Off The Gringo Trail And Off The Beaten Path – Paraguay

Let’s go to Paraguay

My last stop in Brazil, Foz do Iguazu made me sad to have to say goodbye to this beautiful country. Especially because I started to get better in Portuguese and found many friends in Brazil.
But it didn’t change my decision that I wanted to move on and I decided to travel off the beaten path. The decision was made.  It would be Paraguay.

Jesuit Missions in Paraguay

Entry into Paraguay

My start wasn’t promising at all.
Firstly, I stood at the wrong bus station.
Finally arrived at the bus terminal of Foz do Iguazu I caught the right bus to Ciudad del Este. At the border I got off and went to the Federal Police of Brazil to stamp my passport for departure. Passing the “friendship bridge” (Ponte da Amizade) and of course at the beginning I couldn’t find the entry point of Paraguay and sweated like hell with my backpack at 35 degrees. After stamping my passport I had to withdraw Guarani, the Paraguayan currency. The whole bureaucracy sucked the energy out of me and on the top my face was red like a frigging ripe tomato.

Ciudad del Este

In the mall Shopping del Este there is an ATM at the ground floor next to a coffee shop.
Again, I waited in front of the entry point for the bus.
I just wanted to leave Ciudad del Este, the whole day started already like crap and I was transforming to sticky rice. Keep your bus ticket, so you can show it to the bus driver and don’t have to pay again.
Ciudad del Este is such a CRAZY city, people from Brazil and Argentina just come over there to buy cheap electronic stuff.
The traffic reminded me of Vietnam. It is also dirty, crowded and loud. Everywhere people are screaming “cambio, cambio”.
Folks, I don’t recommend anyone to exchange money on the street.
Also I wouldn’t recommend anyone to stay in this city, except you want to lose sanity while shopping. I don’t know if it’s worth it, though.

Ciudad del Este to Encarnación

On the bus to the bus terminal in Ciudad del Este, I asked a woman in Portuguese if she would also go to Encarnación.
The friendly lady helped me and brought me safe to the bus station.
The bus ticket to Encarnación cost 60000 Guarani (10.60$).
The bus company Expreso Paraguay was such a luxury bus compared to the ones in Brazil. The only drawback: A delay of 40 minutes.
I should better get used to it, I don’t expect any punctuality in South America anymore. Yes, I give up.
By the way, Paraguay has winter time and has 6 hours difference to Germany. In summer only 5 hours.
There was a Brazilian man (my seat neighbour) who was so friendly and bought me Chipá​ on the bus from one of the sellers. Delicious!!
Finally, after 4 hours bus ride I reached Encarnación.

Food and Drinks in Paraguay

I love Chipa since the first time I tried it.
For breakfast or snack Paraguayan people eat Chipa: A baked, cheese-flavored roll made from cassava flour.

Pao de Queijo
My first Chipá on the bus to Encarnacion.

For everyone who loves meat: Asado is the barbecue version of Paraguay.

Empanadas: A fried or baked stuffed pastry with different flavours like cheese or meat.

Food Paraguay
Empanadas in Encarnacion

Mbeju: A starch cake made with cassava flour.

Soyo: A thick soup of meat crushed in a mortar, seasoned with spices, vegetables and often with poached egg.

Sopa Paraguaya: Corn bread with cheese and milk.

Food in Paraguay
Mate Cocido, Chipá, Sopa and Cheese Chipá.

Mate cocido: Incredibly sweet. Made from yerba mate with milk and loads of sugar.

Tereré: Attention please, you can easily get addicted to it.
It is an infusion of yerba mate and is prepared with cold water and ice.
Paraguayans drink it everywhere and anytime. Seriously. After 2 days I drink it almost everyday in Paraguay.

Paraguay Tereré
Drinking Tereré all day long.
Drink in Paraguay
Tereré

Brief History of Paraguay

I guess people asking me often why do I go to Paraguay, there is nothing to see.
Maybe… But I don’t need always sightseeing. For me the people and the culture represent a country. And as a duty of a global citizen, I can’t miss Paraguay. Its history is quite interesting actually.

The Beginning

The indigenous people in Paraguay speak Guarani and inhabited Paraguay before the Spanish invaded in the 16th century.
Subsequently, Asuncion was founded.

