March 20, 2006 GMT
Speak As You Find

I'd heard differing stories about Paraguay - some positive and some negative.

However, what I and others have noticed is that everyone in S. America is rude about the country immediately to the north. For instance, the Argentinians warn you about Bolivia, the Chileans about Peru, the Peruvians about the Ecuatorians, and so on. So I don't really take a lot of notice.

Paraguay is actually quite isolated; there's one crossing to Bolivia, up a dirt road, one to Brazil, and three to Argentina. The major one is close to the capital Asunción, across the Rio Paraguay from Clorinda in Argentina, and famous for fierce Customs checks.

At the last police checkpoint in Argentina before the border yesterday, the nice lady policeman warned me about Paraguay. Me, I keep an open mind unless *all* the stories I've heard agree.

I arrived in dusty litle Clorinda, the border town, at around 2pm on Sunday afternoon in blazing heat. It was closed (the town, not the border).

When the signs ran out (as they so often do) I continued straight on but decided the border probably wasn't up this cart track. I retraced (thanks, GPS) and found that from this direction the signs resumed to the Centro Fronterizo. And Paraguayan trucks were a bit of a giveaway as well.

What appeared to be the border post before the bridge turned out to be the one for the Paraguay out/Argentina in direction, and I was sent across the bridge to the Paraguayan side to complete the paperwork for both countries. I was the only customer.

All the officials couldn't have been more friendly and helpful, and I even got a decent rate changing my Argentinian pesos for Guaranis. They loved Algernon (they always do), and we had a bit of a tea party in the end.

When I finally extracted myself from their embraces I took it easy for a bit then tramped on a bit (visions of showers and cold beers), and not having got my eye in for Paraguayan police checkpoints only just stopped in time. Potential Oh Dear stuff.

Cop ambles to the bike. You were going too fast. Um, yes, sorry, so exactly what is the limit around here? At which point he, like so many other policeman I've met, realised he'd stopped his mum and wasn't inclined to be nasty to her, especially on a hot Sunday afternoon. OK, the limit's 80, you must take care. And he smacked my wrist (literally) and sent me off to Asunción.

From afar, Asunción looks like other capital cities: high-rises growing out of a flat plain beside water. When one actually gets there the truth becomes apparent. Sure, it's not as small as Vientiane (see emails passim) but I'd estimate it's around the size of Reading. Not big.

I rode along the completely deserted waterfront accompanied by a chap around my age on a venerable Jawa with his 11-ish-year-old daughter on the back, exchanging waves and thumbs-ups. When I reached the dock gates I stopped, having nowhere further to go, and prepared to do a Uey. Jawa-man pulls up; can I help? Sure, I'm looking for a hotel. No problems, you want the Aspen Aparthotel, not expensive, locked garage for the bike, city centre, follow me.

So I did, and it was exactly as he said, and a jolly fine place it is too.

Maybe I'll meet some nasty Paraguayans later, but for the moment I rest my case.

Ooh, and by the way, they didn't tell me at the border about the time difference (as usual) so I'm now 4 hours behind GMT.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at March 20, 2006 08:07 PM GMT

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