A journey to remember: Paraguay, Encarnación and more

Arriving to Paraguay was definitely a journey to remember. We could enjoy Encarnacion, the Jessuit Missions, and other landmarks, but definitely the most memorable experience was arriving to Paraguay and moving around in the country.

Crossing the Friendship Bridge

Iguazu Falls were mesmerizing and beautiful. Now it’s time for some real hard travel stuff. We are leaving for Paraguay on Christmas so we put our backpacks festively and catch the almost empty bus to the Brazilian border. After 20 minutes of driving through the empty streets of Foz do Iguaçu, our bus left us on the shore of Paraná River. This was the Brazilian border, we went through customs in no time and set off on the Friendship Bridge on foot. It is said that the bridge is one of the most dangerous places in South America. Good that we learned that after crossing it.

our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America
our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America
our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America

Welcome to Ciudad del Este

After about one-hour-long crossing of the bridge, our brows sweaty, the shirts sticking to our backs, passports in our hands, we said “Hola” to the Paraguayan customs official. His colleague asked us if we were from Italy and once we settled our place of birth, we had cool red stamps in our passports, it was Christmas after all. On this occasion, it wasn’t sure if there was a bus to take us from the border to the bus station at Ciudad del Este. Luckily, a guy drove us in his car for the corresponding amount of guaraní. Later we read that we had walked the streets of the most dangerous city in Paraguay. Somebody who’s never been there must’ve underrated it again.

The Christmas spirit is in full swing at the bus station. There is nobody to bother you, only one conductor is shouting “Asunción, Asunción!”. We told him we were going to Encarnación. “Err…please, wait there, there is a bus at 10:00”.

our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America
our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America

We waited for almost an hour and the bus came. It wasn’t older than 50 years, but the strained sound of its engine spoke of its experience.

We got on and it was about to leave any minute, any minute now…it left at 10:35. So far, so good – we had a 280-km journey ahead of us so we decided to take a nap, eat some Paraguayan cookies, and hopefully, effortlessly arrive. It was a good plan, but no. The bus was taking it easy, it was made apparent by its experience. It wanted to welcome us and take us on a leisurely tour through Paraguay so we could take a good look at whatever we see on the way.

our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America
our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America

Shopping on the bus

Don’t you worry if you don’t have clean underwear or socks! On the way we stop and take on all kinds of sellers, everybody who needs anything buys it, they step out and we go on our way. No pressure, we combine slowly-slowly with mañana-mañana.

It is not polite to force people to go to the bus station to get the bus, so they stand on the side of the road of their choosing and we just pick them up. No more than 10 minutes have passed, there is a family waiting, we stop, and we take them. There is an auntie who wants to go to Encarnación, can we pick her up from her garden, is it a problem? Is anyone hungry? Immediately we pick up a Paraguayan woman with a basket full of warm bread with chipo cheese, she serves everybody, gets off and we go on slowly, bit by bit, first, second, third and we leave.

our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America

We stop for more people, poor souls have to get onboard. But it is no rush, it is only midday. While we are here, if anyone wants a beer, they can just hand money out the window and all is settled. Party on the road. Our surroundings are turning more beautiful – greenery, forests, fields, small villages. A lot of pretty views. We contemplate them while passing slowly.

our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America
our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America

So far it is lovely. Only a 3-4 hour drive and we have covered about half the distance. Maybe we should take a nap…

our journey on the way to Paraguay in the trip through South America

Picking people and dropping them off at places most convenient for them continued for several hours until the grand moment came – we arrived at the station in Encarnación. Well-boiled in our own sauce we picked up our packsaddles and rushed to the hotel in hopes that we’ll see some beauty or at least a shower and forget about those pleasant 7 hours.

Arriving in Encarnacion

We joined the traveling Paraguayans with a seven-hour drive. It was sticky and sweaty. We let the countryside views and the smell of hard work behind us. It was time for the tall buildings and the smell of burned fuel in the city of Posadas. Encarnación welcomed us with empty streets. It was Christmas after all.

a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas

Rio Parana Costanera and the beach

The area around the newly made San Jose Beach on the shore of Parana River was a totally different story. The alleys, the lawns, the beach, and the restaurants were full of celebrating people. Every company had at least one mate cup and a few people were taking turns drinking this traditional tea. The Costanera (water-front promenade) was full of life. Meanwhile, the sun was slowly descending from the sky behind Encarnación’s brother city in Argentina – Posadas.  

a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas

We were pleasantly surprised by the transformation of this city. If we had come a few years earlier we probably would want to leave it as soon as possible. But a single Costanera (water-front promenade), a beach on the river, and a sambodromo can make a real difference. Paraguay does not have a sea border, so Parana River is giving the locals in Encarnación an alternative. The sambodromo attracts hundreds of people in January and February when the carnival is held.    

a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas

Misiones Jesuíticas

At about 30km away from the city is the Misiones Jesuíticas. They are in great condition and can show you the story of this catholic movement, which aimed to baptize the Indians. Here’s some advice from us: do not spend much time walking around on a warm day.  

a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas

Let’s go back to the region’s development. Maybe they should put some more effort into the tourist side of development.

First of all, organized trips are too expensive. Second of all, there isn’t enough information about them. We researched and reached Trinidad with public transportation. Note: In the summer it is not great using it. Even more, it is really slow and you just need to be able to speak Spanish. Spoken Spanish there is another question – it is really hard to understand it sometimes since most people are skipping letters. I wonder if we speak Bulgarian as blurry as they speak Spanish. What if a foreigner studied it and then came to Bulgaria? Would they be able to understand us?

Let’s not complain, since the real language is actually the spoken one and not the one in the textbooks. And this obstacle is actually making our Spanish better and faster. Not only do we need to translate, but we are always thinking “What is he/she trying to say”.

a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas
a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas

The heat is furious and we wonder what happened with the supposed upcoming rain. We try to stay under the umbrella and drink a lot of water (6 l), but it is still quite unbearable. The answer comes to us at 4.30 AM, when we are woken up by a huge storm! That’s why we will continue with the alternatives to what you can do when it’s raining…soon.

a journey to Encarnación in Paraguay on Christmas

Leaving Paraguay

The plan was to leave Encarnación in the morning, to stash the backpacks at the bus station in Posadas and see the sights at Posadas’ Argentinian brother on the other side of Paraná River.

The pouring rain quickly changed our plans. We waited for a short pause in the rain and hopped onto the station to wait for the bus to Posadas. When you don’t need it, the bus comes often. After 30 minutes of waiting, finally, we got on the bus and sat down. Suddenly, it started filling with people. The driver took everyone who wanted to get on the bus and the other passengers got irritable. It was an ungodly mix of shopping bags, packages, crates, babies, crazies, and all kinds of unwashed folk. As the cherry on top – us with our backpacks.

At the Paraguayan border, the bus had to wait for us to get our passports stamped. Then it got worse, the rain got stronger, there was a traffic jam on the bridge, we regretted for the umpteenth time having showered that morning. In the end, after about half an hour we entered Argentina for the second time. The bus station in Posadas was just as wet as everything out there and our cultural program had to be postponed. We had a night bus to catch at 8 o’clock. The station was inhabited mostly by dogs and some shady people. There was a decrepit restaurant with high prices. We found the office of the bus company we were traveling with and occupied their sofa. For seven hours we took roots there, the guard shifts changed twice, and then it was time for us to sleep on the cama-seats on the bus.

Let’s travel to South America! Here’s our 2-month South America backpacking itinerary.

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