The Three Caudíllos

Paraguay was dominated by three dictators during the first 60 years of independence starting with Jose Gaspar Rodrigues Francia. Due to unlimited powers, he started a rigorous isolationist policy until his death in 1840. He was followed by Carlos Antonio Lopez, who ended Francia’s policy of isolationism but still continued to strengthen the nation’s economy. His son Francisco Lopez seized the power after Lopez’s death, but strategically he wasn’t the smartest person.
So because of this fellow, Paraguay fought Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in the “War of the Triple Alliance” in 1865. The war lasted until 1870 and ended in a disaster for Paraguay. Not only losing much of its territory but also more than half the population of the country have died.

20th Century in Paraguay

Paraguay was politically unstable in the early 20th century.
In the following the Chaco war with Bolivia started in 1932 until 1935.
Afterwards a cruel dictator ruled Paraguay again until 1989. Surprise, surprise! His name was Alfredo Stroessner, a dude with a funny mustache.
After his disempowerment the country became democratic.
Somehow, I guess. Today the economy is kind of growing fast and there might be a very optimistic future for this country.

What do we learn from this? Wars are the stupidest things and I have no idea what else to say except for a random fact: Many Paraguayans are mestizos.

Encarnación and the Surroundings

Encarnación locates on the right hand shore of the Parana River and opposite of Posadas, Argentina.

There is a beach (Av Costanera) in Encarnación and it is crowded during the summer. Except cheap food (Hallelujah!) there is not much to do except eating, shopping or fishing.

Encarnacion, Paraguay
Beach in Encarnacion

The pizza boom in the city is great for everyone who has cravings for Italian food. A pizza ranges from 20000-30000 Guaranis (3.50$ – 5.30$).
So go for it. Especially after the immense prices in Brazil!
For Italian food go to “La Piccola Italia” and for ice-cream to “Mako’s” in Avenida Caballero. “Don Pipo” has the best cheese Chipa in town.

Ice-cream in Encarnacion
Mako’s self-service ice-cream.

Attention: Watch out for the street dogs. Most of them are calm but sometimes they can be a little bit aggressive. Fernando got bitten by a dog.

Encarnación is a great jumping-off point to visit all Jesuit ruins in the near surrounding or Parque Nacional San Rafael.

Jesuit Missions in Paraguay

The Jesuits came to South America to spread the word of the religion. One of the countries where they set up their communities was Paraguay.
They built self-sufficient “Indian reductions”, improved the education and conditions of the indigenous people. Especially in agriculture and literacy. The Jesuits expected the Indians to convert to Christianity but not necessarily to adopt European values. The autonomy and economic situation was a success. Now you can imagine the Spanish dominion was not pleased about it at all.
The actual aim was to Christianize and tax the indigenous people more in an efficient way.
Guess what happens when you don’t follow the actual purpose and they are scared that you might become too powerful?
Right! One word: Expulsion.

In the middle of the 18th century the Jesuits were expelled from Paraguay and their villages were attacked.

San Cosme y Damián

The Jesuit reduction in San Cosme y Damián in the same-named town was established in 1632. The ticket for a foreigner to visit all 3 Jesuit reductions costs 25000 Guaranis (4.50$).
It is not easy to access this Jesuit reduction, but it was the location of the astronomical observatory. Fernando (my host) and I drove with a car to this one, it is 60 km (37 miles) far away from Encarnacion.
A tour is provided, but it is in Spanish and I was the only tourist at this place. It didn’t change when I visited the other two.

Jesuit ruins Paraguay
San Cosme y Damián Jesuit ruins.
Jesuit Ruins Paraguay
San Cosme y Damián Ruins
San Cosme y Damián
Random houses in San Cosme y Damián.

Jesuit ruins at Trinidad and Jesus

28 km (17 miles) far away from Encarnacion is Trinidad, the biggest and best-preserved Jesuit reduction from all three of them.
Again, there weren’t many people, not to speak of tourists.
I am almost pretty sure I was the only. But I enjoyed it a lot to explore the ruins by myself in the middle of nowhere.
There were no guides and no signs, only a guard. At the evening there is a light show with pictures screening on the walls.

Jesuit Ruins Paraguay
Ruins of Jesús de Tavarangue
Jesus Statue
Jesus statue in Guarani style.

12 km far away is Jesús de Tavarangue – another Jesuit community.
The church is massive and huge but unfortunately the construction of the mission was never completed due to the expulsion of the Jesuits from Paraguay in 1767.  There are tours provided, but only in Spanish.
In both of the communities you will get a sense of how life must once have been back then. The entrance gate of the churches are always directed to north. Both churches in Trinidad and Jesus are impressive and very tranquil.

Jesuit Ruins Paraguay
At La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná – A world heritage site.

