01 May 2016

Exchange Never Has To End

Well, sort of. You will have to get on that plane, but that doesn't mean the experience is over. Coming home is usually awesome in some ways, but awful in others. I had really bad reverse culture shock and I know I'm not the only one, so here are some tips for getting through the rough times.

1. Remember that you don't have to be the same person you were last year.
People grow and change. You did a whole lot of growing and changing in the last year, and you're probably about to do some more. You may find that you still fit right in with your old friends and enjoy your old activities, or you may find that you need something different. Don't be afraid to join a new club, make new friends, or pursue a different path from your peers. You and your old friends may find your ways back to each other eventually, or you may all be at the start of a new chapter. Either way is great.

2. Be deliberate about reintegrating.
Culture shock probably didn't just go away on it's own. You probably worked hard to get involved in activities and learn about your temporary home. Treat this the same way. Stay busy, pursue your interests, and say "yes" to everything. Don't totally lose touch with people you met, but don't spend 24/7 talking to people in your host country either. Go to cultural events. Explore neighborhoods or towns that you haven't spend much time in. Take a class or join a club that interests you, and look beyond your school to rec centers or community colleges if nothing at school catches your eye. Find small things to appreciate- a food, a view, a person, anything. This is just where you're at right now, so you might as well make the best of it.

3. Make a return plan.
Even in the toughest moments abroad, you knew you'd be back home within months. You might not know the next time you'll see your new family and friends from exchange though which can make it hard to deal with being away. I know I wanted to visit after six months, which was totally unrealistic. Research travel costs, save your money, and make a general plan of when you'll be able to visit. Knowing "I'll see everyone the summer after next" or something similar is a lot more manageable than not knowing when or if you'll return.

4. Stay involved, and pay it forward.
AFS, YFU, Rotary, and most other organizations absolutely LOVE when returnees want to get involved. You could volunteer to talk to people in your community about going abroad, help run orientations for foreign students in your community, or fill any number of other vital volunteer roles. This helps others have as important of an experience as you did, and it also keeps you connected to the world. You'll meet people who value your experience and likely share many of your goals and interests. They'll keep you sane when you feel like nobody cares or understands. 

22 December 2015


Every year, there are tons of questions online about how to pack for a year. I've been copying and pasting this list for about a year now, and most people seem pretty happy with it. I don't know why I've never published it here, but here it is!

A Very General Packing List.
Not everybody will need everything on the list.

-7-10 days worth of everyday clothing
-1 kinda-fancy outfit 
-1 outfit for exercise 
-2 things to sleep in
-1-2 sweatshirts/sweaters/light jackets (2-4 if going immediately to cooler weather) 
-7-10 pairs underwear
-3-4 bras
-7-10 pairs of socks
-1-2 Belts
-1 pair athletic shoes
-1 pair dressy shoes
-1 pair flip-flops/shower shoes
-1-2 pairs everyday shoes (if not covered above already)

-Travel size shampoo/conditioner
-Travel size toothpaste
-Travel size deodorant
-Travel size tissues
-Hair brush/comb
-Several headbands, pins, ties, etc. 
-Skin, hair, or cosmetic products that you can’t live without and can't buy abroad
-Other toiletry stuff you use regularly - razor, nail clippers, tweezers, etc.
-Tampons/pads/menstrual cup

::::Other Stuff::::
-Backpack or tote for school and short trips
-Camera (and charger)
-Memory cards
-USB drive/external hard drive
-Folding umbrella or rain jacket
-Host family gifts
-Any adaptors necessary for electronics
-Small dictionary 
-OTC meds that you use very regularly
-Prescription meds 
-Extra pair of glasses/contacts
-TSA-approved suitcase lock

::::Important Stuff::::
-1-2 other forms of ID (driver’s license, city/state ID, school ID, etc.)
-Debit/Travel card
-Cash (home and host currencies)
-Any paperwork/money you need for your visa (if not received already)

::::Very Optional::::
-Things related to hobbies (small musical instrument, sketchbook and pencils, cleats, etc.)
-Few small things to decorate your new room (photos, etc.)
-Little gifts (pencils, candy, magnets, etc.) for teachers/volunteers/friends
-Jewelry, scarves, etc. that you regularly use
-Camp/Travel towel
-1-2 books for plane (host language if possible)
-mp3/iPod (w/ charger, headphones)
-Travel sized hand sanitizer
-Wet wipes (for freshening up after long plane rides before you can shower/change)
-Water bottle 
-Flag from home country
-Credit card

