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Tag Archive for Asuncion

From Montevideo to Buenos Aires

I had read before coming to Uruguay that the country’s citizens deeply resent either their country or their people being compared with Paraguayans.  Without wishing to enter into a debate about the merits and disadvantages of each country, it would be easy to understand their dislike for such a comparison for no other reason than the two people have nothing whatsoever in common.

The easiest way to compare the two would be to say that Paraguay is, like Brazil or Colombia, an explicitly Latin American country in respect of its culture, customs and ethnicity of its people while Uruguay is, like Argentina, an isolated slice of Europe rather uncomfortably stranded at the fag-end of South America.

In many respects, the rather European and comparatively opulent style of Montevideo made it seem a little unremarkable when compared to the “wild west” nature of Asuncion.  It was, however, a very pleasant place to spend a few days, even if it did an certain air of familiarity to it.

The Old Town and Port

Having arrived into town quite late at night and being unable to get to sleep as a result of the prehistoric conditions in my hotel (of which more later), I had a relatively slow start to my first day in Montevideo.

After a late breakfast and few plans as to what I was actually going to do with the day, I made a rough plan to go and see some of the city’s tourist attractions.  Given that my hotel was located just off one of the city’s main roads, I decided to take a walk around the area near my hotel in order to do some people-watching and soak up the atmosphere.   This turned out to be quite a good plan as my random wanderings led to me, after just a few minutes walk, to the city’s set-piece square, the Plaza Independencia:

   

     

Before coming to the square I had already concluded that there was relatively little about Montevideo that could be described as particularly Latin American.  Sure, there were a few traders dotted around the edge of the square selling traditional goods but the majority of the buildings – from the glass-edifice of the President’s office to the peculiar Palacio Salvio – would not have been out of place in Europe.

On the western side of the Plaza was a large ornamental gate which marked the formal entrance into the city’s Old Town; a pleasant mix of modern boutiques, souvenir shops and cafes with shady terraces that looked like highly agreeable places to spend a few hours.

Eventually, I came to the square that was home to the City’s Metropolitan Cathedral.  While I always enjoy visiting cathedrals when on trips – if only to look at their astonishing architecture – I was particularly keen to see how the building compared to that I had seen in Asuncion.  The two buildings could not have been more different.  While Asuncion’s cathedral had an almost Protestant air to it with bare white walls, sparse decorations and seemingly-acres of open space, Montevideo’s was the very epitome of how you’d expect a Catholic church to look.   An imposing grey structure with thick walls to keep the building cool during the ravages of the Uruguayan summer, the floors were covered in ornate tiles and its ruby red and marble walls were covered in elaborate monuments to saints and fallen heroes from throughout the country’s history.

A few minutes on from the cathedral I came to the city’s port district.  After a couple of wrong turns that took me to a part of the seafront filled with crumbling buildings that was clearly not intended as a place for tourists to visit, I found myself back on the main thoroughfare.  While the port itself is largely devoid of charm, largely because it is active use as the main means by which people and commercial goods made their way between Uruguay and Argentina, its surroundings are well worth a visit.  I was particularly taken with the Mercados do Portos, a former fishmongers’ hall which is now home to twenty or so bars and restaurants serving a delicious range of fresh fish and barbequed meat dishes.

After a couple of hours of rest back at the hotel, I returned to the Mercados do Portos in search of dinner.  As it was a Monday evening and very, very few tourists appeared to be around, a lot of restaurants had taken the opportunity to cut their losses and close early.  I was more than a little sceptical about those places that were still open; concluding their elaborate décor and the warm welcome I received at the door for so much as looking at the menu in the window would result in their being tourist traps with disappointing food and extortionate prices.  Nevertheless, I settled on a place called El Peregrino.

I shouldn’t have been so cynical.  El Peregrino was, in a word, outstanding.  Controlled by a craggy-faced old-timer with a name like Giovanni, Mario or Serafino, I was immediately handed a platter of cheeses, chutneys and garnishes which could never easily have served as a meal in themselves.  Indeed, Giovanni looked a little disappointed when I only wanted the Uruguayan Ham platter as a starter.  He quickly perked up when I ordered a steak which he enthusiastically claimed was “from his brother’s farm”. (I am sure this comment was deployed for marketing purposes and his brother actually works in the kitchen, along with the rest of the extended family but anyway…).  Without going into too much further depth, the food was remarkable and the bill, at £25, outstanding:

   

Full of steak and fuelled by the type of joy de vivre one can only get from a good bottle of Argentine Malbec, I retired to bed a happy man!

