Tuesday, May 31, 2011
San Bernardino and Bi-centennial celebrations.
Our first day in Paraguay and we stay at our lakeside retreat and get acquainted with our hosts, Silvia and Geraldo. Their campgrounds and cabinas are in a breath-takingly beautiful lakeside setting. The lake being Lake Ypacarai (Ee-pa-car-eye). Located about 35 miles from Asunción it is a popular retreat for wealthy Paraguayans from the capital who maintain second homes here or visit on the weekends. It is not a large lake, measuring about 3 by 5 miles but very idyllic surrounded by tropical vegetation. Only one small problem. If we go swimming, explained Silvia, be sure to splash your feet on the bottom. There are stingrays. Hmm, that did it for me. No swimming for this girl! We find out that everything is closed from Friday through Monday for the national holiday, so after we learn that San Bernardino will have its own parade and celebrations we decide to stay here. The festivities were initially planned for Saturday but the day started dark and gloomy and quickly became a huge deluge. A true storm with high winds, rain sheeting down, thunder and lightning. Everyone quickly dispersed and all was postponed until Monday. After shopping at the local supermarket, we hunkered down in the motor home and spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday, reading, playing backgammon and taking short, poncho-wearing walks to the lake with Winston. Sunday showed some improvement in the weather and Monday was clear and sunny. When we arrived at the town center at 9am, people were already gathered and the stage and speaker system at the ready. First were the speeches by the mayor and local officials, interspersed with school bands playing the national anthem and other patriotic tunes accompanied with cries of Viva la Patria and Viva Paraguay. Like our July 4th music, it is very military, marching sounding, very Sousa-like. Then there was a play given by the high school students, re-enacting the revolution and history of Paraguay. It followed not only the events leading to the break from Spain but also the role that the indigenous Guarani and the Jesuit priests played in Paraguayan history. It was very entertaining and both Tom and I were able to follow the story. After it was over, we followed the crowd to the main street in town stopping to photograph a little girl dressed in a long, frilled, patriotic red, white and blue dress with matching ribbons in her hair and a group of the play-starring, high school students. The girls were in long, traditional dresses and the boys dressed in various garb ranging from colonists to colonial soldiers to Jesuit priests. All the children were charming and polite. Of course, as in the past, we always ask before taking pictures. If the children are young, we ask their parents. Most say yes and all are gracious even if they decline. There were chairs set out along the parade route but we elected to stay close to the end of the procession. Tom stood on a high curb so he could take photographs, whilst I stood with a small crowd of moms whose children were taking part in the parade. All the local schools were represented with bands and students clad in costumes of the revolution. All showed their school colors and emblems and proudly marched to the beating of drums and the clash of cymbals. We could not sing along to the tunes as did most of the crowd but we enthusiastically clapped as the children passed by. By early afternoon it was over and to the sounds of fireworks, music and cries of Viva Paraguay we walked down main street and went to eat lunch. Silvia had told us about a restaurant owned by a French couple that serves good food. Le Café Frances was excellent. Madame et Monsieur who are in their seventies, and not only own but actively participate in the running of the establishment welcomed us and gave us a table by the window. The food was delicious and as we ate we listened to the music of pre-world war Europe. Edith Piaf was the only singer I knew but the music was hauntingly beautiful. After dessert we indulged with some coffee and cognac, served by the elderly monsieur in warmed snifters. We sat and sipped and listened to the music. Tom turned to me. “This is beautiful,” he said, “I am so glad we are doing this trip together”. Like so much of the trip, this day was completely unplanned. Paraguay was unplanned. And yet here we are. I could only smile and agree.