Well, blog fans, I think I’m on a bit of cultural overload. So many days have gone by, and I have not had time to write. We’re in the midst of a visit to Paraguay, where my son Jon and his wife Nalena Santiago are Peace Corps volunteers in Villarrica.
It’s clear that Paraguay is not Iowa. One glance at the Asuncion Airport and we knew we were in another place.
The place looks, honestly, a bit tired. Everything seems aged, from the broken pavement of the streets, to the motos that are the majority of traffic, to the loud cars and trucks and even horse carts that clatter by every morning. In the airport, there was not the cold, efficient feel of even the Eastern Iowa Airport. The officials who took our cash and granted our visas took their time. The webcams that were used to shoot our photos were held together with tape.
Several of our $20 bills were rejected because they have small tears. Don’t ask me why. But if you travel to Paraguay, bring only crisp, clean, newish bills, blog fans.
Well, we spent only a little time in the big city, and moved on to the town where Jon and Nalena are based.
As a state capitol, the city of Villaroca still has a very small-town, rural feeling to it. Thin dogs wander the cobblestone streets. The sidewalks are narrow, often appropriated as extra space for shops or as a motorbike parking area. You have to keep a sharp eye out for rather chaotic traffic that sometimes includes cattle, but, on the other hand, Paraguayan traffic is pretty orderly compared with Puerto Rico.
The people have mostly been friendly. The students in Jon and Nalena’s classes have been excited to have American guests.
The food is not very diverse—in a state capitol of more than 100,000 souls, I have not yet seen a single Chinese or Italian restaurant, beyond a couple of pizza joints. I could really do want some Indian or Thai food.
But the Paraguayan chow has been good. They drink a cold tea called terere, which involves using a special cooler for water, the pouring it into a cup filled with herbs, then drinking it through a spoon-straw. It’s a bit bitter at first, but gets better. A group is expected to share the cup and straw.
They make a sort of cornmeal-starch-cheese bagel, the chipa, which is sold on busses during trips. Jon and Nalena say that it’s not always good, but the one I had on the bus from Asuncion was very tasty—chewy and cheesy and warm.
In a park in Villarica, we also had kabure, which is a dough cooked on a thick stick. It’s a little like having a corndog without a hotdog, although I’ve heard Paraguayans might blanch at the idea of meat inside a kabure.
We’re planning on doing some traveling around Paraguay, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this country. It’s definitely “deep South” feeling. But it’s not completely a land that time forgot.
There are apparently no noise ordinances in Villarica, and one way things are promoted is by cars driving around with loudspeakers. One morning, there was a horse cart that went by the house, with loudspeakers mounted on top, promoting something.
And it’s often that you see a horse cart driver texting Cell phones are quite common.
When I was speaking with students in one of Jon and Nalena’s classes, the Paraguayan teens asked about what music I liked. They perked up when I said “rock and roll.” They didn’t react much when I said I like The Beatles, but when I said “Green Day,” there were lots of smiles.
Besides seeing a new country, this vacation has been a welcome rest. I’ve been using a Spanish review book and have tried to communicate in that language, but that’s been so-so. I’ll keep working at it. I’ve read two books so far, one week into this trip:
“Cannery Row.” I mentioned once to my sister Cate that I had not enjoyed “Of Mice and Men” that much, and she suggested “Cannery Row” as a very different Steinbeck novel, and she was right, it was a fun read.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Don’t tell me the end, blog fans, I’m about 80 percent of the way through the book. It’s very different from “Cannery Row!”
Anyway, blog fans, I feel like I have had lots of experiences in Paraguay. I’ve been to a university here, seen a parade, been accosted in an ice cream shop by a begging child—it feels like I could do many blog posts a day, but I have had neither the time nor the computer access.
But, stay tuned, I’m sure at some point I’ll report a bit more on my Southern Hemisphere adventures. I haven’t written yet about the city part dedicated to a poet, the school parade, or the dozens of other things I’ve seen. I’m sure I will at some point.
Here are some photos from the trip so far.