For those of you who know nothing or very little about the beautiful and undiscovered country of Paraguay, where I was born, here is a recent article I wrote, to transport you to a far away land…..
Lying on a hammock, under the warmth of a setting sun, the leaves of a mango tree sway above my lazy eyes painting a delicate shadow over a copper coloured sky. The hot red earth below my dangling toes, and a cool metal bombilla straw between my lips, cools me whilst I sip the bitter infusion of Yerba Mate. A moment captured in my land where I was born. A land, unknown to even the most adventurous traveler. Untouched by tourists, the mysterious world of treasures, dangers, beauty and fascinating contrasts, makes Paraguay a country of never ending intrigue and compelling curiosity.
For the Traveler on a budget, craving a unique experience like no other, you have now discovered paradise. Travelling to the capital city of Asuncion is one of the most idyllic destinations, to get more bang for your buck. For, Paraguay has been ranked the cheapest country in the world, where the price of a simple book in the Western World, could pay for the equivalent of a decent nights hotel room in the city. Now we’re talking!
Paraguay is truly ‘El Corazon de America’, nestled in the centre of South America, it’s neighbours, Brazil to the North, Bolivia to the West, and Argentina to the south, keep this landlocked country a secluded secret. It boasts such treasures as the Itaipu Dam, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, and the beautiful Cataratas de Iguazu, one of the most awe inspiring waterfalls in the world, (Eleanor Roosevelt rightly exclaimed, “Poor Niagra!” on laying her eyes on the spectacularity.)
Paraguay has endured a rich history of brutal dictators, bloody wars, political and economical turmoil, as well as ongoing corruption (sneak a little bribe into any policeman’s hand and you can pretty much get away with anything). However, aside from its darker and intriguing side, the country’s real beauty can be found when you dig a little deeper, where you will discover an immensely diverse, interesting culture, rich in beauty, colour and welcoming warmth.
Two languages are spoken in Paraguay, Spanish and the indigenous language, Guarani. Little English is spoken outside of the capital, so it is a good idea to brush up on your Spanish skills before travelling. If you really want to blend with the locals, attempt a friendly, how are you, in the local language, ‘Mba’eichapa?’ (Yes, it’s as difficult to say, as it is to spell!) Getting around the city is cheap and easy, taxis are readily available from most major streets, or for a more unique ride, (for free!) jump on the wagon of an Ox and cart, which are still widely used particularly outside the city.
I can’t lie, Paraguay is not particularly the ideal destination for the vegetarians amongst us. With more cattle than actual inhabitants, there is no wondering why every meal is usually comprised of Beef. The ‘asado’ (bbq) is extremely popular and delicious, and is usually enjoyed on a relaxing weekend amongst family and friends. For those of you who are gastronomically courageous, you can eat like the Paraguayans, and get your taste buds around every part of the cow imaginable. No joke, the tongue is delicious!
Don’t miss out the empanadas filled with ham, cheese, beef and egg, which you can find at most restaurants, food stands and malls for about 20 pence! Filling and extremely tasty. My favourite foods however, have to be the really typical Paraguayan dishes (best tried in a Paraguayan home!). Chipa’guazu is absolutely heavenly. A kind of soufflé, made up of the Paraguayan cheese, sweetcorn and onions. I crave it in my sleep! One thing you will notice as soon as you step off the plane will be people holding strange looking cups, sipping from a metal straw. They are drinking Yerba Mate, a nutritious herb grown in the country, (also named terere when drunk cold). This custom is an integral part of Paraguayan life, and you will see it being shared with a group of friends on every corner; at work, in the car, at the football stadium. No one travels without it. It takes a little getting used to with its bitter taste, but for Paraguayans the act of passing terere around a circle of friends is an act of sharing something deeper with those close to them and the perfect way of making new friends. It is the sharing of the soul.
Get in the Paraguayan sway, and listen to the beautiful Harp, the country’s national instrument. There are many concerts going on around the city, which are often free! You will no doubt fall in love with the sweet, unparalleled sound, which takes you on a journey through a country rich in nature, history, people and beauty. Rohayhu Paraguay!