In case anyone is interested I can confirm that I am a millionaire! Before starting my walk round Asuncion the capital of Paraguay I went to the Cash Machine and withdrew 1,000,000 Guarani (local currency) I just about managed to get it into my back pocket.
Paraguay is most probably the least visited of all the countries in South America; it is also one of the poorest. Up until last year there were no guide books but last year Bradt’s did bring one out. I could go on about Paraguay as I feel I have almost turned into some sort of Paraguayan geek, but I won’t bore you, just some basic facts. The population of Paraguay is about 5 million with just over 600,000 living in Asuncion. It is also one of the few countries in South America where Spanish/Portuguese is not the majority language. The language of Paraguay is Guarani the native language before the Spanish arrived though most also speak Spanish. The reason the population is so small is still put down to The War of the Triple Alliance (1864 – 1870) in this war Paraguay was fighting against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, it is estimated that 90% of Paraguayan men over the age of 18 were killed in this war. Paraguayans still refer to this as genocide by its neighbours. So short were they of men to fight towards at the end that one regiment was made up with children between 14 and 16 with moustaches painted on their faces to make them look older, this entire regiment was killed in one of the final battles.
As mentioned before Paraguay does have a very large indigenous population and in the far north of the country there are a number of tribes that have never had any contact with the outside world. In fact the British Museum were going to send a research team this year to find out more about these tribes, luckily due to a large public outcry from many parts of the world this supposed scientific mission was stopped.
The President of Paraguay is a former Catholic Bishop called Fernando Lugo he was elected for a five year term in 2008, Presidents in Paraguay can only serve one term in office. He resigned from the church in 2007. Since becoming President he has had three paternity suits served on him and has so far only admitted to one they all date back to when he was a Bishop.
I left my hotel mid morning to try and explore Asuncion unfortunately I was not able to find a map so just set off towards the centre of town. Asuncion is built on the banks of the Rio Paraguay. It was not long before I passed an old steam train just randomly parked on the side of the road!! Not much further down were some old railway carriages that have been turned into a public library. I did pass some shanty houses that reminded me of South Africa and India. Soon I was in the main square and found some quite good street art. Not far from here was the memorial to the dead of The War of the Triple Alliance guarded by some very fine looking soldiers.
I then came across a very fine looking building that I now know to be the former Senate Building that has been turned into a museum of all things Paraguayan. Paraguay does have a rich tradition of music and one section was dedicated to the two most famous Paraguayan Musicians. Agustin Barrios Mangore a Classic Guitar player and composer. (Adam I have included a Youtube Video for you of John Williams playing one of his compositions) the other musician was Luis Alberto Parana who sold over 20 million records worldwide in the 50’s and 60’s. He died in London in 1974 not long after appearing with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. (must say I do not remember him)
After all this walking I decide it was time for a cold drink. I found a vendor selling Coca Cola and sat down to have a chat with him. Now this chat due to my bad Spanish took about half an hour, had it been in English most probably only ten minutes. I was interested in his relationship with Coca Cola as he was all dressed in Coca Cola shirt etc with a branded Coca Cola hand truck. It turns out that he is self employed, Coca Cola provide him with the shirt and hand truck for free and he just buys the products to sell. Now say what you like about Coca Cola but this is a system they also started in South Africa to help people earn a living, and yes I know the main object is to sell more Coca Cola but if at the same time you can create jobs then as far as I am concerned I think it is good. He explained to me that 50% of people in Paraguay are self employed, meaning they scratch a living as best as they can. The streets in Asuncion have many stalls of people selling handmade crafts.
Unfortunately I am unable to name most of the buildings I saw as they have no markings. I like Asuncion the people are very friendly and the city very interesting you just have to search around. Not sure why more people do not visit. In the evening I found a very good fish restaurant (something you rarely find in Argentina) and had a very nice local fish that had been caught in the Rio Paraguay.