Admiring Asuncion

There were a mere 12 people on the Amazsonas flight from Santa Cruz to Asuncion (the capital of Paraguay if you haven’t heard of it).   While Paraguay is technically a more touristed country than Bolivia, most of these ‘tourists’ are Brazilian day trippers visiting Iguazu Falls which is at the intersection of the borders of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.    Beyond that Paraguay is rarely visited, but it has intrigued me for years, as an old school friend was sent here on high school exchange for a year.  I remember him returning whippet thin after a years worth of giardia and an impressive grasp of Guarani swear words.
I was expecting crumbled colonial architecture, some battered old cars…. a kinda sea level Bolivia/crossed with Cuba….,  Hmmm, honestly, hubby and I wondered if we had taken a flight to Miami instead.  We left the spotless airport and drove to the hotel, which was in the posh shopping mall district, lots of lovely big 4x4s and design shops.   Theres’ a burger king, mcds, and a johnny rockets all within five mins of our hotel.  blimey!  We feel like we are in a posh Miami suburb.   I suspected downtown is a bit more gritty, and was looking forward to seeing it.
Hubby and I were dirty and tired, so am embarrassed to confess we availed ourselves of the Johnny rocket (super authentic and local – not!!!) for dinner and followed it up with a McFlurry at the standalone mcds dessert shop (never seen one of those before).   That’s a total failure of travelling…. but sometimes it’s a good and easy call.

 

Up early for a work conference call, which I did parallel processing with a fine breakfast including excellent local corn bread and fruit dipped in dulce de leche (caramel).   We eventually summoned the courage to venture out of the aircon luxury of our hotel and got a cab to the bustling Mercado Quatro.   It was a celebration of plastic, tat, and super cheap clothes that didn’t appear to cover much flesh.   The other prevalent stall was the choclo stall, where hardy chicas were husking corn and cutting it off the cob….. it seemed odd to me, as i would expect people could do that themselves.  Almost every vendor had a yerba mate thermos and a cup.  Its clearly a national addiction.

 

We continued wandering into town, aiming to visit the Museo de las Memorias, but sadly it was closed.   During the 30 + year Stroessner dictatorship this was the detention centre where the opposition were tortured and murdered.  Paraguay doesn’t have a great track record on human rights.  His tenure ended in 1989 in a military coup.  Sadly the new president is also an unhelpful reminder of the dictatorship as he is the son of the former dictators private secretary

 

One of the upsides about travelling to new countries is it forces you to learn a bit more about them.  The only real things I knew about Paraguay before arriving was that it was one of the few landlocked countries in South America.  I also knew that it was technically one of the highest consumers of scotch in the world in the 90s (40-50 times the normal rate per person)….. it wasn’t really a country of alcoholics, rather the import duties in brazil meant tonnes of of whiskey was imported to Paraguay and then smuggled through porous borders into Brazil.

 

Reading up on countries you always find out some truly weird stuff.  Paraguay’s weird anecdote is that Nietzche’s sister moved here to set up a racially pure aryan community called ’Nueva Germania’.  Most of them died, or returned home within a couple of years, and the few that stayed and survived only did so by working with the locals.    Paraguay is apparently an alluring destination for utopian settlements, there was also a teetotaling Nueva Australia (still there today) and the Mennonites.  Fabulously, Paraguay is one of the nations in South America where the indigenous culture is still very much alive and kicking, with the native language Guarani being as widely spoken as Spanish.

 

Asuncion is blessed with a tonne of crumbling colonial architecture, some terrific street art, and a couple of beautiful well maintained buildings like the Palacio Lopez.   We wandered for several hours taking photos and chatting to friendly locals.

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Combined with the colonial architecture is a fairly well established tent city and shanty town right between the cathedral and the national congress.  Its a rough life, but the shanty town was pretty well kept, and the locals were busy living their lives and doing their laundry and gossiping in the streets.
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Tents on the park

 

There also seems to be a pretty dominant presence of my sisters in this town…. some of the best feminist graffiti i have seen, certainly in South America – not a continent well regarded for its feminist stances.

 

Hubby and I aren’t exactly huge fans of traditional holidays, so we don’t celebrate New Years eve unless we happen to be in a town with friends.  Neither of us could see the point of spending $150 each for unlimited booze and food (we don’t really drink) in the company of a bunch of strangers.  Last year we had a terrific new years eve dinner for about $5 in a food court in India.  This year we were hoping to replicate the experience, but it was not to be.  We headed out looking for food just after 8 and all the shops were closed or closing, with security guards locking the doors.  We spied a sausage vendor street side who was looking like quite a promising option, but then we found a pretty decent local place which was doing takeout.  Dinner was an excellent Pollo Milanese with potatoes on cream, followed by an excellent local alfajore.   We were asleep by 10.30 :-).
We had another lazy morning in the hotel….having exhausted the sites of the city the day before, and everything was totally closed, and headed to the airport.  Its amusingly quiet and low  key in Asuncion, I wish all airports were that easy.
Well, farewell Asuncion, you surprised me, it was so much posher and nicer than I expected, and I loved the gritty downtown.
194 down, three more to go.  Next stop, (hopefully) Saudi!!!,

January 1, 2019

Additional info

  • A couple of good blogs here

 

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Brutalist modernist Chapel of the Sainted Sacrament

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