Saturday, August 22, 2015

Endless Sunday Evening

Last Sunday morning was cool and grey, like it had stormed during the night, only there were no puddles and no vague, half-awake memories of lightening. We went down to the park for a while to drink our coffee and watch the birds flit through the trees and call out to the grey morning. It was Sunday and everyone was still inside. When I first moved to Latin America, I hated the feel of its occluded and penitent Sundays. Alone in Buenos Aires, I was continually distressed to wake up on my only day off and find that the clouds had moved back over the sky (even if it had been beautiful all week) and that everything had closed so utterly as to make the neighborhood look abandoned.  Even the sign boards seemed to come down and the shutters pulled over the shops were battered into anonymity. A walk through the desolate city would reveal nothing more than a few dying pockets of Saturday night: tired-sounding music echoing up from basements, empty Fernet bottles and an occasional gust of dead perfume and spilled beer from a barroom floor.

I have since adapted to the feel of what I have come to think of as a ‘true Sunday,’ after I came to understand the character of the day was not as grim and vacuous has it had initially seemed. Sundays here are like a Norman Rockwell ideal. Rather than the sort of tenuous pause we have in the US—an odd little gap usually filled with the fallout from Saturday’s parties and Monday’s work anxiety— Sunday here is entirely empty. It is a sort of weekly vacation.

In the US, I never tried very hard to choose between Saturday night and Sunday morning. No contest; Sunday was for sleeping through. You didn’t plan anything for Sunday. But the neglected aspect of the day, often dissolved into almost painfully sad evenings that didn’t end until Monday morning. In the US there is no Sunday night, only interminable evening and I spent these evenings trying to understand where the sense of failure was coming from the same way you try to locate a puncture in a bike tire. Somehow in having not changed my situation between Friday and Sunday, it was like I’d missed something important. I’d have to wait out another week before I could try again. But, whatever I was aiming for was never very clear.

In Latin America, Sunday is so universally dead, it’s like the guilt over the weekend is shared by everyone. The stores are all closed, the streets are mostly quiet, but, despite this, there is a feeling that Sunday is the focus of the weekend, like this quiet was all anyone was after and Saturday had been no more than a prelude.

Asuncion is a noisy city. Cheap motorcycles have flooded the streets and many of them have mufflers in poor states of repair, or missing altogether. Cars drive by with megaphones mounted on the hoods announcing that they are selling food or buying old car batteries. A guy rides by on a bike calling out that he sharpens knifes. Construction is consistent. Old diesel buses roar past on low, quasi-brown note gears. Something is always either going up or being taken down. My first year here, the noise got to me. I started to feel skittish, like a dog constantly darting back under the table from the Fourth of July fireworks. It took me a while to trust Sunday, I kept expecting it to turn sour and melancholy on me, but eventually I started to find relief in day’s quiescence.

I am now accustomed to the noise. I’m probably still more aware of it than everyone else, but it doesn’t shake me loose from my mental moorings the way it did after I’d arrived. I am much more aware of the absence of noise that its presence, thus Sunday morning dawns with a sort of beatific quality. Almost no one works and the only people who seem to get up before noon are the elderly. Walking through our neighborhood on Sunday morning, it feels different: dogs play in the empty streets, people lean over their fences talking to their neighbors, every greeting is returned heartily. It’s like waking up in a different city.

Last Sunday, we settled into an awkward wooden bench in the park and poured our thick coffee into our tin cups, a small measure at a time so it didn’t get cold. While still waking up, we attempted subjects of conversation, abandoned them and moved on to others, each more flippant than the last until I found I was soliloquizing on all the places I love again. Sunday here is mutable, it’s easy to imagine it as a Sunday in Siracusa, Italy or Batumi, Georgia on the Black Sea coast, but there is no coast anywhere, only the swampy boardwalk along the river, and I contented myself with going home after the coffee was finished, making a few phone calls and eating some pancakes.

