Encarnacion: Costanera.

June 15, 2013

Kablooey 144A beach! A veritable beach!

Here are a few facts about Paraguay: it is landlocked. It hugs no deep blue sea, and in fact, around these parts, bodies of water, including that which trickles out of my shower head, tend to be brown and smelly.

Imagine my surprise then when, after some six hours of driving away from Asuncion and toward the southeastern region of Paraguay, we came upon a coastline. A remarkably modern development of tiled boardwalk bordered by a stretch of alarmingly clean sand, itself then also touching a cerulean-colored pane of glass that uncannily resembled water. Say it ain’t so, but we had in fact arrived at the Costanera of Encarnacion and its recently improved section of the Paraná River bank.

Of course, it was juxtaposed between the modern skyline of Formosa, Argentina located just across the river as well as the shambles of primitive housing more reminiscent of the Paraguay I’ve grown accustomed to. Just behind the parking lot were overgrown plots of dry brush and an unsightly cemetery of rusting bleachers, but regardless, I was impressed to see such development in Paraguay at all. Furthermore as a native San Diegan, I was thrilled to be anywhere near a passable beach.

The serenity of staring out into a watery horizon and watching the sun slowly melt into a thousand warm hues will always evoke a sense of home no matter the exact location. While I was actually several thousand miles off from everything I know to be San Diego, reclining in the thatched lifeguard tower (illegally as I was informed much later) felt reassuringly familiar.

Cheers to those moments.

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Kablooey 102Standing at the cusp of la Garganta del Diablo.

The Cataratas de Iguazu are unequivocally a necessary “must-see-before-you-die” natural wonder. The beauty alone is enough to bow one over, but coupled with the magnitude of the force of nature, it is an experience that will leave you feeling humbled and awestruck.

The Falls are also located uniquely at the point where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all touch, so for those inclined, hitting up three countries in one day can easily be done.

Last year, when I jaunted over to Foz to visit my aunt, we did the whole shebang on the Brazilian side. A winding walking path takes you through the National Park, passing waterfalls along the way that get progressively more impressive as you near the up-close and personal apex of the journey.

On my most recent trip to Brazil, we crossed the border to Argentina to explore the other side of the Falls. Similarly, a footpath leads you into the heart of the main attraction, although this time, the sights were more understated in the calm, serene bodies of water that surround the walking bridge. While I found the Brazilian side to be perpetually jaw-dropping, Argentina packs all of its punch at the end.

The ominous Devil’s Throat is the monstrosity that awaits. I did not think the beauty of the Brazilian perspective was matched, but the view of the sheer power of such massive currents lent in Argentina was undeniable.

Clouds of white mist steaming all around, the thunderous roar of a billion clashing water drops, and a seemingly eternal abyss extending below combine to make you feel big in your wonder but infinitely small in significance.

The feelings of humility and awe change not whether you view the Falls in Brazil or Argentina.

Kablooey 070Taking a tram to the hiking trail.

Kablooey 074The Devil’s Throat. Enter if you dare.

Kablooey 078Walking walking walking.

Kablooey 091Getting closer.

Kablooey 092Ruins from an old bridge.

Kablooey 098Almost there…

Kablooey 101BAM!

Kablooey 111So awesome.

Kablooey 110Misty mysteries.

At five years old, little J (who I am convinced is half monkey, half Spiderman) has absolutely no fear. He scales towering walls with alarming speed. He dangles upside-down on his backyard zipline with one leg. He snatches up any moving creature without a moment’s hesitation. He has survived having his stomach pumped, countless stitches, scorpion bites, and accidentally attacking himself in the face with pepper spray. He is basically a miniature Mr. Invincible.

Leave it to me to stumble across the chink in the armor.

It was a long roadtrip with still no end in sight. I was crammed in the middle row with Caleb and Josiah (in a booster seat), and Lauren and Kate were behind us, taunting us with their smelly feet. J man was getting restless and violent as he is prone when boredom strikes. With the sweetest smile on his cherubic face, he would reach behind Caleb and punch me as hard as he could.

The first time, though taken aback, I dismissed it with a warning and a laugh. When it happened again, my warning became significantly firmer. Nonplussed, my threats fell on deaf ears and the punches kept coming, dotted with self-satisfied snickers.

I wracked my brain for the most potent argument I could give to stop the unending onslaught of abuse. Finally, sure that my shoulder was now more bruised than a bottom-of-the-crate old peach, I delivered my ultimatum.