::::Don’t Bring::::
-Hair dryer/straightener/curler
-School supplies

-You need to be able to carry all your luggage by yourself. Not roll, carry. You should also be able to get around the block with it twice (rolling is fine) somewhat comfortably. DO NOT go above the maximums that AFS specifies even if the airline has a larger allowance- you will likely have another flight, bus, or train ride in your host country with stricter requirements than your initial flight(s) and you may be using public transportation or riding in a small car to get to your host family’s home. You'll also have a lot more stuff on the way back! 
-Pack for 2-3 days in your carry-on in case your checked bag is delayed, and so you don’t have to tear through your big suitcase during orientations. 
-If you’re going somewhere with a cold winter but arriving in summer, consider buying your jacket, boots, etc. there or having them shipped over. If that's cost-prohibitive, cut down on the summer clothes and optional items and bring winter clothes. 
-If you’re going to a much colder climate than the one you’re from, plan to budget money for essentials like a coat and boots- what’s available to you locally probably won’t be warm enough. 
-If you’ll be wearing a school uniform, bring less clothing. 
-Bring clothes that you wear regularly, and that can be mixed and matched and layered. 
-Talk to your host family about computers. In many places, it’s very common for the family to share a computer. Don’t plan to bring your own unless it’s recommended by your host family or required by your host school. An external hard drive or USB drive can be used for documents, photos, music, etc. 
-Unless there are specific products that you absolutely cannot live without, don’t bring full-sized toiletries. Bring enough travel sized ones for the first 1-2 weeks, and buy new ones there. 
-Consider the availability of certain products where you’re going- availability of things like tampons, plus size clothing, large shoes, dark/light makeup, etc. may vary. Ask recent returnees or locals if there’s something you’re concerned about.
-Check the legality of any medication (prescription and OTC) that you plan to bring. Figure out how you’ll handle prescription meds well in advance. 
-Be mindful of how much stuff (especially electronics, name brand clothes, etc.) you bring. Your host family and/or classmates may be from a different socioeconomic background, and you don’t want to be perceived as spoiled or cause your hosts to feel self-conscious.
-Buy a cheap prepaid cell phone in your host country, or make sure that your phone is unlocked and has room for a foreign SIM card. Triple check that data is turned OFF for EVERYTHING. 
-Most banks can order foreign currency for a small fee with a couple weeks’ notice. I recommend ordering about $100-200 in your host currency to bring along, in case you want/need to buy anything in your first days. You may also want to bring along some cash in your home currency to use at the airport both before and after exchange. If you’ll have a layover in a third country, you may want to get a very small amount of cash in that country’s currency for buying snacks, drinks, etc. on your way, though most airport stores and restaurants will accept cards. 

-Get a debit card with a chip, and make sure that your bank is notified in advance about when you’ll be abroad and where you’ll be. Include countries where you have layovers. Do this a few weeks before you leave, and verify it a few days before you leave. 
-You'll need half the stuff and twice the money that you expect. If there's a question about whether or not you'll want something, leave it home. 
-Remember that this isn't a vacation, and people live where you are going. You don't need to bring every little thing that you may possibly need in the next year, because chances are, you can buy or borrow it where you're going. As long as you have a few changes of clothes, necessary medications, and some spending money, you'll survive. :) 

Current students and returnees, what do you think? Is there something I missed? Did I mention something that you've found totally useless? 

Happy planning and packing! 

06 March 2015

Paraguay: The Heart of South America

I read a great post about a visitor's experience in Paraguay earlier today over at Los Viajes de Mary, an awesome blog run by a Peruvian traveler. She had a 12-hour layover in Asunción and decided to make the most of her time in the city. I translated it to English to share it with you, but I definitely recommend checking out the photos in the original post!

There are far away and mysterious continents, there are countries with names that are difficult to remember, there are cities that you don’t even know exist. For example, in South America, who has decided to learn about Suriname? Yeah, that country north of Brazil. I guess someone has been there, or maybe like me they haven’t, and maybe don’t even know its exact location on the map.

