In February we had the opportunity to welcome Dylan’s parents down to South America. It was an incredible trip and we have asked them to write about their experiences. We know we are WAY over due for our own updates so we promise we will send another update about what we’ve been up to later this week. But for now, enjoy the photos and stories of Debbie and Jeff’s time in South America!
Deb and Jeff: We are going to visit Dylan and Alli in Paraguay.
People: You are going where!!?
Deb and Jeff: Paraguay.
People: Where is that?
Deb and Jeff: South America near Argentina.
People: WHY would you go there?
Deb and Jeff: See above!
People: Oh Okaaayy…
Those were the responses we would get when mentioning that we were visiting Dylan and Alli in Paraguay this past February. We have to say we were internally wondering why we were doing it as well. We came up with three rational answers: to see our son and his wife whom we missed and see the work they were doing on the other side of the equator; Dylan was turning 30 while we were going to be there; and it was time to get out of our comfort zone to see and experience a part of the world that was not full of entitlement.
Planning the trip to the very last meal was fairly easy thanks to D&A and google docs. We decided on a few days in Argentina and then to Paraguay. At first we wondered why we wouldn’t do it the other way around thinking we would need the R&R after all the high emotions of meeting D & A’s people and seeing their site in Paraguay, but now that the trip is over we are so happy with the order of our visit.
We arrived in Buenos Aires on February 13th. We made our way through the unknown airport with Jeff determined to find a bank (a common theme throughout our visit, because it was very difficult to get pesos in the states), while I was looking for the Spanish name for taxi, in order to meet D&A at the Airbnb. Thankfully the Spanish word for taxi is taxi. First challenge a success! While approaching the sign I said to Jeff, “I found the taxi.” Just then I felt a person’s hand touch my shoulder saying “I can help you.” I turned expecting to find an Argentinian eyeing two lost North Americans, but it was Dylan! Our first major surprise during our visit, one of many to come. Once we got some money, we were off in a taxi and on our way to meet Alli at the Airbnb. Argentina was full of life, history, and culture. We visited Mercado San Telmo, La Boca (one of the most colorful towns in the world) and the Botanical Gardens, among several other places. We had a wine tasting paired with cheese. Jeff learned the difference between Reserve and Reserva wines, while Debbie continued to not care whether it was Reserve or Reserva. We all went to dinner at a vegan place Sacro Vegan Restaurant. It was so good that we placed our shared plate order, ate, then immediately ordered the same dish for more. Before going back to the Airbnb for the night, we found ourselves down the street from our Airbnb at a Wine Bar. Yes, Deb was in heaven! A bar that only serves wine. Argentina, you got it right!
February 15th is now not only Dylan’s birthday, but as of this year it is The National Day of Alli it’s your Fault. This was a gift for Dylan’s birthday. The other 364 days, Dylan goes back to being wrong.
On this day we walked through The Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Perón’s (Evita) mausoleum is located. Walking through the vast cemetery you could not help but notice and understand the importance of family, and how the local culture respects the ones who have passed away. It was awe inspiring. After the cemetery we visited Alli’s magnificent tree, however not officially named that…..yet. Give Alli some time, and it will happen. The tree is enormous! The branches are so long and low to the ground, that they are supported by metal stands. The root system is implausible.
After admiring these trees, we met D & A’s friend Andrés in front of the Recoleta. Here we first experienced the kindness of the Paraguayan people, and our first shared tereré drink which Andrés brought. He explained how to make it, the social meaning behind it, and of course the experience of drinking it. We learned that it does not matter your age, gender, or socioeconomic status; all Paraguayans share the drink and experience together. It was a very special day and birthday evening, ending with a delicious meal, and yes, more wine.
The next day we were off to Iguazu Falls with Dylan. Alli returned to their site to get it ready and get some grad school work done. There aren’t many words I can say about Iguazu Falls except the facts. Iguazú Falls is approximately 257 individual falls over 2.7 kilometres and was chosen in 2011 as one of the new natural seven newwonders of the world https://nature.new7wonders.com/. We arrived at 8:00am (recommended because it gets too crowded). The pictures below will show you that if you go to the top Garganta de Diablo (Devil’s Throat in English), chances are you will get very wet! But it was worth it for all the views and laughter of our resemblance to wet dogs. It took us approximately 5 hours to walk all the trails among monkeys, one lonely croc, coatis, and people from all over the world.
Monday, February 18thAfter probably one hundred texts to Dylan’s friends to help navigate our way out of Argentina and cross the border to Paraguay, we had a nice 3 ½ hour bus ride through Argentina and then a ferry to cross the border. We don’t have to talk about the two hour stop en route because of a protest, we will let that one pass as a cultural experience. We will say though, the one year old next to us sat happily on his mom’s lap the whole 6 hours without crying, whining, or fussing in any way. He played with his little toy cars and had a few snacks. In fact, the whole time in South America, we did not see or hear screaming children or see little kids on iPads in the restaurants. It was so heartwarming to watch families interact with each other and not with devices. Once we were in Paraguay, we took a taxi to D&A’s site.
Once we arrived in their site, we went to the hostel to drop our bags off. Alli met us there and we all walked to D&A’s home so we could finally meet our Grand Kitty Michimi! As much as Deb loved Michi, Jeff seemed to have found another four legged friend name Terry (D&A’s landlady’s dog)! Deb will forever hear Jeff calling ‘Terrrryyy’ for his friend to visit. At this time we were famished and Alli had prepared this amazing noodle salad with peanut sauce. D&A have perfected cooking superb meals with minimal equipment and space. We were continually impressed throughout our visit.
