If you haven’t already, read part 1 of our visit to Paraguay.
In Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital city, we stayed at Urbanian Hostel. Clean and pleasant, the guest mix was surprising. Slightly clueless British girls who’d run out of money in Argentina, and wanted somewhere cheaper to stay. An American guy getting married to a Paraguayan girl, with his side of the wedding party. Plus a few hardy adventurers, on their way north towards the remote Chaco.
So why would you want to visit Asuncion? To be honest, it’s cheap, but there’s not much to do here. We saw most of the main sights in an afternoon, apart from the ones currently closed for renovation. Of course we missed a few, but I always need a reason to go back! I would assume that summer time is better, as the Costanera (riverfront beach) has numerous stalls and bars, all closed when we passed. There’s some shopping, there are a few museums, and some quite well-kept older buildings. If you want to go to a city where there’s nothing much to distract you, Asuncion might be a good bet. Plus it’s safe to walk most of the city at night-time.
We had a fun night out at a jazz gig, in the Centro Cultural de España. Based on their event guide, it looks like everything held here is for free, so enjoy!
What’s the food like? Do you like bread? It’s bread. Lots of bread. In Paraguay, what’s called “Paraguayan soup” is in fact, bread. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, entirely different varieties of bread! Some salty, some cheesy, some with meat, some with corn. If you don’t enjoy bread in all its infinite varieties, you might want to stop reading now.
Two of the most famous restaurants in town, Bolsi and Lido, are only a block apart. Both include a long bar that loops around 180° with staff serving from the centre. Bolsi goes for high-end, with a fancy chocolates and cocktails menu. Lido is the kind of place you end up in at 3am after the pubs close, stuffing yourself with fast food. Or… soup… bread. Bolsi is also, unusually, a 24-hour restaurant!
So about that Irish connection. The Paraguayan dictator at the time of the Triple Alliance war was Fransisco Solano López, who in his youth had been assigned to Europe on diplomatic missions. When he returned to his homeland in 1854, he brought Eliza Lynch back with him. Born in Charleville, Co. Cork, her family had emigrated to Paris to escape the Great Famine. Through some lucky connections, she became part of a social circle around Mathilde Bonaparte, became a well-known courtesan, and then the companion to this dashing young leader from a faraway land.
According to our friendly tour guide at the “Casa de la Independencia” in the centre of Asuncion – “she wrote the history of Paraguay”. As the foreign mistress to a dictator who lost a devastating war, her enduring popularity seems unlikely. On the other hand, she was one of first women in the country schooled in the arts of European high society, introducing social events, clubs, and higher education. To this day has remained a popular, mythologised, historical figure, often due to her own suffering and loss during the war. You might compare her stature in Paraguay to someone like Argentina’s Evita Perón.
After the country’s disastrous defeat by the Triple Alliance, she was exiled back to Paris, where she died in 1886. Her body was exhumed and returned to Paraguay in 1961, where her ashes now lie in a bronze urn in the quiet surroundings of the Recoleta cemetery. The day we visited this cemetery, we were led to the tomb by a mourner at a funeral, who was waiting for his relatives to arrive.
The same day, we did a bit of a tour around the outskirts of Asuncion by car, as the centre was starting to bore Marina. On the southern edge of the city is a hill, overlooking the Paraguay river that gives this country its name. Atop it, is a huge monument to the country’s famous figures through its history.
On our return, we passed through a very different sort of Asuncion – in Villa Morra we passed a sort-of Hard Rock Café, lit up like Las Vegas. Flashing neon & dazzling video billboards, and a few streets of bumper-to-bumper Mercedes’ and Audi’s. There’s plenty of money here. But just here though.
Some of this foreign money comes from Paraguay’s trade with Taiwan. Unlike most countries in the world, Paraguay recognises Taiwan, rather than mainland China, as the official Chinese state. Taiwan has extended development loans to Paraguay, and they’re returned the favour with lower taxes on imports. Korea wanted to get involved too, and donated some cute sculptures.
So, that was Asuncion. This was, to date, the furthest west (57° 38′ W) we’ve travelled by car (excluding Amazonas), and the furthest inland (~900km from the coast) that we’ve been by car as well. Time to turn around and head the other way.
In our next post, we’ll bribe some police, watch children play with fire, and climb a huge mountain!
- Urbanian Hostel: 55,000 Gs / €9 / R$33 per night in an 8-bed dorm
- Bolsi restaurant: 20,000Gs / €3.50 / R13 for snacks and a drink
- Casa de la Independencia: Free!
- Recoleta cemetery: Free!
- Centro Cultural da España: Free! (Wine and snacks were 23,000 Gs / €4 / R$15 each)
- Ice cream at Heladeria 4D: 22,000 Gs / €3.50 / R$13 for a very generous portion
- A basic lunch: 20,000 Gs / €3.50 / R$13