Walk to the river-front

I must confess that, after a day in Montevideo, I was beginning to run out “tourist attractions” to visit.   I was starting to get a bit bored.   Rather than let this developing sense of boredom develop into a sense of full-scale apathy that could have seen me kill the remaining couple of days aimlessly surfing the internet, I found a map of the city and decided to go for a long walk in order to see a bit more of the place.

The most logical route I found which would allow me to cover a lot of ground and also get to see as much of the famous river promenade as possible. NB: I say “river promenade” but, for all intents and purposes, it is a coast-line.  The river plate (“Rio de la Plata”) that runs for 290 miles between Uruguay and Argentina which, at the mouth of the river, reaches a distance between the two countries of 140 miles.

After having spent much of the past two weeks grappling with the searing heat, the fresh breeze coming off the river was a more than welcome arrival.  The mixture of breeze and slightly overcast day meant I was able to cover a huge amount of ground without so much as breaking a sweat.  At half-kilometre intervals along the promenade were posts marking the distance walked; something which encouraged me to set myself a goal of covering 10km before dinner.   My route was as follows:

If you’re in Montevideo I would strongly recommend following the same trail in order to ensure you cast the net a little wider than just the river-front areas closest to the city centre.  Indeed, the parts of the river-front closest to the main port have very little charm about them with a string of rather unpleasant high-rise buildings providing the backdrop for what is essentially just a long slab of concrete abutting an expanse of murky, brown water.

It’s only when you’ve walked a couple of miles along the riverfront that you come to a string of very pleasant parks, yacht clubs and a string of memorials commemorating Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi and the victims of the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide:

   

   

After having covered ten miles on foot, I didn’t feel like walking back so jumped on a bus back to Plaza Independencia that cost less than £1 and took about half an hour.

Don’t stay at the Hotel Austral

Before I mention Colonia – a beautiful port town that links Uruguay to Argentina – I just wanted to give a dishonourable mention to the place I stayed: the Hotel Austral (or “Hotel Awful” as I mentally nicknamed it).

To be clear, I should have known it would be bad.  After all, it was only £25 a night.  But I didn’t realise it would be that bad.

Before I launch a full-frontal assault on the establishment, let me first highlight some of its positive points.  Or rather it’s only positive point.  The Hotel Austral is supremely well located, literally a stone’s throw from most of the cities main thoroughfares and less than ten minutes walk to both the Old Town and the riverfront.  There are some excellent cafes, bars and ornate squares just seconds away.  If you’re somebody who can overlook almost anything negative about a hotel as long as it is well situated, then the Hotel Austral is the place for you.  The breakfast, particularly the freshly-squeezed orange juice, is also very pleasant.

However…

If you are fond of even the most basic of creature comforts, such as having running water in your bedroom that doesn’t have an unwholesome pong to it or a mattress that doesn’t look like a relic recovered from the top of Mount Ararat after an archaeological expedition to recover items that were onboard Noah’s Ark, then this isn’t the place for you.

After checking in, I headed up to the room in the gloriously retro lift which involved having to both close the door behind you and close a wire-mesh gate before it leapt, with surprising speed, up to my fifth floor room.  Except it wasn’t “retro”, the lift just hadn’t been replaced since the mid-50s.

Entering the room, I was almost overcome with a smell of mustiness and damp.  Thirsty, I turned on the tap in the bathroom to encounter the aforementioned pongy water which smelt like a mixture of gone-off eggs and one of those sulphurous health spas luvvies adore going to.

I dumped my bags and marched downstairs to request a bottle of water, only for the duty manager that the hotel “doesn’t stock those anymore”.   Exasperated, I resolved to try and find some clean water somewhere.   Anywhere.  Eventually, I found my way to the breakfast room on the first floor where, through a glass door, I could see a water cooler.  Salvation!  Treading carefully, I managed to pilfer a jug from the unlocked kitchen attached to the room, filled it and carried my precious Amber Nectar to my room.  Each morning, before I left the hotel for the day, I hid the jug in my suitcase so that it wouldn’t be collected by a cleaner.  Each night, I performed by ritual of forcing my way into the breakfast room in order to access something the United Nations describes as a fundamental human right: clean drinking water.  You shouldn’t have to do that in a hotel, even when it only costs you £25 a night!

