Capital – Asuncion Currency – Guarani (GS) Language – Guarani and Castellano (Spanish)
1st May 2013 – We leave Foz in Brazil today for Paraguay. Helge and Ulla our ‘neighbours’ at camping Paudimar, are also leaving today and we hope you enjoy your stay in Salvador. We have really enjoyed our evening chats with you over glasses of wine and G & T’s.
We haven’t spoken to many other travellers who have visited Paraguay, even our guide book describes it as being ‘ too often passed over by travellers’ but as we are so close it would be a shame not to visit a part of it. It is also the only country on this continent with an indigenous tongue as its official language – Guarani. We also hope that by the time we leave Paraguay, we will have given the Pantanal area in Brazil, a little longer to dry out before we make a visit there.
It is a National holiday today and everything takes a little longer at the frontier. In Paraguay, although our passport stamping poses no problems, they have to open up an office to deal with our vehicle papers, as the normal one is closed. We change some money with a guy on the street as we have been told that there is a peage shortly after the border that will only take local money.
The hectic, duty free town of Ciudad del Este has tall, concrete and glass tower blocks looming over a maze of street stalls and small, local shops.
This town provides duty free goods to a public hungry for bargains and just about everything you can think of can be purchased here! Guys leap out in front of us hoping to earn some money by directing us to parking for the shopping, but we are not stopping here and head west toward Asuncion, although we will not reach it today. Driving looks a little crazy and thumping music blares from various vehicles…..it’s holiday time! Lights need to be on 24hrs. as in Argentina, 3 tolls to pay and then we are pulled over for our first police check. Two very serious policemen walk around our vehicle slowly. Firstly, they do not like our right hand drive and then mention ‘luz’ (lights) but we have our light on fortunately, so what can be the problem there? We are then asked for just about every piece of documentation about ourselves and the vehicle, all of which are inspected at great length. Whilst one walks off muttering, it is some time before the remaining officer’s face finally cracks into a smile as he hands everything back, saying, “Perfect!”
It’s a flat road now through a flat landscape but as we near Caacupe and Itauga, forested hills appear and then the enormous Lago Ypacarai, as we approach San Bernardino.
We camp here at Brisas Del Mediterraneo amongst shady trees but with many mosquitoes. Showers and toilets are very rustic after the wonderful ablution block at Paudimar in Brazil. Frogs are everywhere and even leap out of the toilets……very scary!
2nd – 4th May – A short walk through the campsite takes us to the lake which at first glance, looks very impressive. However, when standing at the edge of the water, it looks very uninviting and we understand enough from the owner of the campsite, to learn that the water in the lake is contaminated and so certainly not suitable for swimming.
We head towards Paraguay’s capital city of Asuncion and into traffic fumes and congestion as we arrive. The temperature is still in the high 30s and very humid. No camping here as far as we know and so as we pass an Ibis Hotel with secure parking, we do a u-turn and take a cool, air-conditioned room…….what a treat! Across the road from the hotel, is the enormous Shopping del Sol. The largest shopping mall in the country and a real eye opener, with high class names such as Cartier and Mont BLanc, luxury leather goods and expensive clothing. The eating floor has a lot of choice and is more within our budget!
We spend a day searching for the right shock absorbers for the front of our Land Rover as one of them is leaking oil. We discover ACE, a Land Rover dealer on Avenida Espana with an impressive showroom full of Range Rovers and Evokes, a large, well organised service and workshop area and very helpful staff who spend a lot of time with us finding the right parts. Although not heavy duty shocks which we would have preferred, we decide to go back the following day and buy these.
The weather changes. We have a very wet night and it is still raining hard when we return to ACE…….but at least it’s cooler! Because of the weather Bill asks if it is possible for the new shocks to be fitted in their workshop and although it is a busy Saturday when they only work in the morning, Diego, who has been looking after us and who speaks very good English, very kindly fits us in. We are given coffee and tea whilst we wait in comfortable seating and I sit for a few moments of luxury inside the cream leather interior of one of their Evokes (presently a ‘best seller’) and I must say, it feels very roomy, light and extremely comfortable. As we are leaving, Diego presents us both with black Land Rover caps, the Union flag for the UK embroidered on one side and the flag for Paraguay on the other. What a lovely surprise as we could both do with new ones! Many thanks Diego for all your help and we would certainly recommend ACE to other fellow Land Rover travellers who need either spare parts, or work to be done on their vehicles. We decide it is too late to continue our journey today and with such wet and miserable weather, so we have one more night of luxury in the Ibis and another lovely buffet salad in the trendy shopping mall, finishing off with cheesecake and coffee at a little cafe outside, whilst watching all the luxury cars still queueing to come in.
5th May – Dry and cooler this morning and it is good to be on our way once more. We head northeast toward Limpio passing an enormous park on the outskirts of Asuncion with many people already out on the biking and jogging tracks. Numerous flags from different countries surround a huge, football stadium.
We arrive at the main Ruta 3 and return to a very different lifestyle of street sellers, roadside shops and stalls, street dogs, little boys juggling at traffic lights to earn some money and cows wandering along the road. It hasn’t taken long to leave behind the wealthy suburbs of the city!
