We were up early to get the 7:30 bus to Ciudad del Este. bad news at the bus station - no bus, apparently its broken down. Odd though that no-one else is waiting for it so we think we were given duff information yesterday. Stef lost his rag and started getting shirty with the woman from the bus company. We considered options. Neither of us wanted to hang around Encarnacion for 6 hours or arrive at Ciudad del Este in the dark. We opted to change plans and head back to Asunción.
The bus was more what we had expected (the one on the way down had been a "business class" bus). This was the standard fare, still very comfy but not quite so plush. I slept and dozed pretty much all of the way, being woken a few times by Stef for pictures or cash to buy chipas - a local snack which is a bit like a cheesy bread roll and quite nice.
We started to get more of an impression of the countryside on the bus trips. In Uruguay, there were wide open spaces, plantations and a few large scale estancias. Here it feels like people have their own small holding. Along the road there are lots of demarcated sections of land with small cabins. We don't know for sure but have the feeling that its a subsistence lifestyle with people in the countryside growing what they need to survive and no more. We've hardly seen much livestock and no "gauchos" on horseback, a common sight in Uruguay.
The other main difference is the overall appearance of the country. Uruguay - clean, well maintained, no litter. Paraguay - litter everywhere and generally less well kept. More and more we're drawing parallels with India. There's lots of people walking the streets trying to sell sweets, fake DVD's and "Rolex" watches. Kids come up to us begging for money and there's a general feeling that life for most is a bit like a jumble sale. It will be interesting to see if this is just in the south of the country or whether the Mennonite colonies of the north are the same.
At Asunción we decide to go for one of the mid range hotels listed in Lonely Planet rather than heading back for the luxury of Las Margaritas. The taxi that took us there rattled and coughed all the way. The driver had trouble changing gears (I think the clutch has gone) and it sounded like bits were falling off it all the way, especially when we went over bumps. It did the trick and delivered us to Hotel Sagaró. We looked at a few rooms and chose the best. Stef was very uncomfortable with the room and the hotel - it had a bit of a seedy feel to it and reckon it probably has a second trade in hourly room rental!! Within 30 minutes we'd decided it was too bad to stay. With a "sorry we've changed our plans" at reception we left and went back to the luxury of Las Margaritas - budget conciousness went out of the window but we just didn't feel secure in the Sagaro.
We went back to see Oscar at tourist info. It was great to be met by such a friendly smile and warm welcome. He's helping us to get together some more information about trips heading up north to the Chaco. I reckon its going to be difficult but we've got a contact now for a tour company near Filadelfia. We also want to know more about options to take a boat trip up the Rio Paraguay from Concepción.
The boats on this stretch are cargo boats that just happen to take passengers. The trip will take around 2 days to get to Fuerto Olimpo. What we don't know are the options for getting back down again. With our Ciudad del Este bus experience fresh in our minds we want to be sure of the information before we set off. Oscar has promised to get some more information for us tomorrow.
We also want to do the Golden Route tour around Asunción - I have a gut feel that the tour name over-hypes what we'll actually get but time will tell. Rather than hiring a car and doing it ourselves we opt for a driver and a guide - a bit pricey but worth it for the info we should get.
Getting all mixed up
We've already seen pretty much all of downtown Asunción but needed time to consider options before firming up plans for tomorrow. The Plaza de Los Heroes was near by and having not gone to the Pantéon on the plaza yet we headed that way. In the sunshine it had looked brilliant white. In the gloom of today it looked grey, but seemed to turn white again when the street lights came on.
The Pantéon holds the remains on notable (mainly for their nastiness) historic Paraguayans. Originally designed as a religious shrine, it has a large alter with statues. In the centre is a sunken section where you look down on the caskets of remains - its design if a copy on a smaller scales of Les Invalides in Paris. All around the walls are plaques relating to Paraguay's heroes, some of which have been dedicated by Argentina and other foreign countries.
Outside, two young soldiers form a guard of honour. They look bored and when they think no-one is watching they chat to each other. While we're inside, the guard was changed - a simple enough process but they got it slightly wrong. Not as badly wrong though as their attempts to fold the national flag when it was struck at 5pm. I'm not sure if it was just new recruits dealing with it or whether it was the old chap giving them useful instructions who was confusing them!