Paraguay…one of those countries you barely know. Interesting fact about Paraguay: it is the only (official) country with a flag that has two sides! Now you know.
Paraguay; what is there to see, who would go there, and why? I (Rob) was already in Paraguay in 2015 visiting a friend for 2 weeks, but only went to some places in the capital Asunción. I mostly took the time to relax, and that’s what we did now too. To be honest, there isn’t too much to see and do in Paraguay; there are not a lot of spectacular national parks or many (new) bird or mammal species we can see and we had a visa for 90 days. This was quite different from the other countries in South-America where we mostly didn’t have enough days to explore all the places.
Coming into Paraguay from Brazil, we weren’t too impressed by the country. On our first day we ran into multiple police checks where they would ask for every possible document you could need, and tried to find something that wasn’t correct. Of course we have everything in order, pretending to not speak any Spanish and taking all the time in the world to find a document they let us go without receiving a bribe. But if you think the police are annoying, try standing in traffic jams caused by local indigenous people because they put trees on the road. Why? They had some signs with demands for the government, but in the end everyone could only pass after they paid some money… Welcome to Paraguay!
In Asunción we had a nice apartment and took our time to select and edit pictures & videos, wrote our blog and trip reports and baked a lot of apple pies and brownies with the oven! We not only took care of ourselves, but also Forrest got some new filters and replacement parts. Our rooftop tent got new holes and better bolts and nuts after it came loose from the roof (luckily not while on the highway!). Also; in Brazil we had to inflate one of our tires regularly because it lost some air after a few days and we thought it was the valve. After a big service at the garage it turned out we had a nail in our tire, which we drove with for about 3000km. The tires were ready for replacement anyways, but getting new tires for Forrest turned out to be impossible. Even after we reserved 4 specific tires with the right size, the brand we wanted and all terrain suitable, 2 of them were suddenly sold to another customer just before our appointment (so much for reservations). But then, Forrest got a free wash after his service and he looked good as new anyways!
After Asunción we went to the Chaco in the west of Paraguay. After we left Asunción we could gain some speed again, but when we drove faster than 70km/h the car started to shake like crazy. Luckily we made it to the only large city in western Paraguay and after a while the garage found the problem. On the rims of the back tires was still a lot of dirt, but only on one side of the wheel (seems like they only cleaned the visible bottom part at the carwash at the garage!). Driving too fast this little weight of mud still was enough to make the whole car feel like an old barrel. Now totally clean, Forrest was as ready for the Chaco as we were.
Chaco habitat consists of shrubs of about 10m high, with in between cacti and some big trees. It’s a harsh, dry and dusty environment. Almost all trees, shrubs and cacti have spines on them, probably to prevent animals from eating them and loosing precious water. The Chaco habitat is almost impenetrable for humans, and that is why a lot of large animals still live there. The way to see them is to drive the few roads going through the Chaco and hoping that an animal crosses or walks on the road. So this is what we did for hours and hours, and some more hours and hours, mainly at night. We found some nice cavies (wild Guiana Pigs) and after photographing them we wanted to step back on the road. I looked around and suddenly we saw a Jaguar walking on the road, walking right towards us. We managed to get some great pictures before she went into the shrubs. As it goes with wildlife watching we immediately observed some Azara’s Night Monkeys right above the place where the Jaguar had entered the shrubs. So this is how you watch and photograph monkeys on the spot where a Jaguar was standing two minutes before, thinking she probably walked further into the shrubs (you can’t really look into the shrubs properly, so who knows how close we were then!).
As we were mostly active at night, daytime was spent eating the food we got from the nice rangers, eating lunch with the local store owner and sheltering from the strong winds while playing games and watching movies. A national park had free rooms to use, which we used for a week. Even inside the house the wind blew dust through the cracks between the doors and windows. If you don’t like dust, don’t go to the Chaco!
With lots more driving we managed to see more mammals, amongst which 3 Ocelots, 3 Geoffroy’s Cats (2 new wild cat species for us!), Pale Titis (a very cute furry monkey), multiple Armadillo species and again Lowland Tapirs and a Giant Anteater. Forrest got thirsty from all that driving, but being in the middle of nowhere it’s hard to get (good) gasoline that is not mixed with kerosene (if Chile was the end of the world, the Paraguayan Chaco felt like the other end of the world, remember this blog?). Luckily we became friends with the only store owner in the whole region; Edgar. The store had everything for you, your car or your horse (however your way of transport) but unfortunately he ran out of gasoline. But for his new Dutch friends he made some calls and that’s how after a few hours we filled up our tank at a local farmer. As we didn’t have much Guaranís anymore and of course there was no machine to pay by card, Edgar was ok with just putting it on our tab (yes, we had a tab in Paraguay). In the end of the week we could even pay him in euros!
That driving was bound to give us a pinched tire, and again Edgar came to the rescue with a tire fixing set, and of course he called somebody to fix it for us. Glad he did, because only one day later we got another tire pinched. This time not by a thorn, but be a piece of wood big enough to make a decent campfire. Luckily we were able to change it for our spare, but we had to alter our plans now that we didn’t have a spare wheel anymore. Back in the bigger city Filadelfia we got our tire fixed for free and our piece of wood wouldn’t have stood out on the wall of ‘objects that punctured tires’. And while we were in the city anyways, we were also able to fix our awning that broke off while driving on the bumpy Chaco roads. Just get some new hooks you would think? Nop. The first store had bolts and nuts the right size, another shop 1km further had metal strips that they could cut the right size and the third store was able to bend them at the right angle and drill holes in there. Oh, the joys of travelling.