Paraguay, long rolling roads, cycle repairs, people a little more friendly, confusing money and parting ways.
Following a little research and with some help from our lovely host we booked a taxi for 9am to take us into Paraguay, we had to do this as the bridge we needed to cross would not let cyclists over it, even on foot, which was bonkers because pedestrians could cross it.
Our host and her daughter are in the process of saving so that they can visit Europe in 5 years time, I gave her a 10 Euro note to thank her for her trouble, she was so grateful. It was a large tip but she had spent most of the evening ringing friends, bridge control, train stations etc to see how we could get across the bridge and had ordered the taxi and ensured we only had to pay the fee quoted.
The taxi ride over the bridge and through Argentine and Paraguay’s borders was without incident, the taxi driver did try to charge us more money but our nice host had told us the fee so he was getting no more money.
We managed to check in to our apartment early, we had a couple of issues with the bikes that needed looking at so we took them to a cycle shop, Vivo bikes, to see if they could help.
With the bikes in for repair, we had a walk around Encarnacion (the town we were staying in).
Encarnacion is on the river Rio Parana, it is known as a beach resort. There were sandy beaches and beach bars but we are well out of season so it was all quiet, windy and only one beach bar open but empty.
We struggled with the currency change as there are a lot of numbers to work with 8000 Guarani equals £1, so our first withdrawal was for over a million.
The mechanic in the cycle shop Vivo bike was great. He changed the bearings in Ginette’s top set as the steering was locking, he also changed the wheel bearings on my front wheel. This is not an easy task as I have a dynamo, during the bearing change one of the cables was damaged. He left me in his workshop whilst he drove off with another guy, they where gone for over an hour but came back with my fully repaired wheel.
These two repairs took him a while due to our awkward bike designs, but the final bill was very reasonable compared to UK prices at 50000 Guarani, about £7.
All the while I was in Vivo cycle shop anytime another cyclist walked in they would come to me and Say Hi and shake hands, a very welcoming community.
Ginette – Paraguay seems very similar to Argentina and rural areas of Brasil. People do seem a little more friendly, several have stopped to ask us where we are going. Everyone is dressed in their winter clothes, it is a little chilly, a little like our Spring. There are lots of old cars and run down buildings
Encarnación, aka La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South), is Paraguay’s most attractive city. It was easy to see that in the summer it could look attractive with its riverside promenade and beach but on the day we visited it was deserted, the river was very choppy and it was a little cold and uninviting.
While Gary was in the bike shop, I prepared the fresh veg we had purchased from the market stalls in preparation for what turned out to be an excellent curry.
We set off in the morning wrapped up with leggings and coats, it was about 12 degrees but felt much colder.
The cycle out of Encarnacion was quite good, along a main road, Route One, but with hard shoulders and drivers that seemed to take care except when they have to cross each overs path at junctions and roundabouts, I am still not sure who has right of way so we proceeded with caution even stopping on the roundabouts until we were sure we were safe to go past each junction.
We cycled Route One out of town, it was just like Argentina with us having to cycle on the rough hard shoulder and even when it was smooth it had sleeping policemen every 20 metres.
We had a 50 50 decision to make on whether to continue on Route 1 or turnoff to Route 8, we opted for the later and so far it seems the right choice. This road has been recently resurfaced which meant we had a smooth hard shoulder with no sleeping policemen hence we made good speed.
We finished the day in a small town called General Artigas, it had a hotel and a few shops. We managed to eat out, Net finally ended up with a veggie pizza after some discussion with the father and daughter, I shared this and a cold burger served like a sandwich that had been left on the side. This meal and 4 beers came to 38,000 pesos (a bargain at £4.75)
Ginette – We were starving, but none of the restaurants were open, it was fairly early for a South American country. I knew Gary needed to eat otherwise he’d get Hangry and wouldn’t have the patience to deal with my dietary needs. We tried to communicate I was a vegetarian without success eventually giving in and Gary ordered a burger. As we sat in the bar/restaurant, with everyone in their coats and hats (none of the bars had heating) we noticed a pizza in the fridge. Gary went to inspect and as it was a simple tomato based pizza he asked if we could have that. The dough was equally as bad as that in Argentina and again it was served undercooked but at least I managed to eat something.
The bar across the street decided it was a good night to play loud music until the wee hours, the noise was occasionally deadened but only by a car who’s music system was set on boy racer high.
The following day It tried to warm up, the sun was out and we had clear blue skies but the temp only reached 14 degrees, by the end of the day it had dropped to a very chilly 4 degrees.
Some of the small things that happened during the day.
