Bells go to Paraguay – Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone

One of the best parts of our Peace Corps experience has been welcoming visitors to this little-known country, and showing them the beauty of Paraguay. The Kintish parents visited us in February, and now we have hosted the Bell parents as well! Read on as Peggy and Dave Bell share about their first experience in South America.

Dave and I are so grateful to have had the opportunity to take this journey that challenged us to travel to places we never dreamed we would go. This definitely meant doing things that were outside of our comfort zone!

We will take turns sharing our experiences to highlight our individual perspectives.

Part 1: Preparing

Peggy: So many details to consider in the planning. Luckily for us, Dylan’s parents also made the journey about a month before us, so we got some good tips. Allison and Dylan helped every step of the way and over the weeks the agenda began to take shape. As things such as obtaining visas, booking hotels and Airbnbs, dinner reservations, airfare and ferries were checked off the list, the overwhelming feelings began to dissipate as well. I could do this! Then there was the list of items to pack for Alli & Dylan. I quickly realized that another piece of luggage was going to be necessary or we would have no room in our suitcases for much else.

Dave: I have to thank Peggy for doing the legwork to plan the trip, she did a fabulous job and I’m thankful everything went off pretty much as planned. We pretty much realized early on our language skills were lacking big time. Good thing we had some really good guides in Alli and Dylan, their skills in Spanish have gotten really good.  When they weren’t around we had a lot of laughs and a good bit of gesturing with people who didn’t understand what the Hell we were trying to say! A lot of dumb looks by us for sure.

Part 2: B.A. #1

Peggy: The first leg of our trip was getting to South America. We flew from Rochester, MN to Atlanta where we connected to a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Over 13 hours of flight time, the second leg is about 10 hours. After flying through the night we arrived in B.A. around 10:30 am. The airport was not difficult to navigate and we had arranged for Fernando (a guide recommended by a friend) to meet us at the airport and take us to our Airbnb in the Palermo district. After a bit of rest we walked the neighborhood and had a delicious dinner at a small restaurant, Las Pizarras, just a short walk from the Airbnb that Alli and Dylan recommended. The next day we had the entire day in B.A. but we had not planned it well so ended up doing a lot of walking without getting to see much. We hopped into a taxi to the Recoleta district where we went through the cemetery. Sounds a little weird – out of my comfort zone – but it was really interesting. This is where Eva Peron is buried along with 7 other former leaders of Argentina. That evening we had a lovely wine tasting and dinner at Don Julio’s, a well known Argentinian steak house.

Dave: I have to say taking a cab in Buenos Aires was very exciting to say the least! I thought I was an aggressive driver, but I have training wheels compared to the way these people drive. Lanes are a just a suggestion, stops signs are ignored, motos (motorcycles) are zipping in and around everybody and everything, they seem to miss everything with an inch to spare, but in all the chaos I never saw an accident which seemed a miracle.

Buenos Aires is the New York of South America. The city has some great architecture, cool neighborhoods and lots of great restaurants and coffee shops and great wine, the exchange rate was pretty great too. Dinner at Don Julio’s with all the fixins and 2 great bottles of wine was about 90 bucks, at Murrays (great steakhouse in Minneapolis) it would of cost $400 at least!

Part 3: Joining Alli and Dylan in Paraguay

Peggy: We flew from Buenos Aires to Posadas, Argentina which is just across the river from Encarnacion, Paraguay. From there we were to get a taxi to the train. In Posadas, few people speak English and our cab driver did not. We clearly understood, however, that he was telling us, NO TRAIN! Turns out Argentina was celebrating a National Holiday and indeed the train was not in service. After a few frantic moments and a call to Alli who spoke to our driver, he took us to the bus station instead and walked us right to the bus we needed. After clearing customs on both sides of the border we were delighted to be united with Alli and Dylan! We had two nights in Encarnacion which were laid back and relaxing, and even an afternoon poolside at the hotel. There were several fellow Peace Corps members in Encarnacion and we met some for beers and then Dylan and Alli’s good friend Bailey joined us for a sushi feast.

