08.09.2009 - 11.09.2009 23 °C
Paraguay. A small country (1.5 times as big as the UK) wedged between Bolivia, Brasil and Argentina. I popped in for a few days, partly wanting a sense of completeness to my trip, and curious about one of the more obscure parts of the world. In many ways, Paraguay seems half way between Argentina and Bolivia. It's the second poorest country in South America, after Bolivia. People are big on mate drinking: popular in Argentina but unseen in Bolivia. Bolivia is mainly Quechua and Aymara-speaking Amerindians, while most Argentinians are of pure European descent; 95% of Paraguayans are of mixed European and Amerindian descent (mestizo). Guaraní is more widely spoken than Spanish. Paraguay and Bolivia are the only landlocked countries in the continent.
I crossed over from Posadas in Argentina to the Paraguayan border town of Encarnación. I happened to be there on the evening in which they (miraculously?) beat Argentina's national side in the world cup qualifiers. On hearing the sirens, horns, music and fireworks, I thought perhaps another coup was in progress and retired to my fortified hotel room, where I nervously checked and re-checked my carefully-hidden US dollar Revolution Contingency Fund. In fact, all was in order, and the Paraguayans were merely engaging with more zeal than usual in that typical South American evening pastime of cruising endlessly around the central blocks of town in whatever transport is available, waiting for something interesting to happen. It was from one such cavalcade that, in Mercedes, I had been hailed by the venerable César Armando Romero Galfrascoli and his friends.
Trinidad Jesuit reducción
A view of the chapel, end-on:
Near to Encarnación, I visited a Jesuit reducción at Trinidad. In the 17th century, bands of evangelising Jesuits arrived in South America to help convert the indigenous populations to Christianity. In an area that centers around what is now Paraguay, the Jesuits set up large semi-autonomous farms that organised the natives to work the land and construct religious buildings while being converted to Christianity.
Racks of carvings, excavated recently:
The reducciones were so economically successful that, fearing the increasing influence of the order, in 1767 the government expelled the Jesuits from the continent. The buildings fell into disuse.
Doorway in the side of the chapel:
Frieze in the chapel:
Niche outside the chapel:
I seemed to be the only tourist visiting the site.
The bell tower (curiously, recently restored with the aid of the German embassy):
Perhaps Paraguay scuppered their main tourist attraction -- a set of waterfalls more impressive than the world-famous Cataratas del Iguazú between Argentina and Brasil (see next blog entry) -- when they drowned the massively impressive Jasyretâ-Apipé falls to create another hydroelectric plant. Not content with Yacyretá, they also built Itaipú, a joint venture this time with Argentina, and similarly dogged with overspending and alleged corruption.
The dam does supply 90% of Paraguay's electricity demand, though.
I snuck across the southern edge of the country, on my way towards the border meeting of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, stopping at Ciudad del Este. As promised by the guidebooks, the frontier town is a huge and gaudy street electronics market, overrun by touts trying to convince Brasilian visitors to choose one particular seedy emporium over the hundreds of others.
Meanwhile the bridge across the border teems with trucks, cars and above all motorbikes humping boxes of contraband to and fro across the river Paraná. Looking back towards Paraguay from the Brasilian side, the city is half-obscured by billboards in Portuguese.