Living in Paraguay
The Heart of South America
Geographically, Paraguay is a landlocked nation located in the heart of South America, bordering with Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. The total surface is 406,752 square kilometers, or 157,048 sq. miles.
(about the size of California), and is divided into two very different regions by the Paraguay River. The Eastern region consists of rolling, fertile grasslands and farming, and also large wooded areas and jungle patches near the Brazilian border. This region is home to the majority of Paraguay’s population of about five million inhabitants. Most financial and cultural activities are concentrated mainly in the greater Asuncion area. The Western region, also called the Chaco, is a low-lying plateau covered with grassy meadows, bogs, piney bushes, palms and small trees. This region is flat and ranges from marshlands in the south to an impenetrable shrub desert to the north.
Because of its centralized location, Paraguay is an excellent spot from which to visit other South American countries. Flying to the major cities in the Southern Cone region is reasonable in time and costs depending on the season. Some ASA Staff opt to travel by bus in order to see the countryside. There are impressive luxury bus line at reasonable cost that go regularly to Rio, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Santiago.
Paraguay’s climate is variable ranging from cold to quite hot and usually humid. It is subtropical, with summer and winter seasons opposite of those in the U.S. Winds are generally moderate, but high winds, thunder, and spectacular electrical storms are not uncommon. On average, Asuncion receives 59 inches (150 cm) of annual rainfall, which is well distributed seasonally but with a greater quantity in the summer months. The eastern and southern borders receive even more rain than Asuncion. borders receive even more rain than Asuncion.
Summer is from November through March, with January’s average maximum temperatures at 95° F (35° C) and its mean temperature at 82° F (28° C). Hot spells with high humidity are common. Once the thermometer reaches about 100° (38° C), a tropical thunderstorm is sure to cool things down, at least for a while. The relative humidity ranges between 67% and 78% year round and can be particularly high in the summer. Needless to say, this high humidity requires an adjustment for those unaccustomed to the heat.
Winter extends from May through August. There are cold spells with night temperatures in the 30’s (32° F = 0° C) and low 40’s in Fahrenheit (40° F = 4° C) accompanied by daytime temperatures in the 50’s (59° F = 15° C). These cold days are interspersed with several days in the high 70’s and even low 80’s (80° F = 27° C). Frosts are rare near Asuncion but occur frequently in the countryside.
During the winter months, there are frequent and abrupt changes from winter to summer-like weather and back again. Daily changes of 30 to 40 degrees can occur. Such drops in temperature occur whenever a thunderstorm hits. There can also be an incredible difference in average mean temperature from one winter to another. Moreover, even if you are following the weather forecast on CNN and/or the Web and it appears like Paraguay has been experiencing only high temperatures in June and July, please realize that the climate can change dramatically in just a few hours. Don’t be misled by these reports. Be prepared for hot and cold on the same day!
The entire country of Paraguay is located in one time zone east of Eastern Standard Time. Since seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are reversed from those in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight savings time operates in Paraguay from approximately the first Sunday in October through the first Sunday in March. Approximately when the US moves the clock backward one hour to Standard Time, Asuncion moves forward one hour to Daylight Savings Time, and vice versa. Consequently, during the northern hemisphere winter (e.g. in December) Paraguay is two hours ahead of New York. During the northern hemisphere summer (e.g., in July), it is the same time in Paraguay as in New York. During parts of March and October, Paraguay is exactly two hour ahead of New York since both are on Standard Time together for just a brief period of time.
FLORA AND FAUNA
There are beautiful flowering trees and plants year round in Paraguay (e.g., poinsettia, lapacho, and chivato) and fruits such as mangoes and papayas are in abundance.
If you like plants, you will love it here. Paraguay also has some of the oldest and some of the rarest animals in the world. Jaguars, pumas, monkeys, tapirs, alligators, giant lizards, sloths, capybaras (world’s largest rodent, nicknamed “water hog”), armadillos, coatis (the raccoon’s cousin), peccaries (wild pigs), and ant-eaters inhabit the jungles along Paraguay’s eastern border and/or in the Chaco just west of Asuncion. Local bird watching and fishing are said to be among the best in the world. Paraguay is home to over 400 bird species; including rheas, parrots, parakeets, macaws, storks, herons, and spoonbills. Fishermen, professionals and amateurs, regularly catch Surubi catfish as well as golden Dorados.
