*you can watch the video with English subtitles
We were in Asuncion! Our first stop was the botanical garden where we could pitch our tent and stay, as we had already read in other travelers websites. It is not an organized campsite, but it is a place to pitch your tent and has some basic facilities. We followed the instructions on our GPS and there we were! The botanical garden of Asuncion was really beautiful! I don’t know if I can compare it to other botanical gardens of Europe, (I haven’t been to many) but we loved this garden. A huge place of green, clean and open to the public. Whoever wants, can come and walk, run, do a picnic and spend the day in a “forest” inside a city. We paid less than 1euro to get into the garden (this is the entrance fee for a motorcycle and staying in the campsite of the garden is for free). When we finally found the place to pitch the tent, we realized that there are some pros and cons…The place was among some huge trees and the only sound was the birds singing. However, the toilets were really dirty (we wouldn’t even enter to wash our hands) and additionally to this, everyone we asked when we were searching for the campsite, told us that there is a guard but leaving our stuff unattended wouldn’t be a good idea…
In the camping area, we were not alone, though. A big Volvo truck was parked there, also. It was definitely a traveler’s vehicle and we were curious to meet its owner(s). After we had pitched our tent, a couple came towards the truck. It was Pita and Rudi, a German couple of pensioners who had been traveling for the last few years around the world (www.menrad-international.com). We spent some time talking and exchanging travel experiences, but we all soon ran into our “homes” because the mosquitoes of the botanical garden were really ferocious and started sucking our blood without showing any mercy! At about 19.00-19.30, the guard appeared and asked for our names so that he could register us to the official papers of the administration! He reassured us that the place is safe and went to sleep in a small house some meters away. The next morning, Stergios and I talked about our options for the day: none of us wanted to leave our stuff there and go and none of us wanted to use the toilets of the place. We had no other solution but to go. Those who can lock their stuff are really lucky in situations like this!
We headed towards the canteen which was 50 meters from the place we were. There, our new friend Analia was waiting for us with some traditional Paraguayan breakfast! Analia was the owner of the canteen and the previous day, when we passed in front of her to go to the camping area, she saw us and welcomed us. She and her husband, who is a well-known enduro race rider, used to travel a lot on motorcycles and Analia was really happy to meet us! We were also very happy to meet her! She was the first person to talk to after our bad experience with the “crazy” hotel owner in Aregua (see Paraguay (part01)) and it was about time to meet a nice person at last! Our first impression was that she is very kind and we were right! She prepared a traditional recipe, “mbeju” (like a pancake made of mandioca flour and cheese) for us and we sat and started talking. After some moments, we had already agreed to be hosted by her and her family! We couldn’t believe how someone who didn’t know us, was so eager to help us!
That day was full of pleasant surprises! While we were sitting and chatting with Analia, we heard the sound of a vespa’s engine! Two guys on vespas appeared and came towards us. We started wondering how they knew we were there! Soon, our question was answered: the previous day, while searching for the camping area, we crossed with a guy on a vespa and greeted him. That was the only thing needed! Marcelo (the guy on the vespa) made a quick research on the internet and found who we were. The next day, he and his friend Carlos, came to the botanical garden to meet us! After a while, another vespista came. It was Gustavo, the president of the Vespa Club of Paraguay. And that’s how our story in Asuncion started! Without worrying anymore about where to stay, we went for a ride with the 3 vespisti. We headed towards the city center, passing from the “Avenida Costanera” and after a first look at the streets of the city, we ended up at “El Mercadito”, a market dedicated to the local cuisine! We were in heaven! The same evening, the plan was to gather at Analia’s place and together with some more members of the Vespa Club we shared some beer and – of course some more traditional recipes! Apart from the “asado” (barbeque) which is apparently a tradition for everyone in South America – Argentina and Paraguay for sure – and it is prepared by the male participants of the fiesta, this time we had the opportunity to try some other recipes that can only be found in Paraguay. Analia’s mother, had prepared the “sopa Paraguaya” and the “chipa guazu”: two delicious savory cakes with ingredients such as corn flour, corn, cheese etc! We were astonished by the Paraguayan hospitality and that was only the beginning!
