"Paraguay?? Why are you going to Paraguay??"
That question has haunted and puzzled us ever since we set foot in Buenos Aires and told people we met about our traveling plans.
Haunted because we have been asked again and again - it seems to be the all-accepted, "normal" and within social-etiquette response to the statement of somebody going to Paraguay. "Why?"
Puzzled because, well, I fail to understand the question.
To me it sounds like the question of "why would you travel when you can stay home?" And yes, some people hate the idea of traveling. But these Paraguay comments come from other backpackers, people (locals and ex-pats) living in South America, people fluent in Spanish and in the South American cultures.. People who LOVE to travel, to see the world, to discover new things and experience other cultures.. or so one would think.
I guess it will remain a mystery question to me.
Why go to Paraguay? Because IT'S THERE.
So, that said, we have now finally reached this hidden mystery destination that does not even have it's own Lonely Planet guidebook. (However it does have a section in the South America guidebook, which we have). (Luckily, or we might start believing that Paraguay didn't actually exist).
We flew into Asuncion from São Paulo, a trip that took about three hours but for us lasted all day as my flight departed at 9 am and Asia's at 1 pm. The airport was tiny, smaller even than Landvetter. But it had a cafe and wifi so I had a great time waiting for Asia
It took a little while to figure out the currency. After finding out that US$ 1 = 4000 Guarani (Gs) and 1 SEK = 615 Gs I happily found an ATM and proceeded to withdraw one million (!) Gs. I had expected the lump of money to be somewhat more impressive though.. Ten paper bills (even if they ARE 100000 each) is not very much :P
As the cute little airport suggested, Asuncion turned out to be cute, small (although wide-spread), friendly and quite slow (in what seems to be a "don't take things too seriously, it'll work out in the end" kind of way) city. I would like to call it a town because that sure is what it feels like with houses 1-2 stories high and dirt roads every here and there, but as it is the Capitol, I will call it a city.
In Asuncion we stayed at a wonderful eco-friendly hostel (El Jardin Hostal) with a big garden with lots of fruit trees and wonderful staff - the owner even turned out to be Swedish..! We can't wait to go back and stay when we travel through Asuncion again on our way to Bolivia
After two nights we were bound for our reservation at Laguna Blanca! We read about this place when we were in BA, and it sounded like paradise.. Big lake out in the middle of nowhere with cabañas for rent right on the shore as well as kayaks to use and half-wild horses living free in the forest/jungle surrounding the lake. Some of South America's richest flora and fauna biotopes. Breakfast included and lunch and dinner optional for an extra fee. We had been dreaming of this place for weeks!
The only tiny unsolved problem was how to get there. Something about a bus that would take us more or less to the area and then walking. One guy wrote about having ridden his motorcycle out there. So we strolled down the road to the nearest MC dealer and..ah, no we weren't too worried because everyone we asked seem to know about Laguna Blanca (although nobody really knew exactly how to get there).
The evening before our departure Thomas (the hostel-owner) helped us figure it out. We were to take a bus going to San Pedro (there were two different san pedro's on the time-table but only one in real life.. oh it'll work itself out) and get off in the town of Santa Rosa (by the way, the time-table on the Internet said one thing, the info-person we called to double-check with gave us a different time and the actual departure turned out to be a third time. Oh well, it worked out).
In Santa Rosa we were to take a local "collectivo" bus which didn't appear to have a time table at all ("continually" was the only answer we got to when it left. Oh, it'll work out ) and get off in the middle of nowhere (the driver would tell us) and proceed to walk about 4 km until we reached the ranch.
Getting up early the next morning we caught the first bus to Santa Rosa and happily sat there watching the country-side, buying fresh-baked still warm chipa (Paraguayan bread with cheese in it - delicious!) from saleswomen and children who ran up and down the aisle of the bus (the bus would stop for salespeople on the road so that they would have a chance to sell their wares) and reading for the 4,5 hours the trip was supposed to take. Half an hour later we started getting a bit nervous. The door to the driver was locked. Nobody to ask. Oh well, it'll work out (we hoped). Finally the bus stopped and we were able to ask the driver through the window about Santa Rosa. He smiled and said "a couple if minutes!" while holding his thumb and index finger about three cm apart to illustrate just how soon we would be there. We breathed a sigh of relief (still on the right track!) and a mere hour later we arrived at Santa Rosa. The terminal (a roof and a sign) was deserted. It's 2 pm, surely we can't have missed the last collectivo..? We caught sight of a man standing outside of what seemed to be a ticket booth and asked him how to get to Laguna Blanca.
"No" was his perfectly clear and understandable (not) answer. "There are no collectivos, no bus, nothing."
"Well how shall we get to Laguna Blanca?"
He picks up his phone and makes a call. "Yes, it is possible to take a taxi, the driver has agreed to take you for 200000 Gs."
Was he trying to trick us? Rip us off? No, upon further questioning he warmed up enough to explain the perfect logic of "there are no busses today because of the rain last night." (Duh, why didn't we think of that?)
So we agreed to take a taxi and he waved toward a guy sitting across the street. (Of course he had called a guy sitting 10 m away).
We got into his car laughing about how "the busses didn't go" because of some rain. Haha.
Half an hour later we started understanding that perhaps this reasoning was sound, after all. The road was red dirt, half washed away, half mud and half giant puddles (or ponds) that our driver had no choice but to drive straight through. After a few puddles the car started leaking in. Bridges we drove over were made of planks. Half of them seemed to be snapped in two or more pieces. By the end of the close to 2 hour drive (!) we were relieved beyond measure to get out of the car and decided to procrastinate all thoughts on getting back to Santa Rosa.
Well, what can I say? We made it, it all worked out AND we didn't even have to walk 4 km with our packs as the driver brought us all the way in. Win!
After traveling all day we were just in time to witness a stunning sunset over the lake. As it turned out, we were the only guests. We had the WHOLE place to ourselves for the whole 5 days we stayed. It was just as beautiful, secluded, rich-in-nature and absolutely glorious as we had imagined.
As a note, the service was weird.. Half of the time we felt like we were imposing and half of the time we were sort of left abandoned without means to contact anyone or even get into the house/main building. Not to mention the times we were joined at sitting and reading, watching Big Bang Theory or a movie on the computer, etc by one of three weird (creepy) guys. "Joined" being a code word for "stared at".. Once the creepy little oldest man came up to us sitting outside in the dark with a big machete and showed us what seemed to be three little (dead) catfish that he had apparently caught(?). (We tried to act sufficiently impressed but we're still not really sure why he showed us the fish to begin with..)
All-in-all we had a GREAT stay! Beautiful days mixed with the largest thunderstorm of our lives (240 mm of rain in one night..!), kayaking and swimming in the lake, running in the woods, interacting with the horses, taking pictures, reading, talking, relaxing and LOVING LIFE.
Oh, how I love it