One of my more popular essays over the years has been the one called “Is Paraguay Really That Weird?” The book that I’m currently reading would seem to agree that it is. Its single chapter on Paraguay is mind-blowing. Below are some of the facts about this South American country that I did not know in 2016 when I first wrote about Paraguay being weird after reading a book about it.
Paraguay’s capital is the city of Asuncion. West of Asuncion is a huge area called The Chaco. A single highway crosses it to the Bolivian border. It’s mostly paved. Stretching west for 600 miles, The Chaco was mostly covered by thorn and quebracho trees. This huge expanse of trees was described in 2019 as one of the most deforested places on Planet Earth. A lot of the deforestation occurred between 1987 and 2012. The Paraguayan Government first passed a zero deforestation law in 2004 when Paraguay was earning the reputation as the country with the 2nd highest deforestation rate in the world. The Government renewed this deforestation law in 2013 so that it extended until 2018. It has helped.
The Chaco, which covers two-thirds of Paraguay, is home to 8 species of armadillos, Mennonites who have been there for more than 100 years, several indigenous tribes of natives chiefly the Ayoreo Indians, and the Moonies. The natives have had little contact with the outside world. This is an exceptionally unusual mix of people.
The Chaco has a weird climate. It is one of the few places on Earth where temperate and tropical zones clash. This leads to extreme weather. The range of difference in the weather is from 120 degree heat in summer to below freezing winters. It’s known for both droughts and floods but has no desert. The Chaco is mostly known for thick thorn thickets. Why would anyone want to live among thorn trees in a place with awful weather? Because for a long time The Chaco had the reputation of having cheap land, so farmers and ranchers flocked to it. They, of course, caused the vast deforestation.
The main city in The Chaco is Filadelfia. It was founded by the Mennonites who became Paraguay’s milk suppliers. Between 1987 and 2012, 17,000 square miles of forest in the Chaco disappeared.
To be continued.