28 June 2009

1 week

One week from right now I'll be leaving Pilar on my bus to Asunción.
I'm definitely not ready to be leaving. A semester is really waayy too short; I haven't even had two culture shock-free months. These last few weeks have been amazing, and I wish I could stay here. For any prospective AFSers/exchangers in general reading this- go for a year if you can. You won't regret it. It feels like I'm leaving in the middle of something...

This will probably be my last post from Paraguay.

This has been a crazy six months. I don't even know how I'm going to begin to explain when people ask me about it. Also, everyone, please stop asking "How's Paraguay?" because there is no good answer that you're going to get out of me in less than 20 minutes. It hasn't all been good, but it's not bad either. It's just different, to fall back on the typical exchange organization's mantra.

5 July: Take noon bus from Pilar to Asunción, get there around 6, for sure seeing Abbey, hopefully Kat, Thomas, and basically everyone else in gran Asunción.
6 July: Fly from Asunción to Santiago, Chile in the morning, wait around in Santiago for a while, get on a plane to Miami
7 July: Arrive in Miami (morning), go through customs and immigration, go to Atlanta, go to Milwaukee..

09 June 2009

Ciudad del Este

I know why you can never leave the Hotel California. It's a tangled maze of hallways, courtyards, rooms, and stairs in the middle of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay and happened to be the location of the last AFS camp of the semester.
Friday morning I got on a bus to Asunción with Jana (German exchanger in Pilar) to meet up with the Gran Asuncioñeros whom we got on another bus with to go to Ciudad del Este. I got to meet a lot of people who've been here since August, along with seeing a bunch of my friends from February again. Most of the people are from Germany, but there are also a few from Austria, Belgium, Iceland, the USA, France, Switzerland, and Turkey. Ciudad del Este is about a 4 hour bus ride from Asunción, but as these last two weekeds have taught me: long bus rides are WAY more fun when the bus is filled with 40 other exchangers!! My bus (we were split into two groups) watched some movie with Elijah Wood, but everyone else in the movie had a reallly thick Cockney accent, so I found it easier to read the Spanish subtitles. I guess that's a good sign! The other bus was lucky- Slumdog Millionaire, subtitled in Portuguese. Ya gotta love movies that come on DVD-Rs in a cellophane bag with a office printer labels...

Friday night involved a tasteless dinner and some frisbee injuries at about 1 AM. Saturday was a little more exciting. We went to the Itaipú dam in the morning. It's the largest hydroelectric project in the world, and is on the Paraná river, between Paraguay and Brasil. We got to visit both sides of it (Paraguayan and Brazilian) but didn't have very much time. The sheer size of it is absolutely amazing. I tried to take pictures of it, but they don't really do it justice. After the damn, we had some sessions with the volunteers where we got to write letters to future exchange students and ourselves. We also played a pretty intense game of ultimate frisbee involving an immobile tennis net, some unripe passion fruit, and nice neighbors of the hotel.
Later on Saturday, we watched the Paraguay-Chile World Cup qualifying match. Even though Chile won, it was still fun seeing a bunch of foreigners outdo the Paraguayans with support for the team. Even with this loss, Paraguay is still in first place for the division, tied with Brazil at 24 points. Chile is in third with 23, Argentina 22, Uruguay and Ecuador tied at 17, Venezuela at 16, Colombia at 14, Bolivia at 12, and Peru has a measly 7. Technically Brazil is ahead of us because of goals scored, same with Uruguay and Ecuador, but points-wise, we're tied.
Sunday we began the day with a trip to "Salto Monday" (not monday, it's guaraní) which is a decent-sized waterfall. It's absolutely beautiful. I'm not sure why we didn't go to Yguasú, but either way, Monday is beautiful too. After not enough time there, it was back to the hotel for a pretty emotional goodbye/last session. A few hours later, it was back on the bus to Asunción. We had some amazing Chipa in Eusbio Ayala and got into the city around 8. From there I went to a volunteer's house for the night. They told me I was leaving at 8AM to go back to Pilar, meaning I got up at 6AM Monday morning to get to the terminal in time to buy my ticket. There is no 8AM run to Pilar. The first one is at 12AM. I ended up going on a taxi tour of the city, and watching the England vs Kazakhstan game at another volunteer's house. Everyone except for the empleada (maid) was asleep for most of the few hours I was there, but she seemed to enjoy ranting about Paraguayan politics to me and gave me some amazing grapefruit juice.
The bus ride back to Pilar was as smooth as it can possibly be on roads built by a corrupt dictator, and we got back only 4 minutes behind schedule, which is pretty great in any country and amazing by Paraguayan standards. Now I'm back in school, getting ready for exams. Unfortunately, my school is considering moving exams back a few weeks until after winter break thanks to Swine Flu. I know it's mostly passed out of the news in the US, but it's just starting to arrive here, and if it sets in, it's going to be bad. The medical care just isn't here, and even if there are vaccines, the people most at risk won't have access to them. Masks are starting to become a bit of a trend, but nobody's seemed to notice that wearing a mask, then taking it off to drink tereré out of a straw that everyone present is sharing doesn't make much sense. I just hope it doesn't get worse here...