Why is it that there are some countries that are more popular than others? Is it because they don’t do a lot of advertising? Maybe because we concentrate on the best known countries simply because we follow what’s in fashion?

It’s certain that there are countries known for their history, like Peru for Machu Picchu, or for their paradisiacal beaches like the Dominican Republic, but what would happen if I told you that there are countries known for their happiness? Could you imagine traveling to the happiest country in the world?

This should be an important reason to go to a country, don’t you think? Especially in this era of global pessimism, of distrust and insecurity, to be able to have a bubble where you know that you’ll only receive happiness, hospitality, and good vibes, isn’t that a real reason to get to know a country?

This country that I’m talking to you about is coincidentally located in the heart of South America, maybe that happiness has to do with this location; maybe it’s not only the heart of the continent, but everything that happens there is done with the heart. The happiest country in the world in 2014 was Paraguay, and I had the luck to land there.

A few days before my trip, I announced on Facebook that I’d be in this country and many Paraguayans wrote to welcome me, letting me see their hospitality and happiness from the start. That’s how I got the message from Silvia, a traveler with a big heart, offering to pick me up and inviting me to see Asunción with some other travelers joining us to take advantage of my 12 hour stop. After my flight was delayed and I slept in the airport, the moment finally arrived: Paraguay and I got to know each other.

Silvia greeted me with a hug, and took me to taste Paraguayan food in “El café de acá” where a unique environment invited me to breakfast. With a hot and soft mbejú, together with a cocido con leche (yerba mate with a little milk) that gave the perfect balance to this spectacular fusion of flavors, I began my day in this country that had so much to tell me.

The first thing I saw was the Costanera José Asunción Flores, where people were celebrating Tereré Day, a traditional beverage from Paraguay that consists of a mix of cold water and yerba mate. There were many women in traditional clothing doing makeup and getting ready for the celebration, a celebration where not only the beverage was honored but the significance that it has.

Tereré is shared with friends, because it is a beverage that unites. Instead of distracting themselves with television, they come together in a circle to talk while drinking tereré. Is this one of the reasons it’s the happiest country in the world? If only we saw each others’ faces, shared more, and distracted ourselves less, how different the world would be.

If there’s anything I love to feel when I travel, it’s freedom mixed with the breeze from the sea or river on my face, and I had that mix right in front of myself when I looked at the Paraguay River. Little by little, I was understanding this country, this human warmth, and this happy people.

The 12 hours in Asunción was an overdose of stimulation and information. I walked its streets, saw its buildings, and fell in love with the architecture of the ochre, terra cotta, and white hacienda houses. I noticed that many of the houses were only one story, and this surprised me. Although there were plenty of modern buildings too, this city still preserves the magical power of being able to look at the sky without feeling like an ant on its streets.

I saw the two faces of the López Palace with the façades that have so many stories to tell. I walked around the center of the city, I saw the copula of the National Pantheon of Heroes, I saw the Independence House, I fell in love with the brick façade of the National University of Asunción that contrasted with the white Cathedral.

Although I saw and did a lot in Asunción, I can’t say that I know it all. I have a lot left. On this trip, I got so see Asunción up close, walk its streets, see its river, enjoy its costanera, but I still haven’t immersed myself. Paraguay is a country that I want to return to, to get to know it in the future without hurrying.

I ended my day in this city doing what Paraguayans do best: sharing. A lot of travelers communicated and while some could only stay for a minute to welcome me in person, others sent me messages on Facebook, and others stayed to eat lunch with me at Lido, a famous bar since 1953, where they had me try lots of traditional foods while we talked and laughed like great friends. I learned a lot that day, but more than anything this country, known as the Heart of South America, showed me that it’s possible to be happy with the simple things. Just a little tereré, lots of laughter, and a little warmth are all you need to smile and feel your heart beat. And you, do you want to be happy?

18 November 2014

Contact with Home

Congratulations to all the exchange students who've made it through a quarter of the year! If you're in the US, you've already experienced homework, homecoming, and Halloween, and most of you probably cannot wait for Thanksgiving break!

How's it going?

Seriously, how are you doing? Take a minute and think about it.


I hope you're having a blast and learning a ton. I hope you're making great friends, getting involved in clubs or sports, and getting along with your host family. A lot of you definitely are! Keep doing what you're doing!

