We got a later start leaving Puerto Iguazu than I wanted. Laura wanted to have a more leisurely morning, and so it was after ten when we finally checked out and took a cab to the bus station. There was no easyway to get to Asuncion. First we had to take a local bus to Ciudad del Este, where we would then have to buy tickets to Asuncion. The distance was not far, but there is no direct crossing from Argentina to Paraguay. We had to go through a corner of Brazil. We didn’t have visas to enter Brazil, but the system allows for people to take this route on buses without ever getting out in Brazil.
We caught the ten thirty bus, which was just a small local bus which they packed full of people. So many that I ended up giving my seat for an older lady, and as we went along, more and more people kept piling in. I figured it would be a twenty, thirty minute bus ride at best, but it ended up being more like two hours, counting the time we had to spend at the Argentinian border getting our exit stamps.
When we arrived in Ciudad del Este, it was amidst a crush of traffic and pedestrian hubbub. We went right past the border station and stopped in front of a huge mall. The bus driver’s assistant pointed us back down the road to the border office, telling us we had to go through migracion. It was only two blocks, but it was across a massive intersection teeming with cars that drove more like Peruvians than Argentinians. With all of our bags and in the oppressive heat, even this short walk seemed like too much, so we took a cab. We had to go all the way back into Brazil and turn around to get there, and this short journey took over fifteen minutes. The cab driver held the cab for us at the curb while we went in to get our passports stamped.
It seemed like a chill office. There was only one person in line in front of us, and the people had no booths, no uniforms, no guns. They just sat behind a desk that looked like any receptionist desk. When called forward, we presented our passports and they looked them over.
“You need a visa to enter Paraguay,” the man eventually told me. This confused me. I had researched this not very long before, making sure that we weren’t required to have visas. The only reason we were in Paraguay was because Brazil had absurd visa requirements that we couldn’t meet.
“I read on the internet that we don’t need visas for Paraguay,” I told the man, still wondering if maybe he was just mistaken.
He gave me a look. “I’m telling you that you do.”
“So how can we get visas?”
“You have to go back to Argentina and go to the consulate. You can apply for them there.”
“There’s no way to do it here?” I asked. “It took us all morning to get here from Puerto Iguazu.”
He looked at the guy next to him, who was listening. They conferred a bit and then he told me that if we have tickets out of the country, they could issue the visa on the spot, but he said it had to be printed out.
We only have them electronically, and this was not sufficient. Eventually he suggested that we could go and print the tickets at an internet café, and then bring them back. “How much are the visas?” I asked.
“One hundred and eighty per person,” he said.
“Pesos?” I asked. This wasn’t terrible.
“Dollars,” he said.
Holy crap. This was bad. That was the same cost for Brazilian visas. It would come to over seven hundred total, for all of us. I was horrified by the thought of dropping so much dough just to cross an invisible line into a country that we didn’t even really want to visit, but I didn’t see what choice we had. Our flight was in three days.
“Can I pay with a card?” I asked.
“No. Only cash.”
Another problem. There was no way to take out that much at one time. The ATMS here usually one fifty to two hundred at a time, and my own bank has a three hundred dollar a day limit.
“You could,” the guy told me with a shrug, “just go to Asuncion and then pay the fine when you leave the country. It’s only about fifty dollars per person.” I couldn’t believe he was telling me this. The lax control of the border had already given me this idea, but for him to suggest it…
“Of course, there are dangers. If you are stopped by the authorities and they see you have no stamp, you will be deported back to Brazil.” Still, I liked this option. I could tell the guy was really trying to help us. He made a phone call to make inquiries, after which he said that the only options we had were to get our tickets printed and come pay the visa fee, or to go back to the consulate and apply for it there. We could not, he now said, simply enter the country. Whomever he talked to was obviously keeping to the script.
I nodded, my mind already made up. I thanked him, indicated that we would be back, and took us all back to the cab. The kids could sense our worry, and they kept asking was happening. We didn’t tell them until we got to the cab. I asked the cab driver what he thought about it. “Are there stops for inspection or aduana on the way to Asuncion?” I asked.
“No, it’s totally tranquilo. You won’t have any problems.” I had to make a quick decision, but I went with my gut.
“To the bus station then.”
So off we went, unloading in front of the terminal and walking into bustling scene of travelers and ticket salesmen hawking their fares. “Asuncion?” Several of them asked me at once. I was about to start talking to one, when another came over and sharked me away, indicating that we could get on a bus right away. I followed him and he hustled us over to a bus. We didn’t give him names or show him passports or anything. We just paid about ten bucks each and hopped on.
The bus was not nice. It was way too hot, and the seats were very uncomfortable. We were told the journey was six hours, but it turned out to be seven. It felt like ten. I slept as well as I could, woke, and looked out the window for a while. I figured at least three hours had passed, and I ventured a look at the clock. Barely two hours had passed. Yikes. This was going to be a long bus ride.
It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that I was constantly watching ahead for checkpoints or federal police. At one point in the ride, a federal cop boarded the bus. Oh boy, I thought. But instead of demanding our papers, he just went to the back of the bus and took a seat. Thank goodness. Still, the biggest danger to us was this drive. Once we were in Asuncion, there was very little chance of anyone checking our passports.
