On my first trip to Asunción, I firmly decided that I did not like the city. It was dirty. It was gritty. It had no culture. What did one do in Asunción? But now, on the city’s 478th Birthday, the tables have turned, my mind has changed, and I’ve come to fall in love with a city that came out of no where to show me another side of Paraguay.
I have fallen in love with the plazas, surrounded on all sides by street vendors, selling a manner of all things. I have fallen in love with these street vendors, with their neatly lined up sunglasses and stacked magazines and small grills, emanating with the smell of chorizo and asadito, and the terere. Mountains of yuyos. Carefully selected, crushed, mashed, pounded, juiced, wetted, iced, poured, ahhhh… All for a small price of five thousand Guaranies; chump change for an hour under the Lapachos. I have fallen in love with the trees. Huge, ancient Lapachos, with their hands of five leaves, stretched out over the city providing relief from summer heat and turning winter into spring as the entire city explodes into a brilliant painting of pink. I have fallen in love with the colors. Pink flowers of the Lapachos and more pink, proudly displayed along the costanera at the Palacio de los Lopez, green of the terere, blue and red and white flying high above the buildings, black and white, red and blue, yellow and black jerseys wandering around in search of fellow fans, white flowers, orange flowers, red flowers, yellow flowers, pink flowers, green leaves, green everywhere as you look out the window of your kamikaze bus speeding along Avenida Mariscal Lopez. I have fallen in love with rickety old buses. Buses you think will fall apart the moment the driver careens around the next corner, you’re sure of it, this is the day the bus will just tip over or the floor will fall out beneath you, this is the day you die, you are positive, oh god here comes another corner, and yet you’re still here, on board, packed to bursting with city dwellers on their way to work, to lunch, to go shopping, to go wearily home on the multicolored boxes that systematically work their way around the city. I have fallen in love with the grit. With the dirt. With the trash. With the graffiti. Because where else in the world will you see a wall with a sprawled “Mba’eteko?” I have fallen in love with “Puede Ser.” It could be. It easily could be as you walk through markets pasts stalls of jeans and flip flops and termos and mountains of fruit and cases of cheese and slabs of meat and strings of sausage and whole surubi caught that morning and bouquets of flowers and the smell of rice or tallerin or vori vori or chipa guazu floating from the kitchen of a motherly kuña karai just waiting for you to come in. “Puede Ser.” It could be. They say it, my wallet says it, the small voice with a disregard for budgeting says it as I wander through Mercado 4 wandering if I’m outside or inside at the moment, because there’s no real way to tell. I’ve fallen in love with late night street corner chats, Pilsen in hand, American music blasting from the cover band inside, Spanish and English and maybe some Guaraní mixing and tumbling in the mouths of the twenty-somethings mingling around. I’ve fallen in love with a hostel. A hammock. A patio of potted plants. A yellow gate. A dormitory bed. A sofa made from old pallets. A large wooden table where I drink endless coffee before departing for meetings or adventures in the morning. A place where I feel at home with my friends as we see each other all at once for the first time in a couple months. I’ve fallen in love with a city that surprised me. It really came out of no where. A city that, although I’m not there often, I feel just as much at home in as I do in my rolling hills of Itapua or the well manicured lawn of my university or on top of a mountain looking down at the beautiful city where I grew up. I’ve fallen in love with Asunción, a city kept secret from the rest of the world, a city of extremes, a city that has become my home away from home away from home.
P.S. If you’d like to see some beautiful photos demonstrating the urban culture of Asunción, follow Foto Ciclo on Instagram! Good stuff!