But not all of you are having the times of your lives.

A lot of you in the US are really, really cold right now. Winter came early this year for a lot of the country. You're probably also bored. You're probably not a "new kid" at school anymore, and things might not be so exciting. Maybe you've met everyone in your classes, you're you've already tasted most of the food you're served, or you're sick of your host family yelling sports that you don't care about. Maybe you're already thinking about Christmas, New Years, Hanukkah, and wishing you were going to spend them with your family at home.

This probably isn't what you pictured. Even if you're having a great time, it's probably not exactly what you thought it'd be. Hopefully, you're happy with that! It can be really, really frustrating when you're not happy though. Sometimes there doesn't need to be a big problem to be unhappy- your host family is fine, school is fine, your English is fine, the food is fine, fine, fine, fine. But you're sick of sharing a bathroom with your host brother, eating corn at dinner, stupid questions about your home country, or any other little thing. Or things. And if you don't feel like you can complain to anybody here, you're probably doing it to someone at home, or from your home country.

Sometimes that's fine. It's OK to talk to your family, and other exchange students are awesome because they understand what you're going through. If you're doing this every week, every day, or more than once a day, I want you to stop and think.

If you're sharing something with someone at/from home before someone from the US, why?

How many hours per day are you connected to home? Not just how long do you spend on Skype or whatever app you're using, but how many hours are you able to receive messages from home?

Very few people have tons of super close friends at this point in the year. It's hard to build a lot of trust with someone in just 2 or 3 months. It's normal to not feel so close to your new friends yet, but if you're not careful, you're never going to get there. New friendships take time, but more than that, they take effort. If you're choosing to spend your time talking with people from home instead of people in your host country, you're wasting time building up new friendships.

I'm not naïve enough to think that never ever going on the computer or using your phone makes sense for most people. That's probably how people in your host country communicate too. That just means YOU need to limit YOURSELF though. Turn Facebook chat off. Delete the Messenger app. Disable notifications on your phone for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, whatever it is that you use. Spend some time organizing your Facebook friends, and set your newsfeed to only show posts from people in your host country. Turn off the computer/phone at 10pm. Or 8pm. Or 6pm. If you can't hold yourself to it, ask your host parents to help. Make it harder to interact with people from home.

Talking to people from home is hurting you in the long run, even if it makes you feel better right now. It makes you feel better because it's comfortable. It's easy. It's familiar. Of course that's what you want when nothing else seems comfortable or easy!

But why are you here?

Did you want to make friends? Improve your language skills? Become a family member? The ever-so-vague "experience the culture" that we all wrote about in our applications?

That's not going to happen if you leave one foot in your old life. Of course it can be uncomfortable, difficult, and strange sometimes. You need to confront it though. If you let it keep being a little uncomfortable while relying on home to get through it, you're not going to have time to make great friends, speak fluently, integrate into your family, or truly "experience the culture."

I know it's hard, and I know you might not think it's a problem right now. I did the same thing. In retrospect, I spent WAY too much time online that I should have spent talking, studying, walking around town, watching TV, literally anything would have been better than sitting on Facebook.

If you can relate to any of this, please consider the following:

  • Put your phone away unless you're using it to talk to people you met in your host country.
  • Keep pushing new friendships. You need to keep trying to make plans. 
  • Get involved. If you don't know who to make plans with, join a club or team to meet new people. Ask a teacher if you don't know how, and don't be afraid to try something totally new. Dance, stage crew, swimming, volunteering, why not? 
  • Stop posting so much in your native language. If over half of your Facebook is in your native language, your new friends can't interact with you! 
  • Make contact with home a treat. Set up a weekly or monthly Skype call with your parents or a best friend. Write down things you have to tell them so you don't forget in the mean time. 
  • Write a weekly or monthly blog or newsletter to tell people what you're up to. If every seventh grade classmate and second cousin is sending you messages asking how you are and what it's like, you're probably wasting a lot of time repeating yourself! 
  • Unless it's a true emergency (your health or safety is threatened) wait a little bit to tell someone. Try to solve/get over it by yourself, and if it's still bugging you in a day or week, *then* tell someone about it. 
  • If your host parents have set rules about when/where you can use technology, it's because they see this as a problem now, or it was one in the past. They want to spend time with you, but you're on your phone/computer. Don't ruin your relationship with them over some Facebook messages!
  • If it's your family/friends back home who won't leave you alone, you need to talk to them about why they can't contact you so much. If you need to, ask a volunteer in your home country to talk to them as well. 
  • Remember that host parents, liaisons, volunteers, etc. are there for you. Most of them would be more than happy to talk with you when you're feeling homesick or unhappy. 
  • And for the love of god, GET. OFF. NETFLIX. Unless you're watching it with someone else, you should barely be on it!

