by the address we've found, it's now (or always was?!?) a weight loss centre. Oh well we won't be taking that cruise.
We walked past the old Estacion (train station) and decided to have a look at the museum as it was cheap. Paraguay was the first South American country to have a railway, built by the British. It remained in use from 1861 until 1997. The museum contains memorabilia that was returned from Britain for the museum.
After some lunch at the other recommended restaurant in town, then we headed to the museum we had tried the day before. It's still shut, with the same sign on the door. Either we didn't translate it correctly or (the more likely option) they use the same sign for as long as the work will take. Oh well, back to the hostel for some research about where to head, as we've got one more day in Asuncíon and don't want to exhaust all possible options of things to do in 1 day.
Lots of research later and multiple emails, we still weren't sure what we'd do. After a cooked meal in the hostel we were off to bed.
After a relaxed breakfast we went to the Museum of Memory, to find out about Paraguay's dictatorship from the 50's to the late 80's, the longest in South American history. We were greeted by a nice man who told us the cost is simply a donation and when asked if the museum has any English he replied 'nada'. We decided to have a look anyway and test our new App (Word Lens), that you point at some text and it translates it right there inline with the text, amazing! Though it is difficult to hold the phone still enough for it not continuously re-translate the words.
The man often popped in to tell us a few things, some we understood, some not so much. Finally Lindsay decided to to ask him questions that we (she) could hopefully understand the answer to and we found out a bit about the horrific torture that was conducted at the location of the museum. The worst of which was tying someone up like a Mummy, bound by chains and barbedwire, then put into a bath (empty, we think) and played music, or the radio, very loud. It's terrible to see what people can do to other people.
It was lunch time already and we headed to our faithful 24/7 restaurant after one final check of the other museum that was still closed. After lunch we went to Loma San Jerónimo (what La Boca would be, if not so tacky). We'd read that on a Sunday the locals open there shops and/or doors to the public, any other time (like when we're there) it's dead quiet. Still it's a great place to look around and the Mirador (the lookout on someone's roof) was open (for 2000 Guaranis) and we were able to check out Asuncíon from a great vantage point.
We ended the day at a park that the map recommended as an area to walk around. Although small, it was crowded with all the local fitness buffs walking, jogging, playing soccer, stretching, etc. We walked around it and then headed home. Late enough for dinner we cooked and ate, so we could return to our room for research and to relax.
Checkout day. We'd only had one response to our emails from a volunteer place that we'd said we would like to arrive at in a week. So we emailed again and asked if we can come early, just in case. We then bit the bullet and decided to ring some places. The first is an Estancia in the Chaco, that answered and say they were happy to take us that night. We just needed to get a 6 hour bus, which should get us to Filadelfia for 8pm. Sweet, off we went.
The bus was the in the worst condition that we've had so far. Oh well it's only 6.5 hours. However the roads were so bad that we didn't arrive until around 9:30 by which time we we're more than happy to get off the bus! Even knowing that once again we weren't sure if someone would meet us there. A short phone call later (thanks to the guy at the bus stop calling on his phone) and we were getting picked up, success!