Sunday, May 22, 2011

El Bicentenario de Paraguay!

200 years of independence from Spain. We were lucky enough to be in a country when they were celebrating a this wonderful occasion. There were events going on all week long all around town and our school also celebrated this wondrous occasion with many different presentations and activities. One activity that the whole school did together was a flag raising of both the U.S. and Paraguayan flags, and the singing of the Paraguay national anthem.
On that same morning, the elementary had their Folklore Day. This day happens every year, but this year it was done as the culmination of the Bicentenario activities. The indigenous language of Paraguay is Guarani, and students are required to pass a proficiency test in Guarani before they can receive their Paraguayan diplomas. Guarani is the main language outside of the city. On Folklore Day, the students all learn traditional Guarani dances, wear costumes, and perform the dances for their family and peers. The students are really quite adorable in their traditional outfits!
As a prelude to the festivities, the Paraguayan department and the PTA had gotten together and had decorated the school in celebration.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Boca Juniors Game

The first time Jenna and I went to Buenos Aires it was a couple months after arriving in Paraguay and we were accompanied by 4 female friends from our school. It was a fun trip, but I was not able to do one thing which I had really wanted to do in the city: attend a Boca Juniors game. Alex didn't suffer from the same lack of enthusiasm for soccer/supposedly dangerous neighborhoods and stadiums as the ladies did so he and I decided to hit the game.

The reason I wanted to see Boca Juniors play is that they are probably the most famous (club) soccer team from South America and have had some extremely famous players including no less than Diego Maradona himself. Tickets are very difficult to get because all the tickets in the 49,000 seat stadium belong to "socios" or members of the club and apparently there are more members than actual seats. Our 2 options for going to the game were getting tickets through a sort of travel/tourist agency for more than $100 to sit in the 3rd level visitor's section and have stuff thrown at us all game or to do what people say you shouldn't and venture down to the neighborhood and try to find some "reventas" or tickets from scalpers while dodging the plague of fake tickets that apparently exist.

Thinking that it would probably be safe enough since Boca was playing a smaller team (Tigre from another neighborhood in Buenos Aires) and the crowd wouldn't be violent or dangerous. Despite some policemen looking us over, deciding we were tourists who were vulnerable, and basically telling us to leave the area we were able to find some tickets. After wandering around the stadium area for 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get close since the police had the entire area closed off and you couldn't get within 2 blocks of the place unless you had tickets to the game, a guy approached us and asked if we were looking for tickets. We said yes and he told us to follow him to a more safe spot to show them to us... and yes this did sound as sketchy to us as the time as it sounds here now. After walking over to a different street he showed us the tickets under his jacket after looking around carefully and told us that we shouldn't let people see us buying them from him because people get killed for selling their tickets. (Alex and I both think he was exaggerating just a bit) He sold us the tickets for double face value but that was OK because it only ended up being about $20 each. We waited in line for a while with him and once the police opened up the stadium area we walked on in and found some seats under the overhang so the visiting crowd above us wouldn't shower us with unknown liquid substances the entire game.
The entire buildup to the game was nerve-wracking because we had heard so many things which turned out to be untrue. We felt very safe the entire time and people were friendly to us before and during the game. The game itself was even more thrilling as Boca fell behind 2 - 0 early, scored 2 goals in the last 5 minutes of the first half to tie it, and then went back and forth in the second half before falling behind again and ultimately tying it up at 3 - 3. One of the goals from the first half was even scored by one of the club's living legends Juan Roman Riquelme! One other observation from the game before we move on to the pictures. When people around us in the crowd would yell something negative about one of the Boca players, other people in the crowd would tell them to basically shut up and stop being negative toward the team. That attitude was very refreshing to hear as I'm far more used to hearing people watching sports saying less than flattering things about the players mothers! It really was a spectacular experience, possibly my favorite part of the trip, and I would recommend that any sports fan traveling to Buenos Aires give it a shot.

Shout out to Dan and the FBM!

Before the game members of the crowd climbed over that fence topped with barbed wire to hang the banners you can see all around the stadium. If you look closely in the second picture above you can see the attitude that the police take to this.

The club's all-time leading goalscorer Martin Palermo saluting the crowd which was chanting his name before the first kick of the game.

The Tigres goalkeeper with a goal kick. Imagine how intimidating it is to be playing so close to that wall of rabid fans! The top picture shows just how steep the sides of the stadium really are.

Short video here showing some of the chanting of the fans during the end of the first half of the game. For those of you who don't habla espanol the main idea is they are basically saying that the team should "poner un poquito mas de huevos" which roughly translates to "put a little bit more balls (testicles)" meaning try harder. Yes I find it funny too.

On the bus and subway rides home from the game Alex and I even found time to take a look at the Pink House (famous from the movie Evita with Madonna) which was repainted since I last saw it for Argentina's bicentennial (May of 2010) and had some pretty sweet pink lights on it at night!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Biking amongst the Vineyards

Spending a few days in Maipu really allowed us to tour all kinds of different vineyards, drink all kinds of wine, and go to two different olive oil factories. As Jesse had control of the camera for most of the vacation, we don't have that many pictures of our wine tours, but here are some of my favorites.
We toured two wineries the first day, five wineries and one olive oil the second day, and one olive oil factory the third day. I had no idea how different olive oils could be. The first place we stopped at had three different species of olives there, including a native tree to Argentina. The oils were very different, and it made me realize that the quality of the oil really can change the taste of what you are eating. And I never knew that black olives and green olives came from the same tree- green olives turn black as they stay on the tree!

We bought a few bottles of wine to bring back to Asuncion with us, and I am currently having a glass of one of them. I wish we could have brought back more, but transporting them back to the states or to Colombia would have been difficult.

There might not be anything better than drinking good wine with good friends!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Some information on Wine

Before I start in on all the wonderful things we did in wine country, I thought I'd give some of the information on wine that we learned on this trip first.

First, red and white wine can all made from purple grapes. While some green grapes are used for some white wines, others are made from red/purple grapes. What determines whether a wine is red or white is if the juice of the grapes had been in contact with the skin of the grapes. The skin gives the pigmentation of the wine and releases tannins into the wine. The different grape varieties give the wine its name; cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, syrah, etc. (All of the above types of wine we sampled during our tastings)

I think everyone has seen the I Love Lucy episode where she stomps on the grapes. As much fun as that would probably be, its not very economical or practical. The grapes are squeezed to release the juice. The first pressing is the best one, and is usually used for the top line wine that the winery makes. Then the grapes are pressed again, and again. Usually grapes are only pressed three times. If the grapes are squished too much, then the seeds break and the flavor can turn bitter.
After the juice has been extracted from the grape, the juice needs time to ferment, usually a few weeks. During this time, the sugars in the juice turn to alcohol. The wine is usually stored in big tanks that will allow the carbon dioxide that forms to escape.
Then, if it is a lower quality red wine, white wine, or rose, the wine is bottled. Some red wines however, get put into oak barrels to age. The longer the wine is in the oak barrel, the more flavors get drawn out of the wood into the wine. There are two kinds of oak that are used, French oak and American oak. Each oak gives a different flavor to the wine. Each barrel is used just three times before it is discarded. The first use of the barrel is the best one, and is usually used for the top line wines.
Some wine is aged in the oak barrels for two years, others for 3 or 6 months. It depends on what flavors or undertones the winemaker desires in the wine. The different flavors that sophisticated palates can taste in wines come out during the fermentation and storing process. Those flavors (tobacco, blueberry, cherry, citrus, smoke, cinnamon, etc) are not added to the wine, but simply come out of the juice and sommeliers (wine tasting experts) use these flavors to characterize wines.