From Santa Cruz de la Sierra we caught a flight down to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. We had little idea of what to expect, as there is limited information available about tourism there; to our surprise a couple months ago when we started to plan this segment of our trip there is no Lonely Planet Paraguay. To our surprise and delight, we loved the city. After one day we decided to extend our short two-night stop to a third night, and after three days we decided to make it four. That’s always a good sign.
First the basics. Asuncion is a city of a little over half a million people, part of a metropolitan area of perhaps two million people, on the banks of the Paraguay River. It is the political, economic, and cultural center of the country and the landlocked country’s primary port. There are a few things that stand out about Asuncion.The people. We certainly noticed in Santa Cruz how different the people were compared to those in the Bolivian and Peruvian highlands, but in Asuncion the difference was just astounding. People were taller, fairer, and obviously wealthier. Unlike other South American countries the indigenous people – the Guaraní, who inhabited the area for at least a thousand years before the Spanish conquest – maintain an important cultural and linguistic presence. In the Paraguayan census most people identify as mestizo (mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) while Guaraní is, along with Spanish, an official language of Paraguay. Even the currency here is called the Guaraní.
Also noteworthy about the people and language is that even when they’re speaking Spanish we find it almost impossible to understand them. Mark, of course, has been studying Spanish off and on for a few years now, and he’s picked up quite a bit during our three-plus months in Latin America, and I can understand a fair amount even if I can’t really speak Spanish. But to me when the Paraguayans speak it sounds as though they have mouths full of marbles; it’s almost completely unintelligible. It’s almost as though we’re back in China!
OK, what else about Asuncion? It’s hot here. Really hot. As in over 90 degrees by 10:00 AM and staying there until 6:00 PM or later. Mid-April here is well into fall, but damn it was hot. Maybe it was just a hot streak, since the climate chart in Wikipedia says that the average April high in Asuncion is 83 degrees and the record high is 97.5. That seems strange to us, since the daytime temperatures were often up around 95 degrees. So whether that’s global warming or just unusual – or it’s always possible Wikipedia is wrong – it was hot while we were there.
Mostly we just walked around a lot. Paraguay has a long history of dictatorships, though they seem to have settled into something representing a democratic state since the mid-1990s. One thing dictators are good at, though, is promoting public safety (for those who don’t object to the dictatorship, at least). Maybe that’s why the city just felt so safe to walk around in, unlike some big South American cities we’ve been in. So we took advantage of it, walking to restaurants and parks and really just all over.
So there you have it. Asuncion is a lovely, lively city (except on Sundays, when everything closes), with good restaurants, nice shopping, and some nice parks. More people should discover it!