Archive | September, 2009

On the side of the road in Paraguay

30 Sep

This post is a part of a series from my travels with friends Hazel and Ami from back home who are currently travelling South America. We went on a 3 day mission, camping at Ybycui which is “3 hours” by bus south of Asuncion. Then we went onto UNESCO classified Jesuit ruins of Encarnacion, located at the southern tip of Paraguay. These posts go to show that Paraguay is a travel destination that is more about the adventure, the experiences and people met, “it’s all about the journey man”! Enjoy.

With a belly full of rice and sausages and god looking over us, our friend Melo walked us to the road outside his house to wait for the collectivo (bus) going to the camp ground. Dependant on who you talked to, the collectivo went by at either 2, 2.30, 3 or wasn’t going today.

Well 2 hours later we were still waiting and it was now obvious that it wasn’t coming today. But this is all part of the Paraguayan travel experience, there is no real tourist infrastructure. In most touristed countries you would be able to get a mini-van straight from Asuncion and go direct to the sights in one hour. But if you did that you wouldn’t get to have lunch with Melo and his friends or see Paraguayan country traffic and smiles pass you by.

Here’s a few photos of watching life pass you by on the side of a Paraguayan rural road.

There’s no need for tying loads down in Paraguay, just chuck your son’s on the back to hold it down.

It wouldn’t be a rural road without a random sprinkling of farm animals and a cart passing by.

I hope they are wearing their seat belts and have insurance. Is it just me or is that truck going to snap in the middle.

After 2 hours of watching life go by, it was time to take action, so we started walking back into town, for what? We didn’t know, but it felt good to be walking.

Jesus helping me out

28 Sep

This post is a part of a series from my travels with friends Hazel and Ami from back home who are currently travelling South America. We went on a 3 day mission, camping at Ybycui which is “3 hours” by bus south of Asuncion. Then we went onto UNESCO classified Jesuit ruins of Encarnacion, located at the southern tip of Paraguay. These posts go to show that Paraguay is a travel destination that is more about the adventure, the experiences and people met, “it’s all about the journey man”! Enjoy.

OK, I know you’re all getting bored of me telling you how friendly people are over here. Well just encase you didn’t quite comprehend it the first hundred times I told you, I will tell you again.

We met Melo on the bus from Asuncion as we were drinking our bottles of cola bought from a street vendor, which on closer inspection saw that the seals had been broken. The suspicion was confirmed when we saw the old man who had sold us the bottles picking up bottles off the street. A great little business, getting used bottles and filling them up from a 2.5 litre bottle – that’s 3rd world entrepreneurship at work.

Anyway, back to Melo, we believe that he was attracted to the vacant seat beside me due to the picture of Jesus with wide open arms on my t-shirt that said “put down the drugs and come get a hug”. Melo was a friendly Brazilian missionary who was working with the local impoverished of Ybycui.

When we got to Ybycui we found out that the collectivo (small local bus) that was going out to the camping area 26 km out of town was supposed to be “leaving” in an hour. Melo invited us back to his house for lunch.

In the house lived a family and other missionary types. Their hospitality was second to none, and after grace we were treated to a tasty feed of sausages and rice that would probably mean they wouldn’t eat for the next 2 days. Following this we were shown photos of their church back in Brazil and told many great things about what their church does. I had the feeling that they were waiting for the guy with Jesus on his shirt to tell them of all his Religious achievements, little did they know that today’s grace that was said doubled his grace experiences.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave the believing beaming Colgate smiles and go wait for the collectivo and feel a bit inadequate at how much we contribute to the world. But not before a pray was said for us, asking god to look over us in our coming travels. Thank you Melo and friends, another humbling experience that let’s you know the world is full of good people and not just the twisted excuses of people that appear on the 6 o’clock news– Oh and a shout out to Jesus, cheers bro.

Trying to fish in Asuncion

25 Sep

Friends from back in Australia, Hazel and Ami are currently here in Asuncion visiting Mandy and I. Ami is a keen fisherman so we decided to go and give it ago. We went down to the Asuncion port and tried to rent a boat. The man lying down in one of the moored boats said he would take us for $AUD12/hr. But we decided to just take the leaking lopsided local ferry to the over side of the river as it was too expensive ($12 may not sound like much, but that can buy a lot of beer over here), and we would try our luck fishing off the riverbank.

15 minutes of listening to the crank start diesel engine battling for its life, we arrived in Chaco’i with the rest of the locals that were returning home. Although we were only on the other side of the river from Asuncion it felt like a world away. We were met my old men chilling out on the grassy banks, wandering cows and donkeys and a silence that was only broken by crowing roosters.

Still wanting to hire a boat we approached a deteriorating concrete house and I poked my head through the open door to a family relaxing in their living room. I asked if they knew anyone that would let us rent their row boat. The lady spat something out in Guarani (the local language) to her eldest son. He hopped up and we followed him down to the shore.

