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.


30 May 2011


So these last few weeks I've been back with my host family in Pilar. Very little about the city itself has changed. A few more streets have been paved, there's a new dispensa across the street, the "Castiglioni Presidente" signs from 2008 are now pink instead of red, some different stray dogs follow me around, Hamburgueseria Milenio is actually indoors now, but that's about it. Mostly everything is exactly how I remember it, with the added bonus of not having to deal with school this time around.

My first weekend here in Pilar was my cousin Lauri's fifteenth birthday. As in most of Latin America, 15th birthdays are a huge deal in Paraguay, so just after midnight on the day of her birthday, I got to go with a group of her family and friends to her serenata. The two singers who came with guitars did an amazing job, and the celebration went on for a few hours, though I left around 2am.

I've been watching a lot of soccer (Copa Libertadores). Cerro Porteño, a Paraguayan team, beat the Jaguares (from Mexico), but unfortunately lost to the Brazilian team Santos. They still have the regular season though, and this wednesday I'll be at their game in Asunción! I'm super excited since this will be my first real soccer game in Paraguay. After the game in Asunción, I'll be heading to Ciudad del Este to visit a friend, then to Encarnación to see some Jesuit ruins, and then on to Argentina and Uruguay for a week or two.

In the time that hasn't been taken up with wandering aimlessly around the city and hanging out with my host family, I've been working on the project that got me the grant to come here. I'm doing research on bilingualism in schools by talking to teachers and administrators, observing classes, and analyzing print materals. I've visited a few schools and looked at a bunch of books/notes, and so far everything is going well. The teachers here have been amazing about having me drop by with little to no notice and giving me the information that I need. Most of my work so far has been with schools in the city center, but I have one last visit lined up tomorrow at a school on the outskirts of town, where the students are coming from a much more rural environment, so hopefully I'll be able to get some contrasting information there.

For my part in Paraguayan-style bilingualism, I've been studying Guarani as much as possible and I feel like I'm actually making a bit of progress. I'm obviously still far from fluent, but I've been picking up bits and pieces in conversations, and a lot of what I learned last time and forgot has been coming back to me. I hope to be able to actually continue studying once I go back, now that there are so many more materials available online than there were a few years ago. I love the language, and I love those triumphant moments that come when you actually understand something that you hear all the time, or can deconstruct a phrase that you've known for a while and see how it's actually put together. The random Guarani trivia for this entry is that the word for "pray" also means "learn" and that the guarani word for "mass" (as in church) breaks down into "big prayer".

The weather here has been almost identical to how spring was in Beloit, except with the important difference that in Beloit, we were celebrating the warm weather and wearing summer clothes, and here in Paraguay, people are wearing hats and boots. I've mostly been in jeans and short sleeves, but even so, nobody can seem to believe that I'm not freezing. I'm getting slowly accustomed to the climate though, and had to break out sweaters the last few days (though not today). It'll also be colder as I get further south into Argentina and Uruguay, plus I'll have the ocean to contend with.

I've also been enjoying Paraguayan food again. I've been on a veritable empanada tour of not just Pilar, but half the continent thanks to the 2-day trip it took to get here. Paraguay's empanadas are by far my favorites, though the Colombian ones weren't bad either. I was not a fan of the Peruvian mushroom-chicken-pepper concoction that was made into an empanada, but I think they were trying to be fancy, so maybe more normal ones are better. I've already had most of the foods that I missed, including sopa paraguay, mbeju, chipa, mandioca, chipa guasu, bori bori, terere, dulce de leche, guaraná soda, and the Turkish-Paraguayan hybrid of Lomito Árabe/Döner Dürüm. I'm still not quite sure how that managed to retain its popularity as fast food on the voyage with immigrants from Syria and Lebanon to Paraguay, but it did, and no matter what continent it's on (and I can speak for 4 of the 6) it's good.

