Slums of Asunción, Paraguay

Slums of Asunción, Paraguay

Las Villas de Paraguay (español abajo)

Paraguay isn’t a very popular destination among western tourists. Actually, it’s even not very popular for Latin American tourists either. So, why was I so excited to explore such a rarely visited place? Exactly for that reason, to discover what’s hidden behind the doors of Latin America’s most isolated country.

Paraguay no es un destino muy popular entre los turistas occidentales. Mejor dicho, no es popular entre los turistas latinos tampoco. Entonces, ¿por qué quería conocerlo? Precisamente por eso, para descubrir lo que hay en el país más aislado de Latinoamérica.

– Just in case you need to fill up a helium balloon on your walk back from the grocery store
– Por si acaso quieres inflar un globo en tu paseo al supermercado

What I discovered surprised me. Paraguay is located in the center of South America, surrounded by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. Contrary to what I’d always thought, that position in the middle of all these countries makes it the crossroads of trade for much of the continent. A huge amount of commerce flows through Paraguay. That explains why, when I arrived in the capital, Asunción, I was surprised by how modern and developed it is.

Lo que descubrí me sorprendió. Paraguay está situado en el centro de Sudamérica, rodeado por Brasil, Argentina y Bolivia. Contrario de lo que pensaba, su posición entre esos países lo hace el cruce de intercambio. Mucho comercio fluye por este país tan desconocido. Por eso, al llegar a Asunción, me sorprendió lo lujoso que era.

– The mall across the street from our hotel room in Asuncion
– El centro comercial enfrente de nuestro hotel

When we got to our hotel, we opened the windows and discovered a big sparkling mall right across from us. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, the mall’s doors were wide open, letting cool air-conditioned air spill out into the night. I wondered if they wanted to cool off the courtyard. Or maybe the whole city? What I liked most about the mall weren’t the flashy stores or familiar brands but the security guard. Or, more precisely, the security cat. Everyone who wants to go into the mall has to pass by her and give her a pet or a scratch under the chin. If she doesn’t take a shining to the way you pet her, she’ll give you a warning bite. What strict security!

Justo en frente de mi hotel encontré un centro comercial bastante grande y moderno. A pesar del calor que hacía día y noche, las puertas estaban abiertas de par en par. Me pregunto si querían enfriar el patio. ¿O toda la ciudad? Lo que más me gustó del centro comercial no fueron las tiendas ni marcas internacionales, sino el guardia de seguridad. Mejor dicho, la guardia. Cada persona que quería entrar al mall tenía que acariciarla antes de pasar por la entrada. Si no le gustaba la persona, le daba una mordedura. ¡Qué seguridad tan estricta!

– This is the mall’s guard. She loves to be petted but also regularly swats people who pet her the wrong way
– Esta es la guardia de seguridad. Le gusta que la acaricien, pero también le gusta dar “manotazos” a los clientes

Recoleta is a pretty comfortable part of the city. We spent a week strolling along its leavy sidewalks on our way to spanish classes. I enjoy taking language classes when I travel. It’s a good way to get to know a place more deeply than you might otherwise.

Recoleta seguramente es un barrio cómodo. Durante una semana caminé por esta vereda frondosa para ir a una escuela de español. Me gusta tomar clases de idiomas cuando viajo. Es una buena manera de conocer más en profundidad un lugar.

– Our walk to El Políglota, where we study spanish for a week
– La caminata hasta la escuela El Políglota donde tomamos una semana de clases del español

Not everything in Asunción is so nice. Recoleta is a bit like a fancy island surrounded by more humble neighbourhoods. A recurring theme during the trip was trash in the streets (not to mention everywhere else too). It didn’t take me long to realize that where there’s garbage, there’s sure to be street dogs too.

No todo en Asunción es tan lindo. Recoleta es como una isla de riqueza rodeada de barrios más humildes. Un tema bastante recurrente durante el viaje fue la basura en la calle. No tardé mucho tiempo en darme cuenta de que donde hay basura también hay perros callejeros.

– We see many more street dogs in Asunción than previously in South America
– Hay muchos perros callejeros en Latinoamérica. Parecía que Paraguay tenía más que Chile y Argentina

Asunción has a huge market. It covers multiple blocks and it would be pretty easy to get lost in the maze of passageways.

Asunción tiene un mercado enorme. Cubre varias cuadras y es bastante fácil perderse en este laberinto de pasadizos.

