From Puerto Iguazu, I had to board a bus bound for Ciudad Del Este, which is just across the Friendship Bridge from Brazil. This did of course mean that I had to pass through Brazil to get there, which concerned me slightly as I lacked the necessary visa. We all had to pile off the bus going out of Argentina to get our exit stamps, and I held my breath a bit as we came up on the Brazilian immigration. Were we to get off there too I would find myself in a bit of a conundrum, but fortunately we just blew through it. In fact, I went all the way into Paraguay without being checked at all and had to go back myself to get the stamp, lest I face some questions when leaving out a different border crossing. There was also a tourism kiosk there where I was able to get myself sorted.
This city is a tax free zone and also has an open border with Brazil, so naturally it an absolute zoo. It is a major crossroads of culture, and and also place where once can pay in dollars, reals, pesos or guaranis and reasonably expect to get change back in that currency. I had some fun walking through here and marveling at the absolute everything that they had for sale. The only traffic that seemed to accomplish anything were the motorcycle taxis.
I ended up staying at the brand new Hummingbird Hostel located outside the hectic area of town. I was in a mood to walk there despite the hot sun and it only took 45 minutes. The only other guy staying there was this pompous Spaniard, but fortunately I saw very little of him. My free breakfast. All these South American hostels give bread with jam and butter. It is really starting to wear on me, I need some cheese…
There wasn’t a massive amount of tourism here, but there were a couple nuggets worth seeing. My options were some falls or a dam, but having just seen Iguazu I opted for the latter. Getting there required me to take advantage of the public transport, which consists of gaudy buses. I had to stand on the road until I saw one with the destination I was looking for and then just flag it down. It looked something like this, but much worse.
This is a unique transportation experience, and it took no time at all to see the merits in it. One just gets on and sit right down, and eventually the driver’s patsy will come along and collect the standard 2000 guarani fare. When it’s time to get off you just shout to the driver and then he’ll stop. A perfect system. The insides had as much flair as on the outside.
I arrived at the visitor center for the Itaipu Dam, which until recently was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It provides 80% of Paraguay’s electricity needs, and 20% of Brazil’s…so yeah, this thing is enormous. Also of interest to me was the free entrance for those coming from the Paraguayan side. I saw this termite mound on the way, almost as cool as the dam.
The first thing I did was watch a movie that raved about how damn awesome this thing was, and how they went about constructing it. It was one of those types films though that droned on and on about all that it was doing for the country. There were all sorts of arbitrary statistics that they kept throwing out as well. Like, did you know that it used as much steel as 380 Eiffel Towers!!!?!?!?!
Following that, myself and a few others boarded the bus that would take us over to see it for ourselves. There wasn’t a whole lot of interaction with or exploration of the dam, but the bus tour did succeed in showcasing the scale of this thing. Note: I did not take this photo.
When we got back to the tourist center, I was delighted to get a free ride over to a museum of Paraguayan history. This place had a whole lot of reading, and I was very thorough. Emerging two hours later I felt that I had digested a reasonable amount of something I learned nothing about in school. I am really amazed at how much history the world has, and just how little of it we manage to fit into our standard K-12 curriculum. I even took extra history classes, but never touched on this.
I returned to the hostel the to blog, eat and sleep. I skillfully modified a readymade pizza with some extra sauce and meat. The next morning I took a couple more rides on the jalopies before getting to the main bus station. My grand plan was to depart for the city of Incarnación, sitting conveniently on the Argentinian border. The bus was supposed to take four hours of cruising through the countryside, which I was honestly looking forward to.
At six hours in though, I had quite changed my tune. I was hot, cramped and very ready to be at my hostel by the time it finally showed up. We stopped constantly to pick up and drop of people, and at each of these instances a small army of women and children would climb aboard to sell drinks and snacks and cell phones. The landscape provided so much excitement to entertain the mind!
There was very little to see in this smaller city. I was happy to relax though, and after a great shower inset out for some food. I joined some Germans for a few kebabs, which fit the bill perfectly.
The next morning I joined a couple of other guys from the hostel on a trip to see the remains of some Jesuit missions. These missionaries built these things all over South America a few hundred years ago, and they showcase some unique history and architecture. We visited two of the three sites in the area.
The first one was called Jesus of Tavarangüe and was the most beautiful of the two. The chapel was never completed, but that did nothing to abase to curiosity of these UNESCO ruins. Here are some of the pillars from that unfinished cathedral.
The second stop wasn’t far away and had a whole lot larger footprint. Although time had been less kind to these structures, it was remarkable for having remains of each type of building typically found at Jesuit missions. It also had the best examples of the Moorish-baroque architecture that is unique to these missions.
That evening I enjoyed sitting on the porch of the hostel and watching some dark clouds descend on Incarnatión. In a matter of moments, the dark skies opened up and absolutely dumped rain on us. Being in a dry spot though, I enjoyed soaking in only the veracity of the storm.
Once it let up enough to venture out, I joined one of those Germans from before for some pizza. We got there and had no idea what any of the things on the menu were, so we opted for the ‘cultural choice’ by ordering the Paraguayan. This turned out to be ham, olives, and a topping made from the cores of palm trees. It was tasty, and I more than overate. Certainly we couldn’t let it go to waste.
That evening I had nothing but an overnight bus back to Buenos Aires to look forward to. I was pretty exhausted though, so sleep came easy and before long in was back to Retiro where this whole loop started.
Paraguay was not entirely a necessary stop, since I could have seen those Jesuit missions in some other countries as well. The logic though was that I would almost certainly not find myself in a position to go there again, so why not just get a few good days to appreciate another flavor of South America? The other appeal of the country is that it is still quite indigenous, and many of the people don’t even speak Spanish. My visa is good for another eight years, so if ever I do find myself on the area, I’ll try to check out the capital or something. They also had a whole bevy of new beverage flavors to enjoy!