On one of my recent trips around Paraguay, I spent a few days at the Mbaracayu Natural Reserve in eastern Paraguay. Founded in 1991 with financial support from a Paraguayan environmental NGO, the American rock band REM, and the U.S. Government, the reserve covers 16,000 acres of Altantic Forest. Although there has been extreme deforestation throughout Paraguay, the reserve remains protected and is the largest example of Atlantic Forest left in the country.
We checked out a somewhat scary hospital just in case someone in our group fell ill (and thankfully no one did). When we stopped by the hospital, it was a bit dirty and though we saw a few sick-looking patients on gurneys in the hallways, we couldn’t find a single employee anywhere.In the most remote areas of the country, the dirt roads are in poor condition and often remain flooded even days after the last rain. Farm equipment and indigenous people are common on the roads, as are bridges that are much stronger than they look.
Within the reserve and adjacent to the Eco Lodge is a girls technical high school providing an environmental science education to underprivileged girls who would not otherwise receive a secondary education. Most students attend on a 95 per cent scholarship with their family paying the remaining 5 per cent (about $130 per year) either with cash or an exchange of goods or services.
Just down the road from the reserve is a large farm worked by the students and managed by three master farmers who serve as instructors to the girls. Students alternate between one week shifts at the farm and one week at the school in traditional classroom study. The food produced at this farm feeds the students at the school and guests at the Eco Lodge.
I got to milk a cow though I was not very good at it. While one of the master farmers filled her bucket with about a liter of milk in seconds flat, it took me a couple of minutes to get just a fraction of that amount.
We also visited the Environmental Research Center at the reserve. The Center, which regularly hosts American Ph.D. students, focuses its research on the reserve’s plant and animal species, many of which are endangered and can only be found within the park.
We met with many members of the community who warmly welcomed us.
During our time at the reserve, we hiked through the Atlantic Forest on a trail called Sendero Aguara’i. We saw many mushroom varieties.
There were so many bugs at the reserve, the majority of which were unlike any bugs I had ever seen before. You’ll notice that many of these bugs are on a white or ivory cloth; that’s because I spotted those critters crawling on the dinner table.
It was a bit foggy the next moring as we started our long trip home to Asunción.
I returned from my trip with a few items I had purchased from the indigenous community. The boys each got a necklace made from animal teeth. “Those animals didn’t brush their teeth much,” Patrick observed.
I bought two large bows and four arrows. The boys had fun holding them but we didn’t let them try to shoot anything.
This was a neat place to visit but it sure was a long way to travel!