After quite an adventurous journey down the Trans-Chaco Highway (which you can read about in Part One), Isaiah, my parents and I were thrilled and relieved to arrive in the town of Loma Plata in the Chaco. Below are my dad’s reflections of our time there.
What I Learned in The Chaco: Part Two
by Michael Brenneman
1. The Chaco was settled by Mennonites who came in in three major waves of immigration and that life at the outset was very hard. They carved a living out of land that no one else had wanted and that was not very hospitable to agriculture. But those who stayed, persevered through hard work and faith that they were building a better life for the generations to come. And that they did! They developed cooperatives which do everything from raise cattle to sell tires. The Chaco may still be a difficult place to live but through the many years of work and development it is one of the most productive areas in Paraguay. The tire selling cooperative was very helpful, honest and friendly in getting new tires back on our car and us back on the road (refer to Part One).
2. If one overhears a conversation in which someone is helping another, it is just as likely that you will hear the words ‘danke schön‘ as ‘muchas gracias‘ when they are saying thank you. At first glance in noticing someone who looked a lot like me ethnically, I would think that they were probably North American but soon discovered that these were Paraguayans that had simply been transplanted here from Canada, Russia or Germany generations before.
3. I learned that our hotel owner was a Wiebe whose ancestors had immigrated from Canada and that she, although born in Paraguay, went to Canada to live for a few years so she could obtain dual Canadian-Paraguayan citizenship much like her parents. I also learned that her children will most likely not do that and will solely be Paraguayan citizens.
4. The food is good although the hamburguesas are different because McDonald’s doesn’t put an egg on top of theirs and you can find an empanada in the grocery store and take it with some chipa and have a quick meal on the run. For you non-world travelers, an empanada is usually meat encased in a flaky crust and chipa is a cheesy bread.
5. I learned from touring the Chortitzer Cooperative cattle slaughtering plant that every part of the cow – and I mean every – can be used and sold, ending in no wasted parts. This is good for increasing their profits as well as not polluting their environment. The Chortitzer plant is very proud of the quality of their meat. They do not use growth hormones in the animal production and are even concerned to keep the animals relaxed and calm prior to slaughter so that the natural hormones that would arise in the animal out of fear are not present in the meat.
6. I learned that water is more valuable than land. Hectares of land are dedicated solely to trap and reroute water. The underground water in the Chaco is too salty which makes rainwater their only source of usable water. The fields wait to be planted until after the rains arrive. Even the scarce water that is trapped in the fields for production is recycled. They respect the land around them and want to be an example to others in their production.
7. I learned that milk can have a shelf life of up to six months if properly processed with heat and cold in packaging at the Trebol Milk Factory.
8. I learned from watching the judging for the best Brahman bull at the 39th annual expo (for those non-world travelers this would be like a state fair) that these hardy and massive creatures fit in well in the Chaco.
9. Unlike any other country in South America, I learned that Paraguay has two official languages: Spanish and Guaraní. Guaraní is the local indigenous language that was not eliminated but officially co-exists with Spanish.
10. I learned that I like to speak Spanish, attempting to communicate with locals whether in buying food or changing money or just trying to converse. Being immersed in the language and culture brought back words from my memory that I had not thought of for years. I learned that my daughter Allison and son-in-law Isaiah are excellent Spanish communicators. Not only that, they have tackled enough Guaraní phrases and are working to grasp more of the language, which truly impresses the Paraguayans.
11. I learned that carrying a bill worth 100,000 didn’t really make me that rich and that even carrying a 1,000 coin might be simply waived off and the price rounded down when trying to pay. (For those non-world travelers, $1 was worth 4,400 guaranies.)
And all in all, I learned that Paraguay is a muy lindo país con gente muy amable y que entra como huesped y salga como amigo. (For those non-world travelers that means Paraguay is a very pretty country with very friendly people and you enter as a guest and leave as a friend.)
Thanks, dad, for sharing your thoughts and for being up for all the adventures of the Chaco!