It's not the destination, but the journey.

Nobody comes to Paraguay.  The country has relatively little to offer in comparison to its neighbors, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia.  No beaches, no wine, no mountains.  Most people come to Paraguay as they pass through, and that was my plan, too, as I make my way west across the continent from the beaches of Brazil to the Bolivian salt flats, the Andes mountains, and the Peruvian coast.
View South America May 2011 to ??? in a larger map
However, I’ve been in Asuncion, Paraguay now for seven days, which is a lot longer than I had planned.  I got stuck in the application process for my Bolivian visa and I couldn’t get anything done over the weekend because the Bolivian embassy was closed.  (It’s also only open for about 4.5 hours during the day!)
Nonetheless, I had a GREAT time in Asuncion!  This city has one of the lowest costs of living in the world, which makes for cheap food, cheap accommodations and cheap beer!  In addition to that, I finally got to meet Natalia who I was excited to see ever since our mutual friend, Geneza, put me in contact with her a few months ago.  I met with Natalia almost as soon as I got here and she helped me get acquainted with the city.

Natalia and I.

I’d been going out every night with people I’d met since I got here.  I hung out mainly with two Argentinian travelers, and I also had a really fun day with some Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) working here in Paraguay.  It’s the interactions that I’ve enjoyed the most here.  The more people I meet, the more Spanish I learn.  The PCVs here, especially, gave me valuable insight on the Paraguayan culture.

Some Uruguayan girls, an Argentinian guy, and I. From left to right, Yasmine, Joey, Matias, Vane, Carmen

I really like Asuncion.  It’s easy to get around on foot or by bus, and it’s perfectly safe walking (er, stumbling) home at 3 am in the middle of the night.  There’s a lot to learn and I’ve only scratched the surface.
There’s the plight of the indigenous people who were kicked off their lands and who are seeking recompense from the government.  Some of them sleep in Plaza Uruguay, their tents made of large, black plastic bags.  Just a few decades ago it wasn’t against the law to kill an indigenous person.  My jaw dropped when someone told me that.

Several indigenous families are camped out in Plaza Uruguaya.

Political rally for the plight of the indigenous people

The food here is really good.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember or correctly pronounce what I’ve eaten, but I’ve enjoyed all of it.  I’ve had food here in Paraguay that I may never eat again for the rest of my life (unless I return to Paraguay or make some Paraguayan friends back home).  And, as I mentioned earlier, food is cheap.  In fact, I had two entrees for lunch today – the gluttonous norteamericano that I am!

Sopa Paraguaya - Soup it is not. I found that out after the fact.

Beef and cornmeal dumpling soup, cassava, and a lemon that looks like an orange. I found it out was a lemon only after I had bit into it like an orange. Haha!

I honestly wish I could stay longer.  I’m comfortable here and I like the pace of life and cost of living.  Unfortunately, I’m supposed to be in Colombia at the beginning of August and I’ve still got to make my way through Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.  I might have to prioritize and skip some things in the next few weeks.  I’ll be ok with that as long as I’m meeting interesting people and learning along the way.  After all, it’s not the destination but the journey.

Palacio del Gobierno

Asuncion is adorned with red, white, and blue banners for its bicentennial celebration (1811-2011). Viva Paraguay!


The 4th of July is so much more than just beer, BBQ and fireworks!

By now, you all know how completely enamored I become with every new country I visit.  But let’s be clear: I love America, first and foremost, and it will always be my home.  Being away from home and among starkly different cultures and societies has given me a great deal of time to compare, contrast and reflect on the idea of America.
On this 4th of July, I’m reflecting on the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  I think that we Americans get so caught up in the festivities of the holiday, with the fireworks and barbecues, that we forget or overlook the important history and meaning behind the holiday.
Read through the words of the Declaration of Independence by clicking here.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence. This document set events in motion that would forever change the world.

I love the bold, assertive prose that the Founding Fathers used to tell the world the grievances that they had against King George III.  They invoked natural rights that are at the core of the freedom that America so boldly stands for today.  These include the ideas:

  • that all men are created equal
  • that they are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • that the people have the right to alter or abolish any government that limits these rights.

What powerful words!  The universality and timelessness of freedom is evident today with what we’ve seen during the recent Arab Spring, the changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and throughout the middle east.  Everyone wants to be treated decently and to have the opportunity to improve their lot in life.
18th century Western civilization was a lot different than it is today.  Monarchies got their legitimate power from God.  You could be accused of a crime and locked away to rot in a prison for the rest of your life without being given due process.  Also, punishment for speaking against the government could have resulted in you getting tortured or hung.
And that’s what the 56 guys who put their names on the U.S. Declaration of Independence were risking.  The last line shows their courage: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  Had the American Revolutionary war been lost on our side, all those 56 Americans, like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Sam and John Adams, would’ve been hunted down and certainly put to death by the Brits.  They knew what was at stake and they put everything on the line to give birth to a new nation that was destined to become a great one.

The Presentation of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

There are still many parts of the world where the idea of equality, the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to change a crummy government is not in favor with the status quo.*  I cannot overstate how lucky I feel to be born and raised in America.  It’s something I am thankful for every single day and it wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for those 56 brave Americans who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Happy birthday, America!

*One may argue still that certain members of our society are denied the freedoms that I purport America to stand for and I’d be happy to discuss my views on these social issues in a separate forum.  Please contact me personally so that we may discuss.