I have a lifelong obsession with the country Paraguay. This is an obsession that has subconsciously guided all of the decisions of my life. The goal is incomprehensible, and therefore so are the actions that need to be taken to achieve it. I can’t rationally explain (or justify) to other people the reckless and irrational things that I do, because I can’t explain to them the irrational goal.
This year I was in a perfect position to achieve my aim of living there for perhaps the half a year or so needed to get it all out of my system. I had a perfect combination of money, time, material and relational detachment, a plan and relative youth, but I did not use the three-month window that was open to me, thinking that there would be more time later on. There wasn’t; my brother in Australia became sick, and going ‘home’ to Australia again wasn’t a decision to be made. I was about a week or two away from touching a lifelong pipedream, but the chance once again became an insane impossibility fit for only fantasies, the way pipedreams are.
I went to Encarnación, a small city in the south of Paraguay across the river from Argentina. I was scoping out what I would miss, as I had previously decided that I wanted a smaller town in which to conduct my business and my life. I was tired of distances, transport and travel times. Encarnación would have become my new home.
Paraguay was celebrating its 200th year of existence as a nation, and painted murals on the fences and the red, white and blue number 200 in lights in the plazas were celebrating this everywhere. It was raining as I walked around Encarnación. I wanted to see the central plaza (bigger than usual Latin American plazas, impressive) and the mighty Paraná River across from which the Argentinian city Posadas with its buildings and a few lights appeared from the rainy mist list like an apparition. On that same street – the Costanera, the street that ran along the river – were the stands left over from February, when Encarnación is the carnival capital of Paraguay, another thing I would have participated in with relish.
It was my curse, to only see Paraguay, a tropical country, in the gloom of its short-lived winters (although a hotel worker told me it always rains in winter in Encarnación), like an entire country’s weather system was merely a message to me. I imagined the sun coming out the second I left the country. Message received.
The houses were small but were only behind tall picket fences and not ugly, forbidding walls. The streets were deserted, for who but a fool would be walking around in the rain? This was Paraguay’s day; that night they would play (and win) the semi-final of the South American soccer tournament and many people were wearing the red and white striped shirt of Paraguay’s soccer team. I entered a bank, and five of the six employees were in red and white. I’d just been to Brazil, where they hadn’t bothered wearing their colours. Brazil has action, but Paraguay merely has their country. There were possibly even more women than men wearing the shirt, a masculine pastime played in feminine colours. These quiet beauties had white skin, big eyes, black hair, small and beautiful figures, and spoke in their incomprehensibly sexy (and plain incomprehensible) Paraguayan Spanish-Guaraní accents.
I thought that going to Paraguay and experiencing the stillness, the bored tranquillity, had killed my desire, but when I left I found that the desire was still there, to torment me for the rest of my life. In Encarnación there were unaccountably a couple of Asians here and there, and the next night I ate at a classic Japanese restaurant, where an Asian family behind me had a daughter who spoke her family’s language with a very Guaraní accent. When I walked away from the restaurant in the cold along the ten blocks back to my lodging, looking at the one-story houses, feeling the small size of their city and the small size of life, I felt that I could love Encarnación.
The next day was the trip across to the second option I had considered for myself, the small town of Villarrica, which would have been home if I had considered dropping off the map entirely (Encarnación, at least, is the third biggest city in Paraguay, which indicates what a small, rural nation it is). The countryside in between the two places featured dirt roads, palm trees, magnificently green plains and waterways, and large houses that were usually pained green or blue in accordance with Paraguay’s nature vibe. There were cute towns along the way called Yuty and Caazapá, but unfortunately Villarrica had an ugly centre that consisted purely of shops, and I couldn’t have possibly lived there. It had Paraguay’s quiet, forgotten, naturalistic feel, but it also had the unpleasantness of Paraguay’s other vibe, a large market of things being sold; a buyers’ and sellers’ country, a nation that was simply one large shopping centre of objects of dubious origin. Villarrica was too small to have action, too big to be beautiful, although the outskirts were pretty. Reports that Villarrica possesses an Alliance Française school (I wanted to teach French in South America) just didn’t seem possible. Verdict: Encarnación yes, Villarrica no.
Someone waved to me from a balcony in Villarrica, as I disconcertedly made my way back to my lodging. The Paraguayan people were so straightforward, smiling and friendly, although I couldn’t penetrate their way. Once I left that unreal country whose existence I can’t be one hundred per cent sure of, the world became real again.
My girl in Bolivia told me she hopes I wake up from the dream-like state I float around in, before she never said another word to me. She could have been the woman of my life, but she was sandwiched between the two other things that I wanted more than anything else, and The Dream dictated that I had to leave her. I hurt her, a principled, consistent woman who will probably have nothing to do with me again. I believe it truly isn’t worth it, getting into relationships on the road and with the necessity of cutting them just when they are flowering. The first girl I was with in Bolivia understood this better than most, and clamped down on any residual feelings, and burned me. Years later I learned from her and adjusted my feelings accordingly, but other women were more straightforward with me, more natural. They treated me as a genuine option and not just as a plaything, and I still can’t bear their sadness when I left them.
I still haven’t woken up to myself, but when I picked my brother up from hospital here in Australia – the reason The Dream had died – I felt guilty for even wanting things for myself at a time like this. Waiting for him to be finished, watching him, I had a slight window where I had to force myself not to tear up, and wondered what exactly God was thinking when he made life such a sad thing.