Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Paraguayan Birthday

One of the biggest aspects of Paraguayan culture is the consumption of terrere, a cold tea made from yerba mate. Paraguay is the only country that drinks mate in this way, and it is sort of a symbol of national pride. Jesse wrote a post about terrere early last year (Terrere).

When the weather here gets hot, there is nothing better than drinking ice cold terrere. Every day, you see Paraguayans sitting, relaxing, drinking their terrere. It really is the main way the majority of the population who can’t afford a/c, are able to cool off a little during the summer months. Thermos (thermos used to hold the ice, water, limes, and whatever else you add to the water), guampas (special cup used to hold the yerba), and bombillas (special straws with a filter on the end so that you don’t suck up the yerba leaves) are sold everywhere around the city. There are jewjos (special herb) stands all around the city that sell fresh herbs to add to your terrere.

I started drinking terrere with some of the other teachers last year, bought a bombilla and guampa but I never got a thermo. I was jealous of all the other teachers with their beautiful, hand-stitched leather thermos, but I never got around to going to the leather store and picking mine out.

Well, Jesse, being the wonderful boyfriend that he is, he knew of my desire for a beautiful, leather thermo. He took Danielle to the leather store; they collaborated, and designed my birthday gift together.

Isn’t it beautiful? I realize to most of you who are not in Paraguay cannot realize how important this gift is, and you might even think it’s a little silly, all of my carrying on. However, once the weather turns warmer, I will be using this thermo daily. And you can guarantee that I will be bringing this back to Wisconsin with me next July, and enjoying ice cold terrere at the Cabin and at Hodag.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bicentenario Maraton

Back in March, Danielle (fellow teacher) and myself, we heard about a marathon and half marathon being held in Asuncion on August 8th. We had been running two to three times a week for a few months and we both decided that it would be fun to train for the ½ marathon. I consulted Runner’s World for a training schedule and we sort of stepped up our running, adding distance to our runs and running one or two times more per week. It was really hard to force ourselves to run when we were in the States over the month of July, but Tricia (Jesse’s sister) helped me run in Minneapolis, and Dad and Mom biked next to me on my runs in Stevens Point to help me get my miles in.

Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. This year is not just any year in Paraguay, so therefore, this marathon was not just any marathon. This year, Paraguay is celebrating their Bicentenario, which is their 200th year of freedom from Spanish colonization. This marathon was a kickoff to the year’s festivities, which will culminate in May.

Danielle and I signed up, got our time chips and t-shirts, when we realized that the organizers wanted everyone to wear the t-shirts that they gave us. The color of the shirt determined the distance- 10k runners wore white, ½ marathoners wore blue, and full marathoners wore red. Those are the three colors of the Paraguayan flag, and we actually lined up for the start in the order of the flag: red, white, blue.

The race had over 3000 participants signed up, including many from different countries, as far away as Europe. Adidas, the main sponsor, and some of the other sponsors, had an entire weekend of festivities lined up for the out-of-towners.

When we arrived at the starting spot, we had to laugh. A guy in a chicken suit (one of the sponsors) was leading a jazzercise/Jane Fonda style warm-up for the runners. Personal (one of the main cell phone companies here) had their workers out in blue spandex uniforms passing out PowerAde vouchers. We got to the starting line, where the national anthem was sung and the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, sounded the air horn for the start of the race.

Once the air horn started, about 3 minutes of firecrackers sounded off the start as well. Paraguayans, they love their noisemakers. The first 6K of the race was around the downtown region, and it was pretty amazing how neat the streets looked filled with red, white, and blue runners. It thinned out a bit as we kept going and soon we were heading out of the downtown region towards our apartment. It was pretty shocking to realize that we were running from the President’s house, downtown to past Danielle’s house, and back to downtown, and it was only a ½ marathon. It just shows you how compact and small Asuncion really is.

Jesse and Kagan (Danielle’s boyfriend) had their motos and traveled along the course to cheer us on, take pictures, and offer water. Danielle’s roommates also came out to cheer us on as well. We finished in a time of 2:13. Considering that we had each only ran one 10 mile run in preparation, and that our goal was to finish without walking, I am incredibly happy with our time. After the race, we went to Danielle’s house, where her roommates made a fantastic brunch for us to eat in celebration. Maybe next year at this time, we’ll be celebrating finishing our first full marathon?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Strawberry Festival, Aregua

Ever since arriving in Asuncion, I’ve heard about the Aregua Strawberry Festival. Last year, we took the train to Aregua, but we didn’t notice any strawberries, so I thought we had missed the festival by a week or so. Well it turns out, we were there last year during the strawberry festival, we just didn’t go to the right spot. The “festival” (you’ll see why I put it in quotations in a minute) is a good way out of town. There was no way, outside of a taxi, that we were going to be able to find it.

This year, we caught a ride with Kathryn and Jac. Kathryn’s boyfriend Lorenzo being Paraguayan, he knew right were to go. Let me describe for you the “festival.” There are about 15 booths along the side of the road. Each booth has the following things for sale- strawberries in a basket, strawberries with cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry liquor, and strawberry jam. There were no games, activities, nor variety in the booths. Each booth had exactly the same things that cost exactly the same prices. It was hard for me to consider it a festival.

