“Paraguay is nowhere and famous for nothing,” P. J. O’ Rourke

Paraguay is one of the most obscure places imaginable, it’s the Timbuktu of Latin America. It doesn’t make much sense as a country. I think even Paraguayans wonder why they are there. The population is about 90% Mestizo, the result of restless Spanish sailors having killed most of the native Guaraní men and taken around 15 concubines each from the local Guaraní women. The Guaraní tribe overlaps into Brazil and Argentina but it is in Paraguay that they find their voice and identity. The language, people, and currency are all Guaraní. Even the Spanish spoken here is heavily influenced by Guaraní. Unlike the neighbouring indigenous people with their red cheeks and mountain lungs, the Guaraní seem more like the Jungle dwellers you are likely to see on the Discovery channel. They have the jet black bowl cut hairstyles and painted red faces. However, as I mentioned earlier the population is so mixed that you are likely to see any number of features, especially in the bigger cities. The Chaco region even has Mennonites and Anabaptists from Germany, U.S.A, and Australia.

I view a large insect on the ceiling.

I view a large insect on the ceiling.

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As a nation-state it seems as if they missed several memos, or got the blueprints back to front. The history is littered with disastrous military campaigns,comedic coups, and  failed colonial experiments. It has been an island of exile for extremely dangerous dictators and war criminals. Apparently Josef Mengele lived in Paraguay after fleeing Europe. If the Angel of Death can live there freely then so can anybody. It seems like the neighbours just forgot about the place, until they need a cheap TV, did I mention that Paraguay’s main industry is smuggling, especially electronics. When I crossed over to Brazil I saw people in the river on dinghies transporting cheap electrical goods. I read many stories about the dangerous state sponsored crimes and complete lawlessness. During my stay I didn’t really feel in any danger, and the people I met were mostly warm and hospitable.

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Why go to Paraguay? That’s a question which I have never been able to answer, neither could the other two tourists who I met there, in a week. In case you cannot read between the lines, I saw two humans from foreign countries during my week in Paraguay. The other two tourists I met were both from England, one had a cocaine encrusted credit card which prevented him from being able to use a bank ATM. He was a good guy though, we played pool in Asunción for several hours and witnessed the slow sun-baked madness of this strangest of countries. The question circled around our conversation for a while. The resulting answers were unconvincing. He fancied ‘something a bit different’, I came because I ‘read a book’. As we played pool insects sometimes fell from the ceiling and there was a fat man drinking too much on his work break. I spoke to a young guy wearing a Celtic F.C shirt. He had visited London and was perplexed as to why someone from England would visit Paraguay. The other tourist I met was visiting the beautiful Reducciones (Jesuit Missions), he was very straight-laced and seemed the least likely person to find in the rural areas of Paraguay. He was from one of those places in middle England where people try to save the post offices and all the pubs have the word ‘Gastro’ written in front of them. He was a little out of his depth in Paraguay. After visiting the second of the Redduciones we realised there was no way to get back to the main road, the small local bus had retired for a smoke and a siesta. With little hope of getting back I negotiated with a man to give us a life for some token amount of money. He did, but the tourist boy (let’s call him Tarquin) didn’t like it one bit. He asked me what we should do if he tries to kidnap us, I reminded him that we were two and our would be assailant was one. He was also driving one of the worst cars I’d ever seen so if things went south it was possible to just open the door and get out. Tarquin’s reason for being in Paraguay was simply to tick off some sites from his South American list.

Palacio de los López

Palacio de los López

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It’s very difficult to describe Paraguay, it’s not like the other South American places. Bolivia and Peru are well documented, they retain the Inca thing, panpipes, ponchos, and overpriced Gringo tours. Argentina is the sophistication of Buenos Aires and the desolation of the Pampas and Patagonia. Columbia is plantations and palm trees with the occasional drug lord. Brazil is football and beaches overlooked by a gaping wealth gap. Paraguay is…?  I think the best image, the one which sums up the place is in the centre of Asunción, the capital. Directly opposite the Parliament building is a small field in the shade of some trees, in the middle of this field is a net to play volleyball. When I was there I saw a feral pig sniffing under the net. This net was between the offices of high government and some corrugated metal dwellings that tumble-down to the river. Suffice it to say that I didn’t take too many pictures in Paraguay. Despite my lack of photojournalism, I do love the place, not because of what it is, but because of what it isn’t

Opposite the Parliament

Opposite the Parliament

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Juan De Salazar Y Espinoza (founder of Ascuncion)

Juan De Salazar Y Espinoza (founder of Ascuncion)

My unofficial tourist taxi

My unofficial tourist taxi

 

 

 

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