From Asuncion, our plan was to travel southeast, and exit Paraguay at the Argentine border, across the river from Encarnación. That’s a 2-day trip, so we broke it up with a stop in Villarica. Some American girls we’d met in Foz do Iguaçu had tipped us off about the place, and Marina found us a couchsurfing host there. Let’s go!
Our journey was rudely interrupted by the Paraguayan traffic police, an hour or so outside the capital. I may have been overtaking somewhere I shouldn’t have, so they were justified in stopping us. The officer in charge pulled us in to the side for a chat – he had his routine perfected.
First, he pulled out an impressively large digital camera, and showed us a beautifully framed shot of us, squarely on the wrong side of a solid yellow line. And the conversation started:
Cop: “This is very serious! Here is our evidence, and here is the law you have broken. You must pay a mandatory fine!”
Us: “Ok… 😦 how much is the fine?”
“1.2 million Guarani” (About R$700 / €190)
“Ah… We don’t have that kind of money on us…? Can we pay the fine by card or something?”
“No, you must go back to Asuncion and pay it there. Today.”
[Asuncion is about 100km behind us at this point]
“It must be today!”
“But we’re going the opposite way, like.”
[Suddenly, policeman becomes very friendly]
“Tell me, where are you going?”
“To Villarica, to meet a friend.”
“Ah sí, sí. Very nice place. Very beautiful. The mountains! Here, show me your wallet. How much money do you have?” [We show a wallet with whatever notes we have]
“You can pay 300,000, that’s enough” (About €50 / R$180)
[Policeman takes the money, and helpfully leaves us with some change.]
With our wallets significantly lighter, we arrived in Villarica. It was bright, clean and colourful, decked out for Fiesta San Juan, the midwinter festival.
A curiosity of the town is that it’s not in the same place it was originally founded. It’s moved, not once, but seven times from it’s original location in what’s now Brazil, in 1570. Mostly due to Brazilian bandits seeking treasure in the interior. Can’t trust those Brazilians.
Pedro, our Couchsurfing host here in the portable city, met us outside his Ice-cream shop, Chaplin. We had an empty apartment above the shop to ourselves for two nights. Pedro speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Guarani, and he’s expanding into the take-away burger business after dominating the ice-cream market. He’s not short of competition!
The main streets are full of bars, restaurants, and every other type of business, with their doors open late into the evening. This isn’t like the typical small towns we passed through, where everything shuts at 6pm. Villarica seems well prepared for an influx of tourists – if only there was enough to do nearby to draw them in. The town’s squares were buzzing with activity, full of locals enjoying Kavure, a type of cheesy bread cooked over an open fire.
Pedro’s granny, who lives next door to his shop, runs a “Kavure factory” from her garage door. The menu also includes Mbeju, a type of starch cake, Chipa so’o, a small cake filled with meat and egg, and Pastel Mandi’o, a sort of fried dough sandwich with meat and vegetables inside. All washed down with sweet tea in little cups.
For children in Paraguay, I can only imagine this is the best night of the year. I thought bonfire night was cool, I never imagined I could have spent it jumping through a flaming hoop with my parents cheering me on. The night’s entertainment also included smashing a piñata, men attempting to climb up a greasy pole, a theatrical wedding, and burning an effigy of Judas. Some craic.
After our triumph at Pico da Bandeira and a few other hills along the way, we took it upon ourselves to visit the highest point in Paraguay, the 842m peak of Cerro Tres Kandú. Formerly the home to an important Paraguayan Army radio base, it’s now part of a tranquil national park, with a series of steep trails that lead up from the bottom.
Southern Paraguay is so flat, the view from the top seems all the more impressive. From our vantage point looking south, the scene was punctuated with dozens of smoky fires stretching off into the distance, farmers burning their fields to revitalise the soil. Unfortunately this grey, hazy layer wasn’t moving anywhere in the still air, and probably wasn’t too good for anyone’s lungs.
We drove back into the sunset to our comfortable room in Villarica, where Pedro fed us with ample steak burgers and Kavure on our last night. A great spot, so it is.
Next morning we visited Villarica’s extensive fruit market to stock up before the next bit of the journey. Marina was wowed by the selection. See for yourself:
Read on for part 4, where we travel back in time to the 17th century, and visit a town with a hint of Nazism.
- Police bribe: 300,000Gs / €50 / R$180
- Admission to Cerro Tres Kandú: Free!
- Supermarket breakfast, lunch and drinks for three people: About €12 / R$40
- Everything else here was so cheap we didn’t record it individually. Paraguay is incredibly good value for travellers. It’s louco barato.