Paraguay, a country that’s famous for…………

Paraguay, a country that’s famous for being famous for nothing! The lonely planet says Paraguay is famous for Corruption, Contraband and the Chaco. From what the lonely planet says I think it is better to be famous for nothing. The people joke that Paraguay is the second most corrupt country as they were bribed out of first place. Paraguay isn’t even very good at being poor, once again it’s in second place behind Bolivia as South America’s poorest country. And you know you’re clutching at straws when you say you’re famous for the Chaco. The Chaco is a Barron desolate region that takes up half the country and is home to the Mennonites, who settled there as who else would be willing to work the harsh land; apparently the ground water is so salty you can’t even drink it!

In the South American travel guidebooks it’s easy to find Paraguay, simply turn the book on its side and go to the section with the least amount of pages. OK, so what does Paraguay have to offer, great weather, well if you’re a Saharan desert camel it’s great, the temperature fluctuates between hot and bloody hot. The mountains, if you’re scared of heights Paraguay is a great destination with the highest mountain reaching 840 metres. The beaches, considering Paraguay is an island surrounded by countries you’re buggered for that, but there is San Bernardino lake that the Asuncion city goers flock to in the weekends to party, when I ask about the water sports available I’m told that you don’t swim in the lake because it’s too polluted! (although I have not been there yet so I shouldn’t judge).

Ok, so I’m taking the piss out (giving them shit, hassling, picking on etc) of Paraguay. Imagine if I was saying all this about America, Canada, Australia or that sheep shagging country east of Australia (it’s ok, I’m from New Zealand). But what I love about it is, that if a Paraguayan reads this they would just laugh and say “Asi es” (that’s the way it is). A classic example of Paraguayans having a laugh at their own expense was yesterday at a family dinner, there was an American guy who was revisiting as so many do, and he asked “so how’s tourism these days in Paraguay?”, and he was answered “great, we just got two more, Hap and Mandy”.

But you don’t come to Paraguay for the beaches, the mountains, the tourist attractions; you go to neighbouring countries Argentina, Brazil, Peru (I realise it doesn’t neighbour, but its home to Machu Pichu so I added it in) and Bolivia. You come to Paraguay for some of the friendliest people in South America. The few backpackers I have met who have been to Paraguay will vouch for this. The Paraguayans will even tell you that it’s a country all about the people………………….and football.

To me Paraguay is a backpacker’s paradise, that’s if you wanting to get off the beaten track and have unique experiences. As far as tourist infrastructure goes you’re buggered, there are no hostels, the street vendors and waiters don’t speak English, you have to pay local prices (bugger) and good luck trying to sort out the public bus system in the couple of days you have dedicated to Asuncion.

But to me, the above is all the more reason to come. Compared to Thailand where I was before here, it is a breath of fresh air. Thailand is a “backpacking for dummies destination. You walk into a travel agent, say you want to go here, and they give you a ticket and a sticker that you stick on yourself and there is someone waiting for you who shows you to your connecting bus along with a hundred touts telling you they have the best hotel etc. All the street vendors in Thailand have been to the same English school, “Mr, special price for you”, “my friend where you from?” etc, in Thailand you’re a walking dollar sign.

On the streets in Paraguay there is only Spanish and Guarani (Paraguay is bilingual), there’s only one price, and even though you will get stared at because you look different –I think that’s just me- people leave you alone and only approach out of genuine curiosity or to help you. Paraguay as a travel destination is about the experiences, those little victories of arriving at your destination and all the great people you meet on your journey.

I have just got back from one of those journeys. I took a 30 hour cargo boat trip up the Rio Paraguay from Asuncion to Concepcion, stopping along the way to drop off supplies and people to the isolated farms along the river. Then I camped the night in Concepcion at the local fair ground with the Carnies. In the following 5 posts I’m going to tell you about my journey, but I’m going to tell it to you through the people I met, “The 5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat“.

Oh yeah Paraguay, a country that’s famous for the friendliest people in South America! Amen.