2. kesä, 2017

A rainy day in Paraguay

It's raining, and not just spitting, but absolutely pouring it down! The water turns the red clay into gloopy mud and huge puddles form quickly on the ground. Sediment gets shifted along the streams, creating cracks on the road. Visibility is poor to say the least, but thankfully our gps shows that we're nearing our destination. Soon enough we hear the words “you have arrived at your destination “ and we come to some sturdy-looking gates. I step outside, just for a moment , to ring the hanging, rustic, metal door bell at the gate, and get completely soaked, despite my umbrella. I hear barking dogs and a moment later our host opens the door and welcomes us in. We have arrived at Hasta del Pasta campsite, which is located in the village of Alto, a stones throw away from Paraguay’s capital, Asunción.
The rains dies down, so we set up camp and get the BBQ going. Salmon has never tasted quite as good as it does now, dining outside, watching the sun paint the horizon in red. While we're sat there, we find ourselves going over the days events and our first impressions of Paraguay. The people we have encountered in the countryside are incredibly poor. Owning land is a privilege, accessible only to a select few. While on the main road ,we did see a few private roads and entrance gates, leading to huge farms, that employ a majority of the workforce in the rural areas. At the farms, the employees work from dawn until dusk, on extremely low pay, making barely enough to feed themselves. Their future is looking anything but bright.
After a restful nights sleep we head off to Asunción, to get to know the city a little bit. The traffic on the highway is busy! It's as if all 2,5m habitants of the capital are on the move at the same time. The traffic consist of mainly banged up pickups and jam packed old busses. A few yellow taxis whizz from lane to lane in the congested queues. There are motorcyclists cramming themselves in to the gaps in between lanes and overtaking queues of vehicles moving at a snails pace. The situation could most definitely be improved if some of the road users could be transferred onto trains or metros, but for the time being it seems that everyone's on wheels. In between the vehicles, there are people walking about selling bread. Carrying huge baskets of chipa bread on top of their heads, they seem unfazed by all the cars. A few young boys are trying to make some extra cash by washing windscreens at traffic lights.
Much to our surprise, the traffic is considerably quieter at the city centre. What does stand out though, is the sheer number of armed police officers and guards. Groups of them can be seen outside all public buildings and in front of banks and shopping centres. We walk by a crowd of people gathered to watch a youth dance performance on the square. A month ago, a student’s demonstration against the ruling elite had got out of hand and the badly damaged, burned, congress building still stands as a reminder of the event. There are eerie holes in its glass walls and the whole building is fenced off with police tape.
We get to know more about the country's history in a small museum of independence and also stop and take photos of the decorative buildings from the colonial era. These beautiful buildings, however, are few and far between in the otherwise somewhat tatty metropolis. spray artists have at least introduced a splash of colour to the rather depressing grey of the concrete walls that dominate the scenery.
Our first few days in Paraguay have left me thinking about a lot of things. Although we're perfectly fine, I feel sad for the local people here. It's so hard to rise from the claws of poverty, if those at the top see it as their right to pocket all profits in whichever way they can.