We are pulled in by the police at Emboscada. Once again they do not like our steering wheel on the right but even more so this time. Our papers are handed over to ‘the one in charge’ who then spends ages with his mobile glued to his ear and talking presumably, to the ‘big boss’. He keeps us waiting for a good 20 to 30 minutes, during which time we are told many times that we cannot drive in Paraguay and with the suggestion that we put our vehicle on a truck to be driven out of the country. To this I tell him quite sharply, in ‘pigeon Spanish’. that it would cost far too much money and if our vehicle is not allowed on the road here, then why were we not refused entry at Ciudad del Este? And where can they show us in writing that our vehicle is not allowed? We are eventually given a thumbs up sign along with a hint of a smile and we are on our way again. Approx. 15 minutes later however, we have to go through the same procedure all over again. We are beginning to think that perhaps it would be easier to escape all this hassle and head for the nearest border back into Brazil! But no, we made up our minds to visit Laguna Blanca, which according to my guide book – ‘ is one of Paraguay’s best kept secrets! ‘
Huge skyscapes and many cattle estancias, swampy water areas full of water lilies in flower, many water birds and large birds of prey.
We take photos of one bird on a fence post, when he suddenly dives down and then flies up with something in his talons.
The single storey dwellings that line the roadside are all stained a deep red from the earth, orange trees are dropping their fruit, and pigs, hens, horses and cattle wander at the sides of the road.
At San Estanislaa we turn north for Santa Rosa del Aguaray where we take an unmarked road for Laguna Blanca. There has also been rain here and the road deteriorates quickly.
We arrive at a steep hill and it doesn’t look as if we will be going much further for a while. A lorry with a container on the back, has been unable to make it up and is blocking the road. A tractor is already there trying to pull it out, plus other lorry drivers trying to help. We are held up here for about an hour, until everyone gives up for the night.
Light is fading but we decide that we should just about be able to squeeze by in the deep ruts. A wooden bridge follows, in need of some repair and requiring the tyres to be lined up by torchlight at one point on a single plank, to avoid a drop into a large hole!
Dirt roads go off in all directions, so we have to ask many times for the right one. We finally arrive in the dark at Ecotour Laguna Blanca for camping and Pedro and his dog come out to welcome us. We look forward to seeing everything tomorrow in the daylight. The stars are absolutely spectacular here, appearing to cover the whole sky with hardly a space between them!
6th May – Laguna Blanca looks beautiful and the water so clear and clean.
The butterflies are quite incredible, gathering around the water in a mass of fluttering orange and yellow. Others are a flash of metallic blue, or are so well camaflouged against the earth, that until they move, we hardly notice them.
Pink dragonflies are far too quick to photograph and so are many of the birds but there is a huge variety here and many different calls. By mid morning the sky is a cloudless blue. Pedro has only owned the land for a short while and tells us of his plans as he proudly shows us round. Still a lot of work to be done but he is obviously completely taken by the magic of the place and its tranquility.
Diego arrives on his motorbike later today, having travelled from Argentina. He is just beginning an 8 month journey, going into Brazil and with many similar plans to ourselves, also a keen photographer – so we have a lot in common.
There is a beautiful sunset over the lake……..
…..and later in the evening, we all join Pedro around his fire, whilst he plays his guitar and sings songs from Argentina and Paraguay. A lovely evening!
7th May – We say goodbye to Diego and exchange route plans and pass on information….. we could well be meeting up again.
Back on the dirt road, we discover the bridge is being repaired and the lorry has made it up the hill. The red dirt road snakes ahead of us….we could be back in Africa.
Two very large and handsome oxen approach us pulling a cart with enormous wooden wheels. The guy driving them stops for a photograph…he must be very proud of his fabulous looking pair of beasts!
At Yby-Yau we turn east for Pedro Juan Caballero and the border with Brazil. The flat landscape suddenly surprises us with forested hills and enormous rocky outcrops, similar to thosein the Chaquitos area in Bolivia.
We pass gauchos herding cattle in a field not far from the road.
Arriving at the entrance to the Parque Nacional Cerro Cora, we decide to stop here for the night rather than continue to the border.
This 220sq km park, was the site of Paraguay’s final defeat in the War of the Triple Alliance and also the place where Francisco Solano Lopez (son of former President Carlos Antonio Lopez) finally met his end. The remains of both of the above, are included in the memorial Panteon de los Heroes, the huge monument in the plaza with the same name, in Asuncion.
The information Centre and small museum, provide us with a map that shows the camping area. Quite deserted and in need of some TLC but we have a very quiet night once the birds and monkeys have settled.
8th May – We visit the many monuments of those that died in the war of The Triple Alliance between 1865-1870 when Marsical Carlos Antonio Lopez launched Paraguay into a disastrous war, which saw the country lose much of its territory and its male population.
The abstract monument to the war dead, features many plaques and in front of this, is a long line of busts of the war leaders.
We also walk to a wooded area with a small brook and with the bust of Francisco Solano Lopez. This quiet place marks the site of his death.
Back at our Land Rover, a number of young Burrowing Owls have come out of their hole in the ground and pose for photographs, very beautiful and a real highlight…….it reminds us of the owls that we saw on the fence posts in Park El Rey in Argentina.
At Pedro Juan Caballero, we pull in at the enormous ‘Shopping China’ with all the top brand names for cosmetics, perfume, clothing and household goods etc. This massive place is situated on the Paraguay side of a dual carriageway with it’s national flag flying, whilst on the other side of the road, there waves the Brazilian flag and we are driving in Brazil…all very confusing and even more confusing to try and find the frontier between the two countries. After many enquiries, we finally find both. We are stamped out of Paraguay without a problem but Brazil has the unusual procedure that requires us to drive 11 blocks away (from where we have to get our vehicle papers done) to get our passports stamped and then return for our vehicle papers, all of which took a long time.