The next day wasn’t that different from the previous one: traditional breakfast – omelet with pieces of mandioca and mate cocido (a strong infusion). Later, together with Analia and her husband Carlos Jorge, we went to the little port of Remanso and we bought some “milanesa surubi” (river fish schnitzel) by one of the “sinking restaurants”! When the water of the river raises, the small restaurants on the riverside sink and only those who have a second floor stay open and dry(!). In the evening, after saying goodbye to Analia’s lovely 3 children, to her sweet mother, their 5 dogs and their pet pig(!), we went to the city center to meet with the Vespa Club of Paraguay for the “official welcome”. What else? – Food and beer and vespas! This time, the gathering was at Diosnel’s business. Diosnel is a member of the V.C.P. and a professional collector. He owns a shop with antiquities and he has some vespas and a Mini Cooper. The surprise this time – apart from the smiling people who were waiting to welcome us – was the home made pizza that Diosnel prepared on the barbeque! Delicious and unique! So, we had good company, good food and cold beer…and this was not the exception but the rule in Asuncion!
For the next few days, we were hosted by Diosnel and his wife, Elena at their home. We had some more friends in Paraguay! I’m afraid that no matter how hard I’ll try, I’ll be sill missing a name of someone of the kind people we met…Those who wanted to host us – Tenti offered us his country house – those who wanted to buy us a beer, to show us around, to take us out for a drink…we tried hard not to disappoint anyone but they were too many and we were only two! After some meals, dinners and walks in the city, it was time to do some work. We had been trying to find a place to build a new bigger rack for the vespa, so that our luggage could be better tied on it, because every time we were on a dirt road, the pile of luggage would fall off its place. Carlos Jorge arranged a meeting with a friend of him, Jorge Armando, who is a welder and has a flourishing business in Asuncion. Soon, the vespa’s rear rack became wider to support the luggage and from now on, there is a back for the second passenger (me!). We celebrated the new construction with – what else? – some “asado” (barbeque) and some wine, there, at Jorge Armando’s business!
In case you ‘re tired of reading about food and booze, please, don’t go further…this was our stay in Asuncion! We started getting a bit worried about our cholesterol levels! To change a bit the subject, I’ll tell you about our first interview on the Paraguayan Media! It was our first but surprisingly not the last one…but, I’ll return to this later. While we were drinking our wine at Jorge Armando’s place, Analia called and informed us that in one hour we will be interviewed by the Paraguayan TV! Not “asked”, but “informed” us! Small panic attack, held by me because I would do all the talking! Stergios unfortunately has a very basic vocabulary in Spanish – food, vespas, beer – so he relied on my knowledge(!)…In a few moments, we found ourselves talking to a journalist and after some distant shots of us on the vespa, the journalist and the cameraman disappeared explaining not to us (we were still on the vespa trying to understand what the cameraman wanted us to do) but to our friends who were waiting, that they were on a hurry. To cut a long story short, we never saw our interview and we never got a copy of it. We were only told that some friends saw us on TV, but we will never see how Stergios’ hairstyle looked on camera!
We were not anxious to leave from Asuncion. We loved the city and it was a great opportunity to work a bit on the blog. Of course, we were also waiting for that package which was on its way from Greece and we were sure that we would soon receive it (we were mistaken!). After some days hosted by Diosnel and Elena, we decided to stay in a hostel. We didn’t want to take advantage of our friends’ hospitality and we also needed some privacy so that we could take our time and work! We found one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed! It was “Hostal Arandu”. A quiet and nice place with a big kitchen. Very clean and luckily, with only a few people staying there, as it was the low season for Paraguay’s tourism! After some time there, we realized we had a routine: shopping, cooking, working, going out and shooting pictures and videos, some more gastronomy…After some more time, we were ready to go! Our butts had been missing the feeling of sitting on the vespa!
