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2016 Mar by Frank J Britton
I didnt like Asuncion. It was not only the near continuous heavy rain. It was the third world brokenness of the place. The broken pavements, the heaps of rubble, the litter, people sleeping on the city roads, the shanty dwellings right up next the seat of government, the poverty. Throughout the city the dark covering of black subtropical mold on older buildings shouts neglect. The Cabildo with its worthwhile collection of modern art and Guarani culture is in near darkness because of a power failure, the missing panes of glass in the buildings atrium only add to my despondency. The Centro Cultural Manzana de al Rivera is an interesting collection of colonial buildings saved from demolition 25 years ago by architectural students and restored. Apart from office space it is virtually empty of artifacts. There is a big poster from the city authorities inside proclaiming - Trabajamos Para VOS - We Work For You. Nothing could be further from the truth. The city council has failed the people, they should be ashamed of themselves. Crossing the frontier from Formosa, Argentina is surprisingly easy. All formalities are on the Paraguayan side and speedy.The people I meet in the city are just fine and easy. My hotel the Asuncion Palace is perfect, NSA bus company very helpful even showing me where to get the best exchange rates. After two days make the six hour bus journey to Foz do Iguacu via Cuidad del Este. Again border formalities straight forward as we are guided by the bus driver to the respective authorities. |
2014 Dec by
During the 1980s while living in Brazil, I made several visits to Paraguay primarily to renew my Brazilian visa. One of the most interesting border crossings is at the Brazilian border town of Ponta Porã. Ponta Porã is separated from the Paraguay town of Pedro Juan Caballero by just a street. People can cross back and forth between the two towns/countries freely. When one crosses the street one enters a different country, and a different time zone; a different currency is used and a different language is spoken. Immigration and customs matters are handled at posts on the outskirts of both towns.
A bus ride through the Chaco provides an opportunity to see Paraguayan wildlife such as peccaries, tapirs, rheas and armadillos and get an idea of the rural lifestyle of Paraguayan farmers. The town of Filadelfia was founded in 1930 by Russian Mennonites who are predominantly farmers. In the 1980s the road to Filadelfia was a grueling journey over dirt and/or mud roads for many hours with several police checkpoints. Now I am told the road is paved.
In 2014 I was in Asuncion to catch a bus to Argentina. I stayed overnight on Christmas Day. -- downtown was so quiet without the normal busy streets and traffic. It was good for walking and sightseeing the various governmentbuildings and monuments. The bus to the Argentinian border post at Clorinda takes one hour. The Pilcomayo River forms the border between the two countries. |
2011 May by Michael Novins
May 2011 -- I visited Asuncion, where I stayed at Asuncion Palace Hotel, which is housed in a historic building from 1858 (http://www.asuncionhotelpalace.com/), and had dinner at Bar San Roque, the country's oldest restaurant, where I had grilled surubí, a river catfish. |
2001 May by Franklin Murillo
We flew from Sao Paulo Brazil into Asuncion on Varig Airlines. I had a taxi driver take us to a hotel that I had in mind. When we arrived the hotel was out of business, so we stayed nearby at the Sagaro hotel. We like coffee so I read about a nice coffee shop nearby, when we arrived it was also out of business. I couldnt believe how many businesses seemed to be closed due to the bad economy in the country. In a way this was a good thing as our US dollars took us a long way on a spending spree. We purchased a lot of carved wooden saints that we mailed back to the USA. Our next bus ride was to Cuidad del Este where we spent one night at the Gran Hotel Convair. This is not an attractive city but a place where a lot of goods are sold and smuggled. There are many Lebonese people that live here so we went to a restaurant called Lebanon to have dinner. The next morning we crossed the Friendship bridge over to Parana Brazil to go see Iguazu falls. |
1995 Jan by Peter Kuiper
