Paraguay never seems to top anyone's lists of must-see countries in the world, probably not even in the top 100, but here we are. An 18-hour bus trip from Florianópolis, Brazil, I arrive in the humble capital of Asunción, smack bang in the middle of South America, a good 700 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. A few days stay in the city was much needed before continuing on through to Bolivia.
Stepping out from the bus on a warm but overcast morning, it is already apparent that this is no hot tourist destination. Not being bombarded with taxi offers or fake Messi shirts is a welcome change. Walking up to the first taxi, the driver is passed out in his seat. Knocking the window he jolts into life, leaps out the car, runs round and helps me with my one backpack, I still appreciate the gesture.
Arriving at the hostel, the Norwegian owner greets me and the first thing he asks is why am I here, my response is why is he here. He tells me he met his now wife whilst stopping here on his journey many years back, and never left. He gives me a map of the city and states I can see everything I need to in one day, reassuring me how safe it is and how there are a lot of nice spots. The Palacio de Lopez is the swanky looking presidential office, sitting on the waterfront of the Paraguay River. The National Pantheon of the Heroes, a mausoleum of Paraguay's finest historical figures and the Independence House Museum complete the trinity of culture.
The sprawling markets under multi-coloured tarpaulin is the only place you need to go to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, shoes, knives and of course knock-off Messi shirts. I got the impression that tourism here is welcomed by everyone and we haven't yet overstayed our welcome so everyone is friendly. There is little need for public transport here as the city is so small, you can easily walk from one side to the other in a day.
The numerous bars and cafes, which have been largely untouched for years, offer easy retreats to see out the evenings or a lazy morning. As with other neighbouring Latin American countries, the local population are predominantly Spanish speaking with their own indigenous dialect thrown in; Guaraní. Any attempt at throwing one of these phrases around will grant you an instant likeable bonus from the locals, and that is invaluable. Hello, how are you (Mbaé’chepa) and thank you (aguije) will go far.
It was finally time to leave Paraguay, the daunting 26 hour bus ride was approaching, and from what we'd heard, the buses are nothing like the usual air-conditioned, fully reclining, luxury vessels I had become accustomed to throughout South America. Instead, they were haggard, beat up beasts that had no right in traveling 1500km in one go. One tip I had heard was to get yourself a blanket, it gets pretty cold at night on a bus with no heating. Failing to find anything, I simply order a modest size material from a textile store, how difficult could that be? Turns out, my broken Spanish did not order two metres, but 12. I pay up and proceed to kit out everyone on the bus with free blankets.