South Americas best kept secret
27.03.2007 - 30.03.2007 40 °C
Ask any traveller about Paraguay and they will tell you two things. Firstly that theres nothing there and secondly that theres nothing there and thirdly that we´ll be shot. However ask if they´ve actually been there and 10 times out of 10 they haven´t. Theres enough here to keep you occupied for a good few weeks but thats if you know where to look for it.
The ironic thing was that I never intended to go to Paraguay. It was only because Chris persuaded me to go while over in Igauzu. Even then I only expected spending a few nights there before heading down to Uraguay. Instead I ended up staying nearly two weeks and found South Americas best kept secret.
So on Sunday the 18th of March 2007 the four of us crossed into the great unknown and I finally came to county where no Kehoe had been before. Instead of crossing at Ciudad del Este where the border at Iquazu is we crossed in at Encarnation in the South, via Pousadas in Argentina. The main attraction for this town/city is the Jesuit ruins at Jesûs and Trinidad, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The first thing we discovered when entering Encarnation is that Paraguay is dirt cheap, and I mean dirt cheap. The hotel we stayed in may have looked like a former prison but for $4 your having a laugh.
The next day we got the bus up to Jesus to check out the ruins, took about 2 hours and cost us $3. The ruins themselves are former Jesuit settlements, one in Jesûs and one in Trinidad. They were settled around the 1760´s but they all got kicked out of Paraguay not too long afterwards. The first thing which hits you though is that the Paraguayan Tourist Board must consist of 1 guy in a small office somewhere in the capital. Despite being a UNESCO site the Jesus location is completely underfunded. There was one sign and that was pretty much it. If UNESCO gave them some money I´m pretty sure the site never saw a penny. The ruins were different from anything that you get in the UK, they let you walk anywhere without a guide. It was here that we bumped into another Brit traveller we´d meet back in Rio a guy called Finn. Who originally only planned to spend a few days in Paraguay but joined us for the full 12 days instead.
Now I realised Paraguay was cheap but on the way to the bus to Trinidad we actually found a car for sale cheaper than the bus ticket. It was tough call but the possibilty but we ended up getting the bus. The Trinidad site seems to be where some of the money must have gone as parts of it have been restored.
The following day we ended up heading out to the San Rafel National Park, strictly speaking it isn´t one yet cause all the money the government had to buy the land all mysteriously disappeared. Getting there was an adventure in its own. We ended up waiting a the smallest town ever for 4 hours to get a lift from one of the rangers to the park.
It was quite funny when we turned up as one of the other guests was an ex-scoucer who lived out in Paraguay. It also turned out he wrote most of the travel guides so he def. came in useful. Ended up spending a few days there just chilling out, was pretty cool.
After that we again hit the road for the capital, Ascuncion. It wasn´t a Rio or a BA but it was still pretty cool and had a few things there to do. One thing which stood out was how rich some were and how poor the others were.
The picture above is the presidents pad, yet right behind it are shant towns. Also behind it we got a bit of a shock, turns out Paraguay actually has a navy.
While in the city we ate like kings, 3 course meals in the poshest restaurants in the county (black tuie waiters and everything) for like 7 quid. Ive never eaten so well.
After a few days and a few late nights we lost 2 fellow travellers, Chris and Louise, while me, Claire and Finn decided to this quality park that I cant spell. To get there however we had to hire a 4x4 as most of it was off road.
All I can say is off-roading in Paraguay in a Jeep is the most fun you can have with your pants on. It was absolute quality. Half of the trip was on dirt roads, and I mean propper ones.
We were flying over bumps and bridges, power sliding road bends, absolutely amazing. So anyway we rocked up at another park, this one was miles better, apparently Bono and Madona gave them a shed load of cash.
To get around we had to have a guide and drive, which meant more off-roading. We did a couple of quality stages which had been cut out of the forest and were over grown. It was also then that had a minot prang, some 16 year old in a pick up tried to over take me while a was over taking some else on the dirt road. However big feck off hole meant had to jam on the brakes and he ended up in the back of us, so wasnt technically my fault.
As you can see was only a minor one, guy at the hire shop didnt care about it, though Im pretty sure we added a few other dents a scraps.
Again after a few days of walks, canoeing and a few other things we had to head back to catch the bus to Uraguay the next day. Which meant night time off roading, quality!! Also meant the highways were pretty dead, except you couldnt really get it past 130kmph as the steering wheel started to shake violently. Anyway, the Paraguayan road trip was absolutly amazing, driving in the middle of nowhere, at night, with shooting stars above you is a once in a life time experience which will stay with me.