Very late we arrived by bus from Puerto de Iguazu and Misiones in Asuncion. The hotel opposite the busstation was absolutely terrible. The breakfast was served on the roof and absolutely disgusting, definitively one of the worst breakfasts I experienced anywhere in the world. Almost everybody left the food and drinks untouched. To be able to pay the bill for this delight we went to a bank to change money. A guy standing in front of us in the line overheared our complaints, turned around and said: "Ich habe ein Hotel, ihr könnt ja bei mir wohnen!" After changing money he joined us to the hotel. We paid and picked up our stuff and he drove us to his place, the "Hotel Schwabenland". We were really spoiled in this place. His wife washed our stuff, we enjoyed wonderful German food and in the evening we joined a German dinner party. We met the right people at the right time and got some addresses of German emigrants in the Mennonite region of Filadelfia. More important, we heard that since a few weeks there was a new bus connection with Santa Cruz in Bolivia, the next bus leaving in five days! Two days later we set off to the Grand Choco and met two families in Filadelfia. They supplied us with bicycles, we visited a few farms and had a good time. A few days later at four in the afternoon we boarded the bus and soon we were driving through total darkness. There was a short stop to eat and drink a bit, the busdriver being served like royalty. Everybody watched him. When HE was ready, you had to board the bus immediately. The driver is the king. When HE had to pee, you could also pee. Anja was sleeping and I got out with some others. Everybody peed immediately next to the door. I walked a few steps further to see the amazing stary sky in the dark. The same moment the bus set off again. I ran to the door and bounced on it and cried and cried. Thank God he stopped. If I had reacted two seconds later I would have been left behind, withoud food, without something to drink, without a passport, without money......|
Anja woke up the next morning at the Paraguay - Bolivian border. She was not surprised to see me...... The total tour from Filadelfia to Santa Cruz took 35 hours.
1991 Apr by Veikko Huhtala*
1991 we decided go to Galapagos Island. We took first return flight to Asuncion. From the airport we drove by taxi to the bus terminal. Because we were going to stay three days in Paraguay, we took one minibus to Ciudad del Este. There they did not speak much English, but Oili spoke German with them. We booked small hotel for two days and visited to Iquacu Falls as well. Friendsip Bridge is connecting Brazil and Paraguay and we visited also to Parana State in Brazil. After two days we drove back to Asuncion and from there to Ecuador. |
1986 Oct by Jorge Sanchez
In Formosa, Argentina, I took a boat to Puerto Alberdi, on the other side of the river Paraguay.|
Upon arrival in Puerto Alberdi I refused to pay a tax1 austral, as optional tax. I showed my passport to the customs agents who said with amazement:
- This is not a place for tourists, only Argentineans go for shopping and return the same day to Formosa. Therefore we cannot stamp passport, but also we cannot prevent you from entering our country.
Puerto Alberdi, or simply Alberdi, was a smuggling center for Argentinians, and remained virtually locked by land with the rest of the country. There, the smugglers were engaged in countless daily round trips to Argentina, leading electronics, clothing, watches, laces, etc.., Because Paraguay is a country where taxes are not paid to the State for goods imported from abroad.
I did not want to return to Formosa and then hitchhiking to Clorinda to re-enter Paraguay.
I saw a barge that was carrying musical instruments. I was bound for Villeta, a few kilometers far from Asuncion. I asked the members of the orchestra if I could get on board, and the director sent me to the of captain the vessel, who replied:
- I can only embark you if you get authorization by the Paraguayan Police, as Alberdi is a special port. If you get their permission, I\\\\\\\'ll take you.
Upon reaching the police and exposing my desire, a sergeant sentenced:
- Noooo! It is strictly forbidden! This is not a port for tourists, and I do not understand why you have been admitted here. You have to return to Formosa!
But I was a very daring enfant terrible those days and did not accept this denial depriving me of a new adventure in a strange place for travelers. I went to the captain and I said with conviction:
- It\\\\\\\'s settled, Captain! The Police have given me permission and beg you to take me to Villeta for free, since I do not have much money.
- And the written permit?
- Ah! He said that it was not necessary to be from the motherland Spain.
- Okay, come on board.
And we left immediately!
I was thus on board the Lizzy Yolanda for 30 hours, up the beautiful river Paraguay. The left bank was Argentina, and the right belonged to Paraguay. We drank cold mate, which they call tereré, and musicians gave me to eat chicken, breads and scones with cream. There was barely room in the boat with so many basses, pianos, violins, harps, whistles and flutes, and in the night I had to sleep inside a giant drum.
