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Sh America - 7 - Posada to El Chaco

Asuncion, Concepcion, Vaille Mi, filadelphia, El Chaco

all seasons in one day -17 °C
View South america 2007 on Rraven's travel map.

So we decided to go to Paraguay via Posada in Argentina for less border problems. Our original choice of hotel in Posada was booked out, or so they say, the place was more up market then we originally were told and they don't take kindly to backpackers, especially ones who had just gotten off a dusty bus...We found a nice place around the corner, and nice by a lot of standards and not just ours....hehehe... Not much to say about the town as it was a stopgap for us. The next day we caught an early bus to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.

This is done with much anticipation, as we don't know what to expect. We can't find a guidebook on it, the information on the web is inclusive and (boo hoo) some travel helpers didn't reply to Arjans query...so finally after the ease of travel in Argentina we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. The information we did have was a couple of pages from the lps south America on a shoestring...When talking to other backpackers most generally looked vacant and said cool but why or gave us a lecture on how other countries have so much more to offer and why waste your time, no one goes there.... but that was half the appeal to be honest ;)

Anyway we pass through the Argentina border with no problems then we reach the Paraguay side. An official goes off with everyone’s ids and passports to get the visas etc; on the large bus there is only about 10 passengers so there was plenty of space to relax. As we sit there we watch as a dozen men start to walk to the bus. No. Not new passengers but "del boy" sales people. They open they're jackets to reveal walking shops, as long as you don't ask questions you can buy jewelry, cameras, watches, gadgets, souvenirs, cosmetics, bags.etc...anything they can carry, after a few minutes two cars pull up and eight more people board the bus trying to sell things, its getting ridiculous, there are more of them the passangers. Children also approach with candies and sweets.... soon another bus with more people pulls up and the sales peoples all leave to chance there arm with the new victims...As we get our passports back we're told welcome to Paraguay, what am introduction to the country (especially when we knew the border crossing on brazils side had the worst reputation for contraband goods, weapons and drugs.)...

We drive to Asuncion through some contradicting scenes, there are some really expensive modern homes and buildings beside some run down shanty towns that reek of stale urine, sometimes the smell is so strong you can smell it through the windows a few more blocks after you've passed by. We reach the town by late afternoon. It’s a sprawling city with many broken and unpaved red roads. Some of the women appear caked in the red clay and pretty soon the dusty air and sweat paints us similarly. Our Hotel is Hotel Miami, for a double room ensuite it costs 100,000 guiranis, bit more then we thought so we try our luck at a discount, so a little haggling and we get it for 90,000 without breakfast. The hotel itself is quiet and in the center of town, the staff are friendly and the place is secure, an inside gate can only be unlocked by the receptionist and is always locked... It’s not the most up market place but when you're on a budget you just want somewhere to crash that’s cleanish. Strange part is the John Wayne tapestry that’s outside our bedroom...

The city has a strange feel to it, by day there are a lot of police walking or sitting looking bored tapping very large heavy guns, On the Friday there appears to a peaceful demonstration and public talk in the plaza uruguaya. Policemen paying acute attention, down all the surrounding alleys, are watching it carefully and streets are groups of waiting heavily armed riot police. It’s as if they're waiting for a major fight or trouble but nothing happens and they traipse the streets in the afternoon back to their usual faces of boredom. When walking around town we see more contradictions that followed the journey into town, there is the Palacio de Gobiero that is a stones throw from the tin houses of the prostitutes that work plaza indepencia in the early hours. There is the camona de diputades; a very well equipped expensive building that’s huge glass windows mirrors the shantytowns that overlook the river. Food wise, well in general it was okay, noting to write home about, especially after being spoiled in Argentina. One thing though is the Confiteria Bolsi; it has the best burgers ever. In general, though we expect the deteriation of the city we expected more historical buildings, a bit more colonial architecture but then we didn't know too much about the place to start so I can't be too disappointed. The local tourist office proves to be very helpful.
Originally we were going to go down south and visit a national park but due to time restraints and the fact that we've already just recently seen many butterflies, which is one of the main attractions, we skip it. The time restraints are down to a boat trip. We wanted to travel on the Rio Paraguay and were advised that though many people travel from Asuncion to Concepcion it is nicer to travel from Concepcion to Bahia Negro. The girl in the tourist office assures that there are buses from there to our next destination of Filadepfia. So we packed our bags and got the bus to Concepcion, the early buses are a bit of a killer.