After the pancakes, we went walking down the long avenues of the city toward the botanical garden, but this undeveloped diamond plot of land at the northwest end of the city should not be called a garden. For one thing, it is too large. It is also formless and savagely crisscrossed with sandy motorcycle and scooter treads. In the botanical garden you are more likely to hear stereos playing the latest pop songs rather than bird song. It is something like a sports complex/parking lot that has been pushed back into a neglected stand of trees. You can’t call the place a botanical garden because there is no garden in it, not really, but somehow, the title “botanical” still suits the place as an adjective. There are plants, animals and trees coexisting with the beer cans and the subwoofers. Behind a cyclone fence, I have even glimpsed a neatly arranged medicinal herb garden, in which each plant looks tenderly cared for and every sprout has an identifying plaque. However, this sole vestige of a garden seems to be firmly locked against intrusion. I have never seen it open or anyone else in its vicinity. A better term for the place would be “park.”  

The walk to the park is not pleasant, but after the previous day in the countryside, I felt my tolerance level for the more inane aspects of the city had been raised, or rejuvenated. It was also Sunday so I was expecting the traffic to be mild.

From our apartment, we walked down a street that looks like it has been blazed through a dense and humid jungle. The canopy of the trees still laces across the sky, parrots flit around and squawk in their metallic voices. The street goes nowhere and has been paved with the most haphazard paving stones. Most of them are not flush with the ground but dug in at an angle lifting a sharp corner to the sky. Imagine a street paved with imperfect and broken bricks and you’ll have an idea of what it looks like. The jagged street is uncomfortable to walk on and the cars that drive down it can’t go more than 15 mph without completely rattling loose. There are three mango trees growing up through the paving stones, in the middle of the street. The stones have simply been scattered around them, as if there was nothing to be done. Walking down this street, I am always tempted to envision an entire city built this way: small, narrow streets snaking around heavy tropical trees. The cars would be reduced to such low speeds that pedestrians would have a clear advantage. I think about this idealized city and imagine how quiet it would be, because even during Friday’s rush hour traffic, this street is quiet: no horns, no diesel engines, not even any dogs barking. If the world were more like this, it would make more sense to walk.

We exited this Eden to find ourselves on one of Asuncion’s most traveled thoroughfares. The lighter Sunday traffic allowed the cars racing down the avenue to move much more quickly and as the cheap motorcycles struggled to keep up with this increased pace, their engines screamed under their plastic housings.


As we walked down this wide and noisy avenue, I began to think about how everything masquerading as progress is so inordinately boring: steel skyscrapers, business English, wide streets, new cars, TGI Fridays. Progress blatantly favors those more money and less time. The environment progress creates is a wasteland with air-conditioned shopping malls and condominiums. You drive from one to the other. The stuff in between is just avenue. It is meant to be driven down. If you walk this landscape, you’ll find it has no imagination. The stores repeat themselves, advertising the same oil, soda and snack foods. The passing traffic is the same, it presents no spectacle, only repetition of certain makes and models and the dull thudding of pop songs turned up to maximum volume. Even the colors are hardly varied. Companies could make the cars any color they want, but they insist on using the same colors, like they were trying to get rid of all the extra paint left in the garage. Once in a while, walking, you catch the eye of someone driving by and you regard each other with the same curiosity with which one normally regards animals in the zoo.

The sidewalk is oil-soaked and broken. It seems to have been built on a heap of sand. Approaching the park, the neighborhood becomes more run down, until the sidewalk and even the streets are half-obliterated and covered with grass. The walls lean at crazy angles and while we walked down Sacramento, a chuck of a building front detached itself and slapped onto the sidewalk with a concussive report. After the initial door-sized piece, smaller chunks of plaster continued to rain down for a while and then even these stopped. It was like a demolition, but there was no one around, it was just an empty building collapsing under its own weight, the dust still pluming from where the plaster had fallen. We stopped and waited to see if more would fall, but the building was still. Only the dust of the plaster rose and settled. About ten feet up the wall, the scabrous wound of exposed brick already looked like it had been there for several years.  

“It’s a good thing we weren’t walking over there!” Gina said. I nodded, “Yeah,” and then looked up to make sure that there was nothing nearby that might fall on us.  