On arriving at Asuncion I made travelling plans to visit the Indian tribes from the Chaco, a would rest a few days in the beautiful Lake Ypacarai, I will make the so-called Route of the Missions, with ruins of ancient churches and convents founded by the Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and before crossing the border with Brazil, I will not forget to visit the famous Itaipu dam.
But I could never have imagined what really was going to happen:
When I reached Villeta I was asked all documents, because I was coming from a center of smuggling. Finding that my passport had no entry stamp the authorities took me in a Paraguayan official car to the central station of the Police in Asuncion.
Soon I noticed that the system of government of Paraguay worked with iron dictatorship. All the cops were afraid of their superiors, and at the gates of the Police premises was written the phrase:
- Long live to free and independent Paraguay with Stroessner!
Once at the police station in Asunción, without questions or answers, the officer on duty gave orders to an agent in Guarani language, and the only words that I understood, were:
-... To the “cacerolita” (saucepan) with the Spanish!
Cacerolita means jail in the argot of the slums of Paraguay.
Unexpectedly I was sent into a small dungeon where there were twelve prisoners. In that hole there were no cots or furniture or anything, but a nauseating toilet in a corner.
For breakfast we were given a cup of mate tea, for lunch a ladle of soup with carrot peels, and for dinner a ladle of the soup that we had not wanted to take for lunch.
In prisons, the newcomers are tested to know what kind of man they are. Soon a guard began to mock me in Guaraní, but I paid no attention. He continued until a cell mate, who was called Papillon Martinez, said:
- Leave him alone, stupid, since he does not understand Guarani!
Then the guard yelled in Spanish:
Pssst ... hey, you! ... Pssst ... who are you?
And I said strongly:
- And you, eh !... Who are you, the clown of your people?
Everybody laughed, and the jailer finally left. My fellows supported me, and they considered me one of them. I gained such respect that they did not force me to do fifty push-ups of rigor imposed by the prisoners to the newcomers.
Ten of my companions were thieves, the steal cars, jewelry, assaulted, and committed all kinds of misdeeds. The other two, Adalberto and Edgar, were respectively the secretary of the Radical Liberal Party, which was illegal under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, and the representative and attorney for the organization Human Rights in Paraguay.
Both had been locked up for participating in a demonstration demanding the release of an imprisoned comrade.
We were called twice a day, at 6 am and 12 pm. One had to get up on hearing his name, and shout
That night Edgar cried Present but did not want to get up. The guardian called him and sent him to spend the night in a solitary cell.
In almost all prisons in South America if you do not have money, you starve. And the guards rob you, beat you and generally they make all kinds of abuses to the prisoners, especially if they are foreigners.
I was curious to know the circumstances for which had been arrested my classmates. I asked a number of prisoners and said:
- Oh, for a fight, no more!
- Oh, for not obeying the traffic lights!
I was surprised that in Paraguay people could be imprisoned for such petty reasons. Adalberto, noticing my amazement, explained to me:
- That is their version. In fact the first one calls a fight to a gun battle with the Police, who finally caught him after stealing jewelry in a chalet. And the second one robbed a bank and ran away in a car. The police began a chase through the streets of Asunción, until he collided with another car coming the wrong way on a one-way street.
In prison fellowship is admirable. All packages and lunchboxes with food coming from family and friends were shared: The sandwiches, the tereré, chicken, cream buns, etc., and that to this solidarity life inside the jail was more bearable.
But on Monday morning all my companions were sent to the general jail, and Adalberto and Edgar were released. I was left alone in the dark cell and had to try the soup of water with peeling carrots.
Being locked you look at the smallest details about you. I listened attentively to the bells of a nearby church, carefully watched the cockroaches strolling around the cell, how the tap was leaking, I followed the flight of mosquitoes, counted the tiles on the floor, the squares that the bars made on the window ... and I seemed to find pictures on the wall spots, such as horses, human heads and maps of islands. Finally, with a cardboard of a shoe box I drew up a chess board with chess pieces made on bread and play chess against myself.
I had much time to think. I should, at least, know why they locked me and for how long. I decided to draw the attention of the officer on duty. I shouted:
- Jailer, come, I want to see! Jailer, I\\\\\\\'m calling you! I tell you to come!
The jailer got scared, I said to him that I wanted to see the officer on duty, and he ran to find him.
