Day 208: Arrested In Asuncion

Day 208. Unfortunately when we eventually reached the army camp which denoted the entry into Paraguay we couldn’t get our passports stamped as it was far too late due to our detour and debauched drinking and drugs session. They let us through anyway which I was really concerned about. A few hours later it was daylight and we were still travelling to Asuncion, well we were until we got another puncture which this time was fixed far quicker than before. However this did mean that we had spent a total of ten and a half hours of the journey stationary! Eventually somewhere around Pozo Colorado we pulled into a Shell petrol station where the bizarrest thing happened. One by one we were led into a small hut next to the petrol station where we got our passports stamped for entry into Paraguay, this was pretty surreal. And why a Shell station? Is it because it sponsored Paraguay during its war with Bolivia?

As we neared Asuncion the Brazilian guy and his mate were clearly becoming agitated and kept walking up to the front of the bus to see what was up ahead. Then suddenly they grabbed everything jumped off the bus and ran off into the back streets. Just a little further we were stopped by the police and extensively searched. Then barely 2km further on the exact same thing happened again. In total this happened four times before we reached the centre. I was a little concerned as this place had been pretty much a police state a few years ago so I wasn’t entirely convinced that they were not going to try and extract some cash from me. But eventually after twelve hours of being stationary, at 4pm we arrived in Asuncion which basically meant that the journey had taken four hours short of four days from La Paz where I’d been told it should only take thirty two hours. Two weeks ago I’d saved two days, now I’ve lost over two and a half! Even with this considered I was relieved and happy to have reached my final destination but then the fun really started.

Although we had arrived in Asuncion we were not dropped off at the bus station but on a dirt tack street about 1km from it. Here I noticed that an argument had started between Christophe, some of the passengers and the driver. They were all asking for their tickets back as they were all in transit and had paid for their onward destinations, the tickets had this information on them but had been taken by the driver when they got on the bus. The driver denied having them which I guess was because it seems here that the driver gets the cash from the ticket sales which he then has to use to get a cheap deal with another bus company for the onward journey at the next bus station. I figure he’d decided to keep the money particularly as the journey from Santa Cruz lasted a day longer than planned and buying tickets would have eaten into his profits. He kept making excuses saying that he hadn’t got them. Eventually after nearly an hour of this Christophe phoned the police which I was wishing he hadn’t in this county, I explained its history which didn’t seem to concern him. When the police came they did seem quite dopey but you could see that something was happening between the driver and them, they were deliberately speaking in a local dialect to ensure Christophe and the others didn’t understand what was being said. Corruption here? Never. The other eight people or so would not take the matter any further when the police came, probably quite rightly they were fearful of them. The police decided to take Christophe and driver to the local police office based at the bus station and although I told them that I was ok and was ending my journey in Asuncion I was ‘asked’ to go with them. I guess they must have thought, hey two tall northern Europeans, they must be together. Poo I thought, or words to that effect.

My relief at arriving had now gone. So there I was, sat in a room painted in two tone green with a dark wooden glass cabinet pushed against the wall with first world war type guns in it, hopefully just for display, while Christophe was talking to the police. A policeman started to talk to me but clearly I had no idea what he was saying but got the impression that he wanted me to change “mi amigos” mind. I acted dumb which was no mean feat as the competition in this room was quite high. After repeating “no hablo español” numerous times they pointed at the opening door and said “He speaks English.” The guy sat down in front of me and said, “Hello, how are you”, I said “Fine thank you how are you.” He looked blank and then said, “What is your name” and I replied. Sadly this seemed to be the limit of the “He speaks English” guy as he then went on to ask me questions using the old British technique of communicating in foreign languages by still speaking in Spanish but just louder and slower than the other guys, great! I just decided to keep saying random sentences with the words British Embassy randomly placed into them until they let me go. I’m not sure if it was that which made them let me go or the fact I was irritating them by constantly talking, probably the latter. Christophe was not so lucky but to be honest I was quite happy to leave the Walloon there.

I headed off in a rather dodgy looking taxi to a hotel and as usual the driver took me to the wrong place as my pronunciation is still not great, and the Lonely Planet maps seem just as confusing if not more so to taxi drivers, must stop forgetting, LP maps are crap. Later Christophe came to the same hotel and told me that the police had held him for two and a half hours where they were trying to seek a deal with the coach company as it appeared that it had been operating illegally in Paraguay. The police wanted money to keep quiet but Christophe would get nothing, losing about $70us on his ticket which here can buy quite a lot. He has to go back in the morning and he asked if I wanted to join him. I didn’t actually say the words “f**k off” but I think he could see it in my eyes as I’m still annoyed he said nothing to the police about me not travelling with him. We parted company. This evening I really can’t say how glad I was to find a Burger King. I sat down with my bizarre gift of three coca cola Santa Claus tree decorations, I’d forgotten that it’s so close to Christmas, the weather doesn’t seem quite right, it’s far too hot. I sat back and stuffed my face, it was good, after four days of eating very little good old western stodge was great, never has a burger tasted so great.

Paraguay: In A Right Police State

I don’t know much about this place, I’m only passing this way as it’s en-route to Foz do Iguacu, a huge waterfall on the Paraguay, Brazil and Argentinean border. As with most countries in South America it has a bit of an unstable past. In 1524 Alejo García explored the area what is now know as Paraguay and on the 15th August 1537 Asuncion, one of the oldest cities in South America, was founded by Juan de Salazar and Gonzalo de Mendoza. The name derives from the foundation date which was on the feast day of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, the day of Our Lady of the Assumption. Initially the country was run from the Viceroy of Peru but this was transferred to the Viceroy of La Plata with its capital at Buenos Aires. In 1810 because of the overthrow of the Spanish King by Napoleon the leaders in Buenos Aires demoted the Spanish Viceroy deciding to govern in the Kings name. This change of power astounded the Paraguayans who didn’t want to be ruled by a Buenosaireans (Porteños), this finally lead to independence on 17th May 1811.

Then the trouble really started! Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco soon took power and between 1814 and 1840 isolated the country from the rest of the world. He became known for ruthless suppression and terror which led to him being given the name “El Supremo.” He abolished opposition, newspapers and the post office, established the secret police and best of all he ordered all dogs to be shot! Partly initiated by Argentina’s desire to re-incorporate Uruguay and Paraguay back into its Viceroy of the River Plate, between 1865 and 1870 the megalomaniac Francisco Solano Lopez took Paraguay to war with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay which eventually led to its defeat. Luckily although Argentina wanted to ‘absorb’ Paraguay, Brazil wanted it to remain as a cushion between the two countries. Paraguay did however, lose some territory to the two powers but sixty years later gained some from Bolivia after the Chaco war. After a military coup in 1954 General Alfredo Stroessner took power and ran the country under a state-of-siege provision which limited political and personal freedoms until 1989, this slowly isolated the country from the rest of the world. His leadership came to an end after another military coup which started democratic reform. But it wasn’t over yet as just last year there was another foiled military coup. What am I doing here?