The entrance to the botanical garden is set back from a four-way intersection with no traffic light. No one knows where anyone else is going. Buses turn right, motorcycles blow straight through and cars make cautious U-turns. The intersection is managed with mettle, nerve and plenty of horn-honking. The cacophony of this congested park entrance is rivaled by the sounds of the park itself. Dirt bikes roar back through the trees and cumbia music plods like a dancing giant from every car parked out on the grass. The smells of barbecue, cut grass and stale beer abound.

We bought a bag of popcorn and immediately steered ourselves away from the masses. Large swales of bamboo laced together over the footpath like hands folded in prayer, the fingers interlaced. 

Beneath the bamboo, the earth had been trampled into sand, so fine and heavy it was like walking on a beach. When we came out from the swale, the character of the park had changed somewhat. More people were jogging and the cumbia rhythm pulsed from slightly farther away.

The footpath was wide and sandy and the trees had been scraped up recently in its construction.  To the right, was a dense stand of trees and to the left, the park opened up into its more spacious avenues of trampled grass and baby diapers. A small path opened up in the stand of trees and seemed to burrow into it. There was a sign proclaiming this path to be the Sendero Encantado or something like that, so we ducked under a few low-hanging vines and plunged into the cooler world of dense forest—something Asuncion often hints at but never quiet achieves. There are lots of trees here, but there are almost no places where one can stand in the midst of trees, feel the stirring of their manifold shadows and the leafy coolness that grows up around them: a feeling much like sinking down into a still lake, when the light and sound diminish and the temperature drops, first around your ankles and then rising up past your head the deeper you sink.

We were about half-way down the path when the silence retreated under an incipient whine which seemed to be growing toward a crescendo. Somewhere along our walk, we had disturbed a cloud of mosquitos that were now following us doggedly down the path, like the raincloud that followed Eeyore around in the Winne-the-Pooh stories. In a city where anti-dengue murals are everywhere and malarial warnings are given out as little cards on all arriving international flights, a cloud of mosquitos presents a more intimidating obstacle than it would elsewhere. If, statistically, one out of every, say, 1,000 mosquitos carries dengue or malaria than there was about a 100% chance that at least one of the mosquitos in the cloud was infected. I waved my arms in the general direction of the winged mass, but soon realized the futility in what I was doing and we had no choice but to run.

We broke back out into the clear light of the more frequented paths of the park within a minute or two. A woman, walking with her family, stopped to gawk at us, quite openly, as if by running, or coming out of the woods, we had committed some incredible faux pas that made it acceptable to stare at us, nearly open-mouthed.

We walked on and, unfortunately, soon came to the “zoo” section of the park. The full name of the place is Jardin Botanico y Zoologico. Nearly an entire pride of lions was penned in together in an area less than half the size of one of the soccer fields that are so common here. One of the lions was roaring in a choked way, repeatedly, as if trying to communicate a strangled protest to the people standing around pointing and staring. Nearby, was a lone grey elephant in an even smaller enclosure that had been made still smaller by a moat that had been dug around the unfortunate animal to keep her from knocking down the fence and trampling us all, as she certainly deserved to. I suppose for some, zoos are proof of mankind’s indisputable dominance of the entire animal kingdom, but for me, watching that elephant swing her grey truck back and forth in an area not much bigger than your garage, zoos are monuments to our incredible arrogance and total lack of empathy. Even if you hated elephants in the most passionate way, I don’t know how you could consider the fate of this creature and not feel overwhelmed with pity: stored in a box, like a curio in museum just for us to come and look at. How people ever thought such a thing would be acceptable is beyond me.

We could find no way to go from the zoo but toward the people and as lumpy sound of thudding bass grew I began to feel more annoyed with the whole idea of the park. Like so many other parks, it was just something different for people to drive to and park their cars in. No one was here to walk through the closeness of the trees or to listen to the winds stirring the leaves over their heads. It was a parking lot with trees, a shopping mall with birds.

