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Paraguay

PARAGUAY | Wednesday, 9 August 2006 | Views [3934] | Comments [2]

That's where all those old Nazi's went. A flea market in Asuncion.

That's where all those old Nazi's went. A flea market in Asuncion.

Paraguay has always struck me as an interesting place to travel too, partly because I’ve never met anyone else who has been here and I wondered why. All the backpacker/travelers routes in South America avoid it, a place where bad things happen perhaps? Certainly it has a reputation, run by a military dictatorship for most of the last fifty years it has cultivated friends amongst the more dodgy countries like Taiwan. With it’s large German immigrate population it was also a favorite for fleeing Nazis. As no one seems to go there and the bad vibes that hang around it, linger on, or maybe it’s just misunderstood?

As soon as you arrive from Brazil the differences are obvious, this is a much poorer place and things like immigration are a little more slapdash, your details are hand written in a ledger. The main crossing point of Cindad del Este               is a massive supermarket run by the Chinese who sell mainly electronic gadgets and Perfume to Brazilians, while on the other side, Paraguayans carry in car tyres. On every street corner everywhere in the country there is a place to change money. The Paraguayan currency, the Guarani (named after the local indigenous people) is unloved even by the locals, everyone wants US dollars and Euros. At 5500 guarani’s to the US dollar, a trip to an ATM is enough to make you an instant millionaire. The whole country is a big money laundering centre and there are lots of casinos to help the process along.

Outside the cities, Paraguay is like a giant farm. Fields of wheat are in dispersed with cattle ranches and every few miles there are large groups of grain silos. Beside these farms are some very plush ranch houses, some of the most opulent houses I’ve seen in South America, which could have been dropped there from Texas. Clearly the farmers are a group that is doing well and the country towns are well kept and always have a neat central plaza. Only occasionally do you see the kind of shacks so common elsewhere in the region and they are homes only for the Guarani.

Asuncion, the capital has a pleasant faded grandeur much like the clapped out Mercedes’ taxis that take you into the centre from the bus station. The centre has a very sixties concrete feel with not much built since then. One exception is the new Congress Building which was paid for by the Taiwanese; in front of it is a lawn on which horses graze and a shanty town with people cooking over open fires, which kind of spoils the grand effect. The Republic of China is a generous friend to those that recognize it and throughout the country there are signs announcing projects paid for by the Taiwanese. Unlike other countries like Belize and Costa Rica that also recognize Taiwan, the Chinese have not taken over the commercial life of the country. Maybe the Europeans were too entrenched? The older immigrants have also built some nice French style buildings, created pleasant cafes and in the Germans case, made sure there is excellent beer and sausages everywhere.

In the centre of the main Plaza in Asuncion, is a large Parthenon type building which is a memorial to the ‘Hero’s of Paraguay’ and contains the tomb of the unknown solider, the unknown child solider and various dignitaries. It must be the effect of being run by the Army for so long that so much empathize placed on it’s wars, which must be some of the most futile and pointless in world history. The War of the Triple Alliance, 1864 – 70, in which Paraguay took on all it’s neighbours at once, mainly over trifling slights, and resulted in the deaths of half the population including almost every able bodied man in the country. The child solider in the Parthenon was one of those called up when they ran out of men! The Chaco War, 1932 – 35, was fought with Bolivia who tried to occupy the north of the country, both sides believing that there was oil to be discovered there. Egged on by rival Western oil companies over 100,000 died (mainly from disease) to defend a land that is uninhabitable even today.

Still Asuncion overall feels like a city that is opening up to the outside world. Unlike the rest of South America, Western music is popular and you can’t go anywhere without hearing Robbie Williams. Evangelical churches are also big here and walking through the streets on a week night, you can hear various brands of Christians praising the lord and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses prowl the streets by day pushing their wares.

Traveling to a country which sees few visitors is usually a pleasure as the locals are genuinely interested in talking to you and hearing where you are from. I had a similar experience in Colombia at the beginning of the year. Unlike Colombia, Paraguay does not have a civil war going on, so there is no possible reason for not going there. So veer off that beaten track and try Paraguay.

Tags: Observations

Comments

1

Hi there,

We are Brits who live in Paraguay and identified with everything you observed about Paraguay

Great article!

Rup

  Rup & Sam Oct 6, 2006 12:05 PM

2

I want try moving to Paraguay.How can I find a friend in Paraguay?
Nice article.

  korosh Ghaderi Mar 16, 2008 12:32 AM

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