The Chaco is extreme. It is either unbearably hot, or very cold. People dying of thirst, or drowning in floods. This weekend was chilly and wet. Most of the inhabitants are indigenous people. Some people think there are still uncontacted tribes somewhere in the Chaco. Those that aren't indigenous are Mennonites from Germany, Ukraine, and Canada. The lingua franca is German in the cities, and in the indigenous communites Guaraní and other indigenous languages. Spanish is widely spoken as well, but signs come first in German, then Spanish. The Chaco has no natural resources, save the tannin extracted from some of its trees, and has been called "the green hell" on many occasions. This is where I was last weekend.
Friday I got on a bus at noon with Jana, the other AFSer in my town, and arrived in Asunción at about 7. There, we met up with the exchangers from Ciudad del Este, Encarnación, and Santa Rita and Fernando, the AFS volunteer from Capiatá. From there, we got on another bus (micro) to go to Capiatá. The 10 of us non-asuncioñeros went to his house to wait for the bus that was going to take us to the Chaco to get there, and watched TV for an hour or so, including a subtitled "I Am Legend" and a poorly-dubbed "Fresh Prince", before playing some sort of card game that had instructions in German, Dutch, French, and Italian.
About 15 minutes into our game, we went to the supermercado to get on the biiiig bus to take us to the Chaco. Some people were already on the bus, and some people got there right after. In all, there were 40 of us, from the US, Germany, Belgium, Thailand, Austria, Turkey, and Japan, plus three Paraguayan AFS volunteers. At about midnight, we left with the destination of Loma Plata, Presidente Hayes. Needless to say, nobody got too much sleep. We talked, entertained a gas station attendent with our crazy mix of languages, and watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre while driving through one of the most desolate areas of the world...
Eventually, most of us fell asleep, and woke up in Loma Plata. Loma Plata is home to a grocery store that sells marshmallows, gummi bears, donuts, and a few other really out-of-place foods alongside chipa, mburucujá, and who knows what else. After a grocery store breakfast, we went to tour the Chortitzer Cooperativa, which is run by german-speaking mennonites, and produces dairy. Lots of dairy. And a tinnnnnnnnnyyyyy museum. Next was Neuland, with another museum, featuring poorly-stuffed animals native to the Chaco and Paraguay, including tapirs, anteaters, jaguars, and capyberas.
After that, we boarded a bus to Filadelfia, where our hotel was. We went to a store that sells indigenous handicrafts from the chaco tribes and books. Choice of languages: German, Spanish, English, or Guaraní. A museum filled with poorly stuffed animals and mennonite newspapers later, we went to Fortín Boqueron.
Fortín Boqueron was the site of a large battle during the war with Bolivia over the Chaco in the 30's. There's an indoor museum of photographs and weapons from the war, and an outdoor "museum" of underground bunkers, bottle tree sniper hideouts, cemetaries and monuments. I got to actually sit in one of the bottle trees that was used during the war.
Back to Filadelfia for the evening. Dinner at a pretty nice and verrry expensive (by Paraguayan standards) restaurant, and movie night. AFS USA-ers - NUGGET! jaja
The next morning, we woke up and got on ANOTHER bus to Mariscal Estigarribia. First stop was an indigenous town. Our bus was greeted by about twenty kids, eager for the food the buses of blondes always bring. Most of them didn't speak any Spanish, but I was able to talk to a few of them in Guaraní. The kids loved seeing pictures of themselves, and seemed to have learned the word "foto" in Spanish. A few of the adults spoke Spanish, so I was able to have more substantial conversations with them. One woman, Juliana, came here from Bolivia when she was little. She spoke Spanish, plus three indigenous languages and came to talk to us with her niece, Maria Silvia, who goes to the Mennonite school in town, and is excited to be starting German next year. Unfortunately, they hurried us out of there rather quickly to get on to the next stop, which was the Airport.
At the airport, we saw runways, and listened to a guy talk about how it's one of the best airports in Paraguay that really isn't used for anything. He seemed pretty optimistic about some company coming in to take over and turn it into a busy commercial airport in the middle of one of the most inhospitable regions of the world nowhere near anything else.
After the airport, we went to an army base where Fernando the volunteer's dad was stationed. They cooked us lunch- rice, guaraná soda, and massive helpings of chicken. An hour of ultimate frisbee later, we were back on the bus, headed to Asunción again.
The bus ride back was actually pretty entertaining. Scattergories, Wall-E, fortune chipa gurus, mburucuyá yogurt, Garden State, stories, "Leftist Breakfast", immigration arguments, photography, and a million other things..
Total Bus Time:
Pilar-Asunción: 7 hours
Asunción-Capiatá: .5 hour
Capiatá-Loma Plata: 7 hours
Loma Plata-Neuland: 1 hour
Neuland-Filadelfia: 1 hour
Filadelfia-Fortín Boqueron: 1 hour
Fortín Boqueron-Filadelfia: 1 hour
Filadelfia-Mariscal Estigarribia: 1 hour
Around Mcal. Estigarribia: 1 hour
Mariscal Estigarribia-Asunción: 8 hours
Asunción-Pilar: 7 hours
But worth it.