The free market in Paraguay and deep thoughts of JB

Ciudad del Este Travel Blog

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JB Boonstra
    Today the class took our bus to the border of Paraguay. This area is known as the "tres fronteras" or "three borders" because it's the meeting place of three countries: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Though it was pouring down rain, I decided I couldn't miss my chance to visit one more South American country, if even for an hour. I have no idea when I'll have this opportunity again! The bus couldn't take us across the border because we didn't pay them enough to be an "international" bus rental, so they dropped us off near the border and we walked from there. Within 100 yards, everyone was soaked it was raining so hard. Luckily, we found a little man selling ponchos for a couple reals, so most everyone bought one. Then we continued across the border on foot. The rain had turned the sides of the streets into white-water rapids of coffee colored water, so walking was a bit of a challenge. To everyone's surprise, when we got to the actual border, there was nothing there except a bridge. No one stamping passports, no one checking bags, no security whatsoever. So we simply walked across the bridge that spans the river that forms the border between Brazil and Paraguay. On the way over, we saw a bunch of motorcycle taxis that Dr. Bowman said bring passengers over to Paraguay then bring a huge load of goods back to Brazil. They do this because everything is incredibly inexpensive in Paraguay. Why? It's all contraband! Dr. Bowman says that there are estimates that say that 80% of all goods in the country are stolen from one place or another. Smugglers apparently run the country. No government interferes with the power of an absolutely free market. This drives prices to extreme lows, at least in the border towns.  After crossing the enormous bridge over the border, we got straight down to business. We split up into small groups to find what goods we could get for super low prices. We were in the bargain hunter’s paradise! I looked at a few digital cameras that were pretty decently priced but decided I didn’t really need one and didn’t want to go through the exhausting dance known as bargaining. By far the most interesting store I came across that day was the weapons store. There was enough guns, knives, and other objects of destruction in that one store to launch an offensive against a small country. As an American, I felt like I was breaking the law just looking at some of the things on the shelves. Too bad they wouldn’t even let me look at the US border while carrying that stuff. My friend Hannah found some pirated DVD’s for pennies, including Mission Impossible 3, The DaVinci Code, and X-Men 3. Though I question the morality of buying pirated movies, it’s hard to be moral when you can get blockbuster movies for fifty cents each. After our one hour of shopping was over, we regrouped with Dr. Bowman, where he had hired a couple of vans to bus everyone back over the bridge on account of the rain and the fact we were in sort of a hurry. We packed in the vans and headed back over to Brazil with all our little trinkets we had purchased for next to nothing. Just like on the way over, no one stopped the vans to check what we were bringing across the border. I almost wished I had bought one of those sub-machine guns from the weapons shop, just to say I had smuggled arms across a border. The van ride ended up taking just as long as walking because of traffic, and when we got to our destination, the drivers of the vans tried to charge us five times the amount they had quoted us when we hired them! After a heated argument with Dr. Bowman, he agreed to pay twice as much as the original price. Welcome to Paraguay: country of low prices and all kinds of shadiness that comes with them. Thus was my experience in Paraguay.
    I realize that my impressions of this new country are severely limited seeming as I was only there for an hour and in a border town, which are usually quite different than interiors of the countries they’re in. Someday, I’d like to return to
Paraguay to get a real impression of the country. Is it really the smuggler’s paradise that Dr. Bowman says it is? Or is that simply the reputation that this border town gives the whole country? Even if I do get to come back someday, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make an accurate judgment on the entire country. My travels this summer among various South American countries have served as evidence for a theory I had already formulated from previous travel experiences: It is impossible to accurately categorize an entire country, or any large area of people, for that matter. The more people I have the pleasure or displeasure of meeting, the more I am convinced that human beings are impossible to put into a set number of categories. Every man and woman has his or her own opinions, fears, dreams, hopes, values, political views, whatever. That’s what makes us human. We are so wonderfully unique that we refuse to be judged, dissected, and categorized. I could live in a country my whole life and read every bit of literature available and still be surprised by the actions and decisions made by people, even people I know well. This trip has cemented in my mind how incredibly diverse people are. Even people of the same nationality or ethnicity. Even family members. Even husbands and wives differ in countless ways. Though some poor souls try to judge and stereotype certain groups of people, I submit that it cannot be done. Blanket judgments of any number of people are as useless and unreliable as the honor system in the area known as "las tres fronteras".

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Ciudad del Este
photo by: pacovera