Paraguay Blog #2: Fixin’ to Ride


Cast of Characters
Ken and Christie Hagerman: My hosts. They live in Itaugua on the grounds of Hogar Ganar with their daughters Camille and Caroline
Julie and Norberto Kurrle: A couple homesteading on the outskirts of Obligado with their four year old son Timmy
The R’s: A couple studying Guarani and agriculture in Obligado with their three kids

(Click here for the previous post in the series.)

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Arriving at the airport in Asuncion

For the life of me I can’t figure out how to start blogging about my trip to Paraguay. Being here feels so normal I hardly know what would be good to share. Of course half the roads are dirt or cobblestone. Of course the milk comes in bags. Of course you don’t flush the toilet paper.

Is that interesting? Is that news? Is that blog-worthy??

I’ve never traveled anywhere that felt so beautifully underwhelming in spite of its uniqueness, its novelty, its quirks. It’s not that being here feels anything like being at home in Wisconsin. It’s just that with the way it feels so familiar- even after nineteen years’ absence- I almost feel like I’ve simply taken a road trip to Oregon or the Wisconsin Dells; it’s all just different-ish

As I’m writing this I’m at the top of my fourth day here. We’re at the R’s apartment and some time around 11:30 this morning we’ll be heading to the beach in Bella Vista for an extended test of SPF 45, and an asado.

A real asado. It’s been so long. Good Lord I’ve missed this food.

The menu so far this trip has actually been pretty atypical of Paraguayan food. This morning’s breakfast? Grits and oj. Last night’s dinner? Homemade pizza with a wheat crust (“Wheatza,” Ken calls it), salsa, mozzarella, corn, beets, and palm hearts. Breakfast was homemade bagels; lunch was chicken and chorizo jambalaya.

The R’s are Southerners, for all y’all that didn’t pick that up yet from reading that there menu. They’re this awesome couple in their 20s studying Guarani for two years after a year studying Spanish in Costa Rica. I might have some of these details a bit confused, but I think the way things will work for them is that in about a year they’ll be moving farther into the interior and working with the local folks primarily in the areas of agriculture, conservation, and reforestation. (Read up on the destruction of the San Rafael forest some time. Unbelievably tragic, and much of the damage is irreversible.)

Our first day here in their home, Monday the 9th, they stayed up until 4:30 in the morning watching the Alabama v LSU game, to the tune of purple and gold homemade pizza, and LSU logos on all their kids’ clothes. NFL football means so little to me, and college football even less, but I can tell you that from now on whenever I hear LSU is playing a game, you’d better believe I’ll be rooting for them.

Camille and Caroline had been talking back…

Our second day here, Tuesday the 10th, we spent the morning in nearby Trinidad visiting the ruins of a 17th century Jesuit settlement. It had been at least twenty years since I’d seen them last, and while the ruins haven’t changed much (an added support beam here, a roped off staircase there), the surrounding area has changed immensely. The grounds are now blocked by a gate with a guard house. Before that there’s now a tourism building where you pay to get in (pay to get in?!), a restaurant, AND A TOWN. Luckily it was in the low 100s with a warm breeze and a clear sky so that *some* things still felt familiar.

Then it was back to the apartment for the aforementioned, totally non-Paraguayan gumbo, and an afternoon of relaxed conversation in an unlit living room, bodies sprawled out against the cool of the floor tiles, oscillating fans moving the still summer air from room to room. Afterward the R’s (with their youngest little one), Ken, Christie and I piled into the car for a tour of Obligado and Hohenau, and then the outlying settlements and countryside, including a drive down a long dirt road all the way out to the Río Paraná.

We waved at Argentina, then drove back to the apartment for the beet and palm heart pizza.

You wish you were here.

Carol and me at the beach in San Bernardino

I didn’t start out this far south east. When I first arrived late in the evening on Saturday the 7th I landed in the capital city, Asuncion, where I was greeted at the airport by four smiling Hagermans, complete with signs with my name on them just like in the movies. Now that’s all right. :) They drove us back out to their house where I was finally able to give the girls the books and Skittles I’d been stockpiling for them. We stayed up talking and laughing ’til 4 in the morning. What a great way to start a trip!

Sunday the 8th was a relaxing day spent packing for Monday’s drive, and sitting by the pool at my friend Carol’s house. Carol teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and has a home in San Bernardino. I found her through the same place I found Christie back in the day, Expat-Blog.com. It was great getting to finally see her home, to cool off in the pool for a bit, and to walk down to the lake. While at the lake we watched a handful of boys ride bikes down a long pier and off a 6′ high ramp into 3′ deep water. Ask me how much you’d have to pay me to do that. Answer? MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER AFFORD.

My family never spent any time in that area- I think we joined friends there once to swim- so there was a bit of culture shock for me when we rolled into town. The outskirts are pretty normal, but around the lake and the city itself? Phew there’s some money in that town!

Walking to the pond next to Julie’s house

Monday the 9th we packed the car and drove the four or five hours southeast to Obligado, a town near Encarnacion, to see Julie and Norberto Kurrle. Julie and her mother made the sweetest chocolate cake with coconut and pecan icing from the States. We took a walk to the lot next door where we watched the dogs play in the pond- some big ol’ teeth on those dogs- then went back to the house for salad, squash, mashed potatos, chicken, and the best cornbread I think I’ve ever had in my entire life.

I wouldn’t say you should buy a ticket to come here just for her cornbread, but I will say that if you come down here and don’t have her cornbread the trip was wasted.

Guarana, chipitas, mandioca, turrón de maní

After dinner we hit the road for the R’s house in time for the start of the LSU game from a few paragraphs up and… well there we go. All caught up I gues. Bit of a round-a-bout way of telling it, but I think I got it all.

Oh! Except the treats! How did I almost miss those? Geez…

So the two food items I’ve been craving the most since moving back to the States were Guarana (a soda) and a particular brand and type of turrón de maní (a candy). I’ve also had a real hankering for ham and cheese empanadas, chipa, chipitas, sopa paraguaya, mandioca, and dulce de leche. Some things you just remember and then always need, you know?

My first full day in-country I got to enjoy both of my top two mega-craves, and a bag of chipitas. What a great way to start a trip! :D

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