Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From Asuncion to Chaco region of Paraguay and then Villamontes, Bolivia. Do not use Bolipar S.R.L. Buses

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We wait. We wait. We wait.  
Bolipar S.R.L. Buses - I have never had such a bad experience in all my travels - please use their opposition!

As we continue to wait (with no reason, or explanation) we start to make friends with those who are waiting.

I find out I have been charged double everyone else for our ticket - as this blog progresses you will see this is just the worst bus company! 

So I head up and they tell me this is the minimum.  After a little success I manage to get $5 back – whoopy-doo.  Little did I know, this man would then end up on our bus.  I can see he thinks I am a trouble maker!

Finally 1.5 hours late, the oldest bus I have seen, emerges and we throw our bags in and head off.  Packs of dribbling hot food are passed out.  I wonder what the heck I have done!

I get out my computer and start to do a Word doc in preparation for a blog.
Next thing the seat in front crashes back (it was empty) and jams my computer lid under it.  I ask in Spanish if he will lift his seat, and he verbally abuses me and refuses.  A mini war emerges.  He refuses to put the seat up.  I get help and win.  I put the computer away and lock it up.  Next thing the seat is jammed on my legs and I am pinned.  I ask him to put it up 2 inches.  He starts screaming at me.  I get help again and I get out and change spots with my son.  We have 2 sleeping backs and socks on, and the bus is FREEZING.  I feel my toes will snap off.  I need to elevate them but I have no leg space. So I throw my feet onto the back of his headrest.  Oops – I hit him in the head. Secretly I am a bit chuffed at this victory.  So I leave them there.

Next thing I realise this rude man who has a horizontal seat is one of the drivers.  He has a “cama”. We barely have a “semi-cama”.  So we are the only ones on the bus who have no leg space as his seat is adjusted to allow a 6 foot man to lie flat and comfortable.

So the driver gets my feet in both his hands and gives me and almighty throw. He then picks them up again and hits me!  He is screaming at me.  I can recognise he is telling me he will throw me off at the Frontier.  Yikes – it is 2 a.m.  So I curl up as best I can and suffer.

The bus stops, and a bunch of Aborigines pile in.  these poor folk have been waiting in the freeing cold for over 2 hours.  There are kids, so I give one girl my Polo Ralph Lauren jacket.  She is only about 10 years old and doesn’t take it off the whole trip.

The night starts to get worse.  We head through Police; Army; Security and Immigration checks.  We have Seat; Passport; Luggage and personal bag searches and checks.

I get to the Frontier at 4 a.m. and am in fear I will be left.  The Paraguay Frontier is hours from the Bolivian Border.  So technically you are stamped “out” of the country, but you are still in the country.

Then the fun starts.  The bus breaks down.  Not once but 5 times.  

The driver who gave me grief has to suck and spit petrol.  He glares at me, and I give him a nothing look.  I will not engage in his fight.  By now a new driver has moved into the seat, and he gives me leg room – nice man!

We have a break and fill of fuel.  It is well into the morning and we are still in the Chaco of Paraguay.

We then get a serious Bolivian border check.  But it is not Immigration.  Out comes the luggage. We line up in the hot sun and wait to be patted, and searched. 
Along with us is the other company's bus - complete with Mennonites.

We finally hit the Bolivian Immigration.  A fat dude takes my son’s hat and puts it on himself.  Now my son is very clean. He has had head-lice in Fiji, and he is paranoid (he has spotted a boy on the bus we are pretty sure has them!).  He also loves his hat and he does not want to part with it.  So when the Immigration man puts on my sons hat and pretends he will keep it, I fear we will have a fight and be arrested.  I try to calm my son down.  Fortunately the guy gives it back off his greasy head and whacks it back on my son’s head.  But now it has his dirty hair in it and my son doesn’t want it on his head.  I feel so bad for my 8 year old.   He looks like he is about to cry.

We finally are in Bolivia.  The bus continues to break down.  The driver by now is glaring at me with hate.  We have had over 12 stops for security inspections.  We have been on this bus 20 hours.  We wanted to catch the night bus to the next town from where we get dropped off.  But the rude bus driver decides to pick on me again.

He now drops us off about 6 blocks from the bus station.  I argue with him he has to take me to the bus station, but he refuses.  So fortunately there is a little hotel near there.  I drag our bags 1 block and ask him to keep them. 

We then walk to the bus terminal.

We discover there is a mini-van in the morning and they will collect us from the hotel.

Wonderful.  We walk back and check in and discover there is only cold showers.  So we rug up and go out for dinner.  The whole meal each is less than $2.  The room is big and clean and does have TV.  I also discover in the morning there is a kitchen at the outside. I am not sure if it is for public use, but I am sure if you asked nicely they would let you. They did give us bowls and spoons fro breakfast.

I am already liking Bolivia!  And my budget sure is.

We recommend the following hotel and suggest room 18 at the rear overlooking the waterway:
Residencial La Costanera 
Dir. c/- German Busch e/Mendez Arcos y Sbte. Barrao Ville Montes, Bolivia

From Santa Maria to Asuncion - our last day visiting Museums in this beautiful town in Paraguay

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We are up early organise breakfast, feed some more monkeys and  to get the local bus in Santa Maria.  We are told it goes at 10 a.m. Then we are told 10.30, and then 11 a.m.

