Tag Archives: Dalma

The Dalma Bums (Video)

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

Music:
Guitar Solo, #5 by Neil Young
West Dub by Kanka Dub

Off the Beaten Path in Paraguay (Pictures)

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.

The Dalma Bums, Paraguay

By Walker Dawson and Nick Neumann

We heard rumors of a treacherous three day ferry up the Rio Paraguay.  It was mentioned briefly on a obscure travel websites by a few very determined travelers, but concrete information was scarce. We arrived in Concepcion in the evening, only to find out that ferry was broken and no longer operating.  So we inquired about the Dalma, a small boat that was in the process of being loaded up with everything from stacks of beer and soda to huge wooden beds and closets. It is a supply ship that drops off various goods and necessities to remote Guarani Indian communities located in the swampland along the river where no roads can penetrate.  We were told it was only traveling one day up the river to the small town of Vallemi.  Craving adventure, and keen on experiencing an antiquated way of travel that is quickly disappearing, we decided to take it.

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We squeezed into the main deck to avoid the sun.

DAY 1

Early the next morning we boarded the fully loaded boat.  It appeared that the cargo had multiplied over night.  Every inch of space was filled with people and supplies. We situated ourselves in the only available space next to the engine room on a couple water barrels.  The main deck was filled with women and children crammed onto hammocks like sardines.  There was one small bedroom with a bunk bed that looked like it was straight out of a WWII era submarine, but that too was filled with supplies.

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The crew fixing the engine in the middle of the night.

Then there was the engine room, which billowed out smoke and heat, constantly broke down and resembled the scene of mechanical open heart surgery gone wrong.  Most of the food supplies were stored underneath the main deck in the hold. The bathroom was barely large enough to fit a grown man, and the toilet seat lay on the floor, submerged in an inch of filthy brown water.  The walls were caked in grease and bugs of all shapes and sizes.

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After the cook was dropped off, the crew members cooked for themselves.

The kitchen was just as small as the bathroom.  The first night a lovely woman cooked huge servings of beef with rice, eggs, onions, tomatoes and a hint of garlic.  Rickety stairs towards the back of the boat led to the upper deck, where the furniture, captain’s quarters and all of the men sat baking in the sun.  A heated exhaust pipe greeted all those ventured upstairs with a healthy dose of exhaust, soot, and ringing ears.

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A extra boat was attached to the side, carrying all of the excess supplies.

The river was wide, but the ferry hugged the shore to avoid the strong currents. This time of year the water was high, breaching the low banks and half submerging  the vegetation along the river bank.

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As night fell we passed by fires set by the Guarani burning bright in the jungle. The flames jumped up and lit the forest and the night sky for miles around.  Around two in the morning we approached an abandoned building on shore. The white facade shown brighter in the starlight as we approached. Two figures stood on the shore dressed in white, starring at us as the metal hull scraped along the river bank. Three Indians jumped in the water with their bags held over their heads, climbed on shore, joined the two mysterious figures and disappeared into the night. Maybe it was a dream, maybe it was reality, we’ll never know.

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Guaraní men awaiting the arrival of friends and food.

DAY 2

We were awoken around 6 am by a light rain and quickly packed our camera and sleeping bags. To keep from falling right back to sleep we began drinking terere with the locals who appeared to have been up all night. Terere is Paraguay’s national drink. 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 metal straw and quickly refilled.  Paraguayans of all ages and classes drink it from sunrise to sunset to counter the unrelenting heat.

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Sipping ice cold terere in the afternoon heat.

Day two was hotter than the day before, it must have been over a 100 degrees, but the the humidity and lack of shade was the worst part.  Our first stop was Puerto Itapucu-mi, a blasted out town of shacks and dirt roads. A crowd of locals anxiously huddled in the shade awaiting their weekly supplies of beer, soda, large bags of grain, salt and suger, vegetables and fruit of all types and occasionally a new motorcycle.

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Unloading supplies at Puerto Itapucu-mi.

We tried to speak with some of the children in Spanish, but all we got were responses in Guarani. Back on deck, as the afternoon approached, so did dark clouds on the horizon. Heavy winds began to rock the boat as the sun set.  To our dismay the cook had already been dropped off at her village, so there would be no dinner.  A slice of bread and a chunk of salami had to suffice.

IMG_5819The captain of the ship told us to take refuge down stairs, “because this ones coming fast and strong.” The boat made a sharp turn to the closest point of land and the men on deck tied us to trees so we wouldn’t be blown back down river. We secured hammocks and waited; dosing off to the soothing sound of rain as it started to pour down onto the metal roof and watching as lightning flashed in every direction.

Day 3

We had been forced to sleep down below on the second night due to the rain, so we hardly slept because the boat was constantly stopping and dropping off the last of the supplies.

IMG_5476We ‘awoke’  to a far emptier, lighter and faster ship and by late morning we arrived at our final destination of Vallemi.  After 51 hours on board we said our goodbyes to the crew and stumbled onto shore, relieved to have finally made it and in desperate need of a shower. The owner of the hotel we stayed in asked us where we were coming from and how we got here. We told her we took the Dalma three days up the river. She turned around and looked at our greasy, exhaust covered faces and laughed.