Getting into Ciudad del Este was the easiest border crossing we have ever been through, only because it is virtually non-existent. In an effort to make it easier for foreigners to spend their money in this crazy Paraguayan city, border formalities are surprisingly lax. We jumped on a regular local bus in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, cleared Argentine immigration and then drove straight on through Brazil over the clogged friendship bridge directly into the middle of the market mayhem, without going through any passport control. We realised we weren’t going to stop so demanded the bus driver let us off so we could walk back to immigration to get our stamps. This was all very unexpected considering the strict visa controls of both Paraguay and Brazil. Treeny, being Australian, needed a visa to visit both countries. The Paraguay visa, unlike the Brazilian, was a lot easier to obtain. We had planned ahead when we were in Buenos Aires and visited the Paraguay Consulate where a very welcoming Diego happily processed the visa in just 24hours, but for the excessively steep price of US$135. Ouch!
As we walked the bustling market streets we kept wondering how this city came to be here, in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Being a few thousand kilometres from the sea, Paraguay, and especially this corner of it, is certainly not the shipping hub to allow the easy importation of all this junk. Most of the goods clearly come from Asia, which is evident in the predominantly Taiwanese and South Korean shopkeepers, who are taking advantage of the governments lenient import/export regulations and the financial benefits of this buzzing retail hub smack in the middle of the continent.
A visit to the dam is definitely worthwhile to grasp the size of this monster and to put the statistics into perspective. After a short film of number blasting we jumped into a wonderfully air conditioned bus to drive around the dam wall. Liking all things technical we were very excited by the hydro-electric generation system. Although we didn’t get to see the machines in action the scale of the generators was evident in the sheer size of the white piping containing the turbines and the surrounding structures. The tour around the dam was free, which made it even more enjoyable, and is a fun side trip while visiting Ciudad del Este.
It is quite interesting when you look at the juxtaposition of the outwardly consumerist city of Ciudad del Este selling innumerable useless electronic gadgets, and the colossal dam next door built to power all of this junk. It leaves you to wonder why we need all of these appliances in our already cluttered lives. Do we even realise the impact making, buying and consuming these products has on the environment, and is it worth the loss of valuable ecosystems like we see here in Paraguay and Brazil?
Next stop, south to the bright lights and colours of Carnival, Paraguay style in Encarnacion…