We left soon after that and started the trip home, but I didn’t leave with the misanthropic impressions that had been stirring in me after the zoo. Rather, I thought of the small, mosquito choked path we had walked. Someone had created it, someone that appreciated the close feel of trees as we did and that someone had made a sign to point it out to anyone that might feel the same way.

And, who knows, maybe the path was created by the same people who stuck that elephant in that cage. It’s certainly possible for people to have dual natures. This thought seemed especially relevant as we exited the park and watched the peace and tranquility of Sunday torn away by multiple families rushing to get home before the traffic. The four-way intersection looked like it had been multiplied by about five. Cars were honking, breaking and peeling out in every direction.  That’s the problem with having a peaceful Sunday: no one is thinking about Monday until it’s already dark and then they’re all racing down the wide streets, headlong toward the beckoning chaos of Monday.

Monday, August 17, 2015


 There were no numbers above the seats. I looked down at our tickets and looked back up again to where the labels had been rubbed away. “It looks like that’s a five,” I said, pointing. “This must be 25 and 26.” I tried to move up to find our seats, but other people were getting on the bus, blocking the aisle. “Oh, hell,” I said giving up, “Let’s just sit down here. No one ever checks anyway.” But I was wrong. Almost as soon as we sat down someone came over and pronounced that we were in their seats. Our mistake was that we had sat down in some of the seats above which the numbers could still be made out. We moved to some seats with no visible numbers above them, hoping that no one would make a case out of it. Everyone that got on the bus consulted their ticket and then tried to check the phantom numbers above the seats. Two ladies came down the aisle counting. “Excuse me, miss,” one of the women said to Gina who was sitting in the aisle seat, “you’re in our seats.” “There are no numbers,” Gina shot back. The woman would not give up so easily and began explaining her counterfeit system of guessing numbers from one seat, four rows back, which had one number showing, to determine our seat numbers. It was like hearing an explanation of how an astrologist determines a horoscope: complete bullshit delivered like a pseudo-scientific tone. Seeing that we were not responding, the woman inquired, “What are your seat numbers?” obviously hoping that we would have to admit to having none and having plainly stolen hers. I produced our tickets with a flourish and stated our numbers in the same bullshit tone she had used on us.  She mumbled something, looked around, pointed vaguely to some seats and then, when some other seats opened up she and her companion, seized on them, effectively admitting that her ‘counting’ system hadn’t been real all along, or else she just didn’t care.

It didn’t matter anyway, just before we pulled away, a fifty-something woman, got on and, finding every seat occupied, positioned herself unsteadily next to us. I waited for someone else to offer her a seat, but by the time we started moving, no one had come forward, in fact, the rest of the bus looked soundly asleep. I couldn’t let the woman, probably someone’s grandma, stand there for the whole three-hour trip. The guilt would’ve made it impossible, so I got up and gave her my seat and tried to steal myself for a long ride. It was a holiday weekend and we were going out of town, the bus was sure to be packed.

As we drove out of town, we stopped to pick up everyone waiting on the side of the road, and there were many people, so many that the attendant (who’d been curiously absent when we were all trying to figure out our seat numbers) now appeared and bodily crammed us into back of the bus. The man actually used his hands to shift the standing passengers so that they didn’t take up more than their fair share of the aisle, which was about 12 square inches. We stood two-by-two, back-to-back all the way down the length of the bus. The traffic was terrible, as we were not the only ones fleeing the city for the long weekend. Most of the time, the bus moved somewhere between a crawl and a rolling stop. 

When the driver had to brake, we all toppled into each other like a bunch of bowling pins going down after a strike.

The plan had been to stay at a friend’s place who was out of town, but when we finally got to Villarrica, it was too late to disturb her landlady who had the key. We didn’t even know where she lived and after the arduous bus ride, I was hardly in the mood to go look for her. We’d brought a beer for the bus ride, but due to our positioning (Gina sitting and me standing), had been unable to drink it. Now among the dark lanes of the night-time empty marketplace, I opened the warm beer and took long, desperate pulls, trying to sooth my ragged temper. It was past midnight; I was tired; we had no place to stay and I didn’t even know why we’d come out here; everything looked the same as it did in Asuncion. We’d traveled all this way and still hadn’t escaped the city.