From there we traveled to Trinidad. We walked to Alina’s house, a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Trinidad. I should note that we began to realize that when Alli and Dylan would say our destination was a “couple of blocks”, blocks is a loose term for them. We somehow managed to view the Jesuit Ruins as the rain subsided and the sun was beginning to set providing an amazing backdrop and lighting for photos. This is a UNESCO Heritage sight and we basically had the entire site to ourselves but for one other couple with a small child. The Airbnb was lovely. After beers with some more friends, Alina joined us for dinner a short cab ride away. The next morning, Dylan left early on the bus to visit a school while we had a delicious breakfast at Alina’s.

Onward to Yatytay and Alli and Dylan’s site! Yatytay is a small town and many of the residents have a small business in town as well as farmland that they work close by. There are chickens and dogs everywhere and their landlady also has a couple of pigs. Everyone in town knows where the gringo house is and they have adopted Alli and Dylan into their community. The days here were filled with walking and talking to the residents who all wanted to meet us and feed us! And of course drink Terere (Yerba tea). The first night, Alli and Dylan hosted us at their house where they prepared a delicious meal in their tiny kitchen with a hot plate and a table top oven. Dylan baked homemade bread and buns. Several of their friends joined us and it was such a joy to finally meet the people who they speak of so fondly. Their friend Oscar brought his guitar and treated us to Paraguayan folk songs. Oscar has just been accepted into the National Folk Band and will travel to Europe to perform. So wonderful to hear that he will have such an amazing opportunity to showcase his talent. Alli and Dylan’s living space is small and keeping anything clean in Paraguay is a full time job. The red soil is everywhere and although I think they have a cement floor, you would swear it is a dirt floor. Definitely not in my comfort zone. I had a new appreciation for how hard everyone in the community works to keep their homes clean – all the homes we visited were beautiful.

The second day we started with breakfast back at Alli and Dylan’s just a couple of blocks from the hostel we were staying at. Alli baked brownies to take to their friends, Estela and Vicente’s house for dinner. Their 10 year old daughter, Monse gifted us with a beautiful painting of a snail. Yatytay means snail water and the village was named after the charming story of a giant snail arising from the river.

Sunday in Yatytay was very busy. In true Alli Bell style you might say we were a bit over scheduled. There were so many people to see! We tried traditional mbeju and cocido for breakfast with their landlady, Margarita and her daughter, Luz and granddaughter, Ana Lucia. Then their friend Carol (the mayor’s daughter) picked us up and we went to the mayor’s mother’s house in the campo. We ate with the mayor’s wife, Librada, as well, and saw all of Maria’s property and animals. After a rest, we went to Alli and Dylan’s friend Andrea’s house. We met her husband, Nelson, and their two sons, while eating delicious empanadas. Then we went to Alli and Dylan’s Santi’s house for dinner. Dave and Santi’s dad, Ruben, hit it off over whiskey. We met the rest of Santi’s family.. Santi is Alli and Dylan’s dearest friend in Paraguay. It it so comforting to know they have a family there who care about them. They were so kind and generously gifted us a Terere thermos that we will share with our friends here at home.

All of the people we met in Paraguay were incredibly generous sharing their homes and gifts with us. They are so friendly, giving and truly a joy to be with. And no, our Spanish never really improved so Alli and Dylan did most of the talking for us.

Dave: I must say all of the people we met were very welcoming to Peg and me. The hospitality of Paraguayans is really something else! We really got the flavor of what an “asado” was all about, every meal consisted of meat skewered and roasted over coals turning on a rotisserie, Mandioca was at every meal, it grows everywhere and is a lot like a potato. Sopa paraguaya was also served at every meal, which was like cornbread that also had cheese in it (con queso Paraguay). Chipas were also served, they are like a hard roll. Finally they always had a salad.

Alli and Dylan have certainly made some lifelong friends in Yatytay. You can tell that there is lot of love for their friends. I hope their friends get a chance to visit us in the US. They are always welcome at the Bell household!

Part 4: Iguazu

Peggy: Alli and Dylan were able to join us for the next leg of our journey to Iguazu Falls! What an amazing site it is! Dylan had visited with his parents several weeks before so we had many great tips on the best ways to view this massive site.

