Paraguay is characterized by its borders. About seven million of inhabitants rival with two powers like Brazil or Argentine. Its neighbours, against whom Paraguay fought for water and land, are now its main tourists and sometimes they are also the players of some jokes. We well know, as it happens with family, we cannot choose our neighbours. At the airport of Madrid, just before boarding the flight Air Europe Madrid-Asunción, an Argentine lady, who was on the same flight to Cordoba exclaimed, half astonished and half ironic, after hearing a passenger’s comment about his first flight to the other side of Atlantic Ocean: “And for the first time have you chosen the worst flight?”
Immediately, her countrymen started laughing. But after 12 hours of flight everyone could admire a beautifully coloured landscape, rusted by wild rivers, where the green lands were competing with very beautiful palm trees, wood little houses and cows grazing below a blue sky and dreamy clouds.
It is said that in Asunción there is not a better alarm clock than a good cocido. And cocido (a very hot infusion of mate herb with milk and a lot of sugar) is just what is announced by someone on the street since 6 a.m with a loudspeaker). Mate is a drink best served cold or also hot, but consumed at all times. Men and women walk on the street with their thermos (guangue) covered with leather and usually decorated with the colours of the local football clubs. This ritual makes no distinction between social classes. Mate, they boast, is one of their inventions, although Argentineans and Brazilians drink it regularly as a substitute of coffee. What is new is that here guangue and bombilla, (the container where you put herbs and fill up with cold water and the pajita you sips with) are shared.
The hammock in the patio
Paraguay, located between Andean Cordillera and forest, lacks access to the sea. Its history is summed up in broad terms in the House of Independency, that is located in the centre of Asunción.
It is a farmhouse, that evokes the town of the XVIII century and celebrates the emancipation of the country. The walls made of clay bricks welcomed the secret meetings, during which the fall of the Spanish Government was handled. On the night of May 14 1811, without unnecessary bloodshed, Governor Bernardo de Velasco laid down the arms and accepted to be part of an interim Government. A sound of bells, the cries “Hurrah Union!!” and 21 gunfires accompanied that day. The hammock in the patio, the vintage furniture, the religious icons and the jewellery of the early owners: the family composed of the Spanish Antonio Martinez, his Paraguayan wife Petronia Caballero combined the history with the life of upper middle class.
Out of town the life is happening along the street. The picture of mate vendors with their rudimentary stalls and their healing roots is part of the landscape. While you are walking, you recognize the lomiterias, (the meatlof is the traditional dish, Paraguay does not seem to be an appropriated country for vegan people…) and at the same time hand-carved furniture, homemade jams or cornmeal are offered for sale. Everything under the shadow of mangoes.
Have they already tasted chipa? This question will be repeated during all the way to Ciudad del Este. You can eat the cake, made of starch of manioc, as an addition of breakfast, as a cocktail or simply to satisfy your sweet tooth. The cakes from Chipería María Ana are very popular. At the Chipería, single mothers dressed with local costumers sell these hot cakes for the price of 3000 guaraní (Euro 0,50).
The travel to Ciudad del Este, just 300 km down South, across a two-way street, full of trucks and vans seems never to end. In the little countries, along the way (these little country are just a few houses by the roadside or lost in the middle of landscape; the most of them have dirt roads, hens wandering freely and cows grazing up right before your eyes) you can feel the tranquillity of the country and a way of life that seems to be on the verge of disappearing.
Many countrymen move to the cities, looking for a better life, while soybean plantations and grasslands for cattle are growing, but these are places where time seems to have stopped, like the Botanical Reserve of the anthropologist and naturalist Moisés Bretoni, of Swiss origin.
Moisés Bretoni was one of these adventurous travellers, who carried out their own researches in the forest with the Guaraníes. His house has been preserved and also all that was left of his typography, where he published his researches. In 1929 he died of malaria, a few days after his wife and he was buried in the same cemetery, under the incense trees. In the reserve live two dozen Guaraní families, who are surviving by Government help and by sale of seed beads to the tourists. The Guaraní culture continues and it is part of the roots of the country, but only the (manca parola o frase nel testo spagnolo).
Bertoni used the river Paraná for its travels and at present there is the project to reopen this route for the passage of tourists, but now you can exit from the reserve only across a bumpy road made of reddish dirt, that is the characteristic and breeding colour of the High Paraná.
On the way back, you can see in many stretches on the asphalt the work to enlarge the lanes. If you add to this the improvement projects of the local airports and the excellent hotel infrastructures, you could say that civilization or whatever that means advances by forced marches.