– Any body part of any animal you might want to eat, you’ll find in Mercado Municipal #4 de Asunción
– En el Mercado Municipal #4 de Asunción se encuentra de todo

In the market you can find (and eat!) just about anything you could ever want. Speaking of eating, Paraguay’s most emblematic dish comes as a bit of a surprise. It’s called “paraguayan soup” but, in reality, it’s not a soup at all. It’s actually more of a cake or cornbread. We had the pleasure of being in a corner restaurant when a couple of tourists walked in and ordered the “soup”. Their looks of shock and surprise when the waitress brought them cornbread instead of soup made everyone in the restaurant crack up, even me.

En el mercado se puede comprar y comer de todo. El plato más típico del país es irónico. Se llama “sopa paraguaya”. En realidad no es una sopa en absoluto. Más bien es una especie de pastel de choclo. Tenía la fortuna de estar en un restaurancito cuando un par de turistas pidieron este plato. Sus miradas de sorpresa al recibir un pastel en lugar de una sopa hicieron reír a todos los demás comensales, incluso a mí.

– This dish is ironically called “sopa paraguaya”. Clearly it’s more of a corn bread than soup, to the surprise of many a tourist
– Este plato, irónicamente, se llama sopa paraguaya. Evidentemente es más pastel que sopa, lo cual sorprende a los turistas

Something that I really like about travelling is that a friend can put you in touch with their friends and those friends can connect you with theirs. That was the case with Christian, who showed me around one of Buenos Aires’s notorious slums. Christian put me in contact with his childhood friend, Enzo. Like Christian, Enzo grew up in Lugano, but moved to Asunción years ago. When we met up, Enzo excitedly said “there’s a place I’ve got to show you!”. We got in his car and headed to Chacarita, the most “dangerous” neighbourhood in the whole country.

Algo que me gusta mucho de viajar es que un amigo te puede conectar con sus amigos. Así vas conociendo mucha gente por todo el viaje. Ese fue el caso de Christian, que me mostró el barrio popular más grande de Buenos Aires. Christian me puso en contacto con su amigo de la niñez, Enzo. Como Christian, Enzo se crió en Lugano, pero se mudó a Asunción hace años. Nos encontramos en su peluquería en el centro de la ciudad y nos dirigimos a Chacarita, el barrio más “peligroso” del país.

– Enzo checking out the new brickwork in Chacarita
– Enzo echa un vistazo a la mampostería nueva de Chacarita

Like Lugano, I don’t think Chacarita’s reputation is deserved. Yes, Chacarita is squeezed between the river, which floods regularly, and the city center. It’s super crowded as many people poured in after their houses got flooded. Apparently, there are pickpockets and thieves, drugs and prostitution. I didn’t see any of that. Maybe it’s worse at night.

Al igual que Lugano, no creo que la reputación de Chacarita sea justificada. Sí, Chacarita está apretada entre el centro histórico y el río, que desborda con frecuencia. Por eso, está muy abarrotado puesto que se ha concentrado allí mucha gente que vivía a lo largo del río. Hay carteristas y rateros. Hay drogas y prostitución. Pero, no vi nada de eso. A lo mejor, la vida nocturna es diferente de lo que se ve durante el día.

– Chacarita is built on steep hillsides. One person’s ground floor might lead directly onto another’s rooftop
– Chacarita se ubica en pendientes bastante empinadas. El tejado de una casa suele ser el patio de otra

In a certain sense, I feel that less affluent areas are more authentic. Because people in these areas live so close to one another, they get to know each other and they share a common experience. I don’t think that’s the case in Recoleta.

En cierto sentido, creo que los barrios populares son más auténticos. Por vivir tan cerca unos de otros, los habitantes se conocen y tienen que compartir. No creo que sea así en Recoleta.

– This is the communal shower
– Esta es la ducha comunal

2021 in 12 Photos

2021 was a year of staying at home in Canada, a place that many people dream of visiting. Even though I really wanted to travel, staying at home gave me the opportunity to foster kittens and to welcome a wonderful dog into our home. I reconnected with the mountains at the BMC climbing camp and got together with good friends to explore a rarely visited park, hidden in northern BC. With the cooler temperatures of autumn, I began exploring many more of the beautiful trails that the Kootenays have to offer and set myself a goal of hiking every one of them in my guidebook. Finally, at the end the year, I got to travel again. We picked Chile, one of the safest but most complicated countries to visit, where both the capital and the amazingly scenic Patagonia left a lasting impression.

