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Cerro Cora, Paraguay. 2nd July

July 8, 2014

2nd July, Cerro Cora, Paraguay.
We are sleeping on hallowed ground tonight. Cerro Cora has been made into a shrine for Paraguay’s knight in shining armour. Unfortunately history depicts Francesco Solana Lopez, the president, as a despot who ruined Paraguay. He was killed here while trying to run away on 1st March 1870, his death brought the Triple Alliance War that he had started to an end. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay were his protaganists and with his death ended what is known as the bloodiest war in history. Paraguay had a population of 1.3 million before the war, that was reduced to under 30 thousand at wars end. Nine out of ten men in the country were killed. The Alliance claimed 55 thousand square miles of land as reparations.
The shrines at this place have seen better days. Power poles have been eaten by white ants lying horzontal with the light still working. Toilet blocks non functioning and ant hills slowly encroaching on the plaques of those killed here. Still, it is a lovely quiet place to spend the night. The only sounds are that of a few night birds and the Aquidivad River falling over rocks. Beats where we stayed the night before: in a disused quarry metres from a fairly busy road.
Crossing the border turned once more into a feat of frustration. I had checked with Brazillian Federal Police that a smaller crossing at Bella Vista, north of the major checkpoint at Ponta Pora was okay for us to cross. It was a breeze for us leaving Brazil though we were a little surprised when a security guard just waved us through, only to be told on the Paraguayan side that we needed an outgoing Brazilian stamp on our passports and, no they didn’t do it here, we had to go to Ponta Pora some 130kms south. As we drove back into Brazil we noticed the empty immigration offices looking like they had been that way for quite some years. The Ponta Pora/Pedro Juan Caballero crossing is one of those places that Brazil is on one side of the street, Paraguay the other. When we finally found the Brazilian Immigration Office it took the bloke 30 seconds to stamp the exit stamp and we were off to now to try and find the Paraguayan immigration/aduana offices. They were a big modern building but unsurprisingly were completely empty. The security guard sent us deeper into Paraguay to a little office just before Shopping China. Once again, as we had the correct visas, we were through in no time.
The Shopping China emporium would have to be one of the most impressive shops under the one roof. Less tax is paid on items in Paraguay and these massive shops are built just over the border for tax-hit Brazilians to come across and spend up big. The building would stretch a good 200 metres by about 100 metres wide.
This border crossing has a reputation as a smugglers’ mecca and not one to free camp the night in or near. Shot gun toting guards outside many of the businesses warily studied the passing traffic. Murders are common with many of the bodies left in no mans land between the two countries, a good way to stifle too many inquiries.

5th July, Fort Boqueron, The Chaco, Northern Paraguay.
Paraguay from what we have experienced so far, has been a pleasant change from Brazil. The endless maize landscape devoid of much in the way of variety we experienced there, has become a mixture of farmland and native bush, eucalypts being refreshingly absent. On some roads travelled so far there has been a continuous stream of small houses sitting proudly on small allotments with well groomed grounds. The houses themselves come in an array of the most garish colours: shocking pink, lime green, Karitane yellow, just amazing. There are people walking on the roads and beware the hundreds of students on mopeds pouring through the school gates. It’s all action here.
The Chaco is a dry, waterless wasteland to the west of the country. Covered by thorny scrub, cacti and baobab trees the bigger cats have found it a safe retreat from encroaching farms. It beggars belief why Bolivia decided they wanted it and invaded in the early thirties. Fort Boqueron, where we have spent the last two nights is one of the forts fought over by the two countries. There is a waterhole here, the only one for many miles that proved life giving. More people died from thirst than were shot in the war. There is a very interesting museum and paths lead you around the trenches, graves and dugouts. Of interest is a baobab tree that had been hollowed out and used by a Bolivian sniper. The slit fired through resembles a woodpecker’s hole. Even with its centre removed the tree is still alive and thriving. The main reason for us heading this way is to visit the Mennonite settlements in this area. They are of a religious following originating in the Ukraine where they were to suffer persecution causing them to seek refuge in Russia then Germany before ending up here in Paraguay by way of Harbin in China. The Paraguayan government offered them land in the Chaco, bit of a poisoned chalice considering the lack of water in the area. But they have turned the desert into grass covered farmland, mainly for dairying whose herds supply most of the miilk products for the country. Filadelfia and Loma Plata are the two main centres, each town housing around 7-8000 people. When we were there strong winds created dust storms through both towns making us seek shelter where we are at present. Each town has nothing in the way of a town centre, most activity is set around the massive cooperative stores that stocks everything imagineable, except liquor. German is spoken by many of the inhabitants and there was a distinct teutonic atmosphere to the places. There were many indigenous people in the town as well. The Mennonites helped stop the killing of the indigenous tribes, a practice common before their arrival.

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