We woke up the doorman at Hotel Centro, who had been napping in front of the TV. He groggily took my name (no passport, no ID) and my cash and gave us two plastic bags filled with folded towels and two remotes, one for the air conditioner and the other for the TV. “Room 8,” he said, but gave no indication where it might be. We wondered around in the dark halls of the hotel for a while before finding the room on the second floor.

Room 8 had a closet, a TV bolted into the wall, two single beds and a balcony, which I immediately dragged a chair onto and set about opening another warm beer in hopes of mitigating the irritation I felt. Somehow, it all seemed so hopeless. We would sleep here, wake up and have a stressful time trying to find a way to get to Colonia Independencia, we probably wouldn’t even make it to the waterfall and, in the end, we’d go back to Asuncion on another crowded bus and I’d have to stand because another old lady would get on right before we took off. It all felt like such a huge hassle for no real benefit. The only thought going through my head as I sucked down the luke warm beer was “we should’ve just stayed at home.”

I felt a little better the next morning after a few bananas and a generous helping of the hotel’s complementary instant coffee. The weather was still mild and overcast, but the caffeine helped and I was beginning to feel less burdened by the situation.

We went down to the bus station and found out the bus to Colonia was to leave in an hour. To kill time, we wandered around Villaricca for a while and then went into café to split another instant coffee and watch the grey day drift past the plate glass windows in the form of tired workers and stray stands of fog.

When we got back to the station, people were beginning to board the bus. We got on and managed to get a seat as a woman vacated it. I was inordinately thankful to have a seat as multiple vendors kept coming through the bus with large wooden trays of sodas and sandwiches, bags of earth and mildew-scented vegetables and other kinds of brick-a-brack like sewing scissors and packets of natural remedies. Standing in the aisle, I would’ve been jostled by each vendor who passed.

We had been waiting on the bus, listening to the myriad calls of the vendors, watching the passing of their wares when suddenly, about half the bus’s passengers, or would-be passengers jumped ship like this bus was sinking. I watched as they scrambled to another bus that had just arrived, they began filling it quickly and I soon saw why. Even as these people struggled to board the bus, it was already pulling away, looking like an emergency convoy with refugees grabbing at it with full-blown desperation. Before I had a chance to gauge the situation or find out where the other bus was going, it was already pulling away, shaking lose clots of passengers and vendors still hawking their wares over the tumult.

We left after about half an hour, reaching Colonia Independencia about an hour later. There didn’t seem to be any town anywhere and we kept getting off the bus, looking around, determining that we were not yet in the right place and then bounding back on before the bus pulled away.

When the driver pointed out the trailhead and we got off, I was a little nervous about the situation for a return later that day. There didn’t seem to be anything in the town and transportation looked really limited. We had decided to walk out to a waterfall, but it seemed like it would be impossible to make it. It was already noon, the waterfall was a two-hour walk away and the last bus supposedly left the area around 4. As it was, we would barely have time to walk to the waterfall, turn around and immediately start back. The feeling of irritation started to come back, this whole trip had been a disaster, we would probably have to stay somewhere for the night again and I wasn’t sure I’d even brought enough money for another hotel stay.

Without discussing any of this, we started down the dusty two-track that led straight back into the green countryside. I wanted to stop thinking about details and just enjoy the scenery, but the clouds were heavy and the silver glow of the sky on the burnt sienna-colored road was giving me a headache. We didn’t even know where the waterfall was out here and this road looked like it went on forever.

As I walked, these negative thoughts began to decrease in severity, until I felt a happy sort of apathy welling up. Walking down the quiet country road, I remembered the quiet mountain roads of Armenia and how I’d often walked them for hours with no clue where I was going and no concern for destination. I was happy only to walk, to perhaps chance upon something new, and often, I did. Even if it was only something small, I always came back from a walk with something that made it worthwhile. Why should things be so different now? The walk gradually became pleasant in itself. The bus schedule ceased to be important. We would find a place to stay, maybe out here at one of these pleasant farm homes. We could offer money for lodging. Who knew what might happen. For the first time in what felt like ages, I was ready for adventure.

