We arrived in Asuncion in the early morning hours of today. The plane ride was a tiring one, and the airport felt of humidity and smelled of cigarette smoke. At 2:00am in the morning, our plane landed in Asuncion, customs was closed, so we quickly shuffled through the usual checkpoints, gathered together our giant heap of luggage, and boarded 3 vans for a 20 minute ride from the airport (which is not actually in Asuncion) to downtown Asuncion where El Hotel Chaco graciously stood, waiting for us.
I had a pleasant conversation with the driver of our van– my very first conversation with a real Paraguayan, and for the most part conducted in Spanish– I proudly admit! We talked of the elite schools of Asuncion– los colegios y las universidades– and their locations; of the bicentenario celebrations– parades! festivals! food!; and we briefly touched upon the notable deal of government corruption in Paraguay, (arriving at the hotel before I got the chance to inquire deeper).
El Hotel Chaco is a rectangular lump of concrete (or plaster…?) colored a soft and welcoming shade of tan; it blends well with the surrounding architectural population of downtown Asuncion.
My roommate Nailah and I shared a room on the 7th floor (room 707 in fact.) The interior is sparsely adorned, yet all the essentials are present, and the bathroom is fresh and clean.
We slept at 4:00am, woke up at 9:30am, and groggily took the elevator down to the 2nd floor for a breakfast of fruit (banana, papaya), toast, cheese and ham, pastries, and an impressive selection of tea. In the midst of this feasting, a parred precession brazenly passed by the street below. We learned that this parade was hosted by the students, teachers, and alumni of El Colegio de San Jose, in celebration of the May 15, 2011 bicentenario of Paraguay.
Refusing to be sold short of the festivities and party-like atmosphere outside, Robin and I quickly scarfed down the remnants of our breakfast, and with Scott’s blessings, ventured outside to revel in the festive parade. We followed the parade for a handful of blocks while weaving in and out of the souvenir and clothing shops lining the street, with fluid convenience, exploring to our hearts content: our first sampling of Asuncion on a not-quite-so-sleepy Saturday morning.
Later in the evening (it was hard to grasp that we had merely arrived in Asuncion on that same day; we had only experienced Paraguay for a humbling number of days: >1) we again boarded the vans and headed towards the poor barrio of Santa Ana, to attend the celebratory inaugural launching of a magazine series: La Voz de Santa Ana, produced by los jovenes of the central community center of Santa Ana. The magazine artistically displays their thoughts, creative writings, and non-fictional reportings- an outlet for youthful creativity and talent among the sadly desolate material surroundings of Santa Ana.
The presentations featured inspiring speeches, expressive improv groups, and a video production vaguely interrupted by technical difficulties.
Afterwards we were treated to mbeju and cocido, and made eager (though perhaps peppered with a sprinkling of language-proficiency awkwardness) conversation with the students of the community center, whom we would be working with the following week, after our stay in Isla Puku.
The students were gracious and polite, with and earthy sense of humor; our conversations swayed from “how many pets do you have?” to “what do you think of Paraguay?” to “do you speak Guarani?” which was asked in Guarani and thus answered with a string of confused “repite por favor?” upon which they burst into giggles.
I enjoyed the company of these students– teenagers just like us, and witnessed the coolness of Peace Corps volunteers.