Star Date: April 2013
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
One day at a time. One year at a time. One continent at a time. As we entered our eleventh year of continuous travel we started the exploration of our last continent of the planet: South America. (sin Antarctica) There is always a little apprehension when jumping off yet another cliff, but we find when we run and jump it always works. A leap of faith found us flying from Guatemala City to Asuncion, Paraguay, arriving at 2 a.m.. Expensive visa in hand we headed towards the door. One of the girls returning from school in New York, that we had talked to in line, came running up and welcomed us to her city. Would you like a ride to a hotel? Such kindness. Any misgivings evaporated as we were tucked into a wonderful little place, somewhere in the capitol city.
Awaking late the next morning we headed out with our spoons and within minutes were enjoying a breakfast of half a papaya with a twist of lime. Walking around this area we soon were near the barrio where history is being made.
"Close your eyes and listen to Juan Manuel Chavez launch into the Prelude of Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, and you would never guess that, instead of spruce and maple, his instrument is crafted from an old oil can, a beef tenderizing tool, and a discarded pasta making device—all of it scavenged from the landfill that surrounds his home in Paraguay." (Mother Jones)
In Cateura a shabby shanty town in the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay a miracle is unfolding. The families that live here sift through the garbage and recycle what they can. There are 'cities' like this living on large dumps worldwide. Should make us proud as a society. What a bleak existence! From this darkness a tiny light glimmered through the trash heaps. Someone found an old broken violin. Instead of discarding it Cola started repairing it. He built more. Here a violin would cost more than a house.
Word spread. A program to encourage music throughout Paraguay arrived at the landfill for a look at these creative new instruments and lent their expertise in fine tuning them. Giving Cola instruments as patterns he started making copies out of whatever he found in the rubbish. Soon groups of children were asking to join the newly created band and a community project was born. Adults and children work side by side to create instruments for this new "Landfill Harmonics" orchestra. Living next to mountains of garbage, Maria says, "I love this music so much... Not everyone is lucky enough to have this." (Can you imagine someone living on a landfill being so thankful! We should follow her example!) People here are given a purpose for their lives. Children work hard, practicing with their new found instrument and the results are nothing short of amazing.
Standing in the midst of extreme poverty and
dire conditions, as we walked we couldn't help but hear the music
floating on the breeze. Music is the bridge between 2 worlds. Instead of focusing on
the problem this project gives the kids hope, a purpose and
transforms their souls from the bottom of a garbage heap to flying
through the heavens.
"Their Instruments May Be Garbage, But the Music Will Bring Tears to Your Eyes."
Downtown Asuncion, with it's central square and Panteon de los Heroes, government buildings, museums, and waterfront (being developed) is a pleasant place to walk around. Life in the parks is all about securing matte and herbs for the national yerba mate tea drink, terere, seen everywhere. Herbs added to the basic tea help with every ailment under the sun.
Our goal of flying into Asuncion was to visit world famous Iguazu Falls on the tri border corner of Brazil. Paraguay and Argentina. It is one of those places on the continent that travelers should make an effort to see. The falls are higher than Niagara and close to 250 cascades span over 3 kms. in a horseshoe shape of the Iguazu River. The grandeur of the falls is easily appreciated by hiking miles along the edge in the well presented and maintained park on the Brazilian side. Taking the bus from Paraguay we spent the day in Brazil enjoying the falls and national park. The wonders keep unfolding as one hikes along the edge. Magnificent vistas from a distance, from above, below and so close to the torrent that you have a misty shower and feel the earth rumbling beneath your feet.
Paraguay is divided into 2 distinct regions. The hot steamy eastern jungles are in contrast to the stark, dry spiny wilderness of the northern Chaco. East of the Rio Paraguay is rolling lush farmlands while to the west and north is the Humid palm Chaco leading up to the dry thorny northern region. The Chaco, making up half of the country goes on and on for hundreds of miles. We know as we travelled from one end of the country to the other. Paraguay is a country that is off the tourist track and for this reason it was fun to visit. Your presence in small towns stirs curiosity. People aren't used to travelers so there aren't the usual scams, like in surrounding countries. Not burned out on hordes of tourists the people are friendly and helpful.
All eyes turned towards forgotten Paraguay in 2008 when a former bishop (accused of fathering 3 children with several different women) was elected to the presidency; ending a 6 decade reign of corruption by the Colorado Party, the longest unbroken term of power ever in the continent. Lugo promises to represent the masses and stamp out corruption, in a country where bribery is the name of the game. We'll see. This proud nation is happy to tell you about their 2 officially spoken languages, indigenous Guarani and Spanish, their 'futbol' soccer team, and how their beef melts in your mouth. As vegans the continual beef boasting fell on deaf ears. We met one wonderful family of vegetarians in Concepcion who felt the same. They told us of the high incidence of cancer and heart disease. Seems that the cows, cows and more cows seen in every field have taken their toll on the health of Paraguay.
Ciudad del Este, near Iguazu Falls, is nicknamed the Supermarket of South America. Mall after mall, shop after shop is filled with knock offs and real name brands and consumers bustling about in shopping frenzy hoping for the deal of the day. Not being shoppers we moved on, our shopping bags empty. We ran into another frenzy happening over the whole of this Catholic continent, Santa Semana or Holy Week. We had hoped to take in a massive nighttime procession lit by thousands of candles but found that all the rooms were booked and anything remaining was listed at exorbitant prices. That fact plus the hordes of noisy holiday goers sent us scurrying north to Concepcion.
