Time to get chronological-y with these posts or I am never gonna get down on paper the kind of memory-prompt record I need. Ready? Here we go…
January 11, Wednesday
Still chilling at the R’s house, we started the day with grits- courtesy of Ken- and orange juice to get our blood pumping red, white, and blue.
Around 11:30 we took off for a beach in Bella Vista for an asado and to swim in the Paraná. We were a pretty sizable group, and not just in the “wide and towering North American” sense. It was the Hagermans, the R’s, the Kurrles with Julie’s mom and their friend Michael, and me. An impromptu 15-person asado ain’t half bad!
We set up the food under a thatched roof quincho near the water; burgers, potato salad, sweet bread, and watermelon. Gloooorious. Norberto and J cooked the burgers over a charcoal fire on the ground using a grate borrowed from a nearby group of picnickers. We thought there’d be grills there to use, so when we discovered there weren’t any we decided to use a piece of corrugated metal (cleaned off with a rock) someone had found there on the grounds. What is it about makeshift arrangements that makes things feel more adventure-y?
While most of the group headed down to swim, I stayed at the quincho with Christie, A, and baby F. It was up around 110° F (43° C) and breezeless, but I just wasn’t feeling the “jump in the river” urge. Or maybe I just wasn’t feeling the “change into my bathing suit in a 120° outhouse with its accompanying baked aromas” urge.
On our way back to the R’s that afternoon we stopped at a roadside shop with a giant US flag painted on the front. They get in shipments of used goods from the States and sell them for the most random prices you’ve ever seen. Ken found a Star Trek mug there for me. Somehow it just doesn’t feel right that my second souvenir purchase was a $1 mug from the States. I calmed my uneasiness with a second helping of Camille’s chicken and pasta dish at dinner that night.
January 12, Thursday
We took off that morning for Jamie and Marion Lee’s house in Ciudad del Este. Their gig primarily involves working with kids there in CdE, and painting these giant boards with a verse and an image from the Bible and then donating them to schools, hospitals, and the like. The boards are pretty awesome, especially when they end up in places with no real color to speak of; a bare-walled elementary school, the children’s ward at a hospital, etc.
Jamie and Marion, both from the London area, are also pretty awesome.
When we got to the house we were greeted by Marion, a dog named Cheeky, five tortoises (two of which were at least a foot long), and a steaming pot of bori bori (a kind of meat and dumpling stew). Paraguayan food– at last! After lunch the girls and I took a dip in the pool. Naturally the rain came five minutes after I got in. ;) It’s all good, though. Much of the country has been experiencing a terrible drought so the rain was welcome.
While staying there I was treated to my own room, which rocked a great deal. Thank you Marion for being willing to give up your office for three days! I had my own bed, a desk with a chair, and an air conditioner. I could live with just that for the rest of my days and be blissfully happy. Having Jamie’s colorful prints hanging on almost every wall of the house was the icing on the cake. The experience made me want to start looking at houses I could buy back in Milwaukee just so I could finally have colorful walls of my own. ;)
After lunch Ken and Jamie stayed at the house doing boy stuff while Marion took Christie, the girls, and I to a salon so Christie could get a 35,000 G ($7.58) haircut. While waiting I watched the city’s trash floating downhill outside in the floods of rainwater filling the streets. I guess the moral of the experience there was that if you’re moving to CdE, aim for the high ground.
A few hours later we all hit the road for a shopping mall across the Brazilian border in Foz so we could eat at a Subway there in the food court. I ordered the frango with azeitona, tomate, and alface. You know– because I needed another language to struggle with on this trip. Gah! Incidentally: Fast food cashiers in Brazil quietly speed-mumble just as much as fast food cashiers in the States. Nice to know some things stay the same no matter where you find yourself.
On our way to Foz, Marion pointed out the trash covering one of the roads we were on. I figured it was what had collected there during the day’s rain, but Marion said the place we were driving through- deserted at the time- was actually where the smugglers remove the packing from the goods they’re going to ship to save weight and space, before wrapping everything up in black trash bags before moving it across the border.