I probably ought to have read the reviews of the hotel more closely before booking.   I also should have avoided reading the reviews of the hotel after I had already checked in, for one of the reviewers mentioned a horrific experience of having been woken in her room in the early hours covered in bed bugs.  While I am sure I suffered from nothing other than mosquito bites during my time in Montevideo, the very thought of them possibly being present in the hotel led me to conduct lengthy, Google Image Search-led investigations as to what could have caused the bites.  This sense of irrational paranoia meant each of my three night’s sleep were interrupted several times by me abruptly turning on the lights to check whether or not I was under attack by nocturnal carnivores.

For the sake of your ability to drink clean water and broader mental health, don’t stay at the Hotel Austral!

Visit Colonia

There are several ways to reach Buenos Aires from Montevideo.  The first and fastest option is to take a 45 minute plane journey across the river plate, yet this also the most expensive.  The second is to take roughly a three-hour boat trip from the main port into the centre of Montevideo directly to Puerto Madero in Uruguay.  It’s a relatively expensive journey, costing roughly £50.  The third and by far the cheapest option is to take a bus a couple of hours across the country to the port of Colonia and to then catch a passenger ferry to Buenos Aires from there.  I went for the third option, largely because it allowed me to spend a couple of hours outside of the confines of metropolitan Montevideo to see a bit of the Uruguayan countryside from the bus window and a few of the sights in Colonia.

The bus journey itself is perfectly pleasant, stretching through the Montevideo suburbs and through some damp-looking countryside that reminded me of the Welsh Marches before ending up at Colonia’s bus station.  Thankfully, the bus station isn’t miles from the town centre as it is most South American countries but within a couple of minutes walk of both the Old Town and the passenger port where you can pick up your ferry to Buenos Aires.

Colonia del Sacramento (‘Colony of the Saints’) to give it its full name is a place is one of the most historically significant places in South America with its ownership having alternated on several occasions between Brazil and Uruguay.  Indeed, the Brazilian – or rather Portuguese – influence on the town is very clear to see in the traditional architecture of both private homes and tourist attractions such as the historic lighthouse and Basilica.   My time in Colonia before having to set sail for Buenos Aires was very limited but I managed to take some quick photographs:

I regret not having more time to explore the town and would recommend that if anyone else finds themselves connecting to Buenos Aires from Uruguay, they might consider spending the night before the journey at one of the many very comfortable-looking guest-houses dotted around the Old Town.

As I write this, I can see the Buenos Aires skyline fast-approaching in the distance.  Having been to BA before, I’m a lot more familiar with the city than I have been with other places I’ve visited during this trip.  Nevertheless, I look forward to covering lots of new ground, safe in the knowledge that a 40-mile stretch of water now stands between me and the Hotel Austral!

From Asunción to Montevideo

I don’t really know why I wanted to visit Paraguay.  In honesty, nobody else did either.  In the run-up to the trip, I wasn’t able to find anyone who’d visited before from the UK.  I thought I might be able to pick up some more tips from friends in Rio but none of them had ever been either. Indeed, in her 85 years of living in South America my grandmother told me she’d “never heard of anyone going to Paraguay”.

It would be fair to say that Asuncion is hardly on a par with London or New York City in respect of how much there is for a tourist to do.  Indeed, I realised that I’d been to nearly all of the recommended “tourist attractions” after just a three hour walk around what can only generous be described as the “city centre”.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the trip and would certainly come again if the opportunity arose.  Prices are extremely low, the local and ex-pat communities are generous to a fault and the city has a pleasant, almost colonial feel to it with its tree-lined avenues, shady squares and plentiful public parks.  If you’re looking for somewhere to get away from things, Asuncion is a safe and relaxing bet.

Here are a few impressions of the city…

(The photo above is of the Presidential Palace)

Quality of life

Asuncion is an exceptionally long way from anywhere.  With the exception of the eastern city of Ciudade del Este some five miles away on the Brazilian border, it’s fairly isolated with the Argentine capital Buenos Aires taking about 18 hours by road, Rio de Janeiro 22 hours and Montevideo 22 hours.

As such, the type of “border hopping” so many of us have grown used to in Europe where we go for weekends in Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin is impractical.  The city is also relatively poorly served by air, with only a handful of direct flights to major population centres around the continent.   There is, for example, no direct flight to Rio de Janeiro.

Despite this isolation, I’d say that the people of Asuncion enjoy a fairly high quality of life.  The city is relatively run-down but it’s not dirty.  Residential and shopping areas are usually found on tree-lined avenues that provide much-needed shade from the excessive heat, modern shopping malls are popping up all over the city and there’s an impressive array of bars and restaurants to choose from.

