Ciudad Del Este: Getting Around It

· by wendy · paraguay

by special guest writer Todd-a-plop, who recently visited us for on our tour of Argentina and Paraguay. Thanks to him for providing this excellent post and photos!

“I’m sorry, did I just step off a plane that landed in 1981?”
That was my initial reaction last night when Delta Air Lines, which had just delivered me to Minneapolis 15 minutes after the last connecting flight of the night had departed, handed me a hotel voucher giving me overnight accommodations at the Ramada Inn. “This Ramada is very nice, sir” the gate agent said in a chipper, Minnesota accent.
“We’ll see about that” I smiled meekly, and rolled with the punches. After all, when you travel… that’s what you have to do… be it navigating the US by plane, or navigating Paraguay by… well, whatever mode of getting around you can find.

Wendy is kind of an expert when it comes to securing transport. She has a pointed list of questions for bus companies which made me giggle as she would ask each one directly, then simultaneously translate the answer to English in her head and consider the ride. “Que tipo de boos?” “Tienes wifi?” “Cuanto cuesta?” She navigates the humanity that is a South American bus station, effortlessly taking these questions around to several bus vendors to secure the most comfortable ride possible. Both Wendy and Dusty had emphasized that buses can be an adventure in South America. I never imagined adventure would translate into fried chicken.

We secured seats on an early bus from Encarnación over to Ciudad del Este. The driver assured us the trip would take 4 hours. Well, maybe 4 and a half. Maybe 5. “Mas tarde”, a term frequently used here, flashed through my head. I envisioned arriving sometime between 1pm and midnight. This particular bus was your standard Greyhound type environment. The seats, aside from newer yellow headrest covers emblazoned with the Shell gasoline logo, probably hadn’t been cleaned in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, we comfortably settled in and watched the entertainment of entire families getting on and off at unmarked stops. The villages were small; but it was neat to see kids running out to greet the bus as their loved ones came in for a Sunday stop-in. People navigated the aisle with all kinds of bags in tow, stepping over the puke which someone had left for us early on in the ride.

And then came my dream girl. She was old, wrinkly, and had missing teeth… but I paid little attention to those as my eyes were drawn to her basket. After hours on this jostly, stop-start-stop-start ride, I was hungry. And she had food. I recognized the chiba, a traditional bread filled made from cassava with a meat and potato filling. As Wendy purchased an empanada, I pointed to a different treat I saw in the woman’s basket.

“Que es esto?”, [What is this?] I honestly had no idea from looking at it.

“Pollo”, she said matter-of-factly. She had chicken. On a bus. Wendy often answers the question of “Why?” with “Why not?” And so, throwing any obvious health concerns to the wind, I bought and ate what affectionately became known as ‘bus chicken.’

We arrived in Ciudad del Este after about 5 hours, with digestive systems and our plan of attack still intact. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Sunday. Which meant the Itaipu Dam was closed (despite Wendy’s prior-day efforts to ensure that it wasn’t.) So was everything else in town, apparently. So our next mode of transport was by cab, as a driver agreed to take us to a centrally located hotel, which we requested be clean and safe. The driver obliged. He also agreed to pick us up the next morning at 7am and take us to the dam. We walked around the deserted, somewhat creepy streets of Ciudad del Este a bit, and, finding almost nothing open – and settled on a Burger King for lunch. I’m not sure what was on top of my “Whopper Criollo,” but I ate it anyway. On the way back to the hotel, we found some Old Mama hocking more delicious chicken and other home-cooked goodies – which we took back for a night of Rummy and Brahma (the Miller Light of South America.)

The next morning our cab driver took us up to dam, where I quickly realized I left my passport in my room at the now-checked-out-of hotel. He got around that by calling the hotel and getting them to put it aside; then he stuck around and took the dam tour with us. Our thoughts of how much his ‘personal guide services’ were going to cost us quickly faded as we rode a comfy shuttle to finally view Itaupu.. one of the seven manmade wonders of the world. It powers all of Paraguay with just 20% of its capacity ! We were told by the damn tour guide that we were lucky because we got to see one of the 3 spillways actually open. The force of the water was unreal!

We even briefly journeyed to the other side of the dam – in Brazil! We learned there that our taxi-guide was actually involved in the construction of the dam. It was really cool to get his perspective and you could tell how genuinely proud he was of being a part of creating something so monstrous.

After the tour, taxi-guide then took us back into the city to collect my passport – and proceeded to drive us down to a mysterious, difficult-to-find ferry that would take us across the river to Argentina. After a 20 minute ride down south of Ciudad del Este, we eventually wound down a hillside road to a bluff overlooking the rivers, with a beautiful view of Brazil and Argentina. We said goodbye to friendly taxi-guide (the whole morning trip only cost the 3 of us about $25 USD, much less scary than we thought), and admired the views and shot a few photos. A customs person suddenly grabbed Wendy, urging ‘Mira! Mira!’ (Look! Look!) toward the river. We expected her to be showcasing the views. Instead we were treated to a police boat towing in a dead body! Apparently, it’s not entirely uncommon come to the river to bathe (despite signs prohibiting it), and get caught in the current and end up drowning.

Wendy’s 2 Cents: The first photo is the view from us standing in Paraguay. The hill on the right is Argentina, on the left is Brazil.

A few minutes later, we boarded the ferry and headed over to Puerto Iguazu. Sans dead body, the views were beautiful – as the 3 of us together appreciated just how crazy and adventurous getting around can be.


Itaipu Dam Tour
Cost: FREE!
Wendy: Pretty damn interesting.
Dusty: Giant water pipes are amazing.
Todd: Are dam jokes appropriate? Yes they are! Dam good!

La Balsa
What: Ferry from Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
What’s So Special: Don’t have to cross through Brazil to get between Argentina and Paraguay
Location: Who knows. Take a taxi from Ciudad Del Este.
Cost: $7,000 PYG or $1.75 USD
Duration: maybe 15 minutes

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