Jesuit reduccion Paraguay

jesuit missions in Paraguay
Most Holy Trinity of Paraná. Unesco World Heritage
Unesco World Heritage Sites

Believe me or not but Jesus and Trinidad are both Unesco World Heritage Sites. And maybe one of the least visited sites in the world.
The Jesuit Ruins in Paraguay are perhaps the best preserved ones in South America. Once you are in Paraguay it would make sense to visit the two of them.
They may not be worth a visit to the country on their own, but I’m glad I saw them.

Unesco World Heritage Site Paraguay
Exploring with a friend the Jesuit ruins of La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná.

And a big Thank You to my friend Fernando who drove me there.

Jesus Jesuit Ruins, Paraguay
The beautiful ruins of Jesús de Tavarangue.

Regularly, there are buses driving everyday from Encarnacion to Trinidad.
You just need to get on a bus to Ciudad del Este or Hohenau and get off once you see a powerhouse on your right side after 30 minutes.
A bus ticket costs 5000 Guaranis (not even one dollar).
To get to Jesus just ask a motorbike driver to drive you there for 5 dollars.

San Rafael National Park

If you are keen on bird watching and unspoiled nature area, you can visit one of the least visited National Park in South America –
San Rafael National Park.
To get there you rather rent your own car or pick the bus from Encarnacion at 8 am to Ynambú, where you need to arrange for Pro Cosara or any other NGO’s to pick you up. There are return buses in the afternoon.
The San Rafael National Park is covering an area of the Atlantic Forest and the wetlands. The park is home to some globally threatened mammals, the South American tapir and hundreds of bird species.

Unfortunately, the area is under threat from soya farming, fires, intensive agriculture and the use as pasture. Also the forest has been continuously cleared due to poor forest management. 
If they won’t change it the National Park will incur the same fate like the deforestation for cattle farming in the Paraguayan part of the Chaco.

Asunción – The Capital of Paraguay

A bus ticket from Encarnación to Asunción with Expreso Paraguay costs 75000 Guaranis (13$). It is a comfortable service in which a lunch is included.

My start in Asunción

Asunción was a great and extraordinary experience for me.
I still can’t describe how I feel after I left this ambiguous city.

Finally I arrived at the bus terminal and in contrary to the rodoviarios in Brazil, the Paraguayan ones are calm and I felt quite safe.
I had to buy a bus ticket to Buenos Aires, so I did it immediately.
Okay, to be honest I am not sure if it’s luck or something else. But due to one of the people who worked there I got a huge discount for my ticket to Argentina. Hallelujah!
Paraguayans are in fact genuinely friendly.
As you know me, a place is only as good as its people.
Paraguay was one of these special countries due to the people I have met.

I took a taxi to my host’s home and to my surprise he was living in a very poor condition. From all my Couchsurfing experiences, this one reminded me of when I lived in a modest housing back in Vietnam.
But do you know what? They might be very poor, but super kind and gave me everything they had even though they possess just the minimum of living.
And I showered every time in freezing cold water. But exactly from these experiences I am growing and appreciating many things in my life.
By the way, the taxis are quite affordable, but I’d rather take the bus.

Bus, Paraguay
Bus in Asuncion

Meeting the Bruderhof Community

Right at the first day Pedro (my host) brought me to his friends.
Very religious people who are living in a community in Asunción and decided to improve in their own way the situation in Paraguay. They are truly kind people, therefore I quickly made friends with them. The girls from this community are just too lovely and very approachable.
The fond moments of exchanging point of views and why they decided to serve for this community and doing their vows to God and the Bruderhof are one of the moments I don’t want to miss in my life.
I guess singing, baking, playing soccer and having deep conversations are enriching my life more than I thought.

Nevertheless, this is still NOT the answer to my quest.
I felt since I am running this blog, I reveal a lot to my readers. More or less it became a diary mixed with travel advises and kind of guidebook.

Visiting this community let me contemplate emphatically how can I change more in this world except traveling around and inspire other people or leaving my footprint in different places.
Hence, Paraguay left a big impression on me. Especially Asunción.
Guys, if one of you will ever visit them.
Can you send my love to them, please. Thanks!

The downtown of Asunción

To be honest, I guess Asunción has not much to do. The city is very strange. There aren’t many things to see in downtown, at the weekend it might be even a ghost town. The historical sites and museums are in downtown.
But all the luxury restaurants and shopping malls are in the suburbs.
The buses can be a little bit confusing, but it isn’t difficult to get around. Although, the heat and the traffic jam could be an immense plague. Especially for me. In addition, I am not a big fan of sweating, except when I am in water.

