We took a supply ship up the Rio Paraguay for three days in search of travel enlightenment. It wasn’t always easy, but it was unforgettable. That’s Paraguay in a nutshell.
Directed, filmed and edited by Nick Neumann
Hosted – Walker Dawson
Guitar Solo, #5 by Neil Young
West Dub by Kanka Dub
After three incredible months in Brazil, we entered Paraguay at the Ciudad del Este border crossing. The Brazilian-Paraguayan border at Ciudad del Este is one of the busiest border crossings in South America, with thousands of Brazilians crossing into Paraguay to buy cheap electronics and other goods.
Although refreshingly off the South America Gringo trail, the recently constructed Urbanian Hostel was a breath of fresh air and a nice way to ease into this chaotic and sometimes difficult country.
Paraguay is country of contrasts. It is has one of the highest income inequality rates in the world, worse than Rwanda or Papua New Guinea. The rich and poor live side by side as seen here. The Chacarita slum recently flooded, sending residents to set up shantytowns on the lawn of the presidential palace and surrounding plazas.
Tereré is the most popular drink in Paraguay. It is consumed in a gourd filled with mate tea leaves, a little lemon and mint, and mixed with ice cold water. It is sucked up through a metal straw and quickly refilled. Paraguayans of all ages and classes drink it from sunrise to sunset to counter the unrelenting heat.
Whatever ailment you have, there is always a solution at the sprawling Mercado 4 in Asuncion.
Panteón Nacional de los Héroes.
Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, is filled with old world stores, where nothing much has changed in 50-100 years.
Guarani kids playing on the Rio Paraguay.
Concepcion, a few hundred miles up the Rio Paraguay, was once a wealthy port town which has fallen on harder times.
Riding the Dalma up the Rio Paraguay at sunset. To read more about our journey up the river, check out http://wearebreakingborders.com/2014/09/24/the-dalma-bums/
The Captain of the Dalma. The Captain showed me his text messages with his son who is studying and working in the United States, “he is living the American dream”.
Nick drinking tereré to keep cool in the boiling evening heat.
Hammocks are set up for the two nights on the Dalma.
Guarani Indians awaiting the arrival of the Dalma.
The Dalma being unloaded, delivering milk, grain, rice, and beer to remote communities.
Sunset over the Paraguayan Pantanal.
After spending three days on the Dalma, we arrived in the remote community of Puerto Casado. While waiting for the bus out of town, we were informed that the next one wouldn’t arrive for another week. One of the local men, Juan, invited us over to his house for some lunch. A few hours became a few days as we waited…and waited.
The second day of waiting, Juan and his friends took us out into the Chaco, which is a vast dry, woodland savannah covering Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.
Juan runs a logging operation in the middle of impenetrable woodland. Juan checks up on how the operation is going and if anyone is stealing wood.
Getting wild after an incredible afternoon in the Chaco. Guns, beer, and nature.
On the way back to town, I got into a deep discussion with one of Juans friends about guns and warfare. Somewhere along the way I mentioned my discontent with the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. I asked Juan’s friend what he thought of it, he responded, “You gotta do what you gotta do, I see nothing wrong in war, it is a part of life, especially here in the Chaco, especially for us Guarani”. I realized in this moment that my liberal, anti-war philosophy was simply a result of my San Francisco, west coast surrounding. This mans philosophy was simply a representation of the harsh, vicious reality of the Chaco.
After another day of drinking tereré, Juan invited us to meet the congressmen of the state of Alto Paraguay, named Mini Adorno. In true Paraguayan fashion, Adorno threw an entire pig on the grill and the feast began.
After fours days of rumors about a potential truck that would take us towards Bolivia, we finally found Edward, a jolly truck driver who was more than happy to drive us half way across Paraguay. Leaving at 7pm, we finally left Puerto Casado and headed deep into the Chaco at night. Here we sat for an hour with an armed guard, waiting for more trucks to come so we could cross the Chaco at night in a convoy for security reasons.
Fires burning at night to clear the thick Chaco woodland. Edward, our driver, told us that he had once been stopped by a guy with a gun on this road at night, a plane landed on the dirt road, picked up some packages and flew off. The man with the gun told Edward, “you didn’t see anything, right?” Edward said this was one of the principle Narco-trafficking routes in Paraguay.
After 10 bumpy hours of dust, Rammstein, terere and endless conversation about the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen, we arrived in Loma Plata, a community settled by Canadian Menonites in the 1920s. More on this topic later.
Paraguay is a country of contrasts. On the one hand, it is a rich country with the fastest growing economy in the Americas, yet there’s also a gaping divide between the rich and the poor, corruption runs rampant, and political stability remains rare. For a visitor, Paraguay may not have much in terms of sights, but this hardly matters when you are received so warmly by the Paraguayan people. Complete strangers will take you in, feed you, house you, and introduce you to their family (or maybe even a member of Congress). In most countries in South America, the relationship between locals and foreigners usually involves money. In Paraguay, that relationship doesn’t exist, it’s not about money, it’s about long conversations over ice cold beer and a nice steak.
Paraguay is somewhat of an oddity in South America. Due to a strong Jesuit influence it is the only country in the New World where European culture adapted to Native American culture, instead of the opposite. This means that Paraguay is the only country in Americas where over 90% of the population speaks an indigenous language (Guarani). Unlike in Bolivia, Peru or Guatemala, the indigenous language Guarani is spoken by non-ingenous people, the middle class, politicians, and even used in the media. While many people skip Paraguay for the ruins of Peru or the beaches of Brazil, Paraguay offers a different type of South America, a South America that is well of the beaten path and refreshingly real.