Who goes to Paraguay?

18 Aug

OK folks, this is my attempt at travel writing. I suggest to grab a coffee and hang a do not disturb sign on the door, or print it off and read it on the subway home. Here goes, oh yeah, sorry no eye candy (photos), as wasn’t that many photographical sights and photos never do justice to capturing chaos. Enjoy.

 

I’m sitting on the grey plastic seat of an old public bus, a world away from the luxurious 2 storied buses I have been travelling on in South America. A faded floral curtain that brings back childhood memories of my grandmothers’ cottage hangs in place of the Perspex glass that usually separates the driver from the rest of the bus. Rusted through seat legs are attached by backyard modified welds to the metal floor that has more chewing gum stuck to it than the underneath of a movie theatre seat.

In my hand I have my passport and I’m looking at the shining fresh ink of my Argentinean exit stamp, wondering what my Paraguayan entry stamp will look like, as the bus leaves Inmigración de Argentina.

Ciudad Del Este is my first taste of Paraguay: part of the triple frontera, a town on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Outside the bus window it seems like a modern day Wild West where the gun toting cowboys have given way to the chaos of congested traffic, honking horns, street peddlers, and a melting pot of ethnic diversity made up of opportunity seekers like the gold miners of yester year. There’s an uncomfortable feel to the place, a sense that you have one hand on your gun and be aware of your surroundings. You can feel the seediness, you can smell the illegal business, the trafficking of drugs and children, and you know you’re in a third world border town.

The bus lurches to an abrupt stop like a formula 1 car entering the pits. From the window it appears we have stopped in the middle of the road with cars buzzing past, no sign of a Paraguayan immigration building. The bus driver shouts out something but it is lost in the blur of a second language and the sound of heaving diesel engines. Like pack horses, carrying all our worldly possessions, my girlfriend Mandy and I trudge our way to the front of the bus to ask where immigration is. The driver enthusiastically points in the vague direction of where we have come from.

As I get off the bus, my first sight is Mandy, sprawled out on the road with her bulging backpack and 2 carry bags on top of her. I see the culprit innocently lying beside her—a crater sized pothole big enough to swallow a toddler on a tricycle. I laugh, lovingly, and she forgives me when I first ask if I can take a photo of her before asking if she is ok.

We enter the white, inconspicuous, paint peeled building and walk up to the man reclining in the chair behind the glass, who waves a lazy finger to another hole in the glass. Then what should have been a simple question followed by an entry stamp turned into one of those illogical bureaucratic mysteries. Well to be truthful, that started in Buenos Aires 2 weeks prior where we had applied for our Paraguayan tourist visas. Mandy and I had filled out the same application form, paid the same $65 fee, yet my visa was valid for 90 days and Mandy’s 8 years. She can stay for 90 days, leave, and come back for another 90 days for 8 years without paying for a new visa each time – that’s a lot of sightseeing when there are no sights!

As we feed the hole in the glass our passports, opened to our Paraguayan tourist visas we innocently ask if he knows why my visa is valid for 90 days but Mandy’s for 8 years, and would it be possible for me to be allocated more days (we were going to live in Paraguay).
The friendly official calls over two terere sipping co-workers to look at our visas with the intrigue of archaeologists discovering a buried artifact. The end result of the conference is that they don’t know why Mandy’s is valid for 8 years. However, they decide that my 90 day visa started in Buenos Aires when the visa was issued, so now I am only to get 76 days. Nevertheless, Mandy’s visa starts today and she is to get the full 90 days. Deciding to embrace the third world bureaucratic logic as opposed to trying to understand it, we take our freshly stamped passports before they look into our reasons for wanting to stay longer.

As we walk out of the immigration building we are approached by a well groomed blonde hair, blue eyed German guy in his early 30’s, wearing neat beige dress pants and a tidy black long sleeve shirt. I had seen him watching us from an exterior window of the immigration building for the entire time we had been talking with the immigration officers. He stood out like president Obama guest speaking at a KKK meet. His groomed appearance contrasting the unruly ragged appearance of the other people he shared the pavement with. Straight away I felt suspicious, probably because I had just watched the movie “Taken”. Visions of us being abducted, addicted to heroin and spending the rest of our days in a curtained cubicle of a working class brothel flash before me.

