Beyond the wall…

Near the city of Concepcion in Paraguay, a German biologist has set up his own personal zoo and ecotourism lodge. But what is the story behind it all?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

Granja El Roble, Concepcion, Paraguay

The year was 1989 and as The Berlin Wall was torn down from around him, Peter GΓ€rtner saw an opportunity.

He was a biologist – for work and for love. Within East Berlin, though, the concrete jungle offered little connection with nature.

It was not a city where his passion could flourish, his life and dreams confined in a rigid structure of the industrial rather than the natural. As a young student he would spend his weekends in the local forest, exploring and discovering, but it was never enough to satisfy – just enough to keep him going.

Then one day the barriers were demolished. The Berlin Wall came down and Peter realised he could escape East Germany.

Two days later, he left, having decided to go to the furthest place geographically and culturally he could think of… South America.

granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay
granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay

“I asked my German-Brazilian friends and my German-Colombian friends where I should go”, he tells me.

“They said if I went to Brazil I would be robbed as soon as I left the airport and if I went to Colombia I would be murdered as soon as I left the airport. So they put their heads together to think about it and came up with Paraguay.”

Ecotourism in Paraguay

Twenty years later, I’m sitting with Peter in the ecotourism paradise he has built for himself in Paraguay.

It didn’t come easily, it didn’t come immediately, but he did realise his dream and it’s a world away from the life he once had.

On his small farm, near the Paraguay River about 20 kilometres from the town of Concepcion, he has built his own personal zoo.

granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay

Peter, cigar in mouth as it always is, walks into a cage near the kitchen and grabs the anaconda submerged in a pond. He brings it out to show his guests.

The snake writhes in his hands and prepares to strike. Peter is forced to drop it on the ground as the bite becomes imminent.

“I could have controlled it but I didn’t want to put pressure on its head”, he explains.

“It came here almost dead – with a broken neck and no eyes – and I need to treat it carefully.”

That’s how many of the animals end up at his farm, Granja El Roble. Locals bring him injured animals or he rescues them himself.

There are several snakes, an enclosure full of tortoises, aquariums of fish, a large rat-like creature I’ve never seen before and the star attraction – a howler monkey Peter confiscated from a local man who was abusing it.

It seems to have an aversion to the blender and when it hears it in the kitchen it starts its call, the volume increasing until the whole farm knows something is being blended.

granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay
granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay

For the past ten years Peter and his wife have been working on the tourism side of the business.

Passing ecotourism travellers like myself are welcome to stay, school tours come through and research scientists can base themselves here.

During my stay, a small group of German biologists arrived for a two month study tour and within 24 hours had discovered a type of frog in Peter’s pond that had never been recorded in Paraguay before.

granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay

The core business of the farm continues as well with 15 cows and 10 pigs at the moment. Farming is not easy in Paraguay with little assistance from the government, Peter tells me. He enjoys life on the land, though.

One morning I go with Peter on his milk run as he drives into town to deliver it to the local ice cream factory and dairy. This might be the kind of job that one day falls to his children – he has three, with the eldest 11 years old.

granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay
granja el roble concepcion, paraguay, places to stay in concepcion, ecotourism in paraguay

They will look back on their youth and remember the nights spent catching frogs, the days spent looking after the tortoises, and (unfortunately) the occasional bite from a snake.

Peter, though, has created the world he once imagined but never believed possible within the communist restrictions he knew as a child. The wall came down and in its place he created his sanctuary.

The nitty gritty travel details
To visit Peter and Granja El Roble you need to get to the town of Concepcion, which is about 7 hours by bus from Ascunsion. Granja El Roble is 20 kilometres from the bus terminal but you can get a taxi, local bus or arrange for Peter to pick you up. Accommodation and three meals is about US$25 a day. For more information, check out this link.

12 thoughts on “Beyond the wall…”

  1. This really looks like a little piece of land away from civilization. Sometimes I fantasize about leaving all the modern world behind and escape to such a place. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Great inspirational story! I love reading about the people you meet on your adventures. Granja El Roble is definitely the type of place Bret & I would visit if we were in Paraguay, especially since we’re ecotourism travelers πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Thanks Mary. I thought of you guys when I was there and how much you would enjoy visiting. It was such a low-key and peaceful place (although, that describes most of Paraguay). Hopefully you get a chance to go one day and see the work they’re doing there.

      Reply

Leave a comment