Paraguay & Bolivia are larger than you may think
If you find yourself in Bolivia with 10 days to spare - what do you do?
Well, I arrived to Bolivia making it country #54. I had about 10 days before my girlfriend would arrive to La Paz and I thought to myself: "I wonder if I can make it all the way to the capital of Paraguay (Asuncion) and back before she arrives?"
Before heading east I spent some time in La Paz and did a few free walking tours which I find to be a great way to learn a little about where I am. The guide, Saulo, happened to be a great guy and we ended up somewhere public together with a few friends. Then jars with alcoholic beverages started to join us and that got me more drunk than I have been for a long time. I figure I haven't been that drunk since I left Oslo where I met up with Ross Offshore.
Anyway - back to La Paz. La Paz happens to be the highest de facto capital in the world at around 3.600 meters. Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia but La Paz has more governmental offices.
Bolivian ladies wearing traditional clothing in La Paz
So, with less time to go I boarded a bus towards Paraguay with a short stopover in Santa Cruz. If you've ever done the bus ride between Bangkok and Siem Reap then you may have a good idea about what a bad road feels like. I heard that they deliberately keep that road terrible in order to make tourists fly. I don't know if the Bolivian/Paraguayan borderland has any agreement with the local airlines but I do know that it was the worst piece of road I've been on throughout more than 50 countries now. The landscape was however spectacular and reminded me of how National Geographics portray the Serengeti. There were even trees that resembled Baobab trees and I halfway expected to see a lion.
Rough road. We had to push...
The Chaco war was fought over near useless land thought to contain oil. They were wrong. Now it reminds me of the Serengeti.
Paraguay is larger than Germany...and on that note Bolivia is more than twice the size. You wouldn't think it looking at a map but it's a fact. My bus got in around midnight so there were no longer any city buses available and I'm trying to stick to the $20/day budget so I walked the 6 km to my hostel. Around 01:00am a friendly face opened the door to the hostel and welcomed me: in Danish! That was really strange but fantastic at the same time. As it turned out the owner is Swedish and his hostel is on my top 5 list of hostels I've stayed at: El Jardin Hostal. They are working on a Webpage but you'll find it without it in case you head to Paraguay. And I think you should. It's another country of great diversity both in culture and geographical. It's also a country that has a long way to go before it can be considered really modern. But I like it like that. Food and transport is cheap, people are friendly and relaxed, there are few tourists, there is much undiscovered to discover and there is a lot to learn.
Thomas and I at his very cool hostel in Asuncion.
Asuncion is a very run-down city. It sort of looks like a modern city only it also looks like it has been abandoned for 20 years before people moved back. It needs a lot of paint :) However the parks are amazing and always full of people.
Eddie was randomly hanging out at the hostel and volunteered to help me with my meeting with the Red Cross where he acted out the role as interpreter. He aced it! Eddie is from Paraguay and is an all round nice guy :)
The day before I left Asuncion I was walking around town minding my own business when a police car rolled up to me and started questioning me on suspicion of selling drugs. That of course is a huge joke to me but in such cases I always take the officers seriously as you never know what can happen if they feel provoked. We were all smiling when we parted and soon after I was back on a bus heading towards Bolivia.
I visited the train museum in Asuncion and was struck by how similar it all looked to how things once were in Denmark. What happened? Especially the tickets on display looked very similar to the tickets handed out at the veteran train near my childhood hometown. Denmark has been at peace since WWII - Paraguay has not had the same luxury.
In both Bolivia and Paraguay the buses are frequently stopped for random inspections. I don't mind during the day but having to get out of the bus at 03:00 in the morning is rarely amusing. However this time it was very interesting as I felt like I was sent back in time to when I was with the military. It was pitch black outside. Everyone was ordered out of the bus and ordered to arrange their luggage in a perfect line. In best military fashion we all stood behind our luggage and that's when I noticed the scary sound of a beast in a cage. A plastic cage was hiding something demonic that rattled the cage and filled the air with a satanic howling. Suddenly the door to the cage opened and as if the cage exploded the beast blasted out into the open dust and darkness that surrounded us. Luckily it was just a dog :)
The dog was VERY excited and ran back and forth sniffing our luggage. After another 20 minutes we all had our luggage searched thoroughly through and then got back on the bus and back to sleep.
Before I returned to La Paz I realized that I had just spent 4 days on a bus in order to visit Paraguay for 3 days. Kind of crazy but at least I know I want to come back for more. I was told that the northeastern part of Paraguay is the most beautiful and I'm curious to see. But I actually like leaving something behind in a country so that I have a reason to return.
I got this shot from the top of a skyscraper in Asuncion. I managed to convince the receptionist and the caretaker that I needed to get up there. It was my last sunset in Paraguay.
"My girlfriend arrived". Something I posted on Facebook which got more than 190 likes! Nothing has ever come close to that. I might consider getting a mistress too :)
My girlfriend and I having a look at the market.
It's great to have her here with me. We have around 3 weeks together before she flies back to Denmark. Her return flight is from Santiago, Chile, so we get to cross a border together. We are currently in Copacabana at lake Titicaca. On that note lake Titicaca is the highest navigational lake in the world at over 3,800 meters.
We are planing on touring Bolivia for a while before heading towards Chile so I'll keep you updated about Bolivia in the next blog.
Thanks for following! :) You're in for a long haul. I just learned that Niall Doherty boarded an airplane. He has been traveling the world for 3 years without flying but decided to fly home for his fathers 60 year birthday. A nobel thing to do but now, as far as I know, I'm the only person in the entire world who will have a shot at reaching every country in the world without boarding an airplane. In the near future anyway. It might not be big history - but it is history. Roughly 100 adventurers have reached every country in the world. That's not a lot. They all had airplanes involved throughout their journey.
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - aiming at history, not at fame ;)