Paraguay is a country that is yet to have a guidebook dedicated to it. I was looking to head north, and I had heard vague rumours that it was possible to take a boat along the Rio Paraguay from Concepcion up into the Pantanal, a vast wetland area shared by Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia.
This was to be no ordinary cruise though. Aquidaban is a cargo ship that supplies the isolated river settlements of Northern Paraguay with the necessities of life. She plies the lazy brown waters of the Rio Paraguay from Concepcion up to Bahia Negra and back once a week, departing Concepcion on Tuesday mornings. I arrived at Concepcion’s port on Tuesday to find her in the shallows, looking prematurely tired and heavily burdened. She was being packed to the rafters with enough supplies to start a new colony - fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, chipa (Paraguayan cornmeal bread), beer, bicycles, motorbikes, a small pick up truck, mattresses, furniture, cement, wire, other assorted building materials, and a water tank the size of a small swimming pool. All of these were being loaded by hand by a Concepcion’s youngest and strongest, packed tight and stacked high above and below deck and wherever there was free space. Whatever room was left over was threaded with hammocks, serving as the sleeping quarters for the journey. First in, best dressed.
I was one of five gringos on board, and the rest of the passengers were locals heading up river. In true Paraguayan fashion, the going was slow, but that’s what made it a great journey. There’s no hurrying these people - the trip takes as long as it needs to. In my case it was a slow moving 42 hour epic. But what’s the rush when you can sleep out on deck while you silently slice through the black water under a sky packed with stars? None whatsoever.