Uruguay – Of Buildings and Beaches

With the weather heating up in Asunción, Paraguay, my family and I decided to cool off for a few days during the off-season in Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay, before the summer crowd arrived on vacation.  Thousands of visitors descend each year on Uruguay during the January-February summer season to escape the summer heat and spend time at the ocean.
Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, is a feast of Spanish colonial architecture and surrealist art inspired by Uruguayan painter Joaquin Torres Garcia.  Many of its buildings have been restored to their original splendor, and its architecture is similar to that of Buenos Aires located just across the delta of the Rio de la Plata.  Montevideo is a good excursion for those who enjoy great architecture, colonial history, music and dancing, and fine arts.  (Montevideo also hosts Uruguay’s largest Carnaval celebration.)  The city offers an understated elegance and tranquility befitting a vacation getaway.  Many of the city center’s primary attractions are located within walking distance of Plaza Independencia and Plaza Constitution, the city’s main squares.  Consider starting your tour of Montevideo with a walk through the old city, Ciudad Vieja, near the waterfront, and wind your way through quiet neighborhoods to the tomb of Jose Artigas, the “Father of Uruguay,” in Plaza Independencia.  After taking in the city center, consider heading to La Rambla to take in the beach and have lunch at “El Viejo y El Mar,” one of the best restaurants in town.  Or consider dining at the Market at Ciudad Viejo located in a renovated warehouse on the waterfront.  The Market offers an excellent selection of barbeque (parrilla) restaurants.
We also spent two days in Punta del Este, Uruguay’s best known resort destination.  Located just 1.5 hours by bus from Montevideo, it’s an attractive destination virtually any time of the year.  The city’s population ebbs and flows with the season, and during the off-season, lodging and beach access are easily available. The city sits on a peninsula surrounded by the restless Atlantic Ocean (Punta Brava) and the more serene Rio de la Plata (Punta Mansa), Great waterfront views and beach access are just minutes from virtually any hotel.  The city also offers shopping, although many shops are closed or scale back operations in the off-season.  Casa Pueblo, designed and built by Uruguayan painter and sculptor Carlos Paez Vilaro, the Punta del Este lighthouse, and “Los Dedos,” a hand-like sculpture protruding from the beach on Punta Brava, are its main attractions.  Real estate in Punta del Este is attractive to those searching for potential retirement homes.  Condominiums with waterfront views in Punta del Este listed for as little as $150,000 when we visited.
We spent the night in Montevideo at the Hotel Lafayette, an aging but decent hotel not far from Avenida 18 de Julio, the city’s main boulevard.  We stayed at the Days Inn Punta Brava in Punta del Este.  Consider staying near Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo and at a hotel on the beach in Punta del Este.  The Uruguayan peso-U.S. dollar exchange has also improved, and Uruguay is now a more affordable destination for a short getaway trip.  Now that the Uruguayan airline PLUNA offers cheap, direct flights between Asuncion and Montevideo, Uruguay is closer than ever.
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Ten Reasons to Visit Paraguay (A Satire)

Dear Reader,
Here is a list of reasons why you should come to visit Paraguay.
10. Pretend you’re a gaucho at a cattle ranch in the Chaco.
9.   Learn some Guaraní phrases and have no idea what you’re saying.
8.   Share some tereré with your ten newest Paraguayan friends.
7.   Search for old Alfredo Stroessner memorabilia.
6.   Speak Plattdeutsch and eat schnitzel in a Mennonite Colony.
5.   Look for “Tigres” that look like jaguars.
4.   Play “spot the knock-off” in Ciudad del Este.
3.   Fish for piranhas in the Rio Paraguay.
2.   Find the Taiwanese Embassy in Asunción.
1.   Hunt for Nazi fugitives who assumed new identities.
You will only understand the profundity of this list by visiting the unique country that is Paraguay.


