Why you should visit Paraguay immediately
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Youth, lack of obligations, a longing for adventure, my temperament, and above all a sense of freedom were the main driving forces behind my decision to go hitchhiking across Paraguay.
Travelling is one of the only things you pay for that actually makes you richer. On some occasions you don’t need a lot of money at all to go travelling. All you need to do is pick up your bag, pack all your dreams into it and set off on your way! Fasten your seatbelts and join me on a journey to a country, about which many people know very little about - not even where it is.
Paraguay is the smallest landlocked country in South America, bordering Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. The name Paraguay itself is derived from the words “para”, meaning water and “guay” - born. Its main religion is Catholicism - approximately 90% of the population are followers of the Christian faith, however, there is also a large Muslim contingent, who emigrated to Paraguay from Lebanon. They reside mainly in Alto Parana, in the eastern part of the country. Paraguay is the biggest producer and exporter of water energy in the world.
I arrived in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, by crossing the border from the Brazilian side in Foz do Iguacu. Interestingly enough, crossing the border by foot is fairly relaxed - you don’t have to worry about any guards stopping you to see your passport, because chances are, they won’t. If you collect stamps in your passport, you can go up to the window and request a stamp, along with a 90-day visa. If not, just cross the bridge and ‘Bienvenido a Paraguay”! (Welcome to Paraguay). Everyone wants to sell you something, be it socks, sweets, books or cameras. In Ciudad del Este, you'll find whatever your heart desires. I couldn’t blend in with the crowd and was instantly branded as a ‘Gringo’, meaning simply white person, or a foreigner. If they didn’t call me ‘Gringo’, then they called me ‘Americano’.
-De donde eres? (Where are you from?) - the locals would ask me constantly
-DE POLONIA! - I answered and continued walking ahead in search of the nearest motorway (it later turned out there wasn't one, as such)
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I had the opportunity to eat a meal with Paraguayan locals during an asado. The whole event lasted about six hours and apart from beef and milanesa - a beef schnitzel coated in cassava - a typical Paraguayan dish, there was also bori-bori, a chicken soup with corn pasta!
The meals are eaten slowly and you take your portion yourself from the huge bowls laid out on the table. South Americans are also known for their love of Yerba mate (a type of drink).There was no shortage of it in Paraguay either, although here it was known as terere. Yerba is said to be drunk mainly to show love and respect to one another, or rather as the Paraguayans themselves call it, 'equality'
Everyone drinks from the same cup, commonly knows as guamapa, and through the same straw, boblimma. Yerba mate are simply the dried and ground leaves of the Paraguayan Holly plant. Terere was discovered by the Guarani people, who settled in areas of present day Paraguay.
The cultural heritage of Paraguay is a remnant of the country's historical European colonisers - mainly the Spanish, mixed with the culture of the local Guarani people. The fact that more than 95% of the population are mestizo, a person of combined European and Amerindian descent, makes this country the most homogenous in South America. As a result, both Spanish and Guarani are widely spoken around the entire country.
I found the most beautiful aspect of Paraguayans to be their love for art in all forms, nanduti (a type of embroidered lace), and their enormous sense of patriotism. Paraguayans love their country and hang out their flags anywhere they can. They are proud of who they are and their origins.They called me their 'gringo sister', although they feel they are half Europeans and half Amerindians.
Despite the fact that the first European settlers arrived in Paraguay more than 500 years ago, in 1516, seeds of European culture introduced then flourished and are visible in Paraguayan culture every step of the way. Paraguay fascinated me with its colourfulness and beauty. Despise being a poor country economically, it has people who are rich in character. Never before on my travels have I encountered such openness and frankness from the local community.