There was a dog asleep by the road, I told Ginette “It’s not a dead dog, it’s asleep” but Ginette thought I had said “Feed the dead dog a treat”, I am not sure what treat she would feed him.
On the subject of real dead dogs, Ginette refused to take a photo of the vulture type birds making a meal of one unfortunate dog road.
Some of The petrol stations are very modern, we notice that 60% of the fridges are just for beer.
We passed a motel called “passion motel” I wonder what type of client goes here?
Ginette was nearly attacked by a runaway pig but before it got too close several dogs shepherded it back into its home.
The road remained good and easy to cycle, it has very few ups and very long straight bits where you can see for miles all around as the whole area has large open fields with occasional wooded areas. It can be quite monotonous but the bird life keeps us entertained with its unusual calls and variety, there are a lot of birds of prey and large vulture type birds. The birds of prey seem more common than the normal birds.
Ginette – several of the roads were very smoky due to the fields being burnt, it was a little unsettling cycling past fields that were on fire.
As it was Sunday there was not a lot open, no cafes. But the odd small shop was still open for business so there was no worry about running out of supplies.
The sun was out today, it was another cold start at 4 degrees but got up to 20 degrees by late afternoon. The navigation web site I use is called “plot a route.com” it turns out that the maps on this site are far better at showing hotels and shops than the maps.me site. I can view a town on maps.me and it shows no shops just a plan of the roads, but plotaroute shows me all the shops and possible hotels, hostels etc. Normally the town map systems are similar but maps.me doesn’t seem very accurate for Paraguay.
We cycled 60 miles and found a place called Ilsa Del Bosque to stay (this was shown on plotaroute) we have struck lucky as we weren’t sure there would be a place to stay and was preparing to camp. Pulling up there were no signs for the hotel so walked into the gate to be greeted by half a dozen blokes sitting around a table. I was a little unsure of how welcoming they would be, turns out they were German forest workers and several could speak perfect English. It made life so much easier being able to communicate.
Our German host et us use his breakfast kitchen so we can cook our own dinner, he even laid out some extra food for us to use, we had potatoes in a sauce, a local root vegetable, some red cabbage in vinaigrette, bread and cakes. A real feast.
Ginette – if only we could end every day in accommodation as luxurious as this one. Our room was basic but the grounds were beautiful and our host was really welcoming and generous.
Our host and accommodation last night was great, it transpired he had lived on the site for 10 years and cleared the land and built the place himself. He even had a swimming pool with a waterfall, I did check the water and it was a bit too cold.
Our cycle ride was a bit shorter today at 42 miles, we headed to a town called Villaricca along the same route 8 road. This road made for easy cycling so we were able to plod along and enjoy the expansive views of the open flat fields, so much so I tuned out for a lot of the inventing and thinking of business ideas.
Ginette – it was a hilly day compared to the previous day, but Gary was totally oblivious, at each stop he made a copious amount of notes on the inventions sparking in his head.
We stopped for a drink on route, the old lady who served us spoke Guarani which we do not understand at all. We have met several people who speak this language (which has 6 different dialects) It is very different to Spanish and even when we explain we do not understand the speaker continues enthusiastically trying to convey their message. When we have tried to use our very basic Spanish we have not been understood which has been a little frustrating especially when we try and explain I am a vegetarian. This has meant I have eaten a lot of gluten based foods and as a result, my stomach is not happy. Hopefully once my Spanish improves I can order something other than pizza or a cheese type pastry or bread.
The sun came out and we had 23 degrees to cycle in, all very pleasant.
Ginette – it was great to feel the sun although I think we should probably have applied a little suncream we ended the day with red faces.
The hotel Net has booked is to be frank a bit of a shit hole, the town is one of the larger towns but still has a few unsaved roads, we had a good wander around some shops, parks and the area has a feel of somewhere that may have been pretty once. There are some higher buildings with balustrade balconies that would have looked nice but now they just all look weary and worn.
The statues that are erected in the parks are also fairly poor in relation to the grand arty type we have in Europe, they look like they have been done by a good amateur.
Ginette – the hotel was in the middle of town, noisy and very run down. It is hotels like this one that make camping look appealing, but at £15 a night we can’t complain too much. The host was helpful and friendly but it was a shithole.
10th – 12th July
We have a few notes from the last few days but not a day to day blog, partly due to the poor WiFi and mostly as the road and scenery have been similar.
We arrived in Ascension on the 11th of July, we spent the previous night in a brothel, which was vile but cheap. On arrival, we had been offered the master suite complete with a sunken spa bath in the bedroom. We had taken some of our bags to the room only to be informed the price had doubled. Ginette was having none of this and we made to leave when the man offered us another room, which due to it being late we accepted. Unfortunately Net left her helmet in the first room and by the morning it had magically vanished.