En 2021 me tocó permanecer en casa en Canadá, un lugar al que mucha gente sueña con ir. Pero, qué sitio tan bonito. A pesar de tener muchas ganas de viajar, me hice amigo de muchas gatitas, a las que cuido como dueño de paso, y una perra cariñosísima. Volví a las montañas rocosas de Columbia Británica a hacer alpinismo y me reuní con buenos amigos para explorar un rincón escondido en el norte del país. Descubrí muchos nuevos senderos y me propuse terminarlos todos, lo cual será un meta a largo plazo. Por fin, a finales del año, me tocó viajar de nuevo. Me fui a Chile para conocer la capital y para desafiarme en los caminos patagónicos. Que el año entrante sea muy especial y lleno de aventuras.

– January – After many years of spending winters travelling, it’s wonderful to snowshoe everyday.
– Enero – Después de muchos años viajando, es maravilloso disfrutar del invierno canadiense.
Continue reading “2021 in 12 Photos”

BMC 2021

BMC 2021

Nearly every summer since 2014, I’ve attended a week-long mountaineering camp in BC. There are two similar camps, one fairly big and the other more intimate. The larger camp is organized by the Alpine Club of Canada and it’s really quite impressive the logistics that go into hosting 25+ climbers. Given the ongoing pandemic and just because I prefer smaller groups, this year I decided to join the smaller camp organized by Pierre Hungr and his wife Natelle. After missing out on both camps last year due to the pandemic, I was pretty excited for the whole experience. Continue reading “BMC 2021”

Edziza – A Volcanic Backpacking Trip

Edziza – A Volcanic Backpacking Trip

Part 1: Edziza Spectrum Range Traverse
Part 2: Crossing the Edziza Plateau
(this post)

Three years after our first trip to Edziza, Jim, Calder, and I are back. This time we’ve got a bigger group. Marilyn (Jim’s partner) as well as Meg and Manrico (Marilyn’s friends) join us for what promises to be another exciting adventure.
Continue reading “Edziza – A Volcanic Backpacking Trip”

Argentina Is Closed

Argentina Is Closed

Argentina está cerrada

I don’t like to give up. For the last two years, I’ve been planning a trip to Argentina to see the December 14 Total Solar Eclipse. When COVID exploded in March, Argentina closed their borders and I realized that it was going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to see the eclipse. In spite of this seemingly impossible situation, I never gave up hope. In the months and weeks leading up to the eclipse, I got in touch with anyone and everyone who might be able to help me get in. Everyone told me the same thing: it was simply impossible, the borders were totally closed, and my dream was crazy. Finally, with only a few days to go, I got in touch with a travel agent who had contact with the Argentine Ministries of Tourism & Immigration. Long story short, that’s how I found myself on an international flight for the first time in nine months. Continue reading “Argentina Is Closed”

2020 in 12 Photos

2020 hasn’t been the best year for travelling, which has been my main theme and focus for the last ten years. Despite that, I did manage to visit five new countries at the beginning of the year before the coronavirus turned into a pandemic and I’ve also learned a new language – español. While I couldn’t travel during most of the year, staying put in Canada gave me the opportunity to explore my own backyard and to spend time with my loved ones.

El 2020 no ha sido el mejor año para viajar, lo que a mí más me gusta hacer. Sin embargo, logré visitar cinco nuevos países y he aprendido a hablar un nuevo idioma – el hermoso español. No pude viajar durante gran parte del año pero eso me permitió conocer mejor mi propia tierra y pasar más tiempo valioso con mis queridos familiares.

– January – A tea ceremony welcomes us to Kinosaki Onsen, Japan
– Enero – ¡Bienvenidos a Kinosaki Onsen, Japón! Una ceremonia de té nos da la bienvenida más cálida

Continue reading “2020 in 12 Photos”

How a pandemic brought me back home

How a pandemic brought me back home

Cómo una pandemia me trajo de regreso a casa

Sometimes life takes us in directions we’d never anticipated. Eight months ago I thought I’d be travelling through South America right now. My plan was to visit all the Spanish-speaking countries on the continent. But that was not to be. All of a sudden, a now infamous virus appeared, completely changing my plans. That’s how I found myself back in Canada, surrounded by beautiful mountains and one of the most celebrated mountain biking trails in the world. Continue reading “How a pandemic brought me back home”