During our stay in Concepcion we had two tasks: to purchase tickets for the boat and to acquire a Paraguayan exit stamp in our passports, as there would be no facility for this up the river where we planned to cross the border into Brazil. The first task was easy; we sat at the ticket office door at 7:30am awaiting its opening eager to get good tickets before the days expected rush. At 7:40am we walked out of the ticket office happy customers, we had managed to score our own cabin, the last one, at a cost of AUS$11 per night, which was comparable to renting hammock. Our second task turned out to be much more challenging; the immigration office seemed to be illusive even to the locals who did not know where the office had recently moved to. Thankfully, some German travellers pointed us in the right direction after it took them four long hours to find. Turns out we walked straight passed it, twice!
Our three days onboard the over loaded, rickety, old river boat became a life of routine working around the heat of the day and the darkness of night, just as the locals do it. Mornings started early, with the kitchen providing a hot mug of coffee and a stale bun. This was the coolest time of day, making the locals much more active. As the sun gained momentum the activity onboard dropped with the heat of the day building to sweltering sweaty temperatures. Lunch was a hot steamy bowl of rice cooked in river water, mixed with odds and end of vegetables and meat – which was really not the most suitable meal when the heat alone was almost unbearable without a hot meal inside of you. Dinner was similar and by then the hottest part of the day had passed so a hot meal was much more manageable. We were hesitant on eating the food considering the state of the kitchen. Health and hygiene are most certainly not a necessity in this part of the world. We were less concerned after receiving our first meal which was so scorching hot there was no way any bacteria would have made it out of the pot alive.
Interestingly, Paraguay is the only country in Latin America that has managed to retain its native Indian language of Guarani, which is the predominant language spoken here. We were really interested in meeting and learning about the people onboard the boat. It seemed everyone had been on major shopping sprees in Ciudad del Este and were travelling home with bags full of goodies for their families. It was very difficult with our limited Spanish skills and obvious lack of Guarani, to spark up conversation with the locals. And, to be honest, it didn’t seem like the locals were too keen on foreigners being onboard in the first place, they seemed to all be staring at us, some cranky old ladies in the market with vicious evil eyes, wondering ‘who the hell are these gringos and why on earth are they on this boat’. We were convinced boarding the boat that surely this would be off the beaten track travel; it seems however that all backpackers are under the same impression making this a far more popular route than expected. There was an overwhelming thirteen tourists on this tiny boat!
While in Fuerto Olimpo we wanted to experience the Pantanal, up close and personal, and at what we thought, being Paraguay, cheaper prices to its Brazilian counterpart. This wasn’t to be. Unbeknownst to us, we were here at the wrong time of the year. While the Brazilian Pantanal, some thousand or so kilometres north, is beginning to flood during the wet season, January to April. The waters of the Southern Pantanal region in Paraguay don’t receive these waters until a couple of months later around June as the great wetland begins to drain south. Low water levels mean animals have a much greater distance to graze over making them extremely difficult spot. After discussing a boat trip into the wetlands with a local guide Diego, we opted against the trip as we were unlikely to spot any animals at this time of year so it wouldn’t be worth the expense. With this disappointing blow to our plans we had to be content with hiking up the nearby ‘Three Brothers Mountain’ for a view across the plains of the Pantanal, which seems to stretch on forever, and a visit to a very old Portuguese Fort built over five hundred years ago. Despite not seeing any of the great Pantanal animals we were fortunate enough to see flocks of Parakeets, Toucans, Herins, hundreds of dragonflies and birds of prey hovering above.
This friendly, helpful man named Raul introduced us to his boyfriend Renato and insisted they give us a lift to the bus stop. We were out of luck; there was no bus until 6:30am the next day, so Raul and Renato drove us around town looking for a hotel we could stay at. Not only did they drive us they made it their mission to find us the best room for the cheapest price. Then to cap off their generosity they invited us to a Carnaval gig they were DJs at that evening. Brazil’s reputation of being full of friendly people had taken no time at all to shine through with Raul and Renato. They picked us up later that evening and we partied with them and a couple hundred Brazilians Carnaval style.
The following morning, a little bleary eyed, we boarded the bus to Campo Grande in search of our Brazilian Entry Stamps only for Iain to realize he had left his passport in the hotel room. Thankfully the bus had only driven ten minutes down the road when Iain noticed and much to the annoyance of Treeny we had to disembark, walk back for Iain’s passport and wait for twelve long hours for the next bus. Oops!
When we eventually made it to Campo Grande we were greeted with the news that due to the festivities of Carnaval happening throughout Brazil, we had to wait a further three days before there would be any facilities open for us to gain our entry stamps. This news left us as illegal immigrants and stuck in a dull city that we had never planned on stopping in for four whole days! When the Brazilian immigration system finally awoke after the week long party we were directed to the Airport to visit the federal police, received our stamps with a small white lie that we just arrived in the country, and with that we were finally able to move on.
You can check out our photos of the Rio Paraguay here.
Next stop sun, sand, surf and sexy ladies in Rio De Janeiro…