After departing from Foz do Iguacu (on yet another overnight bus), it was off to Paraguay, where we spent a whopping 33 highly caffeinated hours (well, caffeinated if you were me, thanks to cold medicine, free coffee on the bus, and tereré, the local version of yerba mate tea, which of course I had to try). Whee!
Asuncion is the capital of Paraguay (two of the other major cities in the country are called Concepcion and Encarnacion, so you get an idea of what religious beliefs predominate). Paraguay is a small, landlocked country--it's definitely less wealthy than its neighbors, Brazil and Argentina, and I won't lie, Asuncion is not the most exciting city ever (it took about half a day to see pretty much all the touristic sites one could see). But it was cheap, and the people were very nice and spoke Spanish, which after three weeks of attempting to communicate in Portuguese, was practically like English to us.
Asuncion has a lot of flowering trees, and apparently we arrived just at the right time of year to catch them blooming in their pinkish-purple splendor.
Also fun were the taxis: yellow like the ones in New York...in the 1970s.
Colonial buildings of interest included the cathedral, which was closed so we couldn't go inside...
The congress, which is mostly a modern glass building now but encompasses a bit of the original building, kind of cool...
...and the presidential palace (now housing government offices), modeled on Versailles and built largely by child laborers while 9 out of 10 Paraguayan men were off getting killed in the Triple Alliance War in the 1800s.
Never heard of the Triple Alliance War? Yeah, neither had we. Apparently, it happened when a dictator of Paraguay crazily declared war on Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia all at once, and the three formed a triple alliance against Paraguay and kicked its butt. Inexplicably, this dictator appears to be nationally revered to this day, and he and his son (who built the elaborate palace) lie in the pantheon of heroes on the main square, guarded by uniformed soldiers.
We popped into the free national cultural museum, which might have been more interesting to you if you were Paraguayan, and where I distinguished myself by mistaking a uniformed schoolgirl for a museum employee and asking her where the bathroom was, much to her bewilderment as she did not know any better than I did.
And that was about it for touristic Asuncion. We had our afternoon free and decided to head to another part of town where the churrascarias and shopping malls were. True to form, even though the city bus cost about 30 cents, Andy made me walk the four miles to this other part of town.
We did stop into a really cool cemetary that was like a little town of mausoleums, but those pictures are moored on the other camera. We also dined at yet another churrascaria (all you can eat meat place), where the meat was fantastic and the price was a new low for us, about $11 US per person. Sweet. And we capped the night off by scoring tickets to the Orchestra Filharmonia de la Ciudad de Asuncion, where we heard a French-Brazilian composition and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique for a whopping $2 per ticket.
Despite the country's history of military coups and crazy dictators, the people are incredibly nice in Paraguay and appeared to be quite hardworking as well. They were out in force at 5AM when our bus came into the station, ready to sell us coffee, souvenirs, sunglasses, and anything else you could think of. The lady who sold me my 50-cent mate (see the forthcoming Foods of Paraguay post) sat with me and chatted, despite my poor Spanish, for 45 minutes while I drank cup after cup and Andy ran off to buy our next set of bus tickets. Our waiter at the churrascaria hurriedly replaced Andy's drink for free when he discovered it was alcoholic (why are the words for "milkshake" and "strong rum cocktail" so similar in Spanish?) and wrote out detailed bus information for us when we asked him for advice on how to get to the theater, and on and on.
But move on we must, so we shipped out the next day for Buenos Aires, where we are at the moment. Foods of Paraguay coming in my next post.