Paraguay

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    Turning right onto Rue Notre Dame I entered the city, a white canvas with a vast color palette. I had never seen such a picturesque city in winters. It was veritably a delight. The snow was like the white ash that falls covering the land and everything in its path. It’s like magic falling from the sky. The airs smells pure and fresh. Everything seems quieter, almost muffled. There is a sense of serenity in the atmosphere. As I headed farther towards the main city I came across a gigantic monument as I pronounce. It was, really, it was a penguin to mark Winter Olympics  but their affiliation with snow dates way back . Cut long story short, I was standing in front of Parc Olympique, a remarkable design, a huge monument depicting a penguin and a dome to signify the stadium.

   My car glided over the road due the remnants of snow after the snowfall and I changed my direction towards Pierre Dupuy Avenue. As soon as the car paced steadily on the road I saw an anchored ship on my left submerged under the white fluffy blanket. The snow had nearly veiled everything that reached my sight. I was forced to bring my vehicle to a halt.

The only thing my eye could figure out at that time was the circular windows of the ship with some blurry reflections of random cubes, boxes one might say. There my gaze travelled 90 degrees to the right, and there it stood , the work of a genius. A sculpture, as it appears to a lay man was an architectural wonder. It was the notable Habitat 67 designed by Moshe Safdie. One can call it a complex structure but it is merely a composition of concrete blocks stacked above each other in a hugger-mugger which stood out surpassed the other houses. The houses were a  piece of art on its own, with their beautiful undisturbed snowy roofs and chimneys.

As I stepped out of the car to greet the beauty around me, goose bumps began crawling on my skin like a troop of ants and I pulled my sweater tighter. It was the only protection I had against the chilly wind. The quick range of temperature made a shiver run down my spine and soon the cool  and crisp air was meandering through the trees and  caressing my skin. Comparing with the temperature of Ottawa, Montreal was much colder as it moves higher up towards the north. The only fear I had was that these mere goose bumps do not turn to frostbites in the next moment.

The frozen river, hidden ship and the colossal structure fitted perfectly on a portrait describing Montreal to its best. The harmony and balance they created with the environment was enthralling. My next stop was the old Montreal as I heard from people. My car parked at a distance from the narrow street I decided to continue my visit on foot. Strolling on the sidewalks wrapped with snow, the only color that appeared was the grey impressions of my footsteps. But soon turning from grey to brown and then completely dissolving removing my presence there. Horse-drawn carriages traverse cobblestone streets and meander past such notable sites as the Notre Dame Basilica was something to cherish. A clear distinction could be made from modern to vintage Montreal. The old, was very rich in culture. Mingling with Montrealers at sidewalk cafés while overlooking the river, or enjoy the wintertime street performers was truly a treat. This was also a popular shopping area (despite the tawdry souvenir shops), and numerous bars and clubs bring the prettiest of views to life.

While walking back towards my car I watched the sunset with its mango rays disappearing gradually behind the crimson clouds. As darkness slowly crept upon the fading light, the entire perspective of the landscape changed, trees went from fresh green to a darker tint. Enamored in all, I could let the sunset play before my eyes as a fascinating Shakespearian act, because the sky acted as the stage while the clouds, sun, its rays and birds were the characters bringing it to life. And the birds chirping, added a melodious symphony in the air just like a Mozart one.

The winter season leaves a strong impression on one, and itself becomes a tale to narrate. But what always makes me sad is that it will all melt away, normality will resume. All that will be left is the grey, dirty slush and the memories of another rare day in the snow.

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It was as I was walking out of the airport, being hit in the face by the dry heat and bright sun, surrounded by dark-skinned natives wearing sandals and drinking terrere. Or perhaps it was as I sat in the taxi, sans air-conditioner, riding along the city’s highway measuring at 3 metres wide, whilst peering out the window at two young boys casually riding on a horse alongside my vehicle. It was sometime then, during my first few hours in Paraguay, when I realized that visiting this country wasn’t just going to let me cross off another country on my ‘travel-around-the-world’ list, but rather that this country, with its different temperatures and smells, would provide some personal, meaningful experiences that would stay with me for a long time.

I was not mistaken.

The 8:00am taxi ride on Tuesday to ‘Mariscal Lopez’ where the weekly farmers market was held in the car-park below the mall, was unlike the markets I had previously been to. There were many varieties of vegetables and fruits, honeys and cheeses, all set up nicely by these dedicated, hardworking farmers trying to earn some dollars with which to feed their families.

But it wasn’t just that. The Paraguayan twist, as I like to call it, appears.

There were young boys, unable to attend school as they had to help their families earn money, holding big wooden-woven baskets, offering shoppers to carry their purchases as they made their rounds between the farmers, in exchange for a few Guaranis (Paraguayan currency).

