So one of the main reasons I decided to go to Paraguay was I was able to visit my friend Liz in the Peace Corps, in the middle of nowhere southern Paraguay. Thought that was a pretty good chance to see something totally different, and I could stay for however long. Since Paraguay is a tiny country, the bus ride was only 3 hours (on the direct bus!) to Villarica, town of 60,000. Liz met me at the terminal. Then, we took the 50 minute bus ride to San Salvador, town of 2,000, half of it being on stone covered road.
The bus to Villarica:
San Salvador appears to me to be a dying town. I’m not really sure why Peace Corps even has a volunteer here. 10 years ago, when 6,000 people lived here, there was a big rail station, then it closed down. Over the 10 years, people stole all the train tracks in the town, and everything of value. The people of the city were able to save a few cars by having a 24 hour watch. It wouldn’t seem like it from pictures, but the people here are fairly well off. Most of their kids went to college, and never came back, which also contributes to the decrease in population. Most people drive moto’s/scooters (which I got to ride on the back a few times). Some have cars. Occasionally there is a nice BMW that whizzes by (the gap is large, if you’ve got money, you’ve really got money).
Taking a moto ride with David:
One of the remaining trains:
The train lookout building, still intact (on the outside, at least):
View from 2nd story of train building (note girl standing next to chicken):
So it is a dirt road town, full of roaming cows, chickens, some pigs, and some horses. Water goes out every day from 12pm-2pm, then from 9pm-5am. We kept a few large buckets of fresh water just in case you need to use the toilet after 9pm or wash some dishes. Electricity was decent most of the time. Flickered here and there some days. There was a big lightning storm one night, and electricity went out quite easily. Without cable TV, there was 4 channels, 2 which were a bit hazy, 2 which were good.
Here's your farm animal shot:
Also, my opinion of Peace Corps changed a bit. Basically, they seem to be focused on cultural immersion more than development. I suppose that’s fine. But when they turn away older people with real skills who can probably actually do something, for younger people fresh out of college, it seems silly. Paraguay actually has 200 volunteers, 2nd most in the world to Ukraine. After training, they kind of throw the people to the wolves. Most volunteers seem to be bored a lot, with not a ton of stuff to do. So, it seems a bit ridiculous to send a bunch of people to the middle of nowhere to work 10-15 hours a week and be bored, buy hey, cultural immersion is what they’re getting...
I was like an anomaly in the town. Many people knew I was here. Liz has a boyfriend from Paraguay who she lives with, and the people of the village, simply due to their nature/culture, thought it was the weirdest thing to have another guy come stay at their place. So when I walked by people, I felt like an outsider many times. But when I met people of course they were very nice. One time we went to a neighbor’s house, and they made Mbeju for us, a traditional Guarani food (the name is a Guarani word). Most people here speak Spanish and Guarani, the indigenous language, which is also a co-official language of Paraguay with Spanish. In fact, unlike lots of indigenous languages, it actually is not dying.
Preparing the masa for Mbeju (this one requires a unique texture that probably will be hard to recreate if I try to make it):
Like most traditional Paraguayan foods, it is fried (or has corn). Flipping a Mbeju:
The area has a ton of raw sugarcane, which they export. Other than that, I’m not sure what industries there are. Although, they do have a wide variety of fruits/vegetables & natural resources due to the climate here (it is fairly tropical). However, the government is so corrupt (a repeated story I’ve heard many times), that nothing gets developed. In fact, many times, the villages do get money from the government, but it gets funneled into someones pockets in an intermediate level.
A truck transporting raw sugarcane. If you think this looks like a date method of transporting the sugar cane, you should see the scales they use to weigh the cane, which appear to be from the 1800s:
My other blog has most of my observations about all the oddities of the people here. Otherwise, I spent most of the days watching Spanish television (practicing), and lazing around, like most Paraguayans that live outside the capital city. The main concerns of the days were what Paraguayan foods are we going to cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
One of the highlights of the week was a barbecue we had with Liz, her boyfriend David, and 2 of his friends for David’s birthday. We cooked chicken & ribs on the grill. They grilled those suckers for almost 2 hours, I was worried that they were going to taste like rubber, but they tasted good. One of the guys played guitar, so I took out my harmonica and showed them. I gave it to the one guy who had never seen a harmonica, and it was hilarious watching him try to play. Then, we taught David’s two friends how to tie ties, followed by how to use dental floss. They reciprocated by taking a plastic bag, ripping a few pieces off, stretching them nice and thin, and showing us that this was a perfect alternative to having to buy real floss.
Trying to play a harmonica for the first time (and apparently having a REALLY good time doing do so):
Other random Paraguayan observations: At least outside of Asuncion, I think that most people might not think much of a world exists outside of Paraguay, save for maybe Argentina and Brazil. For example, many people might not be able to believe that Mate does not exist in some places, simply because that is not their mindset to think things are different in other places. The fact machine told me the following: 11 percent of the roads in the country are paved. 33 percent of people live below the poverty line. There are twice as many mobile phones as land lines. 10 % of kids won’t get an education. From 1910-1912, there were 7 presidents. The war between Paraguay & Uruguay/Argentina/Brazil from 1865-1870 was supposedly the bloodiest in modern times, wiping out a large portion of Paraguay’s population (heard a lot about this in Argentina, they killed everyone they saw). Paraguay lost land in that, war, then more later in a massive war with Bolivia.
The bus to Villarica never came one day so we hitchhiked in this friendly van (although they attempted to charge us more than what it would cost to take a bus):
This is Terere. They drink this in the summer, as it is cold. Smash up a nice root with a hammer, and put it inside:
David enjoying his birthday barbecue:
They eat tons of this stuff here, which they call Mandioca. Good for sustenance when your working. Tastes like nothing. But in the country they serve it with everything. Think of eating a somewhat hard brown potato.
Cool looking building in San Salvador: