As many of you know, Btina and myself decided we wanted a change in our life. We left Switzerland and started our exploration of the South American continent, slow traveling with Paraguay in August 2014.
Our goal was and still is to find a piece of land of our own to start our own self-sufficient, cooperative / eco farm / hostel and co-working / co-living space / nature reserve / eco-tourism / reforestation build with the aid of the brilliant permaculture principles. We plan to build natural buildings with adobe, bamboo or whatever makes sense depending where we finally settle. We plan to work with locals as well as volunteers to build all of those future projects.
If you want to dig into the topic of permaculture here are a few brilliant book recommendations: The One-Straw Revolution: Fukuoka and The Vegetarian Myth and of course the Bible -> Permaculture: A Designers’ Manualby Bill Mollison
After 6 months of exploration in Paraguay, we have decided to continue our exploration in Bolivia.
Here are a few of our thoughts and impressions of Paraguay. Traveling like that with a goal in mind has been very enriching – we have been learning many practical things we want to use for our own project in the future and even more things we don’t want to have to deal with :-) Absolutely priceless experiences!
Image: According to Flickr my best of Paraguay photos album
Update: Finally, I found some time to finalize this blog post about Paraguay – 6 month later!
Image: Paraguay does have some real stunning landscape. As a photographer, this was one of the things I enjoyed most – back there
Paraguay in a nutshell
Probably a few years earlier (the 1970s) Paraguay was really like the Wild West of South America. If you had the right friends, you could do whatever you liked and just carry on… Additionally to that fact the wages of civil servants are low, and the obedience of the law is weak. Because of that there is a de facto impunity.
We observed that nowadays (2014) Paraguay has sadly tried to adapt to Europe. Like many other South American countries, the cars need their lights to be turned on during the day or else you pay a fine. Technical Inspection Association centers have been created and they are currently trying to embed them into all of the country. But the population has not yet broadly accepted this so it’s on hold.
Consumerism: In the capital Asuncion – you will find huge shopping malls like in the US or EU.
Paraguay is THE biggest pot/hemp producer of the entire planet. There are regions where you are not allowed to be or you just vanish. There is massive smuggling happening there. Sadly because of that many regions are a no-go.
There is a permanent US military base called Mariscal Estigarribia Air Basein the Paraguayan Chaco. Not far from there the Bush Family recently bought 42,000 hectares of land with huge natural gas reserves.
Lot’s of wealthy foreign farmers are buying lots of land in Paraguay for Soybean production, because Paraguay is the last country in South America without a tax on Soybean.The environment is currently one of the last things that most people bother about. But they complain about having no shadows and hot temperatures.
People: We got to know very kind and open minded Paraguayan. It’s was easy to make new friends there! For us personally arriving from a German region in Europe (Switzerland) and seeing so many Germans was a little overkill in the Colonia Independencia in the Guairá Region where German is as commonly spoken as Spanish. Why bother and travel more than 8000 km to speak the same language as at home? This is clearly not what we are seeking for.
The roads are all very good condition in the south not in the Chaco region (north).
Image: Beautiful landscape view from a mountain near the town of Sapukai, Paraguay
We explored more than 10,000km in the south of Paraguay and at the end we also drove trough the entire Chaco to Bolivia.
First of all we would like to mention a few numbers so that you get a sense of how far we explored Paraguay. Within the first 3-months, we drove more than 10,000 km. In the 6 months we moved about 7 times and have us already bought the third skillet, include two flat tires, more than 20 land plots and have experienced all sorts of adventures.
Europeans in Paraguay?
In Europe, Paraguay is still a relatively unknown place. Some believe it’s maybe in Africa… In the meantime, we did learn that already the 4th generation of immigrants lives in Paraguay. There are many people from Germany. We have encountered many of them in Paraguay. The intentions of the respective waves of immigration are very different. Most are looking for a place to live, as they knew lived before, just in a different place in the world. Without all the laws in Europe. And yes immigration is easy (2014) in Paraguay. Also, the climate is nice and warm most of the time.
Most Europeans have the purchasing power to buy a country house and still keep some savings on the side.
Interestingly, many immigrants leave Paraguay, after 5-10 years. Perhaps because they miss the challenge of the family or other and want to move on. Often we heard the news later and were surprised to find that one who were raving about how great Paraguay is, suddenly were leaving the country. It seems that many don’t really know what they are seeking in life.
This means that land prices explode literally. Of course, not just since yesterday. Many lands we have been visiting had nothing left as the picture below.
