November 2008 Part 2
To say the border crossing into Paraguay from Corinda, Argentina was a dream would be an understatement. Immigration and customs were extremely helpful with a lot of hand shaking and smiling. Not a tout to be seen and the bike parked in front of three police officers while we took care of the paperwork. Fantastic. Entering new countries we always spend some time adjusting to different driving quirks. Paraguay was no different and a small traffic jam caused an impatient bus driver (20 seats) to overtake us at a poor moment (oncoming truck) then chop across on top of us. A spray with the flashing headlight, horn/siren combo woke the driver and the ticket man up. Our first police check just outside Asuncion was painless and we joined the chaotic traffic into the city centre.
Palacio Gobierno in Asuncion
The statue of former dictator Alfredo Strossener was crushed and placed inside a concrete block with only his hands and face protruding
Panteon Nacional de los Heroes in Asuncion
Palace at night
Patricio and Carol
Once again a HU community guy helped us with the address of a suitable hotel near the heart of the city. We met Patricio and Cecilia early in the evening showing us around their fair city by car and enjoying a meal at a sidewalk café in the warm night air.
The muggy heat near Rio Parana was similar to weather in tropical north Queensland. Undeterred, we walked the streets of Asuncion the next day in the oppressive humidity taking in the sights. On one occasion we were stopped by security guards to allow the President to drive by in his Limo. Patricio joined us for dinner again and he chose a small bar/restaurant opposite the Palace. A beautiful view.
The low Chaco area
Recent rains had caused flooding
Bridge over the Rio Paraguay near Concepcion
To get to Concepcion we crossed a very wet Trans-Chaco Highway to Pozo Colorado. Rain a few weeks earlier had flooded the plains and still lapped the edges of the road flowing quickly through pipes beneath the tarmac to disappear into huge seasonal lakes. Palms dominated the vegetation and the small Indian houses beside the road were inundated. Apparently this flooding occurs annually and we wondered why people persevered to live here when their houses obviously became submerged. Plenty of birdlife along this stretch of road however traffic was minimal. Lunching at a roadhouse at Pozo Colorado we then headed east on Ruta 5. The country side in Paraguay is very flat and when a large construction appears on the horizon it certainly stands out as did the bridge just before Concepcion.
New make or was it a merger?
Don’t worry about the oats, diesel is fine!
Horses, carts and scooters are common in Concepcion
We passed several likely hotels to stay at riding around town but eventually settled on the Hotel Center. A colourful place with a lock up garage or a court yard for the bike. We sat on the footpath enjoying a cool drink and watched the hundreds of scooters cruise by. Solos, doubles, trios and even a family of four!!! Who needs TV? I sent a text to Patricio in Asuncion saying we had arrived OK and asked him to recommend a local food for us to try. One was a baked curried fish dish and absolutely delicious. Strolling the streets the next day was HOT but we took in the sights including markets, a large biblical monument and noted we must have missed a major Motorcycle company merger!!! (Yamazuky!!!) Horse and carts were as prevalent as new scooters even at the garages.
Typical wooden houses in Paraguay
The green country side
Sugar mill and cane trucks
Riding Ruta 5 to Yby-Yau then Ruta 3 to Villarica we appreciated the lushness of Paraguay after the very dry terrain in the centre of Argentina. The sharp contrast of red soil against green vegetation extended as far as the eye could see and the undulating countryside made for easy traveling. People were super friendly and we felt most welcome even by the Police who checked our passport and bike papers frequently.
Villarica was not as enticing as indicated in the guide book and we departed after one night heading to the commercial border city of Ciudad del Este. Although we made good time the Police checks were becoming a little too frequent with some only 10 kms apart. At one particular check point we were greeted with much hand shaking and ‘welcome to Paraguay’. It was a very busy time but we believe there were three or four officers present and they insisted on photographs with the bike and police car. When all the happy snaps were done one officer returned to the nearby station reappearing with a sticker ‘Paraguay Policia Caminera’ insisting it be placed on our screen immediately. No complaints here as this little item made all the future Police checks very quick and easy. Thanks guys. Now let’s see if we can get one for Argentina and Chile!!!
