After staying thirteen days in Asuncion, I finally got off my arse and headed for the bus station. I liked Asuncion, but I had become very lazy there. It is that kind of place.
I was taking the bus to Paraguay’s third city Encarnacion. I had not been on a bus for almost a month. That is the longest time yet. I have clocked up a lot of KMs on South American buses.
Bus travel in South America is unlike any other place I have ever seen.
It can take a few hours to get out of a city as buses pick up people from every street corner. As we passed the hostel, I had stayed in I wondered why I took a taxi the 7km to the bus station.
From the moment the bus moves the sales pitch starts. A person will appear at the top of the bus and the presentation will start. People are trying to sell anything, from electric shavers to cosmetics. It is like watching the shopping channel live in the studio.
Most people sell nothing, and they pop off the bus, and then the next person pops on. The most successful are the people who sell food, or maybe that is just to me.
I am surprised at how green the Paraguayan countryside is. The temperature has been over 40c on most days. I was told it rains about once a week and when it rains it rains. It reminded me of Ireland. Fields full of cows and crops.
It is a pity that 60% of the land is owned by 10% of the people. It is a big business. Paraguay is a big producer of Soya beans. The Itaipu dam owned 50% with Brazil generates more power than any other dam in the world.
I was surprised as I had seen power cuts in some areas of Asuncion. Then I read that Paraguay exports most of this power.
I got off the bus, and I broke one of my travel rules. A taxi driver approached me to offer his services. I never take a taxi away from the official line.
When we arrived at the hostel a short journey away, he tried to ask for what I knew was triple the price. I asked for a receipt. A heated discussion began. We split the difference. Neither of us was happy.
I was not happy because I had broken one of my travel rules. The amount was small in European terms, but it was the situation rather than the price. If you can cut out the small problems, you are less likely to hit the big ones. I keep saying it is taxis themselves have created the need for Uber.
Encarnacion has really surprised me. I expected it to be like Asuncion. A bit run down. It is far from it. The streets are well kept. There are no homeless people on the street. I think I found where the 10% who own the 60% of the land go to play.
The city looks like a place on the up. New apartment buildings dot the city. There are upmarket bars and restaurants everywhere. The artificial beach on the lake is busy most days with Paraguay’s elite.
Across the lake, a modern bridge connects a new part of the city with new skyscrapers. I wonder if the worst off people I have seen in Asuncion even know of how nice a place Encarnacion is.
At the weekends the main street near the lake is packed with kids driving up and down in their expensive and classic cars.
I am not saying it’s wrong, but for me, South America has lived up to its reputation as one of the worlds most unequal societies.
I liked it here. I can see why people with money visit.
Next weekend I will cross into Argentina. I have always wanted to visit Argentina, but it was always one of the regions most expensive countries. It was not on my list for this trip.
What made me change my mind? Recently the country has been going through an economic crisis. Inflation is due to hit 50% this year. The Peso is in freefall. Five years ago it was ten pesos to the Euro. The start of 2019 it was forthy three.
After the recent surprise election victory by the left-wing Peronist, it has hit sixty-six pesos to the Euro.
The hostel grapevine is full of fellow travellers who have been to Argentina saying it has never been cheaper for tourists with Dollars and Euros.
For the Argentine people, this is a very difficult time. Prices for everything are rising daily. Wages are not going up to match inflation. Argentina has been here before. This is a cycle that has been repeating itself for many years now.
While I feel sorry for the people there is nothing I can do about it. I feel Argentinas difficulty is my opportunity. Buenos Aires is always a place I have dreamt of seeing.
As an outsider, I have noticed one constant thing in most South American countries I have visited. People are either hard left or hard right politically. I don’t think I have met one person that I would consider in the centre.
I think this is a major problem for the region. Bolivia is a perfect example. Evo Morales was the first indigenous person to be elected President in Bolivia.
During his sixteen years in power, he did improve the standing of Indigenous people of Bolivia. Both economically and how they were treated by previous governments.
That must have been hard to take for the European elite that had ruled the county since Bolivia won independence from Spain.
I have no doubt that Morales did commit fraud in the recent elections.
The problem I feel is that Morales knew once he stepped down the old rightwing European elite would have their revenge. There would be no peaceful handing over of power. There would be no sitting on the backbenches talking of past glories. They would have their revenge.
This seems to be a never-ending problem for South America. Until the left and right can swap power peacefully, the problem will always exist. Uraguay has done it a few weeks ago after a very close election. Uruguay is one of the most socially advanced countries in South America.
Before I cross the border to Argentina, I will get a bus on Wednesday to a bit of an unusual place in Paraguay. Cuidad del Este. The city of the east. It is located on what is known as the triple frontier. The three counties of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina all share a border here.
It is also one of the largest tax-free zones in the world. Thousands of Brazilian and Argentines flock to the Paraguayan city to buy tax-free goods every day.
It also has a reputation as a kind of wild west town where anything can be purchased. It is claimed that some of the worlds biggest terrorist groups operate here.
I plan to open my wallet in a big way for the first time on this trip. I need jocks, socks and t-shirts. Its time for a change.
Then I will cross into Argentina and get to see one of the worlds most amazing sights just across the border. The Iguazú Falls. I can’t wait.
This week’s short video is a look at the city of Encarnacion Paraguay.