Discovered by Alejo Garcia in 1524, Paraguay was settled by Spaniards. Asuncion, one of the oldest cities in South America, was founded on August 15, 1537, by the Spanish conqueror Juan de Salazar y Espinoza on a natural bay along the Paraguay River. It was from Asuncion that several expeditions departed to different parts of the continent to found other cities. Asuncion, “Mother of Cities”, was the center of regional Spanish colonization. The Colonial era goes from 1524 through 1811, when Paraguay earned its independence from Spain. It was initially led by three long-term rulers: Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia (1814-1840), Carlos Antonio Lopez (1840-1860) and his son Mariscal Francisco Solano Lopez (1860-1870). The latter led Paraguay to war (Triple Alliance War 1867-1870) against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay which ended when he was killed.ended when he was killed.
After a series of internal upheavals, Paraguay again found itself at war in the years 1933-35, this time against Bolivia in an effort to defend the Chaco. These major wars (Triple Alliance and with Bolivia) were fought on Paraguayan soil and nearly wiped out the country’s male population. As a result of this situation Paraguay became nicknamed “Land of Women” and welcomed thousands of immigrants from numerous European and Asian countries which resulted in the racial mixture characteristic of today’s Paraguayans. Following a decade of civil unrest in the 1940’s, General Alfredo Stroessner assumed power in 1954 and ruled for almost 35 years. He was overthrown by a coup on February 3, 1989 by General Andres Rodriguez (his son’s father-in-law), who then served as President for the remainder of that five-year presidential period. Upon completing his term in 1993, Rodriguez handed over the presidency to his elected successor Juan Carlos Wasmosy. President Wasmosy completed his elected term in August 1998 and was succeeded by Pres. Raul Cubas-Grau who resigned in March 1999 following a week of unrest. The Presidency was assumed by Mr. Luis Gonzalez –Macchi following the constitutionally established line of power. The current president is Mr. Horacio Cartes.
The government of Paraguay is now a republic with an emerging democracy. Paraguay’s most recent constitution was adopted in 1992. The most recent general election took place in April 2013, when Horacio Cartes was elected President. There are the three main branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial.
There are two main traditional political parties (Colorado and Liberal). All recent presidents (from Stroessner through Nicanor Duarte Frutos), have been from the Colorado Party. Fernando Lugo is the first President elected from the opposition party (through a coalition) after more than 50 years of Colorado Party ruling. On June 2012 President Fernando Lugo was impeached by the Parliament taking over the Presidency Dr. Federico Franco. The current President, Mr. Horacio Cartes, is again from the Colorado Party.
A good relationship exists between the American and Paraguayan governments. Paraguay’s diplomatic representation in the United States is the Paraguayan Embassy which is located at 2400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 2008; telephone (202) 483-6960.
The mix of native Guarani Indians, Asians, and European has created a unique Paraguayan culture. Less than 1% of Paraguay’s inhabitants are indigenous, mainly from non-Guarani tribes which represent numerous language families. They still live in isolated villages as far as possible from encroaching civilization. Unfortunately many have lost their lands to agriculture.
A relatively new aspect of Paraguay’s population is the large number of Asian immigrants, primarily Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. This immigration pattern is also evident at ASA, which has had a noticeable increase of Asian students.
The official languages of Paraguay are Spanish and Guarani. Most government and business transactions take place in Spanish. Guarani is still alive and spoken. Although it is an indigenous language it is not spoken by the few remaining Indian tribes but rather by the population in general. This type of bilingualism makes Paraguay a unique sociolinguistic phenomenon.
Unfortunately, Guarani was forbidden in the schools until the 1970’s when it was introduced into the national school system as a required subject at the junior high level. In 1994, the Ministry of Education implemented Bilingual Education (Spanish/Guarani) in the elementary schools which are designated as Spanish-medium or Guarani-medium. Visitors who learn even a few words of Guarani will be most appreciated by Paraguayans. Interestingly enough, the scientific name of several South American species for both flora and fauna are based on words from the Tupi-Guarani language family, as are also several of the common names such as jaguar (dog like), piranha (devil fish) and jacaranda (a flowering tree also found along the coast in Southern California).
