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Grit, Grime and Concrete

Ciudad del Este, ParaguayFrom Puerto Iguazu in Argentina to the border town of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay it’s a one hour bus ride through three countries (Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay) costing 8 pesos ($2). The ride also set a record for the shortest amount of time I’ve ever been in one country – Brasil, [...]

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

From Puerto Iguazu in Argentina to the border town of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay it’s a one hour bus ride through three countries (Argentina, Brasil, and Paraguay) costing 8 pesos ($2). The ride also set a record for the shortest amount of time I’ve ever been in one country – Brasil, 15 minutes. After the 20 hour bus rides I’ve become accustomed to this ride was a nice change of pace. The hour ride dumped me off at the Paraguayan border town of Cidudad del Este.

Ciudad del Este is, well, it’s…interesting. Immediately crossing the border into Paraguay my senses were completely bombarded. I immediately felt the sweat dripping from my forehead when the daily humidity combined with the heat of the mid-afternoon. The bag on my back that only seems to be getting bigger and heavier didn’t help matters much (stupid tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and tarp). My ears were reverberating with loud buses, horns, motorcycles, and people yelling. My nose picked up the most amazing mixture of diesel exhaust fumes, grilled burgers, sweat and the sweet aroma of human waste.

Visually, wow, I’m not sure how to explain the city. Maybe chaotic could sum everything up but that word just doesn’t seem strong enough to portray what was happening around me. The city is known as one of the shopping mecca’s of South America and for good reason. The tax free shopping has created a mass of humanity that has stuffed itself into a downtown area consisting of nothing but stores and street stalls stacked on top of one another all advertising the latest electronic gadgets, clothing and fake apparel. The street action is a feast for the eyes with people, motorcycles, trucks and cars all moving merchandise from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The city is the human equivalent of an ant colony.

Like any good type of shopping mecca the city accepts any form of currency. The question was which currency did I prefer? Brazilian Reals, Argentine Pesos, Paraguayan Guarani’s or US dollars? It made little difference. All prices will be converted on the spot into whichever price you prefer. Most times prices aren’t initially quoted in the local currency but are supplied in Brazilian Real’s or U.S. dollars.

When I do use the Paraguayan currency I can’t help but laugh. The exchange rate is 4,100 Guarani’s to 1 dollar making me a recent multimillionaire. On top of seeing bills with five zeros the paper currency is so heavily used here that half of the notes I carry in my pocket at any give time are usually held together by tape and have a layer of grime on them that rivals that of the street.

From Ciudad del Este
You really have to feel the bill to believe it.

Tax free shopping combined with an amazing number of electronic stores has meant camera shopping for me. I told myself I wouldn’t buy another camera after my last one was stolen but when the prices here are the equivalent to those back home how could I resist? There are certain features missing on my current camera that really annoy me and I’m looking for a slight upgrade. A lack of zoom, some type of image stabilization and a faster shutter speed are the three biggest things that often leave me frustrated while trying to capture my surroundings and I’m constantly losing any type of action shot of my surroundings. After a few hours of moving from store to store and a couple more hours on-line reviewing cameras I’ve settled on purchasing a Panasonic FH-20. I’m hoping this one will last a while but if not it won’t leave me so heartbroken as when I lost my last two cameras.

Beyond shopping there is one of the worlds largest operational dams fifteen minutes outside the city. I took a trip out to the damn in the morning and it was quite impressive. Some of the building facts were staggering.

  • The amount of earth excavated could fill a line of dump trucks long enough to circle the globe three times.
  • The dam uses 15 times more concrete than the construction of the Eurotunnel.
  • While in construction workers dumped enough concrete every fifty minutes to create the equivalent of a twenty story building.
  • The iron and steel used in Itaipu dam could build 380 Eiffel Towers
  • During peak construction workers received a 30 ton flat-bed truck of concrete every fifteen minutes, 24 hours a day, for four years.
  • Today, the dam produces 26% of Brazil’s electricity and 78% of Paraguay’s electricity equating to 75 billion KWh per year.
From Ciudad del Este

Itaipu Dam. The foreground is only the spillway and the actual dam is the entire
horizon line.

At the same time I couldn’t shake a certain amount of sadness by knowing how much man can alter nature and our surroundings in such a dramatic and clear-cut way. A massive amount of land was flooded in the creation of a man-made lake that stretches on for 170 kilometers and is, on average, 7 kilometers wide. At the same time the creation of the dam has provided an alternative to coal-fired electric plants and has established large tracts of land as nature reserves. The dam stands as a powerful symbol for how much we can change this planet for the best or the worst.

Photos of Itaipu Dam and Ciudad del Este

Filed under: Cubicle Ditcher, Paraguay

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Wade Shepard July 9, 2011, 10:54 am

    That has to be some kind of record: 3 countries, $2, 1 hour.

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