Paraguayan leaders once had the shelf life of an M&S prawn sandwich, and possessed a similarly fishy background. Perhaps because of this presidential propensity to ‘go off’, along with ensuing political instability, the country became entrapped in a string of dictatorships, suffering the iron fist of right-wing Alfredo Stroessner for over 34 years. Some outlandish conspiracy theorists even suggest Adolf Hitler didn’t die in a Berlin bunker but fled incognito and ended up in Paraguay. Certainly a few unsavoury Third Reich figures did take a U-boat to South America, but as Bradt’s new guide states, ‘It would be a great mistake to suspect all Germans in Paraguay of having a Nazi background.’ Times change and these days Paraguay’s president is democratic messiah – and very naughty boy – Fernando Lugo, a former womanising Catholic bishop and ‘holy father’ to at least one illegitimate child. His sister is ‘First Lady’. This is all good material for Bradt’s Paraguay – the only dedicated English-language guide to a colourful and unfairly overlooked state at the heart of South America.
Bradt author and former theologian Margaret Hebblethwaite emigrated to Paraguay in 2000. Her lively prose describes a country with 17 distinct ethnic groups as ‘mercifully free of gringos’. Indeed, Hebblethwaite confesses to having wrestled with the travel-writer’s classic conundrum: ‘It (Paraguay) is, to a large extent, pure, virgin, undiscovered territory. You do not want to tell other people about it, for fear of spoiling it for yourself. And yet at the same time you do want to tell other people about it because you love it so much…’ Exploring indigenous history, Jesuit influence, Spanish conquest, regional wars and the journey to democracy, Paraguay provides a wealth of context for the modern state without diverting the reader into obsessive detail. From the semi-arid Chaco and the Pantanal’s watery byways and sub-tropical forests, to the green valleys and rolling hills in between, Hebblethwaite describes the country’s markedly different landscapes, towns and villages (encompassing the tri-border confluence just downstream from Iguazú Falls). Elsewhere chapters offer insightful and up-to-date practical details about the capital city, Asunción, whilst for dilettante linguists the Guarani language is explored in a basic usable form.
Margaret Hebblethwaite is a professional journalist, former Assistant Editor of The Tablet, and author of a number of books. She is currently working in Paraguay as trustee and fieldworker for the educational charity she founded – http://www.santamariadefe.org – and is also involved with a community hotel project, where all profits support her charity – http://www.santamariahotel.org
Author: Margaret Hebblethwaite
Publisher: Bradt Travel Guides
Publication: July 2010
ISBN: 978 1 84162 315 3