01 June 2009

El Chaco

The Chaco is extreme. It is either unbearably hot, or very cold. People dying of thirst, or drowning in floods. This weekend was chilly and wet. Most of the inhabitants are indigenous people. Some people think there are still uncontacted tribes somewhere in the Chaco. Those that aren't indigenous are Mennonites from Germany, Ukraine, and Canada. The lingua franca is German in the cities, and in the indigenous communites Guaraní and other indigenous languages. Spanish is widely spoken as well, but signs come first in German, then Spanish. The Chaco has no natural resources, save the tannin extracted from some of its trees, and has been called "the green hell" on many occasions. This is where I was last weekend.

Friday I got on a bus at noon with Jana, the other AFSer in my town, and arrived in Asunción at about 7. There, we met up with the exchangers from Ciudad del Este, Encarnación, and Santa Rita and Fernando, the AFS volunteer from Capiatá. From there, we got on another bus (micro) to go to Capiatá. The 10 of us non-asuncioñeros went to his house to wait for the bus that was going to take us to the Chaco to get there, and watched TV for an hour or so, including a subtitled "I Am Legend" and a poorly-dubbed "Fresh Prince", before playing some sort of card game that had instructions in German, Dutch, French, and Italian.
About 15 minutes into our game, we went to the supermercado to get on the biiiig bus to take us to the Chaco. Some people were already on the bus, and some people got there right after. In all, there were 40 of us, from the US, Germany, Belgium, Thailand, Austria, Turkey, and Japan, plus three Paraguayan AFS volunteers. At about midnight, we left with the destination of Loma Plata, Presidente Hayes. Needless to say, nobody got too much sleep. We talked, entertained a gas station attendent with our crazy mix of languages, and watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre while driving through one of the most desolate areas of the world...
Eventually, most of us fell asleep, and woke up in Loma Plata. Loma Plata is home to a grocery store that sells marshmallows, gummi bears, donuts, and a few other really out-of-place foods alongside chipa, mburucujá, and who knows what else. After a grocery store breakfast, we went to tour the Chortitzer Cooperativa, which is run by german-speaking mennonites, and produces dairy. Lots of dairy. And a tinnnnnnnnnyyyyy museum. Next was Neuland, with another museum, featuring poorly-stuffed animals native to the Chaco and Paraguay, including tapirs, anteaters, jaguars, and capyberas.
After that, we boarded a bus to Filadelfia, where our hotel was. We went to a store that sells indigenous handicrafts from the chaco tribes and books. Choice of languages: German, Spanish, English, or Guaraní. A museum filled with poorly stuffed animals and mennonite newspapers later, we went to Fortín Boqueron.
Fortín Boqueron was the site of a large battle during the war with Bolivia over the Chaco in the 30's. There's an indoor museum of photographs and weapons from the war, and an outdoor "museum" of underground bunkers, bottle tree sniper hideouts, cemetaries and monuments. I got to actually sit in one of the bottle trees that was used during the war.
Back to Filadelfia for the evening. Dinner at a pretty nice and verrry expensive (by Paraguayan standards) restaurant, and movie night. AFS USA-ers - NUGGET! jaja
The next morning, we woke up and got on ANOTHER bus to Mariscal Estigarribia. First stop was an indigenous town. Our bus was greeted by about twenty kids, eager for the food the buses of blondes always bring. Most of them didn't speak any Spanish, but I was able to talk to a few of them in Guaraní. The kids loved seeing pictures of themselves, and seemed to have learned the word "foto" in Spanish. A few of the adults spoke Spanish, so I was able to have more substantial conversations with them. One woman, Juliana, came here from Bolivia when she was little. She spoke Spanish, plus three indigenous languages and came to talk to us with her niece, Maria Silvia, who goes to the Mennonite school in town, and is excited to be starting German next year. Unfortunately, they hurried us out of there rather quickly to get on to the next stop, which was the Airport.
At the airport, we saw runways, and listened to a guy talk about how it's one of the best airports in Paraguay that really isn't used for anything. He seemed pretty optimistic about some company coming in to take over and turn it into a busy commercial airport in the middle of one of the most inhospitable regions of the world nowhere near anything else.
After the airport, we went to an army base where Fernando the volunteer's dad was stationed. They cooked us lunch- rice, guaraná soda, and massive helpings of chicken. An hour of ultimate frisbee later, we were back on the bus, headed to Asunción again.
The bus ride back was actually pretty entertaining. Scattergories, Wall-E, fortune chipa gurus, mburucuyá yogurt, Garden State, stories, "Leftist Breakfast", immigration arguments, photography, and a million other things..

Total Bus Time:
Pilar-Asunción: 7 hours
Asunción-Capiatá: .5 hour
Capiatá-Loma Plata: 7 hours
Loma Plata-Neuland: 1 hour
Neuland-Filadelfia: 1 hour
Filadelfia-Fortín Boqueron: 1 hour
Fortín Boqueron-Filadelfia: 1 hour
Filadelfia-Mariscal Estigarribia: 1 hour
Around Mcal. Estigarribia: 1 hour
Mariscal Estigarribia-Asunción: 8 hours
Asunción-Pilar: 7 hours
But worth it.