Even though its geographical situation, surrounded by two giant countries, Paraguay seems to be a land full of opportunities, where you can really have many things to do. Marcela Bacigalupo, former Tourism Minister seems to have quite clear the future. “Paraguay wants to get out of being the great unknown”. Since Air Europe set up direct flights from Madrid, you can note an increased movement of tourists. According to official figures during 2016 2.300.000 travellers visited the country, of which 80% came from Argentine.
The river Paraná marks the life of Ciudad del Este, since the city, that arose with the arrival of workers who had to build the dam of Itaipú, is now a free commerce area. The traffic of goods and tourists flows like an impetuous river.
Every day hundreds of Brazilians and Argentineans cross the Bridge of Friendship at the border to buy bags, blankets, motorcycles or sausage steaks. Each visitor spend 350 US dollars on average. Many visits end in the same day, but some families take advantage of the situation and extend their stay ,enjoying the emerging rural tourism and the hotels, that like the romantic Casa Blanca Hotel offer a wonderful view of the river, one of the wonders of Paraguayan nature. To regulate the flow of Paraná, the fifth most important river in the world, the Itaipú dam was built, an impressing engineering work, like the one of Three Gorges in China, that allows to provide Paraguay and Brazil with clean hydroelectric power. You can visit its installations with a free tour and, if you are lucky, you can also admire the exit of the waterfalls from the eight hatches. The visit ends with the crowning path of the dam on a bus for a few minutes, until you come to the Brazilian bank of the river.
The jumps of Monday in the high Paraná (Paraguay)
A vision of the neighbouring country, Brazil or Argentine, depending on where we are, is a constant. Paraná and its tributaries carry an enviable flow, although many houses lack of electricity and drinking water. The jumps of Monday enchant you for its unstoppable strength of water. From a belvedere, where a sign forbids you to bathe, swifts are playing among foam waves, produced by water falling on stone from an height of 40 meters. There are zip-lines, surrounding the waterfall and also fishermen crossing the adventurous men to the shore.
Along this way Jesuits landed in Trinidad, one of the most important constructions of the 30 populations of the route of Paraguayan missions, where 3000 indigenous moved to. A flower very similar to orchid, inambú ceboy in Guaraní, cover like a white coat the lawn surrounding the massive ruins. Here they traded mate herb, sang in Latin and built musical instruments, in harmony with Guaraní population.
Among this ruins remains the echo of an utopia, ended in the blood, after the expulsion of the Order, imposed by Charles III in 1767.
The Religious were arrested and Guaraní people came back to the forest, but their language, rich in onomatopoeias, had already acquired the gift of writing.
The Great Church of the Jesuitic Guaraní Mission of Jesús de Tavarangué
The devastated town was buried under rubbles and with it, over the years, the seed of the maize-growing, that brought so many profits, was partly lost. The mission was dug up with the help of Spanish and this herb continued to be cultivated by Mennonites at the beginning of the XX century. Today, not far from there in the locality Bellavista, where a large German community lives and resides after the two World Wars, some of the most important companies of the country arise and produce this kind of herb.
Hotels, Restaurants, Fishing and Water-Sport Clubs complete the path to Encarnación, a tourist city, built up around the beach along the river, where you can admire a wonderful sunset, with background of Argentine. Back to the capital, in Yaguarón the Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventure, built up in lapacho wood, show us how beautiful Baroque is.
Here missions seem never end. The Jesuits, like the Father Francisco Oliva, (Sevilla 1928) do not seem to be dark cassocks, as they were in the past. At Bañado, one of the poorest and humblest neighbourhoods of the city, everyone knows the pa’i Oliva and his commitment to the most disadvantaged people (he had to leave the country during the long and bloody dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, but then he came back with democracy and was welcomed as an hero).
When he decided to become a missionary, he knew that he was taking the testify, left to him in Paraguay by his predecessors.
Several times we wrote about the many opportunities offered by Paraguay, about the advantages of investing, doing business, retiring and generally about the many good reasons you should move to this little State in South America. Safety, low crime rate, relaxed way of life, cost and quality of life among the best in the world and a beneficial tax system, make Paraguay a very sought-after destination for young people, entrepreneurs, families and over 60. If you have decided to move to Paraguay and live here, forget all your doubts and concerns and rely on experts and on the professional team of “Living In Paraguay”. As a matter of fact, the mission of this company is to help families, young people and pensioners to build up “a safe plan B” for them and for their own family and to get in this way a permanent residence in Paraguay, so they can benefit from the many advantages offered by this little, but surprising State.