Ciudad del Este—literally translating as the city of the east—sits on the triple border with Brasil and Argentina. It is a peculiar place, with a strange border that you can cross without having to go through immigration. As a result, it is well known as a gateway for all sorts of contraband. We had heard that it was a hectic, dirty and altogether horrid place to be. Never-the-less, we had to go there in order to cross into Brasil and so tried to make the most of it. As we had time to spare, we visited the biggest tourist attraction possibly in Paraguay: the Itaipu hydroelectric dam, situated on the river that divides Brasil and Paraguay. The second largest dam in the world—having been overtaken by the Three Gorges dam in China in 2012—it generates enough power for 75% of Paraguay and 15% of Brasil. It is over 7 km wide and almost 200 m tall. A remarkable feat of human engineering, it offered an interesting contrast to our next stop—Iguazu falls.
El Roble has probably been our favourite place so far. Run by an East German who made his way to Paraguay after the fall of the Berlin wall, it translates as the oak—Germany’s national tree. After a few years of “interesting” jobs in Paraguay, he bought a plot of land just outside the northern city of Concepción that was dry, difficult to farm and had no running water. One of the first things he planted was an oak tree, from seeds that his mother brought over from Germany.
Fast forward 20 years and he has gradually turned a desolate piece of land into a thriving paradise, with copious amounts of trees, plants and wildlife. After building a number of simple jungle lodges, he started to have guests to stay. I (Rose) managed to find out about it by one of my frequent and very random google searches. Usually they are quite fruitless; however, this was quite the opposite!
We arrived at El Roble on a Tuesday evening. We got out of the taxi after a long and hot bus journey and were pretty gobsmacked by how stunning the place was. The sun had just gone down, so we couldn’t soak up too much that evening, but immediately the farm had a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Having met Peter—the owner—and another couple of travellers, we shared a well-earned beer and supper with them. It felt like a real treat after travelling a lot over the last 7 or so days.
We went to sleep to the sound of frogs all around us. We were sleeping in a little cabin, but luckily it had air conditioning. This was something we were thrilled about as Paraguay’s temperature regularly hits the mid-forties.
Waking up the next day was really exciting. We both woke quite early, probably as we were excited to explore. At breakfast we got a real feel what the farm was about: home-baked bread, home-made cheese, cream, and home-cured and reared bacon, along with freshly laid eggs.
The garden has an incredible diversity of plants, trees and flowers. There is so much to look at: 40 foot bamboo, orchids growing on top of trees, numerous succulents and a wild flower bed to top it off!
Staying at El Roble was pretty inspiring, from their almost self-sufficiency to their bio-filtered water system. Not only this, but Peter is an extraordinary person. Having told us numerous stories, it was amazing to hear how he grew up up with so many restrictions but always strived for freedom.
We enjoyed El Roble so much that we stayed for 8 nights, the longest we have stayed anywhere yet.
Asunción was our first stop in Paraguay; we crossed the border on a bus. We were slightly nervous in doing so as we were the only tourists on the bus and had to go through immigration unlike everyone else. We crossed the border in the evening, which normally would have been fine but there was a power cut which meant we were shuffled along and got our passports stamped in the almost pitch black.
Arriving at a lovely hostel in the evening we instantly felt relaxed in Paraguay’s capital city. The people were very friendly and chatty, the city was energetic but not overwhelming. We went to a restaurant for food—we were both thrilled as they had IPA on tap and hefeweizen beer. While at the hostel we were able to get our clothes properly washed at a launderette—the first time in a while.
The next day we ventured out and soon realised that the weather was not ideal. Close to 40 degrees with high humidity, we had to return to the hostel a couple of times for cold showers! Although there is little in the way of sights in Asunción besides the Government palace and a few museums, the city has a much more laid back atmosphere than Buenos Aires.
Taking it easy any enjoying the relaxed way of life in Paraguay, we decided to go out to a bar that evening which felt more like Berlin than a city in South America. Already we had a really good feeling about Paraguay and were excited to move on to our next destination, Concepción!