The Puzzling Paradox of Paraguay
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
As soon as you pay your toll on the east side of the river, Paraguay suddenly comes magically to life. You are almost immediately into the outskirts of the capital city, Asunción, and everything abruptly becomes very urban - with the occasional very sophisticated mall. There are several other smaller cities, and the towns and villages seem to run into each other. People are everywhere and the terrain is more interesting with some ranges of hills, even a few small mountains. The farming is quite intensive, and in some areas rather large-scale, with huge combine-harvesters ready to go to work soon in the fields of soybeans, cotton and sugarcane. Nevertheless, even though this south-east portion of the country gives a good impression of a modern-day state, there are many anomalies that quickly remind you that this is still very much a developing country. If you decide to drive south through the central area to Encarnación, you will quickly discover that after Villarica the road just fizzles out into a network of rough, muddy, windy tracks for the next 200 km - with not a single sign for the whole way. Ox carts and horses are the order of the day, and life proceeds at a very sedate pace. You'll find that this is not such a bad idea anyway, as the extreme heat and humidity will have you languishing around for a four-hour lackadaisical siesta the same as everybody else.
If you're here to brush up on your Spanish, you'd better make sure you bring along a German dictionary as well
Founded in 1706, the missions brought about a remarkable transformation in the lives of the indigenous Guaraní people, despite major problems of marauding slave traders, diseases introduced from Europe, and the opposition of local chiefs and Spanish landowners. Within two generations, large agriculturally-diversified and economically-prosperous communities formed the basis for significant political, social and cultural change. The formerly nomadic Guaraní people chose to work in the large communal fields, raising crops such as tobacco, cotton and citrus as well as "yerba mate" (more about that next time). They also learned many other trades and skills, notably woodworking and cabinet making, and eventually became extremely proficient in making and playing harps and other stringed and wind instruments
If you can't manage a trip down to Paraguay to wander and let your imagination run wild among the Jesuit ruins, you could do worse than rent the DVD and immerse yourself again in the high drama of Robert Bolt's 'The Mission'. The beautifully haunting music of Ennio Morricone is a wonderful bonus. However, if you are planning a trip to Paraguay, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to check out all the anomalies and contradictions of this puzzling backwater of a country deep in the heart of South America.