Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jesuit Ruins

The day after arriving in Encarnacion on that sweaty bus ride was much cooler and overcast which made it a perfect day to walk around and explore the ruins of a former Jesuit settlement 28 km outside of town. We hopped on a bus crowded with other people and not knowing exactly where to get off the bus. About half an hour into the ride, 2 women got on and we immediately guessed that they were American. Our guess was confirmed when we could hear them speaking English over our shoulder on the bus and apparently they heard us speaking English as well and struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were Peace Corps volunteers who were staying at a hotel with a huge group of other volunteers and celebrating Thanksgiving weekend. They were headed to the ruins too so we had some company and people who knew where to get off the bus which helped.

The ruins are set on top of a nice green hill (as far as I've seen it must be one of about 10 hills in all of Paraguay cuz this is a very flat country) with views for a long way in all directions.
The ruins overall were much larger than we expected them to be and there was definitely more intricate stonework than we had expected as well. While the cathedral wasn't as polished as one in Europe or other large ones in Central America that we've seen are, it was still beautiful and seemed more human because you could still see the chisel marks in the stone.
There were plenty of intricate carvings to check out including these above one of the doors.
These pieces apparently had fallen off of the structure and were displayed in a back room.
The main cathedral was actually much bigger than expected.
This is one of the pulpits on the side of the main cathedral.
This baptismal bath had a date on it which we shall assume is somewhere near the date for construction of the entire cathedral. We don't know for sure because we didn't want to pay for the guide and entrance fee so we just walked into the park past the guards. Nice how you can do that sometimes in Latin America.
So overall it turns out that there is at least one tourist activity worth doing in Paraguay (with a few more possibilities yet to check out) and we would recommend this to anyone who makes their way down here for a visit.


This past weekend, Jesse and I traveled to a smaller town in the southern part of Paraguay, right along the Argentina border.  Our reasong for travelling to this town was to see the Jesuit Ruins UNESCO site that Paraguay has to offer.  However, upon arriving in the city of Encarnacion, hot and sweaty from a 6 hour bus ride with a broken a/c, we decided to do the ruins the next day.  For our evening entertainment, we decided to go across the border into Argentina, to the city of Posadas, where we heard they have a different atmosphere and some delicious restaurants. 

So, we boarded a crowded city bus and went across the border.  It was actually an interesting experience, since buses would leave people behind at the immigration checkpoints, but it wasn't a big deal, because we would just show our tickets to the next bus and hop on.  It amazed me how many people were crossing the border; full buses every 20 minutes or so.  Below is a picture from Posadas of the bridge across the river that connects the two countries.

Once we had crossed into Posadas, we went on a search for the boardwalk.  Posadas has really embraced their location on the riverside by placing a great walking/biking/running path along the riverside, complete with benches, miradors (viewing areas), and riverside restaurants.

We walked along the path for awhile, then we chose a restaurant with a great view of the river.  The food wasn't very good, but we couldn't complain about the location.

After dining, we headed back to Encarnacion and our hotel.  We were a little concerned about the border closing, or the buses not running.  We were able to catch a bus between the two immigration posts (leaving Argentina and entering Paraguay) and that might have been the most crowded bus I have ever been on.  We were crammed into the bus, and literally, we touching at least five different people each, crammed in to get every last person on the bus.  Not too shocking, the bus didn't wait for us at the second immigration station, and we had to take a taxi back into the city.  It was an interesting border crossing to say the least, and we got to spend some time along a riverfront that reminded us both of Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

View of Encarnacion from Posadas.

Thanksgiving in Paraguay

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I feel like it is the one holiday that we share with family, there isn't any pretenses about gifts or candy, and there isn't any religious controversy over it. Thanksgiving has this wonderful idea behind it, being thankful for what you have. That is an idea that I can certainly embrace.

This year marks the third year in a row where I have been away from my family for this holiday. While it always makes me a little bit sad when I think of the wonderful time my family is having back in Wisconsin, I am thankful for the opportunity that I have been given to explore or wander the world and see it in a different light.

