This is an edited / supplemented version of an email sent to family to let them know I reached Asuncion safely. Enjoy!
Friday night I shared a wonderful evening at the Sheets’ residence with home made pizza, last minute preparations (including cool pannier artwork by Talia), Mexican wedding cookies from ‘Lita, and a majorly overtime parting pingpong game with Rob. Later on Talia and I bid our tearful farewells at the LAX international flights terminal and I started the life-station that I’ve been thinking hard about for two years, now.
After a flight time of a little under 24 hours I arrived safely in Asuncion, PY — bike in hand. I was nervous because my luggage was sent on standby, but it got here safe. I had some hassles on the way: my (Taca, for you internationales out there) made me buy a refundable return ticket (I’d only bought a one way) that cost $900. Big thanks to Talia for helping me pay for that — I only had $700 accessible in my account when I left. Fortunately the $900 is *refundable,* minus the $25 fees associated with it. I was frustrated to find out later that the Paraguayan Visa man didn’t want to see anything but my Pasaporte. The $900 temporary / $25 permanente expense and all of its associated stress was completely unecessary.
I got through TSA checkpoints just fine, but when I connected in Costa Rica they stole a bunch of stuff that I probably shouldn’t have had in my bag anyway — a bungee cord, a pedal wrench, a tiny scissors, grandpa Eli’s pocket knife, the titanium spork Rachel Sheets gave me for the trip, and all of my lighters.
I was fragile at that point — very very tired and very very sad to have left Talia behind in Los Angeles. The officers at Costa Rican checkpoints all carried revolvers out in the open, too, and something about that bothered me. When the officer found Grandpa’s (tiny) swiss army knife in my bag, which I’d forgotten about, I broke down in front of the entire Costa Rican checkpoint line and sat in a chair and cried — recalling the whole time the little bit I’d heard about machismo Latino culture. That was embarassing, but also healthy.
I arrived late to Asuncion — 3:30 AM local time — and didn’t feel comfortable bothering my generous hosts at that time, so spent the night in the Asuncion airport. I wasn’t kicked out, but received lots of interested inquiries from the officials at the airport, as well as generous (though confused) help from the astonishing number of people loitering at the airport. At 3:00 AM the place wasn’t busy, but it was full of people apparently just “hanging out.” Same thing when I woke up this morning — there’s a cultural difference here that I don’t understand yet.
It was very hard to travel so far away from home all on my own. Now I’m thankful to have been picked up by Dave Schmidt and welcomed into a belated mothers’ day gathering — I feel very much welcome here and fear is a far away thing. I shared a game with the gathered family the name of which I forget, but which is akin to bocce ball and shuffle board, only on a much smaller round table. This has been a great environment to encounter my limitations in Spanish and also be “crash-coursed” in the local dialect. I learned today that Paraguayan Spanish is (as it is in many other places, I guess) heavily influenced by the native Guarani — resulting in what one person described as a “muddy, muddy Spanish.”
There are dogs everywhere and the roads of the capital city are in many places worse than Goshen’s. Very interesting.
I’m sure when I lay down to sleep tonight the reality of everything will hit me again. It’ll be a tearful few days, punctuated also by great joy as I reunite with my friends over a common adventure.
The next post you see here should (hopefully) be a mix of voices — no more of this three voices / one voice baloney!
Pray for us, wish us luck, and keep us in your thoughts as we conclude our final preparations (our bikes are still in pieces).