There are significantly more exchange students in town now than when I was here. There were only two of us for the vast majority of my time in Pilar, but now, I know of at least 5. There are also a few new Peace Corps volunteers around town, including a volunteer who's working in a school, which gives me some hope that I might actually be placed here should I ever make it into the Peace Corps. Paraguay LOVES its PC volunteers. Everyone in town seems to know them, and the national governement dedicated a series of stamps to the 40 year anniversery of PC in Paraguay. I hope that I'll be back in Paraguay as a volunteer in a few more years, but we'll see.

I started trying again, and promptly gave up on making sense out of so much here. There's still the eye doctor in Pilar who advertises for contacts with pictures of blue-eyed lemurs. Bus number 18.2 is still running in Asunción. Furniture and cell phones are naturally sold in the same stores, exclusive of anything else. I saw a guy riding a motorcycle in circles-- on the back of a flatbed truck. I passed a business in Asuncion called "Pizza, pero sólo para llevar" which means (Pizza, but only for takeout). The guy I sat next to in the Asunción bus terminal had "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as his ringtone, in English and in May. I bought lunch from a place called "Soon" in Asunción. I just don't get it sometimes, but I think that might be part of the reason why I love it here. It doesn't make sense, and nobody seems to think that it should.

19 May 2011

I'm here!

I'm back in Pilar with my host family. =)

Everything is going well so far. I slept about 15 hours last night, so I'm feeling a LOT better today than yesterday. The layover in Lima was long, and the Lima airport is entirely indistinguishable from Munich, Santiago, and so many others. I ended up making friends with a little Chilean girl who yelled "Mamà, creo que ella es NORTEAMERICANA!" across the aisle of the plane. I also found a group of Americans from Iowa who are doing some sort of biological research in Paraguay this summer, and bizarrely, my friend Abbey's Paraguayan host family! There are 7 million Paraguayans. I know what, 50? And three of them are on my flight. There were also a lot of Mexican fans of the Jaguares soccer team, who will play against Cerro Porteño, a Paraguayan team, tonight in the Copa Libertadores.
After landing in Asunción, I slept in the airport for a few hours before taking an overpriced cab to the bus terminal. Luckily, I only had to wait about two hours there for a bus to Pilar. I slept the entire bus ride, only waking up momentarily in Ità and Paraguarí, and not again until Pilar.
Tomorrow I'll actually start my research, now that I can stay awake. =)

17 May 2011

Almost there..

Hey all, I'm currently in the Bogotá International Airport in Colombia. I'll apologize in advance for typos, this keyboard is really sticky.

The trip started off with more than a little bit of drama, but since Milwaukee, all has been well. My flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta was delayed by over an hour, which meant no connection to Miami. Delta was going to rebook me, but that would have gotten me to Miami sometime around right now, when I obviouslty need to be in Bogotá. After frantically running to every ticket counter in the airport, Delta found a seat for me on a flight from Alanta to Fr. Lauderdale. After another mini panic aboutt how to get from FLL to MIA, they gave me a voucher for ground transportation. The flights went smoothly, I met a nice Haitian driver, and shaved 2ish hours off of an almost 8 hour layover, which was nice.

The airport is pretty small tghanks to construction, and as far as I can tell, isnt air conditioned. Oh well. I{m going to go get some coffee, maybe some chocolate, and hopefully get a nap in before I leave for Lima. After Lima its on to Asuncion! Im halfway there!

28 April 2011

18 Days

I got my grant results back in March, and bought my tickets a few weeks back. I'm going to Paraguay! I leave on May 16th, a week after exams end, and 18 days from now. I'll be flying Milwaukee-Atlanta-Miami-Bogotá-Lima-Asunción on the way there, and Asunción-Lima-San Jose-Miami-Atlanta-Milwaukee on the way back on the 22nd of June. Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze a trip to Uruguay in there somewhere, both financially and time-wise. I'll be doing research on bilingual (Spanish-Guaraní) education.

I'm finally going back!