Lila was particularly difficult on this ride. She was obviously bored, and she just wanted to play, but no one else did, as we were all hot, uncomfortable, and irritable. It had been an uncomfortable day, and Lila’s constant chatter and face grabbing and lap squirming was driving Laura and I nuts. Reading her a book or distracting her with talk of her ongoing game (Batman and Rose – fictional characters of hers, not related to the comic book Batman) only worked for a few minutes at a time, and the hours dragged on.
It also didn’t help that none of us had had any substantial food that day after breakfast. It was past seven when we arrived, with only light snacks since then. And it would yet be a while before we were to eat. We first had to get to the apartment we had rented, drop our bags, and shower. We were all sticky from the hot bus ride.
By the time we got to the apartment and got cleaned up, it was nearing ten o’clock. I really didn’t want to go out to eat, so I looked online for food delivery. I found a cool site that allows you to order online from the nearest delivery places, and though it took me a while to figure it out, I placed an order for some pizzas. After about forty five minutes, when the food should have been arriving, I got an email saying that they couldn’t deliver. The location from which I ordered no longer existed. By this point, all the other places were within fifteen minutes of closing. Great. So we would have to go out after all, unless we wanted to wait until the morning.
Nobody did. So we went to the street and asked a cab driver if there were any food places open. He took us to a nice place that was full of people. The menu was pretty good, though the girls were mad that I wouldn’t let them order really expensive food. Far too many times they get expensive dishes and then don’t even eat them all. Since their choices almost always include meat, I can usually not help them to finish things off. I have a great aversion to the waste of food, not to mention money.
After we ordered I walked to a corner store to buy some more water, and I noticed they had some grocery food too, so I bought some fruit, eggs, and vegetables for breakfast. We would have to do a bigger shopping run later, but I knew it would be nice to not have to hustle out of the house an shop for food before eating again the next day.
Our time in Asuncion was very chill. The only outing we went on together, after that first night, was our shopping run the next day after breakfast. We bought more food than I thought we would need, but at least we wouldn’t have to eat out anymore.
Our apartment was in a nice high rise building with a pool, so I took the girls there in the afternoon. That night we watched a movie called The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which I had never heard of. It turned out to be pretty good.
We still had one more day to wait before our flight, early in the morning after our third night. I left the girls to hang out in the air conditioning while I went for my walk around the city. Asuncion is very hot, and late February is the height of summer. I was sure glad to be alone on my walk, because the heat was hard on even me. The girls would never have made it. I walked all around downtown, finding the city to be less than attractive. The people were nice, but the infrastructure was not in very good shape and everything seemed dirty and run down.
I had a map of points of interest, but none of them interested me. I got tons of pictures, though. By the time I had made it to the water I was drenched in sweat and very hot. So much humidity!
After nearly two months of travel, my beard had been getting pretty shaggy, and that wasn’t helping. Aside from checking out the city, my mission on this walk was also to find a barber who would shave my beard off. I wanted to look myself again for Anarchapulco, to which we would be flying the next day.
Thankfully I found a barber easily and he agreed to take on my dense beard with a head shaving razor. We chatted about our travels and he was very nice. When my beard was gone, I felt so much better. My neck was finally not going to be prickly and sticky. I went with him to the desk to pay, and I couldn’t believe the price. Five thousand Guarines, which is less than a dollar. I had no small bills, and he told me I could go out and break my bigger bills and then come back. Or not, he said with a laugh. It’s so little. I went for a water and then came back to pay him. I should have doubled his price, but I got only one fiver in my change.
Once back at the house, I showered and changed. It felt great to be clean, and clean shaven. After lunch, Laura and I spent the rest of the day making plans for Mexico. After the conference, we wanted to head east towards the Yucatan and the Caribbean. I have never been to the Yucatan, and I was looking forward to seeing some Mayan ruins.
We would not get much sleep that night. The girls have been going to sleep late, and we couldn’t get everyone to bed until nearly midnight, and we would be leaving in a taxi at four thirty the next morning. Or flight was at seven, and I wanted to leave plenty of time for the airport, just in case we ran into trouble regarding our illegal entry into the country. I hoped there would be no issues.
As it turned out, we did get found out. There was a migracion checkpoint right after the security screening. The lady asked us about our entry into the country, and I played dumb, saying we took a bus, we crossed a border (leaving Argentina) and then we got off the bus in Ciudad del Este. I pretended that we believed the border to be done with and we went straight to the terminal.
As the guy back at the border had said, they charged us a fine, way less than we would have paid for the visas. But even this amount, it turned out, was negotiable. I pulled out all the cash I had, equivalent to less than $125 and offered it. I asked if there was an ATM, as we owed $250, but the lady just shrugged and took my money.
“Next time, get your visa before entering the country,” she reminded me. Yeah right, I thought. There won’t be a next time. I’ve seen enough of Paraguay.
I am finishing up this article as I sit waiting for our flight to Mexico. I am very much looking forward to Anarchapulco, which, for those who don’t know, is a huge annual conference of anarchists in Acapulco. I went last year and had a great time, meeting lots of great people and getting all sorts of inspiration. It was after last year’s conference that I was finally ready to get this website online. Now, one year later, I’m ready to take it to the next level. When we get back to the States, I will begin my promotion tour, with hopes of kick starting my career as a writer and making new connections. I will be writing more about the North American Tour soon, but first, I’m off to Acapulco.
Thus wraps our South America tour. Thanks so much to those who have followed along, and I look forward to more adventures as the World Tour continues.