There have been a probably a few “lucky ones” who bought a LOT of land in the 80s and 90s in Paraguay. More than 100 or even 1,000 hectares of land. Since then the price has been growing. Back then some pay next to nothing or got the land as a gift … or it was just stolen from another person. There was the military dictatorship and with the right friends everything was possible and with the wrong enemies life was not pleasant. Today some land parts of such large plots of land are still on sale. And there are also plots of land that have been re-sold more than just a few times. Motivation? Speculation! $
We have been told that one of the strategies of Paraguayans is: If there is a piece of land that they want to sell, then all trees are cut and sold as wood. Next, they remove the rich top soil, with is very good in some places. This can be up to 2 meters deep and will also be separately sold. If there are any larger stones they are also excavated and sold. So what now remains to do? They call it “todo limpio” which means a clean property and this will be sold at high or even exorbitant prices to the “naive” Europeans. As usual for any business, it’s always needed to find a buyer who is willing to pay the price.
Lucky for the Paraguayan and the early European Immigrants which still are selling Land – there are still many willing buyers for land in Paraguay. Why? Well currently (2014) Paraguay is one of the only South American countries where a Soybean producer does NOT have to pay any tax at all… so all the Soybean “farmers” from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and also “farmers” from Germany or to the US go to Paraguay and buy land to farm Soy. In the neighboring countries, it is normal that you pay a tax of 15% to 35%. Because of this fact, soy is the dominating monoculture in Paraguay. While there are also other monocultures, they are not nearly as generous as the soybean plants. Great business for the “Farmers”. Bad for the people of Paraguay. They get no tax and it’s additionally bad because all the available land is in use for Soybean production or cattle (cows). When I say all, I mean almost all. The biggest trees we saw in Paraguay were in the capital Asuncion. In the countryside, there are no big trees left. It’s really amazing.
In 2003, the Swiss Syngenta corporation advertised their services in rural supplement of Clarín Argentine newspapers and the Nation baptized with the name “United Republic of Soy” to the territories of the Southern Cone in which soybean was grown -integrated by Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. From this time on this explicit statement of neocolonialism was like a “brand” of the project from corporations who were and are orchestrating it.
A great article about the Soybean issue in South America here: What are the implications when one of China’s most powerful agribusiness firms starts acquiring thousands of hectares of land in the Province of Rio Negro, Argentina for the production of soyabeans, wheat, and oilseed rape to ship back to China? What are the consequences for the local communities that live in the region who were never consulted about these investments and commercial agreements? Source
Today in Paraguay Soybean farmers do not pay taxes, thanks to Horacio Cartes, which fights the poverty of Soybean farmers, of sugar farmers…
Tropical fruits and vegetables
Besides the monocultures farming in Paraguay, we discovered a few small farmers or people who have vegetables and fruits in their own backyard. While living there we have been very lucky that one of the Paraguayan neighbors had a rather big own vegetable garden in his backyard. We could buy directly fresh from the field, and get eggs and vegetables. It tasted fantastic! This is priceless!
Most vegetables and fruits in the local markets and malls in the urban area had only imported goods and foods or come from the national monocultures farms. As usual with the chemical aftertaste … Actually, like we are used to it in Europe. Isn’t that unbelievable?
A country that actually has optimal climatic conditions, where everybody could grow food in the backyard and feed themselves. But no, large monocultures farms are everywhere. They simply bring a greater profit! All the small farmers are pushed from the surface. What a strange “modern” world we live in.
Image: Super tasty Papaya from Paraguay
We were slightly surprised when we were told that Paraguayans believe the banana is food for the poor and therefore very little people eat them. They would grow in their backyard, but they will not eat them. Many then prefer to drive to shopping centers and buy some industrial products, beautifully packaged, with lots of sugar and who knows what… but it’s the same story in Europe. We stick to our rich banana consumption.
Image: The Bananas in Paraguay like in other South American countries taste absolutely awesome this is totally priceless :-)
When we went to buy food, it was difficult to find the best fruit and the best vegetables. It was difficult because every time a new challenge to find some. Sometimes the quality is better and sometimes not. When we bought good Bananas at a market, for example, the next time we visited that market there where no Bananas :-) Many products such as the honey are stretched with sugar. People consume way too much sugar in Paraguay. Diabetes seems to be a very common disease there. Every doctor has ads about how he can help or “cure” diabetes … well, good luck with that. Until then we consume the minimum or no sugar :-)
Lucky us again we always found little paradises within Paraguay. In one place where we stayed a few weeks they were growing many Moringa trees. An absolutely amazing power food with more than just a few health benefits.
Like minded people in Paraguay
During our time in Paraguay, we met a lot of people and we were lucky to meet some like-minded people who care about the environment and the future. In the countryside, we have not met many other tourists, backpackers or people at our age. The country does not attract as many tourists compared to Peru, Argentina, and Chile, etc.