ASA recommends that teachers model language learning for students and parents by trying to learn the language. Teachers can find off-campus tutors for helping them learn Spanish even more quickly. In fact, many popular tutors are ASA Teachers. Depending on one’s current knowledge of Spanish, it would be very useful to bring a bilingual dictionary and phrase book to Paraguay. Basic Spanish is taught to New Staff (for free).
Paraguay is primarily a Catholic country. There is a patron saint for most aspects of life. December 8th is the national pilgrimage to the Virgin of Caacupe, whose Basilica is located about 35 miles east of Asuncion. Religious freedom, however, is respected and assured by Paraguay’s national constitution. Several Protestant and Christian churches are well represented such as Mennonite, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican. Some of these offer services in English, as does one of the Catholic churches. There are also congregations of Mormons, Assembly of God, Disciples of Christ, Seventh day Adventists, Jehovah Witness, and Eastern Orthodox. A Jewish Synagogue exists as do centers of worship for Muslims and Buddhists.
During their orientation, ASA’s new staff are provided the opportunity to visit a few of Paraguay’s tourist attractions. By the end of their two years in Paraguay, the majority of our stateside staff have visited such sites as:
1. Jesuit ruins (Southern Paraguay and Argentina)
2. Yguazu Waterfalls (between Brazil and Argentina at Paraguay’s border)
3. Golden circuit (Caacupe, Piribebuy, Chololo, Pirareta, Paraguari)
4. San Bernardino on the Ypacarai lake (resort, casinos and summer homes)
5. The Chaco, west of the River Paraguay (abundant in flora and fauna)
6. Franciscan church and Gaspar R. de Francia Museum in Yaguaron
7. Nearby towns known for their artisan handicrafts:
Aregua and Ita: Pottery
Carapegua: hammocks, bedspreads
Itagua: Ñanduti (lace)
Limpio: wicker and straw
Luque: Jewelry, guitars, harps
San Miguel: woolen items (handspun and hand woven)
Tobati: wood carvings
Yataity/Villarrica : aho-po’i (embroidery)
Ypacarai: leather goods
THE CITY OF ASUNCION
Asuncion is a port city of about 900,000 people. It is located on an inland bay along the Paraguay River. The Paraguay River starts in Brazil and empties into the Atlantic Ocean about 800 miles south of Asuncion, at the ports of Montevideo and Buenos Aires, which is the mouth of the River Plate.
As one could expect of a city 474 years old (founded 1537), the architecture shows some samples of Spanish colonial style, mixed with modern buildings and houses. In the last 15 years, a few skyscrapers have helped give the city a new look. In the residential areas, one finds exciting architecture with many beautiful homes and mansions surrounded by attractive gardens. Since Asuncion is a capital city, there are many diplomatic delegations representing the major countries of the world. Most embassies are located along the city’s principal avenue, Avenida Mariscal Lopez, including the United States Embassy. Asuncion is a city with beautiful plants and trees. The main avenues and important streets are asphalted but many of the side streets are charming rough cobblestone.
In recent years, the government has developed a program of decentralization. For example, the Central Bank, Court House and City Hall have moved away from the downtown area. Although most offices, banks and hotels continue to be centrally located, shopping centers have begun opening in other sections of the city as well.
Asuncion has traditionally been a relatively safe city. However, there are incidents of burglaries, car thefts, etc. as is the case in any major city.
Daily life in Asuncion begins early as most offices and businesses start functioning between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. with most downtown business and offices (public and private) closing during the “siesta” (12:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.). The majority reopen from 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Asuncion has several modern department stores, supermarkets, and malls. All of which are within walking distance of ASA - Shopping del Sol, Shopping Mariscal Lopez, Carmelitas Center, Casa Rica, Real, and Selemma (just to name a few). Local marketplaces along Pettirossi street and the wholesale market “Mercado Cuatro” are also fun and interesting to visit.
Local handicrafts can be found in and around Asuncion for reasonable prices. Paraguayan artisans produce a popular cotton fabric called “aho po’i” (which means fine cloth in Guarani), typically used for hand-embroidered blouses, shirts, dresses, and tablecloths. Another fairly inexpensive artisan handicraft is a beautiful lace called “ñanduti” (which means spider-web in Guarani). It is used for tablecloths, place mats, etc. Additional handicrafts include pottery, woodcarvings, leather, wicker, straw goods, musical instruments (guitar and harps) as well as silver jewelry.
