Jujuy, Argentina

In Salta we visited an archeology museum dedicated to the Incan culture. Specifically, their claim to fame is the discovery of three young Incan children in a mountain range near Salta, Argentina. They had been placed in a sort of tomb and were accompanied by special items and dress that were customary for the high-up families of the time.

Isaiah in Humahuaca, Argentina

Allison in Humahuaca, Argentina

Upon examination it is estimated these children were placed there some 400-500 years ago. What’s astonishing is their impeccable preservation, from their hair to their skin to their clothes. It’s thought that the altitude, the cold temperatures, the limited amount of bacteria, among other things is to be given credit for their preservation.

Woman working at market in Jujuy, Argentina

Market in Jujuy, Argentina

Best (and cheapest) tamales in Jujuy, Argentina

Church in Jujuy, Argentina

From Salta we headed north to Jujuy. We spent time in the city of Jujuy, as well as traveled out to a few smaller towns within the Jujuy department: Purmarmaca and Humahuaca. Both were small, quaint, and beautiful arid mountain towns.

Church in Purmamarca, Argentina

Cemetery in Purmamarca, Argentina

A highlight from our time in Humahuaca was riding with a native Incan man to La Quebrada de Humahuaca. The mountain range was stunning but it was equally fun to chat with the driver on the trip there and back.

City of Purmamarca with the Hill of Seven Colors as a Backdrop

Allison and Isaiah with Hill of Seven Colors in Purmamarca, Argentina

His take on the three children that were removed from the mountain and are now property of the museum in Salta was quite different than that of the museum. He said the museum should have no right to those children.

Hill of 7 Colors in Purmamarca, Argentina

Blue Skys near Hornacal in Humahuaca, Argentina

Worse yet, he explained that those children were not dead, but just sleeping. (How else would they have absolutely no sign of deterioration, he explained, in the hundreds of years they had been there?)

The Hornacal in La Quebrada de Humahuaca

Cemetery near Humahuaca, Argentina

The children were specially selected to see the other side and one day were destined to return to this world filled with great knowledge to share with their people. He explained that when the archeologists removed the children from their place in the mountain, they killed them, so now the best he could hope for is for their bodies to be returned to the mountain so they could rest in peace.

He didn’t like how the museum was using the children of his people for profit-gaining. When we pointed out the great cost of meticulously keeping the bodies preserved, he rightfully responded that their spot in the mountain had been doing that free of charge. It was incredibly interesting to hear his perspective, especially after having visited the museum and seeing the situation from their side.

Allison and Isaiah in front of Hill of 14 Colors in Humahuaca, Argentina

Purmamarca, Argentina

It’s true what they say about their being at least two sides to every story. I’m glad we had the chance to hear his.

Salta, Argentina

From bustling Brazil we crossed the border into northern Argentina and headed to the mountainous town of Salta.

We recommend:

1. Eating a delicious, juicy, tender steak at Viejo Jacks.

2. Hiking to the top of San Bernardo hill and taking in the views of the city. (There’s also the more leisurely gondola option.)

3. Visiting the archeology museum along the main plaza to learn about the Incan culture.

4. Buying a footlong hot dog for around 50 cents at one of the many stands and asking for a “rain of shoestring potatoes” (lluvia de papas) on the top.

 

Brazil

We said our final goodbye to the good ladies selling warm chipa to hungry bus riders as we headed out of Paraguay two weeks ago and into the land of Brazil. Now, after learning Spanish for the past two years we were feeling pretty confident in our ability to travel and communicate easily in South America. Lest we forget, however, that Brazil’s language is Portuguese. Spanish and Portuguese are pretty similar though, right? While that’s true to a certain degree, it was the overflowing grace and warmth of the Brazilians, not our Spanish, that got us through the week and a half we spent in Brazil – specifically São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Alegre.

Allison and Isaiah on top of Morro Dois Irmaos in Rio de Janeiro

Case in point, one afternoon in Rio we decided it was time to take the still unfamiliar journey back to our Couch Surfer friend’s apartment that was a ways outside of the city center. We got to the bus stop and must have looked a little lost because a Brazilian woman in her 50s approached us and asked us where we were trying to go (in Portuguese). We attempted to explain our destination to her (in Spanish), and she led us to the bus that would take us there – the same one she was using. As we three waited in the bus line, a particularly aggressive panhandler caught back up with us still demanding that we give him some money. She told him something in Portuguese and kept a keen eye on him as he circled around us once more before heading off. She offered us candy while we waited and chatted pleasantly about something that we understood very little of. Once on the bus she explained to the person taking money where we wanted to go and asked that he help us get off at the correct stop, as she would be getting off before us. Later, as she stood to get off at her stop she wished us luck and reminded the money taker to look out for us, which he dutifully did.

