Bay Area Youth Ambassador Perspectives
The arrival of the 2017 Bay Area Youth Ambassadors to Asunción, Paraguay on June 21 was exhausting and exciting at the same time. Our trip began at 9:30 PM in San Francisco and ended when we got off of the plane in the Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Asunción, Paraguay. We brewed with excitement for the beds of the hotel and the trip ahead of us. Rachel greeted us with hugs and excitement at the entrance to customs and we passed through easily with our beautiful Paraguayan visas. We were met by Dani and Javi with a sign and a camera as we entered the main sector of the airport after collecting our luggage.
From the airport in Luque, we rode in the party bus (as we like to call it) to Le Pelican Hotel where we darted to our rooms to shower and then out to the pool to explore our new environment. We then went to our rooms and slept the night away until 8 the next morning to start right away. We began the day with a daily opening and a maté circle to share our experiences with one another. Then we learned some Guaraní on YouTube until our friend Jess from our partner Fundación Paraguaya arrived and talked about the organization and all of the phenomenal divisions they have in Paraguay and abroad. Chris from the US Embassy followed Jess and discussed the programs in Paraguay that he and the US Embassy manage. When he departed, we braced ourselves for the drive to downtown Asunción to eat lunch and tour the historical sites of the city.
We ate at a typical Paraguayan restaurant named Ña Eustaquia where we experienced Paraguayan food for the first time as well as the fantastic and diverse fruit juice. Our amazing tour guide Guille met us at the restaurant and took us around the city where we saw the house of independence, the congress, the pantheon, the cathedral, the theatre, the palace, and more. As we drove back to the hotel we were excited for the trip and the next day and all that it held at Mbatovi. It was here that we zipped through the Paraguayan jungle and enjoyed breathtaking vistas of the amazing Paraguayan landscape, though it was a long drive from Asunción to Mbatovi. It was a fantastic bonding experience that was fun and a great way to begin the exchange.
No crosswalks, no spicy food, extremely caring people? What is this place? As it is my first time traveling outside the United States borders Paraguay is a culture shock for me. I had envisioned a different lifestyle and environment, but was not disappointed when I was greeted with two kisses (one on each cheek) and a unique cuisine! We tried mbeju, a cornstarchy cheese patty (my favorite) and chipa, a bagel-shaped bread made from cheese and corn flour. The moment my fellow Youth Ambassadors and I stepped out of the customs area we were welcomed by the Paraguayan coordinators Dani and Javi. They were so enthusiastic, and from that moment on I was all smiles! Their vibes radiated and it has been true for every Paraguayan I have encountered. We walked out of the airport to get to our hotel by bus and I couldn’t believe my eyes, tereré (yerba maté typically drunk in hot weather) was everywhere! It was just like we had learned previously at our retreat.
We finally arrived at the hotel, dropped our luggage, and ran down to the lobby to get out first Paraguayan snacks, such as mini crackers, local mandarins, jugo de durazno (peach juice), and more. The dynamic my fellow Youth Ambassadors bring to every situation is what has made being away from home easy. I didn’t completely believe I was in Paraguay until I walked around the center of Asunción. I can tell you first-hand that vehicles very much have the right of way, and do not try to challenge them! It was a hard and laughable lesson.
While we stayed at the hotel for three nights, we were fed Paraguayan culture in hopes we would digest all the different manners and a little Guaraní (Paraguay’s 2nd national language) before meeting with our host families come Saturday.
Before the big Saturday we spent our days learning about the history of Paraguay (Did you know that it gained independence in 1811?) I learned that from my host dad, but we also visited the museums and congress with the Youth Ambassadors.
Aside from learning indoors, on Friday we went to Mbatovi in the countryside where we went hiking, tightrope walking, and zip lining. I think Rachel organized this day to help us get out of our comfort zones and surpass our fears! That day was equally the most exhausting and exciting. To top it all off once we got back from our 3 mile hike, a few of us decided to do a jumping jack contest to see who could do the most. I got 2nd place with 280 jumping jacks! My time here is Paraguay is precious and I am enjoying every second of it to the fullest! Rohayhu Paraguay!