Once our stomachs were full, we took a tour of the community. We visited the snail, which the town gets its name from. We meandered that afternoon through the community until we arrived at Santi’s house, D & A’s very good friend. We were immediately greeted by his mom, sister, brother, and father as if we were family. Deb felt a warmth emanating from their souls even though she had never met them before. We had a tour of their beautiful backyard where they shared delicious fruit from their trees. Jeff was off and running with his speaking, or attempt at speaking Spanish. Thank you, Duolingo…? Jeff had a unique way of adding an Italian accent to the end of his words thinking that is how it is done. But he was able to spread a lot of joy, laughter, and appreciation from his attempts at speaking Spanish and a bit of Guarani.
We also had a chance to visit the family that welcomed D & A into their home for 3 months when they first moved to their community. We spent time at their house and then were given a tour of their farm.
Overall, during our visit there were a few recurring conversations like how Jeff and Dylan look identical and how well Dylan and Alli speak Spanish. We heard those two comments countless of times from the community, to taxi drivers, to waitstaff. Jeff and I concur on both but most importantly, to us, Dylan and Alli sound as if they are native Spanish speakers. We are very proud.
That night we had some of D & A’s friends, Santi, Gustavo, Andy, and Barby over and ate homemade burger buns (Dylan) and lentil burgers (Dylan) and salad (Alli). Thanks to Google translate, and D&A translating for us, we all had lots of fun and laughter outside in their backyard. We are sure you are also wondering if Deb was eaten up alive by the mosquitos. Apparently, the mosquitos heard Deb was coming with anti-mosquito ammunition and they hid for the week. So yeah Deb one- mosquitos zero.
Tuesday, February 19th morning we met D & A at their home and had a delicious breakfast. Deb had avocado and homemade bread toasted. D&A’s site has avocado trees but we were just a few weeks too early. That didn’t stop us from picking some – so if you plan on visiting, bring a ladder. Jeff, Dylan, and Alli enjoyed eggs, with veggies, hot sauce and toast. Are we suffering yet? Nope!
Afterwards we went back to Santi’s family’s home where Deb received her first tereré thermos and guampa (cup)! She was so honored and was overwhelmed by the hospitality and welcoming that she felt in this community.
We stayed there for a while to share teteré and continued talking via Dylan and Alli. Ruben, Santi’s dad, offered to drive us to Salto Tembey (the waterfall park) where there was a big reforestation project last year replanting 200 trees with volunteers. Deb brought her new thermos to share tereré with all; she was so proud. When we got there we waited for the mayor and his niece, Daisy, one of D&A’s contact and the head of Yaytay tourism, to walk the trails with us. We saw the trees that they had planted growing to become big and strong. After the walk the mayor drove us to the Puente Colgante (Suspension Bridge) where D & A are working with the Ecological Committee of Yatytay on reusing tires to create steps so people can walk down to a beautiful river and slatted bridge.
Later that evening, Dylan made his own salsa, chicken tacos, and tortillas, while Alli made homemade sour cream.
We were planning on being just the four of us but Santi popped over and joined us, which is always a treat. Santi brought us a gift, which again was so incredible. He brought us collapsable guampa (cup) that we can use for our tereré. Santi talks about visiting the states and we look forward to that day.
Wednesday, February 20th 7:30 in the morning, without coffee mind you, we were at the Municipality meeting another one of D&A’s contacts Ramon, the secretary of environment and other municipality workers. After that, breakfast at D & A’s and off to visit their landlord, Margarita, her daughter Luz, and her granddaughter Ana Lucia. We brought gifts there as well but nothing beats the book we brought for the baby, Goodnight Moon. Alli read it in Spanish with the baby looking mesmerized, then Deb read it in English. The baby was just as interested and adorable! More tereré was shared.
We visited more people before we walked over to the Mayor’s house for lunch. The love and care that went into this lunch and the words the Mayor said when we sat down, “Yesterday I met you, today I get to know you”, will remain in our souls forever.
With another quick tereré drink with Santi’s family to say good-bye, off we were to Trinidad to another Airbnb and dinner with two of D & A’s fellow Environmental Peace Corps volunteers, Alina and Daphne. We had dinner in a town called Hohenau and after walked to a bar for drinks. At this particular bar they did not serve wine by the glass, only beer.
Thursday February 21st
We got into a taxi to Encarnación for our final day with D & A. The hotel pool was a lovely location to either work on grad school assignments (Dave and Peggy you should be proud), nap, listen to audio, play cribbage, and of course snacks and drinks. As the evening came to a close we walked along the water for a magnificent sunset looking over the Rio Paraná to Argentina. Another wonderful dinner and evening with D & A.
Friday, February 22nd
After breakfast, we packed our bags, and took a taxi to the market to get Michi food, and then to the train to cross over to Posadas, Argentina. We said our goodbyes. In case anyone was curious, those were not tears coming out of Deb’s eyes, it was an allergy she developed while in South America.
From this point on it was a train, a taxi, a plane, a taxi, La Panera for lunch, drinks, and a game until the next taxi, and plane to JFK, and another plane back to the Boston. All in all, 24+ hours to arrive back home.
This trip was such a positive experience with memories to hold onto forever. So you ask where is Paraguay? Our answer is: where the kindest and warmest people live.
Deb and Jeff