Another day whilst shopping at the mall, I noticed something else, another Paraguayan twist. The items in the stores were so expensive, more than I, an average-earning young adult from England, was accustomed to. Then I realized, in Paraguay, there is no middle class; there is high class and low class, rich and poor. The stores are for the rich, so it is expensive. The marketplaces, where they sold second-hand clothes, shoes and watches, held every morning on the side of the main road leading to the supermarket – that was for the poor. The contrast, so startling.

Whilst driving around in my friend’s car, I see mothers laying by the streets, their babes in their arms, begging for money and food, whilst their young barefooted children, wrapped in clothes much too large for them, run between cars, knocking on the windows, asking for donations. I turn my eyes away, it’s hard to see. They however cannot just turn their eyes away, this is their life.

I visit the poor area, what we Westerners would call ‘slums’ without giving it a second thought. For these people, this ‘slum’ is their life. It’s the place they wake up in, with the morning light, and the place they come back to at the end of a long work day. It’s the place they call home.

I look at one of these ‘homes’. The family sits outside, legs stretched, drinking the cold, beloved Paraguayan tea known as terrere, whilst sweating in the baking hot sun. But they smile, they chat and they laugh. I look at the cardboard roof, the walls made out of metal sheets, and the broken chair peeking out of the bare-furnished house. I hear singing and turn to see children dancing. Happiness amidst poverty. The Paraguayan twist.

But there was one thing, one incident, one moment, which was so powerful, that it has stayed with me until today.

Whilst staying with my friend’s family, we decided one afternoon to go on an outing. We drove to a nearby park and started strolling along the path, whilst chatting amongst ourselves. A young Paraguayan child ran up to us. Dark-skinned, dirty clothes, broken teeth. The picture of neglect. He must have been around seven or eight. My friend tensed slightly as the boy glanced at her daughter. Her 5 year old daughter skipping ahead, white-skinned, blond hair, cutely dressed. We quickened our pace, not wanting to be cruel, yet nervous he may be sick, as it seemed as though he had no one to care for him and teach him hygiene. He followed us, and we let him, although we kept glancing back uneasily at him.

Suddenly, before we could stop it, he sprinted over to my friend’s daughter and offered his hand to her. She looked at him, smiled and took his hand as they continued to walk together. We stood still in shocked horror, as we automatically shouted ‘nooo’, our adult minds placing him in the box of dirt and filth and our ‘rich’ daughter in honour and cleanliness. Yet in the second before her mother quickly pulled her hand away, I saw before me the most beautiful thing. Walking together, holding hands, a white-skinned, rich, innocent girl, with a dark-skinned, poor, innocent boy.

 

The Paraguayan twist.

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WATCH: Music made from Trash

The Landfill Harmonic in Paraguay is an orchestra with incredible spirit and sound.

The instruments are all created from recycled materials found in the trash.

The story is going to blow your mind.

From the movie: People realize that we shouldn’t throw away trash carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw away people either.

Please help them get heard around the world!
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Give a voice to these inspired and inspiring children.

 

By Lee Abbamonte

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to a whole new world.

Travel enables you to see the world through other peoples eyes and from other points of view.

Travel increases your awareness of other cultures and people.

Travel makes you smarter.

Travel is the best education you can receive.

Travel enables you to speak intelligently on a variety of global topics.

Travel shows you how global policy effects different countries and different types of people.

Travel brings you to places you’ve only dreamed about seeing.

Travel shows you landscapes you never thought were possible.

Travel shows you what real beauty is.

Travel shows you that everything is beautiful in its own way.

Travel makes books and television come to life.

Travel makes adventures happen everyday.

Travel makes dreams come true.

Travel gives you a sense of enormous accomplishment.

Travel gives you something to look forward to to.

Travel gives you options.

Travel is a lifetime journey that is never the same twice.

Travel makes the big world small.

Travel humbles you.

Travel puts things into perspective.

Travel shows you what poor is.

Travel shows you how unfair this world can be.

Travel shows you people overcoming the longest odds to live their life to the fullest.

Travel shows you triumphs of the human spirit.

Travel teaches you how to say “Cheers” in 30 different languages.

Travel teaches you the International language of beer.

Travel teaches you to appreciate wine and the beauty of vineyards.

Travel teaches you to try new things.

Travel makes you yearn to do new things.

Travel teaches you the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Travel teaches you to become a traveler and not just a tourist.

Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. I am a travel writer, travel expert, global adventurer and have appeared on NBC, CNN, ESPN, GBTV, Fox News, Jetset Social and have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, Peter Greenberg radio and many others. I’ve visited 306 countries and am one of the world’s most-traveled people.

“I believe in globalization of everything including people. I believe that I am a citizen of Earth. I believe that people around the world are at their core, basically good and the same. I believe that more people should experience the world and the way traveling can open their eyes and minds to different and exciting things. I believe in just being myself. I believe in life.” – Lee Abbamonte