Last month's visit to Paraguay was special for three diverse but equally important reasons.
1) It was my first time visiting this small land-locked country, thus making it eligible for the list. In the highly competitive game of Counting Countries, Paraguay now ranks as my 87th nation.
2) My friend, who for purposes of protecting the innocent, will only be referred to as Akapero, had recently moved to Asuncion and was, within a short time, firmly entrenched in the expat community. He was a knowledgable and enthusiastic guide whose only payment was the delivery of roughly 100+ pounds of Cuban food and coffee makers. Yes, plural.
3) We happened to be there on May 14, 2011, otherwise known as the date of their bicentennial celebration. While this may be a fact of whose importance I was unaware beforehand, it was certainly unmistakable once we landed in the capital city.
The entire city was decked out to par-tay. From the swathing of every possible surface in red, white and blue to the closure of the entire city center to all forms of vehicular traffic, these people clearly meant business.
And the funny thing was how contagious their enthusiasm was. Within hours of arriving, we were all donning our own red, white and blue accessories and waving Paraguayan flags. Had we known their national anthem, chances are good we would have been belting that out as well. Instead, we settled for appreciating some of the local food and drink.
Particularly, the drink part. Although the locals seemed to fall just this side of teetotalers, our small group did our best to insure the continued success of the local brew.
Between Pilsens, we got the chance to talk to fellow revelers, many of whom were surprised to find tourists in their midsts (one guy, trying to figure out why exactly I was there, asked me if I was with the Peace Corp) but all who were justifiably proud of their country. They were, without exception, kind and welcoming people who were eager to teach us about their history. It was particularly refreshing to find that despite the inevitable colonialism by the Spaniards, the Paraguayans had managed to retain their indigenous language. Although everyone spoke perfect Spanish in conversation with us, I couldn't help but notice that once they were speaking amongst themselves, they would switch to Guarani.
We even got the chance to attend some of the scheduled events, including a naval parade (great if you are into war ships, I guess) and some fireworks displays but primarily we devoted our time to celebrating Akapero's new home town, its 200th year of independence and my 87th country. Ok, that last one may have just been me....