The holiday festivities this year were the closest to my family's traditions than I think I've ever had overseas. Five teachers live together, and they organized a potluck style Thanksgiving dinner, with them providing a turkey (specially ordered from Brazil). Everyone brought a favorite dish to pass so we had a cacophony of choices including two different types of potatoes, gravy, three different styles of stuffing/dressing, carrot souffle, sweet potato casserole, dinner roles, green bean casserole, spinach rolls, pumpkin pie- it was delicious.
The bird and all the food, without the people.
Cristi, Shauna, and Chaya celebrating a great holiday.
The full table, complete with people. There were over 20 people there, which might be my biggest Thanksgiving I've had in the last 10 years. There were Americans, Paraguayans, and a Canadian, all coming together to spend time together and be thankful for what we have been given.
After dinner was over, one of the teachers brought over a special cable box, which transmits signals from the states. We were able to watch some American football, with English commentary, for the first time in a while. It really added a dimension of home when we were able to sit down with full bellies and do exactly what we would be doing if we were in the states.
During halftime, Jesse and some of the other guys took out a football (American of course) and started throwing the ball around. That made for the perfect Thanksgiving day, although Jesse told me, multiple times, that it can't really be a perfect Thanksgiving when its over 80 degrees.
I can't help but be thankful for the wonderful people that I am spending time in Paraguay with, and that we were all able to come together and spend a wonderful holiday together.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Two Down, Eight to Go

This past Saturday Jesse and I finished our second master's class, this one a statistics based class. We both got A's! But after a long two weeks of spending every minute of our time at school (or so it seemed), after our final on Saturday we came home and relaxed in the pool.
Also, on a side note, what I am sitting on, and Jesse is holding, has become a necessity of our life here in Paraguay- the floatee. It gets very, very hot here, so having the pool and the floatee available make the heat a little bit more bearable. To give an example, today was 107. And it isn't even summer yet.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Better Late than Never

A while ago now I attended a party at the ambassador from South Korea's house here in Asuncion celebrating the South Korean Independence day. I have been meaning to make a post about this for a while but haven't gotten around to it. At the party some other teachers and I noticed a couple of women wearing tiaras and sashes who seemed out of place. It turned out that for some reason it was the reigning Miss Paraguay. Why she was there nobody seemed to know but fellow teachers Cristi, Jac, and I had to get a picture with her.
That now makes 2 beauty pageant queens that I have met counting this meeting with Miss El Salvador in the airport in Honduras a few years ago.

Interesting Article

Looking at the website for one of the Paraguayan newspapers a little while ago I couldn't help but pause when I saw a picture that seemed out of place. Check it out yourself and see if you can figure out the problem:
I can only wonder what the concert will be like if this is how she responds to the concert announcement.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Part II- The Festival

The festival begins at quarter past 5, with the kids all excited and dressed in their wonderful costumes. It contains a magic show for the kids, a parade, trick or treating in the classrooms and then games. This year, my 5th graders had a special presentation for the school, a Thriller dance, which they did twice- once for the students, once for the parents during the parade.

My teaching partner Tim and I.

The "Melrose Apartment Ladies", Chaya, Shauna and myself.
Jesse and I before the nighttime teacher party.

Halloween Part I- Decorations

Apparently, since our school is the American school, they have grasped onto some American ideas, one being Halloween. Last week, room mothers (yes, each classroom in the elementary have assigned room mothers to plan birthday parties and I'm not sure what else) started showing up to decorate the school for Halloween. Now, most people would assume that decorations might include a few streamers, some pumpkins, and some pictures of some kind. Well not these decorations. You could say, that Halloween has gotten a bit out of control. It almost appears to be a contest between the rooms to see who can decorate the most.

This is outside of my room.

In front of the office.
These decorations do little for the education of the kids and do a lot for exciting the students. It makes me a little bit sad to think about the amount of time and money spent on our school's decorations when there is so much poverty still around us.
They also decorated for the Halloween festival that happened after school on Friday. I didn't take pictures of the decorations there, but they were quite a sight.