One of the most surreal and enjoyable parts of the trip was being invited by a German I met in a bar in the town centre to visit his club, Club Alemane de Asuncion.  While I was aware that there had been significant German immigration to South America, it was nevertheless surreal to sit in the baking forty degree heat in a club created for the German community that was decked out in Bayern Munich paraphernalia and had posters up advertising a monthly Oktoberfest theme night.

Church and state

Before coming to Asuncion, I had been warned that the city’s striking Catholic Cathedral was very often closed to visitors.  Indeed, when I turned up early in the morning the gates surrounding the church were padlocked and its cloisters had a rather deserted feel about them.  Walking by later that day, I spotted an opens side door and decided to seize the opportunity to have a look around.  I was the only visitor, apart from a cleaner who turned up just as I was leaving.

There were two things that struck me about the Cathedral.

The first was its simplicity.  Visiting many Catholic churches in various parts of the world, I’ve grown used to them being rather opulent and grand in nature, with elaborate frescoes and statues of assorted saints filling every spare inch of wall space.  With the exception of wall backing onto the altar, the church felt almost Protestant in its appearance with relatively bare masonry, plain wooden benches and orderly floor tiles.  It was nevertheless an incredibly peaceful sanctuary from the burning heat of the midday Paraguayan sun.

The second thing to strike me was the amount of Paraguayan national symbols found on both the façade of the building and inside the church.  Aside from Serbia, where the Orthodox Church was been intrinsically linked to the notional Serb ethnicity since the days of the Rastko Nemanjic (later Saint Sava) in the late 1100s, I’ve never seen so many national symbols in a church.  The front of the Cathedral has large ‘Republica Paraguay’ crest chiselled prominently into its masthead and a Paraguayan flag sits on the altar alongside religious imagery.

It’s often said that the only thing that stood between dictator Alfredo Stroessner who ruled with an iron fist from 1954 to 1989 and total power in Paraguay was the power of the Catholic church.  I can’t help but feel that the decision of an earlier era of the Catholic hierarchy in Paraguay to incorporate state symbols into religious life stopped Stroessner seizing control of his country’s flag and national imagery for his own PR purposes in the same way as so many other despots have done so in the past – and will sadly do so in the future.

Sitting inside the church, I began imagining all the covert pro-democracy meetings that must have taken place on the pews during Stroessner’s thirty-five year reign of terror.  As I was leaving, I noticed a small plaque commemorating Pope John-Paul’s visit to Asuncion in 1988.  A year later, Stroessner was ousted.  I’d love to know if, as in the case of Solidarnosc in Poland, it was John-Paul’s intervention that gave the democratic opposition the impetus they needed to bring about change.

Brazil is the new US

Visiting Brazil in the early 90s, it was clear that the country was in the grip of a fairly substantial and deep-seated obsessed with the United States.  Shops displayed quality-affirming signs telling customers their goods were ‘made in the USA’, fashion malls and businesses complexes had names like ‘New York City Centre’ and ‘Downtown’ and small boutiques were often branded ‘Miami Style’, ‘Florida Fashion’, ‘Style USA’ and such like.  Furthermore, American flags adorned most retail businesses.  As Brazil’s economy soared during the early 2000s, the country’s obsession with America as the depiction of style, sophistication and aspiration fell away in favour of a new-found sense of national pride and confidence.

No doubt spurred on by admiration at Brazil’s economic miracle, it appears that in today’s Paraguay an association with the country and its attributes is seen as a positive thing.  Walking through Asuncion you encounter, in quick succession, the ‘Brazil Nail Bar’, ‘Brazil Fashion’ and numerous travel agents advertising family tourist packages for holidays to the country’s resorts.  The Brazilian flag flies over Asuncion’s malls in the same way the US flag once did in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Despite its protestations to the contrary, Brazil might not quite yet be a forceful world power but it’s certainly a well-liked regional one.

Taiwan looms large

Ever since President Nixon’s landmark visit to mainland China in 1972, the people of the Republic of China (Taiwan) have been forced to endure a process of ongoing humiliation as country after country has switched its recognition from Taipei to Beijing.   Today, only a handful of countries continue to recognise democratic Taiwan as the true representatives of the Chinese people with Paraguay and its six million citizens being the largest of this group.

After spending a couple of days in Asuncion, it’s incredibly clear to me that this is a relationship that successive governments of the Republic of China have heavily invested in on both an emotional and financial level.