A few minutes later a young lieutenant, burly, opened the cell, pushed me against the wall, pulled out his baton and started beating me when I cried while I protected my head with my arms:
- Calm, calm! Now I\\\\\\\'ll shut up ... See! ... I\\\\\\\'m silent ... I will not say a word. Relax ...
The lieutenant kept his baton raised a few seconds. Breathing hard, very fast, and had his nose very width. But my attitude was submissive and I kept looking into his eyes. He then, reluctantly dropped his baton and said before leaving:
- If I hear you again I\\\\\\\'ll break you every bone!
And so saying, he violently discharged his anger hitting the door with his truncheon.
But it was not in vain my scandal. I few minutes later I was called to take my fingerprints, photos from the front and in profile, searched my body and belongings, confiscated my notebook with notes in a personal shorthand writing that no one else can decipher, and I was moved from my dependence to a nearby dungeon.
Before getting into my new cell, the guards, pushing me provocatively asked:
- Do you bring money? If you have, it is better to keep it with us and we will allow you some privileges. Otherwise your buddies in there will steal you...
This time as cell mates I had two car thieves. Their nicknames were Travolta and Candido Palomo. Travolta had already been in jail several times, but this time had to wait until the wounds that the guards had caused him a few days ago, would cure. The guards beat him just for boredom.
There were several adjacent cells sheltering three or five prisoners each, but we never would see their faces. The odd number of prisoners was to reduce the chances of homosexual practices.
One day between days, mid-morning, one of the guards opened my cell and cried:
- Spanish, comb your hair and come with me! The commissioner wants to see you!
Why would it be? All inmates had told me that when someone comes into the cacerolita spends an average of twenty days before they decide to send you to the general jail or to release you after a trial.
Upon entering the office of the sheriff I noticed that my belongings were on the table. Then a serious-looking man approached me, handed me his hand and said:
- Good morning, I am the Spanish consul.
What a joy! Edgar and Adalberto had contacted the Spanish consul to help me get out of that dirty hole
The commissioner explained the consul that I had been arrested for having entered the country illegally, but, he assured me that I would be released at noon to be deported, according to the Paraguayan laws.
I then asked my last wish: that instead of being expelled to Clorinda, in Argentina, better was to be sent to Brazil, because I was a traveler and wanted to see the huge Itaipu dam, and then visit the Iguazu Falls, and if expelled to Clorinda I would be forced to make a long detour.
Thanks to my continued insistence the sheriff ended up authorizing my expulsion to Brazil, but he imposed me a condition: that I should pay the police to accompany me the bus fare, round trip, about 3000 Guarani.
I agreed and joyfully travelled escorted 350 kilometers.
We arrived at night at President Stroessner. Before crossing the bridge over the Parana River to enter Brazil, the police warned me:
- You know! You are persona non grata, never returned to Paraguay!
- Do not worry, there are more countries in the world, many more countries.
..................................................................... IN SPANISH: MISIONES JESUÍTICAS DE LA SANTÍSIMA TRINIDAD DE PARANÁ UNESCO describe de la siguiente guisa este Patrimonio de la Humanidad: Además de su interés artístico, estas misiones son representativas de las iniciativas sociales y económicas que acompañaron la cristianización de la cuenca del Río de la Plata por parte de la Compañía de Jesús en los siglos XVII y XVIII. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- El día anterior había visitado la misión jesuítica de San Ignacio Miní, en la provincia argentina de Misiones. Al trato poco cordial de sus porteros se añadió lo exagerado del precio de entrada, y me sentí timado (existen allí diferentes tarifas según las nacionalidades, y la mía era la más cara, carísima para unas ruinas en estado lamentable, y más teniendo en cuenta que tanto la población de San Ignacio como las misiones jesuíticas habían sido erigidas por los españoles). Pero en Paraguay me vendieron por el equivalente a sólo 4 euros tres billetes para visitar las misiones de La Santísima Trinidad del Paraná, la de Jesús de Tavarangüe, y finalmente la de San Cosme y San Damián. Es decir, me salió el precio de misión a 1.33 euros, o unas 15 veces más barata que la de San Ignacio Miní. En un largo día, desde la ciudad paraguaya de Encarnación, me dio tiempo a visitar, en diversos autobuses, en autostop, en moto y a pie, las tres misiones jesuíticas, a cual más interesante y fascinante, en mejor estado que la