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Light packs and machetes: to Paraguay we go!
April 6, 2011, 3:06 am
Filed under: Paraguay

The past five months in Florida has probably been the most low-key period in my life. This is a good thing in some ways: getting to live at home for awhile and see your little sisters grow up, hanging out with your parents, and spending many an afternoon snoozing in a patch of sun with your dogs, is certainly not a terrible life.

But the beginning of April dawns a new period: in less than two months, I’ll be starting the grand adventure of living in Paraguay for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ve been seized with some sort of stir-crazy fever, and with more than seven weeks left until staging begins (May 25th!), I’ve found myself starting to actually pack. With much pomp and circumstance, I pulled out my new Eagle Creek 55L pack to prop up against the corner of my room (at least I’ve given myself the illusion of packing). I used to travel with a MUCH larger and heavier whopping 80L backpack, because when I bought it at the time I had never traveled before and imagined myself needing to bring on my trip to India a 3-month supply of everything possible ever, including batteries, multi-vitamins, hand wipes, protein bars (apparently I thought the food in India would be unappetizing? I don’t remember why I deemed this such a necessity), and a medical kit stocked so high you’d think I was preparing for an apocalypse. Then once I got to India and realized this colossal mistake, I spent the next two years lugging a ginormous backpack twice the size of me around Asia and Latin America. With a multitude of wear and tear and a life-time worth of back pain, my old pack is going into retirement for the immediate future.

At the very least I can say that my Carpe Diem leader Dan would be immensely proud of my switch over to a much lighter 55L pack.

So there it sits, while I start compiling a whopper list nearly as large as my old backpack on suggestions from current Peace Corps Volunteers, advice from friends, and my own personal tried-and-true travel guidelines. Some of these suggestions include (in capital letters, with many exclamation points) GLOVES, WARM HATS, SCARVES, WARM SOCKS!!!!!!!!!  I underestimated how cold the winters get in Paraguay- not because it dips below freezing, but because none of the houses in Paraguay are properly insulated, which means sans-40 degree temperatures every day inside and outside the house. I wish I could be more forbearing about it, but unfortunately pretty much the only aspect of my Jersey roots I’ve unhappily shed is my tolerance for cold weather. When it comes to weather, I’m a Florida girl through and through. Fortunately, I have an immediate solution: a good old-fashioned hot water bottle. Thanks for the idea, Heidi.

To help spike my excitement levels, I’ve been reading tons of blogs from current Peace Corps Volunteers in Paraguay. My two favorite ones are this guy and this girl. They go into a lot of detail about life and culture in Paraguay. Even though I’ve spent two months in Paraguay before, there’s a lot that I never learned about. Some of my favorite things I’ve learned are that each Peace Corps Volunteer gets their own machete upon graduation from training, that when it rains outside no one goes to work (think of it as akin to a ‘snow day’ in Paraguay), and that apparently an entire day of Peace Corps training is devoted to the wonderful subject of diarrhea. Then there are the superstitions, my favorite so far being that if you eat watermelon and directly shower afterwards, you will die.

Some other things are not as exciting, such as learning that being a vegetarian in Paraguay is nearly an impossibility (and vegan, FORGET about it), as everyone loves meat and I’ll be living with host families the first six months. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get around that without coming off as some chuchi (spoiled) foreigner, or whether I should just surrender the fight now and start reintroducing meat back into my system. Other jarring concepts include the fact that there is evidently a tarantula season in Paraguay, and that on rare occasions you may wake up to a snake as a bed-time companion. I’m starting to see where these machetes will come in handy.

All in all, it’s going to be a crazy two years. 49 days to go- the countdown starts now!

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