Even though we landed in Sao Paulo, we knew the journey was really starting in Asuncion. That’s where we would strike out as a group to conquer Argentina, with good vibrations in our pockets and a hope to see Patagonia.
The main bus terminal in Sao Paulo (Tiete) is rather easy to navigate and with our tickets worth $182 reais we boarded a 20 hour overnighter to Asuncion. Semi-camas, those 115 degree leaning chairs are a pain in the butt: not as unpleasant as economy seats on airplanes but still rather uncomfortable. Alas, those are always the cheapest option unless there’s a promotion, and that is how we will be travelling in South America for now. I bought a Visa a couple of months earlier in Miami, and lucky-butt Marelise doesn’t need one to enter most South American countries; most likely because she’s as cute as a sedated tiger (um, ok… thank you?:). After an uneventful twenty-some hours we grabbed our bags from the under-carriage and made our way to the bus terminal.
Honestly, first impressions were good: the capital appeared quite chill, a pleasant mix between Spanish colonial architecture and modern store fronts, without the metropolis anxiety you usually get in capitals from having to walk around unrecognizable skyscrapers and more often than not getting unreliable directions from locals who would rather seem helpful than not have any answers for tourists. There was an exchange of bills at a lovely little sketchy plywood booth where, in exchange for a few hundred reais, we were handed thousands of guarani – I think at the moment the exchange rate is something like US$1 to $4200 guaranis. I’m lucky that in the capital the majority of people speak spanish, as opposed to outside of the capital I believe the majority speaks Guarani as a first language, with some Jopará which is a mix between guarani and spanish.
We ditched the bus terminal, and headed for the main road a block away where we saw numerous busses speeding by. My buddy Richie had arranged in advance for us all to meet up at the Peace Corps-favored hostel in town, La Casita de la Abuela (Trip Advisor website). We jumped on a #12 bus and after a few moments interrogated several kind old ladies in my rusty Spanish whether or not we were close to the major road Colón, near the hostel. I was told to wait about 20 minutes, and true to her word we saw our cross streets and jumped off the bus, walked about 5 blocks, and found our quaint little hostel. We met the owner Javier, who’s a really laid back Paraguayo, and Mustafa from Nigeria who works there. It’s a gorgeous, comfortable hostel with plenty of beds, clean showers, and a cozy kitchen and living room. They also have a lounge upstairs, in the front with a hammock, and out back there are more hammocks and a table. The next day we had already planned to meet Richie, his girlfriend, Ryan and Tom downtown in the Plaza Uruguaya, so we made a simple dinner, supplemented by supermercado empanadas and hit the sack.
The meeting point was only about 20 blocks away and we had a slightly homoerotic reunion, as it was the first time I’d been together with Ryan, Richie, and Tom in two years. Richie and Andrea took us to a huge street market downtown where we roamed around, checked out the scene, and chowed down a couple food cart-esque egg burgers. In retrospect I was pretty sure being new to South America that, at some point, some tap water or food would have introduced a few new local bugs into my system and I would get mild digestive issues. Those street burgers were a bad mistake and we paid dearly for them over the next few days, but no-one more so than Tom who apparently lost a few pounds and spent several hours with the hostels’ porcelain mistress. Unsurprisingly we relaxed with copious amounts of Paraguyan Pilsner and laughed the night away.
The next day Richie and Andrea showed us an indoor kind of farmers market downtown where we had some fresh dumplings, and craft beer. We hit the hippie market downtown (it’s really called the hippie market) which has some pretty interesting, artsy stalls; Ryan and Tom bought a few souvenirs for family and friends back home and Richie chatted up a lady who sold us a pitcher of Tereré. It’s basically the cold version of Yerba Mate: a blend of several herbs and remedial plants which the majority of Paraguayos seem to drink daily from small special cups and usually a metal drinking straw. It’s a really refreshing drink, my first time trying it, and usually a group activity as the host pours small cup after cup and offers it around the circle. We are not so well-versed in the more detailed rules of maté-ing, but be assured, they are there!
Back in the hostel later we grabbed some rum, our instruments, and headed to the lounge to jam. Richie, Ryan, and Tom all started their band Mystic Arrows back in Seattle and really play well together with Ryan on guitar and vocals, Tom on percussion, and Richie with his flute. I jammed a bit with my guitarlele on a song Ryan spontaneously started there, and even Mustafa wandered up and laid out some good beats on the drum. We took a break to watch a torrential downpour create a temporary river down the road out front and called it a night.
We had one more day in Paraguay before Richie and Andrea had to get back to their Peace Corps duties, with the rest of us ready to head south into Argentina. We stopped by the bus terminal for tickets, and Tom and I had to buy our visas for Argentina (a US$150 reciprocity fee that you can’t cross the border without… unless you’re South African). We had a slow, chill day and towards the end of it decided to have one more outing… We shared a bit of our walking flasks and slowly made our way to a German bar where we had crunchy sweet cocktails that were meant to resemble Brazilian Caipirinhas, except for the extra cup of sugar added in. We were reprimanded for Ryan and Richie being a little too happy together in public, and returned to the open arms of La Casita.
Although we didn’t see much of Paraguay outside of the bus rides and wandering the capital, I enjoyed my time there. It was definitely a somewhat different culture for me to experience (Guarani is a crazy, interesting language) and we knew we would be returning in a few weeks to roam the countryside with Richie. We said our Adieu’s, and grabbed an early morning bus out of the country towards the most European country in South America – as I’ve been told.