argentina de San Ignacio Miní, con excelentes folletos explicativos que me regalaron (cosa que no me dieron en la misión argentina). Además, en la primera las porteras me invitaron a desayunar en el excelente museo de la misión, en la segunda una joven guía se ofreció para explicarme el lugar durante más de una hora señalándome los elementos mudéjar de la arquitectura y el simbolismo de sus relieves. Y en la tercera tuve tres guías, uno sobre la misión en general, otro sobre las maravillosas tallas de madera de la iglesia, y el tercero fue un profesor en astronomía que me mostró el reloj de sol de la misión y me dio clases magistrales de su ciencia una noche estrellada en su observatorio astronómico dentro de la misión, pues su fundador, el sacerdote jesuita Buenaventura Suárez (descendiente de Juan de Garay, el fundador de las ciudades de Santa Fe y, por segunda vez, de Buenos Aires), fue un experto astrónomo, el primero del Hemisferio Sur. Los conocimientos, tanto arquitectónicos como históricos que me fueron transmitidos ese largo día por los empleados paraguayos de esas tres misiones (de las treinta que hoy existen repartidas entre Paraguay, Argentina y Brasil), fueron de un valor incalculable. Aprendí sobre los siniestros paulistas, o bandeirantes, los criminales esclavistas portugueses (con ayuda de indios locales) que desde Brasil se internaban en Paraguay a capturar indios guaraníes para esclavizarlos y venderlos, sobre la expulsión de los Jesuitas por Carlos III, sobre los estudios que realizaban los guaraníes en las treinta misiones jesuíticas, entre ellos música, astronomía y tres lenguas (guaraní, español y latín). Ya me hubiera gustado a mí ser educado en mi infancia como un indio guaraní de aquellos tiempos, y no como se estudia hoy en España, robando el alma a los niños por una educación dirigida por comisarios políticos, que tratan de adoctrinarte, y aún es peor en algunas regiones periféricas de nuestro país. Naturalmente, no tuve tiempo de regresar ese día a Encarnación, por lo que pasé la noche en una posada de San Cosme y Damián, junto al observatorio astronómico, cenando una deliciosa sopa de pescado al estilo paraguayo.. Dormí feliz, como un lirón, por el rico día en conocimientos e impresiones dichosas que acaba de vivir. Por la mañana me marché a seguir viajando a otra parte................................................................................... THE TRANS CHACO ROAD: It is not an easy bus journey to cross the Chaco from Santa Cruz (in Bolivia) to Asunción (in Paraguay). Once at the border with Paraguay we still had to drive almost 900 kilometers to Asunción. In the Santa Cruz bus station they promise you that the journey would take approximately 24 hours, but in practice some people have been two full days with its two nights on the road. In my case I spent 40 hours. Once in Paraguay you cross the provinces of Boquerón, Alto Paraguay and Presidente Hayes, which constitute the Chaco Boreal. There have been wars disputing this hostile and large piece of land, inhabited mainly by indigenous people that hardly could speak Spanish. The last war in the Chaco was produced between Bolivia and Paraguay in the thirties of the XX century. During many kilometers and hours I was in no man’s land because there was no immigration control. I was afraid to arrive to Asuncion without a Paraguayan entry stamp in my passport. Finally, well inside Paraguayan territory, we arrived to a Police control and all the passengers got the entry stamp. The place was called Mariscal Estigarribia. The more we approached Asuncion the more police controls on the road we encountered because the Chaco is a well known area to smuggle narcotics. Police had even dogs that smelled our parcels, while the policemen searched into our bags making sure that we were not contrabandists. Food was included in the bus service, but only three times because the schedule of the journey was supposed to last 24 hours, and not 40 hours, as it happened, so we had to buy the last meals by ourselves in the several stops along the Paraguayan villages. The worst of the journey was the hours that we spent in a road not asphalted, full with mud that we had to clear to unblock the bus that had been stuck. The drivers and some volunteers removed the mud with the help of shovels, while the rest of the passengers we had to push the bus. Finally, with the help of some truck drivers that were waiting for us because the bus blocked the complete road, we could solve the problem, and thus continue our journey. Reaching the crossing road with Filadelfia I was tempted to break my journey, because I was interested in visiting the Russian Mennonites community that escaped the horrors of the Soviet Union during Stalin times, but fearing that it would be difficult to get to Asuncion if I visited them, finally resolved not to stop and followed the bus journey until the end, until the