Weirdest Day of My Life

Ciudad del Este Travel Blog

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            My first trip to Paraguay may also have been my final one.  Whether it was the lax security at the Brazil-Paraguay border, the open air market feel to the city, the constant paranoia of being ripped off, the questionable van ride back across the border (legality is still questionable) or just the terrible weather of the day, my only experience in Paraguay was… sketchy.  Although I knew it was close to the border of Brazil in Iguazu Falls, I never really had the intention of visiting Paraguay.  Knowing that it was part of Mercosur, I figured it might end up being part of our coursework so I guess I should have assumed that we would make a venture across the border. 

The day was full of disgusting weather from sunup to sundown.  There was torrential rain, wind, and the poor drainage systems of both Foz do Iguaçu and Ciudad del Este were not very well-equipped to handle the monsoon of the day.  When our bus got near the border, we were informed that it was not legally cleared to cross into Paraguay.  To me, this was just a glimpse into the soon to be interesting events of the day.  Obviously this meant that walking in the elements was in store for us.  Most of us didn’t have the foresight to bring rain gear, but lucky for us people were using the informal market to sell ponchos to us for 2 reais each.  After gearing up (sort of) against the weather, we continued our exodus into the promised land that was Paraguay. 

I wasn’t exactly sure what things to expect when we got there, but certainly what I wasn’t expecting at all were the feelings of lawlessness and piracy that were very prevalent there.  We were told on the bus ride there that 40% of the goods sold in the market of Ciudad del Este were contraband in one way or another.  While that was shocking at first, after our visit that number seemed rather low.  Everywhere we turned we were harassed non-stop by pirates trying to make a [dis]honest buck.  The popular item “in stock” seemed to be iPods.  Telling us we were “getting a great deal” they would attempt to sell them to us for $20-40 more than retail in the US.  When we asked why the price was so high, we were told for “convenience fees.”  Apparently picking pockets and stealing off delivery trucks has a hidden value associated with it that we were not aware of.  Speaking of picking pockets, I was carefully watching the whole time since these characters weren’t the most trustworthy people I’ve ever run across.

The ride back into Brazil will always be remembered as one of the shadiest things I’ve ever seen.  Leaving the central market, we were ushered into 2 vans for the ride across the Brazil-Paraguay border.  Yes that’s right: 2 vans for 26 or so people.  Our van including the driver and… crewman (?) held 16 people.  We crossed the border without anyone ever checking our passports or even stopping the van.  On the way out of Paraguay while sitting in the van I spent 6 reais for 6 pairs of socks from a merchant walking past.  I needed white socks so I didn’t care what was on them, a mindset that came back to get me.  It turns out 3 of the pairs were a women’s size 7 and one pair had a Brazilian flag with SPAIN written below it.  I will cherish those socks forever as a souvenir of my questionable trip to Paraguay.

keith5159 says:
I enjoyed reading your travel blip! Just one word of advice! I would highly recommend traveling to Asuncion, Paraguay! Night and day difference between Ciudad Del Este and Asuncion!
Posted on: Mar 03, 2008
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649 km (403 miles) traveled
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Ciudad del Este
photo by: pacovera