Quick history of Paraguay
After the era of the last dictator, Alfredo Stroessner (1912 – 2006), with German origins – much has changed in Paraguay. This modernization is, as always, a two-sided coin. On the one hand there are the positive aspects, on the other hand, the country has in a very short time, acquired a lot of negative “lifestyle” of the modern world “voluntarily”. Today (2014), almost everyone, even the lower class, has at least a motorbike and a cell phone. Okay, there are mostly low-priced Chinese motorcycles and a low-priced Android smartphone – but still! If possible people do not walk anymore …
Over the past 30 years, there has been not enough of everything. At least for the mass of the population – and today, “everything” available! You only need money get it naturally. Many motorcycles are therefore paid to rate. Let’s say every week 8000 GS thus 2 USD. The same game with the smartphone, it’s all bought credit.
But can the Paraguayans resist consuming on credit? The local latin mentality is totally different from the US and EU. It’s more about a day-to-day planning then much further. Very few have savings at a bank. When money is available, it’s spent. When they need money, you have to get it from somewhere.
15 years ago there was the mobile network was inexistent in Paraguay. And today the biggest issue is that the Internet does not work everywhere and every day at the same speed… In Europe and the USA, the same development took way much longer.
Also in the city of Villarrica this change is visible because 5 years ago it was mostly a city with horse-drawn carriages on the road and today you can see only a few dozen of the horse-drawn carriages. The streets are filled with cars, SUVs, motorcycles and trucks.
There are very few self-sustainable people and the existing ones die out sooner or later. Most of the population is very young and they have just discovered the consuming lifestyle and living habits are changing rapidly. Luckily they still mate-tea habit, which is healthy, and something people do all day long. The Paraguayans want to fulfill their “dreams” as we do it in Europe and the USA. All seek the modern world and to want more of everything – in ABUNDANCE.
Paraguay, the smugglers’ paradise
Formerly it was difficult to import goods into Paraguay. Maybe comparable to the Prohibition in the 30s the USA. Since the end of the dictatorship, the country has opened to the limit and modernization increased rapidly. Since the borders are open now, Paraguay seems a smuggler’s paradise. Logically, the border regions are therefore somewhat uncertain and especially in Ciudad del Este. Where today the city Ciudad del Este is that de facto comparable to Miami and Hong Kong as the third largest free trade zone in the world. Sixty years ago, the region was pure Rainforest!
Basically, almost everyone is happy with the current situation because many earn VERY good money. As always in the smuggling business. Specifically, the drug trading seems to explode. Especially in the cities as Asuncion and Ciudad del Este. Should it reach the same extent as in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Uruguay – then it would get quite uncomfortable in Paraguay.
Apparently a lot of crack is consumed in Argentina and Uruguay. A drug that makes the consumer quite aggressive and totally unpredictable. As it was reported to us by various Argentine exiles – in Paraguay. Argentinos in Paraguay hopes that Argentina will again get safe so that they can go back to their home country.
The locals in Paraguay
In this short time, we could of course not explore all the corners of Paraguay. But we have experienced the locals as very welcoming, relaxed and helpful. Also happy if you speak Spanish to them. Many times we have been invited to eat a watermelon or some other garden food.
Image: The local people are very happy fellows. They manage to transport goods with their head, quite impressive!
The thing we really liked in Paraguay was that you can talk and speak to almost anybody and they will talk or smile and are really friendly and will try to help. Even if they don’t know they will tell you maybe it’s left or right :-) One or two words of Guarani and they were even happier and proud of course.
Like in most parts of South America as gringo you will get another price than the local people. They try to double the price and often they have no idea of the value of something they are selling themselves :-) For example the price of the Empanadas varied from 3000GS to 1000GS depending who and when they were selling it…
In Paraguay, you have to be inventive and have the do it yourself (DIY) mentality, if not yet, well probably automatically acquired very soon. One example: In most places there are no veterinarians like we know it in Europe. Most veterinarians are self-thought and have learned it by doing it themselves so its important to be very well informed before going to the vet. In the best case, you know already what your pet has and what exactly he needs and just need to tell the vet to be sure he won’t give the wrong meds.
The official language is Spanish, but most of the people also speak Guarani, the language of their ancestors. Often the spoken Spanish was not perfect and they rather mastered Guarani. And often they just mix both languages together during small talk. It gets funny to see Spanish people from Spain not understanding the Paraguayan people talking because it’s a little different.
It’s crazy, but we met many foreign people who have been living more than just a few years there and did not at all or just very little master Spanish. But they seemed to get along just like that.