Undoubtedly the most significant manifestation of Taipei’s commitment to its relationship with Paraguay is the country’s sparkling new National Congress which was given to the country as a gift from Taiwan.  I rather brazenly walked into the Congress and successfully passed through the security scanners before being stopped by a security guard who pointed me in the direction of reception.  After a brief conversation in broken Spanish, the same receptionist agreed to give me a tour of the impressive building.

 

Financial issues aside, it’s clear the Republic of China has made a genuine effort to invest in emotional aspects of the relationship.  Several plaques and messages of support from Taiwanese Presidents are evident on the walls of the National Pantheon of the Heroes which celebrates the country’s war dead, while the Chiang Kai Shek College continues to operate.

While it’s impractical – however much we may wish it was possible – for large trading countries like the US and UK to ignore Beijing in preference for Taipei, it’s encouraging to see Asia’s most vibrant democracy continue to maintain an outpost of diplomatic recognition in South America.  Long may it continue.

White power

During my visit to the National Congress, I was briefly shown a poster showing the photographs of the country’s eighty Congressmen.  It was striking to notice that, with very few exceptions, nearly all the faces on the poster were as white as mine despite roughly 80% of the population being mixed-race ‘Mestizos’ with native Indian heritage.

Recent examples from other South American countries have shown that the alienation of large parts of the population from the political process can only lead to the election of demagogues like Bolivia’s Evo Morales hell-bent on creating tensions between ethnicities.

The country’s political class – in particular the Colorado Party who had held office successively for 61 years – got a shot across the bows in 2008 when the “red bishop” Fernando Lugo (who is white) won the Presidency on a centre-left ticket that received widespread support from poorer, Mestizos voters.  While the conservative political classes were shocked to lose to the centre-left, Lugo generally focussed on moderate social reforms during his time in office and rejected overtures from Hugo Chavez to join his anti-Western alliance.   Next time they may not be so lucky.

It’s clear to me that, if Paraguay is to avoid falling under the spell of the Chavez/Morales/Correa cabal, political parties of all hues need to do far more to include Mestizos voters amongst their candidates for office.  These efforts need to be aggressive and immediate.

On an election-related note, the city is covered in posters in advance of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in April:

   

On to Montevideo

Given that everything had gone with complication in Asucion, I had a strange feeling as I dragged my hungover carcass through the sweltering heat of the city’s crowded bus terminal that something was about to.  And so it came to pass.

I had checked, checked and checked again on the bus station’s website and that of each of the bus operators to check that a bus did indeed run from Asuncion to Montevideo on a Sunday.  “No, no, no, Lunes, Miercoles, Sabado!” came the response from a rather gruff lady behind the counter.  “Today go no bus Montevideo!”.  Eventually, I found out there was a flight running a few hours later which, while double the price of the bus, would get me to Montevideo in 2 hours 20 minutes as opposed to 21 hours.  I booked a ticket, headed for the airport and touched down in Montevideo a little after 7pm.

I’ve not yet had any real opportunity to look around the city but it’s worth saying that the city’s airport is the nicest I’ve passed through anywhere in the world.  It’s a genuinely impressive building that looks more like a spaceship than an airport.

After the oppressive heat of Asuncion, pulling out of the airport in a taxi and almost immediately finding myself on a seaside promenade with a cool (I say “cool” but it was probably still about 25 degrees) provided some much needed respite.    I’ve read before that Montevideo has the highest standard of living of any of the South American capitals and this certainly appears to be the case from what I’ve seen so far.

Anyway, after a good night’s sleep I’ll explore the city properly…

(The image above is of one of Asuncion’s amazing Catholic graveyards)

From Foz do Iguaçu to Asunción

Each year, I spent two or three weeks in South America visiting family who live in Rio de Janeiro. While my knowledge of the compact South Eastern corner of Brazil – urban and rural – is solid, I’m ashamed to say that my experiences of the interior of this vast and varied country are relatively limited.

After getting agreement from my boss to take the last couple of weeks of December off work, plus the Christmas break I decided to not only cast the net a little wider than Rio de Janeiro state in terms of my travels around Brazil but to also see a small part of some of the countries on its border. After much fiddling about with SkyScanner, I decided to fly inland to Foz do Iguacu on Brazil’s western border and to then head down on a swing through Paraguay, Uruguay and on to Argentina.

Foz do Iguacu has been on my list of places to visit for a long time and, after an uncomplicated flight from Rio, I arrived there yesterday lunchtime. It’s just a short bus ride from the airport to the gates of the National Park where you are able to catch a shuttle to the top of the Cataratas – or “waterfalls” as they’re known in English.

