Well now that 2011 is behind us I feel like the 2 years of my service has really begun. I spent New Years in Asunción with a couple of my buddies Jimmy and Johnny. In natural American ignorance, a theme of my weekend, we all assumed that because its New Years Eve there were going to be people everywhere, and things were going to be open until all hours of the night. We were half right at least things were open until all hours of the night, but they didn’t open until after midnight. We literally were roaming the streets of Asunción without seeing as much as a stray dog. To be honest I wasn’t totally shocked by this, but was definitely caught off guard by how quiet a city of 3 million people could be so quiet on a holiday like new years. By the time we finally reached a place where we could have a midnight toast we had literally minutes to spare, and to be perfectly honest all our watches said different things so we have no idea when it was actually the New Year. To compensate we had three different toasts. After midnight we were all astounded by the plethora of people that emerged from their various domiciles in droves of hundreds to spend the rest of the night celebrating in all kinds of different bars and clubs. I guess despite our confusion and frustration everything worked out, and it was without a doubt my strangest and one of most memorable New Years I have ever had.
Now I am sure some of you are thinking what kind of city is Asunción? To be perfectly honest I cannot equate it to any place I have ever been to. There is a lot of old architecture and very well maintained government buildings like the Presidents house, the treasury, and the ministry of defense, but there are also extremely dilapidated slums with rampant drug related issues. There are modern shopping malls as nice if not nicer then a number I have been to in the states and high end car dealerships, but every once in a while you see a horse drawn carriage with agricultural goods and people sleeping in the cities well maintained park system. The few tall buildings are spread across the city, which is sprawled out to the point where it is very obvious what is new and what is old. The Peace Corps office is located on the street Mariscal Lopez (Mcal Lopez) named after the famous Solano Lopez the president of the country during the War of the Triple Alliance where Paraguay fought against a unified force of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, and came close to winning despite those odds, but I digress. Mcal Lopez is located very close to the grounds of the U.S. Embassy and the House of the President. It is a very nice area with lots of shopping, parks, trees, and restaurants. You head 20 minutes down the road the scenery turns to much taller and older buildings in the central part of the city where the majority of the hotels are. You go towards the zoo and you are next too one of the roughest barrios all of Paraguay if not South America. In many ways the disparity of the different areas of Asunción isn’t unlike other major South American cities. I think what strikes me is how quickly your surroundings change only after 5 minutes on a bus. I almost feel like the city is a giant but easy to complete jigsaw puzzle. There are a lot of pieces, but it is easy to look at and put them altogether because the pieces are so unique visually to the senses. I like Asunción because it is like a puzzle. No matter what neighborhood you go it seems totally different.
After 3 days though the noise, heat, and stress of the transportation system, which is made up of a totally privatized fleet of busses circa 1980-1989 in style that all have specific routes, but no clear numbering system or helpful map to direct you which bus you need to catch to go where. To illustrate my confusion the bus numbers that I ride most frequently are 12, 16.2, 30, 31, and 41 they all go to similar places but there is no bus numbered 2, 3,4,6,8, 9 or 16.1. I still don’t understand how it works, but I guarantee you one thing that there is a system in place, but the numbers of people who understand the rationale behind the weird number system are few and far between. Yesterday I had the joy of riding several of these obscurely number vehicles to the national post office in the hopes of getting a package sent by Mom on November 28th. The package center, or should I say the boarded up warehouse that looks like and abandoned train station had no knowledge of my package, but offered a glimmer of hope that it would be at the correro central (Central Post Office), another office located about 10 minutes away by bus. By pure chance while my buddy was getting a package of his own did I notice on the had written ledger, not computer, that my name was directly above his, and my package that contained a cornucopia of chewing gum and socks of all shapes and colors had been found after sitting for 3 weeks in the captivity of the Paraguayan post office. The cost for liberation was a modest 1 mil (20¢ US). I was feeling relieved that I had figured out the postage system and along they way rode 3 random busses and spent time in three distinctly different neighborhoods along the way.
To this point early on my service I feel extremely gratified when I accomplish those small tasks that we take for granted in the states like getting our mail. After my weekend in Asunción I felt tired, hot, stressed, but satisfied that I was able to brave the bus system, the different cultural aspect of New Years, and the vastly unique neighborhoods to obtain my package from home. Thanks Mom and Dad the gum is a big relief.