We finished up the night listening to the story of how Marion and Jamie got together, and about the time Marion’s brain broke and she went to heaven– like y’do. It’s a pretty incredible story. If I could come back here and record one story to share, it would be this one. She’s a powerhouse, that one is. A powerhouse, and one half of a kickass comedy team. Seeing the two of them playing off each other so well renewed my belief in the “there’s somebody just right for every one of us” idea.
January 13, Friday
The next day brought a leisurely morning for all, followed by a lunch of chipa guazu, empanadas, milanesa, and salad from Ña Morocha, a local eatery Marion loves. One bite into my long awaited ham and cheese empanada was the “proof in the pudding” for how this place has become such a favorite in the Lee household. Man oh man was that some good eatin’!
A little while later we were treated to afternoon tea, complete with tea kettle, cups and saucers, and cookies biscuits with the Union Jack stuck in ’em on toothpicks. You know– just to make sure we got the full British experience during our stay.
Good grief. You’re going to think all we did was eat on this trip. I promise that’s not the case, it’s just that every visit took place during a meal. A really, really good meal.
That evening we headed over to Clint and Rita Vernoy‘s house to have dinner- hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies!- with them, their daughters Jewel and Jade, and Janice their Great Dane, at their house on the edge of town there in CdE. Rita? You serve up one heckuva hot dog. Clint and Rita lived in Venezuela for a number of years, then moved on down to Paraguay, spending most of their time living in this, that, or the other jungle.
Back to Jamie and Marion’s to chill with Camille and Caroline for a bit before rejoining the big kids for a few relaxing hours of conversation in the living room. Man. What a neat couple. They’re both neat couples. What a great trip!
Ate turrón #6 that night. Merciful heavens was it good.
January 14, Saturday
Jamie and Marion sent us on our way with a bag full of goodies: bananas, rolls with dulce de leche, and cups of yogurt. It blows my mind how some people have such a gift for hospitality that its impact carries on even when you’re not around them any more.
Tooling along Ruta 2 we stopped at Lactolanda, home of 11 lb blocks of butter for $7.58, and 55 lb tubs of dulce de leche for $64.94. We left with a single cup of $0.22 coconut yogurt ’cause I needed to relive a memory. Dad and I used to buy that stuff at the co-op where we’d get our bread and eggs and all that. Mm-mm was it good. It’s not like US yogurt; it’s thin and drinkable. And ooh is it sweet! Good times.
We went to Viva el Sabor for lunch. More ham and cheese empanadas with a guarana? Don’t mind if I do!
Shortly thereafter we passed by an Arnell family favorite from back in the day, La Casa del Mani. We used to stop there for thinly sliced roast beef sandwiches and soft serve ice cream back in the day on our way out to the Teen Challenge camp in Pirareta. At that time the camp was still under construction, so it often served as a camping spot for folks from the mission who were looking to get out of the city for a bit, and who didn’t mind bucket-flush toilets, no electricity, and fire ants. On our way out there we’d enjoy one last luxury of civilization: Casa del Mani, home of what was then the only soft serve machine in the country.
From there it was only a half hour or so back to the Hagerman’s home in Itauguá. We unpacked, sweated, napped, sweated, swatted giant flying insects, and sweated until evening when Christie and Ken took Caroline to the hospital to make sure she hadn’t come down with something weird. Poor thing’s eye was all puffy and oozy, she had a headache, joint pain, arm rash, swollen glands– the works. When you come down with symptoms like that after taking a dip in the Paraná, source of more than one case of leptospirosis in the past few years, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Turned out she has pink eye and the flu. Poor girl. She’s taking it all in stride, though, and handling the whole thing very well. And luckily she’s still got three and a half Harry Potter books left to keep her company while she recovers.
January 15, Sunday
I’m sitting here with the remains of a cup of coffee (Who knew I could drink coffee on 100° days??), having just finished a waffle with homemade syrup. The family’s boxer, Nico, is asleep on the floor next to me, the fans are spinning away, the birds outside are singing like they’re getting paid for it, the sun is shining, and I’m not sweating yet.
Amen amen amen!