The Cabildo in Asuncion

Statue near the government palace

The super fancy new legislative palace

The Palacio Gobierno, quite impressive

The Palacio Gobierno, quite impressive

The river on the edge of the city

The Palacio Gobierno, quite impressive

Old building on the streets of Asuncion

The Panteon de los Heroes

Asunción, Paraguay

Landlocked Paraguay

May 23, 2008

All the power's in the hands of people rich enough to buy it

- The Clash

The five to six hour bus ride from Ciudad del Este to Asuncion was appallingly slow. Even after leaving Ciudad del Este the bus stopped in a dirt lot on the outskirts of the city for almost an hour while we took on more and more passengers and hawkers crowded outside the bus and walked the aisles. After stopping at every little small town and village we finally arrived in Asuncion about 4pm; so much for the early start that I wanted to get.

Asuncion, for a city of only slightly more than a million people, is perhaps one of the most sprawling haphazardly laid out places I´ve visited. The bus terminal is at least a 20-minute taxi ride, perhaps double that in traffic, and is located way outside the city. Arriving at around 4pm I decided that with all my stuff I would just take a taxi rather than mess around with the ancient and decrepit city buses. My guidebook said a taxi ride should only be about $3.50, but apparently due to Paraguayan inflation and the devaluation of the dollar, which has lost over 20% of its value against the Guarani since July of 2007, it ended up being almost $8. But I was glad that I took the taxi because it was 95F and humid outside despite the fact that winter was rapidly approaching. There weren´t a whole lot of cheap options for places to stay in my guidebook so I went to one of them and happened to arrive at the same time as a Brazilian guy so we ended up splitting a room because it turned out not to be cheap after all, especially for the quality of the room.

Since he had no plans either we walked around to check out the parts of the old city such as the government buildings and the main plaza. There was a museum in the cabildo with what seemed to be all sorts of random stuff that had been found and just thrown together to take up space, one section of old music memorabilia, dresses, modern art, indigenous crafts, and of course some old city history. Nearby the cabildo was the very impressive government palace, a massive white complex almost enclosing a huge entry plaza with an enormous flagpole flying a huge Paraguayan flag. Sadly the armed guards were very insistent that we not get too close to the blocked off entrance and there were no public tours of the building. The new legislative palace was adjacent to this and was constructed of metal and glass in modern style; it certainly didn´t fit with the other historic or simple old buildings in the area.

Probably the most telling statement about Paraguay is that in front of this new government building was a plaza, with almost no grass and two untethered horses ambling about, that bordered the edge of a shanty town running down to the river shore. Immediately in front of this hugely expensive government building were some of the poorest people in the city. During the day the area is filled with guards and soldiers and is seemingly safe enough but it still has quite an unsavory character to it, and I definitely wouldn´t want to be there at night. In fact at night is really the only comfortable time to be out and about due to the oppressive heat (again it was almost winter), but almost everything was closed by 7-8pm and except for the restaurants and bars, the streets emptied and the city transformed into a ghost town.

The next day I set out to find the Bolivian consulate to hopefully get my Bolivian visa. From two separate sources I had the address for the consulate, but after taking a taxi there I found that the location was now a business called Agriplus. I had to go the Paraguayan police post to ask for the address of the Bolivian embassy that was so far out of town it was almost located off of the city map. I took another taxi and finally arrived in front of the consulate only to find 15 pale Menonites looking as out of place as a band of gypsies waiting for it to open. So much for getting there early to avoid the wait. When the embassy finally did open I had to wait behind them in line for about an hour while all their paperwork was collected.

I walked in and told them that I wanted to apply for a visa to go to Bolivia. They gave me a sheet with a laundry list of things that I needed: a ticket into and out of the country, yellow fever vaccination, copies of credit cards and bank statements, hotel reservation, police background check, and $100. Then they asked me when I wanted to go and I told them maybe the day after tomorrow. They looked back at me and said that wouldn´t be possible, at the earliest next Monday or Tuesday (it was Thursday morning) might be feasible but that it would probably take 10 days. They asked me if I had a ticket to Bolivia and I told them that I did not because I didn´t know when I would be able to get a visa. They asked if I had a hotel reservation and I said that I did not because I didn’t know when I would arrive. They asked if I had a ticket out of the country and I said that I had a ticket back to the United States just not from Bolivia that indicated my intention to leave Bolivia but this was not good enough. I quickly decided that I wasn´t going to jump through all these hoops and have to wait ten days in Asuncion. I asked if I could get the visa at the border and they said that it would not be possible at the Bolivia-Paraguay border. I doubted this fact, but unfortunately, the other nearest option for getting the visa would have been in Brazil at either Corumba or Campo Grande and going that way would be a major detour and could turn out to be just as bad.

After thoroughly thinking it over I decided to just head for the border with the rationale that the Bolivia-Paraguay border is so remote that just by getting myself there I would have a good chance of either getting the visa easily at the border or being allowed to enter after paying a fine or bribe since I could not go back to Paraguay. The worst case scenario would be that they deny me entry, forcing me to somehow go back to Paraguay and travel to Brazil from northern Paraguay, which wouldn´t be so bad either, except for the travel time. I decided to head for the border the next day (Friday) because in case I got turned back I could still get to Concepcion in time to catch the Tuesday river boat to Bahia Negra near the triple border with Brazil-Paraguay-Bolivia. With my fingers crossed I headed to the bus station...