 

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That is just one story in dozens we could tell of people approaching us to ask if they could help, with no ulterior motive. It seemed we just needed to scrunch our noses in confusion as we looked up at a street sign and some magic little helper would appear, ready to pull up Google Maps on their cell phone if they or those around them didn’t recognize the street names for which we were searching. It was amazing and made me question my patience with people in the States with limited English. The Brazilians definitely have me beat on that front. And oh, the mountains and shores were pretty great too.

Your Cards Live On

We treasured all the mail we received from you guys while we were living in Paraguay. We’d often attempt to hold off on opening something until we got home to make a production out of it or, if we were lucky enough to receive more than one item on a given day, we’d give our self-control a run for its money and try to space out the unveiling of the cards.

We even created a space for these special possessions: our card wall which spanned our living room and was often marveled at by each new visitor.

Card wall

When packing up our house in preparation of moving on from Paraguay, we debated what should be done with these paper items that had brought us so much joy and served as a daily reminder of our community of support from back home.

Reusing Cards of Love

We decided that carrying them with us didn’t mesh well with our strict desire to travel light and free (just one big backpack each) as we slowly make our way home. So we came up with a solution to let the magic of the cards live on.

Reusing Cards of Love

After pouring over the notes and messages one last time, we packed up the mound of cards (you guys were good to us!) and headed to the soup kitchen ready for a special craft project. After all, it was Friendship Day, which is celebrated widely in Paraguay, so it made sense for the kids to create friendship cards out of the cards we had received from family and friends.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

I underestimated what a hit it would be. Eyes lit up and squeals were heard as I laid out the cards (or at least the front covers) on the tables before the kids. They selected their favorites (quickly, before their neighbor did) and then waited impatiently for their turn with the limited number of glue sticks we provided.

Reusing Cards of Love

They cut and pasted and designed their own friendship card for someone special in their life. They asked us what the words meant and practiced repeating them. Even the cook got excited at the cards and scurried over to the work table to snatch a few up for herself.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

She selected one that said, “For My Granddaughter” and said she would save that for when she had neitas of her own.

Reusing Cards of Love

We did this project on one of our last days at the soup kitchen, so I was well aware of the limited time I had left with these young children who managed their way right into the depths of my heart.

Reusing Cards of Love

Looking at Isaiah watching the crafting go down, I knew we were both struck by the sacredness of seeing our worlds mixing and the love of our friends and family back home being passed forward on that Friendship Day to our friends in Yuty.

Thank you for being part of it.

 

Paraguayan Landscapes

After saying goodbye to our community in Yuty, we welcomed a big blue moving truck to our house on August 1. The two men packed it full of all our belongings, which were to be delivered to a new Peace Corps couple, Genny and Stephen, who had visited us while they were still in training.

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We had arranged to get a ride with the truck so we’d be able to see what would be Genny and Stephen’s home for the next two years. When two men instead of one showed up to do the loading, we weren’t sure it would be possible. Until they suggested setting up a cozy little place for us in the back of the truck.

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Before anyone worries, it all turned out great. The furniture was super stable and we were comfortable on the thrones of our blue patio chairs. It was perfect. We climbed aboard and began slowly driving away from our home, through the town. In doing so, we waved huge goodbyes to our neighbors as we passed. We passed our corner store and waved to the daughter there, and then her mother ran outside and waved and waved with both hands to give us a real farewell.

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Next we passed the municipal building where a group of familiar men were standing, laughing, and sharing tereré and sent us away with huge smiles and waves. I mean, it was just perfect. We made it to the edge of town and passed the big yellow house where we spent the first 6 months and then drove onto the main road heading out of town.

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From the back of the truck we could look out on the expanse of landscape that was our home. The home we likely won’t see again for many, many years. As we bumped along the dirt stretch of the road the beautiful scenery became blurry and unrecognizable with my tears. And then came the outpouring of tears and the deep sobbing from the soul that came from the recognition, if only for that moment, that this stage of our life is really coming to an end.

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Isaiah took my hand and together we rode along in our private cocoon for the next 8 hours, surrounded by our things, taking in the sites of Paraguay as the sun set and the night stars shone. To add to the serendipitous moment, a fellow volunteer we know was strolling down the street of his town right past where we had stopped to get gas.

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Eventually we arrived at Genny and Stephen’s host family’s house and spent the evening and next morning with them before heading on again. What a memorable way to pack up and move on; one we’ll not soon forget.