Your friends from home with either be your friends when you get back, or they won't. What you do now probably won't change that. You have the rest of your life back home, if that's what you want. This is your only time to be on exchange.You're 1/4 of the way done with your year. Don't wait any longer to start to change something you're unhappy with. 

12 June 2013


Things Paraguay has/commonly has now that it didn't/almost didn't before: hand sanitizer, WiFi, Pepsi, helmets, seatbelts, women with short hair, hostels, 2,000 Gs bills, cell phone contracts, pear juice, political graffitti, posters about the minimum wage in every workplace.

Things Paraguay has less of now: kids trying to clean your windshield at every intersection, stray dogs, Lino Oviedo, annoying ringtones, confidence in the government, citizens working in Spain and Argentina, internet cafés, cheap food, horses in the city.

Things people tried to sell me on the bus today: toothpaste, bananas, laundry detergent, dulce de leche, cooking oil, pears, movie tickets, alfajores, cough drops, chipa, pirated DVD's, powdered milk, pre-peeled oranges, instant coffee, plus a live musical performance by two young Colombian travelers.

Things I've eaten with dulce de leche: palitos, bread, packaged alfajores, cookies, bakery alfajores, medialunas, ice cream, wafer cookies, gelato, tarts.

Empanadas I've eaten: homemade, VitaPan, Don Vito, Lido Bar, Honey, street vendors.

Buses that are not mine but look exactly like mine: 56A, 56B, 56C, 45.

Bus that goes past my house: 9.
Bus that goes past the office: a completely unrelated 9.


So, my computer either didn't like the humidity or the electricity here, and I've been out of a computer for the last couple weeks meaning that I didn't get around to updating until just now.

Just after my last update, I went to the AFS Intercultural Learning workshop. It was at an absolutely beautiful place called La Quinta between Piribebuy and Paraguarí. Most of the time over the weekend was spent in different workshops and activities that broke down different definitions of culture, common adaptation cycles that students go through, and cultural differences that most often cause conflict on exchange. Following the workshop, I returned to Asunción to stay for the week with a very generous AFS volunteer who offered me her spare room.

Beginning that Monday, I began to intern in the AFS Paraguay office. Most of my time for the first two weeks was spent visiting various community service organizations all over Asunción and the suburbs with a German intern who has been here since August. So far, I've visited TECHO, Fundación Ko'êmbota, A Todo Pulmón, Paraguay Educa, SOS Children's Villages, Hogar Infantil Santa Teresita, Guardería Tia Annetta, ABRAZO, Fundación Tierranuestra, and several special education schools to meet with staff to distribute surveys and information about the Weltwärts program (where the majority of community service participants come from), and also to bring profiles of the volunteers who will arrive in August to the foundations that already have a confirmed placement. I'm also working on updating the information in the online database about each organization, in particular the job descriptions and the contact/supervisor information, so that future volunteers will be better informed about their sites before arrival.

After a week in Asunción, I moved to a host family in San Lorenzo with parents, two married sisters with one son each (11 months and 6 years) who live on either side of the house, two sisters in college, a cousin, a tiny dog named Gaston and a Great Dane named Fester. I'm about 2 hours by bus away from the office now in rush hour traffic, meaning I wake up at 5 or 5:30 every day. I'm on the bus from 6-8, at the office from 8-4, and then often run errands in the city. Today I went to the centro (downtown) to start shopping for a termo and a hammock, and ended up falling in love with some purses that I shouldn't buy. Yesterday I went to the bus terminal to check out prices and schedules for buses to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Afterwords, three separate buses passed me because they were too full. When a Paraguayan bus driver thinks their bus is too full, they're not lying. There have been a few bus rides that I haven't been fully inside the bus for, plus one where I sat on the dashboard. After deciding to just wait out rush hour, I went into the mall that I was waiting in front of for some food, a caipirinha, and the Argentina-Ecuador game on a big screen. It's hard to get into the games now that Paraguay has been eliminated from the World Cup, but soccer and a drink definitely beat standing on a curb and being passed by buses.