Asuncion is an outdoor city where many people spend their leisure hours chatting with family and friends in the front yard, along sidewalks or at poolside barbecues (“asados”), often passing around a gourd (or thermas) or horn cup (“guampa”) with a silver straw to sip the national tea, “yerba”. When served iced cold, this Paraguayan tea is called “terere,” and it quickly becomes a favorite beverage for many foreigners living in Paraguay. When this tea is sipped almost boiling hot, it is called “mate,” which is also consumed throughout all of the Southern Cone countries. When yerba is prepared like a regular herbal tea, often with burnt sugar, and drunk from a teacup, it is called “cocido”.
Strolling is another common pastime for all age groups. Since the weather can be hot and humid many people take advantage of the air conditioning and head indoors to stroll through malls or go to the movies. In fact, there are several movie theaters in the city, and most films are in English with Spanish subtitles. Numerous DVD stores exist in Asuncion. DVDs in English are in fashion. Most homes have cablevision that includes HBO, ESPN, and CNN which broadcast many U.S. shows. Netflix is also available as well as other online streaming…
There are many pubs and discotheques and a large variety of restaurants that range from a simple “parrillada” (barbecue) to more sophisticated, international cuisine. You will also find standard fast food such as McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. Some restaurants also offer colorful shows featuring guitars, harps, and famous Paraguayan songs sung in Spanish and Guarani, as well as local folk dances.
The nightlife is active and fun!. Dance classes are available for learning salsa and tango.
Soccer is the national sport in Paraguay, and professional games are played almost every weekend. Tennis is a popular individual sport. Jogging and aerobics are common pursuits. Exercise opportunities abound with health clubs, gyms, pilates, and yoga. Basketball, volleyball, futbol are popular. Water-skiing and jet skiing are possible not far from the city. Paraguay is well known as a fisherman’s paradise. Gyms and pools are available. SPORTS/extracurricular activities. Bike riders: You can buy bikes and helmets locally.
There are two major universities in Asuncion, the National University and the Catholic University, both offering a range of career choices. Several small private colleges have also opened. Many offer university courses in the evenings, and if fluent in Spanish, one might be able to enroll. The University of Alabama, from the US, offers a Masters of Education Degree on the ASA campus.
At various times during the year, concerts (classical, rock, and folk), plays, and ballet performances are offered to the public. Participants are local artists while sometimes international artists come to Asuncion as part of programs sponsored by the cultural centers of the various embassies. Cultural centers provide the city with a variety of other programs as well. A very active Paraguayan/American Cultural Center (CCPA) is available for your cultural use. In addition to its cultural program and English language classes, the CCPA also houses an excellent lending library of English books and sponsors lectures, displays, art exhibits, and conferences for English-language teachers.
Art galleries and museums are also popular. They offer exhibits of works by Paraguayan and international painters and sculptors. Asuncion and its surrounding suburbs have numerous museums as well as several historical monuments. Some of these museums are: House of Independence, Casa Viola, Pantheon of Heroes, Ethnographic Indigenous, Fine arts, Ceramics, Myths and Legends, Military History, National History, Botanical Gardens, Biological Inventory, and Natural History. They all make for great class field trips and for your personal enjoyment.
ENTERTAINMENT - "TRERERE" AND "MATE"
Asuncion is an outdoor city where many people spend their leisure hours chatting with family and friends in the front yard, along sidewalks at restaurant, or at poolside barbecues, often passing around a gourd or horn cup (“guampa”) with a silver straw to sip the national tea, “yerba”. When served iced cold, this Paraguayan tea is called “terere,”. When this tea is sipped hot, it is called “mate,” which is also consumed in other Southern Cone countries. There are several movie theaters and the performins arts such as dance and concerts are in abundance. Most homes have cablevision that includes HBO, ESPN and CNN. They broadcast many U.S. shows with Spanish subtitles. Internet connectivity is excellent at the school and in most parts of the city.
There are many pubs and discotheques and a large variety of restaurants that range from a simple parrillada (barbecue) to more sophisticated, international cuisine. There are many restaurants that serve traditional Paraguayan food.