During week 7 of training all the aspirantes were given the choice of going on a cultural excursion to one of two nearby cities: Asuncion or Aregua. Since we’d already been to Asuncion during Tapeapovo, we decided to check out Aregua. The word “Aregua” in Guarani means “City from the Past”. The quaint town is famous for its ceramic artesania, strawberries, Lago Ypacarai, and Cerro Koi (a national monument of Paraguay).
We started the day, visiting the local SENATUR office, which is the national tourism agency in Paraguay. There, we learned a bit about the history of the town and about all the cool things Aregua has to offer. After that we traveled to Cerro Koi where we hiked among the unique hexagonal rock formations that can only be found in two places in the world (Aregua and somewhere in Africa). Because the rocks fracture into small flat pieces, they were used as cobblestones in most of the roads in the town. When we had climbed as high as would could on the cerro, we paused to view the little town of Aregua nestled against the expansive lake Ypacarai in the distance. Considering the relatively flat land of Paraguay, this was a breathtaking sight for us.
Back in town we ventured into the workshop of a family that makes ceramic art. The owner led us step by step through the process from how they mix the clay to how they paint and fire the finished products. Some of us even got to try our hands at spinning our very own pots (Ben and I were not so lucky). In the workshop they make a variety of products, everything from small decorative pots to piggybanks shaped like Sponge Bob. All over town, you can find hundreds of similar products in various colors lining the streets in little booths. Ben and I purchased two little ceramic pots as recuerdos.
Next, we headed to the Lago Ypacarai. As we approached, we were delighted to see a sandy beach and inviting boardwalk overlooking the brilliant blue lake. For those of us still yearning for the ocean, this was definitely a sight for sore eyes. We walked out on the boardwalk immersing ourselves in the view. The water stretched out in every direction sparkling as tiny waves reflected the sun’s glare. The Paraguayan flags at the water’s edge fluttered in the refreshing breeze. Standing there with Ben’s arm around me, I felt at home. The sun… the water… the wind… comforted me and reminded me of all the wonderful times we’ve spent in Florida together. I did not want to budge from this spot. We stayed there as long as we could, eventually breaking away for lunch.
We ate at a local restaurant called Don Pablo’s. Let me assure you, this is not one of the chain Mexican restaurants found across the U.S., but is a popular spot to get a quick bite of authentic Paraguayan food. We ate meat and veggie pies then explored the streets lined with artesania. We stopped at a booth, where a woman was selling strawberry preservatives, and bought a small bottle of strawberry liqueur. Our exploration led us into a shop of indigenous artwork from the Chaco. The small shop was packed with wooden sculptures of animals, ceramics, woven baskets, metal workings, and paintings. One tiny shelf held a dozen or so little stone figurines. The figurines were shaped like women and clad in dresses of colorful thread and plant fibers. We learned from the shopkeeper that they are played with as dolls by children in the Chaco. We bought two of the dolls (one for my mother and one for me) and a small wooden carving of a crocodile for Ben. By that time, we needed to meet up with the rest of our group to return home to Takuruty. We had a beautiful day in Aregua. It was a much needed break from the stress of training.