After we got rid of most cockroaches and got under our mosquito net, it seems like the rooms in Hotel Rosa are also used diligently to facilitate the extramarital escapades of half Asunción. The city has a small historical center and a number of interesting museums. Most museums in Paraguay are free to visit. A nice way to learn more about the history of Paraguay, the Guaraní and the Franciscan and Jesuit reductions, the Chaco war with Bolivia and the War of the Triple Alliance with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, although it is quite a challenge on our spanish knowledge. In Asunción, the ordinary districts and the slums alternate almost randomly, but it really caught us by surprised when it appears that the square in front of the cathedral has been serving as a new slum for several months now. People are carrying wooden beams, roofing sheets and other materials around and a passerby reminds us that it might be wise to leave the camera in our bag. Too bad, because the city could be much nicer, but also typical for the cities in Paraguay or maybe even for the entire country.
With Asunción as a base we decide to visit a number of places of the Circuito de Oro. The Circuito de Oro is a collection of villages and small towns that are mainly known for their traditional craftsmanship, but also of historical interest because of the many Franciscan reductions. Areguá is a wonderful change after all cities of the past few days. A small quiet village, inviting to relax for a while on the banks of the Ypacaraí lake and afterwards visit Paraguay’s most important pilgrimage and religious capital, Caacupé. Every year on December 8, hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans visit the basilica. The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Milagores is mainly large and practical, but in our opinion not exactly beautiful or elegant. There are still a few places on our list, but since the bus connections are a bit less convenient than hoped for we decided to visit San Lorenzo and Itauguá on our way back to the capital. Itauguá is still a small beautiful place with elegant buildings and long colonnades that give the streets a vintage atmosphere. In San Lorenzo the mass is still going and occasionally a few children run out to get popcorn: one popcorn stall at each of the three entrances of the church.
And then it is time to go camping. About three hours south of Asunción is the Parque Nacional Ybycuí with a number of small waterfalls, jungle, butterflies and a camping spot. So we take the bus down to Ybycuí where we do some shopping and then discover that the entrance to the park is 25 kilometers away and there no longer is a bus service. So we decide to walk. And hitchhike. And that works out pretty smoothly. After walking for 5 kilometers we get the first ride, we can travel along for 10 kilometers. And after the next 5 kilometers of walking we are picked up by a couple of travelers who visited the park and brought to the entrance. The way back would be more or less identical, but in the pouring rain.
The parks visitor center is deserted and there is no tents in the camping spot. The last car leaves and we have the park for ourselves. We pick a spot under a huge cactus and put up our tent for the first time this trip. A shower at the waterfall and an evening meal between hundreds of colorful butterflies fill up the evening. As we crawl into our tent, the butterflies made way for moths. The entire tent is full of the most beautiful critters, luckily only on the outside. And in addition to the full moon, countless fireflies illuminate the rain forest. At night, it starts to rain and since the visitor center is just as deserted the next morning, we decide to walk two routes through the Paraguayan jungle with our entire luggage. We had hoped to leave most of our backpacks at the visitors center. When we decide to return to the village about five hours later, we quickly get a ride from a friendly local. In Ybycuí we check into a small room and hang our wet clothes all over the place to dry. We aren’t really sure whether everything is wet from the rain or the sweat.