Coming back from the Salar de Uyuni feels like returning from another planet. Several days with no contact with the outside world, no internet or GSM, is quite an unusual experience for this hyperconnected world of ours. And a very refreshing one.
After Uyuni I had a long sequence of physical movements – first I took a bus from Uyuni via Potosí to Sucre, then a flight from Sucre to tropical Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city. In Santa Cruz I spent several relaxing days. From there I took an overnight bus to the Republic of Paraguay. The bus was described as overnight, but in reality it is more like a day and night bus, as it takes 24 hours to cross the subtropical desert of Chaco. At times we were covered with sand as the sand got through all the holes into the interior of the bus. Preoccupied with keeping my camera from sand, I did not make any pictures of the nightly Chaco. I kept following the circuitous route somewhere in the middle of Chaco using the GPS of my phone. The route had very little relation to the state borders drawn by politicians almost by hazard hundreds of years ago. The actual customs and immigration of Bolivia and Paraguay are in fact located many kilometres from the border on each side. So there is a pause of about 8 hours of the road inside Chaco between meeting the Bolivian officials and the Paraguayan ones. Chaco is virtually uninhabited, with the exception of several colonies of German-speaking mennonites. Mennonites are a particular Christian denomination, somewhat reminiscent of the Amish. They left Europe, including Russia, in 1930s. After many adventures in other places, eventually Paraguay gave them the deserted land in Chaco under favourable conditions, which for them meant complete freedom of religion as well as self-administration. The mennonites proved to be very hardworking and enterprising, adapted to Chaco’s difficult conditions and built an agricultural empire, centred on meat production, which today is an important part of Paraguay’s economy.
Finally around 3 pm of the next day I arrived in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. Asunción turned out to be an unexpectedly pleasant and civilised city. The first impression it gives is cardinally different to that of Bolivia, which is dirty, poor and chaotic. On Asunción’s streets by contrast you see numerous expensive cars, the orderly taxis operate with a taximeter, and only the exotic money – the prices are measured in tens and hundreds of thousands of local guaranís – does not let you forget that you are in Latin America.
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