From Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Asuncion, Paraguay – July 2010

I spent too much time in Santa Cruz. First I waited four days on my return from Argentina because the owner of the farm that I was planning to visit was out in holidays. I used the time to update my blog and walk in the downtown area. I walked and walked and did not find anything remarkable. I did discover a very good vegetarian restaurant just a few blocks from my hostel, on Ayacucho, four blocks straight from the main square. The food was excellent and cheap.

One day, as I was working on my blog in a pleasant cybercafé, I decided to offer my collection of music to the manager. He was listening nice ambience music and I thought that he would enjoy some of mine. He was happier than a fish in water. From that day on, he refused to charge me for my net access, and we became friends. That same day, I met a guy from La Paz who was working in Santa Cruz on a project for some environmental group. He was a graphic designer using mainly Adobe Flash. Since this is the tool that I use to write my educational tool, I got interested and we started to chat, drinking a few beers in this Irish pub just on the main square. I mentioned my project and he got very interested. We decided to meet the following day and I offered him my collection of music. That was different for me to meet someone involved in design and I enjoyed chatting with him. On the next day, I transferred the music to his laptop and he insisted to give me the latest collection of Adobe Suite. I was quite happy with the trade. I left him late in the evening thinking that I might never see him again since I was going to the farm the day after.

I only stayed two days at the farm (see previous blog entry) and returned to Santa Cruz where I got stocked again waiting for the right moment to leave for Asuncion. I was in contact with a couch surfer who suggested me to arrive at Asuncion on a Saturday.

As I got once again settled in my humble hostel room, I contacted my two new friends. I installed the new Adobe Suite at the cybercafé and gave a six hour intense programming course to my friend the designer. I feel that I left both of them on a more open path, ready to move forward and keep improving themselves. Although I was not very exited about being in Santa Cruz, I truly enjoyed my veggie restaurant where I ate twice a day for 12 to 15 bolivianos a meal. The weather had changed drastically and my last three days in Santa Cruz were very humid and freezing cold. Then came the day of my departure to Asuncion. I took a taxi from my hostel to the Terminal. It only costs 10 bolivianos and it’s easier with the backpack. The driver wanted to talk and asked a few things. I told him briefly about what I was doing and who I am. He was very friendly and supportive. He quoted me a few verses from various known historical figures and writers, all in my own sharing. Very positive and joyful. I was almost sorry to arrive so fast at the Terminal. He refused my money when I offered him. “No, please. We all need people like you. It is an honor to have you in my car.” “Ah pero que lindo!” I exclaimed. I was very touched and hanged his hand. What a beautiful exit of Bolivia!

I had bought a ticket two days earlier for the equivalent of 50 US dollars. I had been told that the service was excellent, new bus, comfortable with all the services, including food. “Yes, we will get you vegetarian meals.”

Half hour before leaving, they sent me to another small office to register my luggage. There I realized that the bus was the same one for the other three or four companies which were selling the tickets. Instead of 17 hours, as I had been told, the trip lasted 24 hours. We left at 20h00, one hour late, all freezing inside the bus. They did have a heater, but it did not work. They also had TV sets for movies and music but they were not working either. I got 2 cookies for breakfast the next day and 3 bananas and an apple for lunch. I am glad that I had bought an extra meal at the veggie restaurant, bread and peanuts, so I didn’t starve. But as everyone else, I was very cold during the entire journey.

It was like being in a mad bus. It was going and going without taking a simple moment to rest. We stopped once at the Bolivian border to get our exit stamp and change money into Guarani. It was 6h00. We stopped then at noon at the Paraguayan custom and immigration office. Although the agents were not wearing military uniforms, they behaved like army people. We exit the bus and had to form a line with our luggage in front of us. Then they took a dog to smell the inside of the bus and each one of the luggage. It lasted maybe 15 minutes. It was very cold. Then they open each one of the bags and suitcases. That’s the first time in years that I witness such a heavy control. The immigration officer was nice. He did not ask anything, put his entry stamp with a 90 days permit and gave me back my passport with a welcoming smile.

We arrived at Asuncion by 20h00 under the rain. The city was under the same extreme cold front from Argentina than Santa Cruz. The temperature had dropped from its usual 25 to 30 degrees to a cold and humid 3 to 6 degrees at night with constant rain for almost a week. My luck!

I immediately called the couch surfer with who I had been in contact. Her nickname was La Princesa. She was happy to hear my voice and insisted in coming by bus to pick me up at the terminal. I had to wait 30 to 40 minutes for her arrival. Non problem! Strangely enough I met in the bus from Santa Cruz a French woman – 29 years old – named Aurélie. She was also a vegetarian and a couch surfer. She was in contact with another host, but was waiting for a final confirmation. She checked her email in a cyber center of the terminal and got her confirmation. All terminals seem to have cyber center nowadays. We chatted for a while, then exchanged emails and a hug and then she left in the rainy night in taxi.

I met la Princesa half hour later. She was released to see me as she had had a hard time finding me. She looked nice, a bit tense and stressed but also somehow letting her little girl at the surface. We reached downtown by city bus – el colectivo – and walked two blocks to her nice comfortable and secure studio apartment. She has a patio covered with a roof of small jasmine flowers. Unfortunately for me, it was not the flowering season. I took a very pleasant hot shower, drunk a hot soup that she prepared for me and went with her later in the evening at an Italian restaurant where a few of her friends were having a birthday dinner party. They were psychologists, pedagogues, educators and an actress. Of the 8 people, there couple were gay or lesbian. By 1h00, we returned to the apartment, chatted for an hour and finally slept.

The first contact with Princesa was nice and personal. Straight away she talked honestly about herself and a few crisis moments that she lived recently. On the next day, we received a phone call in mid morning from the woman who was hosting Aurélie. She was a friend of Princesa. We all met for lunch in a modern shopping center of the middle class area of town. A copy of the American Style Shopping Center. We had lunch and spent a very pleasant time all together. Aurélie’s host was about to receive a few family members and Princesa agreed to host Aurélie also. I ended up sharing the small studio apartment with these 2 women downtown Asuncion. Aurélie would move the following day. As we returned to the apartment, Princesa showed me that we were in the middle of the red zone of Asuncion. I heard later that sex business is high in Asuncion and in Paraguay in general. “All Asuncion is a red zone” told me a friend a few days later. I then realized that we were surrounded by whore houses, one next to the other, just a block from my door, and many others in the surroundings. We were a few blocks from the district center, banks, elegant restaurants and bars, a few blocks from the Government Palace and political center, with brothels all around.

We had walked around the city and moved in various areas by bus. I didn’t find the city particularly appealing. They are a few nice historic hotels, palaces and monuments and building of the 18th and 19th centuries. But nothing that blows your mind. The district center is like any other city, standard western entertainment. The brothels were different.

See “A millionaire in a whore house, Asuncion Red Zone.”

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