Looking for the tourist-information-office Concepción that Lonely Planet promised us (but apparently doesn’t exist) we found something better. In front of a restaurant, under a sign ‘Tourist-Information’ we met Dirk-Peter, a German who came to Paraguay twenty years ago, married a Paraguayan woman and now lives with her and their three kids on a farm 16km from Concepción. With this farm he as created something amazing. But first it didn’t look like we would even get there.
While getting us to and in the local museum (it was closed for rearrangement), Peter told us about a trip to the River Ypané he would do the next morning with two Americans who stayed at his farm. But we had taken the boat to Concepción for traveling the river, not for staying there. Therefore we had planned to look around town for a day and leave the next noon towards Cuidad del Este.
First we thought we would stick to our own plans, but a few hours later we changed our minds and called him. In the next morning we left the weird Hotel Central (with pink-stained walls, neon-lights and electrifying showers) and took an early bus to Peters Granja el Roble.
The trip on the river
When we arrived we learned that the Americans had changed their minds and didn’t want to go on the river-trip anymore. So it was just Flora, Peter and me in the six meter dinghy made of metal. And some inflated inner-tubes of truck-tires that served for both the most relaxing and funniest part of the trip. For the next hours we floated down the river only steered by Peter with a paddle (until a pretty strong wind started and he really had to work the paddle). Some of the time Flora and I spent lying in the inner-tubes, on the water and some sitting in the boat, listening to Peter’s stories. His work (as tourist-guide, farmer and former manager of the biggest coffee-farm in the world) and projects (some of them really interesting, for example he wants to buy a huge amount of land to ‘give it back to nature’ and let some scientists monitor the project, but that needs a lot of money), tourists and Paraguayans, Brazilian guns and Austrian earthquakes (I know, nobody will understand that but I had to add it), and all the trees and flowers and animals and spots we encountered on the trip gave him a lot to talk about. And, honestly, listening was half the fun of the trip.
The lunch was included and we enjoyed the absolutely delicious home-made (and mostly home-grown) food his wife had prepared on a little sandy beach, right after going over little cataracts on our tubes. Then we did the whole thing again, to shoot a little advertisement-video for Peter (starring Jakob from Austria and ‘Oh god, I forgot her name’ from France).
At the end Peter spotted a couple of guys on a beach, starting to cook a caiman they had hunted earlier. He jumped off the boat and talked them into giving him the skin and skull. When one of the guys gave Flora the tail of the animal Peter was very amused. Back on the boat he explained. The Guarani-word for crocodile is Yacaré. But Yacaré also means a guy who ‘sleeps with women that aren’t his’. This guy gave the tail of the Yacaré to a woman he didn’t know… you get the idea? We could hear them laugh while we were floating down the river.
Guarani seems to be a nice language, Peter also taught as a ‘bad’ phrase. ‘Yaje topata tape poi´pe’ means ‘We will met again, in a narrow road’. You only use that if you are really, really angry about someone and want to tell him that you will kill him the next time you meet…
The whole trip took seven hours and was great. We weren’t too fortunate with animal-spotting, but saw some water-pigs and a toucan, and all in all had a wonderful time. Sun-burned, flies-bitten (I), exhausted (Flora) but happy (both) we returned to the farm.
The official residents on the farm include next to Peter’s family a water-pig, a dog, a parrot, two turtles, gooses, cows and pigs. The family’s house and the wooden cabañas for visitors are spread in a beautiful setting, among tropical trees and besides a big fishpond (there are two more and Peter seems to have an amazing knowledge in that regard). You find (and we tried) fruits that cost a lot of money in European supermarkets. Star fruit, papaya, grapefruit, oranges, citrus, avocado and paradise fruit, just to name a few. The whole family was extremely welcoming and uncomplicated; his kids speak Spanish and German and obviously have a lot of experience with guests like us. The whole place is a little paradise (and apparently not just for tourists but also for the native wildlife, Peter is really committed to ‘eco-tourism’) and we really regretted that we had to leave after only one night.
We stayed in a huge cabaña with big comfortable beds, a bathroom and a kitchen. After Peter had asked us if we are scared of frogs I wasn’t surprised to find one in the toilet (I only noticed when flushing). The next time I flushed before using it and six (!) frogs jumped out, flying around me in every direction. But you get used to that (at least I did).
I can’t repeat all the stories Peter told us in those two days. First it would take hours to write; second I’m not sure some of the stories should be published. Not even on this small scale. And third I simply can’t remember the huge amount of facts he poured out, telling us about every plant, animal and spot we encountered. I also couldn’t find a way to include some properly so I’ll just add them here at the end.
All over Paraguay you can find colonies of Mennonites, some Christians who came there for freedom of religion and the right to non-violence according to our guide. We have met some of them in the bus from Santa Cruz to Asunción. They spoke Low-German, the men were wearing bibs (Latzhosen) and hats and the woman old-fashioned dresses and had their hair coiffed back tightly. They immediately caught our attention when a single guy refused to sit next to female passenger and a man had to swap places with the woman.
Peter told us more about them. There are big differences between the different colonies. They come from various countries, like Russia and the Netherlands and also differ in their belief. The ‘strictest’ colonies are in the South-East. Some of them have Amish-like tendencies. But they are a little bit more creative. They use tractors, but without wheels… when they buy a new one the ‘normal’ locals immediately appear to buy cheap wheels. The Mennonites take of the wheels, mount a pole and clatter over the fields. They also bought harvesting machines, but their leader decided they couldn’t use the engines. Again they had to modify them. They removed the engines and drive them by towing them with tractors. Must be an impressing sight, a wheel-less tractor (with engine) towing an engine-less harvesting-machine (with wheels)… Of course all of this is founded on the words of the bible.
Mennonites like to spend their holidays (I can understand that they need a lot of holidays) on Peter’s ranch. There their kids regularly get crazy about something most of us grew up with. No, not a Gameboy, a simple ball! Their kids aren’t allowed to play with this most versatile of all toys, as the Mennonites pronounce it Ba-al. Unfortunately (for their kids) the bible uses Baal as a name for false gods and you can’t let your kids play with that…
We had already found out that Lonely Planet is as flawed as South America huge. It’s maybe still the best you can get, but Peter begs to differ. Mentioning the name is enough to cause angry tirades. Some of his antipathy is probably owed to the (regrettable) fact that his Granja del Roble is not in it, but a lot of his criticism is correct. If you look for Concepción, Paraguay in the online-version of the Lonely Planet you get a lot of information. How you get there and away via the airport and the train station. I’ve been there; Concepción, Paraguay has none of them. However, Concepción in Chile has both.
Peter knows a lot about animals. One of the he hunts on a daily basis: the backpacker, in all its mutations. He knows how to spot them, shorts and flip-flops as no grown-up local would wear them (‘They are something for poor people.’) and how to differ between them. If it looks like a normal backpacker but carries a cell-phone then it’s a member of a tribe called Peace-corps. And he is very successful (only the French aren’t as receptive as the others). If you are one of them, you don’t have to find him. Just walk down the main road, his hide-out is in front of a restaurant next to Hotel Central.
This article is a little bit, well, fractured. Sorry for that. There is so much I wanted to say about those two days but now have the feeling I didn’t say anything at all. You find some more information about Peter’s services on his website. Visit http://www.paraguay.ch and make sure to plan an extended stop at the Granja el Roble if you ever go to Paraguay! Everything about this place can be recommended.
And remember to check back for photos, I’ll soon add them so you can make yourself a better picture.