The time here is passing quickly- I only have a week and a half left in Asunción. After that, I'm planning on going on a quick trip to Bolivia to see La Paz and visit an AFS friend in Santa Cruz, and then to visit my host family in Pilar. I fly back to the US on July 8th.

It's now 11:30pm and my alarm is going off in six hours, but at some point in the future (possibly after I return) I'll hopefully be writing about:
-Food! The posts about food are by far the most-visited on the blog. I've been taking more pictures this time.
-Cute things in Paraguay
-Exchange student FAQ
-Paraguay FAQ: An Unofficial Guide for Participants from the US
-Travels in Bolivia and Paraguay
-Changes in the last 2 years.

24 May 2013

Hola Paraguay!

I'm back! I left Chicago yesterday evening, stopped in Miami, and arrived in Asunción earlier this morning. I had an empty seat next to me on the international flight, which meant that I actually got sleep. I took a taxi to a hostel (where I am right now) for a rest and shower, and will be leaving shortly for a weekend-long workshop about intercultural learning in the town of Paraguarí, about 50 miles outside of Asunción.

While I'm here, I'll be volunteering with AFS for probably about 5 weeks, then taking a week or two to travel. I'm definitely going to Pilar, I'd like to go back to Ciudad del Este, and I'd like to visit Concepción. I'll figure that part out later. My Spanish is still a little rough, but it works. It's definitely lost some of its Paraguayan-ness in the last couple years, but I'm guessing that'll come back.

It's crazy how much more visitor-friendly Paraguay is now than it was just four years ago. The first time I came here, I could barely find a Guarani dictionary to buy online. I have a translator app on my iPod now. In 2009 and 2011, I had to apply for my visa weeks in advance with a bunch of paperwork. Now you can get a 90-day visa in the airport- no application, no money orders, no FedExing passports. The first hostel in the country opened a few months after I left in 2009. There were two in 2011. Currently, there are ten or eleven in Asunción alone plus a few in Ciudad del Este and Encarnación. There are direct flights from Miami to Asunción now- you used to have to stop in São Paulo, Santiago, Lima, or Buenos Aires (often in addition to Bogotá, San Salvador, or Panama) to get here from the US. The cover story in the American Airlines magazine this month is about Paraguay. Paraguay is definitely getting more and more "on the map" for tourism.

The hostel I'm in right now (El Nómada, 1156 Iturbe, Asunción) is great. I changed my reservation at the last minute, and they've been incredibly helpful. Central location free breakfast (medialunas, crepes, fruit, and coffee), free WiFi, comfy beds, hot showers, and an adorable kitten for about $12USD/night. I'm not actually going to be staying the night here, but I'd definitely come back.

Plans for the rest of the day: eat empanadas, drink guaraná, assemble a working cell phone, figure out how to take a bus to the AFS office with my backpack, go to Paraguarí. 

28 March 2013

Che ahata otra vez?!

I don't know if anyone is still here or not, but the flag counter tells me I'm still getting hits, so here I am.

A few general updates:
I'm in my third year of university, studying Education and History. My study abroad plans have changed several times, but it currently looks like I'll be in either Puebla or Guanajuato, Mexico from August to December. If that doesn't work out, I'll be in Istanbul from September to January. I'm focusing on Latin America in my history major, and writing my education thesis on international education, and more specifically high school exchange programs.

I just received a letter, informing me that I have been awarded two separate grants to fund volunteering in Paraguay this summer! Nothing is set in stone yet, but I plan to volunteer with AFS in Paraguay for 4-6 weeks as a start to my thesis fieldwork. I'll update with details as I figure everything out, but for now I'll just leave you with the name of one of the grants for a laugh: Bacon Super-Vision. 