From Yatytay we hired a cab to a small river crossing not far from the village in Triunfo. We boarded a ferry across the river border into Argentina and then took a bus into Iguazu. The following morning, we got up early to catch the first train inside the park to the top of the falls. The park is well managed and the boardwalks provide amazing views. The first path was from the top at the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). A second path takes you to a more panoramic view and the third is near the bottom of the over 275 falls. We hiked over 5 miles inside the park and at every spot the views were stunning. We finished off the day with a wonderful dinner in Iguazu at La Rueda (The Wheel). The next day it was time to part ways with Alli and Dylan. Such a sweet sorrow to say goodbye until we can reunite sometime in February of next year.

Dave:  OMG! Iguazu Falls made Niagra Falls look like kitchen faucet in comparison. When you see it, hear it and feel the roar of the falls, it truly is one of the wonders of the world! Don’t know who built all the walkways over, around and through the falls but they did a hell of a job. You can get views from every angle, and pictures will prove it! I’m so thankful we got to experience it with Alli on her first time there as well. Dylan was our guide as he had already been to the falls with his parents six weeks prior to us. Iguazu was absolutely a highlight of the trip.


Part 5: Uruguay

Peggy: Now we enter the last phase of our journey. A flight back into Buenos Aires and a tight connection to the last ferry across the river into Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Thanks to Wally, our driver, we just made last call to board the ferry driving through the central part of Buenos Aires at 5:00 pm. The next morning we met with Damien of Bordovino Wine tours for a tour in Carmelo. We were his only two customers for the day visiting two very nice wineries. The best grapes to grow in this climate are tannat, a grape and wine we were not familiar with. Even though we like the malbecs of Argentina more, the wines were very good.

We spent the afternoon exploring Carmelo, a very sleepy village. We found the beach which seems to be the biggest draw, although since it is Fall here, there was very little going on. The next morning we boarded a bus back to Colonia and had the day to explore Colonia, which we enjoyed very much. The Old Town is beautiful and historic and we picked out a great spot to come back and watch the sunset before a nice dinner.

Dave: By now you realize women speak three times as many words as men in their lifetimes, they also type three times as many words to, so I won’t try to keep up with Peg. I enjoyed the wine tours, Damien was very knowledgeable and a good guy, and of course lots of good wine to sample. We brought home a couple bottles that we might share, or not! We got to our hotel in Carmelo , got settled and then went out for a walk around town. I walk out the door at the hotel and there is this dog who immediately starts barking at me wildly, finally he shuts up and then followed me all over town like my own personal bodyguard. Carmelo was OK, but I enjoyed Colonia Del Sacramento much more. We stayed at a great hotel and had a great dinner that night at Charco Bistro. Before dinner we went down to the river and drank wine and watched the sunset, it was awesome – again pictures prove it!

Part 6: B.A. #2

Peggy: The next morning we headed back to the ferry to cross to Buenos Aires. We could not believe how long the line was! The ferry we had ridden across was small and we could not imagine how all of these people were going to fit on the same boat. Some people behind us spoke English (thankfully) and we learned that this was the first day of the “Week of Tourism” for Uruguay – a holiday break. Also, the ferry back was much bigger than the boat we had taken to get there.

Once in Buenos Aires, we had arranged for Fernando, a contact from a friend, to meet us at the ferry for a day tour of Buenos Aires. We went to some of the best known neighborhoods, such as San Telmo for the market, tango watching and the best empanadas ever. Then to La Boca, a colorful area on the river and to the Plaza de Mayo with the Casa Rosada. We wrapped up with ice cream at Rapa Nui and got to the airport around 6 pm to check into our flight departing at 8:15 pm. A perfect day! There is so much to see and do in Buenos Aires!

Dave: On our last day we got to tour some neighborhoods we didn’t get to see on our first jaunt through Buenos Aires. Fernando, our guide did a great job of leading us around San Telmo and La Boca. He took us to a market where we had some really great Empanadas and Tamales. Fernando then took us to the national square and the cathedral where Pope Francis did his preaching. The whole trip was an eye opener for me. It’s a life lesson to see how people live in other parts of the world. It also makes me appreciate where I come from. The people we met were great, but the best was seeing Alli and Dyan in their element. It’s a trip I won’t ever forget.

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