Monday 16th November 2015 –
It took me a few days to really recover from my time on the toilet. The sickness itself was over within 24 hours, but the loss of fluids left me feeling drained. I didn’t have much of an appetite either. This probably wasn’t helped by the heat.
A consistent humid 38°C, once I was back on my feet I kept outdoor trips short, not venturing too deep into Asunción. I’d started to feel a bit better by the time Martin arrived, another Englishman, but one who didn’t live in Britain. He was actually a guidebook writer for Rough Guides, currently taking time of for some personal, non contracted travels.
With great travel stories aplenty, his enthusiasm was a great balance to my slightly less chatty than usual self, and his exuberance gradually helped bring me back into the world of the living. We checked out Asuncion’s explorable centre, including the Panteon de Los Heroes, a currently under renovation commemoration to those who lost their lives in the War of the Triple Alliance, and the Palacio de los Lopez. Grand as you would expect, this was built for Francisco Lopez by his father – then president. Francisco Lopez being the same man who got Paraguay mixed up in the war. Apparently, this is the war with the greatest comparative loss of life in history – 75% of all Paraguayans died, including 95% of all men. Depending on the historical account, Lopez can vary from maniacal coward to champion of independence for the smaller South American nations, but either way a lot of people died on his watch. Paraguay itself almost came to an end.
After this quick exploration, we stopped at the popular Bolsi, for empanadas and the best juices I’ve had since leaving Brazil. Martin would leave for San Bernardino that afternoon, a small town a couple of hours away from Asunción, only returning briefly before flying to Bolivia. I would return to Bolsi most days during my stay, a reluctance to push the boat out too much in respect of my recovering internals being one reason, those juices another.
The next couple of days were reserved for milling about the centre, and trying to get blog things done without the aid of a phone. Actually contacting back home becomes much more of an effort too.
I met Alci then, amongst my aimless wanderings. He worked in some sort of state department, but not for the government he said. He told me all about his interest in foreign culture, particularly British music, in between bits of Ellie Goulding or Dido blasting out of his phone. More than anything though, he loved The Pet Shop Boys. This was reiterated to me several times.
I asked him whether Paraguayans know a lot about about Britain, after I’d confirmed that Paraguay doesn’t tend to pop up so much in regular conversation in Manchester. Not specifically was the answer, mostly just the music that finds its way over. They do remember Diana though, of all things, and the Falklands.
Time sped up and soon I had to go, leaving smiley Alci and his Paraguayan insights. It was important though. I’d made enquiries at the hostel for a sole adventure, but found myself with an invite to a group outing, with free lift. Who was I to say no? There would be action, intrigue and maybe a little raunchiness. I was off to watch Spectre.
OK, yes this was the second time in a week I had been to the cinema, but there was no way I was going to miss a bond film. Plus, it was in a different country. Maybe cinemas are different here?
We ventured off to a shopping complex in the suburbs, picking up a couple of friends of Patty and Guille (my hostel owners) on the way, and sat down. I loved the film (like there was a possibility that I wouldn’t) but there was one odd thing about it. There was an interval. As if you’d gone to the theatre. The film just stopped, like a badly placed ad break, and the screen went blank. Ten minutes later, it restarted. Guille & Patty’s French friends and I were very confused.
Having arrived too late the previous day, I visited the Estacion Ferrocaril, the train station, the next day. Early this time. Up until the early 2000s this had been a fully functioning station, and Paraguay’s had been the first railway in South America. Now though, it was merely a memorial. The sleepers had been stolen and infrastructure demolished as it slipped into disuse. Apparently only just after paying the thing off as well.
I headed for the Recoleta after this – the Graveyard of Asuncion’s most wealthy and privileged. I’d hoped to find the names of a few of the famous people I’d read about previously. Eliza Lynch maybe, mistress to Francisco Lopez, or perhaps the man himself. I didn’t. I would later find out that he is buried in the Panteon de los Heroes having been moved from his death place at Cerro Cora during the Stroessner era.
What caught my attention though, was the difference between here and the graveyard in Sucre. For the most part, the graves here were larger and more of a display of wealth than those in Sucre, the majority of which were in honeycomb structures, mere slots in a wall. However, these had all been crammed in together, tombs scattered in the most disorderly fashion. What’s more, the care and attention that was obviously consistently afforded those in Sucre was not present here. Walls had fallen down, glass panes were broken and edifices cracked. There was even a dank and musty encompassing smell, which I could only surmise was the scent of death seeping from the damaged tombs. Combined, this lent a spooky and foreboding vibe to the area, probably enhanced by the giant storm that was doing its best to ward me off when I arrived.
I couldn’t really say why it was this way though. Perhaps a sign if the times – Asunción being a far more modern and seemingly prosperous city than Sucre. Perhaps people didn’t have the time for upkeep. Or maybe after so many life ending wars, these were the graves of those with no living relatives.
After an expensive but tasty meal at O Gaucho, recommended to me as the best churrascaria around, I headed back to the centre and eventually bought myself a new phone. I’d tested my water sodden, rice treated one the day before, after five days of isolation. Not even a glimmer. I suspect it had fried itself immediately after coming our of the water. I’d done a bit if research on phones in the area and ended up coming out with a Moto G again – Paraguay seems to be a year or two behind on the phones available. I’d hoped for an improvement, if not on quality then on price. No such luck though. At least my old case fit!
Aregua was my final destination in and around Asunción – just a day trip, and one only an hour out of town with no traffic. Renowned for its pottery, it’s a sweet little town situated next to a lake. I spent the day wandering about – down to the lake shore and back up again, via the ceramic stalls, an icecream shop (obviously), abandoned train station and obligatory church at the top. It was the day of the vote, so I practically had the place to myself.
Coming through the pottery, I bought I nice little jug for my mum – she likes those. I wrapped it up in the bag as best as I could and kept hold of it to protect it from bumps in my rucksack. On the jittery bus going back I even kept it on the seat to prevent breakage. I failed. A couple of blocks from my street I shuffled forward to check where we were. There was a dull thump as the jug landed on the floor, a chip splintering into unrecoverable fragments. I was devastated.