Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paraguayan border to San Bernardino – 180 miles.

By far the easiest border crossing to date. Even though this is a busy border with hundreds of people crossing every day between the falls, the dam and duty-free shopping in Ciudad del Este, only if you are venturing further into the country do you need to stop. After we were checked out of Brazil at Foz do Iguaçu, we crossed the Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge) that spans the Parana River and divides Paraguay and Brazil. This afforded some beautiful views of the surrounding area. From there it was a quick stop at the immigration and customs building. We went first to Immigration to get our passports stamped and then we were directed to Aduana for the vehicle. There was one official who glanced at our title. He immediately stamped and initialed it. That was it. No photocopies, no request to see our licenses, no vehicle check, no carnet. We had been told and read that carnet was required. That is not so. Winston is also a non issue. Within 15 minutes, after changing some of our Brazilian currency for Guarani with a money changer we were finished. Since it is not possible to exchange Guarani outside of the country, we are only going to try to change what we need and first we need gas. Thinking petrol would be cheaper than Brazil we had waited to fill up. Disappointment. Gas is still expensive around $6.50 a gallon. Oh well. The next step was to navigate through, what is called “South America’s biggest shopping center” – Ciudad del Este. This is a bustling city where Brazilians arrive by bus loads to buy imported, duty free goods. Tom asked if I wanted to stop. After looking at the crowded walkways and the masses of humanity, I declined. What could we possibly need that would require struggling through the crowds? With the help of the many police who direct traffic through the busy intersections of streets thronged with people, we were through the town and on our way. Our stop for the night was to be San Bernardino, a resort town on Lake Ypacarai, about 35 miles from Asunción. We had read online about a hostel and campground which had room for motor homes and offered water and power. Hopefully we can camp there and get used to our new country. Just as we began the drive on Highway 7, known as the Mariscal Estigarribia Highway, we arrived at the first, of what turned out to be many police/military checkpoints. Naturally we are stopped. After a perfunctionary check of our passports and title, the inevitable questions began. How long had we been travelling? How were our experiences? Questions upon questions. Tom and I answer good naturedly and with laughter. Sharing stories as best we can in our limited Spanish, which after 4 months in Brazil has become rusty, we chat. Although this adds to the time it takes to travel, we understand that for some of these officials, it may be their only chance at talking with Americans and we want to leave a good impression of our own people and country behind. As we travel we view ourselves as ambassadors for America and realize that for many of the people we meet, this will be their only contact with Americans. We want the experience to be as pleasant for them as it is for us. So, we indulge their curiosity. The road is a toll road and we make good time even with the stops. We also learn that in a few days, on May 15th, it is the bi-centennial of Paraguay’s independence from Spain in 1811. At one of the stops we are presented with an emblem to honor the occasion, which we promptly hang from our mirror, much to the delight of the attendant. As we travel, we pass roadside vendors selling pottery and wood carvings from the nearby villages, the most famous being Tobati and beautiful wood furniture made by descendents of the Mennonites. We pass through the town of Caacupe, which today is quiet but is known for its celebration on December 8th, when pilgrims come from all over Paraguay carrying heavy stones on their heads as penance. We also pass many stores called Chiparrias and wonder about them. It turns out that chipas are small cakes made from maize and are sold by the Guarani. We see traditional Guarani women carrying baskets on their heads, filled with fruit and chipas. All of this is surrounded by a landscape that is lush and sub-tropical. Lots of agriculture with fields of corn and soya. Well-fed cattle, goats and sheep, graze on the abundant grasses in fields by the side of the road. It is all so new and exciting to us. As we turn from the main highway for the final 10 kilometers to San Bernardino and the lake it is getting dark, so it was with relief when we finally arrive at the resort. A friendly lady called Silvia greeted us. On 6 hectares we are the only ones here. Winston is in heaven and as soon as we park takes off to explore his new surroundings. It has been a long day but we have made it. We are in Paraguay and at a very pretty lakeside campground. We will definitely stay a couple of days and try to decide where to spend the May 15th, bicentennial Independence Day celebrations.

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