Arriving in the neighboring Brazilian border town
From Curitiba my plane reached the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguazu shortly after midnight. Then my taxi dropped me off in front of my hostel. It was already about 2 am. Not the best time to check in anywhere, but I had told the hostel people beforehand that I would arrive late and they said it would be no problem. Or was it? Because I rang the doorbell in vain for minutes and when I was about to go look for another hostel, someone opened the door and I was able to check in.
Only a few hours later I had to get up again, because I wanted to cross the Paraguayan border and enter the capital Asuncion this very day. I asked before in my hostel, how I can cross the border best.
Missing stamp on the border
They told me that there is a public bus that takes me across the border and I only need to get my passport stamped at the Paraguayan border. Everything went well so far, I took the bus and the bus passed the Brazilian departure office without stopping. Nobody got off, so I thought it would be alright. But when I wanted to enter Paraguay, the immigration officer asked me where my Brazilian exit stamp was. It was lacking!
As it turned out, Paraguayans, Argentines and Brazilians can cross the border here without getting their passports stamped. I, on the other hand, had to do so, which meant that I had to walk all the way back to the Brazilian exit authority. The way led me over the Paraguayan-Brazilian Friendship Bridge across the Parana River. When I got my stamp, I returned to the Paraguayan Immigration and finally entered the country.
Paraguay - an overlooked and poor country in South America
Paraguay is a country that is one of the least visited countries in South America, next to the Guianas. Not only does the country have only few spectacular sights but the landscape basically consists of nothing but pampas and jungle. The landlocked state between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil is also one of the poorest countries in South America. I noticed this already when I entered the first Paraguayan city after the border, Ciudad del Este. In the Brazilian counterpart, Foz do Iguazu, consists of new houses and fancy cars. Here I even saw chicken buses that I hadn't seen since Central America. Also the city has a huge unfinished and abandonded skyscraper than can't be overlooked.
When I told a Brazilian before that I wanted to visit Paraguay, he laughed at me and asked me what I wanted in this shithole. The Brazilians look down on this country with an arrogance similar to the Europeans looking down on Brazil. The financially stronger Brazilians like to buy real estate and companies in Paraguay and to earn from it.
Cheap Eletronics & Drug smuggling
Ciudad del Este attracts foreign tourists mainly because of the cheap electronics that are available on every corner and in every mall. Everything for a reasonable price. The centre of the city is dominated by trade and has the character of a bazaar because of the many stalls of itinerant traders. Only a part of this trade is legal, but a large part is based on smuggling with the neighbouring countries Argentina and Brazil. Also a lot of fake branded goods are sold.
Otherwise the city is not worth seeing and you should watch out at night where you walk, because in this border triangle some drug gangs have made themselves at home.
After a few days in Paraguay I returned to Ciudad del Este. But my hostel was located in the Brazilian neighboring town Foz do Iguazu because there were no hostels in Ciudad del Este. When I wanted to take the bus to Brazil over the border at about 7 pm, they explained to me that the bus stops its service already at 6 pm. So I had to take a taxi, something I normally dont do. The taxi waited for me at the two border posts so that I could get my stamps.
The robbery of the century
In 2017, the city hit the global headlines, when a professional Brazilian gang robbed no less than 40 million $ from Proseguir, a company that transports cash! The press dubbed this act the robbery of the century, because never before has so much money been robbed. The 50... 80 perpetrators were extremely cunning, carrying heavy guns, setting fire to cars as roadblocks and escaping across the Brazilian border by speedboat. Some of the robbers were captured or killed, others are still free today.
A gigantic dam
But only one day later I returned to Paraguay to see the huge Itaipu dam. Until the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in China in 2006, Itaipu was the largest power plant on earth in terms of output. The hydroelectric power plant draws its energy from the Parana River, the border river between Brazil and Paraguay, which also feeds the huge Iguazu Waterfall.
Brazil financed the entire plant. It increased its foreign debt as a result, but now feeds one-sixth of its electricity consumption through this plant. Paraguay would not have been able to finance and organise the huge project itself.
Visiting the dam for free
You can also visit it from the Brazilian side, but it is more touristict and more expensive there, because the Brazilians have privatized it. On the Paraguayan side you pay nothing. In Paraguay my friend Daisy, who I had met in Asuncion before, was able to accompany me, a very interesting person, who is vegetarian like me, likes rock music and is interested in German philosophers.
I met her in one of the many shopping centers, we visited her house for a short time and had lunch nearby. Afterwards we drove to the visitor center at Hernandarias a little north of Ciudad del Este and took a guided tour through the huge dam and we saw the gigantic dam wall.
Crossing the border in pouring rain
The whole time the rain was pouring down on us. It rained so hard that even the water from the manhole covers overflowed. The city surely does not have a well functioning sewage system.
We went to a vegetarian restaurant before I wanted to take the bus back in the afternoon. I had been told that the last bus leaves at 6 pm. When I arrived at the bus stop shortly after 5 p.m., they told me: "No, that's not true!" Because the last bus leaves already at 5 p.m. It gets earlier and earlier! So I had to take a taxi again or walk across the border in pouring rain. Crazy as I am, I decided for the latter. Normally I hate rain, but this tropical rainfall didn't bother me at all and I really enjoyed leaping through the rain.
On the Brazilian side I suddenly heard a "Hey, stop". A border official approached me and thought at that moment, what kind of idiot would cross the border on foot in this crappy weather, it could only be a drug mule. But no, I don't have something like that in my pockets and when he saw my German passport, the border official dismissed me with a friendly "Auf wiedersehen".