12 June 2011


Thursday I pretty much just hung out in Encarnacion. It's definitely one of the nicer places in Paraguay, in my opinion. As much as I love Pilar for the people and tranquilidad, it's a town, not a city. I like Ciudad del Este for the activity factor and how easy it is to get around the country/continent by bus from there, but the safety issues are definitely a downside. Encarnacion seems to balance the activity with the tranquilidad. It's a big enough city to have, for example, a real supermarket (sorry Pilar) but everywhere I went (mainly in the zona alta) felt very safe, and was well-lit at night and clean. Being on the border with Argentina, there are plenty of buses to everywhere in Argentina, plus Uruguay, and pretty much everywhere in eastern Paraguay as well.

My bus to Buenos Aires left about 2 hours late, thanks to delays in Asuncion. Once we finally got going, we drove about 5 minutes, and got stuck for over an hour in Paraguayan customs. (WHY?! Since when does Paraguayan customs care about anything?) Then we drove over the bridge, and spent almost an hour in Argentinian customs. After about 10 minutes in Argentina, we stopped for dinner. I had a screaming baby behind me this whole time. After about another hour on the road after dinner at around 1AM, I decided that I needed sleep and went downstairs where it was quieter. All was well for a few hours, and one of the bus employees decided that I needed to re-learn the entire political history of Paraguay rather than sleep. He never said for certain if he was involved or not, but he talked a lot about the Somoza assassination and definitely there when it happened.

My relearning of Paraguayan politics continued until we passed a broken down bus and picked up some of their passengers. My previously quiet bottom floor was then filled with porteños who WOULD NOT SHUT UP. The lady behind me literally did not stop complaining about being on a Paraguayan bus (because, you know, all things Paraguayan are inherently inferior to all things Argentinian) despite it being identical to the bus that she had been on. My various other fellow passengers had an awful cough, a cell phone that apparently did not have a vibrate mode, and an urgent need to listen to cumbia without headphones at 5AM.

After finally making it to Buenos Aires and checking into a pretty awesome hostel, I met up with a few other travellers and walked around the city. Saturday I went to La Boca and Recoleta, and today I went to Retiro and did some more sightseeing with a Polish girl from the hostel.

Amazingly, in this city of 14 million people (the entire population of Paraguay couldn't fill half the city) and thousands of buses, I ran into an AFS Paraguay volunteer on a bus in Recoleta. Just proves how small exchange makes the world...

In a few hours I'll be heading to Montevideo, Uruguay. Chau!

08 June 2011

Cerro, CDE, Encarnacion, Trinidad

I'll preface this entry by saying that I'm shivering in a hotel lobby in Encarnacion, and it's a little hard to type on the ancient keyboard with freezing fingers, so give me some slack if there are typos.

While watching one of the Copa Libertadores games my first days in Paraguay, I mentioned that I would like to someday go to a soccer game in Paraguay. Amazingly, there was an excursion of Cerro Porteño fans from Pilar heading to Asunción for the game against Santos (Brazil) just a week later, so I got to go with my host sister and a few of my friends. We left the afternoon of the game, a bus full of Pilarense Cerristas, and drove the 7 hours to the stadium. Along the way I learned the team's songs, and that bus ceilings make great drums. We got to the stadium about an hour before the game, but it was already packed. We somehow found room in the first few rows after a bit of searching. The next three hours were full of chanting, singing, fireworks, smokebombs, and dodging bottles that were being thrown onto the field. At half time, the Santos fans started getting really riled up and throwing things at the Paraguayan fans, and had to be cordoned off by not just the fences and walls that were already there, but a line of riot police. The game ended in a tie, but it assured Cerro´s elimination from the Copa, so it was really more of a loss. Despite essentially winning, the Santos fans decided to trash everything, and some of them are still in Paraguayan jail for what they did after the game. The game was amazingly fun despite the tie/loss, and since everyone is still talking about the Santos fans, I get to talk about the game a lot. :) After the game, we wandered around Barrio Obrero for a good half-hour looking for our bus. Eventually we found it, and amazingly, the ride back took 4 hours. FOUR. F-O-U-R. The ride normally takes 7, maybe 6 if the road is in good condition (which it wasn't). I really don't even want to know how fast we must have been going to make that kind of time.

After a few hours of sleep, I headed back to the bus terminal to once again go to Asuncion, on my way to Ciudad del Este to visit my friend who was an exchange student in Muskego last year. After a breakdown somewhere in Misiones, and almost running out of money, I finally got to Ciudad del Este around midnight. My friend's family was amazingly welcoming, and picked me up at the terminal at midnight, showed me around the city, took me to the countryside, drove me anywhere I needed to go, and fed me way too much.