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One Month

 Yesterday marked the end of our first month in Paraguay.  I am shocked and dismayed when I think of how quickly it passed!  I can’t believe how fast the time passed.  What’s happened here in the past month?  Here’s a snapshot for posterity:
  • The weather has been schizophrenic, as befits the middle of winter.  We weathered a huge lightning and thunderstorm our second weekend here as well as a cold front that brought snow to Buenos Aires for the first time in 80 years.  The weather now is cold and wet.  I’ve been told that the winter season this year is colder than is typical for Paraguay.  Right now the weather is cold and wet.  Our house exacerbates the situation, because the floors are tile throughout, keeping it cool in the hot summer–and freezing in winter!  We put down some rugs but they don’t cover much floor space.  The room-by-room heating system is running full bore in the rooms we occupy.  Thank goodness we haven’t been through a power outage yet.  I hear that they are quite common in Asuncion.
  • We haven’t used the swimming pool yet, but we’re enjoying the bananas.  We have a small pool — maybe 9′ x 12′.  It will be a godsend in the hot summer, we’re told, but right now it’s sitting unused.  Pool care and maintenance reminds me of cleaning a large fish tank.  We don’t drain it because the weather usually stays warm enough to enjoy it year round, but it still needs to be maintained.  Thank goodness we finally hired a gardener to upkeep the yard, the pool, and the banana tree.  Ah, the banana tree, my pride and joy.  The previous owner, who brought the tree in from Venezuela, planted it about five years ago.  It’s large and has/had six stalks with bananas, about 600 bananas in total.  I e-mailed him, and he instructed me on banana tree care and harvesting techniques.  We’ve started a queue whereby we cut a “hand” of green bananas from the tree (a bunch), wrap it in newspaper, store it in a dark place to let it cure naturally, and eat them when ready.  There are so many that some have turned brown, so those become the ingredients for smoothies and banana bread.  I plan to bring bunches of bananas to work as well.  I think we’ll get really tired of bananas.
  • Our son is now in school.  We visited several schools and decided to put him into the American school here.  School started last Monday.  He’s having a bit of trouble adjusting, because he’s the only foreign student in his class.  The others are Paraguayan.  A couple of his peers are Chinese- or Korean-Paraguayan, but they are Paraguayan in all but ethnicity.  I think he’ll be fine in the long run; he’s just shy for now.  A Paraguayan nanny/maid will soon starting working for us full time and will take care of him after school, so between his fellow Paraguayan students and the nanny, he should adapt to the local culture and language (Spanish and Guarani) in no time.
  • My wife stays at home, although she may be close to finding a great full-time job.  I can’t comment any more than that because I don’t want to jinx her chances, but we’re optimistic that she will find work in the next six months or so.  In a place like Paraguay, where jobs are scarce, that is quite a feat indeed.  In the meantime, she has been a trooper getting us settled in at home.  She’s more than ready for the maid to start so that she doesn’t have to domesticate so much.  It doesn’t help that our home is prone to collecting dust (e.g. tile floors) and that we don’t have a dishwasher (not common in Paraguay).
  • I’m as busy as ever, spending more time at work than I expected.  I was surprised to find how busy it is here in Asuncion.  Life here is typically described as “sleepy, boring, slow-paced, relaxing.” That has not been our experience thus far.  You can see it in the fact that I’ve hardly blogged since I arrived.  Right now, I probably should do other things, including some evaluations I need to write for work, but I need a break.  Still, I do sense that life has slowed down a bit since we first arrived.  We’ve set up all our basic needs–Internet, international calling (Skype), getting our car, finding a church home, getting our son in school, arranging our personal effects in the home.  We still have a lot to do, but it’s getting done, slowly but surely.  I really do hope that life will be more relaxing here than it’s been so far.
  • We set aside the next few holidays between now and the end of the year to do some traveling.  We made the mistake in Korea of not traveling outside Korea as much as we could.  We’re not going to make the same mistake in Paraguay.  We’re tentatively planning trips in the next three months to the Amazon (Manaus, Brazil), Macchu Pichu, Peru, and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  We won’t travel much between next December and May, so we want to do it now.  We have the time–we need to save the money.  The trips won’t be cheap!  Still, it will be nice to travel again, because I haven’t been further than 45 kilometers outside Asuncion along the Trans-Chaco Highway.  I’ve barely seen this huge continent (yet).


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