Our time in Buenos Aires was interesting and perhaps a bit unfulfilled. We got there a day late, the weather was rainy, and on Monday all the museums were closed. The next day dawned bright and full of promise, until we realized there was a national transportation workers strike and all buses, museums, and tourist attractions were closed. Hmmmm, was there a message for us in our Argentine visit? On Wednesday we finally got out to see some of the BA sights, including Eva Peron’s grave (“Don’t cry for me Argentina….”) and having a very good Argentine steak our last night. One economical note - we went to a North Face store in BA to replace Annabelle’s lost rain jacket and found a very nice GoreTex jacket for only 7,600 pesos that translates roughly to $800 US dollars! No we did not make that purchase. Apparently, inflation is alive and well in the Argentine capital.
The next segment of our trip was to fly to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay to visit with new friends, Marcelo and Luisa. After an short flight to Asuncion, we paid our $480 reciprocity Visa to the Paraguay Customs officers (payable only with neat, unblemished US dollar currency), we were met by our host Marcelo and whisked quickly to his Asuncion home. We had a lovely introduction to Paraguay hospitality from Marcelo, Luisa, and their family, learning and much about the local politics, economy, and Paraguay challenges. I had no appreciation of the strong connection between the US and Paraguay politically, culturally, and with education of Paraguay residents not uncommonly in the US university systems. Being land locked, Paraguay does face many challenges, but appears to be in good position to advance economically with the pro-business program of the current President Horacio Cartes. Interestingly, Paraguay is perhaps one of the most integrated nations in South America due to a marriage policy instituted by the first dictator, Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia in the early 1800’s, that allowed marriage only between European colonists and native Indians. This in effect led to the current 95% Mestizo (European/Indian) population of Paraguay, opposed to a more racially stratified European to Indian population in other South American nations. In addition to seeing the sights of Asuncion, including a wonderful local market (see photo of the “meat market”), Marcelo treated us to a two day visit to his estancia (ranch) on the Paraguay River north of Asuncion. Travel up the river was easier than the muddy unimproved roads, so our trip to the estancia was via a Bayliner motorboat similar our previous Michigan ski boat. We should note that the Paraguay river was above flood stage, making for a pretty interesting trip viewing many buildings underwater and a broad expanse of river, rivaling the Mississippi. The visit to the estancia was incredible, highlighted by horseback riding, learning about the basics of Paraguay cattle business, and experiencing the wide open Paraguayan Paranena plains. On the other side of the Paraguay River is the “Chaco” region, much more wild, tangled with thorn bush, and still home to indigenous Indian tribes. However, there is currently controversial land development occurring in the Chaco with large Brazilian corporate farms burning off the rain forest to provide space for grasslands and crop land. Perhaps we are quick to condemn this practice, but this is exactly what we Americans did to much of the native forest in North American as it was settled in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hopefully the Paraguay government will be able to allow for economical growth but yet still maintain some natural set aside areas for the species diversity and survival of indigenous cultures. Tough balancing act for the politicians. The accompanying photos can tell the story of our experiences on the estancia, but we felt like we had stepped back into time when Spanish estancias were the mainstay of the Paraguay cattle business.