Nutrition seems to be a big issue in Paraguay. With the “modern world” came all the fast food and the soft drinks, which the local people just can’t stop to consume. It’s obviously visible many people are very big there. Lots of diabetes in the population not only locals also many European Immigrants. Just too much sugar and too little activity. Of course, it’s a warm climate and kind of warm in Summer but hey that’s the climate there. Most people stay in their house or car if it’s too warm… which does not help either.
Deforestation in Paraguay!
Image: One of the most brute issues of South America and especially in Paraguay is the heavy deforestation within the entire country which has been accomplished in the last 30 years or so. Take your time and do read about the tragic deforestation of the Gran Chaco also in Paraguay it’s a very well written article from the Rollings Stones Magazine.
20 years ago, in 1995, there were still plenty of trees, forests, and rainforests. Although not quite as much as earlier when Paraguay was still called the “The Green Hell” – because of all the jungle.
Today we are talking about approximately 1,500 hectares deforestation per day! Since there are no natural forests, meanwhile, protected areas are simply illegally being cut down every day. The trucks carrying logs from the protected areas go in and out. They just take the license plates off so that they are NOT traceable … because they know very well it’s illegal to cut down the wood in protected areas. If the police arrest them which does not happen often they get a fine of about USD 300, which mostly do not even bother to pay.
There are meanwhile almost no forests left in Paraguay. Certain numbers speak of 97% deforestation, which is already in itself a respectable achievement!
This in turn means 3% forest is all there is left. When you think you can still see the forest here, it’s mostly a collection of bushes and small trees. The satellite images from Google Maps, anyone, can verify the forests. That what looks well like a forest, can then also be simply a monoculture of non-local trees like Eucalyptus or even soy field.
Even the northern region the great Chaco has not been spared from deforestation.
In Paraguay, there are as many Indigene-people as German origin. So about 100,000 people. For the Indigenous people is the deforestation is a guaranteed eradication of their entire population and culture.
The reasons for deforestation in Paraguay are not much different than in the rest of the world. There is a huge demand!
Everyone wants to eat meat and the if possible every day. The fewer trees there are, the more space there is for the cattle. Soy again is a good source of food for cattle fattening, so more trees are cut down to feed the cows. Even in Switzerland the organic labeled farms feed max. 40% soy to their organic chickens. Those eggs will be sold as organic eggs in the market or big stores. It’s interesting because Soy is mainly produced in South America and genetically modified.
What will happen when the last tree has been cut down in Paraguay? When there is no more forest, no more wood? Not a place I want to live for sure.
Traveling with a dog
It was not easy and simple to travel with our dog Asterix (RIP 2015 Bolivia). It was rather complicated. Even he was a totally great dog! Because we could not stay in most hotels or B&B because of our dog. Transportation of the dog with the airplane was possible and we choose a direct flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo in Brazil. And then from there with the car directly to Paraguay – 24-hour trip.
He recovered very fast after the traveling. In South America, pets are not like in EU or the US they have to work to be there so for securing the house or the garden, etc.
We were not as flexible with the dog as without the dog. Also, we spoke to many people who have dogs and they told us that they couldn’t take any trips or leave their houses because of the dog. So this is an important thing to think about when you have a dog. Nothing is impossible, but it’s much more challenging.
For us, our dog was very educational in many ways. We learned with him that the industrial dog food is really bad and that for him the best food was meat and 20% vegetables. With that kind of food, he got a very nice fur coat and had no health issues at all. With the “dog food” he was constantly sick and his fur looked bad.
Places of Interest
There are a few international, not well-known places of interest in Paraguay such as: Salto Cristal,
Las cavernas de Vallemi, Lake Ojo del Mar, Las Dunas de San Cosme y Damián, Lagunas Saladas Campo María en el Chaco Paraguayo, El Pantanal Paraguayo, El Salto del Monday, Laguna Blanca de San Pedro source Warscheindlich there are merh Places of Interest such unknown in Paraguay, only are the example, on a plot that was fenced and, therefore, can not be entered.
The international, best-known attraction is probably the Iguazú Falls. It’s located on the border between Argentina and Brazil in triangle Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. They are among the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. More specifically, it is not one waterfall but about 250 waterfalls. The mere name shows the origin – Iguazú from the Guarani “y” for water and “Guasu” for United.
Places of interest were not our focus because we had other intentions and focused on other things. We have seen in this time a lot of beautiful things during this time.
Abholzung verdoppelt sich in Paraguay
Deforestation of the Chaco
Waldvernichtung umwandlung in Nutzflaechen
Lateinamerika weltweit hoechste abholzungsrate
Handel und Schmuggel in Ciudad del este
Kaum mehr Wald aber Soja im Ueberfluss