April 3, 2006
I saw Iguazú waterfalls yesterday. What to do today? Most tourists continue the tour on the Brasilian side. Is it worth? Looking into a guidebook (Brasilian park is much smaller) and on a memory card in my camera (with more than 30 pictures of falling water from all angles) I conclude that I had enough waterfalls on this trip and look for a direct bus to Paraguay via Brasilian Foz do Iguacu. (Just a word of caution if you want to repeat the same: Back in Buenos Aires I was told that "Argentinian falls are more beautiful, but they are best observed from Brasil". In other words, you can walk and admire the falls from a close range in Argentina, but in Brasil you can see the whole panorama from one spot - see e.g. a Seth Pollack's picture or Imagens PT. It would not have been a completely wasted time.)
On the bus, I meet a Dutchman who is just going to the Brasilian falls (last hesitation, if I should not change my plans) and two Japanese, who want to cross the Paraguay border out of curiosity - everyone knows that cheap electronics is available in Ciudad del Este. We pass through Argentinian and Brasilian custom control (everybody must get off and wipe shoes on a desinfecting mat) and after passing through the Brasilian Foz do Iguacu, we stop on the border line. The border between Brasil and Paraguay is the Paraná river, spanned by a high bridge. It is a busy place. A long line of buses and cars waits on the road, a sidewalk is full of people walking with big packs of goods. Adjacent neighbourhoods are ugly. I cross the bridge, leaving the Japanese behind (probably shocked by the place where they were dropped off), get my passport stamped and continue to Ciudad del Este. I do not want to stay here long because the city has a bad reputation (e.g., U.S. State Department recommends special caution). I exchanged 40 USD for 235 thousand guaraní (PYG) and right behind the customs building, at a place still watched by security forces, waited for a local bus towards the terminal. In a short while, there was an international bus from Foz do Iguazu (in theory, I could cross the border with it and go directly, but in practice not because I would have to change money in Brasil and then miss a Paraguayan exchange office). The ticket cost 6000 PYG, I gave the driver 10000 (or what it was), got a change and went on. The bus terminal is on the other end of city, the ride took about 15 minutes. The city itself does not look as terrible as the border area - there are fewer market stands, less trash and more parks. I did not take any pictures, but you can view some on Paraguay Günstig or 13 months.
The bus drops me off about 100 meters from the terminal. Right before the entrance, I see a bus arriving with "Asunción" direction. In the hall, there are two ticket offices of competing companies. I say that I go to Asunción - and both cashiers start loudly attracting me. I see I still have a moment and run to the platform, whose bus is standing there. There is just one, which decides what company to choose. However, such a competition "in Paraguayan (and also Argentinian) style" has nothing to do with customer service. In Guatemala, all buses on a final stop direct passengers to the first leaving bus - because the sooner it fills, the sooner will come the turn of the following ones. Everybody then reaches his destination faster. In Paraguay, on the other hand, the demand fragments. The result are slow buses running in parallel and waiting for more passengers at unattractive places.
The bus does not leave immediately and as I am almost the only passenger, I take time and organize my stuff. I counted remaining guaraní and discovered that after paying 6000 PYG for a city bus and 35000 for the long-distance one, my original 235 thousand PYG shrinked to about 100 thousand and some small change. Aparently I have paid the first driver 100000 instead of 10000. Unpleasant mistake. What to do - the cheapest country will probably become the most expensive, but luckily I did not lose more and the remaining 100 thousand should be enough until tomorrow. Soon we depart, half-empty, and to get more passengers, stop and wait right in a suburb. Passengers gradually keep coming and we move through a flat Paraguayan countryside with red soil in the fields to the capital. I have a small problem - I did not buy any guide to Paraguay before departure (because this detour was not planned) and now have no idea where to look for a hotel. I ask in an enquiry office on the terminal and they advise me to walk a few blocks to the left along a main road. They were right. After some shopping around, I find a hotel for 20 thousand PYG (3.50 USD) a night (others wanted no more than 35 thousand). I made a short bus trip downtown (it is far away, about 40 minutes one way) and then went for a lunch with other tourists. Tomorrow will be spend touring Asunción.
© Jan Peula, 2006