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Published: July 11th 2007
Downtown Asuncion is a fairly miraculous place. It is the capital city of the country, and the one major, major city of the country. Thus, it has the elements of being both the cultural capital (like a New York or San Francisco) and the political capitol (like Washington D.C.).
Walking downtown, this is what I saw on one corner: on one side, one of the hippest eateries in Paraguay, the Lido Bar. They serve delicious empanadas and other local specialities. On the other side of the street is the Panteon de los Heroes, which is the Hall of the Heroes--kind of like the Arlington Cemetary, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument rolled in one. There are many ceremonial caskets of leaders and generals along with many statues, plaques, and a shrine. Armed soldiers standd outside at attention, 24 hours a day.
The reason I was downtown Tuesday night was thanks to my new Paraguayan friend. Her name is Mariagalante (that is all her first name). I met her on Saturday night at merienda (like an afternoon snack, because Paraguayans do not eat dinner until between 8-11 pm, generally speaking). Anyway, we met and started talking, and we have quite a bit in common. She is a librarian at an English school here.
Anyhow, she remembered that I really wanted to send postcards to family and friends, so she came to the hotel Tuesday evening to surprise me with postcards. She remembered that I am close to my grandparents, mom, and Aaron, so those were the cards that she brought. She said that she would wait with me at the hotel while I filled out the postcards, and then she would take me to the post office to mail them. So generous!
So, while I wrote the postcards, we drank cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and ate chipa (a very popular Paraguayan bread made with mandioca (yucca) flour, cheese, and anise seeds).
When I was done writing, we walked several blocks to a bus stop and then took the public bus to the post office. Mailing something here is quite different than what we are accustomed to. In the US, one can buy stamps at grocery stores, in vending machines, and there are mailboxes all over. Here, it is more of a process.
Paraguay has very little tourism, so the infrastructure simply does not exist (why should it?) It is one of the least commercialized places in the Americas, I am told. So, one can not just walk into any place and buy postcards, like in the US or other tourist destinations.
Mariagalante had to go to a big shopping mall a half hour by car to find these for me. It was such a wonderful gesture. Then, we travelled by bus to get stamps and mail the cards. It cost about $8 US to send them. I had hoped to send many postcards while I was here, but it might not be possible due to the difficult and expensive process. I am sorry in advance if I don´t get to send you mail, my friends.
Mariagalante asked me if I wanted to take the bus home or walk. It was such a nice, crisp evening, and I love to walk, so I said we should go for it. It seemed like the bus ride had been only a moment, so I thought perhaps she just took me on it to be nice. But, as we walked...and walked...and walked, I realized we were far away from the hotel. It took us almost 90 minutes to walk back (haha!) The joke was on me. But I learned a lot!
I got to see many very interesting places on the walk, like fruitstands full of bananas, naranjas (oranges), and many other tropical fruits. They are actually from nearby! Asuncion has also several tent cities and shantytowns. Like I said, the disparity of income is immense. Right in the main downtown, there are big groupings of plastic tents with clotheslines hung outside them for people to dry their clothes. Everyone is side by side, the rich and the poor.
On the walk home, I started to cough more and more and get short of breath. Mariagalante took me to the farmacia (pharmacy) to get me some cough medicine. At the farmacia, I also got cough drops. However, here, cough drops are sold like candy at the checkout stands! I got cough drops in creamy peach and green apple/lemon with a menthol center! Interesting, right? (I ended up getting quite sick but I am on the mend now. Don´t worry! More about that in another post.)
Something else very interesting is that when one makes a purchase and a very small amount of change is due, sometimes instead of a coin, we get a small item. The coins are almost obselete because of their very small value. So, at the farmacia, they did not have monedas (coins) to give me. So, instead they gave me 2 Band Aids! What a fascinating system of trade. This is quite common, I am told.
I have so much more that I want to write--I have many pages in my journal filled. But, others are waiting to use the computadoras (computers), so I must go for now. I will try to get back online soon.
Hope you are all well!
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