May 1, 2006
Last night I got an email from Craig, my cabin mate from my Antarctic cruise. He was on his way to Concepción, Paraguay to go on a boat adventure up the Rio Paraguay and wondered if I wanted to join him. The problem was that the only boat this week leaves tomorrow, which meant that I would have to get to Concepción today to make it. It would be difficult, but possible.
I got to the bus station a little before 7:00, when I was told that the first bus was leaving for Paraguay. I picked a bad day to travel, though. The 1st of May is the equivalent of Labor Day throughout Latin America, which meant that there would be fewer buses all day.
The first bus showed up at 7:30 and I was off. We drove out of town and to the border, but unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the border of Brazil. I got an exit stamp on my passport, got back on the bus, and started driving to the other side of the bridge. I knew something was out of place when every sign I saw was in Portuguese. I asked and found out that indeed we were going into Brazil. This presented two problems: 1. I was trying to get to Paraguay, and 2. I wasn't even allowed to enter Brazil because I didn't have the necessary visa. To my surprise, however, there wasn't any border control for entering Brazil.
I found out from the bus driver that it was necessary to go through Brazil to get to Paraguay, but there weren't any border controls in the area to worry about. We drove through Foz do Iguazu, Brazil for about thirty minutes and got dropped off at the border with Paraguay.
I had to walk across the river that marked the border myself. It was really chaotic. Anyone can freely move between Paraguay and Brazil at that location, and hundreds were doing just that. The bridge was at least one hundred feet above the water. It was windy and the guardrail was below my center of gravity. I stayed as far away from it as possible.
When I got to the other side, I found the customs office and went in to get my entry stamp. The officer stared at the visa in my passport for a long time as if he had never seen one before. Finally, he said "Why is this visa good for so long?"
"How long is it good for?"
"Nine years. Are you planning on staying in Paraguay that long?"
I thought about the prospect. I would have to move very slowly to stay that long in Paraguay. I could probably walk to every village in that time. "No, just a month or so. I'm not sure why they gave me nine years." After that, I was free to roam through the country, for longer than I could possibly imagine.
I asked around and figured out which city bus to take to the main bus terminal. A few minutes later I was there. Almost instantly, I was being offered a ride to Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. I was off to a successful start to my day.
The bus ride to Asunción really sucked. I was jammed against the window with my knees against the seat in front of me for five hours straight. They tried playing some DVDs, but I couldn't really see or hear them and they always seemed to break down after fifteen minutes. I was lucky, though: there were at least twenty people standing on the bus for the entire trip. After spending the last five months in Chile, Argentina, and Antarctica, I was officially back in the Third World.
In Asunción, I checked my email, but had nothing new. Craig was supposed to email me to let me know where he was staying so I could meet him there, but he hadn't done so yet. I figured I'd find him later and decided to buy my ticket to Concepción. The problem was that I couldn't figure out where to buy the ticket from. I went to the top, middle, and bottom levels of the bus station, but didn't see any ticket booths. Finally, I gave up and asked a local. As expected, he answered my question like I was a kindergartener. I had to walk to the back of the upper level to find the ticket booths because they weren't visible from the top of the escalator. I feel like such an idiot sometimes when I'm traveling.
The bus ride to Concepción was long, but much better than the last one. It took five more hours, but at least I had a little bit of leg room this time. When I got into town, I walked around for awhile looking for an Internet cafe hoping that Craig had emailed me. I found two, but they were both closed because of the May 1st holiday. Concepción is a small city, so I realized why Craig hadn't emailed me: he couldn't. When I figured that out, I checked into the nearest hotel and hoped that I could find Craig tomorrow morning before the boat left.