Legend has it that, when Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Cataratas she exclaimed “poor Niagara!”. As you’ll see from these photos taken on my rather sub-standard camera phone, it’s easy to see why she would say such a thing:

     

Walking up to the Cataratas, the temperature was so hot that I had an almost over-powering urge to plunge myself into the waterfall. I quickly realised that there would be little left of me afterwards if I was to try…  Anyway, the spray from the waterfalls was such that two minutes of standing on the viewing platform was enough to have you soaked to the bone.

After viewing the Brazilian side of the falls, I headed into Foz do Iguacu to check into my hotel and grab dinner. I checked into the Best Western Taroba Hotel which was, at £32 a night, great value with an enormous room, double bed and air conditioning.  Basic but nice.

My hotel was only a five minute walk from the banks of the river that serves as the international border between Brazil and Paraguay so I wandered down to see if there was anything of interest happening. The banks of the river weren’t easy to get to, so I had to rummage through some foliage to get there. The sun was coming down fast and, after being alone for a couple of minutes staring at what was little more than fast-running, murky water and a set of buildings about 400 metres or so across the water, I was abruptly joined by a police officer who shooed me away while shouting something about “securidade“.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The river is one of the largest smuggling routes in the world, so it’s quite possible I had accidentally disturbed an observation post crucial to Brazil’s efforts to snare the modern-day Pablo Escobar…

The smuggling takes two forms. The first is in drugs, which are sent from Paraguay to Brazil by small vessels crossing the water. The second is in electronic goods. Brazil has long had heinously over the top and counter-productive import tariffs on goods such as laptops, CD and DVD players and cameras.

Before he was ousted from office, former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner took advantage of Brazil’s bonkers customs regime to turn what was an obscure border village into a town of almost 150,000 and the world’s third-largest tax-free goods zone after Miami and Hong Kong (no, I didn’t know that either until I visited). While Stroessner’s plan was aimed at encouraging tourists to visit the area to buy electronic goods for their own use, unscrupulous vendors have been the main beneficiaries.  In one common scam, shops import counterfeit electronics from the Far East and sell them on at low prices to smugglers who then take them into Brazil to sell on at grossly inflated prices while avoiding the country’s trade tariffs.

Nevertheless, having been told to go, I legged it back up the river bank to the urban familiarity of the city and took refuge in a local churrascaria where I ate unlimited steak for the princely sum of £12 (a comparable meal in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo would have cost about £30).

The following morning I got up early to get the bus across the Brazilian border into Argentina in order to view the other side of the falls.

No sooner had I arrived in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, dark rain clouds formed. Without any resort to hyperbole, they were the darkest clouds I’d ever seen, plunging the city into near darkness. Then the clouds opened, spewing forth the most violent torrential rain I’ve ever seen. When it was over an hour later (I spent the time cowering in a coffee shop) the roads were littered with fallen branches and fallen trees. The mixture of chalk-rich water and blood-red soil means that, when rain falls in the area, rivers and puddles resemble the colour of a Thai Red Curry.

I had temporarily thought of giving up on visiting the Argentinean side and returning to the comfort of my hotel in Foz but I’m incredibly glad I pressed on. While the drizzle continued and I got soaked, the views were spectacular:

     

So, Iguacu Falls done, it was time to move on. After crossing into Ciudade del Este and taking a brief look around its tawdry duty-free shops/smuggling warehouses, I boarded the bus to Asuncion.

The ticket for the five hour journey costs only US$15 and is on a modern and incredibly comfortable bus. That said, what it makes up for in comfort it loses in speed with the road to Asuncion having only a single, albeit perfectly well-paved lane.

The Paraguyan countryside is incredibly flat but it wasn’t, as I had expected, arid.  Indeed, I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when I’ve seen more green and healthy-looking countryside than I saw on the drive from Ciudade del Este to Asuncion.  Similarly, I had expected the villages en route to be impoverished and dusty but, while poor, they appeared orderly and well-maintained.   While I ought not to have been amused by something so trivial, I found the existence of the Juan O’Leary Bus Station in the Ciudade de Nuevo Londres more than passingly amusing.  (Without wishing to play upon Irish stereotypes, I was amused to find out from further research that Mr O’Leary is thought of as Paraguay’s most revered national poet).

I arrived in Asuncion just before 11pm and, save for a quick sandwich from a local service station, I haven’t had a chance to explore the city yet.  After breakfast, that’s exactly what I intend to do…