Diving deeper into Paraguay

After visiting Ybycuí we continue down south towards San Ignacio Guasú as a couple of days stopover before Encarnación will be the last city of our trip through Paraguay. We visit a few attractions, including the central square which, like all other towns and cities, is built according to the same layout: The church with a free-standing bell tower, a number of long buildings with their either original or reconstructed colonnades on the sides, a column or fountain at its center and a number of monuments for Paraguays war heroes or other famous persons. From San Ignacio Guasú we visit two small villages untouched by the main road Ruta 1. The construction of the road has led to the growth of villages like San Ignacio Guasú into small towns with all amenities. But that of course also slightly detracts from the charm of the place. Santa Maria de Fe seems to have lingered in time. The sprawling but sparsely populated village seems almost deserted when we walk around. We decide to walk the twenty kilometers to Santa Rosa and return to San Ignacio Guasú by bus. A perfect little circle to enhance our impressions of rural Paraguay.

While browsing through the travel guide, we decide to add a loop to our itinerary in the direction of Laureles and Cerrito. But as want to take a bus to Cerrito the next day it starts to rain, so: no bus. We adapt our plan accordingly by traveling to the far southwest and taking a bus to Pilar. We wait for about three hours for the bus to catch and arrive in Pilar two hours later. The local cotton industry has helped Pilar become a pleasant city to spend a few days, visit some pretty museums and gaze at Argentina, across the Rio Paraguay. About fifty kilometers to the south lies Humaitá, an important fortress at the time of the Triple Alliance War and the ruin of what used to be the largest church in Paraguay. The road to Humaitá is unpaved and the bus driver is kind enough to inform us that the next bus back to Pilar is scheduled in two days. We settle our hopes to hitchhike back to Pilar, although that hope quickly diminishes as we only count a handful of cars in the direction of Pilar during the almost two-hour ride. Humaitá is definitely worth the effort, because the quiet village with long and wide avenues, numerous old houses and a ruin that appeals to the imagination shows a new dimension of Paraguay. A few hours later our worries about finding a ride back home seem unfounded. Soon an old jeep stuffed to the roof with bread stops to pick us up. Dad is on his way with his two sons, the oldest of whom is getting driving lessons during ‘our’ ride. The road is — except for a yellow anaconda — completely empty, so we do not worry about that. The old barrel only runs in low gearing and first and second gear with top speed around twenty kilometers per hour, so not a lot to go wrong.

Encarnación is the last stop of our trip through Paraguay. The Rio Paraná is a few kilometers wide at Encarnación and with the artificial beach with small beach bars we imagine ourselves at the seaside. From Encarnación we visit the most famous attraction that Paraguay has to offer: The Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jezús. Again we do not have to wait long for a ride to visit the two villages, and we have the opportunity to practice our Spanish during our hitchhikes. Although the ruins of Trinidad are one of Paraguay’s biggest attractions, we count no more than ten visitors when we spend a couple of hours strolling through the remains of the churches, bell tower and houses. At the ruins in Jezús are, except for two guards, abandoned. All in all perfect places to picture the time when the reductions were the center of society in this region of South America.

After three nights in Encarnación our stay in Paraguay is over. We are still a bit curious about the sparsely populated northern provinces of the country, but the cities, villages and parks that we have visited in recent weeks have all contributed to a great feel about the decision to visit Paraguay.

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