The highlight of our Aregua trip for me was shopping the pottery that Aregua is famous for and Jesse and I bought a little addition to our house. Paraguayan legend/folklore says that its lucky for a house to have a sapo (toad or frog) around the house. So, we looked for the most outrageous frogs we could find, and settled for these cute guys. The total cost of the newest addition to our house? 10 mil, or 2 dollars. And that includes the bench.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Trip Back

The trip between Asuncion and the states is always long and ridiculous. However, it seemed that this year we were doomed with our flights. On our way to Wisconsin, there were storms in Chicago, so after already traveling for over twenty hours, we were put in a holding pattern, almost ran out of gas and had to go to Detroit to refuel. We finally landed in Chicago to find out that our flights to Central Wisconsin and Madison were cancelled, and we had some serious delay issues. I ended up flying standby on a flight and made it to CWA around 6:30pm, 31 ½ hours after leaving our apartment in Asuncion. Jesse didn’t land in Madison until after 9 that night, making his journey over 33 hours.

Our flight returning to Asuncion had even worse luck. I was delayed out of CWA for about 45 minutes, which wasn’t too big of a deal, considering I had plenty of time in Chicago as a layover. Well, our flight out of Chicago was delayed over an hour because there wasn’t a flight crew. They just weren’t there. So we were on our way, but Jess and I weren’t too worried because we still had over 40 minutes in Miami as a layover so it should be okay.

It wasn’t. Once we landed in Miami, there was no ground crew to tow us into our gate. We sat on the runway for over 30 minutes. I was watching my watch tic and toc until our flight to Montevideo, Uruguay took off without us on it, sitting on the tarmac in Miami. Well, five minutes after our flight took off, the ground crew showed up, towed us into our gate, and we were able to exit the aircraft. Since direct flights to Montevideo are only every other day, the next flight we could get would take off the next day, but stop in Buenos Aires, Argentina first, have an hour-ish layover, then go to Montevideo. Okay great, sign us up. It did mean that we got to spend one more day in the USA, so we hit up South Beach. We didn’t have access to our checked luggage, but American Airlines did put us up in a nice hotel for the night, and gave us food vouchers.

South Beach was very pretty, but it was hot, with about 100% humidity. I wished we had our swimsuits available. We walked along the beach, walked along the shops, going into them every once in a while to cool off with the a/c. Since I have now officially spent one night in Miami, and went to South Beach, I think I can now say I’ve finally been to Florida, right?

So after a massive delay of 24 hours, you would think that our travelling woes would be over. It wasn’t. We landed in Buenos Aires, no prob. Had our little layover, got on to our plane for Uruguay. There were problems with the engine and we sat on the runway for almost 2 hours while they fixed it. I was able to take a nap and Jess watched a movie- at least the entertainment system was on while they were tinkering. We landed in Uruguay to begin our 8 hour layover. We hit up the massive duty free shop there, took some naps, ate dinner, then at long last, we finally boarded our flight to Asuncion. This one went off without a hitch. So over 60 hours after we left our parents’ homes in Wisconsin, we finally arrived at our apartment in Asuncion. And the most amazing part of all is, our checked luggage, made it. All four bags.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer in Wisco

After completing our first year in Paraguay, we journeyed to Wisconsin for some family and stateside time. We never stopped moving the entire four weeks we were home, but it felt good to be around back. Since most of our readers were with us at one point or another during our stay, I’ll keep the commentary short, but rest assured, it was a good month. There’s nothing better than Wisconsin in the summertime.

Jesse is pretty set in his ways about a few things, and one of those things is seeing baseball live at least once per year. As an avid BrewCrew fan, that means of course, a Brewers’ game! We combined families a bit, with my dad, Justin, Amy and Jake, going with Jesse’s Mom, Gail, Greg and Anna. Tailgating is of course a for sure thing!

We were lucky that, while visiting Tricia in Minneapolis, there were seats available for a Minnesota Twins game during the inauguration year for their new stadium, Target Field. It is a beautiful field, with wonderful views of the Minneapolis skyline. We actually ended up with good seats, right behind home plate.

After Minneapolis, it was Cabin and Hodag time! A few days for the 4th of July spent with my family, lounging around on inner tubes on the lake, catching up with everyone. Jesse and I got to try out our new tent, and I think it will work wonderfully on our next vacation. I regret not taking more pictures of our time at June’s cabin, but sometimes its dangerous taking a camera out on the water!

At Hodag, there were a few celebrations- one for Elena’s 50th birthday, and another Hodag Christmas celebration for us- complete with a Christmas tree, carols (courtesy of Tricia and Gail), and cookies.

My last little trip was out to Minneapolis for a second time to catch up with Maggie and see her new apartment. We had a blast, hanging out and enjoying wine on the patio. And I had to include the skyline view from Maggie’s street- just incredible!

The time went by quick, and I’m pretty sure Jess and I traveled over 1500 miles during the month, it felt great to see everyone and feast ourselves on all that Wisconsin has to offer. Namely, really good beer, brats, and cheese.