He started speaking to us in Spanish, asking if we were having immigration problems. Then he insistently pushes a simple black and white brochure into Mandy’s hand, telling her to take it. My suspicion fuelled by paranoia is heightened when he asks us where we are going. We hesitantly answer the question, saying we are going to the bus station. He tells us what number bus we need to take and then fades away into the chaotic sea of traffic.

Feeling nervous, we decide to get a taxi to the bus station. As we hop into the beat up yellow 1970’s Mercedes taxi, with the driver tying down the overloaded boot, I see the German guy hop onto his motorbike on the other side of the busy main road. As our taxi pulls away from the curb merging between a horse drawn cart and a shining black BMW, the German guy speeds past us on his bike. I get the uneasy feeling that he is following us. My suspicions are confirmed 5 minutes later when we pull up to the bus station, I tell Mandy: “don’t look, but that German guy is 30 metres up the road looking at us”.

Now we’re on edge, checking the brochure he gave us and our carry bags for drugs or black market organs that he stashed in our bags while he was talking to us. I’m thinking it’s a setup, I’m waiting for a police raid, where they will take us to a dark cell until we pay the hefty price for our innocence. After all they say Paraguay is the second most corrupt country—only because they were bribed out of first place.

We make it inside the terminal, I tell Mandy to get us on the next bus for Asuncion and I will guard our bags. I’m sitting in the middle of the bus station with my legs and arms intertwined in the straps of our bags to deter any would be thieves. I feel as though everybody’s eyes are on me, and they probably are as I’m a 6 foot foreigner with shoulder length dreadlocks and my paranoia is giving me the nervous twitchy appearance of a cracked out junkie.

Finally we make it to the safe haven of our Asuncion destined bus, Paraguay’s capital city and our new home. The bus pulls out of the terminal passing a soccer field with makeshift wooden and plastic shelters of South America’s second poorest country. As I walk down the aisle to my seat at the back of the bus, my paranoia and edginess of the past couple of hours subsides with every welcoming smile I receive from the friendly Paraguayan faces.

I flop down into the secure comfort of my seat, thinking of the past 2 hours and then of those Paraguayan faces I passed in the aisle. I think about those faces and the small, unknown, landlocked country they call home. Then the question butterfly that has been fluttering around in my head asking “who goes to Paraguay”, has finally landed………………………..Paraguayans go to Paraguay.

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7 Responses to “Who goes to Paraguay?”

  1. Beate August 19, 2009 at 1:57 am #

    hey Hap and Mandy,
    back from the greek Islands of coffee drinking, constantly smoking hot tempers, I work my way through 1 month of neglected blogs.
    This is one of the best posts i have so far read…
    forget about the eye candy!!
    i found myself in the scene…almost like a james bond movie (the old ones wiht the russian guy wearing iron theeth 😉
    Hope you guys are savely tripping into the next adventure, always a plessure to read.
    Cheers

    • Hap August 20, 2009 at 4:04 am #

      Hi Beate,
      great to hear from you and that you enjoyed the greek islands.
      Thanks for the feedback on the blog post, appreciate it.
      All is going well in Paraguay at the moment, we are being looked after, enjoying it.
      It really is a country of two halfs, the rich and the poor, not many tourists so its quite interesting and great for my Spanish.
      Thanks again, hope all is well for you.
      Hap

  2. Paul Matthews August 20, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    I want to know what happened with zee Germans.

    Awesome bro!

    • Hap August 21, 2009 at 12:44 am #

      Bro,
      The last I saw of him was out side the bus station looking at us. I just got inside the bus station and got the next bus out of there. Mate, I was so tense, fists clenched (as if I would hurt a fly), padlocking bags, haha, funny looking back, but my god it was a little intense.
      Maybe the German just wanted to see if we made it to the bus station, I don´t know, or maybe he was going to abduct me, but my clenched fists and puffed up chest (ribs) put his henchmen off!

  3. crystal August 21, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    Very enjoyable post…I really was worried about you guys and the German! Now that you’re there safe and sound though I’m worried about how you can be the star of Fame if your visa expires so soon.

  4. Harry October 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    but, but, but… what was in the brochure? Don’t let your readers hanging like this 🙂

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