Ginette – this place was awful, we had stopped at a modern hotel earlier in the evening but it was very expensive, Gary used his varying mapping devices and we cycled to each of the hotels. One had been turned into a nursing home and another looked like a nunnery. The brothel was our last hope otherwise we would have had to cycle out of town. The rooms are usually charged by the hour, each room came complete with wall to wall mirrors, a radio (that could only be turned to mute) and TV with a range of channels. It was gross, we could not wait to leave to have a shower and feel clean again. The entrance was through a garage door and up a set of steep rickety steel stairs.
The ride from the brothel to Ascension wasn’t that pleasant as we approach the outskirts of the city, the traffic was congested and the road lost any pretence of a hard shoulder or cycle lane. There are lots of buses here are frequent and the drivers drive by really close to the bikes and cut in front to pick up fares.
Fortunately, maps .me helped us navigate as many of the side roads as we could, they were surprisingly quiet in comparison to the neighbouring main road.
Our hotel was called Ross Char, and it was a good quality hotel with nice rooms, gardens and even a pool.
I took advantage of staying in a city and had my rear wheel bearings changed for £7 at a Giant cycle store, I have also replaced my pedals these cost £35.
In the evening we had hoped to eat out in a Japanese restaurant but having wandered for a while in circles it turned out it was closed as the owners had gone on holiday. We ended up with a buffet lunch in a supermarket cafe.
Some notes from the last couple of days cycling
Chiperia. Loads of small shacks selling what looks like bread rings
Cows in road. The cows are free to roam like in India
Sleeping policemen – bags have fallen off the bikes several times. We had a bad stretch for a few miles where the bumps were so bad we actually lost the panniers a few times. Gravel sides. It was hard to skirt around the bumps due to the gravel areas, sometimes the gravel encroached the hard shoulder so we had to risk the road
Anthills. Huge ant / Termite nests all around, a bit like giant molehills scattered in the fields
More driver beeping hello. The drivers are becoming more aware of us and tooting to say hi
Stalls selling the same product for short stretches of road, these included wooden furniture, tacky coloured toucans and fruit.
On the 11th July, we visited Caacupe Cathedral.
There are more Kids around with no shoes and looking very poor. Children stand in the road with younger siblings attached to them in a sling begging for money or selling little bags of nuts or tissues.
Ginette – We both need a haircut
day in Asuncion
We started the day with a trip to the bus station to book my bus ticket for later that evening to Bolvia. Three different touts offered the same price for what we presumed was the same bus however on arriving at the bus station much later in the day it was clear mine was definitely the budget bus. More on that later.
Once we had the bus tickets we took a taxi ride into the city, the driver made me feel even more nervous about cycling on the roads. He drove like a mad man on a mission, accelerating and swerving around cars, people and motorbikes (very few cyclists on the road).
Gary had planned a route around the city which included the Palace, the Cathedral, a couple of free museums including the Culture Museum and a street with artwork on the walls. It was interesting visiting these building which are all within easy walking distance of each other but my lasting memory will be the wooden shanty town which had been erected between the Palace and the Culture Centre. This is home to 100’s if not 1000’s of displaced people. There had been flooding earlier in the year and we hoped that the people living in this run-down area of town had only been there since May and that they would be rehomed soon.
We spent the afternoon chilling in the hotel and made our way to the bus station at about 18.00pm.
As we were waiting it became apparent my bus was the budget tin can.
I was fuming, I vented my anger but to no avail, no-one spoke English and didn’t really care. I contemplated not getting on the bus but I really want to go and learn Spanish, at least then I can vent my anger and be understood. The bus was THE worse bus I have ever been on. It had holes in the ceiling, it didn’t have seat belts, the seats reclined, if you pushed them hard enough and even then they sat at a wonky level. The toilet had no flush or toilet paper and no lock on the door. To exit the toilet you had to kick the door as it easily jammed. The 20 hour bus journey was advertised with food, but this was a joke, breakfast was a packet of biscuits!
I left Gary at the station in tears, partly down to the fact that I was hugely disappointed by the bus but mainly because I would miss him and I worried about him on the roads and I was a little scared about travelling on my own with the bike to a country I had never been to before.
After feeling sorry for myself, I pulled myself together, I only had to spend 20 hours on a rickety uncomfortable bus, the people living in the shanty town had to do that for much longer.
More on the bus journey and Bolivia next week. I am now safely in Santa Cruz, another 10-hour bus journey later today down to Sucre.