“J, if you hit me again, I’m going to kiss you.” I added, “Then for every punch after that, it’s another kiss. And I’m going to save them up for when you least expect it.”

Testing the intention behind my threat, he ventured to throw a particularly hard-smacking blow.

“That’s one big kiss, J…” I said, planting one on my hand and rubbing it all over his face.

He gagged, balled up his fist, and connected with my shoulder a second time.

“That is two, dude.” I warned again.

Then his father piped up and added, “You know, J, if Big Lauren kisses you five times, you have to marry her.”

He snorted in a mixture of embarrassment, repulsion, and fear, and eventually settled down, but not without keeping a wary eye out should ‘Big Lauren’ decide to ambush him with her slobbery cooties. The horror.

For the rest of the trip, he steered clear from me whenever possible. If I had any opportunity to sidle up to him and give him a knowing smile, he would dash away and hide behind his parents, blushing red hot apprehension. When we returned to Asuncion, he took every measure to stay as far away from me as permissible, visibly nervous and fearful, and traveled with a Nerf gun at all times.

On one occasion at their house, while I was in the kitchen conversing with his mother, J stealthily snuck behind me and scattered an assortment of rocks, twigs, and large seeds at my feet. As his brother explained, it was intended as a booby trap to get me to slip should I step back. This was serious.

Apparently, I had initiated all-out war. It was both hilarious and secretly satisfying to know that I had caught onto his one fear, and maybe a little sad that our friendship would never again be the same.

Then one day, as J’s fear had reached a squirmy and vengeful apex, his father held him down and I planted three good ones on his poor cheek. He guffawed in disgust, wriggling and making quite the effort to escape. In the end, the deed was done and he was absolved of the debt hanging over his head.

That was nearly five months ago. It has since been a high alert journey (for him) of learning to face his greatest fear, particularly considering how frequently I show up at his house. Sometimes, he still requests to be seated on the farthest end of the dining table from me when we sit down to eat, but for the most part, he is slowly starting to dare come near me once again (after all, I have Angry Birds on my phone now).

Several weeks ago, a group of us drove out to an adventurous ropes course full of suspended slacklines and rickety bridges for crossing. J, clearly the smallest (and likely bravest) person ever to step foot in such an adrenaline-inducing location, harnessed up and zipped through like a champ.

Afterwards, I asked him if he had fun and if he had been worried at all.

“No way!” he roared in his characteristic raspy bellow, “Only YOU are scary, Big Lowen! And you have big pants and are bald headed! Bahahahahaha.” He scampered away immediately but not before adding, “No kiss me, big pants baldy!”

There is no fear in love? I beg to differ.

A really sunny morning.

While seemingly just a regular fruit muffin, this is a true delicacy here in Paraguay. One, because lemons don’t exist in this country, and two, because raspberries don’t either and I splurged the second I saw the frozen bag at the specialty German grocery store.

I brought back a glorious sack of bright yellow lemons from a recent trip to Argentina and had been dilly dallying in using them, trying to come up with the ultimate zesty dessert worthy of my momentous find. Then I discovered that one of the precious nuggets of gold had completely molded over and realized I better get moving regardless of the recipe lest I waste the whole lot of them. The horror.

When I found this formula for raspberry lemon muffins, I was wary about its healthful motivations (no butter?!) and worried about dryness, so naturally I fattified it and ramped up the fruit flavor as well. What resulted were light, moist little dumpling cakes filled with delightful pockets of tart berries and a crunchy topping that rescues bad days and makes them better. A good rainy day recipe to keep in your pocket.

Lemon-Raspberry Crumble Muffins
Inspired by allrecipes.com
Makes a baker’s dozen

1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon of raspberry yogurt
3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
Juice of one whole lemon (I used a large one for extra zingy lemon flavor)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Zest of one whole lemon
1 heaping cup of frozen raspberries

Crumb topping:
1/2 cup of flour
3 Tablespoons of sugar
3 Tablespoons of cold butter, cubed

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C), and line a muffin pan.

In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Then add the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt, oil, lemon juice, and egg, and add to the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir until just blended (do not over mix). Gently fold in the raspberries, and scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Generously spoon the fork-blended crumb topping over the filled muffin cups.

Bake for 17-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

In my opinion, these tasty treats are best when eaten fresh from the oven. With a steaming mug of coffee, of course. Enjoy!