Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Picnics and Buses--Quite a Combination

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yesterday Catherine and I got our first taste, literally, of a Paraguayan tradition: parrillada or asado. This consists of barbequed meats (chorizo and sausage among the most popular) served in large, buffet like portions. Included with all that barbeque was goat that was prepared in a tatakua, a clay oven. The slow cooking and clay gave the goat a unique flavor.

To experience this much-practiced ritual of Paraguayan society, Cat and I had to traverse the Rió Paraguay. Thankfully, the people we went with belong to what we would refer to as a country club and so traversing the river was no more difficult than getting on a boat provided by the club and relaxing while it meandered down the fast-flowing current to our destination. Unfortunately, the sun decided that a Paraguayan style barbeque would be all that we would enjoy. It burned with an intensity that measured 42 degrees Celsius (that’s pushing 105 Fahrenheit). Up until now, we’ve been spared and only had to make our way through balmy 34 degree (95 Fahrenheit) weather. So instead of walking around the park and enjoying the skyline views it offered of Asunción, we stayed under the canopy clutching to every respite of shade that it offered.

Our commute to school today took a whopping 15 seconds, or 27 steps. No joke! We are not next door, although based on our commute it would certainly seem that way. Instead, we are two houses removed. That helps immensely when classes start bright and early at 8:00 a.m. How early is it? It’s so early that at that time the weather is actually agreeable and you want to be outdoors. Other students must travel 20 minutes by bus. And with a bus system that assumes everyone knows exactly where they are going (i.e. no maps or announcements or established stops), 20 minutes can easily turn into an hour or more. More on the collectivos another time.

{Pause… Marité is calling us for la cena (dinner)}

Ah, speaking of collectivos or autobuses, we rode our first one by ourselves today. We were told what street to pick up bus #23 on and that it would go near our apartment. So, we walked along the street for about 10 minutes (remember it is quite warm) and after seeing every other bus pass by, we finally saw #23 and flagged it down. Oh didn’t I tell you that there aren’t set bus stops. You just hail one down as you would a taxi. Now once you step on the bus, the driver steps on the gas pedal, and the door behind you is still open. A little scary at first, but now that I have done it 3 times, I’m an old pro. Just don’t look behind you. Now comes the tricky part, when to get off. We got lucky today and guessed correctly. When you are ready to get off the bus or really have no clue but think you might know, you go to the back near the exit doors and pull the string. The driver then pulls over and off you go. You must step off quickly, because once the driver sees a foot on the ground, off he goes. Oh and one more thing about the lovely collectivos, make sure you get the correct change. The driver is driving the bus as he puts the money away and digs out your change. We actually received too much back today. ¡Que suerte! (What luck!)

Day 1

January 24, 2009

Thus begins my foray into blogging. It is 8:30 on Saturday evening, January 24. I am sitting on the balcony of my home-stay as I watch the house across the street thrive with action. It has been this way ever since we arrived this past Wednesday. It is a popular house with people coming and going all the time. It seems to increase as the night wears on, as if nobody wakes up until 2 pm. Maybe it’s a secret society for everyone from tweeners to adults. Then again, maybe I’m just not used to such social interaction. After all, if this were the States such human interaction would be strange. Why visit face-to-face when a text or Facebook update will suffice? Still, I can’t help wonder what takes place behind the gate across the street…

As I sit and watch the cars drive by and the people casually walking up and down the street, I am reminded of Mexico. The pace of life seems slower, the intention is not to get somewhere as soon as possible but rather to enjoy the journey, no matter how long it takes. Children listen to their parents, couples walk hand-in-hand, women stroll in pairs chatting about the day or the latest gossip that afflicts their social circle, and men meander down the sidewalk with a fleeting hint of purpose. This is not to say that people don’t hurry here or don’t want to get somewhere by a certain time. It’s just that they allow themselves to take in the scenery as they pass by it. Even if it’s the same daily walk they’ve been taking for years, there is the feeling that there is always something new to discover just around the corner.

Intersections pose an interesting study into the whole “chicken” theory. There are very few stop signs, very few. And those intersections that are lucky enough to have one, it is more a suggestion than a hard, fast rule. Amazingly, everyone knows which intersections to stop at and which ones to keep driving. Sometimes one will hear a friendly honk to warn anyone else approaching the intersection to look out. Often, though, it’s an easy letting off of the gas and quick glance before accelerating through. Now, the people driving on the side streets (again, only someone with intimate Paraguayan driving knowledge would know which ones those are) slow down and if they see a car coming they stop. It all works in a semi-mystical sort of way. Everyone just seems to know what everyone else will do. Maybe there is something to ‘the collective unconscious’ that we all learned about in high school psych. Nevertheless, even if I were lucky enough to find myself communicating via 6th sense to other Paraguayan drivers I think I’ll leave it in the very capable hands of the taxi and bus drivers.

U.S. dollars are regularly accepted here. I found that strange until I realized that there are “cambios,” or currency exchange depots, all over the city. They don’t charge anything either. After a little more investigation, I found out that they are government regulated. Apparently, the banks have more important things to do than exchange money. American money is widely accepted here because anyone can exchange it for free. One may also get Argentinean, Brazilian, Uruguayan, and Chilean money too. That bodes well for Cat and me when we travel. Having even a little of a country’s currency before traveling helps. It can avoid those awkward moments when you know you are about to get ripped off because you only have U.S. bills and the cabbie (or whomever) gives you change in his native currency.
January 24, 2009

As the evening turns into night and a cool breeze offers temporary relief from the exhausting heat, a white cat crosses the street in front of me. And I just can’t help but wonder, how did it know when to do that? And then it hit me. It too must be tapped into the same vast collective unconscious network of Paraguayan drivers. Lucky cat...