Opening Up Paraguay’s Landlocked Guairá Region


A farmer in the Guairá region of Paraguay.Credit Seth Kugel for The New York Times

The priest faltered a bit as he climbed the stairs to the museum, housed in an attic above a church in Itapé, Paraguay, a town founded as a Franciscan mission in 1672. My guide and I had roused him from his siesta by clapping our hands repeatedly — the Paraguayan equivalent of a knock on the door. Fumbling with multiple locks and a ring of too many keys, he finally got the doors open and led us through the neatly displayed, modest treasures. I had to read the signs; his eyesight wasn’t up to the task: A 1752 wooden figure of St. Bonaventure, arms outstretched. Nineteenth-century baptismal documents. Metal meal containers from the Chaco War against Bolivia in the 1930s. Then he stopped before a simple black frock hanging from a wooden beam. “First cassock of Father Severiano Nelson Vega,” I read, “blessed by the Monsignor on March 19, 1958.”

“Do you know him?” he asked me in Spanish, with a sudden sparkle in his eyes. Of course I did: he was standing in front of me, 55 years later.

Finding religious artifacts here was not a surprise; if Itapé is known for anything, it’s the pretty riverside shrine to the Virgen del Paso. But the village is also a perfect example of the modest, eclectic (and frugal) charms to be found in its home province of Guairá (pronounced gwa-ee-RAH), a relatively small area of about 1,500 square miles in the south of Paraguay, a landlocked country that is poor and mostly ignored by the outside world — but spirited and fascinating all the same.

“Paraguayans see themselves as the ultimate underdogs,” said Romy Natalia Goldberg, the half-Paraguayan, half-American author of the Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, a rare guidebook to the country. “They take pride in their country’s and culture’s survival in the face of constant conflict and isolation.”


Credit The New York Times

Ms. Goldberg’s assessment resonated…

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