Local shop with meat hanging outside
Saturday is not a good day to arrive at Ciudad del Este, a duty free shopping city bordering Brasil. It was hot, the traffic crazy, pedestrians even crazier and we could not follow our very average map of the city. Unable to locate the tourist office despite asking business people and policemen we ventured into the backstreets trying to find a hotel via the guide book. The old rule applies here … ‘if any accommodation is mentioned in a guide book the place becomes very popular and generally over priced.’ Fortunately there were several hotels/hostels and residencials located in the area and we found a suitable one with a delightful girl on reception who decided to learn several words of English during a brief stay.
Traffic chaos in Ciudad del Este
Night lights on Itaipu Dam
Besides the frantic shopping C.d Este is the city where we could access the world’s largest Hydro-electric dam. Situated on the border with Brazil the Parana River is dammed by the Itaipu Dam. The tourist authority conducts night tours on Friday and Saturday evenings. Parking the bike near the entrance we caught the bus out to a very dark dam wall. From a viewing platform the lights gradually illuminated this huge structure to the rising crescendo of very loud orchestral music. The best thing, this hour long show was free. Very impressive.
Rheas and Capybaras at the small zoo
The ever smiling receptionist from Hotel Venecia
The contrast from the crazy Saturday arrival to the Sunday was amazing. C. d. Este was like a ghost town with 99% of the businesses closed. If fact the only food houses we could find open were MacDonald’s and Burger King and what a roaring trade they were doing!! Business resumed as normal on Monday and the chaos returned. Spending the morning cruising the retail outlets was enough and we escaped the city to take in another free tour of the dam only in daylight. Before returning to the shopping frenzy we dropped into a free zoo and museum on the highway back to town.
Most places have tidy gardens and trimmed trees
Gomeria, tyre repair shop in English
Enough of this consumerism, we headed towards Trinidad to look at the ruins of a few Jesuit Missions. Accommodation in the area was sparse so we returned to the German town of Hohenau and searched the streets for a suitable bed. Prices contrasted significantly for a similar standard of room. Perseverance paid off and we joined a German couple traveling on bicycles who had bunked down in a quiet hotel for a few days rest. Igel and Paola also carried a third traveler, Rambo, a small black and white terrier. He was one very fit dog and often ran 50 – 60 kms a day before hitching a ride in his little trailer behind Igal’s bike.
Trinidad Jesuit Mission
Looking towards the bell tower
The partially restored church
Statue in the church
The Jesuit ruins looked impressive perched on top of cleared hill and took some time to investigate. The remaining buildings protruded from a well grassed field (mowed) and were reasonably well maintained with considerable restoration visible around the main Church.
Rambo and his trailer
Igel and Paola with Rambo
Bidding the bicycle trio farewell we headed to San Ignacio Guazu, a short ride of under 200 kms chasing more Jesuit ruins with maybe a little more history and the buildings perhaps in a better state of repair. Our Guide book spoke of many Hispano-Guarani buildings still standing in San Ignacio so we walked the town looking for access to these monuments however we experienced little success even when we spoke to an English speaking missionary. Most if not all the buildings were closed. Our efforts were then diverted to Santa Maria de Fe some 12 kms away where success was guaranteed when we noticed a film crew doing a documentary around the Museum. The building contained many artifacts plus several wooden sculptures. A very informed guide assisted with our queries and after all was done called us back into the garden behind the building to see some wild monkeys swinging through the trees.
Wooden sculpture at the museum in Santa Maria de Fe
An inquisitive monkey behind the museum
Our short jaunt through Paraguay was all but done as we rode a couple of hours to the Encarnacion - Posadas border with Argentina. The queue of cars on the Argentinean side backed up to the San Roque bridge crossing Rio Parana. It was an uncomfortable wait in the noon day sun. Reaching the customs building we rode under an awning, parked and proceeded inside where we watched the customs personnel execute a shift change. The staff then began ‘passing the buck’ on who was going to process us. We were processed eventually with the lady demanding a return of our temporary import papers as she had listed the BMW as a car and not a motorbike. Wonder what she was thinking as we stood there with all our bike gear!!!
Yerba mate is grown in many areas of Paraguay
It was hot in the queue to cross into Argentina
Posted by Ken Duval at November 23, 2008 10:07 PM GMT
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