The brilliant Rio Paraguay divides the country for which it is named into two distinct regions: the eastern plateau has well nourished grasslands and subtropical forests and the western Gran Chaco region offers a dry expanse of inhospitable plains, much the same as our North American midwest. We found Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, to be less than thrilling. Although it sits on the banks of the beautiful river, it offers no malecon (boardwalk) nor many views at all from city center. I overheard someone in an internet cafe in Potosi yesterday mention that Asuncion is the poorest capital in the world, that is to say, it has the lowest cost of living. I believe it…
Paul and I wandered aimlessly through the streets taking in the scene… I never really pay much attention to the current day of the week while traveling but it must have been a Sunday. The entire city felt dead… the streets were vacant of traffic and the sidewalks free from footsteps in every direction. Eventually we came upon a compound that occupied a city block alongside the river and what appeard to be the presidential residence. A sobering feeling came over us as we passed by on the sidewalk. At all corners of the surrounding streets and through the grounds, men in black chattering in code on walkie-talkies, others in camo gear – hate suits as Paul affectionately calls them – weilding their semi-automatics and shotguns. It seemed a bit overkill for the ammount of nothingness that was happening in the city. Who or what were they expecting? A civil revolt? A coup-de-etad? Maybe just citizens demanding explanations and for their corrupt? Impossible! From what we could tell thus far, the Paraguayans had been some of the most easy going people we’ve met, ranking right up there with the Uruguayans.
Anyway this feeling of awkwardness as we passed the guards was nothing compared to the blow we took as we approached the small overlook to the river located in a tiny unkept park to the immediate left of the presidencial palacio. There, below the overlook, scattered among the riverside vegetation was a sad, run-down favela, basically what we call a slum; and this was probably one of the worst we had seen thus far in all of South America. The absolute poverty juxtaposed with the offensive stature of the regal “white house” with its huge windows, towering pillars, multiple balconies, ornate mouldings and guarded heli-pad gave me an unsettle feeling.
It was a slap in the face of everything Americans are used to. Paul and I stood there for a long time absorbing the scene in silence: an older lady washing cloths in a small plastic basin, men repairing the hull of a large wooden fishing boat, kids passing time playing volleyball. The entire city posessed a rather tranquil feeling which came as a welcomed change from the hustle and bustle of Ciudad Del Este, the eastern city from where we had just arrived.
In the United States there is plenty of space to keep the rich segregated from the poor. The well-to-do can comfortably walk around in their own beautiful suburban comunities without being bothered by the existence of the ghastly trailer park or inner-city slum and the dirty people that ocupy them. The silent segregation that our system exists upon is quite an ugly phenomenon when it comes into view like it had for us today. Only here in this sad state, was I provided clear insight to the real and apparent differences between the socio-economic position of the struggling country and my own.