Our Story

Our Story: After meeting in graduate school at UGA, we were married in 2011 in Marietta, Georgia. A year later, we joined the Peace Corps as environmental conservation volunteers and embarked on our adventure in Paraguay!

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are ours personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

December 24, 2012

Christmas in Ayolas

For Christmas this year, we got to travel to a nearby town named Ayolas to visit our first host mom's brother (our host uncle) and our many host cousins. Located on the coast of the Parana River, Ayolas is famous throughout Paraguay for its beaches, its fishing, and the second largest dam in the area known as Yacreta. The first biggest is Itaipu, but you'll have to read our other post about our trip to Itaipu to learn more about that.

We arrived in Ayolas at lunchtime and were promptly offered the opportunity to sample some traditional Ayolas cuisine.  So we sat down at the table, and our "aunt" brought out heaping platters of carpincho (aka capybara) and surubi (aka South American Catfish). Capybaras are large aquatic rodents - the largest rodents in the world in fact - and are native to the vast wetlands of Paraguay. Their meat is very unique because it has the texture of beef with the flavor of fish (and tastes fantastic with a mixture of soy sauce, lime, lemon, salt and pepper. The surubi is giant freshwater catfish that is absolutely delicious! Its meat is tender with very few bones. We ate some lunch, then we sat outside and drank terere.

After our meal, we headed out for a hike along the river. The rocks were really pretty along the shoreline, and Sarah and I even found some petrified wood! Our host dad, Cesar, gave us a little geology lesson. The river was very wide and pretty, with lots of fishermen and beach-goers enjoying the sunny day. Many people don't swim in the river because there are a lot of deep pozos (holes, or springs I guess) where it gets very deep and the current is strong enough to pull you under. We hiked all the way down to a small beach where a bunch of people were gathered, then we turned around and headed home.

That night was Buena Noche (Christmas Eve). We ate a big meal of cow tongue, carpincho, carne, and "potato salad" (with lots of mayo!). There was also a lot of Clerico, which is a giant fruit salad with a little bit of white wine and cidre (sparkling cider), which is very tasty. Then there were fireworks. They had been going off here and there the whole evening, but by the time we were eating dinner, they were nonstop. Most people have the really loud fireworks without many colors or sparks. Just loud booms. And the neighbors were launching them super close to the house. Eventually we all finished dinner and hurried inside to celebrate and to escape the calamity.

Everyone got comfortable. We readied the guitars. At 11:59 and 50 seconds, the countdown started to ring in Christmas day. It was exactly like New Year's. 5!-4!-3!-2!-1! Woooo! Feliz Navidad! Then we all sang happy birthday to Jesus. We all played some songs. Sarah and I made everyone sing and dance to Mami Loro. (For a demonstration, please watch this video of Mami Loro).

The next day was Christmas. We all got ready and headed out to the beach. We found a great little secluded area next to a hotel that caters to fishermen. We hung out and ate leftovers from the night before and basically did nothing. Fede and Guille, our host brothers, were teasing me pretty much the whole time, which made for a lot of fun. They also taught me some bad words in Guarani, but only so I would know them when kids in the colegios used them.

Our host uncle snagged a big fish, a golden dorado, and let me reel it in. I guess I kind of caught it. I'll go ahead and take credit for it for now, until I have a chance to get back out there and catch one of my own. Another interesting thing is that you see many other races in Paraguay. In CB, we have a lot of Russian and Ukrainian people. In Ayolas, we saw a bunch of Japonese people who were out at the beach enjoying a great cookout. There is a big mix of cultures here which almost always has the same story; they hated the world wars, and they got the hell outta there; fled to a neutral country in the heart of South America to escape all the nonsense that was going on with the kids who just couldn't play nice. We didn't take pictures of them though, cause that would have been a little awkward.

After the beach, we tried to skype with a bunch of the family, which was great! We ate some more fish for dinner, mainly a caldo of the fish head, which was surprisingly tasty, and we learned that the cheek meat is the best. We relaxed for the night, and everyone prepared us for the trip to visit the dam in the morning.

The next morning, we got up and headed out early to see the Yacreta dam. Our host cousin Maria-Eugenia (Which is the spanish equivalent of Mary Eugene).. or better known as Uki, a 23 year old college grad who works at a nonprofit in Encarnacion, volunteered to be our tour guide. We saw the museum at the dam welcome center and saw a bunch of fish in jars and a bunch of stuffed animals. We took a bus to the dam and got out at several places to take pictures. We also ventured inside and saw the main generators and got a full explanation of the inner workings.

 All-in-all, our Christmas experience was filled with all of our favorite things. We were welcomed by a very warm family and got to share some good times for the holidays. We got to experience more culture and learn about how Paraguayans celebrate Christmas. We also got to hang out at the beach and see some pretty famous landmarks in a really cool town. Not too shabby. We hope next year is just as great!

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