Archive | September, 2009

The 5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat – The welcoming captain

10 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 welcoming captain

The amazing blue sky that can only be enjoyed in the early hours of the day welcomed me as I jumped off the bet up public bus. An unusual morning calm hung over the downtown Asuncion streets like a stillness of a jungle before the birds and monkeys awake. I had a skip in my step fuelled by a sense of adventure and the fact that I was running a little late, although I think it is impossible to be late in Paraguay.

I arrived at the concrete island jutting into the water representing the pier where I was told the previous week by some terere drinking old men that the Concepcion bound cargo boat departs every Wednesday at 7am. I walk the plank onto the boat, looking for someone to ask if it is OK that I’m onboard, and if I have to buy a ticket etc. I ask a potential crew member, a young guy with a notebook in his hand who seems to be ticking off the sacks of potatoes on which his worn tennis shoe rests on. With a smile he says “no hay promblema”, and waves in the direction of the steps going up to some sun bathed wooden white seats by the captain’s wheel house.

From my top deck perch I look over the cargo of gas bottles, motorbikes, fence posts, rocking chairs, miscellaneous sacks and even a kitchen sink that is bound for Concepcion and the farms along the way. Then a rusty blast on the captain’s horn breaks me from my daze and the Cacique starts its 30 hour voyage up the calm muddy waters of the Rio Paraguay.

Soapy water snakes its way over the deck towards my pack that is resting against my legs as the boat boys start making the boat ship-shape. The tan skinned captain that seems content like a king in his castle sees the watery snake and tells me to bring my pack and join him in his wheel house. Upbeat Paraguayan music fills the wheel house as the captain asks me all about my country and what I’m doing, and patiently rephrases questions when I don’t totally understand. Then he gets out his cell phone and proudly shows me pictures of his 2 sons and his wife, and as though we had been mates for years he then shows me a picture of his girlfriend that he has in Concepcion.

Within 30 minutes of leaving the Asuncion skyline the captain steps away from the wheel, picks up his terere and says “manaja” (you drive). In one of those special travel moments I found myself driving a cargo boat in the heart of South America as my new captain friend sips terere beside me bopping his head to the latino flavoured music with the sun beaming through the wheel house window.

During the trip it didn’t matter who was driving, the door to the wheelhouse was always open, actually I don’t think there was a door. The passengers and crew alike hung out there drinking terere, no hierarchy, or sense of “I’m better than you”. A feeling of “mi barco, tu barco” (my boat is your boat), something that is characteristic of Paraguayans, “my country is your country”.

Below is a video of me hanging out with one of the captains/drivers in the wheel house, sums it up. If the video below doesn’t work click here to view it.

Buena Onda

10 Sep

In Spanish they have a saying “Buena Onda”, which literally means “good wave”, but it’s used to portray a good feeling, the atmosphere, the vibe etc. For example when I did my boat trip up the river last week, the crew and passengers were so friendly, I would say “it was a Buena Onda”.

OK, enough of Spanish 101, I just wanted to write a quick blog about the buena onda I was surfing yesterday, I had one of those days where things just started happening, I couldn’t stop smiling. All too often we are surrounded by negative news, all you need to do is turn on the TV at 6 o’clock. Anyway…………..

Yesterday I opened my email account and read that one of my travel stories (titled ‘kissing Paraguayan men’) was getting published on a well known travel website, Boots n all , go check it out, its on the home page under traveller articles. Although it’s not the New York Times, you have to start somewhere.

Also waiting for me was a couple of emails from friends back home about the Antarctic Volunteer jobs going at Scott Base. Cheers to you guys, “buena onda”, looking into it now.

The most exciting news. At yoga Mandy met Silvana, a young Colombian lady that lives here with her Cuban husband Ricardo and their two children here in Asuncion. She went back and was hanging at their house and got talking with them. Ends up they make documentaries, not your mainstream type, but the grass roots, artistic, for the love of it documentaries, documentaries with a purpose. Turns out they have an Italian client with a teenage market that maybe interested on a web TV series about travel in Paraguay. Mandy said, I think I might know just the person for this role.

We met up last night at their pizzeria, and it’s all go. We are going to make a pilot on Friday, I’m just going to walk around downtown Asuncion, talk with the people, see the sights, the poverty, the flash government buildings, the smiles, the hammock sellers, the shoe shiners in the plaza, the 10 year old kids driving the horse and carts down the main streets. I can’t wait, I’m so passionate about Paraguay, I would love to share it, as you will see in my coming blog posts. Silvana said that I just have to be myself, I do what I want and she follows with the camera, it’s about my travels, my experiences etc.

But it is only a pilot, maybe the clients don’t like it, who knows, all I know is that I’m excited. At the least it will be a great experience and a day that I won’t forget.

Oh and another thing, good mates Hazel and Ami from Perth arrive in a couple of days to come and hang in Asuncion, can’t wait, super pumped. Haze if you read this, just hooked up your bed, all good, can’t wait to see ya’s.

OK, back to the “5 people you meet on a Paraguayan cargo boat” posts. I just had to share the Buena onda with you.

Nuthin but love Hap

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

9 Sep

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.

Mid week adventure

4 Sep

HI folks,

Just a quick message, first of all I finally got around to writing my Argentina end of chapter.


Secondly, when you read this I will be onboard a cargo boat slowly making my way up the Rio Paraguay. Last week I went down to the port and enquired about a cargo boat that goes up the river dropping off cargo to all the towns along the river that have no road access.  


Some old Paraguayan men relaxing in the shade down by the port told me that if I turn up before 7am on Wednesday morning I can ask the captain if I can be onboard for the 30 hour trip up river. So hopefully when you read this I am actually slugging my way up river. I will write about the experience when I get back.

Chao.