We wound through the mown pastures, glancing up from the progress of our feet to watch the lazy movements of the afternoon herds of cattle ruminating in the silver-grey sun. A number of flowers were in bloom and when the occasional motorcycle scooted past, the driver always lifted an arm in greeting. The peace of the place was contagious and many times, I had to stifle a desire to lie down in the grass on the side of the road and take a nap.

The waterfall wasn’t so hard to find. There were signs posted everywhere and the road eventually thinned out to a narrow footpath. At the entrance to this foot path we came abreast with a new SUV, full of sun-glassed woman, the dark lenses corniced with plucked and expressive eyebrows. The driver was clean-shaven, man, who looked like he was probably wearing dock shoes and Calvin Klein underwear. He was holding a large glass of red wine and contemplating the footpath. He rocked the car ahead slightly and then braked as though trying to ease the car out of a ditch. The look on his face was completely baffled, like the owl-eyed character in Gatsby’s library. The man looked like he couldn’t fathom the possibility of a road ending. “I don’t think you can drive down there.” I told him, passing his open window. From the passenger and backseats, the bevy of plucked eyebrows and dark glasses regarded me in a vaguely hostile way. It was obvious they had been cheering him on to continue down the footpath in the monstrous car. “I don’t think it’s wide enough,” I said gesturing to the path, hoping he’d be able to see what was so blatantly obvious if someone else pointed it out. The driver repeated my comments like someone in a grocery store trying to recall a shopping list. “wide enough…” he remarked, one hand still on the wheel, the other cradling his wine glass. The lepidopterous sunglasses and eyebrows from the backseat flashed but otherwise gave no indication of emotion. After we had gotten out of earshot Gina asked “do you think they’ll turn around just because they can’t drive all the way?” I thought for a moment and then answered “I sincerely hope so.”

The day had not been hot, but the low sky and the long walk had brought out a sweat along my shoulders where my heavy bag had been knocking back and forth along the walk. When we came out to the clearing around Salto Suizo, despite the mild weather I was glad to have the opportunity to swim. There were only a few people around: two other young couples, one with their young daughter. We all greeted each other in subtle nods, but everyone seemed to be busy with their own contemplation of the falls. Above us, Salto Suizo was the type of high and precipitous waterfall that dissipated in the air and hit the pool below like a light rain, though it fell in a straight line with no bounding or splashing down the rocks. Each drop was like something loosed from a plane flying overhead with nothing to obstruct its passage to the ground.

Behind the falls there was a shallow cave scooped out of the rock and after taking the scene in, we scrambled up into this rocky maw and tried to sit and contemplate the beauty of the scene, but the sound of splashing water had made me impatient to swim and in a few minutes, I was clamoring back down to change into my bathing suit.

It had been overcast for days and the temperature hadn’t been very high since the previous weekend, but because it never gets that cold here, and because we had been walking so long, it seemed appropriate that we get in the water. The first few steps were feet-numbingly cold and it was only after I flopped in and all my internal organs retreated further into the hidden recesses of my body trying escape the cold that I realized the water was, in no place, more than three feet deep. I alternately stumbled and dog-paddled around the pool, glancing up at the sprinkling water falling from some infinitely distant point of origin in the rocks overhead.

The longer I stayed in the water, the more accustomed I became to the freezing temperature and eventually I felt comfortable in it. I felt the cool water relieving my back of the ghost of its burden: the impression of my backpack seemed to be fading; the light abrasions and the downward pull of the shoulder straps were being lifted from me. Thus refreshed, we climbed out, dried off and opened a warm beer we’d brought while wishing for a thermos of hot coffee instead.

An hour later, we were back on the country road, returning to the small town. The sun had come out, but it was now down around the horizon and the light was restful, striped as it was with unspooling shadows. I knew if we expected to get out of the town, we ought to try to flag down a passing car, but I couldn’t bring myself to give up the walk. When a car passed, I earnestly hoped they would not stop and offer us a ride.