Concepion is about six hours north of the capital. We pass through some sparse scenery that is full of some beautiful birds. It’s a bird watchers paradise. The colours and amazingly diverse. In Concepcion we check into Hotel Center which is 35,000 for a double room ensuite with fan, or 60,000 with air -con. The evening we arrive Sunday seems to be good timing. There is a local celebration in relation to a local regional moto cross competition. The streets are brimming with people on scooters or in 4*4 jeeps blasting music from huge speakers. There is a mood of excitement and celebration; I'm presuming that whomever they support did very well. We check in the hotel about the boat and we find that we are just a few blocks from the dock were we can arrange everything. Heading down there the next morning we wander aimlessly around the port, we try to figure out who to get tickets from but nothing is very clear. The boat is docked and we can see crewmembers fixing it up, doing basic repairs and starting to load some of the goods and cargo. A security guard directs us to the offices - the green building- the colour is faded and pealing and not easily spotted but we get there. The guy in the office tries to be helpful but our understanding is terrible. At the start we thinks it’s our poor Spanish letting is doing and start to berate ourselves for not knowing more but then we realise that he's actually speaking the national language Guarani. Two French guys approach us; they too want to do a similar journey with the car they bought in Chile. They’re traveling for about four months. Their car though is too big for the boat so they strike a deal with a different boat and head that day but before they go they help us and act as translators, their Spanish sounds near perfect. We find out the boat leaves every Thursday at 11, so the following day, it reaches Bahia Negra on Friday but as its the rainy season the roads or non roads as he describes are wiped out, we'd be stuck so we instead decide to go to Puerto Olimpo which arrives on the Thursday but he assures us that there are onwards buses out of town. He also says to sleep its good to have hammocks, so with our tickets in hand we went to pick up some locally. The next day we get to the docks around 10 as told. The boat is already overflowing with people and produce. This after all is not tourist boat but a local way to cargo transporter. Though we expected some of it we didn’t realise how full the boat would be. We find out later that there is between 200 and 250 people on board and this is the norm...The boat is filled with fresh fruits, vegtables, drinks, breads, baskets, sweets, clothes etc....its bursting at the seams. No wonder there was no room for the French guys car...As we walk around we see the boxes are piled high and that there are hammocks hanging from every available space. You guessed it problem number one, we possibly have no were to sleep for two days...We finally find the only place left to stand at the back of the boat near the stairs. We’re right beside the showers and toilets. The smell can be overpowering and mixed with the smell of food and fresh produce it’s a real strange mixture. We’re also close to the engines so the heat is intense. But we decide instead of turning around and getting straight off, we’d give it a chance and with some luck the scenery would be amazing and we’d see some amazing wildlife. We’d been told that you could see monkeys, loads of birds and some really nice scenery. On the boat its like musical chairs, if you move you lose your seat and this is how we gain some seats after a few hours...Good thing too, we were starting to get sore legs. The saving factor in the end isn’t the scenery, we saw nothing at all!!! Its nice but not mind blowing...the saving factor is the people, we were in the rural areas and they don’t get many tourists and they made us feel so welcome. They were among some of the friendliest people we’d ever met and some of them were very entertaining. It turns out that there were three travelers in total on the boat, us and a young polish guy who was taking two weeks off from his Brazilian college exchange course.

Okay I’m going to attempt to describe the people but I know I’m not going to do them much justice....

