Riding on the Magic Bus

Busy in Concepción, Paraguay, from Wikicommons, posted on flickr by Concepción.

Bus in Concepción, Paraguay, from Wikicommons, posted on flickr by Concepción.

We were getting ready to leave the bus, and my wife had my jacket, so she handed it to me. She’s innocent in what happened next.

With a clatter, my water bottle, which I had been holding in my lap, fell to the floor and rolled away. My daughter-in-law got down on the floor (if you’ve ever seen the floor of a Paraguayan bus, you will understand what a courageous act that was) to look for it.

Sadly, it was not evident. We had to exit the bus before it was found.

It was not our only bus loss on a little tour of southern Paraguay—one of Jon’s caps is now somewhere out there, absorbing the sweet, bitter odor of diesel exhaust, as it rides around on a clinking, clattering bus.

We visited several sites in the past few days—Paraguaría with its hills and old train station, Encarnación with it’s river walk and big city restaurants, and Trinidad to see the ruins of a Jesuit settlement.

The trip was definitely fun. But bus travel in a developing country takes some getting used to. Some notes should you ever find yourself in need of transit in Paraguay:

  • Ask people waiting on a street corner of a busy road. There are bus terminals in larger cities, but in most towns, you get a bus ride just by standing by the road, watching the destinations listed in the passing omnibuses, and hailing with your hand when you see the city you want (or if the city you want is on the way to some other city listed on the bus). You may need to brush up on enough Spanish just to ask “does the bus to Villarrica use this road?” And probably to understand the answer.
  • When you board, be ready. The bus will move before you find a seat—even before you finish climbing the stairs if the you’re the final one aboard.
  • Don’t always expect a seat. You may be startled to find a bus packed with people both sitting and standing. Get over any USA notions of personal space, and just squeeze in. Make room when people have to squeeze by. It didn’t happen to us, but Jon says pick-pockets are a potential problem on busses, so have your “stuff” secure and don’t leave a wallet in a back pocket. Anyway, just be ready to stand and hold on, sometimes for an hour or more.
  • Go with the flow. Don’t be shocked at what you’ll experience. The busses in Paraguay are basically busses that were condemned in other countries. They are not clean, they are noisy and rattle, and they smell strongly of diesel exhaust. But they don’t cost a lot and they will get you there. You never know when one you want it coming—you just have to wait—and, unless you’re headed to a big city bus terminal, you want to indicate when you want to get off. It’s not a terribly organized system, but then again, Paraguayans who don’t own cars and foreign visitors can find easy transit from town to town.
  • Drink carefully. Skip the extra coffee, and sip judiciously from your water bottle before you lose it. I have not been brave enough to use a bus restroom. Restrooms in general are not as common here—you usually find them in a restaurant and probably should buy something if you’re going to use it. Public restrooms are few and far between, and when available, they are not free. They have an attendant and you have to buy a ticket (it’s only 25 cents, which is 1,000 Guarani, but still …). You will be able to find restrooms, but don’t think that they will be as common as you’re used to (or that they will work the way you’re used to).

Anyway, despite the challenges and lost items, bus travel has been our mode of transportation in Paraguay. It’s had its drawbacks, but overall, if you’re willing to be a bit flexible and adjust your North American standards, busses in Paraguay provide an easy way to get from town to town.


1 Comment

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One response to “Riding on the Magic Bus

  1. This sounds so much like the old Green Turtle express that used to run up and down the Californian coast. Thank you for sharing!

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