Leaving from Asuncion proved to be a bit more complicated than we thought…These are the reasons: First, it was the package from Greece. We were looking for it on the website of the Greek post office, using the trucking number they had given us, but the only information we had was that it was stuck somewhere in Brazil. We visited more than once the Paraguayan post office and everyone was eager to help us, but unfortunately we had no luck. I don’t know if it was the insufficiency of the Greek Post Office, the Paraguayan one or the Brazilian customs control, but we never managed to sort out what happened. Fortunately, we have given a Paraguayan friend’s name as the receiver, so if this package is found sometime in the future, our friend Lari will inform us! After having decided to ignore the package and leave, we realized we couldn’t leave! During the previous days, we were trying to figure out what we would do regarding our new tent. The company (Red Fox) that was eager to provide us with a new tent were trying to send it to us, but when they told us that they were considering sending it by post, we were frightened that we had to stay in Asuncion for ever! Luckily, they sent it to us with a private courier company and in only one week, we had it!
Ready to go, right? – Wrong! Apparently, it was time for me to catch a terrible cold! 3 more days trapped in Asuncion with a painful sore-throat, soups and full of anger! Well, one Friday of June we felt ready to hit the road again. We had everything almost ready, we were both healthy and the vespa was fully rested! The only detail was that all this time that we were in Asuncion, the vespa wasn’t staying with us. We had it safely parked and locked in Diosnel’s business so that the other vespas (that Diosnel collects) would keep it company. The problem was that Diosnel, his wife and kids had decided to go on a 3-day excursion outside Asuncion and, as we learned after sending him a message, there was no one who could unlock the place and let us get the vespa, until Monday. Be patient…I have to inform you though, that on Monday, after 3 more days of waiting, we did it! We finally left from Asuncion!
However, while waiting for the vespa to be freed, we managed to get trapped again, in a more funny way this time! A photographer had somehow heard that a Greek couple on a vespa is somewhere in Asuncion and through some members of the vespa club, asked if he could take pictures of us. He reassured us that they would be strictly for personal use, so we agreed to meet him. We felt that the interview on TV was too much for us, and we were generally uncomfortable with the Media, but Jorge, the photographer wasn’t the Media. We met, he took some pictures and talked a bit about the trip. The real surprise came when, while we were with Jorge next to the riverside, a car with the logo of one of the Paraguayan newspapers stopped next to us. A journalist and a photographer got off the car and started organizing the interview! What interview?! We had no idea and we never managed to figure out whose idea was this interview and who had arranged it! We both silently agreed to give the interview because obviously, it was not the journalist’s fault. The only thing we strongly refused to do, was to pose like a silly couple, giving all the attention to the “love-story” and not to the journey! The interview went well and the journalist, Monica Bareiro, proved to be very professional.
For our last 2 days in Asuncion, we had decided to visit for one last time all those places with delicious local food because we knew that we wouldn’t find some recipes anywhere in the world again! Additionally to these gastronomy-walks, we took the opportunity to walk a bit more in the city center and take some last shots. The historical center of Asuncion was one of the most “humane” city centers we had visited. Small, with people who know each other and always say “good morning”. The only “dangerous” situation in the city center of Asuncion is to find yourself behind a bus (and its exhaust), while it’s trying to accelerate! That Monday, we finally departed with no problems. We said good-bye to Diosnel and Elena who had kept the vespa safe and left. We had the opportunity to say good-bye to many of our Paraguayan friends but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to spend as much time as we wanted with some others…Our memories from Paraguay will be mainly its people! Not only us, but also the Paraguayans think this way: they live in a small country in the middle of South America, next to huge countries with much more developed tourist industry and famous monuments, so they “invest” to themselves! The people’s hospitality and kindness are inarguable for everyone who has visited Paraguay!