Were we are sitting there is a mother and child with so many boxes that they take over a long bench. They’re very quiet but very smiley. The son keeps smiling and staring at us, he looks like he wants to say something and after 12 hours or so comes over and says quick hola and runs back very proud of himself. There is a large man sitting beside me that seems to know a lot of people as many stop by to talk to him, he’s treated with a lot of respect. I’m just jealous that he has a seat and a hammock space, not fair!! There is a cheeky smiley elder man who tries to start a conversation with Arjan, its strange, they talk to me through Arjan, they direct all the questions for me through him. And no it’s not a matter of understanding differences but how they treat women. Anyway after a few minutes of talking to the smiley cheeky guy and its turns to a debate about which countries have the best beers and which countries can drink a lot. He seems to have a lot of respect for the Dutch and Irish drinking prowess. He seemed to adopt us and kept making sure we had enough to drink and eat, though he didn’t have much himself he kept offering us beer and chocolate.... very funny guy but we stuck to our water, well after carrying 5ltrs we wanted to get rid of some of the weight of it :) There is a quiet man who watches everything, he doesn’t say much but smiles kindly and keeps checking we’re okay. There is a young man who moved to the area a few months back, as a recently qualified doctor. He has good English and quickly becomes our translator and source of information. Through him and the group around us we find out that our plan is doomed, the roads at our stop our washed away from a rainfall from the previous week. After talking to him about all the main stops with useable roads and getaway plans we decide to get off earlier then expected at Vaille Mi. The stop is the following evening so that means only one bad nights sleep on the wooden seats that are sending our backs numb with pain. The town is supposed to have one hotel (Paroda) so we’ll have somewhere to sleep and three possible ways to leave town, there is a flight every Friday to the capital for usd 45, and from there we could catch a bus to Filadelphia, a bus service that depends on road conditions and if the worst happens return boat journey at the weekend. The man in charge of the engines comes around to our part of the boat quite a lot, as his luggage is stored there. He is a character and knows everyone. He is also the man in the know. He managed to secure the last hammock space for the cheeky smiley guy; it’s even in one of the best positions on the boat. Mr. Engine guy also has the hairiest back I’ve ever seen but that’s not the strange thing, its very patchy, its as if someone waxed inch cubes sporadically on his back. His vest is ripped and filthy and his shorts are an indiscript colour, but he seems to be a very clean person, as he always seems to be coming back from the shower area with his washing, always underwear. We know this because below one of the seating areas in front of us there are holes- windows into the engine room and he’s hanging his clothes through the holes on nails to dry. I’m not sure if everyone has noticed as they’re using the holes to rest their feet. There is a young couple on the other side of the toilets that stare at us all the time. The girl is the only person on the boat who appears hostile, my back knocked her slightly when we boarded but so did everyone else’s, that can’t be the reason but from her looks you’d swear I got up and slapped her in the face, ah well that life. Her boyfriend has a blank bored look. No idea what he’s think but doesn’t appear to be much. Though our position on the boat may be accompanied by a distinct smell I wouldn’t change it, its great for people watching and the group we’re in our great. Its also convenient for the shops on board, some of the market sellers are not waiting till they get to the markets to start selling, main meals are around 11.30 and 6, otherwise there’s plenty to buy and eat. That evening some of the older guys in the group refuse to sleep until I’m in some sort of sleeping position, even allowing me to use their ice boxes as foot rests even though they’d spent half the day telling other people not to lean on them. They’re very into chivalry and respect, its really nice. That night between millions of possessed demon mosquitoes and taking turns with Arjan to lie down on the bench there wasn’t much sleep to be had. The next day everyone on the boat was up around five, we looked like zombies... Later that morning we met the polish guy who is studying in Brazil, we didn’t know he was on board before then. He was also trying to determine how to change his plans because of the rainfall and had it half sorted out. There was a polish missionary priest on board who had been living in the area for over thirty years who would bring him part of the way. He offered to bring us to and though it was a really nice gesture we didn’t know how we would get from the place he would leave us, we’d probably have to walk over 100km, in our state we thought it was better to decline. We also found out from the doctor that we could get off the boat earlier by a few hours and catch a bus to the town of vaille mi. So feeling stinky and looking like part of a slashed zombie movie we got off at a stop called three mountains. It meant we could check into the hotel a lot earlier; after all it was now few nights without good sleep. Local young men agreed to show us to the bus stop and were the hotel was. It was really nice but before getting to the hotel he got off the bus early (we didn’t know this) and paraded us through town like zoo animals calling out to people that he didn’t even appear to know. He was a nice guy but I wanted to kill him, we were in the midday heat with little energy, sweating buckets and the backpacks seemed to be getting heavier with every step and on top of all this he had a bad knee and picked up his scooter and was sitting comfortably. Anyway enough moaning the hotel turned out to be a bit expensive at $20 for a double room but worth it. It was spotlessly clean, comfy bed and a good shower. The next morning we caught the 5.30am bus back to concepcion, we had been told it was rapido and that we would be there by midday, and we were just happy to be able to keep moving for 60,000, it was a way out and lot cheaper then the plane. The scenery from the bus was really nice, so many birds etc, it was what I was expecting from the boat. At around 10am the bus came to a stand still, everyone had to get off the bus and carry all their belongings, climbing over a fence and then walk 40 minutes on a hot day through a farmers muddy field. With swear pouring down everyone’s flushed red faces we kept up a quick pace as if you stood anywhere too long you started to sink in the mud up to your knees. When we got to a part of the bus we boarded another bus, we had just swapped buses with the passengers going the opposite way. There was no other way to pass and the rod was a rover in parts and huge trenches in between. After that we had to wait an hour for all the baggage and cargo to be swapped. Eventually we got to town three hours later then expected muddy, tired, ready to drop but still smiling. We went back to the same hotel and decided that three days of little of no sleep meant we should check in for two days to recover. But between the heat and those evil possessed mozzies we got no sleep, mixed with a place were the water was temperamental which meant no showers we were wrecked.

We left town on the 7.30 bus to filadelphia , a town that had been set up by Russians and Germans. Many people in the town spoke German so yippee we ´d be able to understand, okay Arjan would!! Come on in job if you didn’t understand German you couldn’t do the job fairly. Walking through town there are clear divides between the original local people and the new groups. The hotel we’re staying in has 24 up market rooms with silent air-conditioning, mini fridges, ensuite and TVs for 120,000 g or like us you can get one of the budget rooms for 60,000. These rooms have shared bathrooms, noisy aircon, nothing fancy, cells really but somewhere to sleep. It’s a good hotel and considering the good we’ve had lately the attached restaurant is great. But yes you guessed it loads of mozzies and flies, mostly hovering around the showers.... The bite marks are now competing with my freckles, and they’re numerous. After a few relaxing days walking around and sleeping we were hoping to get a bus to Santa Cruz in Bolivia without backtracking but the info we had was wrong so we had to back track to the capital and get the bus from there.
The journey though long at 22 hours was really nice and took in some of the Chaco scenery....

Posted by Rraven 15:00 Archived in Paraguay Tagged backpacking

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later dude...... too drunk to tallk to uuuuu. ha ha ha ha

by leigh_ruth

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