At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig

Definitely on my travel bucket list is one of South America’s two landlocked countries (the other one is Bolivia, which had a seaport on the Pacific until they lost it in an 1870s war with Chile). I am speaking, of course, of Paraguay, which is surrounded by Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia. I personally know no one who has been to Paraguay, yet I am yearning to visit it.

What piqued my interest was John Gimlette’s At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, which captures the insane history of this little known country, which is known for:

  • The Paraguayan War (1864-1870) against, simultaneously, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, in which 50% of the population lost their lives.
  • The Chaco War (1930s) against Bolivia, in which two armies confronted each other in a waterless desert and which, surprisingly, Paraguay won despite horrendous casualty rates.
  • The dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) in which the country welcomes fleeing Nazis.

While it is theoretically possible to fly into the capital, Asunción, I would rather enter by bus from Argentina. When I visited Iguazu Falls in 2015, I was only a few miles from Ciudad del Este, which is a known hangout of smugglers and Hezbollah terrorists—but I chose not to visit it at that time. (Actually, probably never would suit me.)

If I went to Paraguay, I would be interested in visiting the old Jesuit missions that were destroyed by the Brazilians. At one time, in the 18th century, Paraguay was controlled by the Jesuits and was considered a paradise on earth. To corroborate, read Voltaire’s Candide and see Roland Joffe’s 1986 film The Mission with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. But after the missions were destroyed, things went bad.

And I would like to stay in Asunción sipping Tereré, a cold preparation made with Yerba Mate. If I had time, I would like to see a little bit (a very little bit) of the Chaco region in the northwest.

Crossroads

The one part of Asia that I would like to visit is the island nation of Singapore. To me, it is like China and India rolled into one convenient package, yet not too far from its British colonial heritage to force me to learn a difficult new language.

What particularly earns it a spot on my travel bucket list is the cuisine. I love both Chinese and Indian food, and Singapore is known for both, as well as several adjoining cuisines such as Thai and Malayan.

In fact, I cannot imagine myself losing weight during a Singapore visit. And that’s when I’m not drinking cold beers at the Writers’ Bar at the Raffles Hotel—the height of colonial decadence,

Of course I would fly there on Singapore Airlines and hang out a while at Changi Airport, reputed to be the most interesting airport in the world.

Rio Bec

The Ruins of Calakmul in the Rio Bec Region

What with all my visits to the Maya ruins in Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala, and Honduras, you would think I would be getting tired of the endless ruins. Well, not yet! One incredibly dense region of Maya ruins is in the southeast corner of the state of Campeche, known as the Rio Bec region. Included are such archeological sites as:

  • Calakmul, with Tikal in the Petén region of Guatemala, perhaps one of the largest Maya cities at its height 1,500 years ago
  • Xpuhil (pronounced shpoo-HEEL)
  • Balamku
  • Chicanna
  • El Hormiguero (“The Anthill”)
  • Rio Bec
  • Becán

And these are only the better known ones, and even some of these are difficult to get to because they are at the end of dirt tracks in the jungles of the region.

Maya Ruins at Chicanna

Unlike many of the better known ruins in the state of Yucatán, those of the Rio Bec region are in steaming monkey jungles. The only town of any size is Xpujil near the eponymous ruins, and it’s only a blip on the long road between Francisco Escarcéga and Chetumal. To visit any of these ruins requires reserving a chunk of time, from three days to a week. Public transportation is virtually nonexistent, and the only places to stay (and not a large selection at that) are clustered around Xpujil.

To do the Rio Bec area any justice, I would have to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Still, I would love to go. I would have to pack a lot of insect repellent (like 100% DEET) and be prepared for some really dicey shit. Hey, if it’s on my travel bucket list, you can bet it’s no cakewalk.

The Bungle Bungles

Purnululu National Park. Photo by Sean Scott Photography.

This is one of a series of posts about places I would love to visit, but probably never will for lack of time and money. I first heard about the Bungle Bungles from Bill Bryson’s excellent travel book In a Sunburned Country:

The Bungle Bungles are an isolated sandstone massif where eons of harsh, dry winds have carved the landscape into weird shapes—spindly pinnacles, acres of plump domes, wave walls. The whole extends to about a thousand square miles, yet, according to [his source] “were not generally known until the 1980s.”

The area is now within the boundaries of Purnululu National Park in a remote part of Western Australia midway between Broome and Darwin. Bryson wanted to see it, but didn’t have the time, as it would have involved several thousand miles of hard driving on a desert two-lane highway.

Location of the Bungle Bungles

Expedia is currently running a series of TV ads about how we never regret the things we didn’t buy nearly so much as the places we never got to visit. I tend to agree. That’s why I plan to use some of my posts to dream about places that look fascinating. What with Covid-19, advancing age, and the high cost of travel, I will dream in print about visiting certain destinations. You might say it’s my travel bucket list.