Try to learn something about everything

In the Land of Tereré

Considering we left Paraguay almost three weeks ago, it’s a shame I haven’t told you anything about this wonderful place yet. But let’s backtrack for a second and explore how we got to Paraguay. When we looked for flights out of Curacao, going to Medellin seemed to be the most obvious choice, considering the flight with Insel Air is dirt cheap and takes about an hour. However, obvious choices are boring and we kinda wanted to work our way up from the South of the continent to the North, so we started looking into other options like Buenos Aires, Montevideo or Santiago de Chile. But then I found a reasonably priced flight to Asunción and given my previous wonderful experience in a place nobody really goes to (Bangladesh) I started liking the idea. So I introduced the subject to P. and we decided to go ahead and discover Paraguay. And I’m glad we did!

Let me get one thing straight right away: Asunción is not the most beautiful city in the world. In fact it’s a bit on the ugly side, at least around the downtown area. Apparently that’s because a paranoid dictator had all tall buildings torn down because he was afraid of assassins hiding in them, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. It’s a pretty good story though. There are some beautiful old colonial buildings left, but since there’s not a lot of money to go around, they are usually in a state of disrepair (or worse). There are however some nicer modern neighborhoods like Villa Morra where we stayed with a wonderful CouchSurfing host. Anyway, Asunción’s a rather relaxed South American capital, that feels safe and is full of wonderful, helpful and welcoming people.

People who drink Tereré, all day, every day. Tereré I hear you ask? It’s basically like Mate, but made with ice-cold water and generally with some extra herbs like mint added. It’s refreshing, delicious, and since you pass it around it’s also a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours with some friends while drinking and chatting. Which we did quite a bit, for example with our friend Javier who just opened a beautiful little hostel close to Asunción’s downtown which you definitely should check out if given the chance! Anyway, for Paraguayans Tereré is more than just a drink, it’s an integral part of their culture and you’ll see lots of people carrying around a thermos at all times of day. They also always asked us we already had tried it and were delighted to find out that we did and that we actually love it!

Another vivid memory of Asunción are the public buses, which are colorful and full of people selling all kinds of things (food, drinks, little knickknacks). Also they don’t really bother to stop for letting people get on or off, they just kinda slow down and give you a chance to practice your Ninja skills.

Now for one of my favorite topics, food: Paraguay was surprisingly ok for a vegetarian. Not great and I had to eat a lot of carbs, but I managed. While the modern Paraguayan diet is centered around meat, a lot of the traditional dishes are vegetarian. This means that I basically lived off Sopa Paraguaya, Chipa Guasu, Chipa, Mbeju and Pasqualina. Fruit juices were ok too, but unfortunately they add sugar to them unless you stop them, which is common in the region and something I absolutely don’t understand. We also cooked quite a bit for ourselves which was rather nice since supermarkets are quite well-stocked and carry lots of Italian-style products. They also offer quite a few different soy-based “meats”, which despite not being my favorite way of eating soy is a rather convenient way to get some protein in your diet.

Language-wise Paraguay also was rather interesting. While the city population mostly speak Spanish (more on that later), Guaraní is still the most common language in rural areas. The local accent was rather easy to understand, although a lot of people mix in some Guaraní words. Anyway, it was a good place to improve my listening skills, and while I’m still far from being able to hold my own in an interesting conversation, I’m definitely improving.

From Asunción we did a day trip to Areguá, a nice little village with a stunning lake, a beautiful church placed on a picturesque hill and lots of handicrafts. We stayed in the “Casa Amarilla”, which is an old colonial house that’s part hostel and part art space and looks like something out of a David Lynch movie. We also met a couple of nice Argentinians who not only gave us a lift back to Asunción but also invited us to stay with them in Corrientes, an offer we might take them up on next month.

We then moved on to the pretty little border town of Encarnación, which has a pretty costanera from where you can actually see Posadas in Argentina. Nearby there are the stunning Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesús, and since Paraguay isn’t exactly overrun by tourists, we basically had them all to ourselves when we went there, which made me feel a bit like Indiana Jones. Our CouchSurfing host also took us to Itacua, a famous local religious site, which had some gorgeous views. He also was kind enough to drive us over the bridge to Argentina, which made for one of the more interesting border crossings of my life. The border guard first looked confused when he got two Paraguayan ID cards, as well as an Austrian and Italian passport, but then stamped us in without so much as properly looking at us.

I guess that’s enough for now, I’ll soon write something about Northeastern Argentina, where we spent around a week before moving on to Uruguay from where I’m currently writing this.