By 1 p.m. we are still standing on the side of the road waiting.

The store has closed for lunch.  So I send my son up the side street to the hotel.  I can see him run up the block, so he is safe.  He comes back and tells me he has organised the caretaker to call us a taxi.  Great job for an 8 year old!

So about 20 minutes later we have a taxi.  It is a long way into San Lorenzo, and the taxi throws me over the day’s budget.  We then get a local bus – and I mean very local!  

We get back to Asuncion just before dark.  We go to buy our next destinations ticket, and get told the bus goes in 24 hours.  I also get overcharged I later find out.  I stand out so badly as a Gringo!

We then head over to a budget hotel opposite the bus terminal.
Crossing the road with our bags at peak our is no mean feat.
It is a small blue hotel and I can't remember the name, but it was OK and we took the least expensive room, and that too was OK.  
It was down the back near where they lived, so the wi-fi worked in the room - bonus!

The classic was the shower - which was directly over the toilet.  But worse was the toilet paper was so high (to avoid getting wet I guess) that my son had no hope of reaching it alone.

The room is very small, but is clean linen and wi-fi, and we head back to the terminal for food.  I am stuffed!

Next day we take the local bus into Asuncion Central.

First we just wander around. the problem is things are so cheap. This guy will make you a genuine silver cup - hand stamped for $5.

We visit museums, try to buy money for our next destination with no success, and then we head to a museum / gallery opposite the Palace.

Here the lady comes and gives us a gift of a CD of Paraguay music.  She is so lovely!
This is the Centro Cultural de la Ciudad Manzana de la Rivera display.

My son loves art. He is above average in his drawing skills, so when we get to the art area, he just doesn't want to leave.

We head back on the local bus.  We manage to change money at the bus terminal – this time I have been wise and shop for a good rate.

Back for our luggage.  Not impressed we are charged for storage – this was never mentioned when we asked if we could store at check-in, but it is not a lot so I don’t quibble it.

Over to the bus terminal – after God answers our prayer and literally parts the traffic like the Red Sea!
Seriously - this road takes 20 - 30 minutes to cross with no bags.  For me with bags and a child, this is a miracle!

Please stay tuned and read what happens next - as it is the bus trip from hell!

Santa Maria, Misiones, Paraguay - a quaint little town

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After saying farewell to our friends from Norway, we had a couple of days to shop, and stock up on warm thermal clothing.

“The rains are here”.  The food festival we had planned to visit on the Saturday was rained out.  It was so cold that when we were on the way to buy the clothes, my son cried.  He was in agony. He had refused to wear socks, and he was cold to the bone.
So once the clothes were paid for, he wore them back to the hotel – and was a very happy shopper.

We also went and purchased a bus ticket for the next morning to Santa Maria.  I am sure we got charged tourist prices.

We were assured the bus went into the town, but we were fortunate a we had pre-arranged accommodation, and the lady obviously knew it didn’t, and met us at the turn-off.

So here we were.  Freezing cold. And in Santa Maria.  This is another town on the Jesuit Ruins loop, in the Misiones region of Paraguay.

Here we are - this town is steeped in history. The original old cross, and our lovely little place to stay.

We had booked to stay at the original Hotel Santa Maria – right on the main square. It was such a quaint old place, and I would thoroughly recommend a stay there.

We layered up, and went out to explore the town. 

We headed out back of the museum and found monkeys in the trees.  We learnt the black bigger ones are male, and the female are the brown ones.  

They would snatch apples and bananas - right out of our hands – and wow – are the strong!  At one time I tried to hold onto the banana, and it was like a game of tug-o-war.

We found the museum, and the lady at the hotel called and arranged a staff member to open it especially for us.  It had some fabulous wooden carved statues and other items from the ruins.  I loved it, but a few were a bit scary for my son.

We wandered around town, and loved the old church and square.

The hotel has a lovely little prayer chapel in the garden, and being a Sunday we decided it would be a nice thing to go and light the candles, and have a time of thanks to God.  There were hand woven wool mats on the floor, a wooden cross, candles with shades, and lovely wooden benches. But the nicest part was the beams of sunlight that came into the room.  The silence and warmth was lovely, and it was a wonderful time.

We then head across the square to the playground.  Mt son makes a few friends.
I find myself giving the local kids and English lesson, whilst I brush up my basic Spanish words.  We talk colours, numbers, greetings, and I find that although it is over an hour, we have fun and I have a following of kids.  As we walk back via the church, my little crowd follow me and I have a bit of a sad farewell as we head into the hotel.

We were the only ones staying there, and being Sunday there was only one little store we found open.   Was glad I had brought milk and some food with me and was able to scratch up dinner.  Not bad, as I ad one glass of red wine left – enough to warm me up, with the help of our immerser and hot water bottle.

We absolutely recommend Hotel Santa Maria if you go to Missiones.  The price is reasonable and includes a lovely breakfast. There is traditional decorations throughout the hotel.  The service is lovely.
We thank them for their hospitality and kindness and being part of our promotions for our world trip.