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Faces of Yuty

Our last week in Yuty before packing up and heading out was filled with all the kindness and warmth that Paraguayans are known for. We were invited over for dinners and snacks and tereré sessions and given little gifts to remember our friends and community by. It was overwhelming and humbling and is exactly the kind of outward hospitality that I love about Paraguay and hope to be able to incorporate into my life as well.

Without further ado, here are just some of those friendly faces that made living in Yuty so wonderful.

Entrepreneurship Workshop

We are officially Returned Peace Corps Volunteers as we’ve already finished up our two years in Paraguay. However, in the flash of packing up and saying goodbyes, we have a couple events to document. You know we need it all in here so when we’re old and grey we can look back and try to remember just what all went down in the P-guay.

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One such event was this year’s Paraguay Emprende national workshop. Isaiah, Elva, and I taught the 15-week course on how to plan a business and write a business plan for the second year in a row. At our local presentation, we selected one student with the most viable business plan to attend the national workshop with other youth from across the country who had taken the same course with their local volunteer.

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From our course, Day was selected with her business plan to amp up the small business her mom and her already run of creating and printing t-shirts and uniforms for local schools and offices. For you Iowans, maybe they’re the local version of Imprinted Sports.

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Since I was still having a blast at Camp GLOW (and there’s always so many events over the schools’ two-week winter break), Isaiah and Day attended the event without me. It was sad to miss, especially when I heard that Day’s presentation went super well and at the end of the 3-day workshop, she was even awarded a trophy for Best Written Business Plan! What an honor among 20-some of the other top students from across the country.

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It was a great event that is gaining more support and momentum and involvement with awesome Paraguayan organizations with networks and influence. I can’t wait to see where Paraguay Emprende goes next!

G-39, We Did It!

Thursday afternoon we had our final event as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay. Those of us left from our group, G-39, gathered in the office for some kind words from our fearless leaders (including the brand new Country Director!)

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And as is only fitting considering the number of certificates we’ve each given out over the two years, we were each presented with a certificate of completion for two years of service in Paraguay. As if that wasn’t good enough, it was followed by a delicious chocolate cake.

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Per tradition, we then each rang the Peace Corps bell, officially closing out our time as volunteers.

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I like closure and this ceremony was a perfect way to come full circle and end our Peace Corps run.

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So was a last visit to probably our favorite restaurant in Paraguay, Gagnam, near Mercado 4 for some delicious Korean food and super friendly staff. Heck, the owner’s daughter is now even in college in Isaiah’s home state of Kansas. It’s a small world after all, eh?

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What’s next for us? For the next month or two Isaiah and I are going to enjoy some more of South America, starting with a loooong bus ride to Brazil tomorrow morning. We even look forward to meeting up with Isaiah’s brother and wife along the way. As for the blog, we plan to keep popping in with a quick update or some photos of what we’re up to, so feel free to come along for the ride!

How Peace Corps Volunteers Readjust to U.S.A.

In honor of our original Peace Corps training group (G-39!) having our Swearing Out ceremony this afternoon to officially end our run as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay, I wanted to reflect a bit on the transition we face in heading back to the States.

We hear this transition home can be tricky; even as difficult as the adjustment to a new culture in the first place. Therefore I was relieved when we came across the World’s Most Amazing Video the other day. It’s full of awesome tips of how to re-adjust to life in the U.S. The actors seem to truly understand all the strange habits we’ve picked up here in Paraguay and how those might not be seen as “okay” when we’re back Stateside.

Since this short video has helped us so much, I wanted to share it here for any Peace Corps volunteers completing their service now or soon, or any others who find yourselves in the U.S. of A after a time away.

I hope this wonderful video will help your readjustment too.

Break at the Bridge

In the midst of packing the house and spending time and saying goodbye to friends, Isaiah and I hit the dusty trails Tuesday. We’d biked out to the little town outside of ours, named Estación, which means station, since it’s the home of the old train station that’s no longer operable, once with Elva toward the beginning of our time, and Isaiah went once when Nick was visiting. This time we ditched the bikes and set out on foot. Partly to soak up the beautiful day and have some down time away from all the hustle of preparations, and a huge part because Isaiah’s bike pedal broke off and we don’t have the tools to fix it.

The deserted building that was once the train station is still there and so is a beautiful iron bridge that brings our town pride. Signs say it’s around 8 km to the town of Estación and then a couple more to the bridge where we stopped to grab a bite we had packed and snap some photos.

It was a great chance to eat up another piece of our lovely town while we can and recharge our batteries for the big transition that is to come.

Now the only question is, who posed with it best? Send in your votes for the next Yuty billboard model!

Option #1:

Walk to the bridge, Yuty Paraguay

Option #2:

Walk to the bridge, Yuty Paraguay

Option #3:

Walk to the bridge, Yuty Paraguay

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