About half-way down the road, I saw something that I am thankful to have experienced. In the light of the setting sun, Gina pointed out a matrix design stretched over the road, something like an invisible net, but at every point of intersection on the net there was a large black dot. Even as we approached, I had no idea what we were looking until Gina solved the puzzle and gasped “those better not be…” and then in a whispered tone of awe “…spiders!” She was right. Hanging directly over us, at six-inch intervals, there was a vast web of spiders stretched across the entire road. There must’ve been 100s of them just above our heads and their vast web continued on into a stand of trees. I had never before seen spiders share a communal web, but here it was, with meticulous arrangement, each of them had plotted their own little square. I wanted to wait for something to fly into it, to see how they would handle dividing the quarry, but the night was cool and there seemed to be few insects out. Perhaps this was why the spiders had decided to economize their efforts. We ducked under the volleyball net of spiders, Gina with great trepidation, and continued.

We were nearing the main road, when another black SUV pulled abreast of us. “Like a ride?” the driver asked and, as I knew we only had about 15 more minutes to walk, I decided to accept, although I did so with regret and every feature of the road we sped past in the car seemed to be robbed of some of the beauty that I could’ve seen if I had been able to walk past it and appreciate it longer.

Back in the town, we learned immediately that there were no more buses for the night. We asked a few people but they all said the last one left around five. I checked my phone to see it was only about fifteen after five. We must have just missed it. “Well,” I said shrugging, “I guess we’ll just start walking and see what happens.” We stopped into a little store to buy supplies in case we had to sleep out in the open, which I fully saw as a possibility and then set off down the darkening road. I had no idea what I was doing, I wasn’t even sure if I was going the right way. The only thing I knew was that we had a long way to go before we would reach another town. I guess, I was thinking vaguely that we would walk until we came to some kind of hotel, I remembered passing a few on the way in.

I hadn’t communicated any of this to Gina, because I was trying not to admit to myself just how untenable my plan was. We started walking and she said “should we try to get a ride?” I shrugged. “Sure.” But I didn’t hold out much hope of getting one. “It’s going to be dark in a minute,” I said despondently. “You can’t hitchhike in the dark.” Gina stuck out her thumb and I walked on, slowly, like I wasn’t sure where I was going. The car passing us made a ‘no’ gesture, but, bizarrely, a car going the opposite way pulled over. “Need a ride?” The man called out. I bolted toward the car like a dog who’d been kept inside all day; my tongue was probably lolling out of my head. Only Gina had enough wherewithal to notice that the man seemed to have another car following him and had, originally, been going the opposite direction. “Do you think it’s ok?” she asked. “Sure!” I bellowed out, jumping into the car. “Hola! Muchas gracias!” I barked.

The man who gave us a ride turned out to be the ideal person to get a ride from, an interesting conversationalist who owned his own campground/restaurant. (He took us there, but didn’t pressure us into staying, despite the fact that we were totally at his mercy.) He drove us 30 km back to Villarrica, conversing on various subjects the entire way. We were having a good time talking, but as we drove further and further into the night, I began to worry that we had really inconvenienced him. I had promised him some kind of payment for the ride, but I was earnestly beginning to wonder if I even had enough to give him. When we got into Villarrica, he drove us around, pointing out a lot of the sights and finally dropped us off at the bus station. In the end, he wouldn’t accept any money, although the round trip that he would have to take for us, would probably took him over an hour; I don’t even know how much it would’ve been for just the gas. Before we parted ways, I remembered that he worked in the capital (where we live) during the week and had said that he’s always wanted to study English, but never had the time. I offered to do some classes with him and he seemed happy with this as a fair trade and I was happy to have something to offer him other than the dullness of money.

The bus station was dead and the Asuncion bus was to leave in 15 minutes. We got our tickets, a couple cans of beer and settled down to watch the dogs roam around the place, sniffing at the garbage and each other. Soon the bus pulled up and after a few minutes, not even half-full, we pulled away from the station and into the quiet night. I struggled against sleep for a moment, but soon collapsed under its pressure, like an old barn giving out under the weight of a heavy snow.