Travel

A green oasis in the southern hemisphere: Paraguay

Our tour of the world continues as we head to experience different cultures and unknown lands. We are now in South America, in Paraguay, to be specific.

Paraguay is a country that perhaps some among us may have difficulty finding on a map. It lies in the southern hemisphere with Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia as its neighbors. Its land surface is 406,752 square kilometers and its population is 6.6 million. The capital of Paraguay is Asuncion. The country has no coastline but it does have very abundant agricultural land and fields and as a result, has become a country which exports its agricultural produce all around the world.

Summer in Paraguay is very hot and quite humid. The winter months here pass quickly, in just two months or so; even then, the temperature does not drop too much. Spring is perhaps when it is most beautiful in Paraguay.

When the Spaniards arrived in Paraguay during the 1500s, many things changed. Prior to their arrival, indigenous people were the only people living here. After the Spaniards came though, a sizeable slaughter of the native inhabitants took place and as a result, the remaining indigenous people fled the cities and towns where the Spaniards had come to settle, heading instead for the forests or places far away. The bulk of today’s population in Paraguay is composed of “mestizos,” or people of mixed Spanish-indigenous heritage. Of course, the population was also converted to Christianity many centuries back through the work of both Spanish colonizers and other Christian missionaries. Most of the population now is Catholic, with many churches, small and large, all throughout the country.

Spanish is the most widely spoken language throughout Paraguay, as is the local native language, Guarani. The country’s people all seem to carry their thermoses with them everywhere they go, drinking “terere,” a delicious and refreshing infusion that not only cools you down but is thought by many to have strong healing properties.

Asuncion is actually one of the first large settled cities in South America. Paraguay is the first South American country in which railway lines were put down. This began in 1856 and the first locomotive train engine started functioning here in 1861. We find ourselves at a historic train station in Asuncion, where there is an exhibition of old locomotives and train wagons. The word we see written on the locomotive, “Sapuaki,” means “Scream” in Guarani. It should be noted that back in those days, trains only travelled at speeds of around 22 kilometers per hour.

We decided we would love to see Paraguay from the air and so we head to the airport, flying in a small 83 model airplane looking out onto the vistas below. Our pilot is Senor Eriverto and he has apparently been flying for 16 years. We are accompanied on this bird’s eye view of Paraguay by the head of the Turkish Trade Chambers for Paraguay, Ahmet Korkut. The plan is to first bring us above Asuncion just to look at the view, before flying over to the river and then later over some of the country’s forests. The journey is even going to take us all the way to the borders of Argentina. All this in just one hour!

Once we are aloft, it becomes clear just how bright and green this entire country is; from the air you really get a sense of the forests, the rivers and lakes. The natural scenery here just looks like it never ends!

The enormous amount of forested land in Paraguay is extremely stunning. The Paraguay river runs from north to south and also acts as the natural border between Paraguay and Argentina. We also see the country’s largest lake, the Ypacarai. It is very close to Asuncion and boasts summer homes all around it.

We can’t help noticing large swamps around the lake here from above; we are told these are filled with mosquitos and that there is a serious illness — potentially deadly if not treated — in Paraguay called dengue fever which is connected with these mosquitos. The result is that people are very careful to protect themselves from mosquito bites here, especially from the Aedes-type mosquitos which carry the dengue virus.

We return to fly above Asuncion, looking out on this rapidly growing South American capital. It has had significant economic growth in previous years. One of the starkest symbols of this is the tall skyscrapers that now reach into the air from Asuncion. Interestingly, Asuncion is not far from the border with Argentina… just 70 kilometers away in fact. 

Nurdan ARSLAN
Email: 
nurdan@thelondonpost.co.uk

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