“Which boat do you want?” he said, pointing to the 5 well used row boats that littered the muddy bank. I got the feeling they had never rented out the boats before, who knows they probably weren’t even their boats. And in Paraguayan tourism styles, he hands us an anchor and a bit of scrap wood for an extra seat and says good bye. There’s no signing liability clauses, putting down a deposit, or even giving our names, or even paying. By the way when I asked how much per hour he looks blankly, shrugs his shoulders and says “$AUD4 for the afternoon”.

With our new boat, off we went on a fishing experience that was more about the experience than the fishing, check out the photos.

Ami standing by the boats that litter the shore (Asuncion skyscape in the background).

Looks pretty bloody nice doesn’t it, we even had an otter come and join us, pity the fish didn’t follow.

Who needs a motor when you have oars and arms like these! Drinking terere and looking like a hippy. Seriously, would you rent your boat out to someone looking like this and not get a deposit? You have to love Paraguay. The picture below reminds me of a song, “get a haircut, get a real job”.

Coming back to drop off the boat. Ami battling the oars that have no brackets, they are just tied onto the boat. It required a lot of effort (I have the blisters to show), 3 right hand rows to 1 left.

Back in Asuncion having a well deserved beer with the president. This bar is a snipers dream, right in front of the “government palace”, Asuncion’s version of the white house.

The 5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat – The friendly horseman

23 Sep

This is the last part of a 5 post series where I tell you about my cargo boat trip to Concepcion through the people I met. It also portrays the typical types of Paraguayan people that I believe to be some of the friendliest in South America.

Introduction (a country famous for……), 1.The welcoming captain, 2. The inquisitive crew, 3.The relaxed passengers, 4.The generous carnies, 5. The friendly horsemen


The friendly horsemen

Yep, once again the horsemen weren’t on the boat, but hey I’m allowed a bit of “writers freedom”. After waking up in the fairground and drinking terere for breakfast with my carnie mates I hitchhiked to the Concepcion bus station to get a bus back to Asuncion.

The bus station was an island surrounded by red dirt roads and seemed like it had been subjected to a recent terrorist attack, or more plausible was that a bomb of neglect had hit it. With 20 minutes to kill I walked outside wanting to take some photos of the horse and carts lined up outside in the surrounding car park that in most countries would be filled with waiting taxi drivers.

As I walk out I’m approached by a smiling old man in faded jeans and a well worn cowboy hat with his horse whip resting over his shoulder. He enthusiastically starts asking where I’m from, what I’m doing, quizzing me on my country. Then he sees my camera, and eagerly drags me over to his cart and telling me to take a photo of him as he climbs onto his cart striking his pose like king Arthur in his chariot. It didn’t take long for the other resting horseman to want a piece of the action.

As I started an impromptu photo shoot with the laughing joking horsemen, the other street vendors crowded around laughing at the clown like horseman. As they are all showering me with offers for a ride in their horse and cart (a kind gesture, not for money) my bus pulls into the bus station, and so I had to turn down the offers.

As I sat on the bus bumping along the dusty red dirt sipping terere with a fellow passenger I reflected over that brief encounter and thought how cool it had been. In most country’s for being a tourist you’re so often approached solely to be sold something or hassled for money. In this encounter, I had been approached solely out of inquisitiveness and friendliness.

The 5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat – The Generous Carnies

20 Sep

This is part of a 5 post series where I tell you about my cargo boat trip to Concepcion through the people I met.

The Generous Carnies

Carnies, you know the carnival folk, the people that travel around with the carnival, the people that have small hands and smell like cabbage. Well the carnies weren’t actually on the cargo boat, but I did meet them on my Concepcion mission.

The cargo boat arrived late into Concepcion, greeted by a waiting crowd that was going to continue on the boat further up the river. I made my way through the staring smiling faces and up the hill to the red dirt road leading to Concepcion’s main street.

Evening was fast approaching and my search for a place to camp was not looking to promising. In a stroke of luck the Paraguayan travelling carnival was in town, an expo where the farmers show off their prize bulls and the kids ride on the dodgem cars and Ferris-wheels etc (New Zealand’s equivalent of the A & P show).

I enter the carnival grounds walking past sweating workers, working hard to erect tents and stalls for the coming opening day. I approach a group of men in their mid 40’s, sitting around a table behind a dodgy truck mounted pirate ship ride. I start talking to them, and they ask me if I’m selling jewellery, or if I’m friends with the tattoo guy. I tell them how I’m travelling around Paraguay and have just arrived on the cargo boat and I’m looking for a place to camp the night. I’m welcomed with a “no problem just put your tent over there by ours”.

After I’ve set my tent up, my new carnie mates Peter, Andres and Nelson offer me a gas bottle as a seat and invite me to sit with them. I find out that they are popcorn sellers, and travel around with the carnival pushing their popcorn carts through the fairgrounds selling 25 cent bags of popcorns to the excited kids. They tell me about their families back in Asuncion, and Andres receives a call from his wife telling him that she’s missing him but hopes all the preparations for the coming week long Concepcion expo are going well. As Andres is talking to his wife I think to myself, “how do these guys support a family travelling with the carnival selling 25cent bags of popcorn“.