central bus station of Asuncion. In all I slept two full nights inside the bus, uncomfortable bus which was too crowded, with passengers without seats, sleeping in the corridor. It had been an arduous but memorable bus journey, of which I feel proud. ................................................................................................................ ASUNCIÓN IN THE YEAR 2015: I arrived to Asunción after a 40 hours bus journey crossing the Chaco. I boarded a local bus to the downtown, in order to visit the cathedral. The bus dropped me besides the Panteón Nacional de los Héroes, and from there I walked. I had been in Asuncion in 1986, or 29 years earlier, but I could not remember practically anything from my previous journey, it was all new for me. Asunción is not a large city; its population scarcely reaches half a million inhabitants. During a whole day I could visit the most important tourist’s attractions. The Tourist Office located in Calle Palma gave me a lot of nice and colored brochures of Asunción plus the Jesuit Missions across the country, included in the list of Patrimonies of the Humankind by UNESCO, which I would visit in the next days. Next door to the cathedral there was the lovely Palacio de los López (seat of the Government of Paraguay) and besides of the Cabildo building I found a statue representing the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salazar y Espinoza, who founded the city in the year 1537, on august 15th, the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the reason why it was named after the Virgin (Asunción means Assumption). I descended to the shores the River Paraguay. I thought that the other side of the river was Argentina, but I was wrong. A native whom I asked told me that the border with Argentina is several dozens of kilometers further, across that river. The walk was pleasant and some local people used the sand on the shores of the river as a beach. Soon I found a monument in the form of a compass, devoted to the Spanish conquistador who was awarded the title of “adelantado” while he was serving the Spanish Crown in present Paraguay: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, an extraordinary traveler that had crossed present USA on foot, from Florida to the Gulf of California, during 8 years. And in South America, where he traveled some years later, would be the first European to admire Iguazú Falls. I was happy to read his name in that compass because Cabeza de Vaca is one of my dearest travelers’ heroes. While in Argentina the custom to drink hot mate is generalized, in Paraguay it was called tereré and it is consumed cold. Even policemen had a thermo under their arms when working and made frequent breaks to drink tereré. I would spend much of the day walking, entering churches, museums and observing several monuments dedicated to the freedom (from Spain) or to historical Paraguayan personages, had a wonderful lunch (fish soup) in a centrically located restaurant and then I looked for a hostel to spend the night. The next day I made a short excursion to Clorinda, en Argentina, just across the border, for a few hours, after that I would return to Asuncion to travel, by bus, to the UNESCO listed Jesuit Missions in the south of the country, near the city of Encarnación.
1976 Apr by Alfredo Fournier-Beeche
I went to Paraguay to attend a Council meeting of the Inter American Bar Association. We went to visit Lago de Ipacarai, at a country club they had there and the "parrillada" was top. They had a guitar and arp trio that sang the folkloric music of Paraguay. Beautifull! After the meeting, I took a bus to go see the Iguaçu waterfalls, in the neighboring Brazilian Paranà State (which is another post). On the road I could se large piles of dirt that Idid not know what they were. I was explained that they were ant hills that cause much damage to agriculture. Chillo is the national dish, a river, fresh water fish. It is very tasty and is cooked in serveral ways. I liked Paraguay very much and the Paraguayans took excelent care of us. The girls are oustandingly beautifull, as any traveler will immediately notice. Paraguay has come a long way in its history towards democracy, of which I rejoice, but at that time you could feel the wheight of the dictatorship they had when Alfredo Stroessner was in power. One night I went to the casino at the hotel and won some dollars in the black-jack table, so I decided to spend the money at the serveral roulette tables. I started to accomplish my goal, but when I tried to finish my hard-earned money at the last table, a burly looking man with a big bulge under his left arm, stood in front of me and informed me that it was a private table. I looked to see why and saw that all the people (plainclothsmen) were looking out of the table, not towards it; and gambling by himself was Stoessner. It must be very lonely to be a dictator. |