We had hoped to discover a different South America in Paraguay – but we were probably 10 years too late – the car, motorbike and smartphone have changed the country so much. In fact for tourists it’s probably at that worst possible stage; neither a sleepy backwater or tourist-friendly. For instance, we never saw a horse-drawn cart and finding hotels was hard work.
Here are some observations:
- there’s a refreshing lack of interest in strangers. As we wandered around it was as if we were invisible. And almost no one spoke English.
- you hardly see anyone over 4o – but you do see a lot of very young mothers with babies.
- Paraguayans don’t seem to be able to go anywhere without carrying their terere (iced herbal tea) flask – it’s almost like a comfort blanket
- there’s an obsession with cleaning floors – whenever we entered a hotel room we opened the windows and put on the air-con to get rid of the disinfectant smell
- all their loos have plastic padded seats; they were very comfortable
- there’s no concept of council built pavements – it’s down to the property owners and none of their sections join up
- it feels less nationalistic (than say Argentina) – maybe because they lost many wars and were plundered so often
- it’s a country without tourists – apart from Argentines who come for the cheap goods and block up all the border crossings
- despite British engineering prowess there are no working railways left – apart from a tourist one in Asunción and the bridge link in Encarnacion.
Nothing is quite as it seems in this country. Hilary has just read At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig by John Gimlette, which gives a very readable account of Paraguayan history and why things are as they are; especially the smuggling and undercurrents to everyday life.