October 6, 2004 - Asuncion 0m , 0k**

We’re not likely to ever come back to Asuncion. It is inexpensive enough, and has some nice places, but in general it is the antithesis of Curitiba. Asuncion, the former “capital of South America” is backwards, run down and uninspiring. Here’s a little tour, first our hotel and the view of Asuncion, Paraguay from our 9th floor room.

The hotel has a plaque saying it was built in 1983 (I could have this wrong), only 20 years ago, but the interior style is more 1920ish. The rooms are huge, the biggest non-suite hotel rooms I’ve ever seen. And the place is clean with good if slow service. It has mini-bars in the rooms – essential for late night snack and water breaks.

We headed down the broken sidewalks west, toward the river. You really can’t get too close to the river, easily, because it is separated from the city by a vast floodplain, mostly filled with a ramshackle shantytown.

The main city park, around which are the national congress buildings, the national police headquarters and about a dozen other “important” buildings looks down over the shantytown toward the river. The statue is the monument to Mcal. Lopez and the most prominent thing around. It had no plaque; but the guy the horse has his sword drawn and looks over the River Paraguay toward Argentina as if to challenge them.

The park wall is broken, the place is dirty and in places smelly, but there are lots of police around. Those are their staged shields and helmets, waiting for us or anyone else to riot unexpectedly.

Most of the major intersections downtown have real, live uniformed traffic direction.

The next picture is me walking toward the National Cathedral. It was padlocked. On the left is the Catholic University, which doesn’t seem to be much more than one moderate size building.

We also walked past the Plaza de la Democracia, the Plazas de los Heros, the Municipal Theater and other seemingly important places. All could use spray washing and fresh paint on the outside, at least. None of the streets are well paved, and few outside of the immediate few block downtown area have any kind of traffic controls. On the way back to the hotel we took some local color shots.

This might be a stationary shop downtown, but who knows. Half of what it sells is used, and it has toothpaste, cigarettes and religious mementos, among other things.

Almost every block has someone selling fruits and vegetables.

As we headed past the hotel I heard a bunch of children responding in unison to a teacher’s questions. I popped the camera in the window and took a picture of them.

We also drove around for a bit checking out the two routes out of Asuncion into Argentina, and picking up my replacement computer at FEDEX. The major intersections in this city feature walk by (them, not you) department stores – vendors walking between the stopped cars selling fruits, cutting boards, windshield wipers, newspapers, small flags and almost anything else you can think of. The people all seem nice, if a little desperate. Somebody should help this place out.

That’s about it for this national capital city of 600,000 residents. If you ever decide to ride a bike through this town a) avoid rush hour, b) know exactly where you want to go, and c) plan on taking the ferry from Puerto Ita Enramada (11km from downtown) into Argentina instead of the bridge (about 30km north of town).

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