On Friday, I went with my friend to her university in Brazil, and absolutely loved it. Saturday, I had asado, went shopping in the centro, and went to a bar called Liverpool with my friend and a bunch of her classmates, listened to good, English music, and played the Paraguayan version of Jenga. The Centro is absolutely insane. I personally find it lively and entertaining, but I shudder to think that this is most people's image of Paraguay, since so many Brazilians and Argentinians come to shop, and tourists to Yguazu Falls visit just to check another country off their lists. It's absolutely NOTHING like the rest of the city (which is actually quite nice, easy to navigate, and full of parks and green space) much less the rest of the country.
Sunday, we went to a friend's farm somewhere in Alto Paraná. I had an awesome lunch, saw some adorable piglets and lambs, and turned my shoes red thanks to the dirt.

Monday, I decided to finally go to Yguazú Falls (also spelled Iguasu, Yguasu, Iguaçu, and Iguassu), the tourist attraction that Paraguay claims, despite its firm location in Brazil and Argentina. Getting there was a bit of an adventure. First, I had to wait a half hour to find a bus that wouldn't let me off in Brazil, but take me straight through to Argentina. After waiting for that, I had to get off the bus in Paraguayan customs for my exit stamp, and wait for another bus (45 min) and was kept company by some old, obnoxious, racist porteños (people from Buenos Aires) who only came to Paraguay to shop. Argentinian customs went smoothly, but it looked like they were gearing up for some sort of strike or protest. (Argentina, please pay your border guards. I need to be able to get back into Paraguay in a few weeks, and can't afford to go through Brazil or Bolivia.) The bus from Puerto Iguasu, AR to the falls came quickly, and I practically had the place to myself. The falls are absolutely breathtaking, despite the creaky metal catwalk over the river you have to take to get to them. Getting back was somewhat more of an adventure than getting there. The last bus from Puerto Iguasu to Ciudad del Este ran early or didn't run or something, so I ended up essentially sneaking into Brazil and being saved by having waited so long on my way there, but that's a story for another day. The bus left me at the bridge to Paraguay, which is sketchy in the best of times and downright dangerous at night. Luckily, a Paraguayan family who had also missed the bus to CDE offered to take me across the bridge in their taxi. From there, it was all straightforward.

Yesterday, I came to Encarnacion. The bus I was supposed to take had issues and didn't run, so I ended up in a bus so bumpy that I literally could not listen to music, because my earbuds kept being shaken out of my head. After leaving the terminal relatively on time, we sat in CDE for 45 minutes going nowhere. Then at a rate of literally about 10km/h we made it to Minga Guazu, where we spent 20 minutes. Then in Santa Rita, we sat for 30 min. At some point, we went through a customs checkpoint, and I saw the driver pay the inspector what wsa at least 100,000Gs. We also sat in Maria Auxiliadora for 30 min, but the bus wouldn't start when we went to leave, so we all got to wait another 25 min for the next bus with room. I finally got into Encarnacion a little before midnight, almost 3 hours behind schedule.

Today, I went to the Jesuit ruins in Trinidad, about a half hour outside of the city, To say that Trinidad is a one horse town is an understatement. I saw one cow, one cat, lots of chickens, lots of parrots, and three dogs, but no horses. I was literally the only person at the ruins, which made for some great pictures. There is no map, no brochure, no guide, and no sign has more than 3 or 4 words. This is Paraguay's major tourist attraction. It was interesting, and I can now officially say that I have done everything Paraguay has to offer tourists. I didn't have to wait long for a return bus, but it was the EXACT SAME bus that broke down in M. Auxiliadora last night. Same driver, same bouncy, stuffed, valentine heart hanging from the ceiling, same sticky floor, same jesus sticker on the window. Thankfully, we made it to Encarnacion this time. On the bus, I met a German couple and spent the afternoon helping them find a hotel and plan their time in Paraguay.

Now, I'm off to find some dinner, and I think tomorrow I'll be heading to either Montevideo or Buenos Aires. I like Encarnacion a lot and would love to stay, but I only have 2 weeks until I'll be back in Wisconsin.