On the way to Ciudad del Este we read this in our book:
“You-name-it-they-got-it! The centrat streets of Ciudad del Este are like a giant, tacky electronic city market. Originally named after the former dictator, the town struggles to shake off it’s reputation as one of South America’s most corrupt cities.”
What can one say to this?
When we were bombarded by men with sling bags offering us money exchange services upon getting off the bus we started to realise what the book meant. The girl at the information office was sweet but totally clueless about everything we asked her… the only thing we managed to pull out of her was that hostels in the city centre were going to me more expensive than the ones near the terminal, and that we could check out one just behind the station.
We started walking towards that place and on the way we saw another two: the first cost 70,000 Guarani a night and was fully booked. When we asked the lady for the hostel we were initially looking for, she scorned and quickly replied: “No, no, aquelo no…” (No, no, that one no), while rolling her eyes. We obviously didn’t know why she’d react that way, but I had a feeling it had to do it ‘that’s for other purposes”. She recommended another one near her place and when we got there we saw it was more like an old house that had had some extra rooms built around it. The owner looked at us from head to toe and said: 100,000 Guarani. I was confused, thinking she was quoting the price for one person. Aparently she wasn’t! That was the price for the four of us, so as soon as we saw the room – clean, no bug, no rats nor other insects and animals, with airconditioning and bathroom inside – we agreed!
We liked the place even more when she offered to cook dinner for us upon hearing we didn’t eat meat. She said we won’t be able to find any decent vegetarian food around, so she offered to make potato omelet with salad for 8,000 guarani each (USD2). We were delighted at that and when she served us the food we all agreed it was the best potato omelet we had ever eaten!! (even though it came with rice and beans instead of salad).
We went for a walk that evening and we passed by the hostel we had looked for initially – it had “brothel” written all over it!! We couldn’t believe the girl at the information office would actually recommend it to us. Anyway, it was around 7pm and was just getting dark. Less than 5 minutes into our walk we were already pretty freaked out by the surroundings – it was so dark everywhere and there were dogs, loud shirtless men and booze shop everywhere. We were on this street full of stores, and every second one was selling nothing but alcohol. We knew the area around the bus terminal was not the safest anyway, so we made sure our walk was not one minute longer than necessary.
A funny thing did happen though, we went into a shop to buy some things for breakfast and the lady there was selling cheese. She gave us a bit to taste and we decided we wouldn’t buy it, as it was definitely a very traditional type of cheese and we didn’t feel particularly drawn to it. We said ‘No, thank you”, the lady smiled, wrapped the whole piece she had cut from (around 300 grams) and put it in our bag anyway. We repeated that we were not intending to buy it, but she just said “Gift, it’s a gift”. Wow… ok, we thanked her and left the shop in wonder.
Next day over breakfast we were shocked by how delicious we found it! So when we went back to buy some more the lady recognized us (which couldn’t have been that difficult to be honest, as we really seemed to be the only tourists in that part of town) and welcomed us with a big smile. We told her we loved the cheese and wanted to buy some more. She was even happier at that, so cut a piece similar to the previous day’s one. She put the fruits and everything else we had bought in a bag and quoted us the price for everything. We immediately recognized it was way too little, so we pointed out that she must have left something out. She said “No, no mistake” and then told us the cheese was for free again “Because you came back”, she said. We were stupefied! She was giving us the cheese for free again just because we came back to her shop??
I then saw some little candies on the counter and thought to myself ok, let’s just buy something else then. I asked her how much a candy was and she said “500 Guarani”. While I was still thinking how many to ask for, she put her hand in the bowl, took out a fist full and dropped it in my open backpack before I had a chance to react. “Gift” she said again, “gift”. We tried to pay her for them but she wouldn’t even hear of it, so we quickly left the shop feeling afraid if we didn’t she’d give us a bunch of other things as well.
We walked out and couldn’t really believe what had just happened. “Do you think we’re the only tourists who’ve ever come to this place?” I asked. “I think we’re the only tourists who’ve ever come to this city” replied Jess. We had a good laugh and then decided to go back to the shop and take a photo with the lady then write about her on our blog. Which we are doing right now. Make sure you do pay her a visit if you pass by Ciudad del Este. You can find her shop on a street behind the bus terminal, about 7-10 mins walk, it’s all the way at end and just opposite a burger place. Her name is Lilly and this is what she looks like:).
The thing to do when in Ciudad del Este (if you’re not interested in the shopping of course) is see the dam nearby. It’s about 15 km away and very easily reachable by bus. It’s a pretty impressive construction, especially if you’re an engineer I would imagine. Apparently this dam supplies 90% of Paraguay’s electricity and 25% of Brazil’s (which is A LOT). It is a binational undertaking and we’re not sure what the Brazilians think of it, but the Paraguayans are extremely proud of what they have built. Their marketing is pretty good as well; just before starting the tour we were taken to a room where we were shown a couple of videos that surprised us in terms of quality and professionalism. The dam itself… well… it’s nothing outstanding in terms of aesthetics, but it is impressive as a construction.
Is it worth going to Paraguay just to see the dam? Well… depends what floats your boat, but the answer for the 4 of us would be “No”. Especially if you’re planning on seeing the nearby Iguazu Falls (which we did two days later). It’s simply incomparable.
We were happy with leaving Ciudad del Este as soon as possible after fulfilling our goal of seeing the dam, so we tried to figure out how we could get to El Paraiso. Only then we realised we had gotten our information wrong and the place was one hour away from Asuncion not from where we were right now. There was no way we were going to go back 8-10 hrs by bus, so we decided to just cross back into Argentina to finally see the Iguazu Falls… and then head over to Brazil to get some sun on our faces cause we had been so very cold everywhere for the past 4 months…
We went back to our interesting hostel for another night and the next morning we were on the bus to Puerto Iguazu, super excited to see what they refer to as the most majestic and spectacular falls in the world, and one of the most astonishing natural beauty on the planet. But we had no expectations :p.
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