Ah my very first bus ride in South America and shit, do Argentina know how to lay on a bus ride. They have five comfort levels ranging from your basic common or garden bus right up to fully reclining seats that’d have Qantas’ best first class efforts hanging their heads in shame. I opted for the mid-range semi-cama (half-bed), the seats recline far enough for a decent kip and there’s more leg room than I’ve ever seen on public transport allowing me to expand like a gas to fill every available space.
I hopped on the bus, found my seat and settled in. I ascertained that the young lass sat next to me was called Suzanna and was from Paraguay. I searched my brain for the rest of my painfully limited Spanish knowledge, decided that it’d be inappropriate to ask her when her birthday was or order steak and chips so I gave her the Blank Tourist Look, explained I was English (I’m pretty sure the Spanish for “English” and “ignorant wanker” are the same) and got acquainted with the reclining seats.
And they feed you! If you can consider it food anyway, we were handed a foil tray containing a small slab of something grey that may have once had a face and some yellow stuff that might have passed for mash potato in less stringent testing with a non-taste that was easily masked by mixing it with salt and the brown, liquidy stuff I hoped was gravy. Ha, bitch please, check her out, three weeks in Buenos Aires and suddenly only the finest steak will do. Pass the caviar will you, Jeeves?
It was 7am by the time we arrived in Encarnación and I was fucked. We’d had to stay awake for border security in both countries at some god awful hour in the morning (although the Paraguay side was fabulous, we just sat on the bus while a man collected our documents then handed them back after they’d been processed) and as soon as you get off the bus you’re pounced on by people offering cambio (currency exchange) and taxis. I stumbled over the road from the bus terminal to Hotel Germano and checked into my own room for 40000GR (Guaranies). Cheap as chips and not them overpriced ones you get at fairs and events served to you out of a trailer in a tiny cup by an overweight person who could do with their roots re-bleaching and wouldn’t look wrong with a fag hanging out of the corner of their mouth. I already liked Paraguay. Its not a bad deal though, the bus ride; you get somewhere to crash for the night, a feed, and you get to where you’re going all for AR$165 (Pesos). And of course I fucking ate the food, I’m a backpacker. I’d eat mangled rat if you handed it to me in a sandwich and told me it was free.
So anyway, now I was here, Trinidad and Jesús are the main reasons I came to Paraguay on account of the fact I saw a picture of Trinidad in a mate’s book and what can I say. I’m a sucker for a glossy photo. I’d also met a British guy called Luca in the hotel the night before which meant I had someone to go with and he knows quite a bit of Spanish which made it easier to negotiate the buses. But first stop was Hotel Tirol for some walking through trees and stuff and generally getting in touch with our hippy nature sides.
This is another reason I came to Paraguay; I just wanted to chill out for a bit before I threw myself into the madness of Brazil with my various Brazilian mates promising (or threatening?) to lead me astray with daily parties. I wanted nature and relaxation and to gently break my poor, out of shape carcass back into walking because Paraguay is relatively flat compared to the uphill monster walks I was wanting to do in other parts of the continent and the only walking I’d been doing in Auckland was from one side of K’Rd to the other to get a kebab.
After we’d checked out the grounds of Tirol and sat down for a mate (more on that shortly) it was on to Trinidad, the Jesuit ruins about 30kms from Encanación. I love ruins, me, but there’s not much I can tell ya about them. It used to be a building til the Spanish threw the German Jesuit missionaries out of Paraguay. The building crumbled over time. Now people pay to go look at it. It’s wicked. We spent quite a while here taking photos and pulling poses that’d make even the most hardened tourist cringe. Security had told us that we could climb the tower but nothing else because it wasn’t safe but we found some steps round the back of one of them, out of sight and climbed all over them. Once we were around the other side a guard advised us to stay away from the wall as it could fall in at any time. Oops.
Next stop was the slightly less impressive Jesús which used to be almost a building til the Jesuits were forced out then it crumbled then it was restored and people go and look at it because the admission price is included in the entry fee for Trinidad. And why not, it killed a bit of time and I’m glad we went. It’s heaps smaller than Trinidad so it doesn’t take long to wander round and photograph it from every angle.
Man I was buggered ay, early start plus walking and being a tourist and all kinds of energetic things. So much for all my relaxing I had planned. We headed back to Encarnación for a feed, Luca judged me harshly for insisting that cocktails pair well with pasta (cocktails pair well with fucking everything apart from your liver in my opinion), rolled our fat bellies back through town, drank some mate with a couple of traffic cops Luca had stopped to chat to then it was back home to bed before I collapsed under the weight of my own stomach.
What The Fuck Is Mate Then?
It’s a herbal infusion drank from a special cup called a mate through a metal straw called a bombilla. It’s pronounced more like mah-teh, and yes, the cup has the same name as the beverage. The taste ranges from more bitter than watching your ex hook up with your best mate to much milder and drinkable without risking permanently wrinkling your nose with lines of disgust because your weak English taste buds can’t handle a bit of flavour.
Everyone in Argentina and Paraguay wanders round clutching their thermos and their mate, it’s not unusual to see people sipping it on buses or in parks, behind the counter in shops, where ever they damn well please, really. Takes some getting used to but hey, it’s better than what they try and pass off as tea over here init and as an Israeli guy I met in Buenos Aires pointed out; Good mate is like good coffee. It’s gross.
Stayed at: Hotel Germano