Museum Asuncion
At Museo de la Estacion Central del Ferrocarril Carlos Antonio Lopez
Downtown Asuncion
Women selling bags and handicrafts in downtown.
Museum Asuncion
Another place to visit: Museo Casa de la Independencia

Yeah, food wasn’t that great in Asunción. The Chipas were much better in Encarnacion, therefore I was a bit disappointed.

If you are missing some crazy markets like in Vietnam, go to Mercado 4. It’s crazy, but you probably get the cheapest prices in town over there.
All the market stalls are selling mounds of fruits and vegetables, also clothes and electronics can be found there.

Asunción Mercado
Mercado in Asunción
Market Asuncion, Paraguay
Mounds of fruits.
Slum, Paraguay
A favela or slum in Asuncion.

If you like to walk in the heat of Asunción, you can consider walking at Avenida Costanera, next to the beach. Even though I wouldn’t recommend anyone to swim there.

Asuncion Museum
Museu del Cabildo

One Big Problem In Paraguay

I have seen so many chubby people in Paraguay. Also young girls who I wasn’t sure if they are pregnant or just being obese.
So in the buses I was most of the time occupied with the thoughts whether to stand up for the pregnant girl or not. At the end, I always did and they were more than eager and happy to take my seat.
By the way, I also made research on the internet that many people in Paraguay suffer from obesity.

On one of my days in Asunción, Pedro introduced me to another friend of him who also works for a religious community in Paraguay.
This great Albanian girl is helping young pregnant girls.
I was suspicious and my suspicion became true: Many of those girls are living in poor conditions and due to lack of education they are pregnant at early age (most of them are only teenagers).
And the biological fathers usually don’t take any responsibilities and leave them alone.

Historical Background Of The Problem

Another background is a historical aspect. The population decreased dramatically during the Chaco War with Bolivia.
As a result and what I got to understand is that, in the following the government was encouraging men to have as many children as they can.
For those men it was an honour to help their country, but to the disadvantage of most girls’ and women’s situations.

For me, to improve this situation in the country, they must have a better eduction system. Also for young poor people. Education is definitely one of the keys to a nation’s welfare.
Thus, I want to express my sincere gratitude, respect and affection to all NGO workers and people who are helping these girls and their children to a better future and education.

Yaguarón

During my time in Asuncion, I had the honour to accompany Pedro’s mother to Yaguaron and Valenzuela.

Yaguarón City
Yaguarón

Yaguarón City

Let’s start with Yaguaron. There are many buses reaching this town, which is 48 kilometres (30 miles) away from Asuncion. Also it’s worth to mention that the bus takes an eternity to arrive there. Add the traffic jam and I was already 100 years old when I arrived in Yuagaron.
There is a famous and beautiful church, a beach?, and loads of handicrafts to buy. The birthplace of El Supremo – the president Jose de Francia is from Yuagaron. Nowadays his house is a museum and only 1 minute walk far away from the church.
Yaguaron is perfect for a one day trip, while you can buy strawberries and eating “fruit salad” in the town.

Yaguarón City
A street food market in Yaguarón.

Valenzuela

Maybe you might never go to Valenzuela, and I even didn’t know that I would ever get there. Whatever, life is full of surprises.
And the most funniest thing is: I have no freaking clue until today what Pedro’s mother did in this town of approximately 5500 inhabitants.
107 kilometres (66 miles) far away from Asuncion, we took at 5 am!! in the morning a bus at the terminal to this town.

I woke up at 4 am, just to go to a town, I will probably never come back in my life again. I slept 3 hours non-stop on the bus until we reached a farm of a religious man in the middle of nowhere.
And to be honest, there were actually quite a lot of people. Old people.
The man who was living there was a highly respected and religious man.

House in Valenzuela, Paraguay
The farm of the religious man in Valenzuela.

Lourdes (Pedro’s mother) told me that he is kind of spiritual.
Yeah, and I never got to talk to him.
So the irony of life: I woke up at 4 am just to sit there in a garden on a farm of someone I was excited to meet, but never got to see him.
How cool.

Paraguayan
I have the honour to spend two days with this wonderful lady. Lourdes, Pedro’s mum.

Bye Bye Paraguay

I am more than grateful for my experiences in Paraguay. Especially with the wonderful people I got to know. And in my opinion, if you know the people and get the chance to live with them – go for it.
Moreover, I am pretty sure it was not the last time I will visit Paraguay.

On a 24 hours bus ride I went afterwards to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

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