A wild northern frontier town, the main roads were only paved less than 10 years ago. Rugged and ragged this town has a lively night life as everyone promenades through the main streets hoping for some action. Little stands selling egg burgers and beef of all shapes line the sidewalks. It has a hectic feel as 'wanna be' fast food restaurants and ice cream parlors help plump up the carnivores even more. Not being on any sort of tourist route everyone was fascinated by our presence and was extremely helpful and friendly. What exactly is a vegan traveler anyways? Must be some sort of alien. We had lots of fun.
One of our goals was to catch a boat north along the Rio Paraguay. We asked and asked and finally walked down to see the rickety boat tied up on the muddy riverbank. The deck hands weren't sure when or if the boat was going north. Walking down to the river the second day we returned with the same confusion and decided it wasn't in the cards. Barely making it through the roads the following morning by bus we realized that had we gone by boat we would have been marooned for possibly weeks; as the dirt roads across the Chaco disappear in the rainy season. The bus felt like it was on a railway track with water on both sides. We were dropped off at a gas station in the middle of nowhere completely surrounded by ankle deep mud. The bad news: the only bus to take you north was 'maybe' coming by in 5-6 hours. Wanting to make it up to the Mennonite colony of Filadelfia before dark I started asking then pleading anyone unfortunate enough to drive up for gas, if they would mind a couple of extra passengers. Finally a strange conglomeration of folks in a truck looked at the mud, looked us up and down, looked at the $10 in my hand and decided to take pity on us. In we piled. We talked and kept them entertained for hours until we came to infamous Filedelfia.
Over 15,000 Mennonites live in 3 communities in the northern Chaco. Canadian, and Russian Mennonites were invited by the government in the 1920's to settle in exchange for religious freedom and self government. Believing they were moving to a lush paradise they soon realized the harsh reality of the Chaco and a large percentage of the settlers succumbed to diseases, starvation and thirst. Not giving in to the "Green Hell" these hardy souls persevered and today are thriving business people, supplying most of the cooperative dairy products to the whole of Paraguay.
Thinking we would end up in a remote settlement we were shocked to see the wide sand and mud lined streets full of shops and a big general store where the peaceful German speaking Mennonites barter for items rather than paying in hard cash. The only buses up here leave in the middle of the night from 15 miles back on the highway. Remote regions of Paraguay don't have a lot of transportation options. At a little cafe near our hotel we met a man heading north to open up yet another enormous ranch for a Brazilian investor. Seeming constantly on the move, off we went the following morning into the real no man's land of northern Chaco. Miles and miles of the same thorny desert finally opened up to a little muddy town near Fortin Infante Rivole, Route 9. We settled into the only hotel in town and went looking for vegetables to cook for dinner. There was so much mud that we couldn't move. We hitched a ride to the store, then another, and finally up to our eyeballs in mud decided to leave on the bus that night at 3 a.m.. This began one of our strangest border crossings ever.
First we had to check out of
Paraguay 12 hours before we left and check into Bolivia 80 kms. after
the official border. The check point was a rough looking
remote army tent city. We knew we were in trouble when the
person in front of us slipped the officer a bottle of booze.
Danny vs. Arnie. A spitting image of Danny DeVito with a nasty
attitude gazed up at Arnie
Schwarzenegger towering over him.
Intimidated he glared at us, growled, and proceeded to impatiently
tell us why he wasn't going to let us into his country. He pulled out a list of entry requirements starting with a 2x3 photo
with a RED background, first time in 10 years! It got worse from there. He then
grabbed our partially filled forms, wadded them up and threw them on
the ground, declaring that we were 'estupidos'!
And so it goes.........................................Next it's all up from here!. Up to the high Andes Mountains of Bolivia. Until next month Keep Smiling and remember to pause and listen for the music of your soul. It is always there ... waiting to be enjoyed. We are glad you stopped by. Thanks for your emails. It cheers us when someone from Monkey Bay, Malawi ( first time in 2 years) writes us to say, "Remember me?" I am enjoying following your travels. Please keep writing. Take care!
Love, Light &
xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
$1.00US = 4,534.32 PYG - Paraguayan Guarani
Restaurante Seul - Oriental fusion Food. Best
lunch buffet in town 11:30 -3 Excellent food thanks to a
chef from Asia. Chile 543c/Olivia
Busses to Ciudad del Este (Iguazu Falls) go from Terminal de Omnibus in Asuncion. One of the most popular bus companies is Nuestra Señora de Asunción. It's an easy trip that takes 6 hrs. From CDE another bus to Iguazu on the Argentinian side. it is a three border area.Local buses from central Puerto Iguazu in Brazil, just waved through the border and drop you in the main bus station in Foz de Iguazu. You do not need to do migration stuff in or out if you are only crossing for a day trip (applies coming either way, and same for Ciudad del Este).
El Roble - a farm in the country outside of Concepcion. Family style meals, a small river, farm, etc. Wasn't flexible with type of meals so we gave it a pass. Nothing like getting way out in the bush somewhere only to find there is nothing to eat. Some travelers like it.
Hotel Postillon - Border to Bolivia, Route 9, Only rooms in town, basic but clean. Friendly owner
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: A passport and visa are required to enter Paraguay. U.S. citizens arriving by air may obtain a “Visa en Arribo” (visa upon arrival) at Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Asuncion. The current fee for the Visa en Arribo is $160, payable in U.S. currency (credit cards not accepted). If not arriving at Silvio Pettirossi International Airport, prior to traveling to Paraguay, you must apply for a visa in person at an embassy.