This past weekend we explored a little-known and under-ventured-to piece of Paraguay: San Rafael Parque Nacional. What looked so close on the map (well 5 – 6 hours close) actually ended up being a 10 hour drive. It took us over 2 hours to crawl the last 40 km on rocky, muddy, sandy and grassy unpaved roads! The Funcargo (also known as the kittymobile; a reference to it’s Japanese ‘hello kitty’ tramp stamp) handled it like a champ – bottoming out continuously, making some strange noises at one point but getting us successfully (if slowly) from point a to b. Every time we scraped bottom (and by every time I mean all the time) everyone would cringe and ‘oh’ in sympathy for the car’s undercarriage. That being said, only once did we need to push it out of a muddy rut and only twice did everyone need to pile out of the vehicle so I (the lightest passenger) could drive though some precarious patches.
When we arrived, we feasted. It was American thanksgiving after all! It was pretty amazing to transverse what felt like all of Paraguay and then unpack a full and delicious thanksgiving meal literally in the middle of nowhere. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t completely authentic, but roast chickens are almost as delicious as turkey and there was a full pumpkin cheesecake for dessert!
From what I could gather, San Rafael Park is what’s left of Paraguay’s Atlantic forest. And what’s left is not a lot…apparently 2% to be exact. The rangers who were our guides and informants said they can’t keep up with the poachers and that quite a bit of the forest/meadows is farmed by the indigenous Guarani or being threatened by other encroaching agriculture. There also used to be monkeys and jaguars but they haven’t seen either now in years. Sad story and unfortunately not one that’s unique to Paraguay.
The good news is that there is 2% left and 2 seemingly dedicated individuals who are maintaining nature trails and observing plant species and wildlife. And though it was mosquito infested (I’m still scratching my legs as I write this…) it was also beautiful. Fireflies and brightly-lit starry skies, glowing sunsets with perfect ‘god-ray’s, twisting and towering trees, meadows with blooming wildflowers and birds (over 400 species of them!) singing their songs and chirping their cheer.