After 36 hours in the Chaco, Manuel and I travelled to Asunción (5h). A day in the slow-moving capital left me with the strong impression that the country operates on a very different rhythm and cultural landscape than elsewhere I'd been on the continent. It feels like South America, but slightly off, slow-paced and quiet even when it's busy. The people look visibly unique, express themselves likewise and all practice the particular all-day custom of sipping iced yerba matte tea which they call tereré, carrying their large round thermoses with them everywhere. The architecture speaks of a fragmented history (not surprisingly given the time spent from 1954 to 1989 under the clench of dictatorial president Alfredo Stroessner, and later his party followers), with all the usual large contemporary advertisements shouting out from aged colonial and 1950's building backdrops. Though it admittedly felt a bit boring, I would also be fascinated to discover more of what lies under these obvious immediate contrasts, and the palpable national pride tying it all together. Dividing his time between rural and urban poles of Paraguay, my friend has learnt that an open mind and patience are essential to getting anything done here, a lot of engrained principles still dictate how things work.
I completed my trip to São Paulo by heading to the somewhat depressed and sparsely dense shopping paradise of Ciudad del Este (6h) on the border with Brazil and then taking a final night bus to the Paulista capital. Crossing the bridge and immigration into southern Brazil was a shocking step back into the economically developed world: smooth well-marked roads, unending fields of monoculture crops (sugar cane, wheat, soybeans, maize and even forest plantations), rich capital-imbided architecture and a one-way ticket that costed nearly a hundred bucks for just a 15 hour trip! Aside from spending time with a good friend I haven't seen in 6 years, part of the attraction of coming to Brazil's financial and industrial hub again is to get a first-hand impression of the large economic transformations and growth the country has been experiencing for the last decade. Both combined, it also promised some good nights out in the land of samba.