Paraguay, famous for being one of the poorest countries in South America, was not one of those places I was dying to visit. However, there are things that are so bad they become interesting. Including the fact that there was a full-time training center there, and it was on the bucket list of places I would like to go to, if given the opportunity, though I wasn't actively trying to go there.
Earlier this year, my friend contacted me asking me to accompany her, sort of like security. She was reading about the increasing surveillance in the developed world, and wanted to make plans to flee. I had vacation days to burn, and so I agreed. Thus, I spent two weeks in Paraguay, over Thanksgiving. Here are the things I learned.
Paraguay has a colorful history. It was the Spanish capital during the Conquistador days. After South America gained independence, it was part of Argentina. When it declared independence from Argentina, it was backed by Brazil, in Brazil and Argentina's struggles to be the local power. It went through a phase of isolationism, becoming self-reliant, before engaging in the Paraguayan War and being sent back into the Stone Age. Since then, it's been sort of a de facto colony of Brazil and/or Argentina. The majority of its lands are owned by foreign businesses, and its policies are very open to foreign investment. It has low import duties, and a stable relationship with the U.S.
Paraguay is actually decently developed. If you stay in the big city, Asuncion, you can live like a king, given a few drawbacks. There are two things you need: a cell phone data plan, and Uber. To set up a cell phone data plan, you need an unlocked smartphone. Then, walk into the nearest Claro store, with your passport, and ask about getting a SIM card. They'll set things up, and the arrangement is fairly straightforward and reasonably-priced. You charge money to your account, where you can use the money as credit for buying packs. The data packs come out to something like 1GB for 7 days for 15,000Gs (Paraguayan Guarani, at an exchange rate of something like 6,000Gs to 1USD). Domestic phone calls cost extra, but given the rarity, the whole trip didn't cost too much. With a data plan, the city and beyond instantly became accessible. We could walk around on foot to random places to eat, or for my friend, establishments to set up residency. For longer distances, Uber was readily available, and was also reasonably priced. We could take $2-3 trips all day all across the city.
Only for the one day when we left the city did it make sense to rent a car. To visit the training center, which was an hour or so away, in Caacupe, we rented a car for the day's excursion. Gasoline is expensive. Highways have tolls. Going out of the city adds considerably to the cost. In addition, going to tourist spots, you'll have to deal with people trying to rip off tourists.
Highlights: friendly people, reasonable prices on food, good weather, meat tastes much better than what you can get in the U.S.
Low lights: malls are expensive, electronics are expensive, clothes are not cheap, sushi is nonexistent, not many car selection, roads are very bad