They are happy, laughing, joking, and enjoying the camaraderie of their carnie mates that stop by the picnic table to meet their strange new kiwi friend named Hap. It was such a beautiful moment, they didn’t have much to give, but they generously gave of themselves, showering me in welcoming warmth. They wanted me to have a good impression of their country. They offered me cheap whisky and fed me chicken stew and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

As I sat on a gas bottle behind the pirate ship with the music blearing from the sound check on the PA, eating steaming chicken stew out of a up, I was thinking about a quote a read in Shantaram “the most beautiful act is the generosity by the poor”.

The 5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat – The relaxed passengers

17 Sep

This is part of a 5 post series where I tell you about my cargo boat trip to Concepcion through the people I met.

The relaxed passengers

Paraguayans are some of the more relaxed people I have met; sometimes they are so relaxed you wonder if you should check for a pulse!

The above photo to me sums up Paraguay, terere and hammocks. Terere uses the same green mate herb that I talked about in Argentina and Uruguay, the only difference in Paraguay is they drink it with ice cold water. Visiting Paraguay you would think that Paraguayans are born with their terere thermo attached to them. The definition of useless, a Paraguayan with one arm, they wouldn’t be able to do anything as with their good hand they would be holding their terere – and there are no second hand stores here either. I love the terere culture, it’s all about sharing, hanging out, relaxing.

A lot of my time on the cargo boat was spent drinking terere, talking with the passengers or swaying in the hammock in which I also slept. I spent a lot of time listening to mate above. He was proudly telling me about the flaura and fauna that we passed on the eroding river banks of the river. Although he wasn’t drinking terere he was drinking “tres leones” whisky, and why not, he was a ranch hand going back to work for 8 months in isolation.

At one particular travel moment I remember, from my hammock I looked around me at my surroundings, the pile of eggs big enough to feed Africa, rice, tomatoes, oranges, flour, potatoes etc, the family sitting there, the crew sitting down drinking terere. A classic Paraguayan song crackled out of the small cell phone speakers, all the passengers from 10 year Antonio to a uniformed police officer to the grandmother pictured above were perched on hammocks, sacks of onions, lending against poles, talking and laughing. It was a setting without generation gaps, without societal gaps, everyone harmoniously enjoying the trip.

Even when the thunder and lightning filled the night sky, storm updates blared on the captains two ways, and the boat boys were battering down the hatches and scouring the river banks with a spot light for a strong tree to anchor the boat until the storm passed, the passengers just carried on their relaxing. They seemed oblivious to the storm, probably enjoying it.

As I melted further into my hammock waiting for the sound of the rain on the wooden deck above and the sway of my hammock to take me away, I thought………………………..I can’t actually remember what I thought, but I bet you if I could remember it would have been something profound about how relaxed the passengers were, or something like “shit, I shouldn’t haven’t drunken so much terere, I’m going to have get up and piss in about 3 hours

The 5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat – The inquisitive crew

14 Sep

This is part of a 5 post series where I tell you about my cargo boat trip to Concepcion through the people I met.

The inquisitive crew

As well as being friendly, I will remember the young crew for being inquisitive. At times I felt like a wise man telling them of the far off land of dragons and knights. They were so eager to learn of the world outside of the river, which is the only world they know.

An example of this was when I was sitting on the bow of the boat with Mauricio and Eduardo, two 20 year old boys who had grew up by the river and now lived and worked on the boat. I’m sitting with them and going through Mauricio’s cell phone telling him which country each of the time zone cities is in and showing them on the tiny cell phone world map where the countries are.

In between the crewing picking up new passengers and offloading cargo to riverside farms I was showing the crew a map of Paraguay, as I wanted to find a few things out about places. They didn’t want to show it, but it was as though the map of Paraguay was kind of foreign to them, it was like a 16 year old virgin fumbling with his new girlfriends bra strap but trying to hide it and pretend that he’s an experienced lover. Although they may not be able locate Asuncion straight away on the map, I’m sure they could tell me every curve and sand bank in the Rio Paraguay between Asuncion and Concepcion. It’s time like these you appreciate being from a first world country, having an education and the opportunity to travel.

A lot of the 30 hour trip was spent lying in a hammock or sitting on a sack of onions, drinking terere in a close knit group with the crew and them shamelessly hitting on the cute young passenger who was travelling back to the farm with her family. Them teaching me Guarani (the native language of Paraguay of which everybody speaks or at least understands, it’s the main language outside of Asuncion, the language of the people) and me teaching them English. Plenty of laughs, at my expense also, for example the boat clown (pictured below with my pack as he explains he’s going to run away and find a foreigner girl) said he was teaching me “Hello” in Guarani but instead taught me “punch me”, it didn’t take me long to figure out I wasn’t saying hello, haha.